Surprising and Not Surprising: Kansas Hollywood Casino 400By Mary Jo Buchanan
Surprising: While many know his wicked sense of humor through social media, they now know just how much it means for him to stand in Victory Lane, not as a lame duck with a team he will leave at year end, but as the first time race winner on the newly repaved Kansas Speedway.
“It really means a lot,” Matt Kenseth, driver of the No. 17 Zest Ford for Roush Fenway Racing said in Victory Lane, his voice choked with emotion.” I really got to thank God for all the opportunities he’s put in front of me.”
Kenseth’s victory was not an easy one, having hit the outside wall hard and sustaining right side damage to the car. This was Kenseth’s first Kansas win, his third victory of the season, and his 24th career victory, moving him into a tie for 26th on the all-time Series win list.
“You never know when your next win is,” Kenseth said. “Especially as you get older, you appreciate it more.”
“I’m really thankful and humbled to be here honestly.”
Not Surprising: Whether the lucky horseshoe or shades of the ‘Six Million Dollar Man’, Chad Knaus and team 48 proved they could rebuild the battered back end of Jimmie Johnson’s wrecked race car, making it better, stronger and faster.
In fact, Johnson was so much better, stronger, and faster that after the on pit road rebuild, he rallied back to finish ninth in his Lowe’s Chevrolet. And with that comeback, Johnson, not surprisingly, also had a message to share with his fellow Chase competitors.
“I’m just now getting a chance to look at the damage on the car and it was pretty severe,” Johnson said after the race. “I’m definitely proud of this team and the fact that we never give up.”
“It’s more mature racing here in 2012,” Johnson continued. “We showed what our team is capable of.”
“I hope the other guys are paying attention.”
Surprising: The championship point’s leader surprisingly continued to have survival on his mind, a theme that carried over from Talladega right into the race in the Midwest heartland.
Brad Keselowski, driver of the No. 2 Blue Deuce, managed to finish eighth, one spot ahead of Chaser Jimmie Johnson, over whom he maintains a seven point lead in the standings.
“I said when we finished Talladega that somebody should make ‘I Survived Talladega’ t-shirts,” Keselowski said. “Well, I didn’t know coming to Kansas it was going to be the same.”
“Just wrecks and accidents and blown tires; everything you can imagine happened,” Keselowski continued. “It seemed like every wreck happened in front of me.”
“I felt really lucky to survive it.”
Not Surprising: While Kansas broke many hearts on race day this past weekend, there was no one more heart broken than the driver of the No. 43 Farmland Ford Fusion. Aric Almirola qualified fifth and led over 60 laps of the race before blowing a tire and slamming into the wall so hard that it took his breath away.
“I have never in my entire life had a race car that good,” Almirola said. “It was just so fast and so easy to drive.”
“I hate that it ended like this but I have always been told you have to give a few away before you can win one,” Almirola continued. “We certainly gave one away today.”
Surprising: It was indeed a tale of two Kansas races, yet with a surprisingly similar result. Martin Truex Jr., in the No. 56 NAPA Auto Parts Toyota finished second for the second time at Kansas Speedway.
“Well, it’s a lot different mood after this one,” Truex said after the race. “After the first one I was disappointed. Today, I’m happy with my team and my race car.”
“We really had to battle for this one,” That’s a good run for us for sure.”
With his bridesmaid finish, Truex Jr. gained one position in the point standings to sixth, 43 points out of first.
Not Surprising: Unfortunately, Kansas was killing Clint Bowyer softly with its song, even though he finished sixth in his No. 15 5-Hour Energy Benefitting Avon Foundation Toyota for Michael Waltrip Racing.
“I think I started on the outside one time early in the race and just every time it just killed me,” Bowyer said. “I don’t know what the hell was going on behind us.”
“They kept wrecking,” Bowyer continued. “Restarts kind of killed us all day long.”
Surprising: There were a surprising number of temper tantrums, more typical of a short track like Martinsville than the mile and a half at Kansas. Tempers flared between Danica Patrick and Landon Cassill, as they did between Kyle Busch and Ryan Newman.
Patrick, in her No. 10 GoDaddy.com Chevrolet actually took herself out on lap 155 as a result of her on-track tiff with the driver of the No. 83 Burger King Toyota.
“I have just been really frustrated with the No. 83,” Patrick said. “It’s been pretty consistent with him getting into me.”
“So, at some point in time, I have to stand up for myself,” Patrick continued. “The bummer is I’m out of the race and he’s not.”
Patrick finished 32nd, while Cassill brought home his race car for a much better 18th place finish.
Kyle Busch, in the No. 18 M&M’s Halloween Toyota, finished 31st after a scuffle with the driver of the No. 39 Code 3 Associates Chevrolet. And this one might result in some payback as the 2012 season winds down.
“Everything is just on edge,” Busch said. “Newman just ran up on the back of me and got me loose.”
“So, just impatience,” Busch continued. “I’m glad he’s wrecked along with me and he’ll get another one here before the year is out.”
Not Surprising: With his crew chief back after suspension, it was not surprising for this driver to pull off a top five finish. In fact, Paul Menard, in the No. 27 Certainteed Insulation/Menards Chevrolet, finished third at Kansas.
“We had Slugger (Labbe, crew chief) back this weekend,” Menard said. “He is well rested after six weeks off and had some good ideas to try this weekend.”
“We had a good car,” Menard continued. “It was just a matter of getting us up there.”
Surprising: The ‘uh oh’ uttered by Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jeff Gordon surprisingly captured the moment late in the race for Kasey Kahne, driver of the No. 5 Farmers Insurance Chevrolet.
Kahne, who started out on the pole after shattering the track qualifying record, had a chance to win before he shut off his engine during a caution in an attempt to save fuel.
As a result, he lost several spots on the race track before getting his car back up to minimum speed, managing a fourth place finish instead of that oh-so-close victory.
“It just wouldn’t re-fire,” Kahne said after the race. “Disappointing.”
“It was coming to me at the end,” Kahne continued. “We just weren’t close enough at that point in time.”
Not Surprising: From telling his team to get their heads out of their ‘expletive’ to praising them effusively after the race, Tony Stewart did, in his own words, have ‘an eventful day.’
The driver of the No. 14 Office Depot/Mobil 1 Chevrolet started 33rd, had to overcome a pit stop where his crew left a wrench in the car, battled an incident with Jeff Burton and a spin to finish fifth.
This was Smoke’s sixth top-five in Sprint Cup starts at Kansas, pre and post repaving, having to pass 74 cars during the race to do so.
“We had some stuff to deal with, but our guys never gave up,” Stewart said. “We probably had to pass more cars than anybody today, but that seems to be our MO.”
“That’s how we won a championship last year, by never giving up.”
Surprising: While there was a surprising bit of a confusion on the part of team owner Rick Hendrick about the status of Dale Earnhardt Junior’s return to the race car (and he will return at Martinsville), substitute driver Regan Smith was feeling surprisingly right at home in the No. 88 National Guard/Diet Mountain Dew Chevrolet.
In fact, Smith felt so much at home that he finished top-ten, in the seventh position.
“It’s been nice to be able to step in and have them treat me like a normal driver,” Smith said. “I know Dale (Earnhardt, Jr.) is excited to get back so that is going to be good for him.”
“Looking forward to whatever comes next for me.”
Not Surprising: The other drivers in new seats struggled on the newly repaved Kansas track. Kurt Busch, in the No. 78 Furniture Row/Farm American Chevrolet, finished 25th and A.J. Allmendinger, in the No. 51 Phoenix Construction Chevrolet, finished even further back in 35th.
But not surprisingly, both drivers and teams looked on the bright side of life in spite of the wrecks and results.
“Kurt Busch showed all of us today what an impressive driver he is,” Todd Berrier, crew chief, said. “It was the performance that counted today, not the finishing result.”
“The car was fast and we were running well,” Allmendinger said. “Tried to save it and I feel bad.”
“I hope I’m in the car next week, but if not, it’s meant the world to get back to the sport,” Dinger continued. “I love the sport.”