Bristol produces best race of the year
Bristol Motor Speedway has long held the nickname of being the "World's Fastest Half-Mile" but after Sunday's Food City 500, it might be time to bestow the track with a new moniker: Cure-all.
NASCAR has an issue with lackluster racing where drivers are having a hard time passing? That's nothing that 500 laps at Bristol won't cure.
There is trepidation among fans about the Gen-6 and whether it will come close to meeting expectations? Problem solved after an exciting race with plenty of beating-and-banging.
And what of the idea that in the wake of NASCAR fining Denny Hamlin that drivers would be reluctant to express their feelings publicly? Well, that didn't seem to hold Joey Logano back as he confronted Hamlin post-race that resulted in a shoving match.
Sunday's race was easily the best of the young season and the battle for the lead between Kasey Kahne and Brad Keselowski in the latter stages was textbook short track racing with the two swapping the lead multiple times.
The decision of Bristol officials to reconfigure the track after last year's spring race looks all the wiser now, as the new surface allowed drivers to run both the bottom and top grooves. A common occurrence Sunday was for a driver to power underneath a competitor into the turn and then slide in front of them coming off the corner.
It was classic Bristol.
So much so that it was almost cliché that tempers would flare afterward in the garage -- and later on Twitter.
That the participants were Hamlin and Logano came as little surprise, though, when you consider the two exchanged barbs on Twitter following Daytona and that there seems to be some bad blood boiling over from their time together as teammates at Joe Gibbs Racing.
"That's a freaking genius behind the wheel of the 11 car -- probably the worst teammate I ever had, so I learned that now," Logano said. "He decided to run in the back of me, so, whatever. I have a scorecard and I'm not putting up with that."
For Hamlin it has become a common theme this season for him to become embroiled in controversy.
Although the 2013 season is just four races old, his year is quickly becoming remembered for what could have been rather than what it actually is. In all four races, Hamlin's Toyota has had the speed to win, yet he has just one finish better than 14th -- a third-place result at Phoenix.
If there was a downside Sunday, it was that for the second year in a row, the number of empty seats in the grandstands was conspicuous.
In any case, for those who were there or watched on television, Bristol was a welcome respite in a year that has revolved on what hasn't happened rather than what has.
Strong start signals big things ahead for Kahne
Kasey Kahne's career as of late of has been marked by instability. From 2007-12 there was always some sort of dramatic change for him over the offseason, whether it was a new owner, a new team or a different manufacturer.
This is why him joining Hendrick Motorsports last season was a welcome change; if there is an organization a model of stability it is Hendrick.
However, Kahne's initial start at Hendrick was anything but smooth. In fact, it was borderline dreadful. His best result in his first six races with his new team was 14th and his average finish was 28.5.
The thinking then was that perhaps the expectations were too much?
Remarkably, Kahne was able to pull out of the tailspin and recovered nicely by winning twice, qualifying for the Chase and finishing a career-best fourth in the championship standings.
This laid the foundation for what was supposed to be even bigger and better things to come in 2013. But an early crash at Daytona and a pedestrian day at Phoenix gave this season a similar look to the early part of last year.
"Yeah, it actually seemed really similar to the start of last year, those first two (races)," Kahne said in the winner's press conference.
Yet, just as he did in 2012, Kahne righted himself.
First, by going out last week at Las Vegas and leading the most laps and finishing a close second to Matt Kenseth, and this week by using a late-race restart to his advantage to drive away with the victory.
And that he was finally able to win at Bristol made the triumph all the sweeter.
"This is a big race for me," Kahne said. "I just feel like when you're racing in the Sprint Cup Series, Bristol's one of those tracks that as a driver you really feel like you need to win at, you want to win at.
"We've been trying a long time. So to pull it off, I felt like it was a big accomplishment for our guys and myself."
Tires were an issue, but not for the reasons you think
Ten cautions for 66 laps marred Sunday's race with at least half of them caused by tire failures that sent drivers careening into the wall. However, the rash of exploding tires had nothing to do with the quality of tire brought by Goodyear and more to do with other factors.
In the case of Tony Stewart, the first victim of the afternoon, his left-rear tire was cut moments after the green flag flew after contact with another car. The three-time champ then lost control of his Chevrolet on lap 9 and pounded the Turn 1 wall, breaking a brake line in the process.
From there most of the tires issues centered on problems with the right-front resulting from melted beads due to excessive break heat.
This was what happened to Jeff Gordon, whose tire let go while he was leading with a little over 100 laps remaining and sent him into the path of second-place Matt Kenseth. The heavy contact ended the day for both men.
"Right fronts never blow out when you are up against the wall," Gordon said. "I was up against the wall the entire run, and as soon as I went to go under a lapped car -- boom -- it popped down at the bottom of the race track and went all the way to the top, and we got the wall.
"Really hate that we collected Matt Kenseth in that."
For Gordon, it was a particularly painful blow, as it dropped him eight spots in the standings to 21st. He acknowledged afterward that he "needed points."
In what had to be a welcome change for Goodyear after a couple of weeks of questions whether the manufacturer was bringing the right compound tire to the track, there were no complaints rising from the garage.
For the most part, the consensus seemed to be that there was little culpability on Goodyear's part and the blame fell elsewhere.
"When your car is driving good, turning through the corner OK, you're using less brake, you're not overheating the right front tire," second-place finisher Kyle Busch said. "That's kind of what you see when you see guys having tire issues."