The Quaker State 400 was originally scheduled for Saturday night, June 29th, but Mother Nature had other ideas and dropped a ton of rain in Sparta, Kentucky that day which forced NASCAR officials to postpone the event to the following afternoon. The weather forecast called for a 60% chance of additional race on Sunday and a 70% chance Sunday night. First and foremost a huge thank you goes out to Mother Nature for changing her mind and allowing this race to run the full distance without disruption. It turned out that the Quaker State 400 was worth the wait.
MATT KENSETH. Using a familiar format, Matt Kenseth turned up at the end of the race and parked his Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota in victory lane for the fourth time this season. That occurred after crew chief Jason Ratcliff elected to roll the dice on a hero or zero pit call. When the field came to pit road, following the race’s next to last yellow flag, Ratcliff called for a fuel only stop while all of the other teams used the logical two tires and fuel plan. The gained track position from this move turned out to be pure gold.
After the race, Kenseth said “I didn’t roll the dice, Jason did. But I did think that he was slightly crazy when it happened.” It was a case of one extreme or the other. Either Ratcliff was going to host the team victory celebration or he was going to have to explain himself to a very upset race driver. One can only assume that a good time was had by all at the party.
JIMMIE JOHNSON. The #48 team was strong at Kentucky and led 182 laps of the race. Johnson was lined up on the front row, with Matt Kenseth, for a restart with 19 laps remaining. With the green flag in the air, Johnson came over his radio and complained that Kenseth intentionally slowed the pace of the restart to gain an advantage. Video replays displayed a different story that said Kenseth simply pulled off a great restart.
When the field entered turn one, Johnson found himself in the middle of a three wide situation between Joey Logano and Kyle Busch. That’s when his car snapped around and went into a long slide towards the bottom of the track. Johnson performed a stunning display of car control and kept away from the inside wall. This was backed by heads up driving from those behind him who helped avoid what certainly looked like a multi car wreck. Johnson came back to pit road for new tires and then charged his way from the back of the pack to a ninth place finish. He also extended his points lead to 38. That’s what we call making chicken salad out of chicken do do.
DALE EARNHARDT JR. After winning the pole position, and setting a new track record, this driver had his Junior Nation fan club all hyped up and thinking win. However, on lap 38, Denny Hamlin was approaching pit road with a flat right front tire. All of a sudden the carcass, or outer liner, of Hamlin’s tire rolled off of the car and journeyed up the track directly in the path of Earnhardt’s car. The tire struck the front of the car and punched a hole in the grill. It also bent the right side of the splitter which created havoc with the car’s handling package. The tire careened off of the Earnhardt car and then created minor damage to Jimmie Johnson’s car. It was one of those one in a million bizarre racing moments. After returning from pit road following repairs, Earnhardt worked his way to a 12th place finish. That’s also making chicken salad out of chicken do do.
DENNY HAMLIN. This driver survived the unscheduled pit stop from the lap 38 flat tire. He didn’t survive the lap 147 flat tire that sent him hard into the turn four wall. There was some reports that said Hamlin had some pain in the knee from the impact but he later said he was fine. He also assured everyone that his back injury, sustained from the wreck last March in Fontana, was also fine. Unfortunately, his chances of making the Chase line up took another hard hit. After the race Hamlin said “we’re just going to try to win races. That’s my job for the rest of the year, try to win and do the best I can for my sponsors and my team.”