Bowyer's Struggles Escalate
In what Clint Bowyer was hoping to be a good season, it has turned into a dismal season that he would soon like to forget.. The driver of the no. 15 Chevy for HScott Motorsports has struggled in 2016 before his move over to Stewart-Haas Racing to replace Tony Stewart in 2017.
Bowyer’s day at Sonoma ended before it even started. On lap seven, Bowyer’s car went up into smoke after an electrical fire, adding to the setbacks in 2016. Smoke entered into the cockpit, leaving Bowyer unable to breath.
After he exited the car, he slammed his helmet into the car out of frustration.
“Yeah, it’s terribly frustrating. This is my favorite race track and I’ve run really good at it. I don’t know. It kind of sometimes inexcusable when stuff breaks that quick, but who knows what happened. I’m sure a wire was rubbing on something or something and just shorted out and burnt up. It’s a shame.”
Bowyer has struggled in his one-year deal with Scott. He only has two top-10’s and is 23rd in points. Can he recover and end his season on a high note?
In a day that was filled with hard racing, big crashes and barrel rolls, Brad Keselowski came out victorious in Talladega.
Arguably, Keselowski had the strongest racecar on Sunday leading a race-high 46 laps. After a mid-race pit stop that forced his hand and go toward the rear of the top 10 the last 20 laps, the No. 2 car established itself as the one to beat.
“This Fusion was hauling,” Keselowski said. “That’s one of the tickets of staying out of the wrecks at Talladega is if you can stay up front, you have a great shot of not getting in a wreck. Daytona didn’t go the way we wanted it to go. We just didn’t have the speed, but the guys went to work and brought me a really strong car here for Talladega.”
This is Keselowski’s fourth-career win at NASCAR’s biggest track, the most he has at any one track.
After leading 12 laps early on, Kyle Busch came home second. He was getting a huge shove coming to the white flag, but Keselowski blocked, settling the No. 18 car for the runner-up position.
Austin Dillon posted a career best third-place finish after making 15 pit stops throughout the day. Just passed halfway, David Gilliland got into the rear of the No. 3 machine turning him into the outside causing the first big crash of the day that saw rookie Chris Buescher flip multiple times.
“What we’ve really been focused on going forward is trying not to panic,” Dillon said of his day. “They fixed the car and what a run to the finish. Our car probably wasn’t good enough to really win the race, but it was good enough for the No. 1 to push me all the way through [Turns] 3 and 4.”
Jamie McMurray notched his best finish of 2016 with a fourth-place result. The former winner at Talladega never led, but pushed several cars to the lead throughout the 500 miles.
Pole-sitter Chase Elliott led 27 laps and notched his third top-five finish of the young season. After leading much of the opening stint of the event, the No. 24 car fell back throughout the day, but came on strong in the final three laps.
“You can’t have a good day unless you finish,” Elliott said. “I think it was just focusing in on that and obviously it got really wild and for us we tried to keep that in mind to try and make it to the end.”
Tony Stewart was credited with a sixth-place finish, though Ty Dillon drove the No. 14 Chevrolet to the checkered flag. After the first caution on Lap 50, the XFINITY Series regular replaced the three-time Cup Series champion behind the wheel.
The Cup veteran admitted that “it sucked” having to get out of the racecar, but it was part of the deal to get him back in the car last weekend in Richmond.
Clint Bowyer, Landon Cassill, Michael Waltrip, Cole Whitt, Bobby Labonte and the aforementioned Gilliland all posted season best finishes on Sunday.
The biggest incident of the afternoon came with 28 laps to go when Kurt Busch got into the rear of Jimmie Johnson spinning him into the wall, causing a 17 car crash. Daytona 500 winner, Denny Hamlin was one of the drivers involved in the accident.
With eight laps to go Michael McDowell, spun Danica Patrick, clipping the side of Matt Kenseth’s machine and causing him to flip into the inside fence. The No. 20 car was one of the strongest racecars throughout the day leading 39 laps, finishing a disappointing 23rd.
Coming to the checkered flag was the last crash that saw 2014 Sprint Cup champion Kevin Harvick get airborne, hitting the outside retaining wall. Eight cars came across the checkered flag with damage due to this incident.
Dale Earnhardt, Jr. Carl Edwards and Kasey Kahne all finished toward the rear with each driver had multiple problems at the 2.66-mile track.
In all, 33 out of the 40 cars received some kind of damage throughout the wildest race of the season to date.
The Cup Series will head to the Midwest for some night racing next Saturday in Kansas, with Johnson the defending winner. It was the controversy in the fall that led to the Kenseth and Joey Logano drama that saw its latest chapter on Sunday when the No. 22 car forced the No. 20 Toyota below the yellow line.
After the event had concluded Kenseth pointed his finger out of displeasure at Logano, where the 25-year-old shrugged his shoulders and chuckled.
Carl Edwards Dominates Bristol, Clinches Chase Birth
On a day that Bristol was rough to most, Carl Edwards conquered the concrete en route to a dominating performance Sunday afternoon.
The No. 19 car started from pole and never looked back. Edwards was out front for a race-high 276 laps, over 130 laps more than his closest competitor. While clinching a birth in the 2016 edition of the Chase, he also posted his fourth top-five finish and seventh top 10 result. His triumph came in the defeat of his three teammates.
“There are so many different things happening out there,” Edwards said post-race. “Different guys are fast at different times. It’s a real testament to my team. They’ve been working so hard. This team is awesome. Dave [Rogers, crew chief] doesn’t quit, he can almost read my mind and tell me things exactly when I need them.”
This is Edwards’ first short-track victory as a part of Joe Gibbs Racing, but his fourth career victory at Bristol, the last one coming in this race two years ago.
After not getting off to a good start, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. finished in the runner-up position on Sunday. On the initial restart of the race, the No. 88 car had no power and as a result fell two laps down before he had even completed a lap.
Just passed halfway Earnhardt made his way into the top 10, where he would remain for the majority of the second part of the event. This is his third second-place finish of 2016.
“We got a lot of luck on the last several restarts,” Earnhardt said. “We didn’t have a good enough car to run in the top five today. Greg [Ives, crew chief] and the guys did a good job at getting our laps back. We had a dead battery at the start of the race. The car was about a 10th or 15th-place car.”
Kurt Busch led 41 laps on Sunday, bringing his machine home in third. It didn’t take long for the No. 41 car to get inside the top 10 after starting in 26th. He could get good restarts, but never clear Edwards. If we were to have got ahead of the No. 19 car, there is a chance that the five-time Bristol winner would have added to that number.
Rookie of the Year contender Chase Elliott finished a career-high fourth in Bristol. Right around halfway, the No. 24 car had a loose tire so crew chief Alan Gustafson called the 19-year-old in to pit, where the team would lose two laps.
“The guys brought a fast car here this weekend,” Elliott said. “I hated that we had a loose wheel, but that stuff happens. The guys did a good job having a good pit stop under green and only losing two laps. It gave us a shot to get one down and then back on the lead lap. We’re chipping away, just not close enough.”
Trevor Bayne rounded out the top five, in his first top-five finish since he won the Daytona 500 back in 2011.
Matt DiBenedetto and Clint Bowyer both finished inside of the top 10, giving them their best finish of the season.
There were 15 cautions for 102 laps at Bristol, but the most notable were the four cautions thrown for Joe Gibbs Racing drivers blowing right front tires.
It started on Lap 51, when Kyle Busch blew a tire in Turn Two, while running in third. His trouble continued on Lap 259 when he blew a second tire, this one ending his day.
The bad luck for Matt Kenseth continued on Lap 186 when he blew a tire while leading. Prior to the melted bead the No. 20 Toyota was out front for 142 laps. After fighting his way back up to third, he blew a second tire on Lap 324. The team decided to go behind the wall and fix the damage, resulting in a 36th-place finish, 40 laps down.
On Lap 410, Denny Hamlin added to the trouble-filled day when a bead melted on his machine. He remained on the lead lap and finished 20th.
Loose tires and tire failures was the theme of the 500 laps at Bristol, something that teams will need to address before returning in August.
Kurt Busch Scores Pole in Hometown Las Vegas
For the second consecutive week Kurt Busch will lead the Sprint Cup Series to the green flag to start the third race of the 2016 season. This is his 21st career pole and second at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway, his hometown track.
After setting a new track record in Round One of qualifying (196.378 mph) Busch needed to rebound after a slightly disappointing second where he was third quick. With just minutes remaining in the final round of qualifying he was able to barely edge Joey Logano by .067 seconds.
“It was insanely fast,” Busch said of his lap. “It’s amazing all the detail that goes into qualifying with finding that perfect lap three times out there. My second outing we were way tight and I didn’t know where it came from and (Tony) Gibson and crew went to town.”
The No. 41 Chevrolet was no lower than third on the leader board in the single practice session or any of the rounds of qualifying as he is looking for his first win in Sin City.
Logano will begin his third consecutive race in Las Vegas from the front row. After a disappointing qualifying session last week in Atlanta, the No. 22 team found what they were missing and are off to a good start this weekend.
Matt Kenseth made multiple adjustments throughout the day and when it counted he was third, the best he had been all day. The 2013 winner in Las Vegas is going into one of his best tracks with his best starting position the year.
Brad Keselowski will lineup fourth on Sunday in his Ford. The No. 2 car was quickest in the opening practice on Friday and he is looking for his second win on the 1.5-mile oval. In Round Two, he was fastest but fell to Busch, .093 seconds behind the pole winning speed.
Austin Dillon needed two attempts to make it out of the first round of qualifying. But in the final moments of the last round he slotted his car into the fifth position. On his first run he was complaining that his motor wasn’t running properly, but when he came in to cool his tires down the No. 3 team fixed the problem and he feels this is the start of good runs for his team this year.
One of the biggest stories in Round One was Kevin Harvick needing three attempts to improve his car, narrowly making it into Round Two. After making it through that round his car continued to pick up speed, resulting in a sixth-place effort.
After crashing in the test session on Thursday, Denny Hamlin will start Sunday’s race ninth. The Daytona 500 winner struggled in practice, but the Joe Gibbs Racing organization looks to have made major adjustments with two of its cars starting in the top 10.
Chase Elliott is the highest starting rookie in 13th. His closest competitor for Rookie of the Year Ryan Blaney will start alongside him in 14th.
Some notable drivers that struggled in qualifying were Brian Vickers who will begin the race from 19th, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. 20th, Ryan Newman 21st and Kyle Busch 23rd. The No. 18 team struggled all day on Friday and was mired back in the mid 20s.
Just over three minutes into the second round of qualifying Carl Edwards No. 19 Toyota shot up the racetrack when something appeared to broke in the rear end of the car. After running the fourth quickest speed in Round One of qualifying, he will go to a backup car and start from the 24th position.
“I think the right rear was going down,” Edwards said. “It felt good going into the corner and there was a big bang and I think that was just the frame heights being low, hitting the ground. I thought it was the left rear, but it hit hard. I’m still not convinced that something didn’t break in the left rear.”
Other notable drivers that will start toward the rear are Greg Biffle in 26th, Jamie McMurray in 29th and Clint Bowyer in 35th.
McMurray will go to a backup car after slapping the wall in his qualifying attempt. He stated that his primary car has been a 30th-place car all weekend long.
The Cup teams will have two practice sessions on Saturday to tune their car up for Sunday’s Kobalt Tools 400.
David Ragan’s Only Option was BK Racing
David Ragan has been announced as the new driver of the No. 23 Dr. Pepper Toyota for BK Racing. The news came hours after Matt DiBenedetto officially stated that he would be returning to drive the No. 83 car for the organization in 2016.
Ragan joins BK Racing after facing many unknowns about what his future entailed throughout the off-season. Last July, his future became uncertain after becoming the full-time fill-in driver for Brian Vickers when Michael Waltrip Racing announced that it would be shutting its doors at season’s end.
Last year alone, Ragan started off the Daytona 500 with Front Row Motorsports, a team that he had been with since 2012, but was named the replacement driver for Kyle Busch starting at Atlanta after Busch was injured in the XFINITY Series race at Daytona. He competed in nine events for the No. 18 team, and then moved over to MWR to drive the No. 55 car for the remainder of the season.
Throughout the season Ragan only accumulated one top-10 finish, which came in March at Martinsville. He was in a position where, yes he had to adapt to multiple different teams and crew chiefs, but had he been successful it is possible he would have landed a ride in a top-tier car for the 2016 season.
However, after not performing up to expectations, Ragan was stuck not knowing his future for a long time. He was in the prime position of his career to prove to other teams in NASCAR that he has what it take to muscle the car around and take advantage of an incredible opportunity. Unlike his teammate at MWR, he did not have sponsorship that would follow suit. It was announced in October that his teammate Clint Bowyer would be joining HScott Motorsports in 2016 with funding from 5-Hour Energy.
The Georgia native seemed to be relieved after announcing on Monday that he would be joining BK Racing.
"I'm happy to be part of something that has so much growth potential," Ragan said in a press release. “Ron [Devine] has steadily built his program over the last five years. He's made an even greater commitment in 2016 with new cars, equipment, and additional personnel. I feel that we'll be in a position to bring the team to the next level. I'm looking forward to the season."
The 30-year-old has proven to be marketable over the years. During his career, he has had funding from big-time sponsors such as AAA, UPS and Aaron’s. The two-time Cup Series winner will bring some star power to the young team, which was created in 2012 after Devine purchased the assets of Red Bull Racing.
For the majority of his nine full-time seasons, Ragan worked with Roush Fenway Racing, where he picked up his first career win in July of 2011 at Daytona. He spent his first five full-time seasons with Roush before joining Front Row Motorsports, which he raced with for just over three seasons.
Monday’s announcement was a win for BK Racing in trying to elevate its program to the next level.
“We're very excited to have a driver of David's caliber join our team," Devine said in a team press release. "In addition to being a race winner, I feel that his input and leadership qualities will benefit the team on many levels. Our entire organization is energized to work with him."
Over the off-season, BK Racing purchased more than a dozen of MWR’s racecars. This was a step in the right direction and puts better equipment out on the racetrack for the organization compared to the equipment it has used in the past. Last season, the BK Racing owned cars finished 37th, 40th and 43rd, respectively in the owner standings.
For Ragan, BK Racing was the obvious option. In an offseason that has had plenty of late moves, he was the only big name driver to not have secured a ride through late January. Though it might be a step down from previous teams that he was on, the new driver of the No. 23 car will get the most out of the racecars each week.
This move seems to have been Ragan’s only option in the Cup Series.
There were no deals on the table in the XFINITY Series that would have put Ragan in a competitive ride. However, just last season, rookie Jeb Burton went from being a championship threat in the Camping World Truck Series to a driver who missed multiple races at the Sprint Cup level competing in BK Racing equipment.
Ragan obviously has a more wealth of knowledge than Burton due to experience. However, how much can Ragan get out of the racecar? Everyone knows that he will be competitive on the restrictor plate tracks, he always is. But what about the other 32 events?
It will be difficult for Ragan to be competitive with BK Racing. The organization is making all of the right moves in purchasing new equipment, bringing in a driver who will instantly be the leader of the team.