Kenseth ends drought, wins 10 Hours of Bristol
Matt Kenseth's first Sprint Cup Series win came in the 2000 Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway - in NASCAR's longest yearly race. His 32nd comes in the longest race in terms of laps at Bristol Motor Speedway. Rain delayed the start of the race by over an hour, interrupted it twice (including a four-hour delay that sent the coverage from FOX to FS1), and threatened to end it early at the end. Kenseth stretched the life of old tires and used almost every square inch of his fuel tank to win the Food City 500 In Support of Steve Byrnes and Stand Up 2 Cancer. He did so in front of a hard-charging Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon, each who came back from problems to score podium finishes. Kenseth started the day on the pole, but ceded the lead to Kevin Harvick (38th) on lap 6.
Harvick and teammate Kurt Busch (15th) proved to be the fastest cars in the day race that became a night race, but circumstances would till the soil. Harvick led a race-high 184 laps and managed to wrest the top spot again and again from the likes of Kenseth, Busch, and Carl Edwards (24th). With Edwards in the lead and Harvick 3rd, a strange crash ended Harvick's chances to win. Johnson was battling hard with the lapped car of Jeb Burton (42nd) and lost patience and spun the rookie. As Johnson slowed, David Ragan (41st) plowed into him and then lay across the track. Harvick didn't slow up in time and then rammed Ragan. Ragan, Burton, and Harvick all went to the garage and later returned to the race. The mishap ended Harvick's string of top 10 finishes to start 2015 at seven.
Joey Logano (40th) and Martin Truex Jr. (29th) also had their seven-race top 10 streaks conclude. Brad Keselowski (35th) got loose and slid on lap 19, leaving Logano nowhere to go but into his teammate and the inside wall. Both Penske cars were running inside the top 10 and Keselowski thought that rain might have caused his car to break loose. Truex Jr. pitted under green mid-race with a loose wheel and then got crash damage in a later wreck to put his top 10 hot streak on ice.
Contenders fell by the wayside for many reasons. Several drivers pitted under green for loose or cut tires and lost laps. Gordon was among them, but the cautions fell in his favor and drew him to the front. His teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. (16th) finished two laps down after pitting twice under green for a cut tire caused by damage, and then again to fix that damage that was cutting that same tire. NASCAR no longer patrols if teams tighten all lugnuts or not on pit stops. Some teams may purposefully not tighten all five nuts to shave time on pit stops. If that was the case at Bristol, the move cost several drivers big time track position.
Kenseth was the only contender who really ran in the top 10 all day and night. Busch started near the front and drove back to that point several times, after getting caught in a spin with Johnson and busted for speeding on pit road. He finally saw his chance for a win evaporate when he got called from the lead to pit road to take tires after a lap 484 wreck slowed the field. Busch raced hard in traffic and had just gotten to the top 5 when Edwards got loose nailed the wall. Busch couldn't top in time and said his car felt like it was on ice. He drilled Edwards, but was able to continue and nurse his way through the closing laps, most of which were run under caution. When Busch pitted for tires, Kenseth and several others chose to stay out on older rubber - that won Kenseth the race. Busch's crew chief Tony Gibson went to the emergency room during the long red flag for pain from kidney stones and SHR President of Competition Greg Zipadelli and No. 41 team engineer John Klausmeyer replaced him atop the pit box.
Carl Edwards looked primed to win his first race with Joe Gibbs Racing and defend his Bristol win a year ago (which also was run Sunday night, due to rain). But he chose to pit like Busch did and then over-drove his car while racing Gordon. Edwards has made several on-track mistakes while trying to prove his worth in his new No. 19 ride, but also take into account that despite his rough start to the year, he is still 15th in points and only needs to win a race to make the Chase. Edwards had very little to lose by racing Gordon hard and putting his racecar in jeopardy. He seemed very obviously to not be racing for points.
Edwards' teammate Denny Hamlin already has a win after Martinsville and felt a neck spasm during the race's daylight laps. He tried to get it worked on and the pain out during the red flag, but 18-year-old Erik Jones got flown in by JGR to drive the 11 instead. The car restarted in the back and Jones fell quickly two laps down. He did get some damage, but he did not bring out any yellow flags and the entry finished 26th. Hamlin gets the points and goes in the books as the driver, but Jones got valuable seat time and showed that there will be a seat for him in Sprint Cup - sometime, somewhere.
Kyle Larson (7th) stayed out of the pits while other leaders pitted on lap 345 and led 90 laps. He opened up a big lead and was hoping for rain or a timely caution to get him on it sequence with the other leaders. As luck would have it, some of those leaders (Kenseth, Johnson, Gordon) could survive the distance and the rain did not come before he had to pit.
Kenseth's win is his first since the September New Hampshire race in 2013, a year that he won seven times in his first season at JGR. It's also his fourth win at BMS and it all but guarantees the 2003 Sprint Cup champ a spot in the 2015 Chase for the Sprint Cup.
The top in the race were Kenseth, Johnson, Gordon, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (ran in the top 10 most of the second half of the race and was top 10 at Bristol in both 2014 races), Ryan Newman (was a lap down at one point, but survived the attrition), Tony Stewart (ran in the top 15 all night and got his first top 10 of the season), Larson, Allgaier (best career finish and ran in or near the top 10 most of the evening - a big shot in the arm for the driver and team), Danica Patrick (6th-career top 10 means she has most Sprint Cup top 10s of any female driver in history - and she was a lap down and outside the top 20 at one point in the race), and Austin Dillon (NASCAR ran the race under yellow so long, Dillon ran out of fuel and had to pit - he had been top 5).
Patrick sits 13th in points, but is only 11 to the good of 17th in points Clint Bowyer (12th in Bristol race). In fact, only 40 points separate 13th from A.J. Allmendinger (34th at Bristol) in 25th in points. There are many surprising drivers on both sides of the points threshold, but there are still 18 races before the Chase begins. Let the games that have already begun, continue!
The episode of Bristol Motor Speedway was fittingly run the day before the Boston Marathon. It was long and eventful and is prestigious to win. And races here are usually won by highly talented veterans - wins at "The Last Great Colosseum" aren't flukes. Kenseth survived and thrived on a night that slayed many giants and endured a race that was long for everyone involved. There were many ups and downs for many drivers and this is why we love short track racing.
RaceTweet: Kenseth ends drought in the rain at Bristol. Harvick finally taken down. Busch is bound to win sooner or later. Hello, Erik Jones!
Handsome Boy Modeling School Stud of the Race: Matt Kenseth - This pick is actually tough, but again, Kenseth was the only driver to stay in the top 10 all night. He won the pole, chased down the lead under green, avoided wrecks, and kept the top spot on several late restarts. Honorable mention goes to Kevin Harvick, who managed to lead the most laps and his No. 4 team still had one of the fastest cars on the track after they repaired the damage. That's studly.
North Korean Missile Dud: Brad Keselowski - I'm really just stinging because I started him on my fantasy team. But whether the rain caused him to lose control or not, Keselowski got loose and no one else did. He started the race 2nd, was running in the top 5, and wrecked passing a lapped car - and took out his teammate. The 2 and the 22 should have been running up front Sunday night - instead their chances went away during the day.
Never Fear, Underdog Is Here: Justin Allgaier - HScott Motorsports has had a tough season expanding to two teams. Allgaier and teammate Michael Annett have torn up some racecars and not run very competitively. But Allgaier's No. 51 was dialed in Sunday and cashed in an 8th-place run. They don't have that chance most weeks and capitalized on it this time.
Ghost Driver: Kasey Kahne - He was quick in practice and there was a lot of buzz that he was the driver to watch for the race. Instead, Kahne ran in the top 10 most of the night, but never led a lap. Then he got spun by Tony Stewart and finished 37th. Kahne sits solidly 7th in points, but he doesn't win enough in Hendrick equipment. His lone win last season is what got him in the Chase. This former Bristol winner needs to up his game and stop underwhelming in now hif 4th year in the No. 5 car.
You Can Comeback, But You Can't Stay Here: Jeff Gordon - Here's to fighting all night! Gordon had a fast top 10 racecar, before pitting mid-race with tire issues and losing a couple of laps. But he hung around enough to get the free pass on lap 312 and had a chance for the win on the last restart. Gordon is winless this season, but seems to be fast again and a threat to win soon.
Wheel of Misfortune: Joey Logano - After leading all 300 laps of Saturday's Xfinity Series race, Logano got eliminated from contention in teammate Keselowski's wreck. Logano, the winner in August at Bristol, was a favorite to make it two-in-a-row. And his top 10s streak came to an end.
Jimmie Johnson Lucky Horseshoe: Jimmie Johnson - Feels good doesn't it? Johnson wrecked a couple of times and still finished 3rd. If only we collected quarters every time crew chief Chad Knaus cursed at Johnson and donated all the money to the Jimmie Johnson Foundation…
Head-Scratcher Crown of Thorns: I might re-name this section the "How Did NASCAR Botch a Judgment Call This Time? Award". NASCAR ran entirely too many laps under yellow for some of the big crashes and for the rain delay just prior to the finish. 32 of the final 38 laps (!!!) were run under yellow. With the laps winding down, NASCAR could have used the red flag while clearing the crashes and then run less caution laps in the rain and just let the Air Titans work longer to dry the track. The racing action was fantastic and everyone deserved to see more of it, than just little two lap spurts at the very end.
Georgia On My Mind: David Ragan won an Xfinity Series Bristol race in 2009 and has run well here in the past in a Cup car. He started the No. 18 in 11th and was inside the top 10, before NASCAR levied, then took back, then re-issued a speeding penalty on pit road. Ragan fell to the tail of the lead lap then eventually lost two laps. Then he got caught up in the Johnson-Burton wreck and finished 41st. With Erik Jones performing so well for JGR, expect Ragan's return to the No. 34 sooner than later. Kyle Busch doesn't look to be rushing back, but Ragan likely won't get to finish out the full time subbing for him. He also fell from 10th to 18th in points after the wreck.
Saturday's race saw Chase Elliott struggle early and in qualifying, but eventually drive to 6th at the race's end. He now is 3rd in points and only eight behind co-leaders Ty Dillon and Chris Buescher. John Wes Townley was impressive, starting inside the top 10 and running decent all day - he finished 14th, three laps down. Ryan Sieg really was not very fast most of the race, but rebounded to place 17th, four laps down. Sieg is 15th in points.
NXS RaceTweet: Logano leads all 300 laps and nods field to sleep at Bristol. There was actually good racing behind him in the pack.
Next: The Sprint Cup and Xfinity Series both race at Richmond International Raceway. The Cup cars run Saturday night at 7 on FOX and MRN. NXS competes Friday at 7:30 on FS1 and MRN. Woohoo - two short tracks in a row!