Who’s in the headline – It was pointed out last week, and it was reinforced this weekend, that Joe Gibbs Racing is right at the top of the board in the Cup series. It was Carl Edwards turn this weekend as he dominated the race. Edwards led 276 laps en route to capturing his first win of the season. JGR now has three teams with at least one win, which means they are positioned quite nicely for the Chase cut off.
What happened – Edwards won the pole and led the first 36 laps. Joey Logano led a few laps and then Matt Kenseth showed he had a car to be reckoned with, leading 142 of 144 laps. Unfortunately for Kenseth, he lost a right-front tire. It was a common theme for JGR teams on Sunday as Kyle Busch and multiple right front issues along with Kenseth.
Paul Menard led a handful of laps under caution for Kenseth, but couldn’t hang onto it when the race went back green. Edwards led more, and then Landon Cassill grabbed the lead under caution and held it for eight laps after going back to green. Edwards led again, Kevin Harvick grabbed it for a couple of minutes, Edwards led more, Kurt Busch had a couple cups of coffee out front, and then Edwards slammed the door. Edwards led the final 104 laps, withstanding five restarts in the process.
Why you should care – Edwards looked to be the weakest of the JGR teams early this season. The organization started in four of the top 5 positions Sunday and is poised to put all four of its teams in the Chase. Assuming this horrible luck isn’t going to befall Kenseth for eternity, he will be able to win a race before the Chase, which will likely put all four JGR drivers in the title hunt.
Other notable finishes on Sunday were the equivalent of wins for several drivers. Trevor Bayne scored his first top 5 since he won the Daytona 500 five years ago. Matt DiBenedetto finished sixth for the second career top 10 finish for his entire BK Racing organization. Clint Bowyer also wrangled a top 10 for the first time since Talladega last Fall.
What your friends are talking about – The XFINITY Series ran heat races at Bristol for the first time in the series history. Fans best be analyzing, dissecting and scrutinizing how they played out because you can bet, in the next two or three years, they’ll be coming to the Cup Series. The modern NASCAR fans apparently can’t stay focused long enough to watch 500-mile races, 400-mile races or even 312 km races. As a result, the powers that be in Daytona will eventually implement this format in Sprint Cup so that the short attention span fans can actually remain entertained for the full amount of time racing takes place.
One other thing that many fans might not be considering, heat races that take place on Saturday for a Sunday race mean the promoters can sell race tickets to fans for two days of Cup racing in a weekend. That is a huge opportunity for track owners to squeeze even more blood out of the race fan turnip.
Bristol Motor Speedway sold out 55 consecutive races at one point in time. Sunday was a long way from a sellout. Promoters and the sanctioning body continue to try and use the economy as an excuse, but the truth of it is other sports are posting record earnings and large crowds. NASCAR’s ratings continue to slide even though the racing has improved with the new aero package. It just might be too little too late. On the plus side, it is a safe bet you won’t have to pay $250 per night with a three-night minimum for too many more spring races at Bristol.
Throwback paint schemes were released with fervor this past week, with Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., Dale Earnhardt Jr, Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch among those who unveiled schemes. The program is very cool for longtime fans and an opportunity for new fans to explore the history of the sport. The question is, why can’t teams wait until closer to Labor Day to show what they’ll race instead of putting it out there before Memorial Day has even hit?
In a report that shocked approximately no one, the TV ratings for Texas were down again. The race was the worst rated one in the history of Fox’s contract with NASCAR that started with the 2001 Daytona 500 that wasn’t moved to a different day due to weather. Attendance at the racetrack is waning, television numbers continue to drop and fingers are pointed in many different directions when blame is attempted. The bottom line is the decline has been a snowball tumbling downhill and gaining mass and speed for years. It is going to take some time to slow it down, stop it and head it back up the hill. The worry, at this point, is will a rebound be too little too late when/if it comes?
Who is mad – It is hard to be mad when you win four races in two weeks. For Kyle Busch, it appeared he had a car that would be capable of winning the race. Unfortunately for him, his setup seemed to put too much stress on the right front. Busch lost two different right fronts and was involved in three cautions before Adam Stevens threw in the towel and parked the No. 18 car. It resulted in a 38th-place finish, but that doesn’t mean anything to Busch, who has two race wins and is a lack for the Chase. If anything, it might be an indication that the team is going to throw some aggressive setups at their cars to see if they can discover something for the Chase.
Saturday saw Kyle Larson battle Kyle Busch for the win at Bristol only to lose it to Erik Jones. Sunday, things were far worse as Larson lost a transmission early in the race and ended the event in 35th. It is yet another disappointing run for Larson, who just can’t seem to recapture the magic from his rookie season.
Kenseth has been among the fastest cars during most of the first eight events of the season. He’s led laps in seven of the eight races, totaling 306 up front. Though he’s been stout, he’s had bad racing luck in almost all of the races. Ironically, the one race where Kenseth didn’t lead a lap, he had his only top 10 of the year at Phoenix. Not only does Kenseth have to deal with the frustration of poor finishes with a good car, he’s also hearing it from some in the media that it might be time to hang it up. While Kenseth is nearly as old as Jeff Gordon, he says he feels great and is driving for the best team in the garage. As a result, he doesn’t plan on changing his driving status any time soon.
Who is happy – DiBenedetto finishes sixth in the BK Racing No. 83 car. Let that wash over you for a moment.
DiBenedetto has run 41 career Cup races and has finished in the top 10 exactly one time, Sunday. His sixth-place run was the best ever for an organization that makes a living running near the back of the pack. He was very emotional during a post race interview that showed how much it means to guys who drive for the teams that are scraping to get by.
Trevor Bayne won the 2011 Daytona 500. That was the last time he scored a top-five finish before Sunday. While Roush Fenway Racing is hardly BK Racing, they have been struggling and Bayne has been the poster child for those difficulties. In a race where several drivers had great runs to give their seasons a bit of a boost, Bayne was the highest finishing driver on that list.
Chase Elliott is trending upward. He set a career best finish in Atlanta with an eighth place run. He then tied that at Phoenix. He went two better coming home sixth at Fontana. Last week he topped that with his first top 5 at Texas. This weekend saw yet another career best as Elliott scored his first fourth place run. At this pace, Elliott should be in Victory Lane around Charlotte.
When the checkered flag flew:
Carl Edwards scored his 26th career victory in his 417th start.
It was Edwards fourth career triumph at Bristol Motor Speedway.
This was Edwards first win of 2016.
Edwards is tied with Fred Lorenzen and Earnhardt Jr. for 28th on the all-time wins list.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished in second position for the second consecutive week.
Earnhardt has three runner-up runs in eight races this year.
This was Earnhardt’s second career top 2 run at Bristol.
Earnhardt has 31 career bridesmaid runs. He is tied with Kyle Busch and Benny Parsons for 22nd on the all-time list.
Kurt Busch rounded out the podium with his seventh career top 3 finish at Bristol.
This is Busch’s first top 3 of the season.
Busch has 77 career podium finishes. That ranks him 31st on the all-time list.
Chase Elliott was the Rookie of the Race thanks to his fourth place finish.
Jimmie Johnson and Kyle Busch are locked into the Chase assuming they attempt the remaining 18 races this season. Denny Hamlin, Brad Keselowski, Kevin Harvick and Edwards have the inside track to the Chase right now, assuming there are fewer than 17 drivers who win races. The remaining drivers who are currently in position to make the Chase and their current points position:
- Joey Logano
- Dale Earnhardt Jr.
- Kurt Busch
- Martin Truex Jr.
- Austin Dillon
- Chase Elliott
- Jamie McMurray
- AJ Allmendinger
- Kasey Kahne
- Ryan Newman
What is in the cooler – The continuous battle of new Bristol vs. old Bristol will rage for eternity. There has been no denying that there has at least been passing occurring over the years whether it was with the lane at the top of the track or the bottom. For whatever reason, Sunday’s race had virtually no passing. The bottom had no speed and, with 15 cautions, every time cars had to restart on the bottom they were virtually assured of going backwards. Aside from Kyle Busch and Kenseth, almost no one else could move forward. Throw in two drivers leading over 400 laps and this one rates one, lukewarm Yee Haw Beer.
Where do you point your DVR for next week – For the second time in two weeks and the third time this month, the series heads to a short track. There are six short track races on the schedule and half of them take place in April. The race coverage next week starts at 1:00 on Sunday, April 24th. The race will be shown on your local Fox affiliate. It can also be heard on your local MRN station and SiriusXM NASCAR Channel 90.
About the author
What is it that Mike Neff doesn’t do? The writer, radio contributor and racetrack announcer coordinates the site’s local short track coverage, hitting up Saturday Night Specials across the country while tracking the sport’s future racing stars. The writer for our signature Cup post-race column, Thinkin’ Out Loud (Mondays) also sits down with Cup crew chiefs to talk shop every Friday with Tech Talk. Mike announces several shows each year for the Good Guys Rod and Custom Association. He also pops up everywhere from PRN Pit Reporters and the Press Box with Alan Smothers to SIRIUS XM Radio. He has announced at tracks all over the Southeast, starting at Millbridge Speedway. He's also announced at East Lincoln Speedway, Concord Speedway, Tri-County Speedway, Caraway Speedway, and Charlotte Motor Speedway.