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.
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 Moment – Kevin 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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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