Kenseth Finds Victory Lane in Bizarre Bristol Battle

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After the start of Sunday’s Food City 500 in Support of Steve Byrnes and Stand Up to Cancer was delayed about two hours, started and ran 20 laps, then delayed another four hours, ran past the scheduled distance of 500 laps and went into overtime (by the way, throw in 11 cautions and three red flags), the pole sitter was victorious. Matt Kenseth may have started first, but he only led 47 of the 505 laps en route to snapping his winless streak of more than one year Sunday night at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Rain was in the forecast all weekend, a nightmare for race fans.  And mother nature didn’t help matters when she hung over the racetrack all day.  But the real questions when it came to rain came at the end of the race — the last 20 laps, to be specific.

NASCAR decided to keep the cars out on the track running under caution, burning fuel, while it was raining.  They ran about 10 laps under caution (with pit road closed) to try to keep the race surface heated before they brought the cars down pit road and displayed the third red flag of the afternoon/evening.

“I love the fact that the race ended under green,” said third place finisher Jeff Gordon.  “What makes no sense to me is when it started raining hard, that they ran lap after lap after lap under caution.  I don’t think it was right that they ran that many laps under caution when they started to lose the track.”

Gordon also mentioned that Austin Dillon got really screwed in that ordeal, as he ran out of fuel while running third at the time.

“I thought they should have red flagged it.  We were sitting out there and it was raining. As soon as we ran out (of gas) they red-flagged it.”

Dillon rebounded to finish tenth when the checkered flag flew after running top ten for most of the second half of the race.

But that wasn’t the only drama that went down during Sunday’s race.  Denny Hamlin, who has already won a race this season and clinched a Chase spot, didn’t get back in the car after the four hour rain delay had concluded.  Erik Jones, an 18 year-old Michigan native, apparently was flown to the track during the delay and relief drove for Hamlin the remainder of the way.  It took a few minutes for everyone to figure out why Hamlin wasn’t in the car, but Joe Gibbs later told reporters that Hamlin was having neck issues.  Officially quoted as “neck spasms”, Hamin said that he started experiencing pain in his neck on lap 12, and although team doctors tried to relieve the pain, it wouldn’t go away.  Being more safe than sorry, Hamlin sat out the rest of the race and watched Jones pilot the No. 11 car to a 26th place finish.  Hamlin should be good to go next weekend at his home track of Richmond International Raceway, barring any setbacks.

Want more drama?  Bristol had plenty of it.  On lap 19, Brad Keselowski got loose coming off turn four, tried to save his car, overcorrected and ended up collecting his own teammate, Joey Logano, in the process.

“The rain was coming in and out and the car just took off on me. I would like to blame the rain, but I honestly don’t know,” Keselowski said.  “Usually when a car gets that far sideways and it’s kind of out of nowhere there’s a reason behind it.”

What he hated most about it was that his own teammate was involved in the process.  Some more drama came later in the race, when Kurt Busch got loose and spun into Jimmie Johnson.  Somehow, nobody else was involved in that caution.  But about 75 laps later when Johnson turned Jeb Burton around, causing David Ragan to spin, and causing Kevin Harvick to wheel-hop, not slow down fast enough and crash into the parked car of Ragan, that created MORE drama.

Harvick led the most laps on the evening (184), but after spending 40+ laps in the garage undergoing repairs, he finished 38th.  Some other notable finishers included the aforementioned Team Penske cars of Keselowski and Logano (35th and 40th), Martin Truex Jr. (had a vibration and never got back on sequence, finishing 29th), Kasey Kahne (involved in a late race crash, finished 37th), Carl Edwards (same fortune as Kahne, finishing 24th after leading 86 laps) and Dale Earnhardt Jr. (finished 16th after having to pit for a tire issue twice early on in the race) as well.

Somehow, Johnson rebounded to finish second.  His HMS teammate Gordon came home third, with Ricky Stenhouse Jr. finishing a season-best fourth.  Ryan Newman, Tony Stewart, Kyle Larson, Justin Allgaier, Danica Patrick and Austin Dillon rounded out the top ten.

Busch finished 15th after leading 98 laps.  His crew chief, Tony Gibson, wasn’t on the pit box after the four hour delay passed because of a kidney stone.  So Greg Zipadelli and John Klausmeier filled in for Busch, and they made the call to come down pit road with about 30 laps remaining from the lead.  Unfortunately for them, nobody else came down pit road.  They restarted in sixth, but fell back on the inside lane (outside was the place to be on restarts) and finished in a disappointing 15th place.

For a change, the two SHR cars that usually contend for a win finished the lowest out of the four, as Smoke and Patrick got a season best finish and a sixth career top ten finish respectively, making NASCAR history in the process.

This race had it all for a race fan.  A green/white/checkered finish, bumping and banging, tempers flaring and overall good racing. That’s Bristol, baby!