In a week where those impacted by the Boston Marathon bombing were remembered, here is what was surprising and not surprising as NASCAR’s elite visited Kansas Motor Speedway for the 3rd annual STP 400.
Surprising: The heartland of Kansas witnessed a driver rebirth of sorts with Matt Kenseth following his own yellow brick road to Victory Lane. And the man behind the wheel of the No. 20 Home Depot/Husky Tools Toyota proclaimed that for him this win was a “dream come true.”
“You don’t know if or when you’ll ever win again,” Kenseth said. “I’m so thankful to have another win.”
“This is a dream come true to drive this stuff.”
Surprisingly, Kenseth, unlike his other Joe Gibbs Racing teammates, dominated the race, starting from the pole and leading the most laps, 163 to be exact.
Even more surprising, however, was that Kenseth’s dream run came crashing down after a severe penalty was levied on the No. 20 car and team due to having a connecting rod in the engine failing to meet the minimum weight.
Kenseth’s crew chief Jason Ratcliff was fined $200,000 and suspended for six races, JGR lost 50 owner points and Kenseth lost 50 driver points.
JGR will of course appeal.
Not Surprising: The Kansas curse continued for Kyle Busch, who spun in the early laps and then crashed so hard with Joey Logano that he had to drive his car to the garage backwards before abandoning it to the scrap heap.
“Absolutely no grip for me,” Busch said. “Spun twice on our own.”
“Just don’t know what to do with Kansas.”
Surprising: Jeff Gordon started dead last in the 43rd position, his worst starting position ever in his career. Yet surprisingly and in spite of having to take the wave around after being trapped in the pits under caution, Gordon was able to battle back for a 13th place finish.
“We weren’t the best car, but we made some great improvements throughout the weekend,” the driver of the No. 24 Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet, said. “We were able to make our way up through there.”
“All in all I thought it was a great effort.”
Not Surprising: With a team that not only has Boston roots, but one that has also faced a week of difficulties and penalties, it was not a surprise that Brad Keselowski had to dig deep for the Kansas race.
The driver of the Blue Deuce also had to overcome a great deal of adversity on the track, from early damage to getting lapped. Yet, he persevered to attain a top ten finish, scoring a sixth place in a most eventful race and week.
“We got ‘Boston Strong’ on the back of this car and that was a good inspiration for this weekend,” Keselowski said. “That was a gritty effort by the 2 team.”
“A day where you can fight through adversity like we did today and get a solid finish, that kind of is a win.”
Surprising: Kasey Kahne surprisingly had his head in the clouds, or at least was wishing for a cloud to come out to assist him in getting around Kenseth at the end of the race. The driver of the No. 5 Farmers Insurance 85th Anniversary Chevrolet finished a close second.
”We tightened up a little bit on that final run,” Kahne said. “I just did everything I could.”
“I needed clouds.”
Not Surprising: While this driver may have been disappointed with his continuing runner up finishes, Martin Truex Jr. was well pleased with his fourth place finish at Kansas.
“Got a lot of questions last week about being second and how I seemed so disappointed and all that,” the driver of the No. 56 NAPA Auto Parts Toyota, said. “This is the complete opposite.”
“All in all, I’m very happy with fourth place.”
Surprising: Two drivers who returned to Cup competition, Sam Hornish Jr. and Elliott Sadler, had surprisingly bad days at the race track, finishing 37th and 40th respectively.
Hornish Jr. hit Marcos Ambrose so hard during his wreck that he bit the inside of his lip and broke the tach off with his knee.
“I couldn’t see anything,” Hornish Jr. said. “I just wish we could have done a little better.”
Sadler, behind the wheel of the No. 81 ALERT Energy Gum Toyota, got loose into turn three and never recovered.
“The car was kind of darting around on me too quick,” Sadler said. “Just ended a lot shorter than I wanted to.”
Not Surprising: While those returning to Cup competition did not fare well, old five time continued his not surprising top-five finishing ways. Jimmie Johnson, driver of the No. 48 Lowes/Kobalt Tools Chevrolet, finished fourth and maintained his top dog spot in the point standings.
“Everybody worked real hard to get the car right and we had a great race car,” Johnson said. “At times I felt like I had a shot to win but we just didn’t have enough for Matt and Kasey.”
“A very solid performance for our Kobalt Tools Chevrolet.”
Surprising: Danica Patrick endured trash on the track, as well as some trash talking after the race. Patrick’s race was spoiled by some litter that stuck to her grille, causing her water temps to rise and necessitating an unexpected trip to the pits.
“We had a tire rub at one point and issues with the splitter from some contact we made,” the driver of the No. 10 GoDaddy.com Chevrolet, said. “The trash on the grille was what really hurt us today.”
But the trash talking after the race was even more interesting after the rookie complained about competitor David Gilliland racing her inappropriately.
“He tries to take me out every time,” Patrick complained of Gilliland. “I’m coming after him if he does it again.”
Gilliland in return issued this statement aimed at Patrick through his PR rep, “Shut up and race.”
Not Surprising: One Kansas boy, Clint Bowyer, who hails from Emporia, finished nicely in the fifth position at his home track.
“We needed a turnaround after last week,” Bowyer said. “Certainly you want to win it at home but a good top-five finish is a great way to get things bounced back with our 5-hour Energy Toyota.”
Surprising: There were some surprising names amongst the top-ten finishers in the STP 400, including Jamie McMurray in seventh, Aric Almirola in eighth, and Paul Menard in tenth.
“I honestly thought we had one of the better cars,” McMurray said. “Good job by our team.”
“It was a good day for us,” Almirola said. “That’s two top-10s two weeks in a row and I’m proud of that.”
“We’ve got some of the best pits stops in the business,” Menard said. “We always end pretty good.”
Not Surprising: In spite of getting trapped in the pits during a caution, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. is still trying to maintain a positive attitude as he faced yet another week of not quite getting the finish he wanted or expected. The driver of the No. 88 National Guard Chevrolet finished 15th.
“We were a lap down and hard to take the wave around,” Junior said. “That put us to the back behind a whole bunch of lead-lap cars and there was no time left.”
“It’ll come around,” Earnhardt, Jr. continued. “We’ve just got to keep working and stay positive.”