CP MOTORSPORTS - BANK OF AMERICA 500 NOTEBOOK
TRUEX DELIVERS - Ebb and flow. Up and down. Advance and retreat.
Such is the fickle nature of racing at Charlotte Motor Speedway. The temperatures change. The skies above change. The racing on the 1.5-mile track changes.
Pole winner Denny Hamlin maintained his predetermined edge at the start. After a “competition caution,” waved because the weather had allowed so little practice and the conditions were so unpredictable after 36 laps, Kevin Harvick took over. Then, after Ryan Newman’s early crash, Chase Elliott briefly advanced to the front before succumbing to Harvick again.
Martin Truex Jr., after qualifying 17th, moved up into the top five then fell back. Kyle Busch, winner of the two previous races, found a comfortable place, fourth, in which to nestle. A pit-road mistake cost Kyle Larson, but his Ganassi teammate, Jamie McMurray, a driver of CMS renown, advanced to third.
The race found its form in the first stage, won by McMurray, followed by Busch, Harvick, Larson, Matt Kenseth, Elliot, Jimmie Johnson, Daniel Suarez, Hamlin and Kurt Busch. Eight of the 12 drivers whose Monster Energy Cup hopes were still alive finished the stage in the top 10.
AN HONEST EVALUATION - The Newman crash occurred as a result of a tangle with Clint Bowyer’s Ford on lap 44.
“For sure, I didn’t see him,” Newman said, referring to Bowyer. “I know I got tight underneath him and I washed up, but I checked up, and when you check up, sometimes you wash up even more, but nevertheless, I don’t know if he turned me on purpose or not.
“He probably had a right to, but it was early in the race and we had a good car. … (It was) either my mistake or his mistake, both of us going for the same piece of real estate off turn two.”
HE’S BACK - Truex worked his way up to fourth place just past the midpoint of Stage 2, rising as his biggest nemesis in the playoffs, Kyle Busch, fell.
Busch’s Toyota suffered extensive damage on lap 137 in an accident similar to one he had experienced in practice.
WHICH WAY IS UP? - The drama that Truex robbed by making metallic mincemeat out of his pursuers in the final two restarts was provided by the unfortunate Kyle Busch, who swooned after finishing a trouble-filled 29th. Busch, exiting his crude and crumpled No. 18, collapsed getting out of it.
The ravages of three caution-flag-producing spins undoubtedly caused an entryway for noxious fumes in the cockpit. Busch will, by all accounts, be fine.
TOUCHE - Denny Hamlin, he of the heretofore superior Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota team, said of the currently superior Furniture Row Toyota team that it won so many races because it had “speed in reserve.”
In other words, Truex was “sandbagging.”
Hamlin’s remarks concerning the salaries of drivers had left him open to criticism already.
“Maybe it's just because Martin makes less money than him (Hamlin),” Truex crew chief Cole Pearn said to hoots of media center laughter.
NO SUCH THING AS COMFORT AT TALLADEGA - Next up is the playoffs’ most perilous race at Talladega Superspeedway. At the end of the first race of the second segment, the eight who will move on are nowhere near comfortable.
At the moment, and this is rather insignificant in view of what comes next, Jamie McMurray is in eighth place, a point ahead of both Matt Kenseth and Brad Keselowski. Ryan Blaney is three out, and Ricky Stenhouse Jr., who won earlier this year at Talladega, is a mere five points in arrears.
McMurray said, “I view Talladega as going there and racing as hard as I can every single lap trying to get as many stage points as I can. We had a huge day today with where we were. … I really feel like we will have to win a race in order to advance, unless we have three races like we had today (fifth).
“But, Talladega, yeah, I know that when the thing is over we will have had a shot to win and we will also have a good shot to get crashed. We will just have to wait and see how it plays out.”
HAMLIN KEEPS THE LINE MOVING WITH CHARLOTTE POLE – Denny Hamlin won the pole for the Bank of America 500, but that’s not all. It was Hamlin’s first pole of the season. Lee Corso might have said “not so fast,” but it was. Hamlin edged Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Matt Kenseth by .016 of a second, averaging 191.598 mph to Kenseth’s 191.489.
“It’s good, you always like to keep streaks alive. Hadn’t had a pole this year and have had one every other year, but it’s good,” Hamlin said. “We’ve been so close and we’ve made so many final rounds, been in the top-five, but not as fast as our teammates. Today we adjusted on it, got it a little better each round and had some good will.”
NOT BAD FOR A MAN WITH THE SHAKES - Kyle Busch, winner of the previous two races, had to settle for a fourth-place qualifying performance, and he sounded as if he was starting deep in the pack. He was less than a 10th of a second off the pole time, but when asked what the problem was, Busch said: “Confidence. I lost all my confidence after that last run we had there in practice.”
The compound used to treat the track, allegedly for better racing, drew criticism for what some deemed its unreliability.
“The Interstate Batteries Camry was really good today, just unfortunate that I got up in the stuff, the grippy stuff, and it was slick. It just kind of washed us right out to the fence,” he said.
Normally when it’s “grippy stuff,” it’s not supposed to be “slick.”
THAT’S PJ1, NOT PB&J - Dale Earnhardt Jr., whose No. 88 skittered into the wall almost immediately when practice began at CMS, kicked off the gnashing of teeth that others continued.
His Hendrick Motorsports teammates Chase Elliott and Kasey Kahne had their troubles, too. They didn’t crash but they were quite careful while qualifying. Elliott was seventh and Kahne was ninth.
“Yeah, you know I about wrecked in it, too,” Elliott said. “I don’t know what is going on with it today. I don’t know if something weird with the way they put it down or what it was, but it was slick.”
“I stayed out of it so far,” Kahne said. “I’m scared of it. I have seen other people get in it, and it doesn’t look good.”
STAIRWAY TO HEAVEN - NBC has its own race car. It doesn’t race. It’s an expensive prop that allows the network’s ex-driver analysts to impart wisdom about the track to fans at home via the miracle of television. Erik Jones took a spin early Saturday morning with Jeff Burton that did not go well.
This speedway and most others use portable stairs that are used to help people cross the track to and from the grandstands. I was in place along the front straight, near the start-finish line, when the duo of Jones and Burton arrived on the scene at a high rate of speed.
No one told them the stairs were there. The result was a disintegrated set of stairs and a seriously damaged NBC Special, or whatever the program car is called.
BUT THAT’S NOT ALL - During Saturday night’s Xfinity race, with approximately 60 laps remaining, a large metal piece that did not seem to come from a race car appeared as if by magic on the front straight, resulting in the urgent waving of a yellow flag.
The yellow flag waved quickly because the flagman probably knew it first. What was lying on the front straight apparently fell off the flagstand. It was a display board, used to notify a driver he has been black-flagged or impart other messages.
A CHEVY THING? - No, criticism of the tinkering with the track surface was not confined to Chevy drivers, but they seemed most withering in their criticism.
Chip Ganassi’s drivers also chimed in.
“I think it was the worst idea ever for this track,” Kyle Larson said. “I think it’s great for other tracks, but I don’t think for a fast 1.5-mile it’s good. Obviously, it’s slick and I don’t think any of us are ever going to run up there (upper groove), so I don’t know.”
Added Jamie McMurray, “It seems it has worked well at some race tracks; it just hasn’t here. I got my right-side tires in it, and you can’t get out of it once you get in it. … The last run (qualifying) is like a Hail Mary and you know you are not going to make it, but you still try really hard.”