Race Weekend Central

The Big 6: Questions Answered After the 2015 Irwin Tool Night Race at Bristol

Who… gets my shoutout of the race?

NASCAR is a high-pressure business, and that goes double when a driver is looking for a ride. This week, Clint Bowyer performed admirably under that pressure. Making it clear from the beginning he had a fast car, Bowyer showed he was a top-five threat. When he spun with teammate David Ragan as the pair took it three-wide with Jimmie Johnson, Bowyer could have panicked, but he missed hitting anything or getting hit by anyone, and as a result, came back to finish fifth. While Bowyer was sorry that Ragan suffered race-ending damage, he said that the performance was a boost for his team, which is faced with uncertainty as well, as unless a buyer is found who will purchase the entire operation, it will shut its doors at the end of the season.

“You hate to have that good of a car – have two good cars and the last person you want to get into and have trouble with is your teammate. I’m sick to death about that,”Bowyer said after the race. “We had two top-five cars and MWR (Michael Waltrip Racing) really needed that run. With that being said we desperately needed a solid run right there. I mean obviously you’re hungry for a win with this organization given everything it had and I drove my ass off we just come up short. I’m really proud of all of these guys on the 5-hour Energy Toyota. They’re digging man. It’s fun to be a part of this. It’s fun to be a part of a group that can answer the call when you gotta dig down and reach down a little bit more to get in that Chase and be a part of that elite group. These guys are up for the challenge.”

What… beyond the drivers’ control affected the action?

Chiefly, it was the track itself. Bristol is definitely a different animal from most of the other tracks on the circuit. It’s deceivingly tough on equipment: brakes heat up, tires fail, and and all four corners of the car can take a beating even without help from other drivers. Because of the size and speed of the track, it’s incredibly easy to lose a lap and once that happens, not only is it virtually impossible to get it back without a well-timed caution, every restart sets up the lapped cars to lose more laps as it actually brings them into the clutches of the leader with fewer cars in between. One lost lap has a tendency to turn into three or four very easily and it’s entirely possible to have a halfway decent finish despite being multiple laps in arrears. That can make for a frustrating day for some drivers, even the ones who do finish well.

Despite all that, the drivers who like Bristol, love Bristol for what it is, and it is a driver’s track. A good driver can race the track and be successful, and it does put more in their hands than many other venues. Dale Earnhardt Jr. had an up-and-down night, grabbing a ninth-place finish, and tweeted about his night afterward:

Where… did the polesitter and the defending race winner wind up?

Denny Hamlin took the pole on Friday. He also took the Xfinity Series pole. Hamlin led three times for a total of 54 laps on Saturday night, but the last lap he led was lap 154, and after that, the No. 11 just didn’t seem to have the same magic. Hamlin made a late charge to third but didn’t have enough to take on Joey Logano or Kevin Harvick in the end.

Logano win this race last year and he won again Saturday night. He ran a solid race and while he didn’t lead until almost the halfway point of the race, he made them count, leading 176 laps in total and the one that counted most.

When… did it all go sideways?

Things don’t get hairy in the way they used to at Bristol. In other words, you’re less likely to see the type of crashes you used to. On one hand, there is a lot of two and three-wide racing throughout a race. Yes, it’s hard to pass, but a good driver can get it done. But because of a combination of things, including the progressive banking and the aerodynamics of the current car, you don’t see drivers using the bumper like they used to. If you like that brand of racing, which often resulted in several cars getting involved at Bristol because of the steep banking, then the race was probably a disappointment. If you like the side-by-side action where cars can race three-wide and get away with it, at least briefly, then the race was a good one. It’s very much a matter of taste.

Why… did Logano win the race?

Yes he had a good car, a dominant car when it counted most, but Logano also drove a smart race and made no mistakes. Bristol is unforgiving, and even a small driver error can spell disaster. With Harvick looming in his mirror as the laps wound down, Logano never altered his approach, holding his line and meeting his own marks every lap, letting Harvick worry about making a move he didn’t want to—and ultimately couldn’t—make.

Logano’s crew chief, Todd Gordon, was quick to point out Logano’s performance as the key to the team’s success. “He performed flawlessly,” said Gordon after the race. “The best race he’s ever driven? I don’t know. Daytona was pretty phenomenal, but it was a typical Joey Logano performance. I said it in victory lane I’ll put the analogy to basketball, but there are only a handful of guys that want to have the ball in their hands with three seconds left on the shot clock and Joey is that guy. When it comes down to the time to make it happen he elevates and doesn’t make mistakes. I think Kevin challenged us pretty formidably and Joey never folded and never made a mistake and did what he had to do and executed. It’s a Joey Logano performance. I don’t know that I’d call it his best performance. He’s had a bunch of really good ones.”

How… did the little guys do?

The Three Best

Justin Allgaier; HScott Motorsports: Allgaier’s run showed how important a good starting spot is at Bristol. While the majority of the small teams got lapped early and trapped four or more laps down, Allgaier was able to avoid the same fate. He briefly fell off the lead lap after a pit-road speeding penalty, but was able to take the free pass on the next caution and from there, raced his way forward, racing as high as 10th before settling for 12th at the end. Allgaier is an outstanding short-track racer, and his result shows what a difference that still makes at Bristol.

Ryan Blaney; Wood Brothers Racing: Blaney might have had a similar night to Allgaier’s if not for a speeding penalty on his first stop. That put him at the back on a restart and vulnerable to losing laps quickly. His car was faster on the short runs, but he was able to make the most of what he did have and ran at the top of the lap he was on for most of the night, until others lost laps late in the game and fell back to just in front of him.

Casey Mears; Germain Racing: When a race isn’t going right, a team has a few options. They can get frustrated and upset and start throwing everything including the kitchen sink at the car. They can forget to communicate and make it worse. Or they can work with what they have and make it better. Two or three years ago, this team was taking the first option more often than not. But now, they’re finding ways to overcome adversity, which is the hallmark of a top team. Mears and crew chief Bootie Barker communicate extensively and well and don’t tend to lose that focus no matter how frustrated they get. At Bristol, the No. 13 was terrible at the start, plowing in the corners, and it later developed an intermittent vibration that Mears thought was coming from the engine, but the team went to work and the car was fast late in the game. “If we’d have had the car at the beginning that we have now it’d be a whole different race,” Mears told his team in the closing laps, and had they found the speed on Friday, he’s exactly right.

All the Rest

No. Driver Team Car Start Finish +/- Points Position
51 Justin Allgaier HScott Motorsports Brandt Chevy 14th 12th
Strong for first half; had pit road penalty and lost a lap, but got it back and in top 10 with 40 to go
+2 30th
21 Ryan Blaney Wood Brothers Racing SKF Ford 15th 22nd
Lost laps early after speeding penalty put him in a bad position but stronger late in the race, especially on restarts/short runs
7 N/A
13 Casey Mears Germain Racing GEICO Chevy 28th 23rd
Mears says car would not turn early in run; high water/oil temps by lap 70 after possible contact with Bayne; engine vibration came and went
+5 22nd
47 AJ Allmendinger JTG Daugherty Racing Bush’s Grillin/ Beans Chevy 25th 26th
Got into the inside wall on lap 146, made repairs but lost laps
-1 23rd
78 Martin Truex Jr. Furniture Row Racing Furniture Row Chevy 23rd 28th
Backup car; top five at halfway but had multiple issues, including a loose wheel, damage from contact and a black flag from NASCAR to fix some sheetmetal
-5 6th
35 Cole Whitt Front Row Motorsports Speed Stick Ford 33rd 29th
Struggled in practice but was happier with race; says Bristol is his least favorite track for the rest of the season
+4 31st
34 Brett Moffitt Front Row Motorsports No Escape Ford 27th 30th
Was happy with car before race but a bit off at start; said they were capable of more once they hit on adjustments
-3 34th
95 Michael McDowell Leavine Family Racing Thrivent Financial Ford 30th 31st
Was running top-15 lap times mid-race
-1 38th
7 Alex Bowman Tommy Baldwin Racing Accell Construction Chevy 36th 32nd +4 33rd
83 Matt DiBenedetto BK Racing Cosmo Motors Toyota 42nd 33rd +9 36th
23 JJ Yeley BK Racing VooDoo Barbeque & Grill Toyota 38th 34th
Stole the show with his driver introduction
+4 N/A
32 Josh Wise GO FAS Racing Visone RV Parts Ford 34th 35th -1 37th
38 David Gilliland Front Row Motorsports Cash Cash Ford 37th 36th
Two unscheduled pit stops
+1 32nd
33 Mike Bliss Circle Sport Chevy 43rd 37th
Ran a clean race; stayed out of trouble with a slow car
+7 N/A
40 Landon Cassill Hillman-Smith Motorsports Carsforsale.com Chevy 39th 38th
Cut a tire and had overheating issues
+1 N/A
98 Timmy Hill Premium Motorsports Chevy 41st 39th
Last car running all race; 24 laps down
+2 N/A
46 Michael Annett HScott Motorsports Pilot Flying J Chevy 35th 43rd
Went behind the wall as race went green; stuck in second gear; never got back out
-8 35th
26 Jeb Burton BK Racing Maxim Fantasy Sports Toyota DNQ 39th
30 Travis Kvapil The Motorsports Group Curtis Key Plumbing Chevy DNQ N/A
62 Reed Sorenson Premium Motorsports Chevy DNQ 41st


About the author

Amy is an 20-year veteran NASCAR writer and a six-time National Motorsports Press Association (NMPA) writing award winner, including first place awards for both columns and race coverage. As well as serving as Photo Editor, Amy writes The Big 6 (Mondays) after every NASCAR Cup Series race. She can also be found working on her bi-weekly columns Holding A Pretty Wheel (Tuesdays) and Only Yesterday (Wednesdays). A New Hampshire native whose heart is in North Carolina, Amy’s work credits have extended everywhere from driver Kenny Wallace’s website to Athlon Sports. She can also be heard weekly as a panelist on the Hard Left Turn podcast that can be found on AccessWDUN.com's Around the Track page.

Sign up for the Frontstretch Newsletter

A daily email update (Monday through Friday) providing racing news, commentary, features, and information from Frontstretch.com
We hate spam. Your email address will not be sold or shared with anyone else.

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

I wonder how Bowyer would do in the 10 car.

Bristol has turned into IRP. Race at the top and impossible to pass.


Nice comment. But the reality whether we agree or not is that the 10 will be back next year and the 15 won’t.


Some might say Bowyer brought that on himself. Funny how people forget how much SpinGate has effected this team since it happened. Truex must be smiling a little bit on the inside I would imagine.

Sorry, as much as you don’t want to admit it, financially Danica is far more valuable than Bowyer. Bowyer is a stain on the sport and Danica brings in a demographic that Nascar and businesses covet. Like it or not, that’s just the way it is. Performance has nothing to do with it.

Share via