Race Weekend Central

Thinkin’ Out Loud – Carl Edwards Lays Down a Colossal Beat Down at Bristol

Who’s in the headline – It was pointed out last week, and it was reinforced this weekend, that Joe Gibbs Racing is right at the top of the board in the Cup series. It was Carl Edwards turn this weekend as he dominated the race. Edwards led 276 laps en route to capturing his first win of the season. JGR now has three teams with at least one win, which means they are positioned quite nicely for the Chase cut off.

What happened – Edwards won the pole and led the first 36 laps. Joey Logano led a few laps and then Matt Kenseth showed he had a car to be reckoned with, leading 142 of 144 laps. Unfortunately for Kenseth, he lost a right-front tire. It was a common theme for JGR teams on Sunday as Kyle Busch and multiple right front issues along with Kenseth.

Paul Menard led a handful of laps under caution for Kenseth, but couldn’t hang onto it when the race went back green. Edwards led more, and then Landon Cassill grabbed the lead under caution and held it for eight laps after going back to green. Edwards led again, Kevin Harvick grabbed it for a couple of minutes, Edwards led more, Kurt Busch had a couple cups of coffee out front, and then Edwards slammed the door. Edwards led the final 104 laps, withstanding five restarts in the process.

Why you should care – Edwards looked to be the weakest of the JGR teams early this season. The organization started in four of the top 5 positions Sunday and is poised to put all four of its teams in the Chase. Assuming this horrible luck isn’t going to befall Kenseth for eternity, he will be able to win a race before the Chase, which will likely put all four JGR drivers in the title hunt.

Other notable finishes on Sunday were the equivalent of wins for several drivers. Trevor Bayne scored his first top 5 since he won the Daytona 500 five years ago. Matt DiBenedetto finished sixth for the second career top 10 finish for his entire BK Racing organization. Clint Bowyer also wrangled a top 10 for the first time since Talladega last Fall.

What your friends are talking about – The XFINITY Series ran heat races at Bristol for the first time in the series history. Fans best be analyzing, dissecting and scrutinizing how they played out because you can bet, in the next two or three years, they’ll be coming to the Cup Series. The modern NASCAR fans apparently can’t stay focused long enough to watch 500-mile races, 400-mile races or even 312 km races. As a result, the powers that be in Daytona will eventually implement this format in Sprint Cup so that the short attention span fans can actually remain entertained for the full amount of time racing takes place.

One other thing that many fans might not be considering, heat races that take place on Saturday for a Sunday race mean the promoters can sell race tickets to fans for two days of Cup racing in a weekend. That is a huge opportunity for track owners to squeeze even more blood out of the race fan turnip.

Bristol Motor Speedway sold out 55 consecutive races at one point in time. Sunday was a long way from a sellout. Promoters and the sanctioning body continue to try and use the economy as an excuse, but the truth of it is other sports are posting record earnings and large crowds. NASCAR’s ratings continue to slide even though the racing has improved with the new aero package. It just might be too little too late. On the plus side, it is a safe bet you won’t have to pay $250 per night with a three-night minimum for too many more spring races at Bristol.

Throwback paint schemes were released with fervor this past week, with Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., Dale Earnhardt Jr, Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch among those who unveiled schemes. The program is very cool for longtime fans and an opportunity for new fans to explore the history of the sport. The question is, why can’t teams wait until closer to Labor Day to show what they’ll race instead of putting it out there before Memorial Day has even hit?

In a report that shocked approximately no one, the TV ratings for Texas were down again. The race was the worst rated one in the history of Fox’s contract with NASCAR that started with the 2001 Daytona 500 that wasn’t moved to a different day due to weather. Attendance at the racetrack is waning, television numbers continue to drop and fingers are pointed in many different directions when blame is attempted. The bottom line is the decline has been a snowball tumbling downhill and gaining mass and speed for years. It is going to take some time to slow it down, stop it and head it back up the hill. The worry, at this point, is will a rebound be too little too late when/if it comes?

Who is mad – It is hard to be mad when you win four races in two weeks. For Kyle Busch, it appeared he had a car that would be capable of winning the race. Unfortunately for him, his setup seemed to put too much stress on the right front. Busch lost two different right fronts and was involved in three cautions before Adam Stevens threw in the towel and parked the No. 18 car. It resulted in a 38th-place finish, but that doesn’t mean anything to Busch, who has two race wins and is a lack for the Chase. If anything, it might be an indication that the team is going to throw some aggressive setups at their cars to see if they can discover something for the Chase.

Saturday saw Kyle Larson battle Kyle Busch for the win at Bristol only to lose it to Erik Jones. Sunday, things were far worse as Larson lost a transmission early in the race and ended the event in 35th. It is yet another disappointing run for Larson, who just can’t seem to recapture the magic from his rookie season.

Kenseth has been among the fastest cars during most of the first eight events of the season. He’s led laps in seven of the eight races, totaling 306 up front. Though he’s been stout, he’s had bad racing luck in almost all of the races. Ironically, the one race where Kenseth didn’t lead a lap, he had his only top 10 of the year at Phoenix. Not only does Kenseth have to deal with the frustration of poor finishes with a good car, he’s also hearing it from some in the media that it might be time to hang it up. While Kenseth is nearly as old as Jeff Gordon, he says he feels great and is driving for the best team in the garage. As a result, he doesn’t plan on changing his driving status any time soon.

Who is happy – DiBenedetto finishes sixth in the BK Racing No. 83 car. Let that wash over you for a moment.

DiBenedetto has run 41 career Cup races and has finished in the top 10 exactly one time, Sunday. His sixth-place run was the best ever for an organization that makes a living running near the back of the pack. He was very emotional during a post race interview that showed how much it means to guys who drive for the teams that are scraping to get by.

(Photo: John Harrelson / NKP)
Matt DiBenedetto earned BK Racing the team’s second top 10 in the team’s history, finishing sixth. (Photo: John Harrelson / NKP)

Trevor Bayne won the 2011 Daytona 500. That was the last time he scored a top-five  finish before Sunday. While Roush Fenway Racing is hardly BK Racing, they have been struggling and Bayne has been the poster child for those difficulties. In a race where several drivers had great runs to give their seasons a bit of a boost, Bayne was the highest finishing driver on that list.

Chase Elliott is trending upward. He set a career best finish in Atlanta with an eighth place run. He then tied that at Phoenix. He went two better coming home sixth at Fontana. Last week he topped that with his first top 5 at Texas. This weekend saw yet another career best as Elliott scored his first fourth place run. At this pace, Elliott should be in Victory Lane around Charlotte.

When the checkered flag flew:

Carl Edwards scored his 26th career victory in his 417th start.

It was Edwards fourth career triumph at Bristol Motor Speedway.

This was Edwards first win of 2016.

Edwards is tied with Fred Lorenzen and Earnhardt Jr. for 28th on the all-time wins list.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished in second position for the second consecutive week.

Earnhardt has three runner-up runs in eight races this year.

This was Earnhardt’s second career top 2 run at Bristol.

Earnhardt has 31 career bridesmaid runs. He is tied with Kyle Busch and Benny Parsons for 22nd on the all-time list.

Kurt Busch rounded out the podium with his seventh career top 3 finish at Bristol.

This is Busch’s first top 3 of the season.

Busch has 77 career podium finishes. That ranks him 31st on the all-time list.

Chase Elliott was the Rookie of the Race thanks to his fourth place finish.

Jimmie Johnson and Kyle Busch are locked into the Chase assuming they attempt the remaining 18 races this season. Denny Hamlin, Brad Keselowski, Kevin Harvick and Edwards have the inside track to the Chase right now, assuming there are fewer than 17 drivers who win races. The remaining drivers who are currently in position to make the Chase and their current points position:

  1. Joey Logano
  1. Dale Earnhardt Jr.
  2. Kurt Busch
  1. Martin Truex Jr.
  2. Austin Dillon
  3. Chase Elliott
  4. Jamie McMurray
  5. AJ Allmendinger
  6. Kasey Kahne
  7. Ryan Newman

What is in the cooler – The continuous battle of new Bristol vs. old Bristol will rage for eternity. There has been no denying that there has at least been passing occurring over the years whether it was with the lane at the top of the track or the bottom. For whatever reason, Sunday’s race had virtually no passing. The bottom had no speed and, with 15 cautions, every time cars had to restart on the bottom they were virtually assured of going backwards. Aside from Kyle Busch and Kenseth, almost no one else could move forward. Throw in two drivers leading over 400 laps and this one rates one, lukewarm Yee Haw Beer.

Where do you point your DVR for next week – For the second time in two weeks and the third time this month, the series heads to a short track. There are six short track races on the schedule and half of them take place in April. The race coverage next week starts at 1:00 on Sunday, April 24th. The race will be shown on your local Fox affiliate. It can also be heard on your local MRN station and SiriusXM NASCAR 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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First, credit to the 88 team for their run. However, out of all of Brian France’s “innovations”, the wave around rule is the worst, bar none.
Allowing a car to make up over half a lap, by not pitting on a short track where cautions are going to happen frequently, is ridiculous. It is way to easy to overcome a mistake, as long as the mistake happens in the first part of the race.
I saw a good race with plenty of passing (and I watched it on TV). Other than the leaders getting caught up behind Danica early (again, credit to Danica for racing hard) the leaders negotiated traffic and moves were made throughout the field. Maybe, not at the front, but throughout the field. This was very close to a 90’s Bristol race with lapped traffic playing a role, single groove racing (except the bottom used to be the preferred line), and the leaders working lapped traffic (unlike the COT era, when they could not pass at all). Take away the wave a round and the lucky dog, put the lapped cars on the bottom (where lead lapped cars don’t get penalized for starting in the wrong lane), and you have fixed racing at Bristol. Your review gives credence to the ADD era.
The heat races were worthless. This would be the final straw for me in watching NASCAR racing.


Mike, it seems you’re implying that Bristol could become a one-date track. With new sanctioning agreements with the tracks, that won’t happen for at least four years since the tracks are locked into their allotted number of race dates.
With this new agreement, tracks aren’t put on notice with the threat (and reality) of losing races like we’ve seen at Atlanta and Fontana this decade, and Darlington and Rockingham last decade. Not a lot of incentive for people to go knowing there will still be the same number of races there next year and the year after and the year after that.
In any other business, the optics of the crowd shots would cause emergency meetings today. In NASCAR, we’ll hear that it was the most attended athletic event in the state of Tennessee yesterday or some other pointless spin.

Tim S.

That last sentence made me laugh out loud, and remember the published attendance figures from Texas in years past. You’d see numbers like 330,000 or some such.

Bill B

For years fans have warned that NASCAR had issues that needed addressing (I won’t list them, we all know what they are) and NASCAR has smugly ignored the fans they had in search of elusive new (possibly younger) fans. One by one fans fell by the wayside slowly and excuses were offered instead of fixes. Well it looks like the critical tipping point has been reached. You can’t force customers to accept what you want to serve them. If they don’t like it, they will go elsewhere and boy, have fans went elsewhere.

In Bristol’s case I’d have to say the track reconfiguration has been the major reason for it’s decline (although price gouging and the chase format have been major contributors as well). I could not believe how many empty seats there were yesterday. It would have been unthinkable 10 years ago.

Charles Jenkins

rg72, You are right on the “spin” comment. One good one is in a post on this site. It called yesterday’s motor sports entertainment event at Bristol a “500 lap thriller”….. and on we go………and
Bill B, you are so right about the at track attendance…. The continued increase in TV revenue since the first “big” contract that began in 2001 has made actual track attendance unimportant…… but, it’s (the racing) is better than ever we are told….. and again, on we go !!!!


what are people talking about from sunday’s race???? lack of butts in seats at bristol. that place was empty. tv coverage could not hide it either. no gordon racing, stewart hurt and not racing, guess the remaining fans there were 88 fans sprinkled with the remainder of the field. surprise, gibbs car wins. yawn.

saw pre-race, more kb love fest from dw, michael being village idiot. i did notice this week in the booth gordon was where dw has stood for years. guess dw wanted to be in middle so camera would focus on him.

i did yard work and then had allergy attack. flipped back with 20 laps to go. ho hum!


There must have been a lot of fans paying too much for souvenirs under the grandstands.


Check out the video of Kyle when he pulls up nest to fan.


Johnny Allen

Going to have to rename the Bristol spring race the ” No Show 500 . Priced themselves completely out.


Really, that was one of the better Bristol races in a while. There was plenty of passing as Earnhardt Jr. and Elliott showed. There were great stories near the front of the field. You had “beating and banging” and wrecks. As far as attendance is concerned, Bristol became a victim of its own hype. It’s biggest problem is that its in the “middle of no where” and hotel rooms are at a premium. From my experience there, it’s one of those places where you want to camp, and the August race is more attractive from the prospective. Also, when a place seats 160,000, a crowd of a 100,000 makes the place look empty. NASCAR is not the only sport seeing attendance drops. Watching the Yankees, 10 years ago every seat in old Yankee Stadium would be packed. Now there are an awful lot of empty seats especially in the premium “moat” sections. Remember the other sports too beef up their attendance figure with the “paid attendance” figures, not butts in seats.


I wonder what the talking heads are blaming it on this year? The last few years it’s been the weather. Well the weather doesn’t get any better than this weekend. I have made every Spring Bristol race since 1995. It’s the reconfiguration of the track that killed Bristol. Plain and simple. While the new track offers good racing it’s not “Bristol Racing”. I love how all their advertising shots of the crowds ar from years ago! They still try to sell these races on the antics from years ago. That ship has sailed and is never coming back. Bump and run? Seriously? Just pick a lane and drive around.

Jim Bailey

For the last several years the racing has been void of the two things that made people start watching it in the first place.Interesting cars and interesting drivers.


I was at Bristol yesterday, and I would say about 40% full, but one thing I would love to know is the actual number of ticket sales (kinda doubt Bruton will call me up to give me those those numbers though). Why I say this is that we ordered tickets from the BMS website about one month ago. At that time, a few sections were listed as sold out and there were fairly limited seats available in other areas. So, based off of the BMS ticket/seating map, there were way more tickets sold than people in attendance. Is this due to season ticket holders that mainly show up for the night race? If that is the case, and Bruton has the $ from the fans for the seats, does he care if they actually show up?

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