It is always fun to see the fireworks at Bristol Motor Speedway, and Sunday certainly had its fair share in the Food City 500.
Two former teammates, Denny Hamlin and Joey Logano, overshadowed a great win by Kasey Kahne and the No. 5 car. More on that in a minute. Let’s focus on Kahne, though, who was a runner-up at Las Vegas last weekend, and then picked up his first career victory at Thunder Valley in 19 career starts. There is little doubt that the celebration afterward was done in concert with a huge sigh of relief.
Kahne is the newbie to Hendrick Motorsports, and when you’re on the same team as five-time Sprint Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson, and three-time series champ Jeff Gordon, you tend to get overlooked a little bit. And don’t forget this team has fan favorite and media darling Dale Earnhardt Jr. on the team, too. So Kahne’s victory Sunday had to feel extra sweet, especially since his more heralded teammates finished sixth (Earnhardt Jr.), 22nd (Johnson) and 34th (Gordon).
Quote of the day
“Feels really good to get a win at this place. Such a tough track over the years. This is a big race for me. When you race in the Sprint Cup Series, Bristol is the race you want to win.” – Kasey Kahne
Now, back to Hamlin and Logano. Their on-track dust-up turned into post-race antics, and even carried into the Twitterverse.
Logano, Hamlin and Brad Keselowski had differing views of what happened in a restart late in the race, and there are three sides to the story. However, it appeared the Blue Deuce spun tires on the restart, although the 2012 Sprint Cup Series champion claimed he was bumped from behind. Hamlin was the car who bumped Keselowski, after he claimed he was bumped by his former teammate, Logano. Later, the No. 22 and No. 11 got together again, this time with Logano ahead and racing for the lead. Hamlin touched the rear driver-side bumper and ended up spinning Logano, infuriating the youngster. He actually drove with plenty of vim and vigor, perhaps like we’ve never seen in his entire Sprint Cup Series career, making his way back to a respectable 17th-place finish.
However, after the race, the yellow-clad Logano made his way directly to Hamlin’s Toyota, ducked inside the right-side window and had words with his former teammate, whom he claims was “probably the worst teammate” he has ever had, by the way. There was some pushing, restraining and yelling by the crews before cooler heads prevailed. However, Logano (@joeylogano) took to Twitter after the race with this gem:
“Hey @dennyhamlin great job protecting that genius brain of yours by keeping your helmet on.”
To which Hamlin simply replied:
“Why’s that.. What would u do?”
Not sure when NASCAR turned into the WWE, or recess in the fifth grade, but it sounds like the No. 22 and No. 11 will be two cars to watch as we head to Auto Club next Sunday, and especially on the short track at Martinsville April 7 in Hamlin’s home state of Virginia. For Fantasy purposes, it might be best to avoid both drivers until everyone simmers down.
Five things we learned on Sunday
Kahne hasn’t been able on short tracks: Kahne’s short track win at Bristol was just the second of his career. His only other win on a short track came all the way back in 2005 when he tamed Richmond International Raceway to take checkers.
Danica dances near back of pack again: After starting the season with plenty of hype, and admiration on social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter (@DanicaPatrick), etc., the luster has started to wear just a tad. The FOX Sports telecast gushing we saw at Daytona has been curtailed significantly, and rightly so. Since making history by becoming the first female to start on the pole at the Daytona 500, she has started 40th at Phoenix, 37th at Las Vegas and 41st at Bristol. She has shown some ever-so-slight improvement, finishing 39th at PIR, 33rd at LVMS to 28th at Thunder Valley. Still, she is riding in a quality machine, and still learning on the job. Fantasy owners need to steer clear until she can routinely finish in the Top 20 or better.
Being on the pole is good…and bad lately: The race winner at Bristol has started from the pole 2 times in 104 Spring Cup Series races, the most productive starting position. However, the last pole sitter to win at Bristol was Carl Edwards back in the night race of 2008, so it has been a while. Kyle Busch nearly did it Sunday, as he started on the pole and managed a runner-up finish.
You better qualify well: In 104 Cup races at Bristol, the winner has come from a Top 10 starting position 83 times, and 53 times the race has come from a starter on either Row One or Row Two. Elliott Sadler did the unthinkable back in 2001, making his way back from the 38th starting position to take checkers, which is the Bristol record for deepest in the field to ever win.
Speed freaks: Kyle Busch won the pole with a speed of 129.535 mph, which was a new track record at Bristol. Fred Lorenzen won the inaugural pole with a speed of 79.225 mph back in the summer of 1961.
Looking ahead to next week
The Sprint Cup Series goes all the way back across country to Fontana, Calif. for the Auto Club 400 next Sunday.
If you’re looking for a winner, the answer should be rather obvious. Jimmie Johnson has made 18 career starts in Fontana, winning five times, posting 12 Top 5s and 14 Top 10s for an average-finish position of 5.39. He had led 851 laps at the California run, which is also tops among all active drivers. He has never had a DNF, and the worst he has ever done is a 16th-place finish. He is simply Fantasy gold at Auto Club, so take note.
Roush-Fenway Racing’s Carl Edwards doesn’t have the win history at Auto Club, as he has managed just one career victory there, but he has seven Top 5s, 12 Top 10s and 13 Top 20s in 15 career starts, posting an average finish of 8.73. Only he and Johnson have average-finish positions of 10th or better. Among the other multiple winners at California are Matt Kenseth (three wins, 10.25 AFP), Jeff Gordon (three wins, 11.83 AFP) and Tony Stewart (two wins, 13.48 AFP).
On the other side of the fence are those who have been Fantasy disappointments over the years at Fontana. Keselowski has made just four career starts at Auto Club, so the sample size isn’t great. However, he has just one Top 20, an 18th place finish last March, while posting an average-finish position of 22.75. Paul Menard posted a Top 10 at Bristol, and made his way into the Top 12 spots in the overall Sprint Cup Series standings. But in 10 career starts at California, he hasn’t fired on all cylinders. He has no Top 5s or Top 10s at Auto Club, while posting a dismal 24.7 average-finish position.
If you’re looking for a sleeper, Mark Martin will be back behind the wheel of the No. 55 this weekend after Brian Vickers drove at Bristol. Martin has one win in 21 career California starts, while posting six Top 5s, 10 Top 10s and an average-finish position of 13.57. He could come on the cheap in salary-cap challenges.