The Rundown: Commentary on every Kentucky driver
June 29, 2014, Brad Norman, NASCAR.com
Driver-by-driver news and notes from Saturday's Quaker State 400
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1. Brad Keselowski, No. 2 Ford, Team Penske. Team Penske had the top two cars at Kentucky Speedway, and Brad Keselowski's was the best. The 2012 series champ led 199 of 267 laps and became the first Cup driver this year to record a perfect 150.0 driver rating. For Keselowski, it was the 12th win of his career and the first from the Coors Light Pole. "Yes, yes, yes. This feels like championship form to me," he said after taking the checkered flag. After a performance like that, who could argue? See his highlights here.
2. Kyle Busch, No. 18 Toyota, Joe Gibbs Racing. Busch, like most drivers at bumpy Kentucky, had a few outbursts over his radio Saturday, but he also displayed a high level of maturity. After one particular nasty comment, Busch paused for a few minutes and came back with an apology: "Didn't mean to kill you there," he said. "Looking in the mirror is driving me nuts at the moment." That ability to cool off quickly was key in his second-best finish of the year. To hear in-car audio, click here to subscribe to RaceView.
3. Ryan Newman, No. 31 Chevrolet, Richard Childress Racing. Newman recorded his first top-five of the season on the strength of a solid car and an outstanding performance in the pits. Newman spent the least amount of time on pit road throughout the race among all drivers, and mixing in two-tire calls with four-tire stops allowed the veteran to continually gain track position. Sign up for RaceView today to get advanced statistics on pit road.
4. Matt Kenseth, No. 20 Toyota, Joe Gibbs Racing. The story for Kenseth was in the pits. He had to make an unscheduled pit stop on Lap 122 when a tire went down, and then was served a pass-through penalty following a stop on Lap 153. He gained more than 20 spots the rest of the race, though, to give Joe Gibbs Racing two cars in the top five for the fourth time this year. See Kenseth's highlights here.
5. Dale Earnhardt Jr., No. 88 Chevrolet, Hendrick Motorsports. The last caution of the race nearly ruined Junior's night. The No. 88 team was on pit road when the yellow dropped on Lap 214, but the team completed the pit stop and beat the leader to the start/finish line, which allowed Dale Jr. to stay on the lead lap. That put him third on the ensuing restart, instead of being a lap down. "This feels like a win to me," Junior said after his second career Kentucky top-five. See his full race highlights here.
6. Jeff Gordon, No. 24 Chevrolet, Hendrick Motorsports. Gordon's shot at challenging for a win ended on a pit stop that saw him fall from seventh to 24th when the team's air gun malfunctioned. "Been a rough deal at this place this weekend," crew chief Alan Gustafson quipped. Still, the veteran rallied for his 13th top-10 this year and increased his points lead over Jimmie Johnson to 24. See his race highlights here.
It was another rough night in the pits for the No. 4 team.
7. Kevin Harvick, No. 4 Chevrolet, Stewart-Haas Racing. Another bad night on pit road led to more pointed comments from Harvick over his radio. Falling from second to 16th after one such stop led to this sarcastic barb: "Any advice on how to race mid-pack?" Later, he was even more pointed after reporting a possible loose wheel: "This is not fun to drive like this. And it happens a lot." To hear in-car audio as it happens during the race, click here to subscribe to RaceView.
8. Kasey Kahne, No. 5 Chevrolet, Hendrick Motorsports. Kahne's car was dinged in a wreck on Lap 153, but you couldn't tell by the way he drove it through the field. Something seems to have clicked for the No. 5 team, which has three consecutive top-10s for the first time this year. Kahne is also now 15th in the standings and on the cusp of joining the Chase Grid. See the updated driver standings here.
9. Joey Logano, No. 22 Ford, Team Penske. It was both a disappointing and outstanding ninth-place effort for Logano. He led 31 laps and appeared to have a car second to only teammate Brad Keselowski … yet he also dropped a cylinder late in the race and fell from second to ninth in the final 25 laps. Logano showed enough mettle to keep the car from blowing up for good to maximize his points. For Logano's race highlights, click here.
10. Jimmie Johnson, No. 48 Chevrolet, Hendrick Motorsports. The No. 48 team looked for little victories Saturday. Here was one, courtesy of spotter Earl Barban: "You're gonna get the trophy for the most passed cars, Bubba. Looking good today." And Barban was right on the money. "Six-Time" led all drivers with 34 quality passes. Click here to subscribe to RaceView at a reduced price.
11. Tony Stewart, No. 14 Chevrolet, Stewart-Haas Racing. 'Smoke' hasn't had a top-10 in the past four races, but he's had two 11th-place finishes during that time. His 66 green-flag passes Saturday led the field.
12. Kurt Busch, No. 41 Chevrolet, Stewart-Haas Racing. Busch's strong finish -- including a three-car pass during the closing laps -- allowed Stewart-Haas Racing to finish with three cars in the top 12 for the first time this season. It's also Busch's second consecutive finish in 12th place.
13. Marcos Ambrose, No. 9 Ford, Richard Petty Motorsports. Ambrose completed his best back-to-back stretch of finishes this season with Saturday's result. He took home eighth last week at Sonoma and has gained three spots in the standings over that two-week stretch.
Greg Biffle started slow, but the loop data shows he picked it up late.
14. Greg Biffle, No. 16 Ford, Roush Fenway Racing. Through the first 25 laps, Biffle had not gained one position after starting 24th. "Damn thing feels like it's going to flip over," he muttered over the radio. Things got better, though. In fact, Biffle was the top closer of the race. He gained a race-high four positions over the final 10 percent of the race -- in this case, 27 laps.
15. Paul Menard, No. 27 Chevrolet, Richard Childress Racing. Menard's two-race streak of top-fives ended, but not due to a lack of creativity. At times, he took two tires when everyone else took four. He stayed out on the track while others pitted. It was a strategy that kept Menard in the top 10 until a caution threw his strategy out of whack.
16. Austin Dillon, No. 3 Chevrolet, Richard Childress. Dillon ran in the top 10 at times and recorded his best finish since another 16th-place showing at Charlotte more than a month ago. His performance capped an RCR effort that had all drivers raving about the team's gains.
17. Carl Edwards, No. 99 Ford, Roush Fenway Racing. Edwards' 50 green-flag passes tied him for fifth in the race, and his 17th-place finish was his best at the track since 2011. Still, it was a race devoid of highlights as the 34-year-old had his worst finish on a 1.5-mile track this year.
18. Michael Annett, No. 18 Chevrolet, Tommy Baldwin Racing. Saturday was Annett's second-best finish of 2014, and his best finish on a non-restrictor-plate track. He was one of the highest movers after finishing 14 places ahead of where he started.
19. Martin Truex Jr., No. 78 Chevrolet, Furniture Row Racing. The No. 78 crew completed a rare pit stop with the car facing the wrong direction after it was bumped heading into its stall. The damage from that incident also forced the team to take an extra pit stop, which ruined any shot of a top-10.
20. Casey Mears, No. 13 Chevrolet, Germain Racing. Mears continues to plug along this season, with Saturday's result notching him 24 points and keeping him 24th in the points standings. At least one driver, however, thought Mears' night might end early. "Danica is going to dump the 13," Jamie McMurray called on Lap 260, although that didn't happen.
21. Danica Patrick, No. 10 Chevrolet, Stewart-Haas Racing. When following a race via RaceView, Patrick is always one of the best drivers to monitor. Her best gem Saturday came after contact from team owner Tony Stewart. "If my (expletive) boss is hitting me down the backstraight, either I cut him off and didn't know it, or he's going off the deep end!" For in-car driver audio, subscribe to RaceView.
22. AJ Allmendinger, No. 47 Chevrolet, JTG Daugherty Racing. Allmendinger had a car he called the program's best on a 1.5-mile track this year, and he was running in the top 10 as late as Lap 200. So what happened? 'Dinger pitted when he thought he felt a tire going down, then the caution came out and put him a lap behind. "Gutted," is how the driver described the feeling on Twitter.
Although he didn't get the performance he wanted, Bowyer was -- as always -- entertaining on the radio.
23. Clint Bowyer, No. 15 Toyota, Michael Waltrip Racing. Bowyer spent time during his pre-race interviews discussing how consistent his team has been over the past month. That's what made his worst showing since Richmond in April (although he also finished 23rd at Kansas) so difficult to take. "I'm not worth a (expletive)," he called out at one point.
24. Justin Allgaier, No. 51 Chevrolet, HScott Motorsports. Allgaier finished better than the numbers say he should have. He spent just one lap in the top 15, his average running position ranked 28th in the field and he had a driver rating that ranked 29th. His finish is a sign of the rookie's progress.
25. Ricky Stenhouse Jr., No. 17 Ford, Roush Fenway Racing. Although the Roush program struggled in qualifying, its three cars all closed strong -- with Stenhouse in position to possibly sneak into the top 10 for the first time since Bristol. A missing lug nut was a devastating penalty that not only ended those thoughts, but also sent the driver from 15th on Lap 210 to 26th on Lap 225.
26. Brian Vickers, No. 55 Toyota, Michael Waltrip Racing. Vickers lost nine spots throughout the race after qualifying 17th, continuing a brutal five-race stretch in which his average finish is 28.8. He's fallen from eighth in the standings to 19th during that time, and it looks like his Chase hopes rest on getting to Victory Lane.
27. Reed Sorenson, No. 36 Chevrolet, Tommy Baldwin Racing. A 17-point day may not seem like much, but it's Sorenson's second-best showing in the past 11 races. Finishing two laps down is his best result on a 1.5-mile track this year. It's the little things.
28. Cole Whitt, No. 26 Toyota, BK Racing. Whitt kept it nice and steady Saturday -- in the past seven races, his average finish is 27.9. He was the highest finisher for BK Racing.
29. Josh Wise, No. 98 Chevrolet, Phil Parsons Racing. Recording a top-30 was the best result for Wise in the past month. He wasn't fast on restarts (his average speed ranked 37th in the field), but he made up lost ground during long runs.
30. David Gilliland, No. 38 Ford, Front Row Motorsports. This was a slip in performance for the No. 38 team, which hadn't finished outside the top 20 in four consecutive races. The bad weekend started in qualifying -- coming off the grid 41st was Gilliland's worst starting position of 2014.
31. David Ragan, No. 34 Ford, Front Row Motorsports. The Quaker State 400 was the third time this season the Front Row duo finished in consecutive order. As for Ragan, he's finished outside the top 30 in 10 of the past 11 races.
32. Landon Cassill, No. 40 Ford, Hillman Racing. This is progress for Cassill and the No. 40 team. Saturday's result was the program's best finish on a 1.5-mile track this year.
33. Ryan Truex, No. 33 Toyota, BK Racing. After an 11-point day and his best showing on a mile-and-a-half this season, Truex remained 37th in the points standings for the fifth consecutive week.
34. Travis Kvapil, No. 32 Ford, FAS Lane Racing. In Kvapil's 12th start for the No. 32 team this season, the result was certainly far better than his last one, when he only finished 23 laps at Michigan. On Saturday, he completed 259 of 267 circuits.
35. David Stremme, No. 33 Chevrolet, Circle Sport Racing. Stremme has qualified for six Sprint Cup races this season and tied for his best finish with a 35th-place showing. Watch on Race RePlay as he makes a nice save while spinning and bringing out a caution.
36. Alex Bowman, No. 23 Toyota, BK Racing. The 21-year-old Bowman has yet to break into the top 20 in any race this season, and Kentucky was no different as he finished 36th. Watch on Race RePlay as Bowman gets loose, and the smoke from his tires causes a wreck.
37. Jamie McMurray, No. 1 Chevrolet, Chip Ganassi Racing. McMurray got a glimpse of the smoke show (not Tony Stewart) Saturday night. A spin by Alex Bowman had McMurray and Aric Almirola blindly driving through his exhaust, and they collided. Because McMurray's teammate, Kyle Larson, was already out of the race at the time, the No. 1 team had twice the number of crew members as usual working on his car, which enabled him to get back onto the track and finish the race.
38. Joe Nemechek, No. 66 Toyota, Jay Robinson Racing. Nemechek has qualified for nine Sprint Cup races this season, all in the No. 66, but he has yet to post a finish of better than 32nd (Fontana). At Kentucky, he completed just 239 of the 267 laps as he spent time in the garage but ultimately ended the race still running.
39. Aric Almirola, No. 43 Ford, Richard Petty Motorsports. Almirola's first wreck came on Lap 153 when he was caught up in somebody else's business. The second came on Lap 214, when a tire went down and he went hard enough into the wall to radio his team "(Expletive, that hurt)." He's finished outside the top 20 for four consecutive races. Watch video of all the wrecks here.
40. Kyle Larson, No. 42 Chevrolet, Chip Ganassi Racing. Larson summed up his night as only a 21-year-old can. "It sucks," he succinctly said after a hard crash on Lap 77 ended his night. Larson lost two spots in the points standings after last week's 28th-place showing, and he lost two spots this week and is down to 12th -- dangerously close to the Chase bubble.
41. Mike Bliss, No. 93 Toyota, BK Racing. The first Sprint Cup Series start of 2014 for Bliss ended after 30 laps. A late addition, Bliss was the fourth car for BK Racing in Saturday night's race.
42. Denny Hamlin, No. 11 Toyota, Joe Gibbs Racing. "We're done, guys," an obviously upset Darian Grubb told his crew once the No. 11 came behind the wall early Saturday. An up-close look at the damage incurred when the Toyota blew a tire and crushed the wall on Lap 29 revealed a car far too mangled to fix. It led to Hamlin's first last-place result of the year -- he's also missed one race due to injury -- and he now has three consecutive finishes outside the top 25. Watch video of his wreck here.