Johnson Claims Charlotte Victory
Jimmie Johnson scored the victory in the rain-delayed Bank of America 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway to advance to the “Round of 8” in the Chase for the Sprint Cup, his first time as championship contender. This is his third win of 2016.
“Really we just fell back on what we are made of at Hendrick Motorsports. There is a culture there and a belief. It was not fun to experience after all that we have been through but we have seen the cars get stronger, better and faster. We were able to execute all day long here. You were asking about that restart at the end and the track got so slick that I actually found that restarting on the bottom was a little bit better than what I had up top. I was able to throw it down to the inside of the 20 in turn three and make the pass, but restarts were really tricky today. I just really can’t thank everyone enough that supports us and for all the fans that were tuned in today,” said Johnson in a post-race interview about getting back into victory lane.
“Yeah, it was a great second. I think this is one of the toughest tracks there is on the circuit to pass at. It was better during the day than it is at night and that’s a good thing, because we had to go to the back twice, so we were able to make up some ground and finish okay,” said second place finisher, Matt Kenseth.
The first half of the race started with drivers trying to get to the bottom of the track in an effort to feel out their cars. Before the competition caution, many drivers were complaining about ill-handling vehicles. After the competition caution fell, Chase Elliott set sail as the race leader. As the field hit lap 62, Alex Bowman, who was running top-five, but was in an accident with Casey Mears. Kyle Busch had a vibration on the right front tire; he was running second at the time. As a long green flag run became the norm, drivers were becoming more concerned with tires. As green flag stops were underway, Joey Logano hit the wall in the second turn to bring out the caution. As Elliott got caught under the last caution, Denny Hamlin prevailed as the race leader, and set sail in clean air. Kevin Harvick fell off the pace due to losing power bringing out the caution while Logano hit the wall again as the caution flew. Hamlin held the lead at the halfway point with Johnson, Keselowski, Elliott, and Jamie McMurray rounding out the top-five.
As the second half of the race began, Johnson tried to take the lead from Hamlin, but failed. The second half saw a dominate Johnson hold the lead. The caution came out for debris off of the fourth turn. On the restart, Johnson held the lead, but Elliott lost the lead to Martin Truex Jr. The caution flew for a hard hit into the wall by AJ Allmendinger as Elliott was trying to retake second from Truex Jr. On the restart, a huge crash occurred involving Elliott, Austin Dillon, and Menard. As the final pit stops were about to begin, the engine for Hamlin blew up. After the field hit pit road for the final time, Kenseth gained the lead. Truex Jr. stalled on pit road. Kenseth got loose on the restart giving Johnson the lead. However, Johnson was able to set sail on the field to win the race. Hamlin finished second, Kasey Kahne finished third, Newman finished fourth, and Larson rounded out the top-five.
In the first time since 2007 at Kansas, five chase drivers finished 30th or worse. Hamlin, Austin Dillon, Elliott, Logano, and Harvick all has issues in the race. Truex Jr. and Hamlin are the two drivers who are in the good in the Chase Grid heading into Kansas. Austin Dillon and Elliott are three points away from the cut off line, Logano is six points away from the line, and Harvick is eight points away from the line. All drivers were involved in accidents in Charlotte.
Johnson led the most laps in the Bank of America 500 at 155 laps. Elliott led 103 laps, Hamlin led 52 laps, Harvick led 12 laps, Logano led three laps, Bowyer led two laps, and Newman and Busch led one lap. There were a total of 17 lead changes among these nine drivers.
The average speed of the race was 134.929 mph. The time of the race was 3 hours, 42 minutes,, and 47 seconds. The caution flag flew eight times for 51 laps. The margin of victory was 1.474 seconds.
Next up for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series in the “Round of 12” will be Kansas Speedway for the Hollywood Casino 400. Motor Racing Network and NBCSN will have the call.
NSCS Preview: A Sweet Bristol Night
After the final off weekend of 2016, the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series heads to the Tennessee and Virginia state line to the the .553-mile Bristol Motor Speedway for the prestigious and historic Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race. This is the 22nd race of the 2016 season with only four races remaining until the Chase for the Sprint Cup. 40 cars have entered into competition, which means no drivers are going home.
Matt Kenseth leads all active drivers in the box score for Bristol Motor Speedway. Kenseth will be the driver to watch this weekend. He has an average start of 12.1. His average finish at Bristol is 13.7. Kenseth will be on of the drivers to watch this weekend.
Bristol Motor Speedway is a high-speed concrete oval. Drivers will go around the oval within 15 seconds for 500 laps. Between the spring race and now, Bristol Motor Speedway underwent some change. In an effort to make the bottom groove the “preferred” lane, a sticky substance was placed to help add rubber to the track, and a tire machine was run, just like at Kentucky Speedway, to help facilitate grip for drivers to race in.
This will be the 56th annual night race at Bristol. 48 drivers have won a pole with Joey Logano being the youngest at 19 years old and Harry Gant being the oldest at 54 years old. There have been 42 different race winners at Bristol with Kyle Busch being the youngest at 21 years of age, and Dale Earnhardt with the oldest at 48 years of age. 24 races have been won from the pole position with Carl Edwards being the last one to do so back in the spring of 2016. Charlie Glotzback holds the long-standing race record set back in 1971 at a speed of 101.074 mph. In 2015, Denny Hamlin set the qualifying record at 131.407 mph.
Bristol Motor Speedway provides its own challenges, and many drivers are looking forward to returning.
“Every single one of us is going to go as absolutely hard as possible. There’s never a plan to back off or go easy or anything like that, other than if you are saving fuel out there on a strategy at the end of the race. You always go as fast as you can, all the time,” said Danica Patrick.
“I think the most challenging aspect of Bristol is just how difficult it is to transition through from the straightaways to the corners, back to the straightaways and have your car setup in order to do all that. Sometimes you can be really loose getting in or you can be really tight in the middle – you just seem to never be able to get a good-flowing car that works well there. Drivers have to do a lot of manipulation on the race track with their car in order to try to make the best of it,” said Kyle Busch.
“I always look forward to racing at Bristol. Bristol is one of my favorite tracks and it will be extra special this weekend to honor Bryan by running his 2008 Fastenal paint scheme. We’ve had a lot of success at Bristol in the past so hopefully we can be patient and be there at the end. As Bryan would say, hopefully we will “parked it” in victory lane,” said Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series will have only two practice sessions on Friday at 10 am and 12:30 pm. The first practice session can be seen on the NBC Sports App, NBCSports.com, and certain CSN markets. The second practice session can be seen on the NBC Sports App and NBCSports.com, but can be seen on tape delayed on USA Network at 1 pm. Qualifying will be at 5:30 pm on USA and Performance Racing Network. The race Saturday night will begin on NBCSN with a pre-race show beginning at 7:30, and Performance Racing Network will have radio coverage at 7 pm eastern.
Carl Edwards has Fully Transitioned into Joe Gibbs Racing
As NASCAR hits the twist and turns of Watkins Glen International, Carl Edwards is confident in the direction that Toyota is going.
2015 marked Edwards’ first season with Joe Gibbs Racing, and the first time since coming into the Cup Series in 2004, he wasn’t driving a Ford. Through the struggles of 2015, it made the No. 19 team stronger.
This season, Edwards says his confidence is at an all-time high. Arguably, he will have to beat his JGR teammates for the championship as Toyota has won 10 of the 21 races. For the No. 19 team, it’s all about maintaining momentum going into the Chase.
“Right now, we’re just gearing up for the Chase and making sure that we are ready for those final 10 races,” Edwards told Speedway Digest. “That’s what we’re here to do. I feel like I’ve got the best team and the best shot of winning a championship that I’ve ever had and I just want to make the most of it.”
Through the first 21 races this season, Edwards has two wins, coming at Bristol and at Richmond, where he moved his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate and reigning Sprint Cup champion Kyle Busch out of the way on Turn 4 of the final lap. The No. 19 car has 13 top-10 finishes this season, two shy of his 2015 total and one fewer than his total from his final year with Roush Fenway Racing in 2014.
In his second year at Joe Gibbs Racing, getting used to the system that Joe Gibbs has implemented within JGR has been an adjustment for Edwards. This season, he is working with veteran crew chief Dave Rogers, who replaced Darian Grubb atop the pit box. Since the pairing was announced over the offseason, his confidence level has skyrocketed.
“Everyone is different,” Edwards said on the differences between Rogers and Grubb. “Dave and I communicate the same way. Dave and I were joking that we don’t get along with everybody, but we get along with each other really well. I think that’ the best way to put it. The communication is effortless and I think that’s just the way sometimes it works out for people.”
Over the last five seasons of competition, Edwards has worked with five different crew chiefs. Bob Osborne was a guy who he had worked with for nine years, and the guy that might be most similar to Rogers.
Edwards wants Rogers to be the last crew chief of his Cup Series career. In year one, the duo sits fifth in the standings, eight points behind Busch. They both credit each other’s success on one another. Based on the way last year finished and this year has gone, the duo is confident heading into the Chase.
“I was new to the system and I was trying to prove myself,” Edwards said of 2015. “It was tough. I thought last year everybody pulled together really well, and we almost had a shot at the championship. I’m really proud of everyone’s performance. Looking back on it, it was really spectacular what we were able to do.”
Edwards’ No. 19 team finished fifth in the standings last year, satisfying the organization in his first year with the crew.
Self-admittedly, Edwards had a lot to learn coming over to a new organization last season. The Missouri native had new primary sponsors in ARRIS and Stanley, after working with Aflac and Fastenal for the majority of his Cup Series career. He is known as being a marketable guy, always thanking the sponsors, so working with new ones was a transition.
He had new faces to learn after being at Roush Fenway Racing for 12 seasons. But a key variable was working with Matt Kenseth, someone that he knew well from RFR.
“I think Matt has really been the person that I’ve leaned on the most,” Edwards said. “He really facilitated all of the initial talks when I first signed up. He was in charge of the initial meetings. We had lunch last together week and he’s just someone that always tells me what he thinks and he’s helped me a lot.”
With five races remaining before the Chase begins at Chicagoland Speedway, Edwards believes his team is where it needs to be. The 36-year-old believes that the field will need to go through JGR to win the championship.
“I would like to win a couple of these races,” Edwards said of his goals before the Chase begins. “Our main goal is to be prepared for the Chase. I’ve won plenty of races, now I want to win a championship. That’s our mission.”
Leading up to the Chase, Edwards has won on four of the five tracks. He is the defending winner of the Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway, and most recently, he won the aforementioned races at Bristol and Richmond this year. At Michigan, he has two victories, with the last one coming in 2008.
A victory between now and Chicago would give Edwards three extra bonus points for the first round of the Chase. With 12 winners this season thus far, every point is critical as last year, Busch’s four victories prior to the Chase edged him into the second round of the Chase by a few points.
“If the fans like it, it’s good,” Edwards said. “It is difficult to pace yourself and to figure out when to give your best effort. This is the point of the season where what happens right now doesn’t really affect the outcome of the season, but you still put all of this pressure on yourself and so it’s a balance of going racing every week and preparing for the Chase.”
While Toyota has ruled the sport this season, Edwards has remained one of the most consistent drivers at JGR. This season, he has outperformed Kenseth and Denny Hamlin, who has yet to win since the Daytona 500.
The JGR alliance with Furniture Row Racing seems to be beneficial throughout the Toyota camp, as Martin Truex, Jr. has led 1005 laps this season, the most of all drivers in the series. Edwards feels as though he is in the right position and that his No. 19 team is the best team in the garage.
Kurt Busch Stretches the Fuel Mileage to Claim Pocono
On Wednesday, it was announced that long-time crew crew chief Tony Gibson would be suspended one race due to a lug nut violation during the Coca-Cola 600. Team engineer Johnny Klausmeier stepped in and had the right pit strategy to go to the end on gas, while others ran out.
"It's an amazing feeling when you drive into Victory Lane on any weekend at any track," Busch said post-race. "It makes you think of all the hard work that everybody at Stewart-Haas Racing does on this car. To be in position is what it's all about. Johnny Klausmeier gave me the ball and said 'hey you're two laps short, go get it for us.' Each week we've been in a position so far and we hadn't quite sealed the deal and we're going to enjoy this win."
At the beginning of the last stint of the race, Busch was told that he was two laps short on gas, which is five miles around the "Tricky Triangle." Working with an intern crew chief, it's a pass-fail estimation because the team is working with a calculator.
Next week would have marked exactly one year since Busch's last win at Michigan. Coming into Pocono he sat second in the point standings with a series-high 11 top-10 finishes.
After leading four laps earlier in the event, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. was passed on the last restart and could never regain the track position that he had lost. Crew chief Greg Ives ensured him that the No. 88 car would make it to the end on fuel and the No. 41 car could not.
"I didn't do what I needed to do on that last restart," Earnhardt said post-race. "The No. 41 car got a run on us and he shouldn't have. I think if I could have got in front of him, I would have been able to hold on to that position. The No. 41 car got a great run on us and we couldn't get him back. I knew even though we were matching him on some laps that I wasn't going to get any closer than I was."
This marks the fourth time that Earnhardt has finished second in 2016, which leads the series. It's the first time that he has had a top-10 finish since Bristol in mid-April.
Starting from pole, Brad Keselowski led just one lap and had to overcome two pit road penalties on Lap 21 and Lap 22 for an unimproved body modification. In the closing laps he was able to go from sixth-place up to third, to record his fifth top-five finish of the season.
"The last four or five weeks we've had really strong runs," Keselowski said. "It seems like a bunch of seconds and thirds. Not quite the finish we want, but it was a good effort from our team."
Leading a career-high and race-high 51 laps, Chase Elliott came home fourth on Monday. The middle stage of the race is where the No. 24 car shined, at one point having five former Sprint Cup champions behind him in the running order. Though he was disappointed with a fourth-place finish he was able to record his fifth top-five finish of the season.
Joey Logano led the opening 17 laps of the event, but the team had to overcome an incident with Ryan Newman and patch the left rear corner of the racecar. Like his Team Penske teammate, Keselowski, he was able to rebound through adversity to pick up his fourth top-five finish of 2016.
Kasey Kahne, Matt Kenseth, Carl Edwards, Kevin Harvick and Ryan Blaney rounded out the top 10.
Defending race winner, Martin Truex, Jr. finished 19th, while overcoming adversity throughout the weekend. He was scheduled to be the leader after a Lap 122 caution, getting off the pit road first, but cut a tire.
Kyle Busch came up short of his first first career win at Pocono, finishing in 31st. Ryan Newman got into the rear of his car, sending him into the outside wall on Lap 109. The No. 18 car was 10 laps off the pace.
Just passed halfway Tony Stewart got loose and crashed into his Stewart-Haas Racing teammate Danica Patrick. The duo of teammates finished 32nd and 34th after Stewart ran in the top 10 the first half of the race.
Busch Brothers Fastest in Final Practice at Pocono
After getting just 20 minutes of practice on Friday, the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series was able to go the full distance in final practice on Saturday at Pocono Raceway.
The session was led by Kyle Busch at 176.901 mph. Completing 21 laps, the No. 18 team focused strictly on race runs. The No. 18 will begin the 400-mile event from the outside of the sixth row, a place that he is searching for his first career victory at the "Tricky Triangle."
"With the way our cars at JGR (Joe Gibbs Racing) have been overall, I’m very optimistic that we could score a victory there this weekend or, if not, when we come back later in the summer," Busch said.
Kurt Busch was second on the leader board in the practice session. He laid down a lap of 176.800 mph, which was less than a half-tenth off his brother's time. The former Pocono winner will start from ninth on Sunday.
Jimmie Johnson was third on the board with a lap at 176.710 mph, Martin Truex, Jr. was fourth at 176.291 and Kevin Harvick rounded out the top five at 176.125 mph.
Pole-sitter, Brad Keselowski was sixth on the board. The No. 2 car ran 27 laps on the racetrack and the team was happy with the car they have on track.
"I think were decent, it's hard to say," Keselowski said. "We need to look at some data, but I don't think were far off. Starting up front gives you a lot of confidence for sure."
Keselowski's Team Penske teammate Joey Logano was seventh, with Matt Kenseth eighth, rookie Ryan Blaney was ninth and AJ Allmendinger fulfilled the top 10.
The younger Busch brother had the best 10 consecutive laps, while Harvick ran 34 laps, the most of all drivers.