In the ‘home game’ for NASCAR in the heart of race country, here is what was surprising and not surprising in the 54th annual Bank of America 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Surprising: Who knew that dragging a jack for a lap would result in a victory lap? That was the case for the driver of the Blue Deuce Brad Keselowski, who finally got his first win under his belt for the season. Keselowski also scored his first ever win in a Ford, as well as his first victory at Charlotte.
“I thought when we saw the jack under the car I said, ‘Here we go again, not a good night,’ but at the end of the day when it was time to go and we raced the best because it was Brad behind the wheel that made it,” Roger Penske, team owner of the No. 2 Miller Lite Ford, said. “It wasn’t a fuel economy run, it was him digging deep and bringing us to victory lane, so it was a great night for us.”
Not Surprising: If a crack in the armor exists for five-time champ Jimmie Johnson it would be restarts and the driver of the No. 48 Lowes Dover White Chevrolet had yet another challenge in that regard at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
As a result of a late race caution, Johnson yet again struggled on the final restart, resulting in a fourth place finish.
“Down in (turns) one and two, just in the dirty air I pushed the No. 5 off into (turn) one,” Johnson said. “He didn’t get the best restart and something to do with that combo got me off the bottom and a couple of cars got into the side of me.”
“If we could have come out of the pits second and start on the front row, it would have been a much different result for us,” Johnson continued. “But it didn’t happen.”
“Just lost track position which was unfortunate.”
As a result of this finish, Johnson sits just four points behind point’s leader Matt Kenseth.
Surprising: Speaking of the point’s leader, the third time surprisingly was a charm for championship contender Matt Kenseth.
“There is a feel that I always look for and when I don’t have it, I can’t go very fast,” the driver of the No. 20 Dollar General Toyota said. “Until the third adjustment, we just couldn’t get it.”
“Jason (Ratcliff, crew chief) found something that really woke it up and made the car happy and made me happy and we were able to start making some ground.”
Kenseth finished third, maintained his points lead, and posted his 15th top-10 finish in 29 races at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Not Surprising: Past gremlins rearing their ugly heads again cost both Kyle Busch and Dale Earnhardt Jr. their best finishes.
Busch, driving the No. 18 M&Ms Toyota, suffered loose lug nuts due to a pit road miscommunication and also a fuel pick up issue to finish fifth.
“We had the same thing in the third Chase race back in 2008,” Busch said of his engine issue. “So it doesn’t surprise me something’s back.”
“Pretty frustrating,’’ Busch continued. “We should be happy about (fifth), but when it’s time for championship time, that’s not what you need.”
“We need wins, and we can’t win.’’
Dale Junior, making his 500th career start, had some sort of vibration in the car that resulted in a 15th place finish in spite of his leading laps during the race.
“The car just got really tight,” Dale Jr., driver of the No. 88 Time Warner Cable Chevrolet, said. “Something in the set-up moved, but the car was real quick at the start of the race.”
“It just would not turn at all the last half of the race pretty much,” Junior continued. “We are just kind of trying to figure out what is going on.”
“We will get it back and figure it out when we get to the shop on Monday.”
Busch sits fifth in points at 37 points behind leader Kenseth and Junior fell one position to ninth and is now 66 points behind the point’s leader.
Surprising: Both Hendrick teammates made surprisingly good decisions in just taking two tires instead of four for the final restart. Kasey Kahne, HMS driver of the No. 5 Quaker State Chevrolet, finished in the runner up position with his two tires and teammate Jeff Gordon, behind the wheel of the No. 24 Axalta Chevrolet, finished seventh.
“Yeah, we had a great race,” Kahne said. “I was on two (tires) and I was trying to move around, but I was just a little bit on the tight side with the front end, then I would get loose if I got the front working.”
“I was doing all I could and felt pretty good, but Brad (Keselowski, winner) made some nice moves and just really had some speed there late in the race and was able to get by me.”
“It was a solid night,” Gordon said. “It was a great call there to try to make two (tires) work.”
“Our car was just way too tight to be able to do it and we lost a few more positions than I was hoping,” Gordon continued. “But it was still solid.”
While Gordon remains in the fourth place in the Chase, 36 points behind the leader, Kahne on the other hand, is in the 13th position, 81 points back and essentially out of contention.
Not Surprising: Mark Martin had the most interesting comeback after blowing an engine after just 80 completed laps and spewing fluid all over the track.
The driver, substituting for Tony Stewart in the No. 14 Bass Pro Shops/Mobil 1 Chevrolet ended up finishing a disappointing 42nd as a result.
But when a fan tweeted Martin “@markmartin Should’ve mention this earlier but you should retire,” things got very interesting. In fact, the usually affable driver surprising replied with just four words, tweeting “You should screw yourself,” thus scoring the best comeback of the Charlotte race.
Surprising: Speaking of the Stewart-Haas bunch, Ryan Newman salvaged a surprisingly good finish after struggling most of the night. Thanks to a four tire call on the last pit stop, Newman was able to get an eighth place finish for the No. 39 Quicken Loans Chevrolet.
“We came out of here with a decent finish, but we struggled a little bit tonight,” Newman said. “I just didn’t have the overall speed.”
“Matt (Borland, crew chief) made the call to take four tires at the end, but we weren’t able to gain spots like I thought we would knowing that a lot of the guys ahead of us took two,” Newman continued. “All in all, it’s good to complain about a top-10 finish, but we expected a little more than that tonight.”
Not Surprising: Until his engine blew, young up and coming driver Kyle Larson, making his Cup debut in the No. 51 Target Chevrolet, had a great run going. In fact, he was running in the top ten for a bit, far surpassing many of his more seasoned competitors, including future teammate Jamie McMurray.
“Obviously, the guy is ready,” Chip Ganassi, team owner said of his 2014 driver. “Some of the smarter people in the sport have said that maybe a Cup car is more like his style than a Nationwide car.”
“It wouldn’t be the first time that’s happened,” Ganassi continued. “Time will tell, but the guy is ready.”
Surprising: For one Chase contender, the contest at Charlotte Motor Speedway was all about a battle until the death, well almost.
“We survived,” Kevin Harvick, driver of the No. 29 Jimmy John’s Chevrolet, said after finishing sixth. “Yeah we got a decent finish, but our car was terrible all night.”
“The restart went our way there at the end and we were able to get a decent finish out of it.”
Harvick maintained his third place in the Chase standings, just 29 points, similar to his car number, behind point’s leader Kenseth.
Not Surprising: There is at least one driver who is looking forward to the next race at Talladega after finishing 14th in his No. 78Furniture Row/Denver Mattress Chevrolet.
“We had an upbeat feeling about tonight after two strong practices on Friday but nothing really materialized for us to make a charge,” Busch said. “It’s disappointing to finish where we did (14th) after having a number of solid runs on the mile-and-a-half’s, including last week’s runner-up finish in Kansas.”
“Next week we’ll give it another go in the Wonder bread car at Talladega.”