That’s right the Bucket Report is back! As Carl Edwards and Jimmie Johnson make the big headlines, the Bucket Report likes to shine a light on those a bit lower in the standings at the bottom of the Chase bucket so to speak. At Atlanta the Bucket drivers did shine.
Atlanta’s quad-oval track is one of the fastest on the NASCAR circuit. There are no restrictor plates at Atlanta thus leading to the track's slogan, "Real Racing, Real Fast". However, track temperature at Atlanta often changes drastically over the duration of the race, which can lead to handling issues.
Ranked 12th – Kyle Busch (#18)
Change in Standing
Over all Kyle Busch hasn’t had the Chase everyone expected, however maybe his Atlanta top five finish will make all that humble pie being thrown at him a little easier to get down. Not to say that Atlanta was easy on Kyle, for almost half the race he struggled with a really loose car. On Lap 88 the No. 18 team tried a wedge and air pressure adjustments. Kyle was able to move up to tenth, but battling with car prevented a stronger push. On Lap 185 a track-bar adjustment seemed to tighten up the No. 18 car.
In the last fourth of the race Kyle would pass brother Kurt for fourth on Lap 309. On a sidenote what a race for Kurt Busch! This Chase has highlighted the nothing to lose attitude of the non-Chasers. Kurt Busch was the embodiment of the attitude at Atlanta as he kissed the wall multiple times but wasn’t being pushed out of the top ten. Jimmie Johnson would pass both brothers on Lap 322 leading to a fifth (Kyle) and sixth (Kurt) finish, a commendable day for the Busch family.
Ranked 11th – Denny Hamlin (#11)
Change in Standing
Martinsville hinted at a turnaround for Denny Hamlin and Atlanta confirmed it. Early on in Atlanta Denny, like teammate Kyle Busch struggled with his car, reporting a vibration. In his first pit-stop on Lap 86 the No. 11 team would make a chassis adjustment. Through out the first half of the race the No. 11 team would go on making minor adjustments. With the car coming together Denny entered the top five.
Sidebar: Chassis Adjustments; think of the chassis as the selection of the car. Often a team as a chassis setup that has works for a given track and hopes to only need to make minor adjustment, such at air pressure etc. during the race. An ideal situation would be when as Jeff Huneycutt put it, “it feels like you’ve got Velcro tires and you're racing on a felt track”. If minor adjustments can’ t make this happened then changes to the chassis setup such as adjusting the sway bar or rear axles may get your closer to Velcro.
On Lap 254 feeling his car was to tight Denny called for a wedge adjustment. The No. 11 team was superb during that pit-stop, giving Denny the edge he needed to win the race off pitrow and take the lead for the first time. Denny would go on to lead for 56 laps. Early after taking the lead (Lap 275) Denny would pull away from Matt Kenseth by 1.999 seconds. Cautions would reel Denny back in however, he would maintain the lead position through three restarts.
On the fourth restart of Denny’s lead on Lap 309 Carl Edwards quickly dived beneath Denny to take the lead. Denny would hold a solid second, his only challenge coming from Jimmie Johnson, who with the white flag out finally caught Denny, leading him to finish third.
This Chase has offered Denny a chance to grow as a driver, his turn around in Martinsville and strong performance at Atlanta maybe foreshadowing the racer to come.
Well until next time, happy cheering for the bottom of the bucket!