NASCAR at Kentucky 2015: Winners and Losers from the Quaker State 400
The Quaker State 400 is in the books, and it has to be considered a success from NASCAR's perspective—after all, the race finished well before 3 a.m. and there were no earth-shatteringly awful wrecks.
In fact, all around the race in Kentucky was an enjoyable one. The weather was good, the racing was exciting and there were big names battling it out at every turn.
Kyle Busch ended up running away with the win, his second of 2015, while Joey Logano finished in second place and Denny Hamlin finished in third.
Here are all of the winners and losers from Saturday night.
Winner: Kyle Busch
Kyle Busch is quickly becoming one of the best sports stories of the year. The No. 18 won Saturday night at Kentucky, marking his second win in three weeks.
The younger Busch brother is working from behind this season after missing the first 11 races due to breaking his right leg and left foot in a bad crash in the Xfinity race at Daytona.
He was given an exemption to make the Chase—usually the Chase drivers have to start every race—but he still had to win a race and finish in the top 30 in points.
Well, Busch has double the requisite amount of wins, and he's already up to 35th in the points standings. He can't stand to have any bad crashes or unfinished races the rest of the summer, but he's put himself in contention to be in the postseason.
"There's just no quit in Kyle Busch," crew chief Adam Stevens said on NBC Sports after the race.
Loser: Brad Keselowski's Crew
Brad Keselowski had one of the fastest cars all night long, leading 62 laps and looking like the man to beat, particularly after his Xfinity win Friday.
Unfortunately, his crew members on the No. 2 team didn't hold up their end of the bargain, and it likely ended up costing Keselowski a win at a track where he's won twice in the last four years.
On an early pit stop when Keselowski was in control, one of his crew members fell down right in front of him, slowing down his exit.
He was able to climb back through traffic, but then later in the race the cautions forced him to stop before he wanted to. He decided to get four new tires on that stop, but his crew had big-time problems with the change, leading him to lose significant ground again.
Keselowski had to restart in 15th place with 73 laps to go and never could get back in control of the race. He ended up in sixth place.
Winner: Joe Gibbs Racing
Busch wasn't the only member of Joe Gibbs Racing to have success Saturday night—in fact, all four Joe Gibbs drivers finished in the top five.
"It was a great day for Joe Gibbs Racing; it shows what that organization is all about," Matt Kenseth said after the race on NBC Sports.
Hamlin was the story of the night, coming back from two laps down after early troubles to finish in third place. Carl Edwards finished in fourth and Kenseth finished in fifth.
On the last restart, the team members actually went three-wide fighting for the lead before Busch pulled away from the pack, only then battling with Team Penske's Logano for a while.
That certainly made the boss nervous.
"I think I'm the most nervous when there's two of our cars up there. Today we had four of them up there. I was scared to death," Gibbs said on NBC Sports after the race.
Loser: Danica Patrick (and Dale Earnhardt Jr.)
The biggest altercation in this race happened to be between two of the most high-profile drivers in NASCAR, Danica Patrick and Dale Earnhardt Jr.
After getting the win last week, Junior was struggling throughout the evening at Kentucky, particularly with his brakes. Patrick was struggling too. She was fighting to get into the top 20 when Earnhardt tagged her bumper, sending her spinning through the grass.
Patrick, who was racing in her 100th Sprint Cup race, was able to continue, but the repairs she needed caused her to lose position, and she ended up finishing in 34th, two laps down. She was not happy with the driver of the No. 88.
NASCAR.com broke down the aftermath of the bump:
After the incident, Patrick radioed to her team to relay the message to Earnhardt to, "Go (expletive) yourself."
She then caught up to him on pit road and gave Junior's No. 88 a shot from behind, a move that Earnhardt quickly reciprocated by swerving in front of her.
As Nate Ryan of NBC Sports tweeted, Patrick wasn't made available to talk with the media after the race. Earnhardt finished in 21st place.
Winner: The New Rules Package
It's rare to see losing drivers smiling after a NASCAR race, but there were plenty of happy faces at the end of this Kentucky race.
It turns out that the new rules package that NASCAR debuted this week is just what the drivers were asking for.
Overall, the lower downforce gave the drivers more options. It was possible for drivers like Hamlin and Keselowski to maneuver through traffic when they got behind, and clean air wasn't the guarantee that it had been before.
"I know I won, but so far, so good," Kyle Busch said after the race on NBC Sports. "I like the new aero package. It felt like you weren't stuck."
As reported by Jeff Gluck of USA Today, there were 2,665 green-flag passes on Saturday night, compared to 1,147 last year. There were also 22 green-flag passes for the lead, a track record.
"Drivers are very pleased about the new package," Gluck tweeted. "Carl Edwards said he feels like a driver again instead of just riding in a line."
Loser: Tony Stewart
This is just getting depressing.
Tony Stewart had yet another race to forget Saturday night. Smoke got into trouble early, making the wrong move on an early caution that he thought was going to second as a competition caution.
He then was caught up in the aftermath of a wreck between Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Jeb Burton on Lap 143, which caused him to go spinning
Stewart ended up finishing in 33rd place, two laps down. He is currently 28th in the standings.
This week, Stewart can't even fall back on a successful night for his team. The Penske drivers and the Joe Gibbs Racing drivers dominated this race, leaving no room for anyone else in the top six.
Top-five staple Kevin Harvick finished eighth, Kurt Busch finished 10th and, as we mentioned, Patrick finished in 34th. It was a forgettable night for Stewart-Haas Racing.
Winner: Joey Logano
Logano wasn't too thrilled after the race, because, as he said on NBC Sports, "Second just hurts."
However, hopefully after a good night of sleep the driver of the No. 22 will realize that this was actually a very good week for him.
Logano started off this year with a bang with the win in the Daytona 500, but he hasn't really been a factor since.
Now, it hasn't been a bad year—many drivers would kill for Logano's numbers—but coming into Kentucky, he had led only 24 laps since the All-Star Race in June, with 17 coming at Charlotte.
He led 23 laps Saturday in Kentucky, which isn't a huge moral victory for a guy of Logano's pedigree, but it was promising because he found himself battling for the lead with Kyle Busch at the very end of the race.
This new package seemed to work well for Logano and all of Team Penske, and so despite the loss, he should be able to take confidence from this race and use that to finish the season strong.
Losers: The Winless Chase Hopefuls
It sounds like twisting the knife to call the winless drivers losers, but this new Chase format really has left us with no choice.
You get into the Chase if you win a race and finish in the top 30. If there aren't 16 race-winners, then the remainder get in according to points. So far, there are 10 drivers who are all but locked into the Chase, leaving just six spots for guys like Jeff Gordon, Jamie McMurray, Kasey Kahne, Ryan Newman, Kyle Larson and Clint Bowyer to fight it out for.
But now that Kyle Busch has another win under his belt, and it looks very likely that he'll be able to move up from 35th to 30th in the points in the remaining eight races, the number of spots left is down to five.
These drivers without a win need to hurry up and get to Victory Lane quickly, because time is running out to make the postseason.