With the hopes of attracting a younger crowd to the sport with appearances by Squidward Tentacles, Larry the Lobster, and Patrick Star, here is what else was surprising and not surprising from the 5th annual SpongeBob SquarePants 400 at Kansas Speedway.
Surprising: Jimmie Johnson and Kevin Harvick continued to host their own version of a swap meet, trading wins and runner-up finishes back and forth yet again. This time, the driver of the No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet took the checkered flag first, with the driver of the No. 4 Jimmy John’s/Budweiser Chevrolet scoring runner-up honors.
Harvick and Johnson have been having such a swap meet that in the races where Harvick has finished second, Johnson has won each race.
“We won a championship on pit calls and tires, and everything fell our way,” Harvick said. “We’ve had a lot of things go our way, and we’ve had a lot of things work out, and running up front and having a chance to win, it’s almost harder to win the races when you’re leading races, because you’ve got guys that are a little off pace, like the first four were that stayed out, hoping that they could get a good restart and get the clean air and their car would hold on just long enough to get the win.”
“It’s no frustration, just keep going at it.”
“I still think he’s the car to beat right now,” Johnson said of Harvick. “We’re finding ways to win races, but I just think that they have a bit more control of their own destiny right now. We’re getting better. We’re closing the gap a little bit each week. But we’ve still got a little bit of work to do.”
Not Surprising: In spite of not taking home the trophy, Martin Truex Jr. kept his chin up, noting that in addition to scoring his tenth top-10 finish in 11 races and maintaining his second place in the point standings, he took another step forward toward his Victory Lane goal.
“I felt like tonight we kind of gained a big step in speed, and hopefully that’s something that will continue,” Truex said. “We brought a new car here this weekend and it’s kind of the newest and latest and greatest that we’ve come up with and definitely feel like we closed that gap a little bit.”
“We’ll just have to wait and see if that plays out on other racetracks, but felt like if we can keep doing that and keep finding little things here and there to close that gap and keep being consistent putting ourselves in position I feel like we can win some races.”
“We’ve got a great team, we’ve got everything we need to do it, and we’ve got a lot of confidence, so we’ve just got to keep getting in that position and try to close the deal.”
Surprising: With a new crew chief on board, Bono Manion now in for Drew Blickensderfer, Sam Hornish Jr. fared a little better than usual on the intermediate track of Kansas.
“We had a good car and we took two there at the end,” the driver of the No. 9 Medallion Bank Ford said. “I was a little scared to adjust on it because it had felt good where it was at and we were a little on the free side and I didn’t want to free it up too much.”
“It ended up being too tight and the guys did a great job making good calls to get the car better and the pit crew did a good job.”
“It is something to build on and a big improvement for us as far as our downforce racing this year. I am appreciative to have a run like we did.”
Not Surprising: For the second time in as many races, a driver took NASCAR to task for not throwing the caution. Last race at Talladega, it was Carl Edwards expressing his concern about the lack of caution after wrecking and this race it was Denny Hamlin voicing the same.
“There was no caution there and then we cut a left rear, blew it off of turn four and spun out, hit the wall at the start finish line,” Hamlin said. “I keep spinning out, I keep hitting the wall and I can’t figure out why everyone is still coming at 200 and I look and the green light is still on.”
“They didn’t throw a caution until seven seconds after I wrecked. Luckily nobody hit us. They’ll continue to monitor the situation, I’m guessing is what they’ll say.”
The driver of the No. 11 FedEx Toyota finished a disappointing 41st.
Surprising: ‘New’ drivers David Ragan, this week for the first time in the No. 55 SquarePants/Aaron’s Dream Machine for Michael Waltrip Racing, and Erik Jones, making his Sprint Cup debut in the No. 18 Red Nose Day Camry subbing for Kyle Busch, both had difficult days.
Ragan finished 33rd and Jones finished 40th after being involved in accidents later in the race.
“It’s definitely nice to be as fast as we were and we had a great M&M’s Camry, but I just got loose off (turn) four and lost it,” Jones said. “All my fault, guess I have to go back and figure it out. You know, we had a good night before that.”
“Something to take from it. I’m ready to do another one — I hope I get another shot.”
Not Surprising: As has occurred at most intermediate tracks to date, Chevrolet was the dominant manufacturer, scoring the first four spots in the finishing order. In addition to Johnson winning and Harvick scoring runner-up, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Talladega race winner, and Hendrick teammate Jeff Gordon finished in the third and fourth places respectively.
Surprising: Drivers in contention for Rookie of the Year honors finished surprisingly badly. Jeb Burton, leading ROTY candidate had all kinds of problems, wrecking and spinning his No. 26 Maxim Fantasy Sports Toyota.
Brett Moffitt, behind the wheel of the No. 34 Dockside Logistics Ford was the highest finishing rookie in 34th.
Not Surprising: At least one NASCAR driver has finally found a home after moving from team to team and even out of the sport at one point in his career. Prior to the race, JTG Daugherty Racing announced the AJ Allmendinger would continue as the team’s driver for five more years.
“I have always said I have a verbal lifetime contract with JTG Daugherty Racing, but I want to announce today that I have officially signed a contract for a five-year deal,” Allmendinger said. “It’s pretty awesome to see our team thriving and I love our sponsors.”
They allow me to do what I love to do. I know Tad (Geschickter, team owner) has busted his butt to put all of this together and he has the business model figured out.”
Allmendinger scored a good run after announcing his new deal, finishing 14th in his No. 47 Dillon’s/Scott Products Chevrolet.
Surprising: There was some pride brewing on behalf of at least one of the Roush Fenway teams. Greg Biffle, in his No. 16 Cheez-It SpongeBob SquarePants Ford, finished in the 12th position, a definite improvement and step in the right direction.
“I am really proud of the 16 team,” Biffle said. “We kept adjusting on the car as the night went on and we were able to come home 12th.”
“We just missed out on the top-10, which is an improvement from where we have been lately, so that is a good sign. We just have to keep working on it and I know they guys will.”
“It is a little bit of momentum in the right direction, so we will take it and move on to Charlotte.”
Not Surprising: Kurt Busch finished where he started, both in the eighth spot in his No. 41 Haas Automation Chevrolet. This was also the eighth straight race this season where Busch finished top-15.
“The Haas Automation Chevy had its fast moments and then it had its loose moments,” Busch said. “We hung onto it most of the night with making her pretty wide on the front straightaway and in the corners.”
“Eighth place is good. It’s something to build on. When we come back here in the Chase, it’s great to have these notes and to go from this point forward.”
“We could contend early, and then when the pace picked up, we got too loose. So we’ve got to work on that.”
The Cup Series will next head to Charlotte Motor Speedway for the Sprint Showdown and the All Star Race weekend.