Who’s in the headline – A funny thing happened on the way to crowning one of the Joe Gibbs Racing drivers (or affiliate team) the 2016 Sprint Cup champion: the 2014 winner issued a statement at Bristol Motor Speedway.
Kevin Harvick has had some strong cars this season, but the runs were derailed through a myriad of issues. Between pit road miscues, driver errors and part failures, he felt like they gave away a handful of wins this year. Thanks to a part failure for Kyle Busch, Harvick was able to capitalize and dominate over the last 20 percent of the race to score his second win of the season. While things most likely would have been different had Busch not had his issues, Harvick was stronger on long runs and the run to the finish was long enough that it would have afforded him a true shot at the win anyway.
What happened – Rain happened. The race started Saturday night and the drivers completed 39 laps before the red flag flew for rain on Saturday night. They came back out and circulated to let pit lane dry after the rain passed, but a huge cell was headed straight for the track.
The subsequent deluge washed out the night and put everyone on hold with 48 laps in the books. It took several more hours of effort to get the track dry after rain returned Sunday but eventually they did get the race started again and it ran the distance. Busch was dominant early but a part failure in the rear of the vehicle took him out of the race. Harvick grabbed the reins after Busch was eliminated and led 93 of the final 141 laps.
Why you should care – The Chase is right around the corner, and it has seemed like the JGR brigade was poised to run away and hide from the field. Looking at the winner’s column might not quite feel like it since Team Penske and Stewart-Haas Racing were holding trophies at the same pace as JGR since June started.
However, the five JGR teams and affiliate consistently have seemed to dominate the top 10 nearly every race. The strength of Harvick’s performance puts him in a position to make a statement in the Chase, at least on the short tracks of New Hampshire, Dover, Martinsville and Phoenix. Having someone that can keep JGR honest over the final 10 races will be important for the interest in the sport. Whether it is Team Penske, Stewart Haas or one of the other multi-car teams, competition will be a good thing.
What your friends are talking about – Rick Hendrick scored a huge coup this week, signing William Byron to a contract to drive in the XFINITY series for JR Motorsports. He currently leads the point standings in the Truck Series, driving for Kyle Busch Motorsports. He is a star in the Toyota ranks and looked to be tabbed as part of the future of Joe Gibbs Racing.
This signing now puts two of the future stars of the sport under the team’s banner, with Chase Elliott piloting the No. 24 car. As the current stable of Cup drivers besides Elliott gets older, the organization needs to solidify their future lineup and this goes a long way toward establishing the foundation of that future.
Bristol Motor Speedway applied a rosin to the bottom of the corners in an effort to improve the traction available to the cars in that line. In recent years the preferred lane at the track has been around the top. The speedway hoped to make the lower lane viable to give drivers another option and hopefully improve the racing. The substance was said to be similar to the one applied on drag strips that helps the rear tires launch better. That compound is derived from discarded elements from production of women’s beauty products.
The racing family continued to show support for the family of Bryan Clauson and the USAC Benevolent Foundation. Kyle Larson and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. both wore custom helmets at Bristol to honor Clauson, who tragically lost his life after an accident during the USAC Midget Nationals. Stenhouse also drove a car with a paint scheme that resembled one that Clauson drove during his brief stint in NASCAR. The helmets will be auctioned off with the proceeds going to the foundation along with $5,000 that will be donated by Larson and Stenhouse to the cause. Fans who are interested in making a donation can go to http://usacbf.org/give/
Dover International Speedway is adding SAFER barriers to the race track before the first elimination race of the Chase. The track will extend the barrier at the exit of turns two and four. While they certainly should be commended for adding to the total SAFER footage at the track it is still unexplainable how any facility has racing surface facing walls that do not have SAFER barriers.
Another race that saw a plethora of discussions about one lane having a significant advantage over the other on restarts. It is mind boggling that the series cannot come up with some methodology to allow drivers to choose which lane they would like to utilize for the restart. In the end there is probably going to be some significant damage to a competitive car on pit road thanks to the shenanigans teams are being forced to employ to try and restart in the preferred lane.
Who is mad – Tony Stewart has been on a roll this season since he came back from his off-season injury. The victory at Sonoma has him set for the Chase but his strong runs have him poised for a serious run at the title. Stewart had an issue with the right rear of the car that took him behind the wall for over 20 laps. Stewart returned to the track in 38th position but managed to improve to a 30th place finish with the attrition that befell other drivers. Points don’t matter when you have a win but it is a matter of pride for race teams to finish races.
Busch was dominant in the first half of the race but had a part failure in the rear of the car that caused him to spin out. After coming to rest Justin Allgaier made contact with the left front of Busch’s car and finished it off for the day. Busch has three DNFs in the last four races at Bristol and has failed to finish on the lead lap in four of the last five races there. Bristol is Busch’s best track in terms of wins but it has been five years since he visited Victory Lane at the facility.
Kurt Busch had a bad time at Bristol as well. He had completed every lap of competition through the first 22 races of the season and was looking to be the first in history to do it for the entire season. Unfortunately he spun his car in front of the field and caused a large melee that ended that streak and a couple of other drivers’ races.
Who is happy – Chris Buescher has the win he needs to make the Chase- now he just needs to stay in the top 30 in points. Thanks to a fifth place finish Buescher is now in the top 30 in points for the first time all season. Buescher is 13 points ahead of David Ragan for the 30th position and 27 behind Landon Cassill for 29th. The challenge for Buescher over the next three races is keeping himself ahead of Ragan and avoiding poor finishes at all cost. A top 5 for the second time this season went a long way toward solidifying the 30th place position.
Stenhouse, Jr. was racing with a very heavy heart Saturday and Sunday as he paid tribute to his lost friend Clauson. Clauson passed away on the same day as the series last race at Watkins Glen. With a week off this has been the first time that Stenhouse has raced after dealing with the outpouring of condolences for his friend. Bristol is one of Stenhouse’s best tracks on the schedule. He was also running a tribute scheme for Clauson. Put them together and you had a second place finish for the Roush Fenway Racing driver.
It has been a stellar week for Austin Dillon. He started off getting engaged to his girlfriend Whitney Ward while vacationing in the Bahamas. He followed that up with a win in the XFINITY race on Friday night. He rounded it out with a fourth place run on Sunday. Intermediate tracks have long been Dillon’s strong suit in NASCAR. Having this kind of success is a confidence builder for the team and could spur them to a win over the next three races before the Chase.
When the checkered flag flew:
Kevin Harvick won the 33rd race of his career in his 561st career start.
Harvick’s win is his second career triumph at Bristol Motor Speedway.
This is the second victory of the season for Harvick.
The 33 wins rank Harvick 22nd on the all-time list in a tie with Hall of Famer Fireball Roberts.
Ricky Stenhouse’s runner-up run was his third top 5 of the season and has doubled his career total in that category.
The run ties Stenhouse’s career best finish of second which also occurred at Bristol.
The finish ties Stenhouse with a myriad of other drivers for 123rd on the all-time second place list.
Denny Hamlin came home in third for his sixth top 3 finish of the season.
This is Hamlin’s fifth career podium run at Bristol.
He has 82 career top 3 runs which ranks him 30th on the all-time list.
Chris Buescher’s top 5 was the best finish by a rookie and earned him Rookie of the Race honors.
The last driver to start 24th or worse to win at Bristol was Dale Earnhardt Jr. in 2004 when he started 30th.
After 23 races Brad Keselowski, Kyle Busch, Carl Edwards, Jimmie Johnson, Matt Kenseth, Hamlin, Harvick, Kurt Busch, Joey Logano, Martin Truex Jr., and Tony Stewart are all locked into the Chase assuming they attempt the remaining races thanks to wins and the fact that there cannot be more than 16 unique winners by the end of the race in Richmond. Chris Buescher, thanks to his win at Pocono, will make the Chase if he can maintain a spot in the top 30 in points. Buescher made his way into the top 30 thanks to his run at Bristol.
The remaining Chase drivers at this point and their point position:
11) Austin Dillon
12) Chase Elliott
13) Jamie McMurray
14) Ryan Newman
What is in the cooler – Mother nature can be cantankerous sometimes, but she shouldn’t have an impact on the rating of a race. The tracks efforts to make the bottom groove relevant worked well and, as a result, there was even more side-by-side racing at Bristol since the repaving of the track. For those fans that appreciate racing rather than wrecking, it was an outstanding race. The only drawback was the dominance of Busch and Harvick. That prevented a six pack rating but the race gets five cold Yee Haw Brewery Pilsners.
Where do you point your DVR for next week – The regular season is three races from completion and the setting of the Chase field. After a couple of weeks off of the channel the Cup series will be back on NBCSN when they visit Michigan next weekend. The race can be seen at 2:00PM Sunday, August 28th. The race can also be heard on local MRN affiliates and SiriusXM NASCAR Channel 90. The race will also be streamed on NBCSportsLive Extra.
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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