Who… gets my shoutout of the race?
I’ve got a pair of them this week. Well, make it three, because Matt DiBenedetto deserves all the accolades he can get after an impressive performance that Carl Edwards said afterward was probably more difficult for the No. 83 team than the win was for his. There’s more on him below, though.
Meanwhile, mid-race, another small team grabbed a piece of the spot light when Landon Cassill and his No. 38 team gambled on pit strategy, staying out under caution to lead 20 laps. He had a top-10 run going from there on out, and the only thing that derailed it was a tangle with Ty Dillon, who got loose in front of Cassill on a flat tire late in the race. The damage to the No. 38 car was minor, but it was enough to drop Cassill to 22nd, the last driver on the lead lap, instead getting him the finish he deserved.
Like DiBenedetto, Cassill is an extremely talented driver who has shown time and again that lack of money does not mean lack of talent. And for a small team with nothing to lose, making the gamble was an excellent call. Calls like that one make the racing better for the fans.
Finally, while his finish was underwhelming, Casey Mears had the save of the day (and perhaps of the season) on Lap 340, when AJ Allmendinger, frustrated with Michael Annett, got a little too aggressive and got into the No. 13 car instead, knocking Mears sideways. Mears somehow managed to hold onto it and get it going straight after sliding all the way through Turns 1 and 2 facing the infield. He, like most others who come from an off-road background, has outstanding car control, which he got to show off on Sunday. As a result, there might be an extra dry-cleaning charge on his uniform, but Mears salvaged his race.
— NASCAR (@NASCAR) April 17, 2016
What… is the takeaway from this race?
The 2016 competition package continues to impress. There was some great racing all day long, including a little bumper tag, some fantastic saves, a sprinkling of tempers and overall, it was one of the best races at Bristol since the track was reconfigured. It was hot, and several drivers commented on how physically worn out they felt, and Jimmie Johnson battled cramping in his foot during the race. Toughing it out when the track is hard on drivers should be a big part of the game, but it’s one we often overlook.
Another observation: this race was the first one actually run during the day at Bristol since 2013, as the previous two scheduled day races ran into the night after lengthy rain delays. And once again, racing in the sun put night racing to shame. Night racing is flashy, but day races provide better competition. If a second groove had come in better throughout the race Sunday, it would have been the best show at Bristol in years.
Where… did the pole sitter and the defending race winner wind up?
Carl Edwards didn’t dominate the entire race. However, he did for most of it. He led eight times for more than half the total laps of the day, including the last three. Kurt Busch threatened late in the going, but Edwards took advantage on the final restart and was the one doing backflip when it was over, his first win of 2016.
Matt Kenseth qualified second and it wasn’t long before he wanted a piece of the action, taking the lead for the first of three times on Lap 43, but a pair of accidents were his downfall Sunday. A tire issue sent him into the wall on Lap 188, and while there wasn’t extensive damage, he fell back to 20th. He climbed back into the top 5 by Lap 300 only to suffer a second issue soon afterward, and this one he couldn’t recover from. The No. 20 car was running at the end, but that’s about the best he’ll be able to say of his 36th-place run at the water cooler on Monday.
When… did it all go sideways?
Tires were public enemy No. 1 on Sunday, but the issues weren’t necessarily a product of actual failures but rather a mix of melted beads, cuts from debris and contact and loose wheels. A couple of tire-related issues did become clearer at Bristol.
One thing for sure is that there’s still work to be done. The softer tires we’ve seen in 2016 have made for improved racing as tire wear is once again something teams have to contend with. However, the tires are not laying rubber down on the racing surface, either. I’m not an engineer, nor do I play one on TV, so maybe a softer compound simply can’t be found that will rubber up a racing groove. But if it’s possible, it needs to happen. Creating a second groove would have made the racing on Sunday insanely exciting.
Why… did Carl Edwards win the race?
Some weeks this answer is more complex than others, and then there was this week. Nobody could touch the No. 19 car on the final restart. Edwards was strong when he was up front all day, leading 276 laps, and restarts were one chance to get a run on him. It didn’t hurt his chances that his closest competitors — namely his own Joe Gibbs Racing teammates — all suffered misfortune during the race. But in the end, he simply thumbed his nose at the competition as he drove away from them.
How… did the little guys do?
The three best:
Matt DiBenedetto; BK Racing: DiBenedetto is a talented short-track racer, and this week, the team was able to put him in exactly the position he needed to be in to bring home a career-best sixth-place finish. He ran near the back of the lead lap for the early part of the race, but moved up late.
DiBenedetto restarted eighth on what would prove to be the final green flag of the day, and worked his way to sixth on the five-lap shootout. He’s shown some flashes of brilliance, and he’s showing them a bit more in 2016. He is one of the more underrated drivers in the garage in terms of his raw talent, but the competition can’t hold him down forever, and he’s got a bright future in the sport.
Clint Bowyer: HScott Motorsports: A week after saying he was “miserable” waiting for his seat in the No. 14 ride to open up next year, Bowyer found himself in the top 10 at Bristol. Short tracks are an equalizer of sorts, and he took advantage of being able to run with the leaders late in the race. He avoided trouble all day and moved forward when he needed to. A strong run at Richmond would really be good medicine for this bunch.
Ryan Blaney; Wood Brothers Racing: Blaney just keeps on rolling. At one point, he climbed as high as second, only to fall back to 16th midrace. He had plenty of time to recover, and he raced back into the top 5 with 10 laps to go only to get shuffled on the final restart. 11th was by no means a bad finish, but it’s not indicative of how strong the team really was on Sunday.
All the rest:
|83||Matt DiBenedetto||BK Racing||Cosmo Motors Toyota||30th||6th|
Very good effort from this team; stayed on lead lap as laps wound down and raced to sixth on final restart
|15||Clint Bowyer||HScott Motorsports||5-hour Energy Chevy||36th||8th|
On lead lap all day; top-10 a shot in the arm for the team
|21||Ryan Blaney||Wood Brothers Racing||Motorcraft / Quick Lane Ford||18th||11th|
Very fast, ran as high as second and was able to pass on the inside quite often early.
|47||AJ Allmendinger||JTG Daugherty Racing||Bush’s Beans Chevy||9th||19th|
Very strong early, lost track position due to unscheduled pit stop for loose wheel
|34||Chris Buescher||Front Row Motorsports||Love’s Travel Stops Ford||21st||21st|
Strong lead lap run—he says the team feels close to turning a corner; got shuffled late out of top 15
|38||Landon Cassill||Front Row Motorsports||Snap Fitness Ford||28th||22nd|
Stayed out under caution to take lead; led 20 laps and raced Edwards door-to-door for a lap and a half on old tires; paid off on next caution, came out 5th and held in top 10 but tangled with Ty Dillon, who had a tire going down and fell to 22ns
|13||Casey Mears||Germain Racing||GEICO Chevy||16th||24th|
Reported the car was bouncing around a lot during first half—had a fantastic save after contact from Allmendinger on lap 340 but handling was damaged enough to make for a challenge for the rest of the day
|98||Cole Whitt||Premium Motorsports||Chevy||39th||28th|
Attrition and keeping his car clean resulted in a top-30 run—maybe not the best way to get one but they earned it
|95||Michael McDowell||Circle Sport-Leavine Family Racing||KLOVE Radio Chevy||31st||29th|
Raced well within this group for most of the day; unscheduled stop for a tire late cost him two additional laps
|46||Michael Annett||HScott Motorsports||Pilot Flying J Chevy||40th||31st|
Struggles continue; team may need to make unpleasant changes; late spin after racing Kevin Harvick, who was on the lead lap racing for position
|32||Jeffrey Earnhardt||GO FAS Racing||Keen Parts / Visone RVFord||37th||32nd|
Stayed out of trouble but didn’t have the car to be competitive at all, not due to anything he’s doing
|30||Josh Wise||The Motorsports Group||Curtis Key Plumbing Chevy||35th||33rd|
Not a bad run early; tangled with Austin Dillon midrace and had damage afterward
|7||Regan Smith||Tommy Baldwin Racing||APC Chevy||29th||37th|
Spent multiple laps in the garage early for repairs, got back on track but was spun by Danica Patrick with eight laps to go
|23||David Ragan||BK Racing||Dr. Pepper Toyota||24th||39th|
Had issues from the start; engine failure ended day after 211 laps
|55||Reed Sorenson||Premium Motorsports||ChampionMachinery.com Chevy||38th||40th|
Woefully underpowered; lost a lap before 20 were complete; out after 196 laps for suspension…start and park to help pay for the No. 98?