NASCAR at Charlotte 2014: Winners and Losers from Bank of America 500
After having the best car for the past four weekends, Kevin Harvick finally got his win.
And who says the racing at the 1.5-mile tracks is boring, follow-the-leader stuff? The Bank of America 500 was classic Chase racing that included several reminders that Sprint Cup competition is a contact sport.
After the checkers fell and the smoke cleared from Happy Harvick’s post-race burnout in front of the fans, three big names—Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Brad Keselowski—found themselves in big trouble heading into Talladega next weekend.
There were also post-race fireworks in the Cup garage following a green-white-checkered finish that rivaled the pre-race fireworks show.
Here’s a look at some of the winners and losers from the Bank of America 500.
Loser: Denny Hamlin
Denny Hamlin’s FedEx Camry had been competitive all night, and he was cruising his way to a possible top-five finish.
Then came the green-white-checkered finish, and the Joe Gibbs Racing driver spun his tires with Keselowski, who was in a big hurry to get to the front, right behind him.
There was contact between the two, forcing Hamlin up the race track. By the time he recovered, the checkered flag had fallen, with Hamlin in ninth place. Not a bad finish by any means. It kept him in seventh place in points, just above the cutoff line of eight drivers that move into the next round after next week’s race at Talladega.
But then there was the cool-down lap. Keselowski was not happy with Hamlin.
“The 20 car and the 11 car both hit me under yellow, and once the race was over, I hit them back and they couldn’t take it,” Keselowski said in a live post-race television interview.
Of course, Hamlin saw it a bit differently.
"There's a corner there, so you have to back off, and he just plowed into us,” Hamlin said during a live interview on ABC television. “He's just out of control. He's desperate obviously, and it's either four or five of us are wrong or he's wrong because he's pissed off everyone.”
Winner: Jeff Gordon
Jeff Gordon had exactly the kind of race he needed to have.
He stayed within sight of the race leaders all night, led some laps (74) and saw his team perform without a glitch on pit road. And his No. 24 Chevrolet didn’t have a scratch on it at the end of the race.
Despite not winning yet this round, Gordon sits sixth in points following a second-place finish at Charlotte.
“I’m really happy about this second,” he said during a post-race interview on ABC. “It doesn’t make us, by any means, comfortable going into next week, but a lot better than it could be.”
Loser: Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s Hendrick Motorsports team had been dealing with a vibration that started during practice Thursday. The team made several changes, according to Earnhardt Jr. in a post-race interview. But the vibration continued during the race.
The results were devastating.
“The vibration broke the shifter in half, and it just wasn’t a good night,” a dejected Earnhardt Jr. said in his live interview. “The car just wasn’t handling well, and the vibration was really giving us a lot of problems. We had it in practice, but we still couldn’t fix it. So I don’t know.”
He finished 20th.
It was not a good night for Junior Nation. Junior is in trouble heading into Talladega next weekend. He sits 12th in points. A win at Talladega (he has five of them at the track) would move him automatically into the next round of the Chase.
Anything less than a win and Junior needs to rely on others to have big problems—which, theoretically, could happen at a place like Talladega.
Don’t give up yet, Junior Nation. It ain’t over till it’s over.
Winner: Kevin Harvick
I already mentioned that Harvick finally got the monkey off his back and scored his first win since May (Darlington).
He's led the most laps during the Chase—467 of a possible 1,237 (with an additional 162 laps led on Saturday night)—and his No. 4 Chevrolet has been the car to beat. However, Harvick has failed to capitalize on it until now.
His “never give up and let’s play to our strengths” attitude paid off, and he now has a ticket to the next round, the Eliminator Round.
“We came here and tested thinking that this was going to be the hardest round to get through because of Talladega. There’s so much that you can’t control there,” he said during his post-race interview in Victory Lane. “We wanted to try to control the things that we could control. We felt like Kansas and here [Charlotte] were playing to our strengths.”
Loser: Brad Keselowski
Keselowski started the night in a bad spot. He qualified his No. 2 Ford Fusion in 17th place, which meant he would have to work his way toward the front, in traffic that wasn’t going to be too cooperative.
He didn’t make many friends in the process.
On a restart with 63 laps to go, Keselowski got a poor start, Matt Kenseth tried the outside lane to pass him (which really wasn’t there), and the two collided, causing substantial damage to both cars.
The damage to Keselowski’s right rear quarter panel was enough to give him handling difficulties and dropped him out of contention for the win.
And then...well, I’ll let Brad, who was interviewed live on ABC, take it from here:
When the last yellow came out, he [Kenseth] got the wave-around [lets a driver drop to the rear of the field and remain on the lead lap], and when he came by, he swung at my car and tore the whole right front off of it. When we restarted fifth with no right front [fender] on it, we fell all the way back to 16th and it ruined our day.
Keselowski is in trouble. He’s 10th in points and needs to either win next week at Talladega or have some other Chase drivers have a bad day.
Winner: Kyle Larson
Rookie phenom Kyle Larson nearly stole the show and won the race.
Once again, the Chip Ganassi Racing driver did an outstanding job, giving the Chase drivers everything they could handle and making sure they earned every position.
Larson lost his opportunity to win when he brushed the wall. However, he was aggressive in the green-white-checkered and finished sixth.
He’ll win one of these races before too long.
Loser: Danica Patrick
Danica Patrick was minding her own business, running her customary mid-pack position and working on making her car better around mid-race, when she was bumped from behind by an impatient (and faster) Joey Logano.
Logano had been struggling for much of the race with a car that wouldn’t turn in the corners, according to his comments over the team radio during the race. So when he did get off the corner with some momentum, he needed to have no one in front of him.
During one of those times, Patrick was in the wrong place at the wrong time, and Logano sent her Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet spinning into the wall.
Patrick’s team fixed the damages, but her car was never the same, which is a shame, because Patrick’s strength is the 1.5-mile tracks, and she may have walked away with a top-15 (or better) finish with an undamaged race car.
Winner: Jamie McMurray
The other half of the Chip Ganassi Racing dynamic duo was a threat to win all night.
Jamie McMurray's McDonald’s Chevrolet was fast and could run just about anywhere he wanted to go on the race track.
“I looked up at one point and I was in second, and Kyle [Larson] was catching me in third,” McMurray said in a live post-race TV interview. “I give a lot of credit to all the guys in the shop and the engine department and everything that goes into getting our cars here.”
If not Larson, then it may well be McMurray who will be the non-Chase driver to win a race during the Chase.
It’s a shame these two weren’t better earlier in the season or they would both be in the Chase.
Loser: Multiple Engine Failures
Charlotte Motor Speedway is a very fast 1.5-mile track, and it can be brutal on engines. Speeds approaching 200 mph entering the corners mean high rpm and heavy loads on engines.
Four drivers had an early night Saturday: Clint Bowyer, Brian Vickers, Paul Menard and Josh Wise.
Bowyer and Vickers were Toyota-powered cars. Menard and Wise were both in Chevrolets.
It was a good night for the Ford-powered teams. There were no failures. However, it may have come as a trade-off of speed for durability, as the only Fords to finish in the top 10 were Chase drivers—Logano (fourth) and Carl Edwards (ninth).
Winner: The Fans at Charlotte Motor Speedway
It was a home race for most of the teams of the Sprint Cup Series, and the grandstands appeared more crowded than in recent years for the fall race at Charlotte (at least it looked that way on television).
This new or renewed interest may have been due to the new Chase format that had increased the drama heading into Saturday night’s race. The fans got their money’s worth, with close racing, several wrecks (with no one hurt) and a green-white-checkered finish.
And the post-race fireworks rivaled the on-track action.
Loser: The Fans Watching ABC at Home
Unfortunately, NASCAR fans attempting to watch the Bank of America 500 on ABC found themselves watching the final quarter of the TCU vs. Baylor game instead.
NASCAR pre-race shows have been preempted in the past due to late-running football games. And in rare instances, the race itself has been delayed by a few minutes due to a late-running game.
But on Saturday night, there was confusion as to whether or not the pre-race show was being broadcast and/or where it was being broadcast. Then, when it was race time and fans following the action on Twitter saw that the command to fire engines had been given, there was even more confusion as to when—or even if—the race would be broadcast on ABC.
Fans were given information via ESPN’s official Twitter account. Unfortunately, the information was incorrect for much of the country, including where I live.
Fans took to Twitter to express their outrage that the only Chase race being broadcast on network television was not being seen from start to finish. Many of those tweets were not suitable for publication here.
ESPN found itself an easy target in a situation that it let get out of hand. It could have been defused quickly by having a ticker across the bottom of the screen. There eventually was one, but it was only after the official start time of the race had passed. Viewers without access to the Internet and Twitter, in particular, found themselves completely out of the loop and likely turned to a different channel.
Hopefully this situation won't be repeated again during the Chase.
All quotes are taken from official NASCAR, team and manufacturer media releases unless otherwise stated.
On Twitter: @BobMargolis