Race Capsule: Edwards triumphs crazy Bristol battle
In a nutshell: The Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway was one of those races. It was a marathon, having its scheduled 1:15 start time pushed back two hours by rain and then interrupted three hours and 19 minutes by rain again, making it a night time event. And it was a marathon in the sense that the long course of the race took its toll on so many.
In the end, it was Carl Edwards' Kellogg's Ford leading 78 laps and winning, in a strange ending preceded by even crazier circumstances. Edwards had been quietly at the back of the lead lap most of the event, but crew chief Jimmy Fennig's call to stay out on old tires gained the No. 99 the lead and kept it there the last 78 laps. Edwards had healthy challenges from teammate, sophomore driver Ricky Stenhouse Jr., who finished 2nd, and Aric Almirola, who placed 3rd. They may have had another chance at Edwards with just two laps to go, when the manual override for the caution lights got turned on by mistake from the flagstand.
As the field slowed to obey the lights, no one seemed to know why the lights came on (including NASCAR Race Control, who never called for them). Edwards' team was incensed, but just as anger set in, the rain came pouring in buckets, as if to rectify NASCAR's error. This handed Edwards his first win of the season, third of his career at Bristol, and 22nd of his career. But leading was not necessarily a good thing in the race. Pole sitter Denny Hamlin (finished 6th) led the first lap and led only three more the rest of the night - he never had a winning car. Brad Keselowski (14th) took over on lap 2 and led for 40 laps, then faded to the back of the top 10 most of the race, rose to the top 5 late, but then rammed into Jamie McMurray (38th) when Kevin Harvick (39th) had trouble and hit the wall on lap 452.
Harvick had been a big contender, too, but retired for the 2nd-straight race, after running in the top 5 and leading 28 laps. McMurray had been strong all night and led 10 laps, before the trouble. Joey Logano (20th) got by Keselowski for a few laps before the lap 50 competition yellow, but lost his power steering and fell through the field. He lost three laps as his team fixed the box and finished two laps down.
Jimmie Johnson (19th) stayed out during the competition yellow and led 44 laps, before his right front tire came apart. The stop during green flag put him three laps down and he never got closer than one lap down before the finish. Matt Kenseth (13th) had the best car of the day/night, leading at the red flag for rain on lap 119 and leading the most laps at 165. But he had issues when Danica Patrick (18th) turned Cole Whitt (40th) into the wall just as they were about to be lapped. Kurt Busch (35th) was leading and he and Kenseth checked up, when laps down youngster Timmy Hill (43rd) rammed into the back of the Kenseth.
Kenseth pitted four times during the caution to fix it, rode around until the 2nd competition caution on lap 186, and then drove all the way to the lead on the next run. But late in the race, Kenseth slipped up into the rubber build up high on the track, barely tagged the wall, and was never able to recover. the aforementioned Busch led some, eventually got lapped, and then saw his night doomed when brother Kyle (29th), who had led 73 laps earlier and had pitted just before a caution, spun on lap 395 and Kurt both hit the wall and Kyle's car as he squeezed by, sending him to the garage. Clint Bowyer (15th) also rolled the dice and gained the lead on lap 190, but his car dropped like a rock on older rubber. Bowyer also had some fun on pit road, when Patrick, who had only fourth gear, pulled out of her pit box and slammed into the right-rear quarter panel of Bowyer's No. 15 two boxes in front of her. Both continued on, but it added to the strangeness of the day. The race saw exciting clusters of cars all through the field, sometimes racing three-wide. And while there was contact, there were no big feuds and really only two wrecks where a driver spun another. The racing was exciting and drivers could pass with ease, as the field jumbled many times.
The top 10 after Edwards, Stenhouse Jr., and Almirola were Tony Stewart (great run for car that struggled whole weekend), Marcos Ambrose (got the free pass and drove to a great finish), Hamlin, Jeff Gordon (never led, but was in top 10 all race), Kasey Kahne (led 16 laps, but never got back to the front), Brian Vickers (got into top 10 late in race and stayed there), and Kyle Larson (ran as high as 2nd, but faded late). Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s streak of top two finishes ends, as the No. 88 fought handling issues all night, even pitting and raising the hood to fix them, and finished four laps down in 24th. He trails points leader Keselowski by 10 in the standings, though both have wins. Edwards is the season's fourth different winner.
RaceTweet: Edwards wins nutty Bristol race over upstarts Stenhouse Jr. & Almirola. What's it about these rain-delayed night races. #nuts
Handsome Boy Modeling School Stud of the Race: Matt Kenseth - Kenseth drove his damaged racecar from 24th to the lead on the same run. At no other non-place track can that be done and Kenseth did it with ease. He had a good piece under him and saved it twice later as the handling went away on the No. 20
North Korean Missile Dud of the Race: Paul Menard - He led 64 laps and finished 6th last August at Bristol, but somehow disappeared during this year's race. The No. 27 was probably the only car that never got on TV (seemingly) in the whole race, finishing a pedestrian 21st, three laps down at the end. Menard had top 10s in the four previous Bristol races. He was also the most annoyed-looking driver to be interviewed during the rain delay.
You Can Comeback, But You Can't Stay Here: Tony Stewart - Stewart middled around 30th place as the leaders bore down on the back of the pack early in the race, but Stewart slowly rose through the field and eventually worked into the top 10 in the last 100 laps. With Stewart's leg still healing, the fact that he's racing is a comeback all its own. But after a dismal start to the year and the race weekend, Stewart's first top 5 since the 2013 Brickyard 400 was a heckuva effort.
Wheel of Misfortune: Jamie McMurray - Chip Ganassi Racing is running better in 2014, evidenced in McMurray's top 15's in each of the first three races. McMurray was a top 5 car for a good portion of the Bristol race, but got caught tangled up with Kevin Harvick and Brad Keselowski, when Harvick's car had trouble, and the No. 1 went to the garage. He may not have won, but he could have notched his best finish of the young season.
Never Fear, Underdog is Here: Richard Petty Motorsports - RPM is usually a mid-pack team, but not this time around at Bristol Motor Speedway. Aric Almirola hung in the top 10 or 15 before driving into the top 5 and finishing 3rd. Marcos Ambrose had a bad car through the first half of the race, taking the free pass on lap 395, and drove from the back of the lead lap to 5th at the end. Both drivers deserve props. Almirola got his best career finish (had been fourth) and fourth top 5 in 111 career starts. Ambrose notched his first top 5 since...finishing 5th at Bristol in August 2012.
Head-Scratcher Crown of Thorns: Where do we begin? There are several candidates: Chase Elliott started just behind the lead lap cars when he got the free pass in the Nationwide Series race Saturday and NASCAR missed it; Alex Bowman's battery fell out of his car, ran under Parker Kligerman's, Kligerman darted to the apron and back up the track, and then "toilet paper-looking" streams were all over the race track, which turned out to be the wrapping around the battery...we think; Kevin Harvick driving for so long with his car on fire - all the way to the middle of the tight Cup garage with people all around; Martin Truex Jr. driving for so long with a tire run that he wrecks and goes to garage; Timmy Hill ramming into Matt Kenseth when he is almost stopped; Danica Patrick nailing Clint Bowyer on pit road. All of those are great, but none trumps NASCAR accidentally turning on the caution lights. That is embarrassing and should never, ever happen - especially now that the points format calls for the season champ to be decided in one race.
NNS RaceTweet: Kyle Busch dominates NNS race at Bristol...again. But hey, at least there were some NNS regulars on the lead lap.
Georgia on My Mind: First let's look at the Sprint Cup race, which saw bad days for both David Ragan and Reed Sorenson. Ragan usually runs well at Bristol and he and teammate David Gilliland seemed heading that way this race. But Ragan quickly fell back from 19th at the start, to about 30th, and then spun across Jeff Gordon's nose on the first pit stops. With damage and lost track position, Ragan struggled the rest of the night, also getting spun by fellow backmarker Michael McDowell on lap 333. Ragan 31st, eight laps down. Sorenson's night didn't see much trouble, but just was not competitive and he finished 28th, six laps down. In the Nationwide Series race Saturday, Chase Elliott ran solidly in the top 5 most of the day, but slipped back to 9th on the final restart and finished there. His consistent runs are turning some heads for sure and he sits 13 points from leader Regan Smith. Ryan Sieg is not running the entire NNS season, but has the first four races and again finished just above where he should have for his team. he finished 20th, four laps down, coming back from almost spinning out at one point.