Race Weekend Central

Thinkin’ Out Loud: 2015 Food City 500 at Bristol

Who’s in the headlineMatt Kenseth has waited 51 races to visit Victory Lane. Great strategy by his crew chief Jason Ratcliff and enough luck to avoid all of the carnage that befell so many others both contributed to the win. While Kenseth downplayed it, driver ability obviously contributed greatly as well. In the headlines for the wrong reasons, Kurt Busch and Kevin Harvick both got caught up in someone else’s mess and had strong runs ruined.

What happened – Kenseth started on pole and jumped to the lead at the drop of the green, but his time there was short-lived. Harvick took over the point on lap 6 and led for 57 laps, which included a red flag that lasted two minutes short of four hours. Harvick’s teammate Busch led lap 63 and the two swapped the lead for 250 of the first 261 laps. After Harvick was involved in the incident that brought out the sixth caution of the race he was done leading. By that point Carl Edwards was establishing himself as a contender as well and eventually led 86 laps. Kyle Larson took a turn at the point and led 90 laps, but he grabbed the lead on pit strategy which caused him to have to pit late and surrender the lead. In the end, Busch pitted from the lead with 23 laps to go until the end. As he tried to make his way back to the point from a sixth-place restarting position, he was caught up in a spin by Edwards and lost his shot to win. Kenseth assumed the lead when Busch pitted and never looked back.

Why you should care – The Joe Gibbs Racing teams have been struggling on intermediate tracks this season, but they won back-to-back races on short tracks over the last month. The series is heading to Richmond next Saturday night, which should give the organization another night to shine. With Denny Hamlin and Kenseth both in the win column now, Edwards could make it a three-team effort if he could recapture the magic from the fall of 2013. Busch had another potential win taken away with bad luck rearing its ugly head again. Jimmie Johnson, on the other hand, showed once again why he is a champion, rebounding from multiple issues to come home with a runner-up finish.

What your friends are talking about – Sunday’s race was sponsored by Food City but the company, in conjunction with Bristol Motor Speedway, branded the race with the Stand Up To Cancer charity in honor of Steve Byrnes. Byrnes, the popular television personality, is enduring a very hard and public battle with head and neck cancer. The support for Byrnes included signs held up by fans, crew members, media and drivers showing support for Byrnes and other people battling cancer. NASCAR is a family and it is moments like these that make fans truly proud.

Hamlin got out of the car during the first red flag and did not get back in. He apparently pulled something in his neck and was very uncomfortable in the car. This is another item on the list of physical ailments that have befallen Hamlin over his career. There are many athletes that have been in the public eye over the years who are injury prone. It isn’t anything they do intentionally, it just happens. Sadly it can cause people to not be hired for jobs they are capable of. The same is probably true of race car drivers and Hamlin might soon be getting lumped into the same category of Brian Vickers, where it isn’t a matter of if but when the next problem is going to arise.

Jeff Gordon came out this week suggesting NASCAR dump the time-over-distance methodology of enforcing pit road speed. With the modernization of pit-road officiating, it only makes sense. NASCAR has used GPS technology to provide the speed of the cars in the pop-up bubbles for years, they ought to be able to employ it on pit road. It would eliminate the shenanigans that go on with people accelerating in the segments where they pit. The theory of pit-road speed is keeping crew members safe. Having drivers accelerating as they approach their own box defeats the purpose.

The list of stupid excuses for a caution continues to grow. Mike Joy referred to a small amount of water oozing out from underneath the SAFER barrier in turn 2 as a weeper. That is like calling the trickle of water in Busch’s backyard landscaping Niagara Falls. After Darrell Waltrip brags about the drivers being the best in the world, they wave the caution for a damp spot on exit of a turn. The race control folks need to go to Caraway Speedway a night after a rainy Saturday and look at the flowing river that comes out of the track in turns 3 and 4. Everyone is on the same track. The water wasn’t running over the track, for goodness sake. Suck it up and race!

Speaking of cautions, the final caution of the event saw NASCAR drive the cars around for multiple laps after the advertised distance before finally bringing them down pit lane. It cost Austin Dillon a top-five run and could have impacted winner Kenseth and third-place finisher Gordon. Add in again the fact that they ran multiple laps after red flags and it continues to baffle people who think logically. Over the final 37 laps of the race, 32 laps were run under caution. When five cars are involved in a wreck on most any track, but especially at Bristol, what involved fluids being dumped on the track, throw the red. No questions asked. Give the fans what they pay for, not slow-motion parades.

Who is mad Joey Logano has been in the mad section a couple of times already this season. This weekend, he blew away the field in the NXS race and headed into Sunday’s event feeling very good about his chances. Unfortunately, 20 laps into the race he was caught up in Brad Keselowski‘s incident and received extensive damage. He went from pre-race favorite to survivalist in the blink of an eye. He rejoined the race 52 laps down and spent the remainder of the event circulating and hoping others dropped out.

The perception is that Harvick is strong at Bristol. The reality is he hasn’t been for a while. Sunday night just added to the string of bad luck that reaches back to the spring of 2011 when Harvick finished sixth. Sunday he could not stop his car from contacting the car of David Ragan when the latter spun after contacting the car of Jimmie Johnson. Harvick had a strong, competitive car that looked poised to run for the win but the damage received ultimately forced Harvick to a 39th-place finish.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. feels like the team is coming together and getting more speed on a weekly basis. What he needs to do is find tire changers who don’t leave lug nuts loose. He has had multiple loose wheels over the last few races and Sunday was no different. A flat tire followed by a loose wheel left Earnhardt four laps down. He made two of them up but that was all he could manage. If Earnhardt is going to contend for the title, he needs team members who are flawless, not just good.

Who Is Happy – Gordon is hanging up the full-time helmet at the end of the season. Making the Chase might seem like a foregone conclusion for the four-time champion, but a win would put his a much greater ease. Sunday evening he had a poor starting position, made it up to the top 10 then had a pit-road issue that left him with a loose wheel and ultimately two laps down. He rebounded from that and wound up with a podium run.

Johnson hit the wall, was involved in a wreck, started in a worse position than Gordon and ended up passing his car owner to assume the runner-up spot. Johnson uncharacteristically appeared to loose his ice-cold patience and put himself into a position where he wrecked with Jeb Burton. In the end, he made it back to the first loser’s position, which was certainly a small victory for the no. 48 team.

Justin Allgaier scored his first NXS win at Bristol. Allgaier started 15th and maintained a position in the best-20 runners throughout the event. Allgaier was part of the final caution that pushed the race to a green-white-checkered finish. He restarted at the back of the 19 cars on the lead lap but made his way back through to receive credit for an eighth-place run.

When the checkered flag flew

Kenseth’s win at Bristol is his 32nd career triumph. It only took him 552 starts. The victory is Kenseth’s fourth in his career at Bristol. Kenseth is now tied with Hall of Famer Dale Jarrett for 21st on the all-time list. This is Kenseth’s first trophy of the year.

Johnson came home as the first loser for the 44th time in his career. Johnson crossed the line in second place for his third top two of the season. It was Johnson’s third finish of first or second in the Cup series.

Gordon’s podium is his 11th career top-three at Bristol. Gordon’s third-place finish is his first run of better than seventh all season. Gordon is fourth on the all-time podium list with 227 top threes in 769 starts

Brett Moffitt finished 17th to be declared the Rookie of the Race.

Danica Patrick came home in ninth, which has now ranked her number one among women for top-10 finishes. She was in a tie with Janet Guthrie. She is now alone in the total number of top 10s ever scored by a female driver in NASCAR.

Harvick, Logano, Keselowski, Johnson, Hamlin and Kenseth all have wins in 2015. Harvick and Johnson are locked into the Chase assuming they attempt the rest of the races or receive an exemption should they miss any events.

The drivers who are currently eligible for the Chase after eight races without wins and their standing in points:

3) Martin Truex Jr.
6) Dale Earnhardt Jr.
7) Kasey Kahne
9) Jeff Gordon
10) Aric Almirola
12) Jamie McMurray
13) Danica Patrick
14) Paul Menard
15) Carl Edwards
16) Ryan Newman

Takin’ it to the Bank

Cup winners this year have pocketed $3,262,301, while the last-place finisher has taken home $753-515

In the Xfinity Series it has been $610,591 for the winners and $126,317 for last place.

After three Truck races the winner has $188,425 and the last loser has banked $30,813.

What is in the cooler – There are those who want Bristol back to a single-groove track around the bottom where you have to help people re-assimilate themselves with society. Those people are nuts, because the racing at Bristol is fantastic. Multiple laps with drivers side-by-side for multiple positions is great. Making a move by yourself successfully doesn’t require brute force, it requires patience and skill. With that said, this week’s event earns four nice and cold Wooly Bugger Brown Ale from Holston River Brewing Company

Where do you point your DVR for next week – Thanks to the rain delay next week will be a third straight night race. The circuit heads to the capital of the Confederacy, Richmond, Virginia. A precursor to the final race of the ‘regular season’ will be a second consecutive short-track race. The event starts at 7:00 p.m. ET and will be shown on FOX. You can also listen on MRN and NASCAR SiriusXM radio.

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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I have to question the wisdom of running those first 22 laps knowing that rain was coming.
When Jones hopped in the 11 car after the rain delay, I couldn’t help but flash back to 2007 when Dale Jr. finished a race at Texas in a wounded #5 car after Kyle Busch left the track. I know it’s different circumstances/different drivers but you have to wonder if the Coach took this as an opportunity to look toward 2016. It’s been pretty clear that the Hamlin/JGR vibe has been off since the 2010 title run they gave away at Phoenix and this past week, the Silly Season whispers started.
By no means is this week’s Richmond race a precursor to the September race. The Chase has turned that race into a follow the leader fest where drivers are hesitant to get anywhere near another car.

Bill B

With the number of wrecks and the amount of bent sheet metal, this race reminded me of Bristol before the repave and chase. It was a race where you just didn’t know what was going to happen next. I am not sure how much of that was due to the urgency of a possibly rain shortened race versus moisture on the track. Either way it was a real roller coaster ride of a race. Guys who looked like the had a shot had it taken away in a blink. Guys that looked like their chances were shot came back to have good finishes. I’ll give it 5 cans but it would have gotten 3 just for being a short track.


Bill B, I thought so, too. I actually enjoyed watching the race and I wasn’t sure I would since I haven’t liked the “new” Bristol racing.

Not to worry though, I’m sure in August everyone will mind their manners because the chase will be imminent.

Carl D.

A pretty exciting race. Fox tried hard to ruin it with a horrendous broadcast but even they couldn’t do it.

Someone please tell me why, when there’s tight action up front, we get to “Ride With Junior” for two laps in a car that’s two laps down? Also, enough with all the camera angles, please! Just point the camera at the track and look for the best racing.

Thinkin’ out loud… I like how Darrell Waltrip thought Kyle Larson’s pit strategy gamble was a good one until it didn’t work, then it was a “bad idea”.

Thinkin’ out loud… I truly believe that Jamie McMurray is the unluckiest driver in the history of Nascar.

Thinkin’ out loud… I’m pretty sure that if Jimmie Johnson had won that race I’d be needing the phone number for Kurt Busch’s anger management counselor.


i think nascar was doing all they could to ensure hendrick car won the race. but mother nature and the time of night played into that equation.

by the way…..there continues to be no love lost between the waltrip brothers.


I must have learned to totally ignore the Waltrip & Waltrip show because I have missed all the “no love lost” action – I know you mentioned that before. Maybe I need to pay closer attention — a little intra-brother sniping would actually be fun to watch.


And here I thought there was a script according to the conspiracy fans.


I thought I was hallucinating when I saw the 48 behind the 20 at the end.


It wasn’t a hallucination, but it was a nightmare for me! I couldn’t believe my eyes either!


didn’t see it all, fell asleep. but i noticed, during some weather fill, probably at the beginning of the race, the number of drivers complaining that you can’t pass on the track amazed me.

i woke up in time to see the last 20 laps. why didn’t nascar just call the race at 500 lap mark as the rains started? it was already 10:30ish on the east coast. i guess cause a toyota was in first place?

good gracious, princess had another top 10 finish and how people are hyped about it, you’d think she won the race.

felt bad that truex’s streak ended.


Seemed like a bizarre race. Every time someone dominated they would eventually run into trouble. It is a tough track to pass on. The leaders would often have fits trying to get around slower cars. I wonder how happy Carl is with Matt when they wouldn’t let Carl have the top lane in exchange for letting Matt back in front with that late restart. I can’t blame Matt or his team not wanting to give it up when rain was coming but Carl ended up wrecking trying to hold off those behind him.

Danica did have a good finish which is nice to see for her and her fans. I don’t know how much it had to do with performance rather than survival.

Finally, it was fun to see Erik Jones hop into the 11. They say his times got to top 15 after a 100 laps of getting used to the feel of it.

Tim S.

I didn’t watch due to Waltrip fatigue, but I did listen to about half. Had Gordon been in front when the last caution fell, we would never have seen that overtime. I’m no Gordon fan. That said, he won’t need NASCAR’s help to win in his final season, and they shouldn’t make their assists so blatant. Wouldn’t be the first time though.


Obviously Tim S, I’m biased in Gordon’s favor but I don’t agree with your assessment about the overtime. Gordon was really close on fuel and was worried he would run out. Having NASCAR ride them around under yellow for a stupid amount of time instead of redflagging the race didn’t seem like “help” to me.

I would rather have had them stop them under the red flag sooner and then let them race to the end. I wasn’t sure that the front of the field wouldn’t run out of gas in OT and someone else would wind up winning as they all wrecked.

I thought it appeared to be manipulation, too, but not to Gordon’s advantage. Of course when I said that I felt NASCAR was manipulating the race on twitter, I was castigated by more than a few of the “media” twitter people. Gotta love the fact that they are biased in favor of NASCAR but won’t admit it. I admit that I have my favorite.


gina – do they (media) think us fans are that stupid not to realize what is going on?


janice, some of the fans were chiming in along with the media. However, IMO, yes, most of the paid NASCAR media thinks the fans are stupid and if they continue to shout loudly enough they will browbeat us into accepting their point of view and just agree with them.

Tim S.

Not surprised that you got nailed by Twitter. Question any decision NASCAR leadership makes and you’re just a troll. Meanwhile, most of the media can’t write without their lucky talking points, unless it’s to insult those who disagree. It’s a shame that the name “NASCAR Wire Service” is taken. It’s a great descriptor for the group as a whole.


Thanks, Tim S. Yes, you are right, I should have expected it but it still made me upset & unhappy that they only see things from one point of view and persist in being serious bullies about any difference of opinion. I don’t mind disagreement and I’m happy to argue my point but most of them just go right for ugly words like “borderline insane”. LOL, of course that might be true, after all, since the definition of insane is “doing the same thing expecting a different result” and I’m still following NASCAR even though I think most of the rules, format and coverage are beyond ridiculous.

ah well, its the last season for me to give a rat’s patoot about this “sport”. After this, I can be a true casual fan and either ignore it or just laugh at the silliness, but certainly my days of caring that the sport should be more fun will be over.


actually I can think of another descriptor for them, other than “wire service” but I’ll keep that one for myself. Maybe when I “retire” along with Gordon, I’ll pick another twitter handle with some random name and really become a troll or at least a thorn in their side.

Bill B

Tim S.
Funny because at Martinsville Gordon was leading with just under 40 laps left (I believe) and NASCAR called a debris caution for a water bottle. Then got caught speeding on pit road.
If your comment is to have any credibility then it certainly wasn’t the case 2 weeks ago. NASCAR could have ignored that water bottle and Gordon probably would have won. But they didn’t. Why?

Tim S.

Oh my…Bill B says my comment has no credibility…whatever shall I do….I know! I’ll have my own opinion and he’ll have his, and we’ll go on being just like the best of anonymous commenters, the way we always were.

You believe they’ve never, ever played favorites with him, and I think they have on more than one occasion. We’re allowed to disagree. You’re a Gordon/Hendrick fan and I most certainly am not. Kudos for one thing, though. At least you’re going after me because you want to and not because you’re paid to.

Bill B

Nope, I never said that they’ve never played favorites with him. In fact I believe they have given breaks to most of the top tier stars at one time or another. For instance, last night I felt that the caution that JJ was involved in seemed to last a little longer than it should have. It seemed like they were giving him extra time to fix the car.
What I am saying is that you, I and the guy down the street all see what we want to see because none of us are truly objective. I an hoping that Jeff retiring next year will fix that for me and maybe make me just a little more objective since I won’t have a dog in the fight anymore. I am sure there will still be drivers I like and drivers I don’t like but I won’t be wearing anyone’s number anymore.
BTW, I noticed you really didn’t say anything about the water bottle at Martinsville. Not that you owe me any explanation but I guess that didn’t support your premise.

Tim S.

I didn’t mention it because I didn’t see it. I only caught the ending of Martinsville. I neglected to mention that in my response. Had I seen it, I probably would’ve commented that I was shocked that it happened that way.


If Carl had backed off and got in behind Matt (he had enough room) he probably would have finished third. He didn’t. He seems to lose a lot of positions at the end of races.

I checked the caution stats. The diva got a free pass at the caution on lap 368. I had tuned in late (I didn’t know the race was back on TSN) and by lap 420 she was a lap down again. She got another one on lap 484 after another one where she wasn’t the first car a lap down. Sounds familiar if you’ve been paying attention.

Johnson got a free pass for a “debris” caution on lap 345. Sounds familiar if you’ve been paying attention.


DoninAjax – so princess received multiple “lucky dogs”. same song, different day


If you watched the race, you would know that the cautions at the end where she got passes were all for wrecks. So is your view that NASCAR has other drivers wreck each other when she is in the free pass position? Maybe you should loosen your tinfoil cap.




The caution flag was ready before the wrecks. Brian got lucky.

Here’s what I wrote on Sunday morning on Beth’s column.

Bristol has turned into IRP. The only way to run is at the top and there’s no passing on the bottom, unless you have the special car.

I see where Johnson qualified TWENTY-EIGHTH. I wonder how much complaining there will be over the radio and how many “debris” cautions it will take until the car magically becomes the rocket ship it is and leads.

I don’t think I’m the only one who has figured out Johnson’s act.

Fed Up

I’ve been a NA$CAR fan for 50+ years and never have I seen such pathetic camera coverage of a short track.
Four high cameras would have done the job instead of bouncing from in-cars to bumper cams to constant zooming
in and out. The director obviously has the attention span of a drunk gnat. For a great comparison just revue
the Indy Car race from Long Beach. Despite the geographic challenges NBC did a tremendous job of covering the

Carl D.

Several times when there was an impending battle for the lead, Fox gave us a shot out of the back window of a mid-pack car. I yelled at my television more yesterday than I did my at my kids when they were teenagers.

Bill W.

Most of the in-car shots are done so they can show the 5 Hr. Energy sponsor on the #15 . Last week he was in 30th place sitting in the pits and the in-car camera was on the sponsor for about 15 sec. I think Mikey calls the shots on the #15 in car camera

Bill B

And there lies the problem. We, the viewer, are under the impression that the goal of the network is to cover the race and let us see as much as we can without being there. The truth is that the network’s goal is to show us as much paid advertising as possible and, whenever possible, make it subtle so that we don’t even realize we are seeing a commercial. Show me a guy in 30th sitting in the pits while there is race going on, and I will show you a sponsor that paid a little extra to get some additional tv time.


Yes, that is indeed the goal and it is why trying to watch a race on TV has become an ordeal, rather than something fun to do.

Ugh, I think Mikey calls the shots on way too many things. Having a full time active owner of a car in the race in the booth could only be done in NASCAR. I don’t think any other national sport would allow it.


It’s Boring Baby! A 12 hour race, not counting the rain delay, with so many caution laps that it looked like 5:00 on the interstate.

Capt Spaulding

But the Waltrip X 2 prerace build up of anticipation,,,,,how could you possibly find 12 hours of NASCAR boring……

Capt Spaulding

Pretty amazing that, although the weather was extremely bad, 100,000 + donated to the NASCAR coffers and didn’t come back to their seats to see the “new and improved” Bristol….probably because it isn’t a “chase” race.


Mike, sorry but the old Bristol was better. I watched the race on RaceBuddy for the first time ever. First in Kevin Harvick’s car, then Jamie McMurray, Carl Edwards, etc. There is just no passing at Bristol unless traffic is involved. The cars are too equal, handle too well and the tires once again were not a factor. So, you have drivers either playing follow the leader, or constantly diving to the bottom, pulling alongside the lead car in the top lane, then being unable to complete the pass, falling back in line. The racing could be good, if the tires would give up. But, they don’t.
When the cars were on the bottom, there was a chance of the cars slipping out of the groove, the ability to move a car, etc. It wasn’t wonderful, but there was more passing.


DoninAjax – so princess received multiple “lucky dogs”. same song, different day …………… Da! That’s called the Na$Crap Dale Jr. rule.


So did Jr and Johnson. What’s your point? Also, nobody seems to give her much credit for avoiding all these wrecks that happen in front of her, which by the way, also contributes to her high finishes when she get them. Keep calling it luck though.

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