Editor's note: Brad Parrott, a 19-time winner in NASCAR national series competition has joined NASCAR.com as a guest writer for the 2014 season. Here is his first-person analysis after Saturday night's 5-Hour Energy 400 for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series at Kansas Speedway:
Kansas didn't let us down for having our first May night race at Kansas, the night before Mother's Day. It was a night of firsts, for sure -- a bank of lights flickering out on the backstretch mid-race, the big storm-related delay to start, and a load of cautions that made race strategy a tough task.
Without a doubt, the final pit stop shuffle was the turning point, but we're going to go back all the way to the start of the race. Jeff Gordon started 13th and by Lap 40, he was running sixth and knew he had a fast car. That's just the way the race and the pit strategies played out with all the cautions. Gordon took two wave-arounds Saturday night, and at the end, he had the fastest car to lead the final eight laps and beat Kevin Harvick.
Gordon was 1.6 seconds behind Harvick the lap before his final pit stop. I think Harvick might've had an issue with his fuel and got onto pit road slower than Gordon did and compounded it when he was slower off. That little mishap and sluggishness getting out of the pits cost him the race. At the end of the day, track position showed who had the fastest car: Gordon got out in front of Harvick, who could never pass him back. Gordon took full advantage of that and came out the winner.
It was a very fast race tonight, with a top lap of 189.8 mph by Harvick -- unbelievable for a 1.5-mile track at race pace. But once Gordon got out front in the final cycle, Harvick's car wasn't nearly as free. Clear air is still key to these Generation-6 race cars, as Harvick found out early in the race when he lost track position and his car was stuck in traffic. He got two free passes because of the way the caution flags fell on pit cycles.
Rodney Childers called the race of his life tonight for Harvick and the No. 4 team, but unfortunately, didn't have enough at the end. There's not too many races where you're going to get two free passes and still come out in second place.
It goes back to racing luck, pit strategy and a good race car. Tonight, crew chief Alan Gustafson and his No. 24 team had all three of those aspects to become a winner and get themselves in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup playoffs. As Jeff Gordon told his team on the cool-down lap, it's a big weight lifted off their shoulders, and we're only 11 races into the season.
One person who didn't luck into anything was Danica Patrick, who drove the race of her life to a career-best seventh-place finish. Great job by the whole Tony Gibson-led Stewart-Haas No. 10 team for her to come out the way she did. Her teammates were also in the top 10 at points of the night, but she drove the GoDaddy Chevrolet very well tonight. For the night before Mother's Day, I'm sure she made her mom proud.
We also saw a big wreck for David Gilliland and Justin Allgaier -- thank goodness for SAFER barriers and the Gen-6 car because those guys hit a ton. We'll probably see a 50- to 60-G hit and that's a heavy one.
We had more than one instance of cautions falling on pit cycles and shaking up the strategies, and we haven't seen that this year. It was a race that showed a lot of different cars up front and was hard to follow at times with all the pit shuffling and wave-arounds.
Jeff Gordon, ultimately, was the hardest one to follow.