Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Roush Rewind: Irwin Tools Night Race


For the second time this season, the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series headed to Thunder Valley for the running of the Irwin Tools Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway, located in the mountains of Bristol, TN. Bristol was looking to add to the history books as the race would be the track’s 100th Cup race. Rain fell in the early hours of the afternoon, but the weather improved before the race was set to begin. While many drivers looked like they had what it took to win on Saturday, it was Kyle Busch who would show he was the class of the field as he took the checkered flag and added his name to the NASCAR history book’s once again as not only Bristol’s 100th Cup winner but also as the first driver to win all three races in NASCAR’s top three series in one weekend.

The Roush Fenway Racing drivers headed into the weekend looking to build on the wave of momentum they have been riding. Statistically speaking, Bristol Motor Speedway is one of Roush Fenway’s best tracks. With 10 Cup wins and 9 poles at Bristol, the organization hoped to add to those impressive stats this past weekend. While none of them got the win, they proved that the facts don’t lie. Back in March, three of the four Roush Fenway drivers finished inside the top ten at Bristol, while one got caught up in a wreck not of his own doing that knocked him out of contention. Saturday night’s race was almost like déjà vu. Three finished inside the top 12, while once again, one was left accepting a less than stellar finish after being knocked out of contention.

David Ragan and his team struggled in the two practice sessions on Friday. He ran outside the top 20 for nearly the entire time, and when it came to qualifying, things did not improve. Ragan took the green flag from the 38th position on Saturday night. From the drop of the green flag, the No. 6 UPS Ford began to pick up positions. The first caution came out lap 56, and by then, Ragan had worked his way up to the 29th position. He reported to crew chief Donnie Wingo that his car was just a bit loose in the exit of the turns. Ragan pitted for four tires, fuel, and an air pressure adjustment. After that stop, he continued to make his way through the field. On lap 126, bad luck once again hit the team. The No. 43 of A.J. Allmendinger got loose and spun out, with Ragan on the inside. Allmendinger made contact with Ragan, which resulted in the No. 6 Ford spinning out, the rear of the car slamming the wall. Ragan immediately headed for pit road so his crew could assess the damage. The UPS crew repaired the damage as best they could, but Ragan had to pit repeatedly for repairs. Then on lap 158, Ragan had to make an unscheduled pit stop due to the right-rear tire going down. Ragan and his crew proved that they were not willing to just pack it in and give up. The UPS crew continued to make adjustments throughout the race. Ragan held on to finish 32nd, 14 laps down.

The main goal for Carl Edwards and his crew at Bristol was to clinch their spot in the Chase. They didn’t reach that goal, but they did make progress toward achieving it. Edwards was decent in practice on Friday and really found some speed in qualifying to start 2nd in the No. 99 Aflac Ford. He was knocked from the pole by Jimmie Johnson. Once the green flag waved, Edwards drifted back a couple positions to stay around the 3rd position for much of the beginning of the race. The No. 99 Ford was a little loose in the early run, and the Aflac crew made wedge adjustments in the early pit stops to tighten the car up. A pit stop under the caution brought out by the contact between Allmendinger and Ragan had Edwards restarting 2nd. Once the green flag waved, Edwards drifted back and settled into the 4th position until the caution came out on lap 254. Edwards pitted under the caution. However problems with the lug nuts on the left-rear tire caused him to pit again. Only three of the five lug nuts were tight, and after he pitted again to tighten the lug nuts, he was sitting in the 26th position. While it looked like it would be a major setback, it proved to be what crew chief Bob Osborne called a blessing in disguise. On the restart, Juan Pablo Montoya got into the back of Jimmie Johnson, which caused heavy damage to Johnson’s car. The incident occurred near where Edwards would have been running had the issue with the lug nuts not occurred. Edwards spent the remainder of the race slowly making his way back up through the field. On lap 400, green-flag stops were underway and Edwards lost a lap to the leaders, but as luck would have it, the caution came out shortly after. Edwards was in the Lucky Dog position and was back on the lead lap in the 13th position with 85 laps to go. He gained only one position in those closing laps to finish 12th. Edwards is now 4th in the standings.

Matt Kenseth returned to Bristol hoping to add to his impressive achievements at the track. In seven of the last eight August races at Bristol, Kenseth had finished inside the top ten. It’s a streak that he was able to continue. Kenseth started 14th in the No. 17 Crown Royal Black Ford on Saturday. He was 10th when the first caution of the race came out on lap 56. Kenseth took that opportunity to tell crew chief Jimmy Fennig that the No. 17 Ford was loose on the exit of the turns. Kenseth pitted for four tires, fuel, and an air pressure adjustment. He restarted 9th, but Kenseth informed his crew that he needed more grip if he was going to be competitive. Kenseth cracked the top 5 around lap 200. One hundred laps later he had fallen to 8th as handling issues plagued the No. 17 Ford. Kenseth told his crew that the car was too tight in the center of the turns, too loose off. Almost as soon as Kenseth told his crew that, he told his crew he had a tire going down. He had to make an unscheduled stop where his crew discovered that the right-front tire was the problem. He went from 8th to 25th, and was off sequence with the leaders. Green-flag stops began with just over 100 laps remaining, and Kenseth stayed out as long as possible and was up to 4th when a lucky break came his way in the form of a caution on lap 410. He pitted under the caution for four tires, fuel, and another air pressure adjustment. He restarted 7th, but lose three positions in the remaining laps to finish 10th. He moved up one position to 8th in the standings.

Greg Biffle ran inside the top ten for a while in practice on Friday, but qualified 21st in the No. 16 3M Ford later that evening. It was a rough start for Biffle on Saturday as he reported his car was both tight and loose. He spent the first half of the race fighting the handling issues. His crew made adjustments on every pit stop to finally get Biffle solidly inside the top 20. He was 16th when the caution came out on lap 253 and reported his car was the best it had been the entire race. Crew chief Greg Erwin called for a slight air pressure adjustment and Biffle restarted 17th. Biffle had difficulty gaining positions and had only worked his way up to 15th when green-flag stops began with just over 100 laps remaining. He made his stop on lap 396 for four tire and fuel. The caution came out on lap 410 and Biffle pitted again for four tires, fuel, and a track bar adjustment. He restarted 11th and fought hard to bring home an 8th place finish. He is still 11th in the standings.


After winning the O’Reilly 200 on Wednesday and the Food City 250 on Friday, Kyle Busch brought home the win in the Irwin Tools Night Race on Saturday. Busch, who has been breaking records and setting records almost ever since his NASCAR career began, showed no signs of slowing down at Bristol Motor Speedway over the weekend. Congratulations to Kyle Busch and the three crews it took to help him pull off the impressive Bristol sweep!

The Sprint Cup Series takes the weekend off and will return to action next weekend.

Next up: Emory Healthcare 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway

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Photos courtesy of Whitney's personal collection.

Photo 1: The Irwin Tools Night Race banner painted on the pit road wall on the frontstretch.
Photo 2: David Ragan standing on the pit road wall as his crew works on the No. 6 UPS Ford during practice on Friday
Photo 3: Carl Edwards's crew makes adjustments to the No. 99 Aflac Ford during practice.
Photo 4: Matt Kenseth climbs into his racecar for practice.
Photo 5: Greg Biffle on pit road during practice.
Photo 6: The No. 18 crew congratulates Kyle Busch on his victory on Saturday night.

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