Kyle Busch looks like a driver ready to rumble in 2011 baring the surprise exploding engineers and other disasters which seem to pop up in hurtful ways for Joe Gibbs contenders. In ideal racing weather, with Carl Edwards taking the early lead then Paul Menard, who seems to love his new home at RCR passed for the lead on lap 19. Perhaps as hints of things to come, Dennis Setzer and Andy Lally go a lap down followed by Joe Nemechek on lap 27.
Jeff Burton, already deep in the hole having a dreadful season so far brought out the first caution creating havoc for Brad Kesolowski, David Reutimann, Denny Hamlin, Jamie McMurray, and A.J. Allmendinger in the first Bristol demolition smack down of the afternoon. Ironically, on lap 32, Joe Nemechek is penalized one lap for taking fuel before pits were opened while Brad Keselowski takes one for too fast on pit road. On lap 35, Paul Menard and Jimmie Johnson (remember him?) lead the field to green.
Lap 37, Michael McDowell became the first driver to embarrass the sporting world taking his toys and going home. He should be advised to stay home and not waste lots of fuel to go to California next week. The competition yellow for tire issues fell for lap 50. Drivers scurry for position as Kyle Busch starts looking strong leading the race through lap 128 when Robby Gordon blew a tire and hit the wall. The field goes green with Martin Truex out in front on lap 136 but minutes later Brad Keselowski decided to massage the SAFER barriers with his car bringing out the 4th caution on lap 139. Truex picked up the lead and green flag for lap 144.
The race calmed down for over 100 laps without a caution until Bobby Labonte’s car twirled about at turn four on lap 246 for caution 246. Green flag action resumed on lap 252 with a little known driver in early 2002 driving the #48, Jimmie Johnson. John and Kyle Busch would race for the lead until lap 344 for debris, possible a beer can (just saying that for fun) brought out yellow #6.
Another long stretch continued through lap 427, yellow #7 when the David Gilliland Ford pirouetted. Kyle Busch wins the pit road battle, green flag on lap 235 but BAM, just like that, Harvick, Kahne and Martin do the automotive waltz but behind them Trevor Bayne, Jamie McMurray, Clint Bowyer and Juan Montoya wreck and trash their cars. A long cleanup ensued with green returning for lap 444 and the M&M Peanuts ride out in front. Now things really got nuts with multiple boomers, first on lap 450 Travis Kvapil 360’s at turn four, field goes green for only one lap on 456, then more demolition derby with the 10th caution out for Clint Bowyer on lap 457’s car having just “blewed all up.” Now is the end in sight at lap 453, when the rowdy #18 lap takes the green. Kyle Busch opened up a comfy lead while Carl Edwards and Jimmie Johnson battled for 2nd.
Something mysterious happened to the #60, #87, and #46 cars. Between laps 36 and 97, Landen Cassill, Joe Nemechek, and J.J. Yeley just disappeared – oh my!!! Where’d they go? They weren’t mentioned by the broadcasters. Their departure is not noted in the splendid record of completion, the lap by lap summary of NASCAR.com. They just vanished, but in the post race results, they were shown as having “brake” problems. Maybe the angels didn’t want to see them wreck and magically made them just disappear and no one noticed. How can we get them to disappear before qualifying?
Results: Top 15
1 – Kyle Busch #18, Toyota
2 – Carl Edwards, #99, Ford
3 – Jimmie Johnson #48, Chevrolet
4 – Matt Kenseth #17, Ford
5 – Paul Menard #27, Chevrolet
6 – Kevin Harvick #29, Chevrolet
7 – Kurt Busch #22, Dodge
8 – Greg Biffle #16, Ford
9 – Kasey Kahne #4, Toyota
10 – Ryan Newman #39, Chevrolet
11 – Dale Earnhardt, Jr. #88, Chevrolet
12 – Mark Martin #5, Chevrolet
13 – Bobby Labonte #47, Toyota
14 – Jeff Gordon #24, Chevrolet
15 – Marcos Ambrose #9, Ford
The points standings showed a lot of movement as the Bristol races are good for doing.
1 – Kurt Busch (+1) 150 pts.
2 – Carl Edwards (+1) 149 pts. [-1]
3 – Tony Stewart (-2) 138 pts. [-12]
4 – Ryan Newman (+1) 138 pts. [-12]
5 – Paul Menard (-14) 136 pts. [-14]
6 – Kyle Busch (+8) 133 pts. [-17]
7 – Jimmie Johnson (+5) 130 pts. [-20]
8 – Juan Montoya (-4) 126 pts. [-24]
9 – Dale Earnhardt, Jr. (+1) 124 pts. [-26]
10 – Martin Truex, Jr. (-3) 123 pts. [-27]
11 – Mark Martin, (_) 123 pts. [-27]
12 – Kasey Kahne (+1) 122 pts. [-28]
13 – Matt Kenseth (+3) 117 pts. [-33]
14 – Bobby Labonte (+1) 115 pts. [-35]
15 – Kevin Harvick (+5) 110 pts. [-40]
How about that, Dale Earnhardt Jr. fans? Junior not only remains in the top 10 but moved up a position. It’s now okay to talk about him and broadcast how he’s doing since he is in the chase that leads to the chase 31 races from now. The great switcheroo at Hendricks Motor Sports looks like it’s paying off with Jeff Gordon having won a race but still not in the hunt for a top 10 points position. (Gordon is in 19th with 104 points -46 down.) Mark Martin is knocking on the door and Earnhardt is there!
The disappointments so far this year include Greg Biffle with one top 10 in 33rd place. Richard Childress has two disappointing drivers finding Clint Bowyer in 24th but the steady hand of Jeff Burton who is buried in 29th despite picking up three positions in Bristol. For the Joe Gibbs operation, certainly more would be expected of Denny Hamlin than his 17th position with only one top ten. Gibbs 3rd driver, Joey Logano, who looked so strong at the end of last year is seriously struggling so far this year mired in 30th place.
Next week’s race in Fontana California locks in the 2011 owner’s points assuring entries in the top 35 of starting the race. We’ll look at what teams are on the bubble when previewing that race at the end of the week.
With just four races completed, it’s not realistic to see any trends for 2011 emerging other than it’s surely safe to say, Ford is back!!!
California here we come -- just once this year!