Kenseth outduels Kahne at Bristol to take Cup wins lead
The Scoop: Matt Kenseth's cool streak over the summer months came to an end in Saturday's Irwin Tools Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway. Kenseth led twice for 143 of the 500 laps, including the final 126, despite three cautions during that span and a hard-charging Kasey Kahne in the closing laps. Kenseth inherited the lead when Carl Edwards, who had been the class of the field most of the night, lost an engine and held it stoutly until Kahne pulled up alongside the No. 20 in the last 20-25 laps. Kahne made a few jabs to the inside, but could not complete the pass and didn't do the bump-and-run on the leader that Bristol racing is famous for. Juan Pablo Montoya overcame an earlier speeding penalty and late involvement in a crash to finish 3rd, Brian Vickers' first race as the full-time No. 55 MWR driver saw him 4th, and Joey Logano overcame earlier problems also to place 5th. The rest of the top 10 were Paul Menard (led a career-high 64 laps), Jeff Gordon (strong mid-race, but fell off on last restart), Marcos Ambrose, Greg Biffle, and Dale Earnhardt Jr. (ran in top 5 most of night and led some laps, but pitted to be safe on fuel and got back up to 10th). Bad luck struck most leaders of the race. Edwards (39th) lost an engine. Clint Bowyer (14th) got spun by lapper Travis Kvapil, then rebounded into the top 5, and then ran out of fuel on the last lap. Kurt Busch (31st) had a hub problem after being an early dominant car. Martin Truex Jr. (35th), Kevin Harvick (34th), and pole sitter Denny Hamlin (28th) all got eliminated from contention in the same crash with 52 laps to go. 11 caution flags allowed for varying pit strategies and really shuffled the deck on a night where passing was very difficult. The top groove had the decided advantage, a difference from past years that saw either the bottom groove move fast or multiple grooves move equally. The lap 448 crash with Hamlin, Harvick, and Truex Jr. also collected Ryan Newman, Brad Keselowski, Casey Mears, and David Stremme. This meant that nearly every driver in the "Chase wild card bubble" had a bad night and Logano capitalized on that luck to vault into the top 10 in points, which spells well for the No. 22 team, now that they have a win. That crash also prompted Kevin Harvick to stop on pit road and run to Denny Hamlin's driver's window to retrieve an explanation for what happened. Besides that hot moment and some tense radio traffic during other incidents, cooler heads prevailed this summer night. And Matt Kenseth gained another three bonus points for his Chase for the Cup bank account.
140 Characters or less: Kenseth survives high-carnage Bristol night and wins thrilling duel (again) w/Kasey Kahne. Wild card race just got wilder.
Handsome Boy Modeling School Stud of the Race: Matt Kenseth - He led the most laps, captured his 5th win of the year, 3rd-career Bristol night race, 29th career win, and drove just enough on edge to beat Kahne. The 20 team just may have their swagger back.
North Korean Missile Dud: Mark Martin - All the hype and hubbub surrounding one NASCAR legend's replacement of another in their car while they are injured smothered the fact that Martin is not Martin anymore. Sure, he almost won Michigan last week (on fuel strategy and he ran out) and is experienced, but he had just four top 10s in 16 races in 2013 before Saturday night's Bristol train wreck. He went down a lap early and lost a few more in the pits when the caution flew during his green flag stop. The carnage helped him from a 30th place finish to 20th, but he was three laps down. Martin has 11 of the 12 remaining races to audition for whatever part-time ride he might want next season, but don't expect much. The announcers seemed for forget this before the race.
Never Fear, Underdogs Are Here: David Ragan - Ragan had only one Cup top 10 at Bristol heading into Saturday's race, but co-hosting WSB's Speedshop just a couple of hours before must have been good luck. Ragan started 17th and stayed higher than 30th all night. Some crashes padded Ragan's finish, which was easily his highest since winning Talladega in May. Small teams can either get freight trained at Bristol, or take advantage of racing at a non-aero-dependent track. The latter is just what Front Row Motorsports did.
You Can Comeback, But You Can't Stay Here: Juan Pablo Montoya - Montoya is surprisingly good at short tracks and figured out a different exit from the corners at Bristol, which netted the No. 42 speed. A pit road speeding penalty did not ruin his night and Montoya fell from top 5 to outside the top 20, but clawed back to the top 5 (3rd) at race's end. This lame duck just may have a shot at the coming races at Richmond and Martinsville.
Wheel of Misfortune: The Chase Bubble drivers - Truex Jr., Newman, and Keselowski all got nixed in the same crash, moving Joey Logano into the top 10 in points. Keselowski is 11th by a scant four points, but has zero wins. Kurt Busch is winless and fell outside the top 10 to 12th in points after the hub issues. Jeff Gordon had a good run and is 13th in points, with no wins. So that leaves Truex Jr. and Newman in 14th and 15th in points as the Chase wild card drivers, since they each have a win. Atlanta and Richmond are gonna be bananas - stay tuned.
Head-Scratcher Crown of Thorns: Travis Kvapil - He overdrove a corner and got into the left-rear of leader Clint Bowyer, sending him for a spin. BK Racing cars have had a dreadful year and, while Kvapil survived to finish 16th, the last thing that organization needs is its drivers getting themselves into trouble. Kvapil should have cooled his jets near the leader.
Ghost Driver: Jimmie Johnson - his lack of success at Bristol is no secret, but Johnson floundered most of the race around the 25th position. A crash on lap 360 was the turd-flavored cherry on top. He finished 36th and leads Bowyer in points by 18 - like that really matters.
NNS 140 or Less: Seriously? Nine cars on the lead lap? Thanks a lot Kyle Busch. No, really. Thanks.
NCWTS 140 or Less: Timothy Peters brought home only the steering wheel - and 2nd place pay, as Kyle Busch overcame trouble to be happier than a camel on hump day.
Georgia On My Mind: David Ragan was impressively 12th in the Cup race. The NNS race was a quick-cycle results chomper for small teams like those of Reed Sorenson and Kyle Fowler, who finished laps down in 28th and 29th. They had no chance against Kyle Busch - no one did. Fowler did say that adding Ben Leslie to the No. 79 Go Green Racing team did set them behind, as Bristol was his first race. Chase Miller start-and-parked a Tri Star Motorsports car to 39th. The NCWTS race Wednesday saw Chase Elliott become the youngest pole winner in NASCAR national series history and then finish 5th. Max Gresham finished 15th, Brandon Jones (NCWTS debut) placed 27th for Turner Motorsports, John Wes Townley wrecked and was 14 laps down in 30th, and Ryan Sieg retired with an oil leak on lap 166 and was 30th.
Next: The Sprint Cup Series (Sunday at 7:30 p.m. on PRN) and NNS (Saturday at 7:30 p.m. on PRN) run their only races of the season at Atlanta Motor Speedway. The Trucks run for the first time in years on a road course, taking the green after 2 p.m. next Sunday on Fox Sports 1 at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park.
Hear Captain Herb Emory, Jason Durden, and I give you all you need to know pre-race for the Advocare 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway from 1-3 p.m. on 95.5FM/AM750 News/Talk WSB in Atlanta and on wsbradio.com. During the race, I'll be helping call the action on the track PA system, so listen there, too!