With a surprising Sunday afternoon race thanks to Mother Nature on Saturday night, here is what else was surprising and not surprising from the 3rd Annual Quaker State 400 presented by Advance Auto Parts at Kentucky Speedway.
Surprising: Although five-time champion Jimmie Johnson ended up with a top-ten finish, the driver of the No. 48 Lowe’s Dover White Chevrolet made two surprisingly uncharacteristic mistakes.
First, Johnson, in a pit road fake out, pulled back on track well in front of the pace car. Although no penalty was issued, this mistake garnered a warning from Race Director David Hoots, who advised Johnson to cease the shenanigans.
The second mistake came on what has become Johnson’s Achilles heel, a late race restart. After jumping the start and being penalized at the Dover race, Johnson has seemingly been spooked by restarts, this time blaming none other than the race winner for the Kentucky restart miscue.
“The No. 20 broke the pace car speed, which you aren’t supposed to do,” Johnson said. “I don’t know, we were kind of in an awkward situation in that restart.”
“And then we were like three and four-wide going in the corner, something happened with the air and it just kind of turned me around,” Johnson continued. “Unfortunate, but at least we rallied back for a good finish.”
Not Surprising: With the combination of the race delay to Sunday under the sun and the bumpiness of the track, it was not surprising that a gutsy call from the pit box to stay out on old tires would be the one to win the race. And although it turned out to be a brilliant call, victorious driver Matt Kenseth had his doubts at the time.
“I didn’t roll the dice, Jason (Ratcliff) did,” Kenseth said. “I thought he was slightly crazy when that happened.”
“It’s just been an unbelievable season and year of my life honestly,” the driver of the No. 20 Dollar General Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing, said. “I didn’t think there was any way that we were going to hold on for that win.”
“Jason made the right call at the right time and those guys got it done.”
This was Kenseth’s fourth victory in 2013 and his highest win total since 2006. It was his first victory in three races at Kentucky Speedway.
Surprising: Although under sunshine instead of a full moon, there were still some surprisingly strange incidents in the race which unfortunately impacted other drivers who were innocent victims not of their own doing.
One of the most impacted was Dale Earnhardt, Jr., who after turning in a pole winning qualifying lap, was hit by an errant tire carcass from the Denny Hamlin machine. He did, however, manage to salvage a decent finish in the twelfth spot.
“Can’t do anything about what happened out on the race track with that casing,” the driver of the No. 88 National Guard Youth Foundation Chevrolet said. “You just fix it and keep going.”
“They guys did a good job on pit road all day long working on it and trying to fix everything,” Junior continued. “We did well enough to get a decent finish out of it.”
The other two drivers impacted through no fault of their own were Brad Keselowski and Greg Biffle. Both drivers were collected in a hard crash caused by Kurt Busch, who admitted that he ill-advisedly used the apron to try to pass.
“Wrecks happen,” Keselowski, the driver of the Blue Deuce, said. “There is no reason to drive like an animal but apparently I am the only one that got that memo.”
“I don’t know what happened,” Biffle said. “I’m sure someone got aggressive or made a mistake or did something to cause that.”
The issues were costly to both drivers, with Keselowski losing four positions in the point standings, falling to 13th, and Biffle losing three positions to the ninth spot.
Not Surprising: With the resurgence of Earnhardt Ganassi Racing continuing, it was not surprising that Jamie McMurray had a pretty good run at Kentucky. In fact, the driver of the No. 1 Hellmann’s Chevrolet scored the runner up position when the checkered flag flew.
“Yes, it was a really good day for us,” McMurray said. “We’ve had really quick cars for the last two months but had really unfortunate luck.”
“So, it’s cool to have a really good run.”
This was McMurray’s first top-ten finish in three races at Kentucky and his fourth top-ten finish in 2013.
Surprising: Denny Hamlin had a surprisingly bad day at Kentucky, hitting the wall after his tire blew. While Hamlin has been struggling with back issues, this time he surprisingly had his bell rung instead and was held in the infield care center to evaluate if he had had a concussion.
Hamlin’s heavy hit was also costly, with a 35th place finish, leaving him in the 25th position in the point standings, well out of current Chase contention.
“Definitely have to proceed on,” Hamlin said. “Hopefully, at least something to build off of even though we didn’t have a good finish.”
Not Surprising: Clint Bowyer continued to impress, scoring his sixth top-five finish for the season. The driver of the No. 15 Camry 30th Anniversary Toyota took the checkered flag in third at Kentucky, getting ever so close to that first win of the season.
“Good day for us,” Bowyer said. “Obviously when you get that close at the end you can smell a chance at the win – just not our day yet.”
Surprising: In spite of getting trapped on pit road when a caution flew yet again, four-time champion Jeff Gordon managed to overcome and salvage a top-ten finish at the end of the day.
“We had an awesome fast Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet, that is for sure,” Gordon said. “I think we passed more cars than anybody.”
“These pit stops just aren’t going our way,” Gordon continued. “You just have to keep working hard at it and hope they fall your way eventually.”
Not Surprising: Just as Dale Earnhardt Jr. got lucky in qualifying by catching a cloud, Kyle Busch was searching all race day for the same. Busch rebounded from an early race spin to finish in the fifth position in his No. 18 Doublemint Toyota Camry.
“Anytime I got cloud cover, I could pick up three-tenths of a second,” Busch said. “It was a stupid amount of time I could pick up and then I go down into the next corner and the sun is back and then you’re wrecking loose.”
“We persevered and came home fifth,” Busch continued. “We can take that effort and go into next week.”
Surprising: The end of one driver’s record was the beginning of another driver’s redemption. Bobby Labonte’s streak of 704 consecutive starts came to an end at Kentucky Speedway and the Quaker State 400 marked the first race since 1978 in which there was no driver named Labonte.
While Bobby Labonte sat on the sidelines, the replacement driver in the No. 47 Scott Products Toyota, AJ Allmendinger, had his own comeback moment at Kentucky. The ‘Dinger, who had tested positive for substance abuse one year ago at Kentucky came back and finished 22nd for JTG-Daugherty Racing.
Not Surprising: At a track where he has won three straight Nationwide Series races, all coming from the pole, it was not surprising to see Joey Logano have a top-five finish at Kentucky Speedway. And this young driver, behind the wheel of the No. 22 Shell Pennzoil Ford was wishing for just one more caution in which he was convinced he could have gotten to Victory Lane.
“I felt like we were good enough to win for a little bit,” Logano said. “We were sitting pretty in fourth when the caution came out and that usually puts you second or third.”
“I was hoping for one more caution because I thought I would be in the cat-bird seat if that happened.”
Surprising: After winning at Sonoma and predicting his winning ways would continue, Martin Truex Jr. took an ill-handling car and managed a surprisingly good top ten finish.
“We dodged a lot of bullets,” the driver of the No. 56 NAPA Auto Parts Toyota said. “We didn’t have a very good car.”
“We just never could get the car in the race track and I feel lucky to finish where we did,” Truex Jr. continued. “These are the kind of days that we need when we don’t have a good car – to persevere, fight through it and get a top-ten.”
Not Surprising: After running so well this season and being second in the point standings to none other than five-time champ Jimmie Johnson, it was no wonder that Carl Edwards was confused after finishing 21st in the race at Kentucky.
“Man, I don’t understand what happened,” the driver of the No. 99 UPS Ford Fusion said. “We were terrible at the end.”
“I just couldn’t make anything happen,” Edwards continued. “We’re going to have to try to figure that out.”
“We were feeling really good and having a good time out there for a while but it turned out terribly,” Edwards continued. “I guess that is the way it goes.”