This past week’s race in Charlotte earned every bit of its billing as the longest race in NASCAR. At just a shade under 6 hours after the red flag delays and multitude of cautions, racing fans got their money’s worth.
In a race that saw big time names fall to the back, it was a banner week for fans of Chevrolet and Stewart-Haas Racing. Chevy took the haul with five of the top seven finishers and Stewart-Haas enjoyed its best week of 2013 as Ryan Newman and Tony Stewart finished sixth and seventh respectively and Danica even lead a lap, albeit for about 14 seconds.
Starting with the bizarre occurrence of the camera cable falling onto the track and tearing up cars and ending with supposed lame duck Kevin Harvick’s victory off a crucial restart, this race had enough for everybody. Just ask the hula hoop guy.
The Hamlin-Logano-Stewart feud seems to have cooled a bit as they all finished within four spots of one another with no fireworks. They’re clearly just interested in points, especially Denny Hamlin who is looking to break into the Top 20 and Logano and Stewart sitting right on the edge at 19th and 20th respectively.
NASCAR’s handling of the cable fiasco is worth noting. David Newton from ESPN tweeted that Kyle Busch should be allowed to revert to his backup car and some fans suggested he at least be allowed to repair his car under the red flag, which is exactly what happened. NASCAR gets a lot of flack but I think it’s evidence that it really does, in many ways, listen to feedback and criticism. Constructive criticism does not fall on deaf ears in this sport. I’m sure there are plenty who will disagree, but from my perspective, I think they do a good job by and large.
The real stars of this race were the pit crews and you heard it on the radio – there was a lot of positive feedback from the drivers to their crews. From the myriad repairs to cars attacked by the now infamous SkyCam cable to lightning fast pits in the home stretch of the race, the crews were at their best churning out four-tire changes and wedge adjustments inside 100 laps. Jimmie Johnson’s forgotten lug nut notwithstanding. In the end, pit stops turned out to be the difference.
Especially for Kasey Kahne.
Kahne had a dominant car Sunday night and he drove it well. This was just a case of good ol’ fashioned bad luck. For all the benefits of running out front, there is also an enormous amount of pressure as you not only set the stage for pace but also strategy. It’s a paradox much like that in golf where the best score gets “honors.” In other words, you’re winning so you get to take the first crack at making a mistake and the rest of us get to learn from it.
That’s exactly what happened when an ill-timed yellow came out with 14 laps to go. Kahne had the car to go the distance, but when pit road opened up on Lap 386 the 5 Car kept on driving and everyone from P2 on back gladly did the opposite.
“Did everybody come?” Kahne asked crew chief Kenny Francis. To which Francis replied “Yes. Everybody came.”
“Oh boy,” said Kahne. “We’ll see what happens.”
What they saw was Kevin Harvick on fresh tires. Harvick took off and Kahne went nowhere on the restart. From there, the 29 car locked it up.
I wrote a piece a few weeks back discussing pit strategy and the influence it has on a race’s outcome. There is no clearer example than this. Understandably, Kahne was in an untenable position. Had he pitted, the rest of the top 10 would have likely stayed out.
I think Francis made the right call; Kahne just needed a better restart. He was in a position where he was leading the race with just over 10 laps to go and he couldn’t get the car to go. Kahne had just pitted on Lap 364 in what was expected, at the time, to be the last round of pits. So you have to believe he had some tires left. Easier said than done, of course, but in this sport you’ve just got to make it happen.
What did you think of the race? Let me know on Twitter @fordNASCAR