With emotional visits and relief efforts to the tornado-ravaged heartland of the country overshadowed by an altercation between team owner Richard Childress and driver Kyle Busch after the Kansas Truck Series race, the Cup drivers took to the unanimously proclaimed ‘hot and slick’ track in Kansas City.
Here is what was surprising and not surprising from the STP 400 at Kansas Speedway.
Surprising: In spite of all of the reports of Kyle Busch being ‘pummeled’ by Richard Childress after giving RCR’s truck driver Joey Coulter a nudge after the race, Busch arrived at the speedway for the race sans sun glasses and looking surprisingly unscathed.
It was also surprising to see Mike Helton address the media prior to the race, sharing that NASCAR had met with Busch and Childress, as well as Busch’s team owner Joe Gibbs. Helton advised that all were warned to get through the race before any further actions would be taken by the sanctioning body, which is expected on Monday.
“I met with NASCAR,” Busch said. “Whatever they feel best to protect their sport and to protect what we have going on here is to their best discretion. I’m all for whatever they decide to do.”
Not Surprising: It was not surprising that, in addition to the heat between Busch and Childress, the heat on the track, in the cars and in the grandstands was the other major topic of conversation.
“It’s hot today,” Dale Earnhardt, Jr., driver of the No. 88 AMP Energy/National Guard Chevrolet said. “Did you notice that?”
“You sit in a sauna for four hours,” Denny Hamlin, driver of the No. 11 FedEx Freight Toyota, said. “That’s pretty much what you’ve got.”
The only one who found amusement in the heat was iron man driver of the No. 99 Aflac ‘Now Hiring’ Ford, Carl Edwards. During the race the driver quipped that he was a little chilly and would appreciate either some coffee or some hot chocolate.
Surprising: In spite of the heat for most everyone else other than Edwards, it was surprising how calm, cool and collected Brad Keselowski was behind the wheel of the Miller Lite Blue Deuce. With the threat of running out of fuel, Keselowski reduced his speed, stayed strategically ahead of his competitors, feathered his throttle, kicked in the clutch and coasted through the corners for most of the final laps of the race.
[media-credit name=”CIA Stock Photo” align=”alignright” width=”237″][/media-credit]Keselowski, who started 25th, also coasted to the checkered flag, winning his first race of the season and giving his crew chief Paul Wolfe his first ever Cup Series victory. This was Keselowski’s first win since Talladega in April of 2009.
“You can only put yourself in that position so many times before you’re going to catch the right break,” Keselowski said. “We caught a great break today because of all the hard work by the Miller Lite team. We got great gas mileage and that didn’t hurt either.”
“It was because of the struggles and bad finishes that I really appreciate this.”
Not Surprising: Yet again, Dale Earnhardt Jr. was good in a fuel mileage race yet still came up short at the finish line. Junior, who came in second, posted his seventh top-10 finish in 2011 and his fifth top-10 finish in seven races at Kansas Speedway.
“We shouldn’t have run second today but we have fast cars,” Junior said. “I had a good car, you know.”
Surprising: It was a bit surprising that the Roush Fenway Racing bunch were not quite as stellar as expected, particularly given the driver ratings headed into the race. It was also surprising that Missouri native Carl Edwards and Matt Kenseth, with his new sponsor Affliction Clothing on his No. 17 Ford, topped the RFR camp, with fifth and sixth place finishes respectively.
Greg Biffle, behind the wheel of the No. 16 3M Walgreen’s Ford, who was expected to take home a victory, finished tenth instead, and the driver of the No. 6 UPS Ford David Ragan finished 13th. In spite of not bringing home the trophy, all four of the Roush Fenway Racing team members finished in the top 15.
Edwards managed to lead 29 laps of the race and his finish ratcheted his points lead to 40 over second place Jimmie Johnson, driver of the No. 48 Lowes/Kobalt Tools Chevrolet, who finished seventh. Kenseth held serve as seventh in points, Biffle lost one position to 12th and Ragan moved up one place to the 17th spot.
“I really wanted to win,” Edwards said, most likely speaking for the entire Roush Fenway Racing crew. “I had a good time though and it is my new favorite race track.”
Not Surprising: With the season officially at halfway to the Chase, it was not surprising that two drivers, Denny Hamlin and Jeff Gordon, this week behind the wheel of the No. 24 Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet, were determined to have good days at the track that would move them back into Chase contention.
Hamlin, who came in third, moved up to 11th in points.
“I’m proud of our whole FedEx Freight team,” Hamlin said. “We’re battling back and getting ourselves back into position.”
Jeff Gordon brought his car to the checkered flag in the fourth position, moving him up to 13th in the points as the only driver with a win eligible for the wild card at present.
“Well, it was an awesome run for our Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet,” Gordon said. “We had a great race car all weekend long. All in all, a great top-five.”
Surprising: It was also a bit surprising that pole sitter Kurt Busch, driver of the No. 22 AAA Dodge for Penske Racing who dominated much of the race, and outside pole sitter Juan Pablo Montoya, behind the wheel of the No. 42 Target Chevrolet, did not have better finishes.
After some fuel mileage struggles, Busch was able to bring his car home in the ninth position. JPM, on the other hand, hit one of the seams in the track and then the wall, relegating him to a 17th place finish.
“To have a car to lead laps today and be very competitive, I was all smiles,” Busch said. “It’s just one of those days where you’re on the right side and sometimes you’re not. For all my guys, we’ll take this one.”
Not Surprising: After a hot and sticky day on the track, it was not surprising that one driver in particular was still smoking, at least in a positive way. Tony Stewart, driver of the No. 14 The Glades/Office Depot Chevrolet, not only secured a top ten finish but now has his eyes and his heart set on The Prelude to the Dream at his race track, Eldora Speedway.
“Our guys did a great job and we really had a good car today,” Smoke said. “The good news is we get to get out of here and go work at Eldora tomorrow.”