Race Weekend Central

The Big 6: Questions After The 2017 Food City 500

Who… gets my shoutout of the race?

Matt Kenseth’s day looked about done when the 2003 champion ran afoul of a speeding penalty on pit road on lap 386 and had to start at the tail end of the field on the ensuring restart.

Kenseth ended up racing back up to the front over the last 100 laps and ended the day in fourth. Kenseth’s charge to the front was helped when crew chief Jason Ratcliff made the call to go with four tires on the final restart with 32 laps to go.

The good result ended a bizarre week for the 45-year-old Kenseth. A press conference announcing his new partnership with sponsor Circle K was dogged by an unsubstantiated report of Kenseth’s “immediate” retirement. The driver shot down those rumors quickly but the fact remains he’s without a contract to drive for Joe Gibbs Racing in 2018.

That still leaves some wondering just how much longer Kenseth will be around. But Sunday, he reminded us it’s hard to argue against the skill he still has on the track.

What… is the takeaway from this race?

This was probably the best race at Bristol Motor Speedway in quite a while. Solid action throughout and a great 30 lap sprint to end it the race, it proved that there can be great short track racing without excessive wrecks.

Old Bristol will never come back. These cars are never going to be durable enough again to where drivers can make bump-and-runs to force the pass multiple times in a race. A Bristol where the fast lanes are constantly changing and at the end of the race passes are being made in both lanes is probably the best that can be done in these cars. It’s just a shame the race was delayed to Monday which will devastate the TV ratings.

Reports of Jimmie Johnson’s 2017 struggles might have been a little premature. (Photo: John K. Harrelson/NKP)

What else can honestly be said about Jimmie Johnson? He’s the best driver of all time, and Chad Knaus is the best crew chief of all time. Whenever we in the media think the No. 48 is done and that the “Age of Johnson” is finished, they suddenly strike when nobody expects it. A month ago, not one person save for the most diehard of Johnson fans thought Johnson would win any races in April, let alone go back-to-Easter-to-back. Heck, some thought he wasn’t even going to win a race this year.

As long as Johnson has a chance, he will be a significant threat to win. Races, championships, whatever. I’ll write him off the day he announces his retirement. Every time somebody does before then, they have been, and always are, going to end up proven wrong.

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

Kyle Larson started on pole after qualifying was rained out, and he started the race off strong. He won stage one and led the first 203 laps before fading away in the middle portions of the race. He kind of just rode around on the lead lap for the next 200 laps before starting to come back alive in the final 100 laps. He challenged for the win but couldn’t make his two tires work hard enough to finish the day in victory lane, ending up sixth when the checkered flag flew.

I’m going to guess defending winner Carl Edwards was helping old ladies cross the street somewhere. His replacement in the No. 19 Toyota, Daniel Suarez, struggled all day with handling and finished 18th, two laps down.

When… did it all get sideways?

Adam Stevens, crew chief for Kyle Busch, has to be wondering at this point if he can put Hoosiers on his Toyota instead of Goodyear Eagles. Another race, another tire failure for Busch that put the team behind even more in points; a championship contender doesn’t often end the eighth race of the season 11th in points.

The incident in question was a right front tire failure sending Busch into the turn four wall on lap 385. This was after an earlier tire failure on lap 209. Busch told Frontstretch afterwards that “If you want racing, you need tires that last”.

With the constant problems the No. 18 team has had this season with Goodyear, it’s hard to blame it on one specific issue. It’s probable that the team is just being too aggressive with setups, considering they are the only ones having this problem seemingly every week. But there have been quite a few tire failures this season by other teams as well. Whether it’s the teams or Goodyear, this is a problem that needs to be fixed soon for Busch, or else it’s going to be a long, hot summer for this team.

Why… did Jimmie Johnson win?

Knaus made what would have ended up making the wrong call, two tires only on the final pit stop, if Johnson wasn’t good enough to drive his way past Kevin Harvick and Joey Logano. The amount of laps in clean air was enough for Johnson to build a large enough lead on Clint Bowyer that four tires wasn’t enough.

Clean air is still a problem in NASCAR that makes it hard for anybody to gain ground on and catch the leader. It wasn’t a problem for most of the day because Bristol is small enough to where cars get lapped every 20 laps. But in a thirty lap sprint to the finish, it played a big enough role to get Johnson his 82nd win.

How… important is power steering at Bristol?

It’s hard enough to race a Cup Series car around the Bristol. 15 second lap times and cars everywhere on the racetrack sounds like a nightmare for drivers and a fortune in Advil sales. But imagine having to race a Cup Series car around Bristol without power steering; that was the predicament Ryan Blaney found himself in.

The Team Penske-built, Wood Brothers-owned No. 21 Ford was fast to start the race off, but halfway through stage one, the power steering went away. Blaney struggled all the way to the end of stage two before bringing the car behind the wall to change out everything; he ended up finishing 33rd, 48 laps down. Brad Keselowski, in a different Team Penske Ford, also had a power steering problem and ended up behind Blaney in 34th, 67 laps down.

About the author


Michael has watched NASCAR for 20 years and regularly covered the sport from 2013-2021, and also formerly covered the SRX series from 2021-2023. He now covers the FIA Formula 1 World Championship, the NASCAR Xfinity Series, and road course events in the NASCAR Cup Series.

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Johnson is the driver of the best car (it’s Brian legal) and Knaus is today’s Smokey Yunick. Like Michael when the Ferrari was given the class of the field. And he drives for Mr. H with no appearance of special treatment.

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