Just as in the Daytona 500, starting in day and ending at night due to extensive rain delays, here is what else was surprising and not surprising from the 54th annual Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway.
Surprising: Creating his own ‘March Madness’, the leader of the Stewart-Haas Racing team rebounded from having to use a provisional to get into the race to finishing in the top five.
“To start 37th and end up fourth today, I’m pretty excited about that,” Tony Stewart said. “I’m really excited for Chad Johnston (crew chief) and everybody on this Bass Pro Shops/Mobil 1 team.”
“We had a long way to go from Friday when we weren’t very good, and every day we just got better and better. So, I’m really proud of this team.”
Not Surprising: With a gladiator’s sword as the prize for the victor, it was appropriate that the race ended as a survival of the fittest contest. And the survivor of this race was indeed fit, as demonstrated by his back flip on a wet start finish line in the track known as ‘the Last Great Coliseum.’
Carl Edwards, behind the wheel of the No. 99 Kellogg’s / Frosted Flakes Ford, scored his first win of the 2014 season, making him the fourth different driver to win in the season and qualifying him for the Chase. This was Edwards’s third victory and eighth top-10 finish at Bristol.
“I just can’t believe it,” Edwards said. “We were terrible on Saturday, so I’m just glad we turned it around.”
“We had no clue we were going to win this race.”
Surprising: While typically the action ensues when the green flag flies, in this race most of the intense crashing took place when the caution flag came out. There were two instances where the yellow flew yet two drivers were struck from the rear at fairly high rates of speed.
The first incident occurred when Timmy Hill drilled Matt Kenseth from behind and the second occurred when Brad Keselowski was unable to slow down and hit Jamie McMurray in the rear.
One of the more bizarre incidents occurred on pit road under caution when Danica Patrick attempted to pull out of her pit stall, got sideways and drilled Clint Bowyer’s machine.
“It was an eventful night,” Patrick said. “I lost first and second gear and then finally third gear. That’s why I hit Clint (Bowyer) in the pits.”
“It wouldn’t go so I dipped the clutch and got sideways, and when it was about to spin around, I lifted, it caught and then it went straight and it wouldn’t stop.”
“So, I hit him,” Patrick said. “I apologized to his crew after the race.”
Not Surprising: Kyle and Kurt Busch had an ‘O Brother Where Art Thou’ moment on lap 394 when Kyle spun out after losing his car in the marbles and big brother Kurt hit the wall trying to avoid him. As a result of that damage, Kurt Busch had to go back behind the wall to repair the right front suspension.
Kurt Busch finished 35th and brother Kyle finished 29th.
“Had a moment of brightness but it went downhill from there,” Kyle Busch tweeted after the race. “Really thankful no one hit me when I was sideways.”
Surprising: While the streak of top five finishes sadly ended for NASCAR’s most popular driver Dale Earnhardt Jr., another streak surprisingly was born.
Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jeff Gordon scored his fourth consecutive top-10 finish, which the four-time champ has never been done before in his career to start the season.
Not Surprising: Bristol is one of the most physically demanding tracks so it was no wonder that Joey Logano was feeling the need to improve his upper body workout regimen. Logano lost his power steering prior to the rain delay but soldiered on to finish 20th in his No. 22 Shell Pennzoil For.
“I was already huffing and puffing pretty hard trying to get the thing to turn,” Logano said. “It was intermittent for a while once we restarted and then it just went away.”
Surprising: Jimmie Johnson and his crew chief Chad Knaus must have remained in previous race Las Vega mode, gambling with taking left sides only early in the race and then cutting a right front tire down as a result.
The tread on the No. 48 Kobalt Tools Chevrolet unwound, which forced him to the pits, losing several laps to the leader.
“The tire still had air in it,” Johnson said. “It didn’t wear it out.”
“Something made it come apart.”
Not Surprising: It was only a matter of time for these two drivers to have a bit of a break out in the Sprint Cup Series, both posting their career best finishes.
Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., behind the wheel of his No. 17 Nationwide Insurance Ford, finished second, bettering his previous career high finish in third at Talladega in October 2013. And Aric Almirola, in his No. 43 Smithfield Ford Petty blue machine, finished third, bettering his previous career best at Homestead in 2010.
“It helps our confidence for sure,” Stenhouse Jr. said. “We’re just slowly working and getting better and better.”
“It was a good night for us,” Almirola said after the race was finally concluded. “It seemed like our car got better and better.”
“I’m really proud of everybody on our team because they gave me a really good car.”
Surprising: A strange new hashtag on Twitter was surprisingly born after one of the most bizarre equipment malfunctions occurred. As a result, rookie driver Alex Bowman tweeted “#badluckbowman is getting freaking ridiculous. Solid top 20 car and the battery literally fell out. Now I get to ride around all day.”
And with that tweet, the young Rookie of the Year contender picked up ad additional ten thousand followers of his Twitter handle @AlexBRacing.
Not Surprising: Speaking of rookie contenders, young Kyle Larson, piloting the No. 42 Target Chevrolet, finished top-10 and also was the highest finishing rookie of the race.
“We had a really good run today,” Larson said. “Started off in 20th and got to the top ten pretty easily there in the beginning.”
“Ran in second and third for a long time,” Larson continued. “Pretty much stayed in the top ten for the whole race and inched our way up to the front.”
The Cup Series heads back across country next week for the Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California.