BRISTOL, Tenn. - When Joey Logano passed Penske teammate Brad Keselowski for the lead with 31 laps to go it looked like he was sail to his second win of the season, but Bristol Motor Speedway has a way of making all of its endings dramatic and Sunday was no different.
With Logano seemingly on cruise control, a caution came out for Kyle Larson, who hit the wall with 22 laps to go, setting the stage for a strategy call that would likely determine the outcome. Logano, along with Keselowski and Ryan Blaney came down pit road while Kyle Busch, who was running third at the time, and Kurt Busch, who was running fifth, opted to stay out.
When the restart came with 14 laps to go it became a battle between the Busch brothers with Kyle coming out on top for his third Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series win of the season.
Logano finished third after winning Stage 2 and leading five times for 146 laps. He led a group of six Ford drivers in the top 10, including Blaney, who led three times for 158 laps before finishing fourth. Paul Menard was sixth with Clint Bowyer seventh, Daniel Suarez eighth and Ryan Newman ninth.
Keselowski was battling in the top five all day, but was flagged by NASCAR on the final restart for “failure to follow instructions on where to line up.” As a result, he finished 18th.
Kevin Harvick rallied from as many as three laps down to finish 13th after he got back on the lead lap for the final restart. He was forced to start from the rear and make a pass-through penalty at the start of the race for not clearing pre-race inspection three times.
The race got off to an unlucky start for two Ford drivers. Aric Almirola, who qualified sixth, found himself in the wall after the first lap when William Byron got loose underneath him. Byron slid up into Almirola going through turn one and sent the No. 10 Mustang into the wall with enough damage that it couldn’t be repaired in the six-minute time allotment. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. also received damage to his hood in the incident that eventually forced him behind the wall for repairs.
The run of short track racing will continue on Saturday when Richmond Raceway hosts the series for a Saturday night event in the ninth points race of the season. The race is scheduled to start at 7:30 p.m. and will air live on Fox, MRN and SiriusXM radio.
MENCS RACE TOP-10 FINISHERS
1st -- Kyle Busch
2nd -- Kurt Busch
3rd -- Joey Logano
4th -- Ryan Blaney
5th -- Denny Hamlin
6th -- Paul Menard
7th -- Clint Bowyer
8th -- Daniel Suarez
9th -- Ryan Newman
10th -- Jimmie Johnson
REMAINING FORD FINISHERS
13th -- Kevin Harvick
18th -- Brad Keselowski
21st -- David Ragan
27th -- Matt Tifft
28th -- Michael McDowell
33rd -- Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
34th -- Corey LaJoie
37th -- Aric Almirola
POST RACE QUOTES
ARIC ALMIROLA, No. 10 SHAZAM/Smithfield Ford Mustang
“The 24 just got loose under me. He struggled to get going on the initial start. He spun his tires and then was just loose and out of control that whole first lap. When we went down in turn one he lost it under me and wiped us out. I’m pretty frustrated. You work all weekend, all week getting ready for the event and to make it one lap is kind of uncalled for, so I’m disappointed, frustrated, but life goes on. We’ll go to Richmond.”
CAN YOU EXPLAIN HOW THAT HAPPENS WHEN THE RACE HAD JUST STARTED? “Honestly, I think some of it is inexperience on William’s part. I think he started to panic because he started to lose spots on the start because he spun his tires on the start, and probably a little bit over his head with the tire pressures and everything not coming up and he just lost it. He got loose underneath me, lost it and ran right into the side of us and wrecked us. Part of that comes with experience, I guess, but, either way, it doesn’t change the outcome for us today.”
SO YOU’RE NOT SO MUCH MAD AS YOU ARE FRUSTRATED ABOUT IT? “Of course I’m mad, but it’s not gonna do any good to yell and scream at you guys.”
OR AT WILLIAM. “Yeah, he’s still out there racing. I’m not.”
IS THE TRACK SLICK? “That PJ1 on the bottom groove is a little bit slick to get going, but he didn’t even make an attempt to make it to the PJ1. He tried to run above it, which that area is really slick as well, so I think he probably just made a bad decision and unfortunately I was the victim of his mistake.”
JOEY LOGANO, No. 22 Autotrader Ford Mustang
“Right at the end there I thought when we got by the 2 I said, ‘If I can just hold him off that’s the pass for the win.’ I was pretty confident we were gonna be able to do that for 15 laps or so and then the caution came out and what do you do? Do you pit? Do you stay out? You know a few of them are gonna stay out. It’s really hard to pass and by the time I got to third those cars were so far ahead of me I was stuck and was not going to get to them. It stinks when you have the fastest car and don’t win, but it’s a team sport and it takes every piece to make it work. We had the car part figured out today, we just missed it on some other ends and just have to keep fighting hard. We got a stage win and that was nice, and led a lot of laps, but you want to win at Bristol so bad. Bristol is the coolest track. You see the start-finish line and think you’re gonna get it, but things happen quick here.”
WAS IT A NO-WIN SITUATION THERE AT THE END? “I think so. The last thing you want is a caution with 15 to 20 to go at Bristol and you’re the leader because you know everyone is gonna make their decision off of what you do. If you stay out, you’ve got to expect half the field is gonna pit, maybe more. If you come in, five or six stayed, so it’s just part of the game.”
BRAD KESELOWSKI, No. 2 Discount Tire Ford Mustang
WHAT HAPPENED ON THAT FINAL RESTART? “Nobody could figure out the lineup. There wasn’t enough communication and it was just a tough deal.”
RYAN BLANEY, No. 12 PPG Ford Mustang –
“I need to get better as the track kind of rubbers out. Joey is really good at it. I thought he had the best car, probably. The track rubbers in and I just need to do something different there. Overall, not a bad day. We were up there all race and just tried to keep up with the track. The track was really racy today from bottom to top. I thought it put on a really good show.”
HOW ABOUT THE BACK AND FORTH WITH NEWMAN? YOU HAD A LAUGH WITH HIM ABOUT IT. “Yeah, I put him in the fence off of two on accident. I tried to clear him myself. Just racing hard on a restart and my spotter said he was still out there, but I stayed on the gas trying to clear him myself. I fenced him and I felt bad about that. He got me back. He fenced me off the frontstretch, so that’s hard racing. Me and Ryan have always raced each other really good. I’ve looked up to him for a long time and it’s nice you can have a laugh about it and joke about it and not be pissed about it, so it was my fault. I just tried to clear myself.”
CLINT BOWYER, No. 14 Haas Automation Ford Mustang – “We had a good car, it’s just horribly disappointing. You get that close. Long runs were my strong suit. I couldn’t take off all day long. Some of those things made sense. We were down a little bit on air and it took a little bit of time for them to come in. The problem is when you balance around that and you just pump the air-pressure up, then it doesn’t work either and you don’t handle there. It’s just disappointing.”
THE DEAL WITH THE 22 WAS IT JUST RACING? “Yeah, it was. He was racing me pretty hard. I could get under him. I saw that I could get under him and he would diamond it and just didn’t leave me much room there. It’s time to race. There’s no question about it. We just barely touched and it must have cut the valve stem out of it or something and hit it just right. Maybe his fender caught it or something, I don’t know. That’s about typical luck for here. You’re damned if you do, damned if you don’t. We put ourselves in position. Our Stewart-Haas Ford was good, our Haas Automation car. I wanted to get that thing in victory lane. It’s such a good-looking car. I think it’s racy looking. I appreciate Gene and the opportunity, I just didn’t get it done.”
DO YOU FEEL THE SHR CARS ARE CATCHING UP TO PENSKE AND GIBBS? “We’ve got work to do. We know that. This is a different beast – a different short track is a different beast. Early on, those Penske cars have more speed. You see that on restarts and stuff like that. My strong suit, just like last week, was long runs. We just slowly kept picking them away. You could see that on restarts. I couldn’t take off worth a damn, but I could really come on strong on the big end of a run.”
PAUL MENARD, No. 21 Menards/Sylvania Ford Mustang
“We qualified really well and had good track position from the start. I messed up our first pit stop and got us behind. I went to neutral to stop and it popped into third, so I killed the car. I put us behind doing that and track position is so important. Greg made a good call to stay out and came home with a top 10.”
HOW WOULD YOU LABEL THIS RACE? “I felt there was more options than normal. That PJ1 stayed pretty much the whole race, where normally that goes away and you’re just going to the top, so I thought we had more options.”
WHAT DO YOU EXPECT AT RICHMOND? “It’s a totally different track. I don’t know if they’re going to lay any PJ1 down for that track. I hope they don’t for that track, it widens out as it is. We struggle at Richmond really bad. Bristol is one of our better tracks and Richmond is one of our worse tracks, so we’re gonna do a lot of studying this week.”
RYAN NEWMAN, No. 6 Wyndham Rewards Ford Mustang
“It was a good run for us. We had a car better than what we finished. I’m not sure what the call was on pit road there with the penalty, but then I don’t know why we ended up having to start fifth when we were actually sixth. It was a penalty to be moved up a spot, but a good run for our Wyndham Rewards Ford. The guys did a good job today, we just don’t have the total result to show for it, but it’s definitely and improvement and I’m proud of them.”
DANIEL SUAREZ, No. 41 Haas Automation Ford Mustang
“Today was difficult. We made a lot of mistakes that we were lucky to overcome and finish in the top 10. I’m proud of that. We have to keep better, but it’s kind of good that we’re making these mistakes now so we can clean them up and be stronger in the second part of the season.”
YOUR TEAM SHOWED SOME REAL FORTITUDE TODAY TO BOUNCE BACK. “We have a very good team. We have great race cars and it’s always good to perform well. Today, we had a lot of speed. I felt like we had top five speed at times and when we’re not very good we have top 10 speed and that’s where we ended up, so after all of those mistakes it was still a decent day.”