NASCAR at Richmond 2014: Winners and Losers from the Toyota Owners 400
"Don’t give us none of your aggravation/We had it with your discipline/Saturday night’s alright for fighting/Get a little action in..."
Short track racing at its finest.
Saturday night’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond International Raceway had all the necessary ingredients for a fantastic show: fast cars, cars on fire, cars hitting cars and even drivers hitting drivers. And the winner was...
*All quotes in this slideshow are taken from official team and manufacturer media releases unless otherwise stated.
Winner: Joey Logano
Race winner Joey Logano’s Ford Fusion was good on short runs. No, check that—his car was great on short runs.
“Our car was really, really good the first 20 laps of a run,” said Logano in a post race interview. “The 2 car (teammate Brad Keselowski) was the same way. We were some short run cars and eventually it would just go away. The front and the rear would go away and the Hendrick cars (Jeff Gordon and (Dale Earnhardt Jr.) would start coming."
Logano hadn’t been consistent on restarts, with one good one followed by a bad one. But he made the last one, on Lap 392, a good one. He muscled his way past a battling Keselowski, Jeff Gordon and Matt Kenseth to take the checkered flag for the second time in 2014.
“This is so cool to win two races already this season, and it is just going to be one heck of a season and I can’t wait to get to the race track next week.”
Loser: Jeff Gordon
It’s hard to call Jeff Gordon a loser, but the current points leader had a very fast race car that didn’t get good until about 10 laps into a run. That was two laps more than he had after the final restart.
Gordon was in good spirits after the race, though, despite his team falling short.
"I had a blast tonight," he said in a post-race pit road interview. "It was great short track racing here at Richmond. And to have a race car like that to drive from 25th up to the front like that was so much fun."
Still, second is the first loser. Gordon’s second-place finish (again) keeps him in the top spot in the driver standings; however, it’s all about the wins this year.
“I’d rather be in 12th place in the points and with two wins,” Gordon said in his post-race press conference.
Winner: Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. had a solid race car, and his team gave a great effort that, unfortunately, didn’t reflect his seventh-place finish. Junior said after the race he didn’t have enough brakes all night.
“(I) had a lot of brake problems with the car and the fluid boiled over under that last caution and I couldn’t keep the pedal up and had all rear brakes that last run,” Earnhardt said in a post-race interview. “Just real loose getting in the corner and trying to run seventh was all I could do and just trying not to fall back worse than that.”
Not a great night on the race track.
Still, a lifelong, diehard Washington Redskins fan, Earnhardt Jr. spent a good deal of time with Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III, exchanging gifts and generally enjoying each other’s coolness prior to the race.
Loser: Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. was one of several drivers whose race car caught fire due to a combination of overheating of the wheel hub, brake assembly and melting of the tire. The fires were often pretty spectacular, as they melted the carbon fiber front fenders as well.
Stenhouse Jr. finished in 38th.
One has to question why Stenhouse Jr., whose equipment is supposed to be as good as that of teammates Carl Edwards and Greg Biffle, is regularly found racing toward the rear of the field, within one or two positions of his girlfriend, Danica Patrick.
Edwards and Biffle ran in the top 15 for much of the race, with Edwards finishing ninth and Biffle 15th. It was a good run for both. Meanwhile, Stenhouse Jr., who was last year's Sprint Cup Rookie of the Year, never broke into the top 20 at Richmond.
Winner: Kyle Larson
After being bumped from behind by Clint Bowyer on the first turn of the first lap, the embarrassment alone would have caused a lesser young man to give up. But Kyle Larson, who restarted near the tail end of the field after pitting for four fresh tires, showed why he’s got the stuff to be a future Sprint Cup champion.
The Cup rookie worked his way through the field, making his car better at every pit stop, and scored a 16th place finish. We're left to wonder what could have been for this young man had he stayed at the front of the field for the first part of the race.
For his part, Bowyer was apologetic for causing the spin.
“I really hate that happened,” said Bowyer in a television interview. “I really like Kyle (Larson) and I’m a big fan of his. Him and the 2 (Brad Keselowski) kind of spun the tires and I just got such a big run him when he moved up. Then I was like, 'Okay, I guess I’m going to go to the bottom if you’re going to give me the bottom.'
“Then at the last minute he arched it in and I just wasn’t ready for him. I tried to get on the brakes and just got into him. I’m so glad he didn’t hit the wall. I was afraid he hit the wall and ended his night. It certainly didn’t help it at all.”
Bowyer was one of six cars that suffered some type of fire during the race.
Loser: Jimmie Johnson
Six-Time was never a factor in the race. His was one of a number of cars that suffered tire issues.
The No. 48 team had a good car for much of the early going, but then Johnson suffered a cut right-front tire. Then, another right-front tire failed.
“Not exactly sure why we had that issue, but we did have back-to-back tire issues there. That really just kind of put an end to our night. We didn’t have anything for the win, but I thought we could run top-five.”
Richmond has never been very kind to Johnson, although he does have three wins at the track. This time around, he was left to be philosophic about his evening:
This track has been tough on us so when it happened I was like "alright things like that happen to us here." But I know we have some really good race tracks coming up. (We’re) looking forward to those tracks. This Chase and the way you can work your way into the Chase is more forgiving than it has ever been. Might have to count on that this year and make sure we get in the Chase a little later than we want.
One would suspect that we’ll see the Johnson and the No. 48 team in Victory Lane sooner rather than later.
Winner: Brad Keselowski
Brad Keselowski was untouchable on the short runs. His No. 2 Detroit Diesel-sponsored Ford was ultra fast on restarts and easily sped away from the field.
Then, everybody else caught up to him and he fell back in the field.
Having the best short-run car almost paid off in the final restart. Except for one pesky problem: Matt Kenseth.
“Yeah, it was a wild finish,” said Keselowski in a post-race interview. “It just came down to really a four-way battle between the 2, the 20 (Kenseth), the 24 (Jeff Gordon) and 22 (race winner Joey Logano), and we had a great car for the short runs and we got up there challenging for the lead.
After the race was over, Keselowski made sure he told Kenseth he was not pleased with how “wide” Kenseth had made his race car in the final laps.
“The 20 (Kenseth) car ran me off the race track so I made sure to give him a bump, and that was what Joey needed to win the race. I am happy for his team and everybody at Team Penske. I wish it could have been us, but that was the way it goes.”
Loser: Marcos Ambrose and Casey Mears
No one is quite sure why Casey Mears shoved Marcos Ambrose, who in turn threw a solid punch that landed on Mears' face at the end of the Toyota Owners 400. It came at the end of a wild finish to the race.
Apparently, these two drivers had an issue on track that no one else saw.
Neither driver nor their teams' representatives had any comment about the incident.
NASCAR.com's Holly Cain had the best coverage at press time, as she was at the track and was able to talk to NASCAR VP of Competition Robin Pemberton. Pemberton described the incident as not being too severe and that he would review it.
Despite the serious nature of the incident, it gave rise to many funny tweets.
Winner: Martin Truex Jr.
In a minor breakthrough (of sorts), Martin Truex Jr. scored his first top-10 of the 2014 season with his Furniture Row team.
Truex Jr. had been struggling since the start of the season with his new team, as he and veteran crew chief Todd Berrier apparently were not on the same page. The 10th-place finish in the Toyota Owners 400 broke a string of unfortunate results for the Denver, Colorado-based team, which also had to deal with a number of mechanical issues during the first eight races of the season. The team’s best finish prior to Saturday night was 14th at Las Vegas.
"I thought we had a shot at a top-five there, but the short runs were just killing us,” Truex Jr. said after stepping out of his car on pit road. "We just couldn’t take off for the first 15 or 20 laps of a run. All those guys up there were really fast and we weren’t. We had a really good car on those last couple of long runs, but we had short runs at the end. Those long runs toward the end, we had something for them. It was a good day for us."
Maybe this will be the turning point for a team that is clearly capable of running in the top 10 every week.