Saturday, Sep 25

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.   

After having an eventful morning in northern Tennessee, Denny Hamlin conquered final practice in preparation for the Food City 500 on Sunday.

Early in the session, the No. 11 Toyota posted a lap at 126.129 mph which is equivalent to just over 15 seconds on the stop watch. Hamlin was fastest in practice on Friday and will roll off the grid from the fourth position.

In the first session on Saturday morning Hamlin and Danica Patrick were involved in an incident heading into Turn One. The No. 11 car darted underneath the No. 10 machine and mistimed it, causing for both drivers to be confused.

“Man, I love Denny, but he makes a lot of mistakes behind me,” Patrick said. “I don’t know if he misjudged it or I was going slower than he thought, but I put my finger out the window and pointed him by. I had no intention to race him. I was not fast enough. I don’t know, but the guys are going to try and fix it.”

The only non-Toyota in the top five in final practice was Chase Elliott in second at 125.823 mph. The No. 24 Chevrolet posted his fastest time of the session as time expired, giving him confidence heading into his first event at the world’s fastest half-mile.

Just seconds before Elliott clocked off a hot lap, Martin Truex, Jr. had posted the second fastest time. He ended the session in third at 125.749 mph.

A duo of Joe Gibbs Racing teammates rounded out the top five. Pole-sitter, Carl Edwards was fourth quickest at 125.691 mph. Kyle Busch was fifth at 125.395 mph, after pacing the opening practice earlier on in the morning.

The fourth JGR Toyota and defending winner of this race, Matt Kenseth was 10th in the session, yet he was just over a tenth of a second off the fast lap.

The highest Richard Childress Racing car was Austin Dillon in 20th. His RCR teammate, Ryan Newman ran just over 100 laps, but only fast enough for 27th.

 Sprint Cup Rookie Chris Buescher ran 104 laps, the most of the 40-car field. His hot lap was quick enough for 21st on the speed chart.

The Food City 500 is slated to begin shortly after 1:00 p.m. on Sunday, a race that has been rain delayed in each of the past two years.  

For the second consecutive week Carl Edwards will lead the Sprint Cup Series to the green flag after winning the pole at Bristol Motor Speedway. On Friday afternoon, the No. 19 car posted a lap of 127.997 mph. that earned the Joe Gibbs Racing team the first starting position.

“This place is really complicated,” Edwards said. “My guys did a really good job making the car drive well on all different segments. You drive into the corner and these things just take off and slide. Dave [Rogers, crew chief] and everybody did a really great job. It’s really cool to get this pole.”

Edwards has three career wins at the world’s fastest half-mile, the most recent coming in this race two years ago.

Alongside Edwards is his teammate at JGR, Matt Kenseth. The No. 20 Toyota laid down a lap at 127.419 mph. which was .068 seconds off the pole winning time.

Kenseth won both the pole and the 500-lap event last spring, ending a 51-race winless streak. In all three rounds the No. 20 car was among the top five on speeds, which gives him confidence heading into Sunday.

“We were just a little off,” Kenseth said. “The first round we were pretty good. The second round we tried to make it better and got it a little too tight and in the third round we were just too loose. Overall, it was a great day and we’ll get a great pit spot to start.”  

Breaking up the JGR parade in the top five was two-time Bristol winner Joey Logano. The No. 22 Ford was quickest in the first round, second in round two and finished third in the final round.

Denny Hamlin will begin Sunday’s event from fourth, after posting the quickest time in opening practice on Friday morning. Just behind him on the starting grid is the fourth JGR driver Kyle Busch.

The Toyota organization dominated Friday at Bristol, at a track where the four JGR drivers have a combined 13 victories.

Jamie McMurray was the first driver not to advance to the final round of qualifying and will start 13th on Sunday after having a top five speed in practice. Ryan Blaney is the highest starting rookie in 18th, with fellow Rookie of the Year competitor Chase Elliott just behind in 19th.

Dale Earnhardt, Jr. will start 20th on Sunday following a tight condition where the left front dragged through the center of the corner. The No. 88 Chevrolet was seventh in the opening practice session Friday Morning.

In the first round Ty Dillon hit the apron of the track coming off of Turn 2, spinning down the backstretch, sliding into the right rear of Landon Cassill’s No. 38 machine.

Cassill had already posted a lap and will lineup 28th on Sunday as opposed to Dillon’s 34th  quickest lap. The contact left the No. 14 car with heavy right side damage just behind the front fender. NASCAR allowed the team to change four tires after flat spotting the original tires on the Chevrolet.

Every team made the event as there were 40 cars for 40 positions. The Food City 500 is slated to begin shortly after 1:00 p.m. Sunday afternoon.   

Chase Elliott proved on Saturday evening that he can run with the top teams after coming from the rear of the field to a fifth-place effort at Texas Motor Speedway.

After qualifying fourth on Friday, the No. 24 team led Alan Gustafson decided to change the transmission, giving up the fourth-place starting position. However, it didn’t take long for Elliott to charge toward the front.

By the competition caution at Lap 28, Elliott had piloted his Chevrolet into the top 20. For the rest of the night the No. 24 kept moving up the scoring pylon.

“A strong car would be the best way to put it,” Elliott said post-race. “We brought a fast car, had a good qualifying effort, hated that we had to start in the back. We had a really good pit selection and I think that played a role in us gaining spots throughout the night.”

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the Rookie of the Year contender was quick the entire weekend. He won his first career XFINITY Series race at Texas back in 2014, en route to capturing the championship.

In four prior starts at Texas in the XFINITY Series, Elliott’s average finish was just north of fifth. In his first Cup race at the 1.5-mile speedway, he was able to tie his average finish in the lower series and in the process post his first career top-five finish in NASCAR’s premiere division.  

Through a cycle of green flag pit stops Elliott led a lap and was one of just three drivers outside of the Toyota camp that led a single lap all night long. Late in the race, the No. 24 car raced its way up to second, but then pitted as others stayed out.

In the final 33 laps, Elliott drove the car up to fifth after restarting eighth. For him it was a confidence boost, but he still believes the team can improve.

“We’re happy about it, but were definitely not content,” Elliott said of his result. “We want to be contenders. We’re not satisfied with running fifth. We feel like we have a group of guys that can do better.”

Through seven races in his first full-time season, Elliott has one top five and four top 10 finishes. He currently ranks 14th in Sprint Cup standings and is in position to make the Chase for the Sprint Cup as a rookie, the first since Denny Hamlin in 2006.

Jimmie Johnson led just 25 laps en route to his sixth career victory at Auto Club Speedway on Sunday following a late race restart that moved the race to overtime.  

In a car that was sponsored by the movie Superman, Johnson needed to use super powers in overtime while restarting in third, sitting behind Kevin Harvick on the bottom line with two laps to go. He pushed the No. 4 car passed leader Denny Hamlin and hooked the white line going into Turn 1 which allowed him to get the lead down the backstretch.

This was Johnson’s 77th career victory, but without Kyle Busch getting into the wall after cutting a tire with two laps to go, he would have been stuck outside the top five.

 In the second to last stint of the race, the No. 48 car was on older tires, thus making him fall through the field after restarting as the race leader.

“I knew we had a great car and that caution fell at a bad time the run before,” Johnson said. “I just didn’t have the tires on the car to race with those guys. I got a great run off of 2 [Turn] and thought I had a shot at this thing that I didn’t expect to have. I cleared him and kind of got away.”

Harvick placed his Chevrolet second on Sunday after dominating the race, leading 142 laps. Coming off a victory at Phoenix, he had the best car on the short and long runs, something that the team worked on in practice on Saturday.

“It was the worst it had taken off on restarts,” Harvick said of the final run. “We weren’t good on restarts for four or five laps, unless we were all by ourselves. The 48 was able to hang with us and we just weren’t able to drive it in like I needed to and didn’t have the front tires turning.”

After leading on the green-white-checkered finish, Hamlin finished third. On the final pit stop the No. 11 pit crew gained four positions giving their driver the lead.

On the restart Joey Logano spun his tires, not allowing him to push Hamlin and race for the win. Hamlin led just two laps, not coming until after the scheduled 200th lap.

Logano came home in fourth, while Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. rounded out the top five. Chase Elliott came home just outside the top five in sixth as the highest finishing rookie.

AJ Allmendinger picked up his first top 10 since Pocono last August. He started shotgun on the field and raced his way into the top 10 in the first quarter of the race, where he remained there the majority of the afternoon.

Flat tires and pit road penalties were the story of the race. There were just under 10 flat tires on the afternoon the last one being Busch’s, but the biggest one coming on Lap 48. Kyle Larson cut a tire going down the backstretch, losing control of his car and pounding the inside wall. All four tires came off the ground.

“We were struggling all day,” said Larson. “We were really bad. And just on that backstretch, my left rear tire got cut and spun me to the outside wall and then spun me back into the inside wall. By the time I could hit the brakes it must have ripped the brake line and I had no brakes.”

All four Joe Gibbs Racing Toyotas had to serve pit road penalties during the 400-mile event. Carl Edwards, whom rebounded to finish seventh, had one with 80 laps to go, but played strategy late in the race where he led at one point with 40 laps remaining.

Hamlin had to serve two penalties, one for speeding and one for pitting too soon on Lap 25. The other top Toyota team, Martin Truex, Jr. had to serve a penalty late in the race. He finished the race 32nd after Logano put him in the wall late in the race. The No. 78 team was out front for 21 laps.

The other big incident came on Lap 120 as Kasey Kahne hooked Danica Patrick and sent her into the wall heading into Turn 1. Like Larson, the No. 10 car got airborne and she was not pleased with the driver of the No. 5 car.

The Cup Series will return to action on April 3, beating and banging on the half-mile paperclip, Martinsville Speedway.

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