With all of NASCAR nation standing up for Steve Byrnes and others battling cancer, here is what was surprising and not surprising in the 55th annual Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway.
Surprising: With the day race stretching into night because of the Bristol rain drops, it was all about windows for NASCAR and the race winner. NASCAR made difficult decisions all day, focusing on windows in the weather to successfully get the entire race in, and then some due to the green-white-checkered finish.
And Matt Kenseth, along with crew chief Jason Ratcliff, took advantage of their window of opportunity to capture the checkered flag, ending a 51 race drought and taking Toyota back to Victory Lane. And with that win, Kenseth and team No. 20 have also opened their window on the opportunity to race for the Chase.
“Matt, he did a phenomenal job, as always, especially here at Bristol,” Ratcliff said. “This place is unbelievable. I get out of breath just watching him go around here. Great night, obviously.”
“To get a win under our belt and we can look at the season a little differently now, knowing that we’re in the Chase, so I’m really excited,” Ratcliff continued. “I think we’ve turned the corner, and we’ve got a great season ahead of us.”
Not Surprising: As appropriate, tributes to Jeff Gordon as he runs his last season of Cup competition continue to pour in. But he received one of the biggest gifts in his career to date, that of having his children Ella and Leo, give the command to the drivers, and their papa, to start the engines for the Bristol racing.
“Highlight for me,” Gordon said of his children giving the command. “The day couldn’t be bad after that. That was so, so cool, and they nailed it. I’m just so, so proud of them.”
“I’m just so thankful to Bristol Motor Speedway and Marcus and Bruton and all those folks. To do that, to invite them to do that means so much to me, and they just had a blast preparing for it, just practicing in the car on the way to school.”
“So funny, and Leo, he had to put his little engine rev in there at the end, which I thought just kind of put it over the top. As soon as the red flag came, I went back to the bus and rewound it and watched it with them, and they were just beaming. It was awesome.”
Gordon battled back after a loose wheel in the race caused him to lose a lap, finishing third in his No. 24 3M Chevrolet after a hard fought day to night race.
Surprising: There was whole lot of surprising hurting going on prior to and during the race. Denny Hamlin decided to remove himself from the No. 11 FedEx Freight Toyota due to back pain and neck spasms, while Kurt Busch’s crew chief Tony Gibson had to absent the pit box due to recurring kidney stones.
Young up and coming racer Erik Jones took over driving responsibilities for Hamlin, while Stewart Haas Racing’s team engineer John Klausmeyer took over crew chief duties for the No. 41 team, with an assist from Vice president of Competition Greg Zipadelli.
“Watching race in my motorcoach is agonizing!” Gibson tweeted during the race. “Just released from the Bristol ER with a kidney stone. @GZipadelli @johnklax have crew chief duty.”
“We had the wild thing happen with Denny,” Coach Joe Gibbs said after the race. “He had a spasm with his neck and shooting pain. We wound up flying Erik over here. He got here with five minutes to go, went and got in the car, first time in a Cup car, and we put him in that situation. And then he just — I thought he handled everything really well.”
After all that hurting going on, Jones, whose arms were sore due to the steering wheel being too close, managed a respectable 26th place finish, while Kurt Busch finished 15th in his No. 41 Haas Automation Chevrolet.
Not Surprising: In spite of some frustrations early on in the race, Jimmie Johnson rode the wave of momentum from his Texas win into the rainy banks of Bristol to finish runner up.
“Yeah, the first half of the race or first third of the race I was behind the 24 and we just worked our way up through the field and things went pretty smoothly,” Johnson said. “I had a very fast race car and felt like we were going to have a strong night.”
“And then one of the restarts midway through the race, the 41, I don’t know what happened, but he lost control, got into me. I went into the outside wall in Turn 3, and a caution came out. We had a fair amount of damage to the right-rear quarter panel. We weren’t as good as we were at the start of the race but still very competitive.”
“Chad (Knaus, crew chief) called for two late in the race. That picked us up a few more spots, and then I think the last two restarts I was in the outside lane and that helped me out quite a bit. Wild night, but glad to get it in.”
Surprising: It was a strange case of teammate-palooza at Bristol, with teammates who normally look out for one another, wrecking each other instead. Penske teammates Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano got into each other in the early part of the race before the rains came, as did Hendrick teammates Kasey Kahne and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. later in the race.
“I just really hate that I tore up my teammate in the process,” Keselowski said after his contact with teammate Logano. “That’s really a bummer. I felt like I had a pretty normal line and it just flew crazy sideways on me. It’s a bummer for everybody at Team Penske to tear up both cars that way.”
Not Surprising: Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. was on a high, loving the high banks of Bristol as well as his highest finish of the season to date, bringing his Zestfully clean car home in the fourth place position.
“I knew when we came back here, it didn’t matter how we ran anywhere else, that we could have a decent car,” Stenhouse said. “I wish we could get it to translate to other racetracks, but I think it’s the high bank is what really helps us get our car to turn here and being able to run the top.”
“We struggled in practice. When the line moved up to the top, we gained like 10 or 15 spots on the leaderboard in practice just because it moved to the top, and I could make some better speed up there.”
Surprising: There was some NASCAR second guessing going on, even amongst those drivers who finished in the top-ten at Bristol, including Danica Patrick, who finished ninth and Austin Dillon, who finished tenth.
“It was a bummer that we got a long run when I got the lucky dog,” Patrick said. “It was just so frustrating. There was a big accident after the rain. I should have got the lucky dog and I missed it all. I was in control enough to stay on the track instead of take the pit road. So I come around and I got on the apron and it was like it was still wet and the back-end just kind of slid around. I was like ‘ah well just restart it’. They said you are part of the accident you don’t get the lucky dog. I thought that was total crap.”
“Then another time Jimmie (Johnson) gets the lucky dog and he goes and passes everybody and he is in front of me after getting the lucky dog. And I’m the lucky dog. I know it’s hard because it’s Bristol and everything happens very quickly here, but there were definitely quite a few mistakes by NASCAR just in making sure everything was right before we went green.”
“We came out with a top 10 in the GoDaddy car. It looks terrible. I had to walk around it just to see what it looked like, but it’s Bristol baby.”
“We worked hard all night and stayed in the top 10 all night,” Dillon said, echoing Patrick in frustration. “We get in a save fuel mode when we get a certain amount of heat and I guess it was dumping fuel and we just ran out of fuel. Then when we were trying to pull up there we might have finished ninth or eighth, but NASCAR held us back.”
“I don’t know why. Because Danica (Patrick) moved around and she was the lucky dog and I was trying to follow her. I don’t know. Not happy.”
Not Surprising: Streaks are unfortunately made to be broken as both Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex, Jr. can attest. Both drivers had their top-five and top-ten finishing streaks come to an end at the track known as the Coliseum.
Harvick in particular had no place to run to and no place to hide, slamming into David Ragan’s car after melee in front of them occurred.
“I’m sorry guys,” Harvick said on the radio after the crash. “I just couldn’t stop.”
“Today, nothing went our way,” Truex said. “We had a pretty good car that could run in the top-10. But the loose wheel incident was a costly deal that was very difficult to overcome. We just didn’t get the cautions when we needed them.”
Truex, Jr., in his No. 78 Furniture Row/Visser Precision Chevrolet, finished 29th while Harvick, behind the wheel of the No. 4 Jimmy John’s/Budweiser Chevrolet finished 38th.
Surprising: David Ragan had perhaps the best quote of the day/night race, saying “Sometimes when you race back there with the squirrels, you find a nut sometimes,” after getting wrecked out of the race and finishing 41st in his No. 18 Snickers Xtreme Toyota.
“That’s just Bristol. You’re racing hard and the 26 (Jeb Burton) was a little slower and I know Jimmie (Johnson) is probably a little impatient trying to get back to the front,” Ragan continued. “I see he just touched him there and as soon as my spotter said they were wrecking, I’m all into the 48 (Johnson).”
“That’s just one of those things you have at short track racing and all in all it’s just Bristol – wrong place at the wrong time.”
Not Surprising: Justin Allgaier finally felt like he earned some respect with his career best NASCAR Sprint Cup Series finish of eighth place in his No. 51 Auto-Owners Chevrolet.
“You know, it just seems like the first time I came here I felt like it was my kind of race track,” Allgaier said. “I just felt comfortable and have been fortunate enough over the years to have some good runs here.”
“But at the same time, the Cup series is definitely an extreme challenge. It’s not been easy to break our way up through the pack but tonight we felt like that was a big step in doing that and getting respect by racing around a lot of these guys,” Allgaier continued. “We need to do that on a weekly basis so when you can do that here at a place you run good at, hopefully you can take that momentum and go somewhere else that you don’t run good at and use that same momentum.”