After dealing with inclement weather, qualifying cancellation due to rain, weepers on the track and a new aero package, here is what else was surprising and not surprising from the Quaker State 400 Presented by Advance Auto Parts at Kentucky Speedway.
Surprising: The Chase season has not even officially started, yet one driver has already secured his spot, at least mathematically.
Last year’s champ Kevin Harvick has clinched his place in the Chase to pursue a back to backer after his eighth-place finish at Kentucky.
“I’m really proud of everyone on our Budweiser/Jimmy John’s team for the work they did this weekend getting ready for this new package,” Harvick said after scoring his third top-10 in five career Sprint Cup starts at Kentucky and his 16th top-10 this season.
“We were definitely sliding around more often on restarts, but as you got going the cars just kind of got spread out and I thought the gaps were a little bit bigger. Definitely a lot of information to take away from this and looking forward to Indy in a couple of weeks to see what we take away from there.”
And with his multiple wins, all the driver of the No. 4 Budweiser/Jimmy John’s Chevrolet has to do is start the remainder of the races to ensure that he will compete once again for the Cup.
Not Surprising: Although many drivers are still focusing on getting that elusive win to qualify for the Chase for NASCAR’s championship, at least one driver is points racing to the max, pedaling as hard as he possibly can to earn his chance at the prize.
“That right there is what we have to do,” Kyle Busch said about points racing from Victory Lane, winning his second race of the season after being out due to significant injuries to his leg and foot sustained early in the race year. “Just to score as many points as we possibly can and score those wins, that’s what’s going to get us where we need to be.
“We led the most laps and we won the race so that’s all you can score. We’ll just continue to push on and drive and try to strive through our deficit and get ourselves in position to be in the top-30.”
With the two wins, Busch just has to continue to inch his way forward in the point standings, as he did after this race, moving two spots to where he currently sits in the 35th position.
Surprising: In spite of men down in the pits, with both Brad Keselowski and Jeff Gordon having contact with pit crew members during difficult stops, the teams and drivers impacted manned up to score top-10 finishes for Team Penske and Hendrick Motorsports respectively.
“Yeah, he was about to be road kill for a second,” Keselowski, who rebounded to finish sixth in his No. 2 Miller Lite Ford after nearly running over his tire carrier, said after the race. “I’m glad he wasn’t.”
“As usual in Kentucky it is never easy,” Gordon said after finishing seventh in his No. 24 AARP Member Advantages Chevrolet. “The team did a really good job. We had to fight through a few handling issues and some restarts and pit road and a bunch of things, but there at the end everything kind of came together.
“We got the car working really well, got a couple of good restarts and a good pit stop. It was a solid evening. It wasn’t a winning evening, but I’m still real proud of the effort.”
Not Surprising: At race end, it almost seemed like Avis should have been sponsoring the No. 22 Shell Pennzoil Ford of Joey Logano, who scored a number two finishing spot.
“We tried,” Logano said. “We cleared the 11 on the restart, which got us clean air and I thought we were in good shape. And then as tires started wearing the 18 was really good on the long run and he figured out the top before me.”
“That’s the advantage you have as the second-place guy is you can go up there and play around more. I was just trying to keep the gap, so I didn’t want to take the penalty of losing three or four laps trying to figure out the top and he would have been closer, but he figured it out before me and got around me.”
“We raced the heck out of each other, I tried hard, but I figured it out too late. Second always hurts.”
Surprising: Trevor Bayne seems to be on a roll after a dismal start to the season, finishing 13th in his No. 7 AdvoCare Ford at Kentucky, after a top-ten finish the week before at Daytona.
“We had a better car than 13th, believe it or not, and we just got beat with some pit strategy there a couple of times,” Bayne said. “A couple got by us with tires and the 41 had four tires, the 48, 24 – we ran that whole last bit on two tires for a long time, so I was glad we could hang on to what we did.”
“It’s just fun to be able to race and make changes on our car and go for it. We ran in the top 10 most of the night. We’re making gains and we’ve got to keep rolling with it.”
“Yeah, it’s going the right way. It wasn’t just a fluke to finish in the top 10 just once. We’re proving that we can be there every week and that’s what we have to do.”
Bayne also is on a roll off the track, announcing to the world via Twitter that he and his wife are expecting a girl, #elliekatebayne.
Not Surprising: Carl Edwards had the most entertaining words to share on his in-car radio, saying that his Minions, who were on his car to promote the new Minion movie debut, were ‘no match’ for those M&Ms, referring to race winner Kyle Busch’s car sponsor.
Edwards finished fourth in his Joe Gibbs Racing No. 19 Minion Toyota.
“Just an awesome race – I can’t thank Comcast XFINITY enough for having the Minions on board along with ARRIS, Stanley, Toyota, TRD (Toyota Racing Development), Subway,” Edwards said. “It was an awesome show. Just an awesome, fun day and I’m glad Kyle (Busch) got the win.”
Surprising: In spite of the dust-up with Danica Patrick due to brake issues and the bumps and colorful words that followed, Dale Earnhardt Jr. put it all in surprising perspective, paying tribute to his No. 88 Nationwide team via Twitter after the race.
“Thanks for all the @nationwide88 guys working hard to try and fix our brake issues. Working on 1000 degree parts takes a lot of courage.”
Earnhardt Jr. finished 21st, while Patrick finished an even more disappointing 34th. Both drivers dropped two spots in the point standings, with Jr. falling to fourth and Danica falling to 22nd.
Not Surprising: Denny Hamlin might just be the poster boy for the new rules package, rebounding to finish third in his Joe Gibbs Racing No. 11 FedEx Office Toyota.
“What a fun race,” Hamlin said enthusiastically after the race. “For us to be able to come back from two laps down and really pass a ton of cars, that’s just encouraging to me that we’ve finally got something that we can really work on and pass guys when your balance is better.”
Surprising: For Martin Truex Jr., the glass was half full and then half empty, running in the top five to top-ten for the first half of his race, but then falling off after damage to the car for a 17th place finish.
“We had too many issues to overcome in the second half of the race,” Truex said. “We had problems with handling — the car kept on plowing through the corners, especially after taking a few hits to the right front. I gave it all I had, but when the car is aerodynamically handicapped it’s difficult to make anything happen.”
“The good news is that we ran up front for plenty of laps and the bad news is that we didn’t stay up front. If we ran the entire race where we finished I would be much more disappointed. But for at least half the race we were up front.”
Not Surprising: At a track that is grueling, bumpy and with drivers having limited practice time, it was no surprise that the rookies did not fare well. Brett Moffitt was the highest finishing rookie in the 32nd spot, with Alex Kennedy, Jeb Burton and Matt DiBenedetto finishing 40th, 41st and 42nd respectively.
NASCAR next heads to the northeast for the New Hampshire 301 on Sunday, July 19 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon.