NASCAR got back to racing with the always popular night races at Bristol. We had a lot of great racing - and a host of angry drivers by the time the weekend was done. ESPN mostly had a handle on catching the wrecks on TV, but a few things still slipped beneath their radar.
The first of those incidents we never got our eyes on was whatever took place between Jeremy Clements and Dakoda Armstrong before reaching lap 50 in the Nationwide race. Jeremy was none too pleased over the radio, but farther details are something only the drivers and their spotters could tell you. It was enough to seriously hinder both drivers' performance though.
For Matt DiBenedetto and Eric McClure things went far better. Both drivers got their best finishes at Bristol, finishing in the top twenty, despite some struggles with handling - and having the water bottle holder break and dumping the water out, as Eric McClure experienced early on. Matt was having a bit of fun during the race and told his spotter at one point: "When I pull these crazy slide jobs, let me know where they are." After getting an affirmative answer, Matt continued "Thank you. I know that's more of a dirt track request." In response, his spotter answered that he's "been to a few of those" and laughed. As the race began to wind down, Matt piped back up over the radio and lamented, "It's too bad we started at the back, the car is pretty good now - It's frustrating."
Speaking of Matt and Eric, they were on opposite ends of the biggest wreck of the night--whose central stars were those that don't typically get much attention. When they interview Tanner Berryhill and Chad Boat, it is a pretty big deal! It's a pity those two young guys and David Starr were taken out of competition by that pileup. Matt said on Twitter the next morning that he woke up to a bunch of "mean tweets" which was partially understandable, but not once you realize it was David Starr that came up on him. That's a feeling Matt knows all too well after he was not actually clear (when his spotter told him he was) in Chicago. Whereas Matt was at the starting point of the wreck, Eric was on the other side of it and wondered how "the 17" had gotten involved, describing it by saying he was running in front of him "and just started wrecking." When we finally saw the replay, it made a lot more sense why he explained it that way.
As for the most recent winner in the series heading into the weekend, his tenth place finish made it look like the weekend went pretty smoothly. In reality he faced some pretty major issues. Shortly past halfway Chris Buescher declared that it felt "like something broke". Discussing it later with his team, he was asked "Did it happen progressively over a lap?" The young driver reported, "No, it happened all of a sudden" and that it "was like that earlier in the race, now it's worse." His crew chief wondered if it was a locker (an important piece in the rear of the car), but Chris wasn't sure if that's what it was or not. Turns out that was indeed the problem, but that wasn't the end of the issues. Couple that with rubbing against the wall around the midpoint and you begin to get the picture. In addition, he was nearly collected by Kyle Larson as he slid down toward the inside wall. The Mid-Ohio victor let out an animated "Holy cow!" after slipping by then remained silent on the radio until crew chief Scott Graves asked if everything was good. Chris answered back "Yep, all good." As far as he knew, that was true - a damaged spoiler is not of as much consequence at Bristol as most places. So overall, a tenth place result is pretty impressive considering all that tried to bring them down.
Joey Gase (had a tire problem before losing fourth gear) and Jake Crum (experienced a "rear end failure" while running 24th) were not quite so lucky. Neither was Vision Racing who not only packed up a completely destroyed #17 car, but also failed to make the race with Ryan Ellis, who had been thrilled to be a teammate of Tanner Berryhill. Another thing you may not have known was that Carl Long played the role of spotter for Timmy Hill after failing to make the race. Speaking of team changes, Blake Koch took over the wheel of the #23, despite Brad Teague being on the entry list (but the team called him into the garage just past halfway). Here is another random thing you wouldn't have heard about: approximately an hour after the race ended, a major rainstorm rolled back over the track. NASCAR opted to keep the haulers parked until after the storm passed, a smart idea given how difficult it is to drive the big trucks out of the track. According to Eloy Trevino (hauler driver for Chris Buescher), it is super easy to get stuck coming in or out. So it was the wisest decision to delay the beginning of the trip back home.
One last thing with the Nationwide series that you didn't see is - because she didn't even make the race (to the relief of every driver in the field). Milka Duno earned the undesirable position of being the slowest in qualifying, despite being in very capable RAB Racing equipment. She still got in the way of at least one driver though - that unfortunate person being Carl Long as he tried to make his first qualifying run.
Rolling ahead to Saturday night, the Cup boys (and girl) upped the ante for one of the most anticipated races of the year. Cole Whitt had a lot of ground to make up after starting in the back thanks to a wreck in qualifying and going to a backup. He was able to move up to a decent position, but it could hardly be described as an easy path there. Early in the race his water temps were running high and pushing a lot of water out. Eventually they solved the problem with the water - just in time for the water pressure gauge to quit working, along with the car jumping out of fourth gear. Before even making it halfway, Cole described the motor as running 'rough', referencing that it was similar to what it did back in the Coca Cola 600. Things began to look up after that thanks to a wave around and the car not jumping out of gear the next run. He even got some TV time, but not in the way he would quite wish due to the tire rub (apparently David Ragan had gotten into him and pushed in the fender). It never caused any significant issues for them though and when the yellow flag came out, he didn't even come in for a pit stop. That put him up around the top 25, but he didn't catch a caution flag during the following sixty laps and was forced him back onto pit road, setting him well behind those he had been running against. It was a disappointing finish to a race that was shaping up decently, but they can come back strong in Atlanta.
Justin Allgaier battled his own issues, including his splitter hitting the track and Landon Cassill running into him a quarter of the way into the race. Justin didn't take well to that contact, asking "What does the freakin' 40 want? There's only 1 groove, everybody stopped...just ran into me." His team told him to settle down, not something they normally have to tell him! Clint Bowyer got into his left rear at one point and later he had the televised contact with Greg Biffle. Hearing it first over the scanner, Justin wondered if Greg was coming after him and heard back that he was "trying to." Justin responded he hadn't meant to get into him and explained that he didn't "know if I got sucked around or what". His spotter replied he would talk to him, but apparently when the incident initially happened, Justin must have been given the information that it was the 16's front bumper that got messed up. What he said next was "It wasn't his front bumper, it was his rear bumper that was hanging off." After seeing the replay of Greg Biffle driving up past him, it became easier to understand how Justin would have even seen the bumper (since he had been running ahead of the 16). Ultimately, the HScott Motorsports team worked all the way up to just outside the top ten before disaster struck as a tire blew out and put the 51 into the wall. ESPN didn't pick up on that for quite a while, despite suddenly falling 2 laps down (even when they did, no details were given). He brushed the wall again, with no significant damage added, and was still faster than some of the better cars around him. Running in a still decent 19th place, Justin rode around to the checkered flag and spoke up at 18 to go with "I know this thing isn't over, but don't hang your heads. We had an awesome, AWESOME car tonight. "
As for a few others, Alex Bowman may have had a little run-in with Danica Patrick, but still had a fast car. As the leaders were closing on him and his teammates, he made short work of moving around about 4-5 cars in impressive fashion. Sadly, a vibration and loose wheel messed up the right rear wheel stud and damaged the hub. Ryan Truex rear end housing issue and ultimately fell out of the race thanks to an engine problem. By the time Allen Bestwick brought it up on the broadcast (made it sound as if it just happened), his #83 team had already made their way to teammate Cole Whitt's and asked if they wanted their tires.
Brett Moffitt in just his third Cup series start had some sort of run-in with Aric Almirola extremely early in the race and later was sidelined by an engine issue. Both drivers spent Monday and Tuesday testing at Chicagoland Speedway - or that was the plan. Rain on Monday postponed that a bit, but Aric and his team were hopefully able to learn some things for when they return to the track as Chase contenders.
I suppose, as with any Bristol race, a few bizarre, out of the normal things take place. The top three I caught were: 3. The broken locker on Chris Buescher's car Friday night. Never heard of that happening before! 2. Carl Long's sideways slide into the back of Hermie Sadler during Nationwide qualifying. That's about the most bizarre wreck I've seen since Mark Martin was t-boned by pit wall at Michigan. And finally - 1. Paul Menard's car chief's notes being blown to the four corners of Bristol during practice. Guessing he won't be leaving his clipboard/notepad sitting on top of the car again anytime soon!
Now it's time for some racing at Atlanta Motor Speedway! Hearing Tony Stewart will be back in his car this weekend. That is really great to see - welcome back, Smoke!
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