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Thinkin’ Out Loud: Irwin Tools Night Race
Credit: CIA Editorial Photography

Thinkin’ Out Loud: Irwin Tools Night Race

Key Moment - With 67 laps to go the caution flag flew for what ended up being the final time on Saturday night. Matt Kenseth stayed on the track with four other cars while Joey Logano headed to pit lane and bolted on four fresh bolognas. When the race restarted, Logano took the green in sixth position and quickly sliced through the cars in front of him. He worked his way past Kenseth on lap 456 and never lost the lead again.

Credit: CIA Editorial Photography

Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and Denny Hamlin saw their Bristol nights end quickly when Kevin Harvick made an on-track mistake. (Credit: CIA Stock Photography)

In a Nutshell – It’s Bristol Baby! The track used to have one groove around the bottom. Now it is one groove around the top, although there is some ability to make some time at the bottom in short spurts. In typical Bristol fashion, there were some cautions early, a long run in the middle and some cautions late. Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski lingered around the front most of the night, and they battled to the finish line as Logano scored his third win of the season. In between, Denny Hamlin pushed the bounds of the new driver safety rule, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. had his car opened up like a can of sardines and Kyle Busch was called a whiny ass by his crew chief.

Dramatic MomentKevin Harvick and Denny Hamlin were battling for the lead when Harvick misjudged the length of his car and caught the rear bumper of Hamlin coming off of turn 4. The resulting spin killed Hamlin’s car and ended his night. Hamlin also caught Dale Earnhardt, Jr.’s car with his nose as he slid up the track, ripping off most of the driver’s side and basically ending the night for the No. 88 as well.

What They’ll be Talking About Around the Water Cooler

The 2015 schedule is coming out on Tuesday night at 5:00 p.m. Eastern. There are rumors flying about what is in store on the Cup side of things. One thing is for sure, the Spring Bristol race will move to the middle of April, hopefully affording some better weather than the current March date. The rest of the information people are hearing is being reported by sources. The word is that Darlington is going to host the Southern 500 on the Sunday before Labor Day with an afternoon start time. Atlanta’s race date is reported to be heading to March. While it is great news for Darlington, that could be the death knell for Atlanta’s race. The fans don’t show up over Labor Day weekend, and they certainly won’t show up in the cold of March.

Tires were a factor at Bristol once again. They weren’t a huge factor but they did make a difference. Heading to Atlanta the same will hopefully hold true. After this Summer of tires not falling off, we will hopefully be headed back to tires that give up and put the racing in the drivers’ hands.

Looking at it from the outside, it would appear that changes are not done at Joe Gibbs Racing. Kyle Busch led early on Saturday night before his car was caught up in the third caution of the night. After struggling with the damaged vehicle for most of the night, the decision was made to give up the fight. Crew chief Dave Rogers told Kyle to park his car at the back of the team’s hauler. The actual statement on the radio was “Park it behind the truck and take your whiny little ass to the bus.”. Busch pulled his car off of turn two and parked it, forcing his team to push the car back to the hauler. The two had a meeting in the team hauler as the race was winding down and Rogers characterized it as a productive meeting. It may not happen but it is hard to imagine that Rogers will be back on the box of the No. 18 for 2015. More than likely he’ll be the head wrench for the No. 19.

After Denny Hamlin was taken out by Kevin Harvick, the driver of the No. 11 didn’t go quietly into the ambulance for his required ride to the infield care center. He stayed on the apron with his car long enough to chuck his HANS device at Harvick. It is the first occurrence of such behavior since the Tony Stewart rule went into effect. It will be interesting to see what comes of his actions, considering he did step toward the racing surface and another moving vehicle, which is clearly in violation of the new rule. For those of you who didn’t memorize it verbatim when it was released, here it is:

Section 9-16 On-Track Incident Procedure

During an Event, if a racecar is involved in an on-track incident and/or is stopped on or near the racing surface and unable to continue to make forward progress, unless extenuating emergency conditions exist with the racecar (i.e. fire, smoke in cockpit, etc.) the driver should take the following steps:
·         Shut off electrical power and, if driver is uninjured, lower window net
·         Do not loosen, disconnect or remove any driver personal safety equipment until directed to do so by safety personnel or a NASCAR/Track Official
·         After being directed to exit the racecar, the driver should proceed to either the ambulance, other vehicle, or as otherwise directed by safety personnel or a NASCAR/Track Official
·         At no time should a driver or crew member(s) approach any portion of the racing surface or apron
·         At no time should a driver or crew member(s) approach another moving vehicle

The No. 48 team kicks butt and takes names. They don’t need baubles or trinkets to bring them good luck. Apparently that is no longer the case after their latest spate of bad luck. Jimmie Johnson made the drive to the other side of Mooresville to plead with the decision makers at Lowe’s corporate headquarters to return his car back to the white on blue paint scheme that has been so successful for them over the years instead of the blue on white that has not been getting the job done. Take it for what it is worth, but it certainly appears as though the swagger has been lost by the six-time series titlists.

For the second year in a row, someone saw fit to hand a race car driver a sword in Victory Lane at Bristol. The Last Great Colosseum gig is cool and all, but deadly weapons in the hands of drivers is probably not a good idea.

The Hindenburg Award for Foul Fortune

Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and Denny Hamlin weren’t running that close together on the track when Kevin Harvick made contact with Hamlin’s bumper and sent him to the inside wall. Unfortunately, Hamlin came off of the wall and slid back up the track, contacting the side of Earnhardt’s car and basically ending both of their nights. While Hamlin threw in the towel and headed home immediately, Earnhardt’s crew thrashed to get his car back out 106 laps down. After a couple handfuls of laps, the futility of the effort was obvious and Earnhardt packed it up too.

Kyle Busch, Aric Almirola, Clint Bowyer and Brian Vickers all were caught up in the incident that brought out the third caution of the night. Almirola’s night was done at that point, while Kyle Busch plodded on before parking his damaged machine and wrapping up the night 58 laps down in 36th. Bowyer and Vickers were able to continue but never contended near the front of the pack, ultimately coming home in 17th and 21st, respectively.

 

Credit: CIA Editorial Photography

Ryan Truex returned to the track at Bristol after being sidelined by a concussion. (Credit: CIA Stock Photography)

Ryan Truex‘s weekend was bittersweet to say the least. After missing Michigan with a concussion suffered in a practice crash, he was cleared to race at Bristol and looked to have a good night for his BK Racing team. Truex started 33rd and barely got into the rhythm of the race before his car was involved in the second caution of the night. His team kept his car in the race and he was soldiering to a finish when his engine threw in the towel after completing just 338 laps.

The “Seven Come for Eleven” Award for Fine Fortune

Kyle Larson came into Bristol as a driver to watch. He was very quick in practice and went into qualifying looking to set himself up for a strong night. He lost control in qualifying and damaged his car, resulting in rolling out the backup and starting at the rear. Larson was involved in the third caution of the night and had a couple other brushes with the wall. In the end, his team used some pit strategy and driver skill to bring home a 12th-place finish.

Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. has shown that Bristol is probably his best track on the schedule. After a second-place finish this Spring, he followed it up with a sixth-place finish on Saturday night. Stenhouse was mid-pack or worse for almost the first 400 laps of the race, but when the money was on the line he was in the top ten and made it count.

Michael McDowell had a pretty darn sweet weekend in the northeastern Tennessee mountains. He announced a new sponsor on his No. 95 ride. Thrivent Financial is a faith-based financial services company that embodies McDowell’s belief system. He then was honored with delivering the invocation for the race. He finished it off by running 18th , his second best finish of the season.

Worth Noting

Joey Logano’s win is his first career Cup victory at Bristol Motor Speedway in 12 starts. The win is Logano’s third victory of 2014, which has doubled his career win total to six.

The triumph by Logano puts him in sole possession of 69th on the all-time NASCAR Cup series wins list in 207 career starts.

Ford’s sweep of the three national series races at Bristol is the first for the blue oval since 2006 when they accomplished the same feat at Bristol.

Brad Keselowski’s runner-up finish was his sixth top-2 effort of 2014.

Keselowski’s second-place run is his this career top 2 at Bristol in 10 career starts.

Matt Kenseth came home third for the seventh podium finish at Bristol in 30 starts during his career.

Kenseth’s top 3 is his third such finish of 2014.

Kyle Larson took the checkered flag in 12th place and was the Rookie of the Race.

Larson spent over seven and a half minutes on pit lane Saturday night, the most of anyone who completed all 500 laps.

Denny Hamlin, AJ Allmendinger, Kurt Busch and Aric Almirola are all locked in the Chase and are 20th, 21st, 22nd and 24th in points respectively. Looking at their current positions, Casey Mears should feel very good about being 23rd.

Brad Keselowski’s win in the Truck Series on Thursday morning made him the 25th driver in the history of NASCAR to win in all three of the national touring series.

What’s the Points

Points don’t matter as much as wins. The 12 race winners are listed below, along with the four drivers who would make the Chase on points at this juncture of the season.

Winners:

Daytona, Pocono and Pocono (2) – Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
Phoenix and Darlington – Kevin Harvick
Las Vegas, Kentucky and New Hampshire – Brad Keselowski
Bristol and Sonoma – Carl Edwards
California – Kyle Busch
Martinsville – Kurt Busch
Texas, Richmond and Bristol (2) – Joey Logano
Talladega – Denny Hamlin
Kansas, Indianapolis and Michigan (2) – Jeff Gordon
Charlotte, Dover and Michigan – Jimmie Johnson
Daytona (2) – Aric Almirola
Watkins Glen – AJ Allmendinger

Drivers making the Chase on points who do not have wins:

5) Matt Kenseth
9) Ryan Newman
10) Clint Bowyer
11) Greg Biffle

With two races left in the “regular season,” there will be at least two drivers in the Chase on the basis of points. Matt Kenseth is 83 markers ahead of Kyle Larson heading to Atlanta. Provided Kenseth can leave Atlanta with a 49 point cushion over whoever sits fifth among drivers without a victory, he’ll be locked into the Chase. It will be much more hotly contested for the next spot due to the tight proximity of points between the drivers ninth through sixteenth in points, as none of them have a win.

Overall Rating(On a scale of one to six beer cans with one being a stinker and a six pack an instant classic) – New Bristol versus old Bristol is always going to taint the opinion of people watching races at the “Last Great Colosseum”. The new iteration of the track has moved the primary groove to the fence rather than the apron, and it does allow for passing without having to move cars, but not much. As a result there was extensive bumping and rubbing Saturday night and pit strategy put different cars at the front all night. Throw in a tossed HANS, at least two middle finger salutes caught on camera and a name calling contest between a crew chief and driver and you have a pretty darn good race. No ticket is hard to get on the Cup schedule anymore, but Bristol is on its way to being the best ticket available once again. We’ll give Saturday night’s contest five Sue-E Bacon Porters from Holston River Brewery.

Next Up The traveling thrill show is headed to the Dirty South as the schedule swings through Atlanta Motor Speedway for the only time during the season. The fast, well aged track has provided some of the closest finishes in the sport’s history and some exciting races that didn’t have nail biting finishes. If the rumors are true, this race will be the last to take place at AMS on Labor Day weekend. The race coverage is on ESPN Sunday evening, starting at 7:30 p.m. The race will also be broadcast on your local PRN affiliate and NASCAR Sirius XM channel 90.

About Mike Neff

Mike Neff
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 Sprint Cup post-race column, Thinkin’ Out Loud (Mondays) also sits down with Cup crew chiefs to talk shop every Thursday with Tech Talk. Mike works as track announcer for Millbridge Speedway and East Lincoln Speedway, local bullrings based outside of Charlotte, and pops up everywhere from Athlon Sports to SIRIUS XM Radio.

17 comments

  1. I went to the and it was a great time. A trip to Bristol should be on every race fan’s bucket list. There were a few empty seats but it was 90% full.

  2. The following statement is the reasons I have a problem with the medias coverage of racing. The article states ” Kyle Busch, Aric Almirola , Clint Bowyer and Brian Vickers all were caught up in the incident that brought out the third caution of the night.” Vickers wasn’t caught up in the incident, he started the incident when he got in to Kyle Larson. Writer pick and choose on who they want to blame or maybe they didn’t even watch the race.

  3. I don’t think Jimmie needs worry about the color scheme on his car. Be it purple, pink or whatever the 48 will be around at the end. Unless Goodyear decides to supply a tire that needs managed during the race then ole Jimmie may be challenged in the final 10. Don’t think Goodyear will change their ways though. How can we forget Jimmie boy crying the blues on TV when he had tire issues.

    • You are so right, tire management is not a strength for JJ. Unfortunately since goodyear has returned to the flintstone tires, life is all wonderful in the 48 camp again.

  4. Why is when Jimmy sucks another Hendrick driver is at the top. Time for change to slow the Chevy’s down I say

  5. Decent race, not great, but decent. It is interesting that the groove has now moved from the bottom to the top and that aero at a short track still poses a problem. But NASCAR of course is going to fix that by changing to a spec engine, yeah right. NASCAR needs better engineers and someone with a brain to run things.

    I laughed out loud at the comment from KyBu’s crew chief — good for him. Yeah, it really is time that Kryle grew up. Pouted and sulked after the Nationwide race, then sulked and pouted in the car during the Cup race. Coach Gibbs won’t change anything – he has and had (if you include Tony Stewart) drivers with the worst attitudes on the track and does nothing. He may be good at football but not so much at the track.

    It will be interesting to see what happens with the schedule. I like Atlanta, but I agree that March date will be rough – I’ve been there that time and year and it is wet and cold, not really great for sitting in the stands. I’m happy to hear about Darlington though.

  6. and i forgot….congrats to princess sparkle pony….a top 30 finish!

    if hendrick is smart, he won’t put chase elliott in full time cup ride til 2016. just cause you’re setting nationwide series on fire, doesn’t mean you’ll do the same in cup. he still needs time. yeah the kid has talent, but don’t rush his driver development. cup cars are still different than nationwide cars.

  7. Keselowski talking post-race about “dirty air” at Bristol pretty much proves that aero is everything, everywhere in NASCAR.

    After what essentially amounts to a Penske sweep of the weekend’s victory lanes, look for officials to “police the teams” a bit more.

  8. fell asleep….woke up and it was way over with.

    be interesting to see what the attendance looks like this coming weekend here in atlanta. you’ve got college football starting as well, with a big deal at the georgia dome and i think the braves are back in town.

    hopefully weather won’t be a factor. right now a slight chance for rain, but it’s still way too early to pack the rain gear. just hope it’s not as hot and humid as it was here this past weekend. man it was brutal.

    why does it seem that gibbs has the drivers that need constant counseling?!

  9. “The Last Great Colosseum gig is cool and all, but deadly weapons in the hands of drivers is probably not a good idea.”

    You’re idiot. That’s about as logical as listening to those in Chicago say that the need *more* gun laws.

  10. While Bristol still beats the hell out of any 1.5 mile track, there is no doubt that the racing isn’t as good as it once was. Watching cars rely on using slower cars as picks as the only way to pass just doesn’t cut it when compared to the old configuration with the groove at the bottom. I’ll give the race 4 cold Buds and drink them in silence in memory of the old Bristol.

    Some things never change and one of them is Kyle Busch’s “whiney little ass” (LOL… most of us already knew that). Ten years into his career and he still hasn’t grown up. Maybe he needs the same attitude adjustment that his brother got and spend a couple of years on a sub-par team.

    It looks like the chase field is close to being set. The points battle seems like it isn’t going to matter so the Richmond race looks like it will be a lot of guys swinging for the fence. I wonder if NASCAR was hoping that, in addition to a bunch of guys swinging for the fence, there would also be a compelling points battle.

    • Oh yeah, still lots of empty seats from what I saw.

    • As an old-school fan, I think Mike nails it. The racing wasn’t any better in the past than it was on Saturday night. In the 80′s and 90′s, it was a one groove track around the bottom. Passing was either done by getting a superior run off the corner (diamonding the corner to build momentum), waiting for someone to slip-up (they were often freight-trained and would lose four or five spots) or using the bumper. In this weekend’s configuration, lapped traffic was less of an issue, because they could move to the bottom without wrecking.
      Sometimes, we only remember the good things, but Saturday night was equivalent to the old days. Also, every old school race was not great, but Bristol always had the potential to be great, which is why the crowd showed up.
      Of course there are going to be empty seats, but it has to be more enjoyable for those that did attend. American sporting events in general are going to continue to decline in attendance. HDTV and the ease of enjoying the race at home, shorter attention spans and the fact that it’s just not that glamourous to be wedged into a seat for hours, then have to crawl out of the parking lot three hours after the race ended, are all factors in not attending. The crowd was much better at Bristol than Indy or several other events this year. 5 Cans!

    • Sounds like Dave Rogers is about fed up with Mr. Busch and tired of listening to him be a jerk every week when things don’t go well. Can’t really blame Rogers for finally giving it back.

      Hamlin definitely broke the new rule on walking towards the tracks. I don’t think much will happen though. If they do, and since Denny is in the Chase already, it will be a points penalty and/or fine that will be meaningless.

      2 weeks until the 100% rule gets a major test. My prediction is last year will look childs play compared to the team rules that will be going on this year to get their guy in the Chase. Only this year it will be better disguised. Should be interesting to see how Nascar handles it all.

      I find it funny how everyone was worried about the implosion of Stewart Haas drivers when its actually been the Gibbs guys that have had worse meltdowns.

  11. I wonder how much longer the Coach will put up with Kyle. If Coach Gibbs or Mr. Hendrick can’t get through to him, who can? Last season was the first where he was even in Chase contention at the halfway point, and even then he wasn’t a serious contender. After a while you need to be something besides Mr. Friday or Mr. Saturday. This is his 10th season in Cup and if you told me in 2008 that Kyle wouldn’t have a Cup title by now, I would have laughed at you.
    The other take from the race: Has the Kasey Kahne/Kenny Francis combo run its course? I wonder if some shakeup is needed before next year or otherwise, it will be a lame duck year keeping the seat warm for Chase Elliott. It may be a lame duck year anyway, but at least an attempt to right the ship may be in order.