At Bristol, anything can happen and usually does, from short track temper tantrums, to tire troubles and overall beating and banging. This year’s Bristol night race did not disappoint and here is what is surprising and not surprising from the Sprint Cup Series Irwin Tools Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway.
Surprising: NASCAR history was made at the track dubbed as the ‘world’s fastest half mile’. Kyle Busch, sporting the Doublemint paint scheme on his No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, did what no driver has ever done before, winning all three series races in one weekend at Bristol. With that Cup win, Busch jumped five positions in the Chase point standings, from eighth to third behind points leader Kevin Harvick and second place holder Jeff Gordon.
Not Surprising: Busch drove like a man possessed in his racing trifecta, coming from the back of the field in the Truck race to win, overcoming adversity and controversy with Brad Keselowski in the Nationwide race to win, and dicing through the field from the 19th starting spot in the Cup race to pick up the broom for the sweep in Victory Lane.
Surprising: The race got off to a wilder than usual start with some pointed moments during the driver introductions. As is Bristol tradition, each driver walked out to a song of their choice and took the microphone to introduce himself and say a few words. Kyle Busch was booed mightily and sarcastically thanked the crowd for all their love, while Brad Keselowski stole the show, introducing himself and saying “Kyle Busch is an ass.”
Not Surprising: Even though the rhetoric was heated, when it came time to race the two competitors kept it clean. At one point, Busch, who was in the lead at the time, had to pass Keselowski to put him a lap down. Although Brad raced Kyle hard and close, there were no further on-track incidents and both finished the race, albeit in very different positions with Busch in Victory Lance and Keselowski finishing mid-pack in nineteenth position.
Surprising: Clint Bowyer, one of the men battling with the likes of Mark Martin to stay in Chase contention, overcame great adversity and was the race’s biggest mover. Bowyer, in his No. 33 Hamburger Helper Chevrolet, started in the 24th position to work his way through the field to a top-five finish. Throughout the race, Bowyer had to overcome a mix of overheating brakes, pit problems, and just plain nerves to battle back for his fourth place finish, keeping him in that coveted 12th and last position in the Chase point standings.
Not Surprising: Jeff Gordon, who had his own challenges in the No. 24 Dupont Chevrolet after a spin in qualifying led to a miserable 26th starting spot, sliced his way through the field to finish 11th. While not the win he was seeking, the top-15 finish locked the four-time champion into the Chase for 2010, giving him the opportunity to ‘drive for five.’
Surprising: There was no one more surprised than David Reutimann in the No. 00 Aaron’s Dream Machine Toyota, who found himself in the runner-up finishing spot at Bristol. Reutimann had an eventful race weekend, missing practice because he was sicker than his Aaron’s lucky dog due to food poisoning. Reutimann managed to qualify his car in fifth and stayed in the hunt most of the race to finish second in the Irwin Tools Night Race.
Not Surprising: There is one driver who always shows up in critical races. Winning the Daytona 500 and the Brickyard this year, Jamie McMurray showed up once again, driving a great race in his No. 1 Bass Pro Shops Tracker Chevrolet to finish third under the lights at Bristol.
Surprising: Once unstoppably consistent and always in possession of the purported lucky horseshoe, four-time champion Jimmie Johnson had anything but a good run at Bristol. Competitor Juan Pablo Montoya got into Johnson, sending him into the wall on the track and behind the wall in the pits for repair. Johnson finished 35th, dropping him four positions in the Chase standings to the ninth spot.
Not Surprising: Apologizing on his radio to Johnson and even sending his team owner over to apologize after the race, Juan Pablo Montoya soldiered on for a good finish in spite of his tussle with the four-time champ. JPM was able to bring his No. 42 Target Chevrolet to the checkered flag in seventh position.
Surprising: There was a surprisingly beardless driver who worked his way through the field like a stealth bomber for a solid finish at Bristol. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. was at times even running in the top ten, ending the race and crossing the finish line in 13th in his No. 88 AMP/National Guard Chevrolet.
Not Surprising: Kasey Kahne, who felt like he had a “top five car”, finished in the fifth position in his No. 9 Budweiser Ford. Kahne enjoyed the Cup race at Bristol much more than his Nationwide run, where he was forced up the track and onto the wall, doing his best two-wheel imitation of the Joey Chitwood show.
The Cup Series has the next weekend off as a final break before the Chase race to the end of the season. They will return to action on Labor Day weekend when the drivers pull into Atlanta Motor Speedway for the Emory Healthcare 500. The race will run on Sunday, September 5th on ESPN with pre-race coverage starting at 7:00 PM ET.