Monday, August 22, 2016

Harvick Rains At Bristol

Kyle Busch's crash effectively ended any competitive challenge to Kevin Harvick at the rain-delayed Volunteer 500

Somehow they got this one in, and once again survival was the fittest approach as Kevin Harvick survived three multicar crashes and outlasted Kyle Busch for his second Cup win of the season. It was a race - and a weekend - with a little bit of everything as the track applied a resin to the bottom of the turns to improve traction and thus open up the bottom for passing, this after years where the leader would ride high and an attacker would dive to the bottom but couldn't stay there and the leader would clear him by the stripe.

The oddity of the weekend was that the resin first showed itself effective Wednesday night in the UNOH Truck 200, a race where unheralded Ben Kennedy stormed to a surprise victory, yet by Friday when the Food City 300 Xfinity series race hit the concrete the resin was worn out and the race became a spirited fight where the low groove wasn't effective.

The battle for the lead, especially Friday night, turned into a spirited affair

The lack of a low groove made for spirited competition up front and also led to one of the most surprising wrecks of the season

JGR wound up empty-handed as far as winning at Bristol went, as in all three races their ace Toyotas wrecked, and the result was a rarity - a sweep for Chevrolet, a marque that has just six wins to eleven so far for Toyota and six for Ford. The three-race sweep came on the heels of the signing by Hendrick Motorsports of Kyle Busch Toyota Truck ace William Byron, the first good news for Chevy pretty much all season. The signing raises question about the longer-term viability of the ineffective Kasey Kahne (a respectable 13th at Bristol, his best finished since 14th at Kentucky) and also potentially about Dale Earnhardt Jr., who appears not to have a timetable for returning to the cockpit.

Byron is the latest young gun on the track toward Cup, and his eventual graduation to Cup comes amid some downright schizophrenic performances by NASCAR's touted youngsters. Kyle Larson's weekend saw him lead 200 laps on Friday night yet still not win, and the more one watches him the more he seems to find ways to lose and not be able to figure out how to win.

It makes the second for Ricky Stenhouse all the more eye-opening.  Little better than a nothing driver his whole career, Stenhouse somehow pulled off a spectacular effort enough to finish runner-up; it was a surprisingly good day for the moribund Roush effort after Trevor Bayne salvaged 12th while Greg Biffle - the definition of moribund the last four races - had another forgettable weekend. 

The most striking contrast lay with Austin Dillon, who posted his tenth top-10 finish after winding up winning the Xfinity 300 Friday night.   His ten top-10s top the combined total of his RCR teammates (nine), and one of them, Paul Menard, has become the subject of Rumor Control Central with scuttlebutt that he will go to Penske's outfit. 

Ten top-10s in Cup look more and more impressive compared to much-heralded Darrell Wallace Jr. in the Xfinity series; his top-tens there (with another at this Bristol race) show there's ability but the lack of wins there - and really little in the way of sustained fight since leaving Kyle Busch's Truck team where he won five times - leaves one wondering if he has that killer instinct. 

It all added up to a prolonged weekend that left some legitimate surprises.   One hopes Michigan can recover its old competitive vinegar next week and the sport can see even more surprises.

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