Race Weekend Central

The Big 6: Questions Answered After the 2016 Toyota Owners 400

Who… gets my shoutout of the race?

Some days just don’t go as planned.  It just seems like if you’re Kasey Kahne, that would be more or less every day. The No. 5 team and he have had more than their fair share of bad luck over the last couple of seasons, often having finishes that didn’t reflect the speed they had.  This week, they were able to give themselves a boost with a strong run that resulted in his first top 5 of 2016.  The team is capable of that kind of run on a regular basis, and it’s been a bit of a mystery why they haven’t been.  It’s too soon to declare Kahne out from under Lady Luck’s thumb just yet, but he sorely needed the run he had this week.

Kasey Kahne Grabs ‘Encouraging’ Fourth-Place Effort at Richmond 

What… is the takeaway from this race?

There was a a lot to chew on after this one.  While a FOX fan poll pre-race showed that fans didn’t like the switch from night to day, the race was one of the best at Richmond, because the daytime heat made the track slick and opened up multiple racing lines.  Other than Bristol and the day-to night challenge of the Coca-Cola 600 (and starting that one a good hour earlier would be even better), why race at night when we’ve seen better racing time and again during the day?

Also, is Roush Fenway Racing starting to turn around?  Trevor Bayne had his first top 5 since his 2011 Daytona 500 victory last week at Bristol, and an unscheduled pit stop derailed what had been a strong run for Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. this week.  Both Bayne and Stenhouse are in the top 20 in the standings, something that seemed far out of reach a year ago. Greg Biffle is struggling a bit more than the youngsters, but the organization has shown some signs of life recently.  The more different teams that are able to mix it up, the better the experience will be for race fans, so a turnaround would be good for everyone.

Where… did the pole sitter and the defending race winner wind up?

Kevin Harvick started up front based on his top speed in the first practice session after rain washed out qualifying. He led the first 21 laps and went on to lead twice more for a race total of 63 laps. Harvick rain inside the top 5 all day long and wound up fifth—not quite the show of strength many expected of him, and it cost him the points lead as Carl Edwards takes over the top spot after two straight wins.

Kurt Busch worked his way up to the front and went on to lead 55 laps. Had it not been for the final caution of the day, he might have cruised all the way to the win, but Busch lost four sports on his final pit stop and then fell back on restart all the way to 10th spot.  The team claimed they made no changes on that last pit stop, but whatever they did didn’t work out for Busch.  Still, it was a good day for the team—Busch hasn’t looked like a favorite to win most weeks, but he flexed a lot of muscle this week.

When… did it all go sideways?

As far as the race goes, it couldn’t have been much better.  There were multiple grooves, thanks to tires that wore out but laid down rubber. Cars were three and even four-wide for position at times. There was a good old-fashioned bump and run for the win—between teammates, no less.  To the delight of his fans, Smoke was back in the saddle.  The weather was picture-perfect, and running during the day made a track that’s usually good even better.

Yet, if you followed along on social media, the complaints rained down.  There wasn’t enough passing.  Joe Gibbs Racing is too dominant and their drivers win too much (somewhere, Rick Hendrick is laughing). It was boring.  Television only showed the leaders (OK, yes, they did, I agree with that one).  Nobody raced hard because they were already locked into the Chase (Carl Edwards must have missed that memo).  (Insert driver here) is a (insert creative insult here).

Color me confused.  The racing has been some of the best NASCAR has seen in at least a decade and it’s more competitive than a lot of times during the glory years we love to talk about. I’d love to hear from the fans who are complaining about poor racing exactly what would make a race good these days—invert the field at halfway?  Mandatory crash every 10 laps?  Resurrect Dale Earnhardt?

Yeah, the Chase is terrible, and it’s hurt the sport immeasurably. But this year the racing has been good enough that the Chase has taken a backseat for the time being.  The individual races are worth watching.  No, not every fan will be happy, and for many, their satisfaction is tied to the performance of a certain driver, but looking for every shred of negativity is getting a little old.

Why… did Carl Edwards win the race?

As the field took the white flag behind Kyle Busch, it looked as though Edwards was done for—he was a coupe of car lengths back, and though he’d run Busch down in the closing laps after the final restart, Edwards looked like he’d used up his car.  He made one last-ditch effort entering Turn 1 and couldn’t make it stick.

So, in the last turn, Edwards took one more tack—he executed a textbook-perfect bump and run on his teammate, moving Busch up the track and taking away his momentum without spinning him or putting him in the wall.  While Busch was busy reining in his suddenly wayward car, Edwards was running to the checkers for the win.  It was classic short-track NASCAR, and a reminder that stock cars have bumpers for a reason. It wasn’t a dirty move (though it would have been if he’d wrecked Busch outright); it was a racing move right out of the good ol’ days.

Of course the real test will be if Edwards would be as accepting of the move if he was on the other end, and he’s got the reputation of being a sore loser.  But he laid down a gauntlet on Sunday, sending the message to his competitors, loud and clear, that the bump and run is acceptable to him.  They’ll remember that when the tables are turned.

How… did the little guys do?

The three best:

David Ragan; BK Racing: So far, this team just might be the most improved in the series.  They’ve gone from fighting for top 30 finishes to fighting for top 20s—a huge leap given the level of competition.  Last week, it was Matt DiBenedetto with a top 10 at Bristol and this time around, it was Ragan having an impressive day, working his way into the top 20 after starting 30th and from there he was best in class.  He got shuffled to 23rd after a plethora of late-race cautions, but the team said afterwards they felt they had a top-15 car.  Things are looking up in the BK corral.

AJ Allmendinger; JTG Daugherty Racing:

Allmendinger finished near the top of this group, as he should have. But Richmond represented a frustrating race for the No. 47 bunch as they started 10th, quickly falling to the mid-20s, where they remained mired for the rest of the day, finishing 25th.  It’s certainly nothing to panic about, though the team hoped to carry some momentum to Talladega, as Allmendinger has struggled at restrictor-plate tracks in the past.

Landon Cassill; Front Row Motorsports: Cassill maintains his season-long streak of top-30 finishes, an impressive step forward for the young driver and proof positive that a good driver will rise to the level of his equipment. He drew the ire of a couple of competitors Sunday—at one point a rival spotter called him “a weapon” as he raced for position, but he wasn’t overaggressive.  He did get into Ryan Ellis on a late restart, but that wasn’t really due to anything he did worng. Ellis had to check up after Michael Annett got squirrely in front of him, and the chain reaction ended with Cassill getting into Ellis.

All the rest:

No. Driver Team Car Start Finish +/- Points Position
23 David Ragan BK Racing Sweet Frog Toyota 30th 23rd
Moved up nicely in first half of the race—inside top 20 before halfway; lucky break at third caution-had a tire rub when it came out
+7 32nd
47 AJ Allmendinger JTG Daugherty Racing Kroger / Bush’s Beans Chevy 10th 25th
Another top start for this team; fell back early and was 21st by lap 52; couldn’t recover from early fade though they did salvage a lead-lap finish
-15 17th
21 Ryan Blaney Wood Brothers Racing Motorcraft / Quick Lane Ford 29th 28th
Lost a lap early and later missed chance at free pass when he lined up incorrectly on previous start; team never was able to improve the car much.
+1 20th
13 Casey Mears Germain Racing GEICO Chevy 25th 29th
Never got comfortable in the car; reported worsening brake vibration in second half. Mears was unhappy with Brian Scott in closing laps and vehemently voiced his frustration with team’s performance after the race.
-4 26th
83 Matt DiBenedetto BK Racing E.J. Wade Construction Toyota 36th 30th
Moved up to 29th early but fell back and lost a lap by lap 50. Top 30 shows team still moving in the right direction
+6 30th
95 Michael McDowell Circle Sport-Leavine Family Racing WRL General Contractors Chevy 32nd 31st
Ran a clean race and kept car clean, but didn’t show same speed they’ve had at times this season
+1 33rd
38 Landon Cassill Front Row Motorsports The Pete Store Ford 28th 27th
Was able to pick up spots at times but was mired in the same traffic all day; got into Ryan Ellis on a late restart to trigger another caution; not his best run, but still a top 30
+1 27th
7 Regan Smith Tommy Baldwin Racing APC Chevy 34th 32nd
Car got better in second half of the race but the competition in this group was tough Sunday
+2 31st
15 Clint Bowyer HScott Motorsports 5-hour Energy Chevy 39th 33rd
Was vocally unhappy throughout practices; team is capable of more (and showed it at Bristol) but can’t seem toput it together. At some point, have to wonder if the 46 is bringing them down
+6 29th
34 Chris Buescher Front Row Motorsports A&W Ford 33rd 34th
Uncontrolled tire penalty under caution; contact with No. 13 later on.  Team struggled with handling throughout.
-1 34th
46 Michael Annett HScott Motorsports Pilot Flying J Chevy 40th 36th
Pit road speeding penalty under first caution; team has not shown improvement.  Annett bobbled on 7th restart and that set up a chain reaction spin by the No, 93. Have to wonder at this point if Annett is holding team and organization back.
+4 35th
93 Ryan Ellis BK Racing Science Logic Toyota 37th 37th
Ran a clean race; got spun on restart in chain reaction where the No. 46 bobbled in front of him and the 38 tagged him from behind; not his fault, and he was able to continue
32 Jeffery Earnhardt GO FAS Racing Corvetteparts.net Ford 38th 38th
Earnhardt isn’t doing anything wrong—he’s racing clean and completing laps.  Equipment is lacking and stellar rookie class is hard to get noticed in this year
30 Josh Wise The Motorsports Group Curtis Key Plumbing Chevy 31st 39th
Team just doesn’t have the equipment to be competitive, even within this group—it would make better sense to put effort into XFINITY Series, where they would likely be able to run mid-pack.
-8 39th
55 Reed Sorenson Premium Motorsports ChampionMachinery.com Chevy 35th 40th
Best start in four races this season; cut tire caused caution number 2; was slowest car consistently
-5 43rd
98 Cole Whitt Premium Motorsports Toyota DNQ
New qualifying rules for 2016 didn’t work in Whitt’s favor


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.

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“Yeah, the Chase is terrible, and it’s hurt the sport immeasurably. But this year the racing has been good enough that the Chase has taken a backseat for the time being. The individual races are worth watching”.

Bullshitz. The Chase is what you dread knowing WHATEVER team has done, this win and that win is sowing the seeds of potential heartbreak. Reset at week 26. And the welfare continues. I saw Mikey Waltrip bragging about Carl, and he said he was “the man to beat regarding the Championship”. We shook our heads in disgust. Carl or whomever could win a zillion races, have the best season stats of this and that. And the WWE has kicked in and will kick in the future at the one race “winner take at all” at Homestead. Depending on what script Castle Daytona and their though processs on maximum exposure regard $$$$ will bring.


If Carl Edwards has the reputation of being a sore loser, where on Earth does that leave Kyle Busch?

Bette G

Don’t you think Amy must have used the wrong name on that comment ! When has Carl Ever been know as a poor loser !!oops Remember once way back with Brad K – whole different thing !!!

Bill B

I’ll agree that the racing has been decent this year but, as you said, the chase has hurt the sport immeasurably, and that taints the whole experience. Even if I could live with the chase, ignore it and just watch the races, my experience will be negative as long as they have rules that give so many free laps to so many unworthy drivers.

If there is one thing that has helped for me personally it’s not having a driver that I care about. I can watch each race and not care about the damn championship. I really don’t care who wins it and when the time comes for them to pick a name out of a hat it won’t matter to me. What does matter is watching someone put half the field a lap down during the first half of the race and then watching NASCAR rules allow those drivers to all get entitlement laps to be back on the lead lap. That makes you question why you wasted your time watching the first part of the race.

Loved that long green flag run at the beginning of the race. That’s the way it should be but NASCAR couldn’t resist throwing that first questionable debris caution and then cautions just kept coming. Of course cautions are part of racing, and it wouldn’t matter so much if each caution didn’t provide an opportunity for so many to get laps back without earning them but that’s the way they have the rules set up and IT SUCKS.

Bill B

You show up with the best car you can and if it isn’t good enough you fall down a lap. Personally I want the first quarter of the race to matter as much as the last, if your car isn’t good enough and you fall behind early then you should have to pay a price and going down a lap is that price. The thing is, while losing a lap would keep you from winning, if enough cars fall a lap down without being given free passes you still might be racing for a good finish (maybe even a top ten) amongst the lapped cars. BTW, most teams aren’t losing a lap because of bad luck (flat tire, bad pit stop, caution coming out during green flag pit stops, etc,), most are losing a lap because their car is too slow to stay within 20 seconds of the fastest cars over the long run. I won’t name any names but there are regular welfare participants every race who the only thing that will save them from going laps down are frequent cautions. I want it to be like other sports, if you screw up early there is a 90% chance you are destined to lose and that’s what sports are all about. You succeed or fail by how you execute all aspects of the competition.

IMO, this is all about keeping as many drivers on the lead lap as possible for the entertainment (and possible ratings) at the expense of competition. So yeah, if you go down a lap it should be difficult to get the lap back unless you have a fast car. I am no fan of the double file restarts either so anyone that doesn’t like the fact that there would be lapped cars among the leaders is more interested in manufacturing an interesting television program than they are about watching a competitive sport.

Bill B

One other observation. There have been many times where the same cars keep falling a lap down after being given a lap back (all it takes is another long green flag run). If you are propping those slow cars up to keep on the lead lap how is that not an entitlement.
How about this, every driver gets on lucky dog or wave around opportunity per race. No one ever is given two chances of getting a free lap. I’d be willing to tolerate that system because at least then those that sucked would be destined to get the finish they deserve and those that were able to stay on the lead lap would get the finish they deserve. It’s not always about the win. As an example, if you managed to stay on the lead lap through that first long green flag run and there was no way to get free laps back, the worst you would finish is 18th. Of course if you allow 16 cars back on the lead lap and then have a bunch of cautions that continually have double file restarts, some of those drivers that would have been guaranteed a top 18 finish now end up getting scrambled back during the mayhem of restarts and end up finishing 25th. That isn’t any more fair than having someone lose a lap and be destined to be a lap down for the rest of the day.


I still remember the year that Kyle Busch made up 5 laps at the Glen, all on free passes. There was a little rumble then to limit the number of free passes but since that made too much sense, nothing came of it.
I think the biggest argument for going back to the old restart rules is what we see at tracks where being in a certain lane is advantageous. It shouldn’t be racing luck that restarting 11th at Martinsville is more advantageous than restarting 2nd.
If your car is good enough, pass the leader under green to get back on the lead lap.

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