Who… gets my shoutout of the race?
Some days just don’t go as planned. It just seems like if you’re Kasey Kahne, that would be more or less every day. The No. 5 team and he have had more than their fair share of bad luck over the last couple of seasons, often having finishes that didn’t reflect the speed they had. This week, they were able to give themselves a boost with a strong run that resulted in his first top 5 of 2016. The team is capable of that kind of run on a regular basis, and it’s been a bit of a mystery why they haven’t been. It’s too soon to declare Kahne out from under Lady Luck’s thumb just yet, but he sorely needed the run he had this week.
What… is the takeaway from this race?
There was a a lot to chew on after this one. While a FOX fan poll pre-race showed that fans didn’t like the switch from night to day, the race was one of the best at Richmond, because the daytime heat made the track slick and opened up multiple racing lines. Other than Bristol and the day-to night challenge of the Coca-Cola 600 (and starting that one a good hour earlier would be even better), why race at night when we’ve seen better racing time and again during the day?
— Jimmie Johnson (@JimmieJohnson) April 24, 2016
Also, is Roush Fenway Racing starting to turn around? Trevor Bayne had his first top 5 since his 2011 Daytona 500 victory last week at Bristol, and an unscheduled pit stop derailed what had been a strong run for Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. this week. Both Bayne and Stenhouse are in the top 20 in the standings, something that seemed far out of reach a year ago. Greg Biffle is struggling a bit more than the youngsters, but the organization has shown some signs of life recently. The more different teams that are able to mix it up, the better the experience will be for race fans, so a turnaround would be good for everyone.
Where… did the pole sitter and the defending race winner wind up?
Kevin Harvick started up front based on his top speed in the first practice session after rain washed out qualifying. He led the first 21 laps and went on to lead twice more for a race total of 63 laps. Harvick rain inside the top 5 all day long and wound up fifth—not quite the show of strength many expected of him, and it cost him the points lead as Carl Edwards takes over the top spot after two straight wins.
Kurt Busch worked his way up to the front and went on to lead 55 laps. Had it not been for the final caution of the day, he might have cruised all the way to the win, but Busch lost four sports on his final pit stop and then fell back on restart all the way to 10th spot. The team claimed they made no changes on that last pit stop, but whatever they did didn’t work out for Busch. Still, it was a good day for the team—Busch hasn’t looked like a favorite to win most weeks, but he flexed a lot of muscle this week.
When… did it all go sideways?
As far as the race goes, it couldn’t have been much better. There were multiple grooves, thanks to tires that wore out but laid down rubber. Cars were three and even four-wide for position at times. There was a good old-fashioned bump and run for the win—between teammates, no less. To the delight of his fans, Smoke was back in the saddle. The weather was picture-perfect, and running during the day made a track that’s usually good even better.
Yet, if you followed along on social media, the complaints rained down. There wasn’t enough passing. Joe Gibbs Racing is too dominant and their drivers win too much (somewhere, Rick Hendrick is laughing). It was boring. Television only showed the leaders (OK, yes, they did, I agree with that one). Nobody raced hard because they were already locked into the Chase (Carl Edwards must have missed that memo). (Insert driver here) is a (insert creative insult here).
Color me confused. The racing has been some of the best NASCAR has seen in at least a decade and it’s more competitive than a lot of times during the glory years we love to talk about. I’d love to hear from the fans who are complaining about poor racing exactly what would make a race good these days—invert the field at halfway? Mandatory crash every 10 laps? Resurrect Dale Earnhardt?
Yeah, the Chase is terrible, and it’s hurt the sport immeasurably. But this year the racing has been good enough that the Chase has taken a backseat for the time being. The individual races are worth watching. No, not every fan will be happy, and for many, their satisfaction is tied to the performance of a certain driver, but looking for every shred of negativity is getting a little old.
Why… did Carl Edwards win the race?
As the field took the white flag behind Kyle Busch, it looked as though Edwards was done for—he was a coupe of car lengths back, and though he’d run Busch down in the closing laps after the final restart, Edwards looked like he’d used up his car. He made one last-ditch effort entering Turn 1 and couldn’t make it stick.
So, in the last turn, Edwards took one more tack—he executed a textbook-perfect bump and run on his teammate, moving Busch up the track and taking away his momentum without spinning him or putting him in the wall. While Busch was busy reining in his suddenly wayward car, Edwards was running to the checkers for the win. It was classic short-track NASCAR, and a reminder that stock cars have bumpers for a reason. It wasn’t a dirty move (though it would have been if he’d wrecked Busch outright); it was a racing move right out of the good ol’ days.
Of course the real test will be if Edwards would be as accepting of the move if he was on the other end, and he’s got the reputation of being a sore loser. But he laid down a gauntlet on Sunday, sending the message to his competitors, loud and clear, that the bump and run is acceptable to him. They’ll remember that when the tables are turned.
How… did the little guys do?
The three best:
David Ragan; BK Racing: So far, this team just might be the most improved in the series. They’ve gone from fighting for top 30 finishes to fighting for top 20s—a huge leap given the level of competition. Last week, it was Matt DiBenedetto with a top 10 at Bristol and this time around, it was Ragan having an impressive day, working his way into the top 20 after starting 30th and from there he was best in class. He got shuffled to 23rd after a plethora of late-race cautions, but the team said afterwards they felt they had a top-15 car. Things are looking up in the BK corral.
The @sweetFrog Toyota was loving those long green flag runs early on. Too many cautions cost us a top 15 finish.
Had lots of fun all day!
— David Ragan (@DavidRagan) April 24, 2016
AJ Allmendinger; JTG Daugherty Racing:
Allmendinger finished near the top of this group, as he should have. But Richmond represented a frustrating race for the No. 47 bunch as they started 10th, quickly falling to the mid-20s, where they remained mired for the rest of the day, finishing 25th. It’s certainly nothing to panic about, though the team hoped to carry some momentum to Talladega, as Allmendinger has struggled at restrictor-plate tracks in the past.
Landon Cassill; Front Row Motorsports: Cassill maintains his season-long streak of top-30 finishes, an impressive step forward for the young driver and proof positive that a good driver will rise to the level of his equipment. He drew the ire of a couple of competitors Sunday—at one point a rival spotter called him “a weapon” as he raced for position, but he wasn’t overaggressive. He did get into Ryan Ellis on a late restart, but that wasn’t really due to anything he did worng. Ellis had to check up after Michael Annett got squirrely in front of him, and the chain reaction ended with Cassill getting into Ellis.
All the rest:
|23||David Ragan||BK Racing||Sweet Frog Toyota||30th||23rd|
Moved up nicely in first half of the race—inside top 20 before halfway; lucky break at third caution-had a tire rub when it came out
|47||AJ Allmendinger||JTG Daugherty Racing||Kroger / Bush’s Beans Chevy||10th||25th|
Another top start for this team; fell back early and was 21st by lap 52; couldn’t recover from early fade though they did salvage a lead-lap finish
|21||Ryan Blaney||Wood Brothers Racing||Motorcraft / Quick Lane Ford||29th||28th|
Lost a lap early and later missed chance at free pass when he lined up incorrectly on previous start; team never was able to improve the car much.
|13||Casey Mears||Germain Racing||GEICO Chevy||25th||29th|
Never got comfortable in the car; reported worsening brake vibration in second half. Mears was unhappy with Brian Scott in closing laps and vehemently voiced his frustration with team’s performance after the race.
|83||Matt DiBenedetto||BK Racing||E.J. Wade Construction Toyota||36th||30th|
Moved up to 29th early but fell back and lost a lap by lap 50. Top 30 shows team still moving in the right direction
|95||Michael McDowell||Circle Sport-Leavine Family Racing||WRL General Contractors Chevy||32nd||31st|
Ran a clean race and kept car clean, but didn’t show same speed they’ve had at times this season
|38||Landon Cassill||Front Row Motorsports||The Pete Store Ford||28th||27th|
Was able to pick up spots at times but was mired in the same traffic all day; got into Ryan Ellis on a late restart to trigger another caution; not his best run, but still a top 30
|7||Regan Smith||Tommy Baldwin Racing||APC Chevy||34th||32nd|
Car got better in second half of the race but the competition in this group was tough Sunday
|15||Clint Bowyer||HScott Motorsports||5-hour Energy Chevy||39th||33rd|
Was vocally unhappy throughout practices; team is capable of more (and showed it at Bristol) but can’t seem toput it together. At some point, have to wonder if the 46 is bringing them down
|34||Chris Buescher||Front Row Motorsports||A&W Ford||33rd||34th|
Uncontrolled tire penalty under caution; contact with No. 13 later on. Team struggled with handling throughout.
|46||Michael Annett||HScott Motorsports||Pilot Flying J Chevy||40th||36th|
Pit road speeding penalty under first caution; team has not shown improvement. Annett bobbled on 7th restart and that set up a chain reaction spin by the No, 93. Have to wonder at this point if Annett is holding team and organization back.
|93||Ryan Ellis||BK Racing||Science Logic Toyota||37th||37th|
Ran a clean race; got spun on restart in chain reaction where the No. 46 bobbled in front of him and the 38 tagged him from behind; not his fault, and he was able to continue
|32||Jeffery Earnhardt||GO FAS Racing||Corvetteparts.net Ford||38th||38th|
Earnhardt isn’t doing anything wrong—he’s racing clean and completing laps. Equipment is lacking and stellar rookie class is hard to get noticed in this year
|30||Josh Wise||The Motorsports Group||Curtis Key Plumbing Chevy||31st||39th|
Team just doesn’t have the equipment to be competitive, even within this group—it would make better sense to put effort into XFINITY Series, where they would likely be able to run mid-pack.
|55||Reed Sorenson||Premium Motorsports||ChampionMachinery.com Chevy||35th||40th|
Best start in four races this season; cut tire caused caution number 2; was slowest car consistently
|98||Cole Whitt||Premium Motorsports||Toyota||DNQ||—|
New qualifying rules for 2016 didn’t work in Whitt’s favor