Here's a look at the winners and losers from the recently completed NASCAR weekend at Bristol Motor Speedway:
Danica Patrick was clear about her goals heading into Bristol: Complete as many laps as possible and avoid trouble. Few, however, thought this would be possible, as Patrick not only struggled (and that's being kind) in three previous Cup starts, but was woefully off the pace in practice.
Yet to the surprise of many, as the laps clicked by Saturday night, there was the No. 10 machine still on the track with Patrick doing exactly what she said she wanted to do. And as crashes continued to take their toll on the field, Patrick was shockingly in the top 20 and on the lead lap with less than 100 laps to go. Although contact with Regan Smith ended her race prematurely, the night still had to be considered a success for Patrick. For the first time in Sprint Cup, she provided a glimmer of hope she is slowly figuring this NASCAR stuff out.
The opportunities have been limited this season for Brian Vickers, but when they've been there, he has undoubtedly made the most of them. The most recent example came this past weekend when Vickers battled for the lead in the closing laps and left with a fourth-place result. This was the third time in six starts that Vickers has finished in the top five.
To put it into perspective, this is as many top-five finishes as Kevin Harvick and one more than Carl Edwards. And yet, Vickers has done all this in 18 fewer races.
Everyone Who Watched The Irwin Tools Night Race
Why all the excitement Saturday? Maybe it was the redesigned track which narrowed the racing surface? Or maybe it was frustrated drivers finally letting their emotions get the best of them? Then again, it might have something to do with the fact that Bristol was due for a thrilling race after a string of less-than-memorable events?
The more likely answer is a combination of all three, which together produced the most wildly entertaining race from start-to-finish since Homestead last year. This was a race that had a little of everything and then some: Tony Stewart throwing his helmet, Danica Patrick waging her finger, a lot of hard racing, even harder crashes and plenty of passing.
Juan Pablo Montoya
With wins in IndyCars, sports cars, Formula One and NASCAR, there is no denying that Juan Pablo Montoya is a world-class talent. But that talent is often masked by him repeatedly being the cause of accidents which take out his fellow competitors. The latest example came this past weekend when Montoya spun out Ryan Newman in an incident that also collected Jeff Burton.
It is one thing when your overdriving hurts only you, but when it continually affects those around you, something needs to be done. And that something needs to come from car owner Chip Ganassi, who needs to tell the former Indy 500 winner to tone down on his bullying and focus on being the driver he's capable of being. Otherwise, at some point Montoya's bullseye on his hood will become just that – a target. And if that were to happen, the big loser will be Montoya and only Montoya.
Drivers are paid to drive the cars and crew chiefs are paid to dictate strategy. However, with his season on the line, Carl Edwards decided to handle both roles and overruled his crew chief calling him to pit road to get fuel. Predictably, the results were disastrous as the No. 99 Ford ran out of fuel with five laps to go and had to make a green flag stop and finishes 22nd.
Compounding the error in judgment is that Edwards wasn't looking at the bigger picture. Because Tony Stewart had crashed out, this meant a conservative approach was the better tactic. But instead of dramatically narrowing the gap, the point's deficit stayed essentially the same and Edwards will continue to be in scramble mode the next two weeks.
After the carnage of Saturday, where Tony Stewart, Ryan Newman and Danica Patrick all suffered severe damage, if you're an out-of-work fab guy, it might be a good idea to knock on the door of Stewart-Haas Racing this week.