Kahne claims victory in exciting Thunder Valley race
The Scoop: Kasey Kahne was fast all weekend and survived the attrition of other fast cars, leading 109 laps to claim the win. The No. 5 Great Clips Chevy started 2nd and hung at the front all day, though Denny Hamlin (led race-high 117 laps), Kyle Busch (led 56 laps), Matt Kenseth (led 85 laps), Jeff Gordon (led 66 laps), and Brad Keselowski (led 62 laps) all had significant stints up front. Keselowski and Paul Menard gained several spots each to take the lead on the 2nd-to-last caution by staying out and stretching their fuel to the end. Kahne had the fastest car, but had to clear Menard and then battled very hard with Keselowski to wrestle away the lead. He did, but the No. 2 Ford took it back. On the race’s final restart, Keselowski spun the tires and gave the lead back to Kahne, who drove to his 15th career victory and first Sprint Cup trophy at Bristol Motor Speedway. Busch bested Keselowski for 2nd (after losing the lead early in the race with yet another pit road speeding penalty), with brother Kurt coming back from a green flag pit stop for a flat tire to finish 4th. The rest of the top 10 were Clint Bowyer, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Ryan Newman, Brian Vickers, Menard and Jamie McMurray. Problems plagued contenders: Tony Stewart fell back through the field in the first laps like Bowyer did last week, cut a tire, spun out, and finished 36 laps down in 31st. Gordon cut a tire while trying to hold Kenseth back from stealing his lead, wrecking both of them. Jimmie Johnson cut a tire, hit the wall, and finished 22nd. Joey Logano had a top-5 car, but Hamlin spun him out when he drove in front of him. Logano confronted Hamlin after the race, but a No. 11 crew member kept them from getting too close. Logano drove up to as high as 6th again, but fell back to 17th on the final restart and finished there. Hamlin hit the wall while running top-5 late in the race, seemingly breaking something in the car, and scraped against the wall repeatedly for the last few laps, finishing 23rd. Standings: Keselowski leads Earnhardt Jr. by eight points. Johnson’s bad run moves him two spots back to 3rd, -15 points.
140 Characters or Less: Fast Kahne wins Bristol. Crashes, penalties keep other leaders back. Racing two-wide all day, post-race spat. Small crowd sees it.
Handsome Boy Modeling School Stud of the Race: Brad Keselowski - He didn’t lead the most laps and didn’t win, but the driving clinic he put on by staying in front of the faster car of Kahne’s during the 2nd-to-last green flag run was incredible to watch. Keselowski did this on older tires and just after he had been saving fuel. The gutsy move by crew chief Paul Wolfe to gain the No. 2 the track position paid off. Kahne, winner of this award last week, drove a fine race, and finishes it off for the win – and honorable mention.
North Korean Missile Dud: Danica Patrick – The only reason the green GoDaddy.com (adorned with four-leaf clovers this St. Patrick’s day) finished as high as 28th and only five laps down is because of the 10 cautions. She finished between Joe Nemechek and J.J. Yeley in Stewart-Haas Racing equipment. Granted all of the excuses, she was a borderline lead lap car at the August 2012 Bristol race, before Regan Smith wrecked her.
Never Fear, Underdogs Are Here: Casey Mears – Started and finished 15th – 2nd top 15 of 2013 (14th Phoenix). This is the best Germain Racing has run ever in the Sprint Cup Series. Mears stayed in the thick of it all race long and carried home a good finish for the No. 13 GEICO Ford.
You Can Comeback, But You Can’t Stay Here: Kurt Busch – Not only did Busch come back from pitting under green and falling almost two laps down, but he pitted again before the final restart and drove from 13th to 4th. Non-aerodynamic tracks allow for that and this five-time Bristol winner capitalized.
Wheel of Misfortune: Matt Kenseth – He looked primed to pass Gordon and possibly solidify his 2nd-straight win, before Gordon’s flat tire sent him up the track. With nowhere to go, Kenseth drilled the rear of the No. 24, destroying and the No. 20’s front clip and ending the day for both. This is why you shouldn’t gamble big on racing – the leaders wrecked each other. Anything can happen. Kenseth got into Stewart, wrecking both in the August 2012 Bristol race.
Head-Scratcher Crown: Kyle Busch – Led the race’s first 55 laps from the pole, but NASCAR busted the No. 18 for speeding on pit road during the race’s first pit sequence. Fortunately for Busch, this was under caution. But it put Busch in catch-up mode all day. He finished 2nd, but could have led more laps and been under less pressure, had he not sped. The same thing happened to him last week at Las Vegas and he also sped on pit road in the Phoenix Nationwide Series race (that he won). Blame the team (who sets the lights on the tachometer), blame the driver, blame whoever. If Busch makes the Chase, moves like this will cost him the championship.
Ghost Driver: Carl Edwards – Got most of his TV time after rear-ending Jeff Burton in the race’s first caution. Set far back, Edwards never was fast enough to get back in contention and finished one lap down in 18th. Remember when Edwards had re-arrived with his win two weeks ago at Phoenix? He’s been out of the spotlight the past two weeks.
Georgia on My Mind: Unadilla’s David Ragan started in the rear of the field (engine change), but passed some cars, capitalized on the misfortunes of others, and brought the No. 34 home in one piece to 21st – his best finish of the season. Two wrecks in the first two races dampened things for Front Row Motorsports, but this finish should brighten the mood a bit for that whole team.
NNS recap: Any race sponsored by Jeff Foxworthy’s Grit Chips is a good one, right? The Atlanta Motor Speedway Camping World Truck Series event last year was and it was a barn burner. This race had its highlights, too. Plenty of drivers took turns at the lead, but Kyle Busch led the most laps (156) to win for the 2nd time this season in the No. 54 Monster Energy Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing. Rookie Kyle Larson, in just his 4th-career Nationwide Series start, hung in the top 10 all day – and then the top 5 – and then found himself in a one-on-one duel with the driver with the most wins in NNS history. Larson chased Busch, caught him, didn’t try to wreck him, and caught him in the outside line with the checkered flag in sight. Larson scraped the No. 54, then the wall, and finished just a half-car behind. Larson’s choice not to do the easy thing and then wreck Busch gained the youngster some praise. Rest of the top 10: Brian Vickers, Sam Hornish Jr., Kevin Harvick, Regan Smith, Chris Buescher (last year’s ARCA champ, driving the No. 16 for Roush Fenway Racing), Justin Allgaier, Parker Kligerman, and Brian Scott. Brad Keselowski led 26 laps early, but pitted under green with a flat tire. He rebounded to 15th. Georgia drivers were mediocre: Watkinsville’s John Wes Townley and Venturini Motorsports (first NNS start for that team in years) finished 17th. Peachtree City’s Reed Sorenson (2nd race filling-in for injured Michael Annett) was 18th. Canton’s Chase Miller start-and-parked to 39th. Standings: Hornish Jr. has a healthy 22-point lead over Allgaier.
- Denny Hamlin can’t stay out of controversy. After the whole fiasco with NASCAR, the fine, and the negative comments, Hamlin stirs the puddin’ some more at Bristol. After former teammate and now foe Joey Logano cut off Hamlin a few times in a great top 5 battle, Hamlin nudged the No. 22 into the wall. Logano confronted Hamlin after the race, but the two never quite fought. Hamlin quoted Logano as saying he is coming for him. Hamlin had every right to defend his ground with Logano, but gained nothing from wrecking him from the spot. That’s Bristol. The two took hilariously their battle onto Twitter http://msn.foxsports.com/nascar/shakeandbake/fedup-logano-gets-in-hamlins-face/ . Now Hamlin has another target on his back. Keselowski won a championship in midst of creating some fires around him last year, but drivers generally try to avoid these distractions when chasing a Sprint Cup title. Fans (me, too) like these scraps, but they can cause headaches for teams.
- This Bristol race had it all: green flag passes for the lead, several different leaders, side-by-side racing all the way through the pack, a few wrecks, varying pit strategy, and even a small spat after the race. But the huge empty splotches in the grandstands after Bristol made big changes to the track surface following last year’s race may overshadow it all. Weather was a threat all day and there were big college basketball tournaments on TV. But would those factors hurt attendance that much? The racing Sunday was better than it was in August. There will be plenty of discussion as to what to expect for that race and for more Bristol races to come. The opinions I have seen from NASCAR fans ranges to poor racing and high prices. The good racing is back in Thunder Valley, so cost must be a factor. The truth is, of course, that races cost a ton to orchestrate. And one of the most adjustable costs is how much NASCAR charges the track to host races. But there aren’t any plans to lower those. Fans can kick back at home and watch races with much higher quality than they could even ten years ago. As Keselowski so eloquently and controversially said in USA Today last month http://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/nascar/2013/02/21/how-brad-keselowski-would-change-nascar/1937443/ , the experience at the track needs to get better for race fans. And NASCAR plays a big factor in that – the tracks seem to be doing their part.
Next: Both the Cup (Sunday 3 p.m.) and Nationwide Series (Saturday 5 p.m.) go west to Auto Club Speedway in California for the last race before the big Easter off weekend. Race #2 on an aero-dependent track will be a wild card again for these Gen-6 cars. Don’t expect the same exciting racing we saw at Bristol.