Wild Brickyard 400 helped underdogs shine

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Sunday’s Brickyard 400 wasn’t just a win for Kasey Kahne, it was also a win of sorts for several other drivers who enjoyed some of the best finishes of their season or careers.

With so many big names sidelined by mechanical failure or crashes, the 400 was a day for underdogs to shine.

Among the top underdog finishes:

* Matt DiBenedetto finished eighth, his best showing of the season (previous best was ninth in the Daytona 500). It was also his best non-restrictor plate finish since 19th at Bristol, and just two spots shy of his career-best showing of sixth at Bristol in April 2016.

“It’s pretty unreal what we’ve been able to accomplish this year,” said DiBenedetto, driver of the No. 32 Go Fas Racing Ford Fusion. “I’ve worked so dang hard the old-school way to get here, countless late nights for these guys working, many sleepless nights in my career thinking it was over about 30 to 40 times and that’s not even an exaggeration, and to have these kind of races this year is just unbelievable.”

Go Fas Racing is one of the smallest teams in the NASCAR Cup series. But DiBenedetto and his team get a lot of pleasure by doing more with less.

“Obviously, being a smaller team we just try and get a good handle on our cars,” DiBenedetto. “We come here and dial in our car the old-school way, through communication.

“We have no simulation or nothing. We just have 15 guys and we work our tails off. … Because we had a good handling car, we were able to take advantage of everybody else’s mistakes by being competitive and being in front of a lot the guys that were racing, and being in the right place at the right time there a lot of times at the end.  Don’t get me wrong, though, we had our share of close calls.”

But the key was avoiding all those close calls that helped DiBenedetto get such a good finish.

“Over-aggression is an understatement,” DiBenedetto said. “ I don’t know if it just got dark and nobody could see out their windshields or what, but the thing is restarts are so important.

“That’s where you make up all your spots, and once it gets single filed out, it’s really hard to pass. So unfortunately you’ve got to really go on the restarts, which makes it fun and makes it exciting for the fans, but you’re also just hanging on for dear life and hoping you’re in the right place at the right time.”

* JTG Daugherty’s two drivers, Chris Buescher (ninth) and AJ Allmendinger (10th), finished next to each other. It was the second time in the last four races and this season overall that both cars ended with top-10 finishes in the same race (Coke Zero 400 at Daytona, Allmendinger was eighth, Buescher was 10th).

Buescher earned his best finish of the season in the Brickyard 400. But it wasn’t easy: his car looked more like it had just finished a beating and banging fest at Martinsville.

“It felt like a battle more than a race today,” Buescher said. “Just an excellent job by our team to stick with it today. We had damage throughout a lot of this race and this Clorox team, they worked really hard to make sure we got it back to where it needed to be to be able to get some drivability out of it.

“We were able to miss some of that craziness there at the end and got ourselves a good finish out of it.”

For Allmendinger, it was his second-best finish of the season after his third-place finish in the Daytona 500.

“(It was) just one of those days you’ve just got to keep fighting and get a little lucky, fortunately missing all the wrecks,” Allmendinger said. “We’ve got to keep working on trying to get better and trying new things for sure.”

The recent performance lifts Allmendinger’s confidence of making the playoffs, with his best chance next month at Watkins Glen. It was there in 2014 that Allmendinger won and qualified for the playoffs.

* Cole Whitt finished 12th, one spot shy of tying his career-best outing in July 2016 at Daytona. Coming into Sunday’s race, Whitt’s best finish was 16th at Talladega this spring and his best non-plate finish was 20th earlier this year at Atlanta.

* Rounding out the top underdog finishes was Timmy Hill, who earned a career-best finish of 14th. Hill’s previous career-best showing was 22nd at Kansas in October 2012. His best finish this season before the Brickyard was 28th.

Follow @JerryBonkowski

Austin Dillon, Jeffrey Earnhardt in first wreck of Bristol night race

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The first big wreck of Saturday night’s Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race occurred on Lap 232 of the scheduled 500-lap event.

It appeared Austin Dillon may have cut a tire and turned to his right, directly into the car of Jeffrey Earnhardt, sending both cars into the outside SAFER barrier and both sustaining heavy damage.

“We were running really good and all of a sudden the left-rear went flat,” Dillon said. “I don’t know what happened, if we had contact on that restart or our trackbar broke. My car chief said the letters on the Goodyear were rubbed off and about two laps later we broke.

“Our battery was going dead too, so it probably wasn’t going to be much longer we were going to be out of the race either way, but just a bummer. I really love this track and was having a blast tonight.  It sucks it had to end this way.”

Both cars were taken to the infield, with their nights likely over. That’s Bristol, baby.

Matt Kenseth wins Stage 2 at Bristol

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Matt Kenseth took the lead with about 10 laps left in Stage 2 when leader Kyle Busch pitted under caution. Kenseth went on to win the stage Saturday night at Bristol Motor Speedway.

The second stage ended at Lap 250 of the 500-lap race.

It is Kenseth’s third stage win of the year. He entered the race holding the final playoff spot.

Jimmie Johnson finished second. Kevin Harvick placed third, Ryan Newman was fourth and pole-sitter Erik Jones finished the stage fifth. Jones was followed by Kyle Larson, Denny Hamlin, Busch, Paul Menard and Clint Bowyer.

Busch controlled most of Stage 2 and seemed set to win it until crew chief Adam Stevens elected to pit for tires to help set the team up for the rest of the race.

Busch fell from first to sixth on a pit stop after winning Stage 1 because of a problem with the left rear tire. He worked his way back to the lead on Lap 167, passing Jones for the top spot.

Jones took the lead back on Lap 179 as they raced in traffic around Brad Keselowski, who lost four laps because of a cut left front tire from contact in the opening laps.

Busch regained the lead on Lap 199. He maintained the advantage on pit road shortly after that when Ricky Stenhouse Jr. hit the wall and brought out the caution.

Martin Truex Jr. had a loose right rear wheel and pitted as the field took the green on the restart. He had to pit shortly after that when he was penalized for an outside tire violation. After serving the penalty, Truex was two laps behind the leaders.

AJ Allmendinger had to pit under green because he had a tire rub after contact.

Jeffrey Earnhardt and Austin Dillon crashed on Lap 232. Dillon spun up the track and Jeffrey Earnhardt had nowhere to go and slammed into Dillon’s car. Kasey Kahne hit the wall and Joey Gase‘s car as he tried to slow.

 

Kyle Busch passes Kyle Larson on final lap to win Stage 1 at Bristol

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Kyle Busch passed Kyle Larson on the final lap to win Stage 1 on Saturday night at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Busch and Larson dueled the final 11 laps of the stage. They made contact while racing in traffic while racing to Lap 125 of the scheduled 500-lap event.

Busch seeks to win the Camping World Truck, Xfinity and Cup races this week at Bristol for the second time in his career. He won all three races in 2010.

After Busch, who started 18th, was pole-sitter Erik Jones. Larson finished third. Chase Elliott was fourth. Matt Kenseth placed fifth. Kenseth was followed by Denny Hamlin, Ryan Blaney, Joey Logano, Martin Truex Jr. and Jimmie Johnson.

The stage win is Busch’s 10th of the season. Only Truex (15 stage wins) has more this season.

A couple of drivers had problems early in the race.

Brad Keselowski suffered a cut left front tire on Lap 5 and lost four laps by the time he pitted and got new tires. He was 38th at the end of the stage.

Aric Almirola brought out the caution on Lap 61 when he hit the wall. He was 33rd at the end of the stage.

List of driver introduction songs for the Bristol night race

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Here’s all the songs NASCAR Cup drivers selected for their introduction prior to the Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Erik Jones – “All I Do Is Win” by DJ Khaled

Kyle Larson – “Dirt Track Thing” by Kenny Montgomery

Kasey Kahne – “You’re Gonna Miss Me When I’m Gone” by Brooks & Dunn (picked by Dale Earnhardt Jr.)

Chase Elliott – “Chevy Don’t Let Me Down” by Jeff Bates

Matt Kenseth – “Halo on Fire” by Metallica

Martin Truex Jr. – “That’s How We Do Around Here” by Florida Georgia Line

Denny Hamlin – “Jumpman”  by Drake

Joey Logano – “Energy” by Drake

Clint Bowyer – “How Country Feels” by Randy Houser

Ryan Blaney – “Life Ain’t Fair & the World is Mean” by Sturgill Simpson

Jamie McMurray – “Believer” by Imagine Dragons

Daniel Suarez “El Mariachi Loco”

Ryan Newman – “Hutin’, Fishin’ & Lovin’ Everyday” by Luke Bryan

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. – “Chattahoochee” – By Alan Jackson

Chris Buescher – “E” by Matt Mason

Austin Dillon – “Ain’t No Mercy” by Rick Ross

Brad Keselowski – “Right Now” by Van Halen

Kyle Busch – “Thunder” by Imagine Dragons

David Ragan – “I’m from the Country” by Tracey Byrd

Trevor Bayne – “Sideways” by KB Featuring Lecrae

Jimmie Johnson – “What’s My Name?” (clean version) by Snoop Dogg

Ty Dillon – “Rise Up” by Petey Pablo

AJ Allmendinger – “Paper Cut” by Linkin Park

Danica Patrick – “Regulate” by Warren G

Kurt Busch – “Sweet Emotion” by Aerosmith

Michael McDowell – “Dream Team (I Had a Dream)” by Thi’sl

Paul Menard – “512” by Lamb of God

Aric Almirola – “Green Light” by Pitbull

Kevin Harvick – “Happy” by Pharrell

J.J. Yeley – “I Got You Babe” by Sonny & Cher

DALE EARNHARDT JR. – “Stuntin’ Like My Daddy (Rock Remix) by Birdman and Lil Wayne (Picked by Kasey Kahne)

Cole Whitt – “Baby Got Back” by Sir Mix-A-Lot

Landon Cassill – “Silver Bullet” by Hawthorne Heights

Matt DiBenedetto – “Gon Give It To Ya” by DMX

Corey LaJoie – “Lights Come On” by Jason Aldean

BJ McLeod – “Kickstart My Heart” by Mötley Crüe

Gray Gaulding – “Wanted Dead or Alive” by Bon Jovi

JEFFERY EARNHARDT – “Good Life” by Tyler Hatley & The Little Mountain Band

Reed Sorenson – “Over and Under It” by Five Finger Death Punch

Joey Gase – “I Gotta Feeling” by Black Eyed Peas

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