In one of the closest races to the Chase, here is what was surprising and not surprising from the 54th running of the Advocare 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
Surprising: While many drivers felt that the Atlanta race would be critical, Kyle Busch surprisingly found his race win to be positively pivotal after clinching a spot in the coveted Chase.
“Well, it started a little ugly,” the driver of the No. 18 M&Ms Toyota said. “I was a little ill on the radio, I’m sure, but I can’t say enough about Dave Rogers (crew chief) right here and the team that he’s assembled around us.”
“I think if you can pin a championship night on one race, I think tonight was the night,” Busch continued. “We certainly had a lot to do and a lot to overcome, and I think that Dave and these guys stuck with me.”
“For as bad as I may have been talking, they certainly never gave up,” Busch said. “The Lord was with us and blessed us today with a great night.”
This was Busch’s 38th win in 318 Cup Series races, his fourth victory of the season and his second checkered flag at Atlanta. This was also the 250th win for Toyota and the 100th win for Kyle Busch in a Toyota across the three national series.
Not Surprising: There were two very disappointed drivers following closely on the heels of race winner Kyle Busch.
And although they disagreed on a few issues post-race, they did agree on two things, that they were disappointed with the finish and that they had to overcome adversity, one with a pit road problem and the other related to his fractured wrist.
“We’re both mad because we didn’t win,” Truex Jr. said after finishing third in his No. 56 NAPA Auto Parts Toyota said.
“Yeah, we both agree that sucks,” Logano, who finished second behind the wheel of the No. 22 Shell Pennzoil Ford, said.
“We overcame a loose wheel early in the race and cycled ourselves back to the lead after all of that,” Logano said. “I just needed 30 laps of green flag to get all the way up there to the front.”
“The cast just inside my hand here got all soft,” Truex Jr. said after the race. “I think maybe it’s just gotten wet from sweat or something and softened up, so we’ll have to look into that.”
Surprising: There were some angry drivers after the race at Atlanta, which surprisingly occurred at this mile and a half track instead of a short track.
Denny Hamlin was one angry bird, from altercations with other drivers to anger at NASCAR. Four-time champ Jeff Gordon and Carl Edwards were also at odds with one another after some hard racing and contact.
“Our night was ruined because of a penalty putting us two laps down that we couldn’t overcome,” Hamlin, who finished 38th in his No. 11 SportClips Toyota, said. “We got wrecked by the No. 27 (Paul Menard), blew the tire, blew the fender off and blew another engine.”
Hamlin was also angry with his teammate Kyle Busch, at one point hollering over his radio ““Tell Kyle if he would f****** let me go, he’d learn how to drive this track and not be an idiot.”
“We’re just getting kicked in the nuts every weekend by something and I just can’t catch a break,” Hamlin said after the race.
Jeff Gordon and Carl Edwards also had their angry moments, both during and after the race.
“He just slide-jobbed me and I thought it was really out of character for him and I didn’t understand what was going on there,” Edwards said, after finishing 18th in his No. 99 Subway Ford. “I did everything I could not to wreck us both.”
“I’ve never seen him drive me like that,” Gordon, driver of the No. 24 Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet said of his battle with Edwards. “It was pretty wild.”
“He didn’t like that I slid him early in the race,” Gordon, who finished sixth to keep his Chase hopes alive, continued. “We went into (Turn) 1 and he took my line away to keep me behind him and I was a lot better than him and I just dove inside.”
“I came up a little bit too short on him,” Gordon said. “And that was my fault.”
“But he decided he was going to give me back, I guess, and he did all night,” Gordon continued. “I tried to have a regular conversation and that didn’t seem to be possible with him.”
“We don’t agree on what happened and finally he got frustrated enough with the conversation that he just walked away,” Edwards said of Gordon. “That might have been smart.”
Not Surprising: Even though he has signed with another race team for 2014, Kurt Busch not surprisingly continues to impress. The driver of the No. 78 Furniture Row Beautyrest Chevrolet motored from tenth to second on one of the restarts, and went on to finish the race in fourth, climbing into the tenth spot in the Chase standings.
“I noticed the 78 and I was like okay, they’re having a decent day,” Kyle Busch said of brother Kurt. “Then he was in my mirror and I’m like did everybody wreck?”
“The kid was wheeling it, I guess,” Kyle Busch continued. “That was pretty impressive.”
Brother Kurt Busch agreed, saying simply, “I can’t tell you what I did right, but it all went right.”
Surprising: For the third week in a row, five-time champion Jimmie Johnson struggled and at one point during the race had even lost the points lead.
Johnson was involved in the first true caution, following the competition yellow, when the field stacked up on a restart, collecting teammate Kasey Kahne, Jeff Burton and Mark Martin in addition to himself.
The driver of the No. 48 Lowes Dover White Chevrolet next hit the tire carcass from the Paul Menard vehicle, sustaining further damage, and went on later in the race to spin out.
Although Johnson finished 28th, he still managed to hold serve over Clint Bowyer in the point standings by 28, ironically the same number of points as his finishing order.
Not Surprising: Clint Bowyer, behind the wheel of the No. 15 RKMotorsCharlotte.com Toyota for Michael Waltrip Racing not surprisingly decided that he would just go have an adult beverage after his experimental engine expired, resulting in a 39th place finish.
“Well, it certainly sucks,” Bowyer said. “That was a super big bummer right there.”
“I wanted to go for the win,” Bowyer continued. “It was ours to lose and we found a way to lose.”
“I’m going to go have a beer.”
Surprising: Kevin Harvick, was surprisingly conflicted, happy with securing his role in the Chase, but not so happy with his race car.
“Obviously we’re happy to be in the Chase, but our day wasn’t very good,” the driver of the No. 29 Jimmy John’s Chevrolet said. “Our car was just terribly tight all night long and drove nothing like it did in practice.”
We’ll work on that.”
Not Surprising: Although Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished eighth, he was most grateful to leave Atlanta in one piece and in good Chase contention, hanging tough in the seventh spot in the point standings.
““I was real thankful the car was as good as it was,” the driver of the No. 88 National Guard/Race2Achieve.org Chevrolet said. “We have struggled here and not ran great here the last several trips.”
“All in all I’m real pleased with the way the car performed and the job the guys did.”
Surprising: After finding out this week that he would no longer be driving for Earnhardt Ganassi Racing in NASCAR, being replaced by young up and coming driver Kyle Larson, Juan Pablo Montoya has surprisingly been reacting like a weight has been lifted off his shoulders.
Montoya’s performance has also picked up since then as well, demonstrated by his seventh place finish at Atlanta in his No. 42 Target Chevrolet.
“It was a good night,” Montoya said. “The guys made great changes and the car was good at the end.”
“Happy that we were able to bring home another top-10 finish for Target tonight.”
Not Surprising: So often, the outcome of any race is outside the control of the man or woman behind the wheel. So, not surprisingly after engine troubles, reigning champ Brad Keselowski felt out of control, especially regarding his chances to make the Chase.
“Some things you can’t control and this was one of those days,” Keselowski said after finishing 35th in his Blue Deuce. “It just broke.”
“There’s only so much you can control,” Keselowski continued glumly. “Maybe this was control, and maybe it wasn’t.”
“I don’t know until the guys take (the engine) apart and look at it.”