Race Weekend Central

Friday Faceoff: Bristol Surprises, Chase Elliott’s Cup Return & Steve Byrnes Memories

A marathon race at Bristol saw plenty of carnage and frustration displayed on the track, but it also featured some different names inside the top 10. What – or who – was the biggest surprise to come out of the race?

Kevin Rutherford, Managing Editor: I’m going with Justin Allgaier, but make no mistake – if this were an NXS race, an eighth-place finish would be kind of a bummer for him. Allgaier was always stout at Bristol, so finishing inside the top 10 here isn’t crazy. What is interesting is that it was the first time he’s done it in his season-long Cup career. Think the rest will come faster.

Phil Allaway, Newsletter Manager: You’d think that it would be Danica Patrick dragging her bucket of bolts to a ninth-place finish, but I’ll go with Allgaier. While he does have an Xfinity Series win there in the past, getting a top 10 in a Sprint Cup race at Bristol with a relatively small operation is more difficult than winning in the Xfinity Series there with one of the three strongest operations in the field. HScott Motorsports has improved a fair bit this year, but they still have a ways to go.

Joseph Wolkin, Senior Writer: It was quite the surprise to see Austin Dillon run so well at Bristol. He has been struggling to crack the top 15 with a rough start to the year. Allgaier was also extremely impressive, finishing eighth for HScott Motorsports. It’s not a surprise to see him run well at a short track considering it is his best area, but it was a victory for a team that expanded over the off-season.

Mark Howell, Senior Writer: I wouldn’t call her performance at Bristol a “surprise” but I was impressed with how well Patrick finished. She’s been collecting top 10s lately – setting a new NASCAR record for female drivers, I might add, in the process – but to score one at Bristol on such a long and rainy day (night?) was quite the accomplishment. Patrick seems to know her way around short tracks pretty well, although her boyfriend qualifies for bragging rights this week. Perhaps the bigger surprise here was Ricky Stenhouse Jr.‘s fourth-place finish….

Vito Pugliese, Senior Writer: The biggest surprise to come out of the race was Kurt Busch‘s No. 41 team throwing away what very well should have been its third win of the season. Blame Tony Gibson’s kidney stones, as he was sidelined during the rain delay, which thrust team engineer John Klausmeyer into the unenviable position of having to make a late race winning (or losing) pit call.

Matt McLaughlin, Senior Writer: I was stunned to see Jimmie Johnson finish second after driving most of the race like it was a demolition derby, but my call inside the top 10 goes to Allgaier driving for Harry Scott’s little team. Yes, it was mainly attrition that allowed Allgaier to score his first top-10 result in his 47th start, but he had to drive smart to survive that carnage throughout the race. As far as the biggest surprise of the weekend, I’d have to say it was the fact that we not only got the race in but also managed to run it to full distance and then some. I’d already resigned myself to a Monday race.

Chase Elliott is scheduled to make his second Sprint Cup start this weekend. Given that his debut was a rough one, how will he fare at Richmond?

Mike Neff, Short Track Editor: Chase Elliott‘s debut race was rough due to someone else’s mistake. Elliott is a championship driver and he put in a lot of time behind the wheel in his debut at Martinsville, even if it was laps down. Elliott will treat Richmond the same way, putting in a lot of laps and learning all he can about racing a Cup Series car. Most likely he’ll finish somewhere around 15th unless he is taken out by someone else again.

McLaughlin: Richmond is a wider and friendlier track for a rookie like Elliott as compared to the outright barbarism of a race at Martinsville. Unlike Martinsville, where Elliott had never driven a lap in anger prior to his debut, he made two starts at Richmond last year in what was then the Nationwide Series and finished second in both events. I doubt he’ll do that well this weekend in the Cup race, but a top-15 result isn’t out of the question. Maybe NAPA could herald such an achievement in a new ad and dump that creepy one with the “inflatable doll.”

Jeff Wolfe, Senior Writer: Well, hopefully he can avoid tearing up the car like what happened at Martinsville. Overall, I think it will be more of the same strategy in terms of him just trying to get laps in and learn from some of the other top drivers while he is out there. If he would happen to finish in the top 20, that would be a great run for him.

Howell: Elliott will run better at Richmond. His nerves should settle a bit, and Richmond is a tad more forgiving than Martinsville. I get the sense Chase needs some positive mojo heading into his second Cup start, and running such a different layout should help the young man find his rhythm more quickly and with more confidence. His talent is a given, even if his run at Martinsville wasn’t as stellar as many  had hoped.

Rutherford: It was rough, but what do you expect? Dude’s still a young thing and NXS races, while important for experience, won’t prepare you 100%. This will be a better race for Elliott, especially because two runner-up finishes at the track last year suggest it. Look for a top 20 at least.

Aaron Bearden, Contributor: Elliott had some bad luck at Martinsville. Short track racing will do that to anyone. However, anyone who’s seen him drive knows that he has the talent. I don’t think he’ll shock the world at Richmond, but a top 20 wouldn’t be much of a stretch.

Joey Logano dominated the Xfinity Series race at Bristol, leading every lap along the way. Is his victory a feat of strength or yawn-inducing because it happened in a lower series?

Allaway: Well, it’s happened before with Cup drivers in NXS races and it’ll happen again. Joey Logano‘s just that much better than the competition. It’s not a feat of strength, that’s for sure. This is the second time someone’s done that in less than a year. Call me when it happens in Cup. Last I checked, that hasn’t happened since 2000, when Jeff Burton pulled it off with the restrictor plates at Loudon.

Neff: Leading every lap of any race is an amazing accomplishment. With the competitive nature of the national touring series of NASCAR these days, it is extremely hard to put in an effort that is that dominant. The Penske cars have been some of the best in the series for several years but there are always opportunities for someone to stay out and lead a lap or get a jump on a restart. In any race leading all of the laps is an impressive feat.

Wolfe: I think we have seen Logano, along with Kyle Busch, dominate the Xfinity Series so much in recent years that it makes it more of a yawner. I’m not totally against the Cup guys running in the lower series, but you hate to see that happen and lead to non-competitive racing.

Wolkin: Logano’s victory would have been extremely boring if it were at a cookie-cutter track, but leading every lap at Bristol is impressive. Daniel Suarez and a few other series regulars gave him a run for his money, but once again, a Cup Series driver with their Cup Series team is really like practicing for Sunday’s race.

Bearden: Both. Leading 300 laps in any race at Bristol is impressive. Logano put the hurt on his competitors in a way I haven’t seen in years. However, it would have been much more eye-opening had he done it in the Sprint Cup Series race.

Pugliese: Let’s see… Cup contender leads every lap and decimates a field of regulars who usually mark this as a track where they have a legitimate shot to hang with the Sprint Cup guys. Going to go with yawner.

Rutherford: Yawn. Go away.

Following an extensive battle with cancer, FOX Sports reporter Steve Byrnes passed away Tuesday at the age of 56. Share one of your favorite memories of him.

Wolkin: My favorite memory of Steve Byrnes would have to be when I was covering my first race at Dover. I glanced over in the Cup Series garage area, and just looked at him work so diligently. It was something I didn’t see from any other media member that weekend. He joked and laughed with teams, and did his job without anyone hating him, and that’s what a journalist should be.

Allaway: His body of work is better than the individual moments. The interview with Tony Stewart from Fontana in 2013 is a short but really sweet one. The one he did for Inside Winston Cup Racing with Dale Earnhardt was good, and there are countless others.

Howell: I used to see Steve at races back when I worked more regularly with teams. While I don’t recall ever meeting him, I do recall the respect he received from the drivers, his peers, and the fans. Smiles were a regular sight, and a hearty laugh or two usually followed. Steve always seemed to hold his own in the garage and on pit road. Stories about his various run-ins with tough customers like Earnhardt Sr. and Stewart are legendary, as was the man with the microphone himself. NASCAR Nation has lost a beloved citizen.

Wolfe: I don’t really have a singular favorite memory. But I know this, given Stewart’s general attitude toward the media, the fact that Stewart liked Steve Byrnes told me all I need to know about Byrnes. Stewart doesn’t trust hardly any of the media types, so for Stewart to open up to Byrnes on more than one occasion, and to see the good-natured verbal jabs they took at each other, that said an awful lot about Byrnes being a good and trustworthy man. He not only “went the distance” as his last tweet said, he did it with class.

Neff: I have a handful of them but my favorite is when I first started covering races. I stopped at a Sheetz in Stokesdale, N.C., on my way to Bristol. Steve was pumping gas at the same island where I was. I said hello and he took the time to talk to me and ask about who I was representing at the race. In subsequent years he always remembered that interaction when I spoke to him.

Pugliese: Steve Byrnes passing marks the end of an era for me. I would watch races with my Dad, but long about the late 1980s I became really interested in the sport and would read and watch anything I could set eyes on related to it I remember first watching him and Ned Jarrett host Inside Winston Cup Racing in 1990 when my family finally got cable television at our house. TNN was the home of all the Sunday racing programs, and I always looked forward to seeing pieces from Steve Byrnes and Randy Pemberton. Younger guys who were well-spoken and seemed to have the inside scoop that not even ESPN had at the time, despite carrying the majority of the races.

It was a different time in the sport; the drivers were still the stars but not the untouchable celebrities that they are now. He’d do pieces in a gym working out with Mark Martin and Ricky Rudd, go for a ride on Earnhardt’s bass boat, and nail the best Sterling Marlin impression ever. While doing these pieces he had a rapport with drivers, but never once appeared to show bias, favoritism or cross a line into fandom.

They always say you can tell who your friends are and what kind of person you were when you end up in the hospital. The last two weeks should speak volumes then about what kind of person Steve Byrnes was. My best friend of 30 years lost his brother a year ago to cancer, and the people that showed up and the out pouring of emotion surrounding him told a similar story.

McLaughlin: My favorite memories of Byrnes center around the 2004 (and only season) of the Pit Bulls TV program. Pit Bulls might have been the last truly honest show about NASCAR racing, not just another commercial for the sport occasionally interrupted by commercials. Watching Byrnes try to rein in the panelists when they ran amok and fighting an often times losing battle not to laugh out loud was one of the best parts of the show. Of course NASCAR saw to it that the show didn’t return for 2005.

About the author

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I have seen all I need to see the praising DP from all these writers if God Himself came down. Attrition, big time attrition. Big names got bit, most not of their own doing. I say if you must be on your knee’s about this..have the decency to mention the spotter. Look at the top 10, yes it was NOT the usual suspects..so what does that tell about this race if you did not take the misleading headlines for face value and actually did a little digging as to see why so and so finished where they did! If this is consistent with a hard earned battle passing etc type of thing we can expect to see week in and out..then I might listen…until then..shame on you.

Tim S.

Right on, KB. And does Dr. Howell think we’ve all forgotten the almighty top-10 record already? That she got in about 2.5 seasons worth of races? With Patrick’s team, somebody like Johanna Long would’ve won two or three Xfinity races and been Cup ROTY. Instead she gets to sit out a year while Patrick gets praise for a skewed stat.

Bill B

What’s up with the last paragraph in this article? I don’t get it.


Well, you’re one up on me Bill, I can hardly make it to the end of this column anymore. It’s like eavesdropping on a bunch of PR flacks while they eat lunch.


JohnQ….Lunch…what is lunch? (Oh right it’s for wimps) Sorry not to have met your standards.

Bill, thanks for the heads up. We’re still scratching our heads on that one. I’m having some issues with my new computer when it comes to copying and pasting documents to send by email. Usually it just blends words together but in this case it took a paragraph from a seperate document I was working on (a new novel I am writing) and tacked it onto the end. It’s gone now. Just be thankful it wasn’t the previous paragraph of Tipper Gore would be rallying her her army of crones against me.


Matt, I love your columns and you insinuate that I’m a wimp! I hand built my motorcycle, engine and all, how about you?


You know what they say about insinuate and it sinner out of in and uate. Certainly not my intent to call anyone names.
While the Harley is still parked (it’s a balmy 42 degrees here in Amish country today) by chance I am doing a complete teardown on another motorcycle right now. OK it’s a 1974 Honda Xr75, but a 73 XR was my first new bike and it’s a lot less expensive mid-life crises than a midyear Vette. I love the fact you can tear that old Honda down to a bare frame with an adjustable wrench and a pair of Channel-locks. Try that with a Road King. My sister tells me that I can’t be having a mid-life crises since there’s little chance I’ll make it to 110 so maybe it’s just cabin fever.

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