Race Weekend Central

Thinkin’ Out Loud: Bristol Pit Road Penalties Played Into Jimmie Johnson’s Hands

Who’s in the headline – Slow and steady may win some races but it was hammer down at Bristol on this special Monday of racing. Jimmie Johnson started the race in the 11th spot and didn’t sneak out front until lap 394. From there until lap 500, he was at the point for 81 circuits, saving his best for last. Johnson passed Kevin Harvick on the track with 20 laps to go and artfully carved his way through lapped traffic to score his 82nd career victory.

What happened – The green flag flew and Kyle Larson established that he’d be the man to beat, leading the first 202 circuits in the 500-lap event. Larson lost the lead to Martin Truex, Jr. who then got out front for 116 of the next 122 laps.

But the two cars that seemed the strongest all day both got tagged with pit road speeding late. Larson caught his penalty on lap 426, falling to the back of the lead-lap field; Truex earned his on lap 468. Lost track position took them right out of the mix for the win.

Harvick, then jumped toward the front, using a tire strategy play to grab the lead on the final restart. But Johnson, using fresh rubber was too strong and blew by with ease to win the race.

Why you should care – In a result that surprised no one, short track racing was and is fantastic. Bristol is never going to get back to the one groove, bump and run to pass, track that it used to be. For those people who love racing, that isn’t a bad thing. The spectacle that is Bristol was on display again this week, even if it was rather soggy and run a day later than anticipated. The bottom line was that Johnson and Larson are probably the two best cars in the sport right now. The Fords of Team Penske and Stewart-Haas Racing will be in the mix and Joe Gibbs Racing may be struggling but they aren’t too far off.

Another Bristol race, another top ten for Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. (Photo: Nigel Kinrade/NKP)

What your friends are talking about – Some fans are already harping about the ‘manufactured’ racing this season with the segments and playoff points. This weekend we had the addition of VHT to the racing surface. Like it or not, fans want to see people getting wrecked and angry, and that happens when people get wrecked by poor bump and runs. Bristol Motor Speedway tried to entice the teams back to the bottom of the track by coating the bottom lane with VHT, a substance similar to rubber cement. It enticed the teams to the bottom early but, as the track rubbered up, the racing went from the top to the bottom. It may be a bit contrived but the show at Bristol was one of the best all season.

The folks from Goodyear will be testing tires this week at Indianapolis. Johnson, Brad Keselowski, Denny Hamlin and David Ragan will be turning laps at the 2.5 mile oval Tuesday and Wednesday. While tire tests aren’t supposed to help the teams performing them with their setup, they will inevitably gain some knowledge. That doesn’t bode well for the rest of the garage if the No. 48 and No. 2 are picking up setup information at the historic oval.

The Burton name continues to win races in stock car circles. Harrison Burton, who has several wins in Super Late Models around the country, notched his first K&N win Saturday at Bristol. The son of Jeff Burton, nephew of Ward and cousin of Jeb, dominated the event. Burton led 68 of 70 laps completed before the event was cut short by rain.

Friend of the Frontstretch, Jerry Jordan, is reporting on Kickin’ the Tires that Patricia Driscoll used funds from her former charity to pay her attorney fees in her case against Kurt Busch. Jordan has been the main reporter on all of the information associated with this story from the beginning and was first to report this revelation as well. The case against Driscoll by the FBI alleges she misappropriated some $600,000 from the Armed Forces Foundation and used a portion of that money to cover her legal expenses in her case where she alleged assault by Busch.

During the XFINITY race on Saturday, Jeremy Clements and Ross Chastain made some contact on the race track. During the rain delay that occurred during the event, Clements grabbed Chastain from behind in the infield of the race track. At some point after that a heated discussion developed and Chastain punched Clements in the face. Clements went to the infield care center and left wearing sunglasses. Both drivers were called to the NASCAR hauler after the race.

Who is mad – It’s Bristol Baby! May be Dale Earnhardt, Jr.‘s tag line, but it wasn’t his baby this weekend. Earnhardt lost control of his car on lap 218, thanks to an oil system leak, and pounded the wall ending his day and handing him a 39th place finish. The season has not started off well for Earnhardt which resulted in him starting deep in the field thanks to qualifying being rained out. A win can cure a lot of ills but, for now, Earnhardt is still looking to find the speed necessary for that win to happen.

Larson led the most laps of the race and looked to be poised to score his second win of the year. Unfortunately for him he sped leaving pit lane on the penultimate caution of the race and had to restart at the tail end of the longest line. He clawed his way back to a top ten finish but what might have been. Larson is poised to make a title run provided he can avoid pitfalls like this that can be truly costly in the playoffs.

Who is happy – We’ve heard it all year, Clint Bowyer is a happy guy now that he’s with Stewart Haas Racing. As the laps wound down at Bristol his No. 14 ride came to life and he charged to the front of the pack. He didn’t have the time to run down Johnson to take a shot for the win, but he scored his first runner-up finish since Richmond in the spring of 2013. This is his second top five of the year, which ties his total for all of 2015.

It is a common theme for him but once again, Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. notches another top ten at Bristol. It seems like every time we come to Bristol, Stenhouse knocks out another good finish. His finish, combined with poor days for Kasey Kahne, Kurt Busch and Aric Almirola vaults Stenhouse into the 16th position in the standings, one spot away from a playoff berth.

Ty Dillon was top rookie at Bristol. (Photo: Nigel Kinrade/NKP)

When the checkered flag flew:

For the 82nd time in his career, Jimmie Johnson was the first driver underneath the checkered flag of a Cup race.

This is Johnson’s second career victory at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Johnson has notched two triumphs this season, having also won at Texas in the previous Cup race.

Johnson is still seventh on the all-time wins list but is just one behind Cale Yarborough, two behind Darrell Waltrip and three behind Bobby Allison.

Clint Bowyer scored his first top two finish of the year at Bristol.

This is Bowyer’s first career top two run at the track.

Bowyer’s run is the 11th time he’s finished as the first loser.

On the all-time second place list Bowyer’s 11 finishes tie him with Darel Dieringer, Paul Goldsmith, Alan Kulwicki, Jamie McMurray and Tim Richmond.

Kevin Harvick rounded out the podium at Bristol with his ninth career top three finish at the track.

It is Harvick’s first top three run this season.

Harvick has 109 career podium runs.

The result slots Harvick into the 16th spot on the all-time top three list, 11 behind Buddy Baker.

Ty Dillon was the highest finishing rookie with a 15th place finish for the Rookie of the Race honors.

Eight races into the season there have been six different winners this year. With 18 races left before the playoff cutoff, if there are 10 new winners then someone with a win will not make the playoffs. That said, there most likely won’t be 17 unique winners. For now you have Brad Keselowski and Jimmie Johnson with two wins, Kyle Larson, Martin Truex Jr., Ryan Newman, and Kurt Busch.

The remaining ten drivers in points and their position:

  1. Chase Elliott
  1. Joey Logano
  1. Jamie McMurray
  2. Clint Bowyer
  3. Kevin Harvick
  4. Ryan Blaney
  5. Kyle Busch
  6. Erik Jones
  7. Trevor Bayne
  1. Denny Hamlin

The drivers who have scored playoff points so far this season and their total:

Martin Truex Jr – 10

Brad Keselowski – 10

Jimmie Johnson – 10

Kyle Larson – 7

Ryan Newman – 5

Kurt Busch – 5

Kevin Harvick – 3

Chase Elliott – 2

Ryan Blaney – 2

Joey Logano – 1

Kyle Busch – 1

What is in the cooler (one to six beers where one is a stinker and six is an instant classic) – Like or hate the VHT idea, it provided two and occasionally three grooves of racing on Monday. It was a train around the bottom early but once they top feeders like Larson worked the top lane in it was just as fast as the bottom. As a result there was racing everywhere, all day long. As a result this race earned five ice cold Yee Haw Brewery American Pale Ales.

Where do you point your DVR for next week – The Cup series packs up their tent and heads east to Richmond International Raceway next weekend. The race will be held during the daytime on Sunday, April 30th at 2:00PM Eastern. It can be seen on your local Fox affiliate. The event can also be heard on local MRN affiliates, www.motorracingnetwork.com and SiriusXM NASCARChannel 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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Betcha if it was another driver the narrative would have been a condescending as if not deserved win..”STOLE ONE”! But hey, it is just so super duper cool and so exciting cause its Yimmie… :) Yawn….


Great race. Since I don’t have FS1, I watched Stenhouse’s in-car on NASCAR Drive. Outstanding racing from 8-15th all day with two race able lanes (for some like the 17). I’m sure TV showed the leader all day. Maybe, they missed the racing, but it was there.

Bill B

The race was very good. I’d give it 5 beers too. Not vintage Bristol but better than most of the recent races there.
I DVR-ed it and watched it last night except for the last 80 laps. Once Johnson took the lead I fast forwarded to the end. I have no desire to waste my time watching him win. I’ve already seen that enough times.
I was glad to see the wave arounds held to a minimum because of the way the cautions fell. And those that took them hoping for a quick caution got burned and ultimately fell further back. Ahh, justice.


Come on Neff, was looking for a race recap and get K&N series complete with Burton family tree and Patricia Driscoll stuff. Not what I come to ‘Thinkin’ for.


Missed the TV coverage because I was working. I did get a chance to listen to last 100 laps on radio. Sounded like a good race with a depressing result. No I’m not a hater. Just bored with #48 always winning. Just like I was sick of Jeff Gordon when he won tons of races on the 90s or when DW won tons of races in the 80s.

I did see a picture that #48 took a polish victory lap, so at least that was cool.


I watched the event mostly watching Johnson as he SLOWLY made his way to the front. When he restarted in third I thought that was the time he’d take off. But he fell back like there was a problem with the car and I’m sure he was probably crying to Chad how the car was undriveable. Then he restarts on the front row and shazam it’s the rocket ship it’s been all race long. That’s when I turned to something worth watching. The act is wearing thin for those of us who have figured out how it works. That last adjustment always seems magical. The penalties were to be expected.

Is anybody else tired of the Dale Earnhardt Jr. “Performance” Report. He was running 20th! After he went out did they show his car in the garage?


Well Don, its about to get worse. The attention placed on Dale Jr the final 8 months will be nauseating. I don’t have anything against Jr personally, but the medias obsession with him is mind boggling for a guy that has never won a championship. Meanwhile Brian France will be going on a drinking binge and the screams you are hearing are coming from the towers in Daytona. Come next February, Nascar will be in for a major wake up call.


They’ve had their wake-up call every day for years. They’ve been ignored.


Uh, did you all see the news about dale Jr? That’ll make it interesting for the next few years. Tickets and viewership will probably go up. And then down significantly for years to come.


they’ll be fans at races this year to see his “last race” at that particular track. after that, crickets will be in the stands.

i doubt harvick, busch, elliott, johnson, blaney, bayne, boywer can pull the fan base to where it once was.

watch out when it comes time to renegotiate tv contracts!

wonder when dw plans to retire from broadcasting?!


We were at this year’s “500” sellout. 101,000! Just got my renewal form yesterday in the mail for 2018 Daytona 500. Seats have been renewed every year since the 60s. Was always able to find buyers if we didn’t use them. With the latest Earnhardt JR news I’m wondering if it might be worth waiting to buy tickets closer to racetime instead of tying up my money for 4 to 8 months before the race.

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