Key Moment – With 25 laps to go, Joey Logano’s car lost a cylinder in his engine. Logano was the only car on the track that had
shown any potential to challenge Brad Keselowski for the win. Once his car no longer had all its ponies, the only worry left for the eventual winner was whether or not his power plant would suffer the same fate.
In a Nutshell – Brad Keselowski started the race on the pole. He led at the drop of the green and, outside of a handful of laps that he didn’t lead when he wasn’t the first car off of pit road after caution flag pit stops, he ran away with the event. In a typical night race, on an intermediate race track, 95% of the passing took place within five laps of restarts. In the end, the race was Keselowski’s world and everyone else was just trying to get a nut.
Dramatic Moment – Kyle Busch was among several cars who came down pit lane on lap 214 to make a green flag stop. The caution flag flew as the cars were making their pit stops. As a result, Busch cycled around to the be leader after the other cars made their caution flag stops. The sequence of events allowed Busch to lead for 31 laps. He was the only car not from Penske Racing to lead during the event, but he still couldn’t fend off the advances of Keselowski.
What They’ll be Talking About Around the Water Cooler
For those of you who haven’t been paying attention, NASCAR is in trouble. The sanctioning body has signed a big ol’ fat contract with NBC to broadcast their races for years to come. That means the suits in Daytona are going to take home bigger paychecks every race weekend next year. Unfortunately for the sport, those suits don’t own race teams. There were only 42 cars that attempted to make the race. That is the first time since 2001 that 42 cars have started a Cup series race. The 2001 New Hampshire race was rescheduled after 9/11. Between the originally scheduled race and the actual race date the Eel River Racing No. 27 withdrew after having originally been in the field based on owner points. There were still 46 cars entered but the race only featured the 42 cars still active in the series at that point in time. The 1997 Die Hard 500 at Talladega started 42 cars but that was the scheduled total. There were still cars that DNQ. Since that race, the scheduled total of cars has been 43 and this race is the first time, since then, that only 42 cars attempted to make a race. Frontstretch has been bemoaning the lack of race teams and the fact that NASCAR continues to pilfer companies to be ‘official’ sponsors while teams are struggling to find sponsorship. If the sanctioning body doesn’t seriously look at helping new teams break into the sport, it won’t be long before there is no sport to break into.
Along those same lines, it was reported this week that Home Depot is waving the white flag of surrender on their sponsorship in NASCAR after this season. Home Depot was the sole sponsor on Tony Stewart’s No. 20 car for the vast majority of his career at Joe Gibbs Racing. Smoke ran a Subway scheme at Phoenix in 2008. HD also shared the car with Coca-Cola and Subway a handful of times. Once Joey Logano took over the No. 20 they were still the sponsor for all but one race each year from 2009 through 2011. The split scheme came about in 2012 when Dollar General stepped up and HD agreed to give up some of the races. Since then the amount of orange on the car throughout the season has been less and less. Seeing a longtime sponsor decide that the value of Cup sponsorship is not worthwhile, especially on a car that led the series in wins and contended for the title until the final race in 2013, is unsettling.
Keselowski apparently needs to stick with large beer cans for his post race victory celebrations. In an inexplicable event, he apparently was having difficulty removing the cork from the bottle for the ceremonial waste of bubbly. Keselowski attempted to hit the cork on the stand that holds the trophy in Victory Lane. The bottle shattered on the third or fourth attempt and one of the resultant shards of glass lacertated his hand. He was rushed to the infield care center and received four stitches to close the gash.
Kentucky Speedway is supposedly in the heart of racing country, and apparently that heart needs a pacemaker. Whether it is still a hangover from the parking debacle of the first Cup race, a statement about the product on the track or just a sign of the economic times, the stands at Kentucky Speedway appeared to be sparsely filled in the few shots shown on TV. The track website states the capacity of the grandstands is 107,000 fans. A purely unprofessional estimate would be that there were 60,000 or fewer fans in the seats. For a track hosting its fourth race, at a venue that only sports one Cup race per season, it is an embarrassment that the fans of the region don’t support the event with more vigor.
President Obama honored Jimmie Johnson at the White House, along with his team, to celebrate their 2013 Cup championship. He called Johnson the Michael Jordan of NASCAR. If that is the case then Richard Petty must be the Bill Russell of NASCAR. Jeff Gordon might be the Steve Kerr of NASCAR, while Tony Stewart could be the Dennis Rodman.
For those people who thought “NASCAR Now” on ESPN had disappeared long ago, the news this week might have been a surprise that the show still existed. It was announced that the show, which had been relegated to the insomniac hours in the middle of the early morning, will not return from its time off for the coverage of the World Cup. The network claims they are still going to aggressively cover the sport through the end of the season, when their contract to broadcast races expires.
The Hindenburg Award for Foul Fortune
Jamie McMurray was moving to the front after the midway point of the race when Alex Bowman spun in front of him out of turn two. McMurray was able to get his car checked up and miss the car of Bowman. As the smoke cleared from in front of McMurray’s car he felt like he’d dodged a bullet, but as he picked up the throttle to head back around to the start/finish line, Aric Almirola swerved to miss Bowman on the high side. Sadly, McMurray was there, and the resulting contact killed both of their cars for the rest of the night.
Denny Hamlin started the race in fourth position, but that was the extent of his good fortune on Saturday night. Hamlin was running in the third position on lap 29, attempting to make the high line work, when his right front tire suffered a rapid loss of air pressure. The contact with the wall had Hamlin visibly shaken, but the driver was able to walk out of the infield care center. Hamlin finished last in the event but, since there were only 42 cars entered he was credited with two points instead of one.
In the “add insult to injury” category, Aric Almirola severely damaged his car when he hit Jamie McMurray. After his team made patchwork repairs to get him back on the track to try and salvage the best finish he could, he proceeded to cut a right front tire and pound the wall to bring out the final caution of the race. Almirola ended up 39th after running in the top 10 before his incident with McMurray.
The “Seven Come for Eleven” Award for Fine Fortune
Joey Logano had a strong car but lost a cylinder which prevented him from contending for the win. While that would land most drivers in the Hindenburg category, Logano’s engine stayed together and he was able to score a top-10 finish on seven cylinders.
Similar to Kyle Busch, Ryan Newman was on pit road when the caution flew on lap 215. He and his No. 31 team were able to complete their pit stop and get out before the leader came by to put them a lap down. As a result he was able to restart the race second and eventually come home in the third spot. After a great run all night long, that bit of fine fortune allowed Newman to score the first top 5 of the season by an RCR driver not named Paul Menard.
Matt Kenseth had some fine fortune during the race when he was able to overcome a flat tire on lap 121 using pit strategy and cautions to get back on the lead lap and claw his way to a top-5 finish. His fortune better amplified his fortune from earlier in the weekend when it was announced that Kenseth’s contract with Joe Gibbs Racing had been extended in conjunction with Dollar General increasing their involvement and extending their agreement with JGR.
Brad Keselowski’s win is his 12th career victory in 178 Cup series starts. Keselowski is alone in 56th on the all-time wins list, one behind Dick Rathman and Tim Richmond. His triumph is his first ever win from the pole.
The victory is Keselowski’s second win at Kentucky in four career starts. It is also his second win of the season.
Kyle Busch’s runner-up finish is his second career top 2 at Kentucky Speedway. The second place finish is Busch’s second top 2 of 2014
Ryan Newman’s third place effort was his first top 3 of the season and his first at Kentucky.
Austin Dillon came home in 16th to score Rookie of the Race honors.
Michael Annett came home in 18th for his second best finish of the season.
On track passes for the lead – 4
Before you get too excited about four on-track passes for the lead realize that all four of them were Brad Keselowski taking the lead away from other drivers.
What’s the Points
Points don’t matter as much as wins. The 10 race winners are listed below along with the six drivers who would make the Chase on points at this juncture of the season.
Daytona and Pocono – Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
Phoenix and Darlington – Kevin Harvick
Las Vegas and Kentucky – Brad Keselowski
Bristol and Sonoma – Carl Edwards
California – Kyle Busch
Martinsville – Kurt Busch
Texas and Richmond – Joey Logano
Talladega – Denny Hamlin
Kansas – Jeff Gordon
Charlotte, Dover and Michigan – Jimmie Johnson
Drivers making the Chase on points who do not have wins:
5) Matt Kenseth
8) Ryan Newman
11) Paul Menard
12) Kyle Larson
13) Greg Biffle
14) Clint Bowyer
Overall rating (On a scale of 1-6, where 1 is a stinker and six is the finest of brews and a instant classic.)
We’ve gone down this road before and it never ends well. A night race or evening race or whatever you want to call the event at Kentucky Speedway is a recipe for boredom, and the product did not hesitate to fulfill the promise. Four on-track passes for the lead and not many other passes outside of the five laps after restarts is unacceptable, especially on a track with a racing surface that is going to be repaved soon and is loaded with character. Last year, the race was postponed by rain and the racing was fantastic during the daytime. The fact that Brad Keselowski was absolutely dominant limited the potential of the race anyway, but the inability to pass anywhere just lumped it into the full on stinker category. As a result, we give it one lukewarm Hudepohl. If you’ve never heard of it, Google it.
17 races are in the books so we’re one race shy of the halfway point of the season. As always, the symbolic midway point of the season, even if it isn’t exactly the midway point of the season, is Daytona. While it is now called the Coke Zero 400 powered by Coca-Cola, old schoolers will still call it the Firecracker 400. The penultimate race in the TNT Summer Series will be shown at 7:30 PM Saturday, July 5th. It will also be available on MRN at the same time.