Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Teardown Tuesday: Breaking Down the NASCAR Race Weekend at Bristol Motor Speedway


Miss any of the on and off-track action at Bristol? Every Tuesday our Amy Branch breaks down the big storylines from the weekend.

Credit: Rainier Ehrhardt/NASCAR via Getty Images

By Amy Branch

Credit: Jerry Markland/Getty Images
Colossus lives up to its name

Bristol Motor Speedway unveiled Colossus before the race weekend, the world's largest outdoor, center-hung, four-sided video screen. It lives up to its name; it weighs nearly 700 tons, and each video screen is 68 ft wide by 30 ft high. The letters above the screens that spell "Bristol" are six feet high. The enormous screen is hung by four cables, which are secured to towers outside the track. Bristol's Colossus may give even Big Hoss at Texas Motor Speedway a run for its money.



Credit: Debbie Ross for Skirts and Scuffs

Pure domination

Joe Gibbs Racing has something special. Perhaps they've found the secret to returning downforce to their cars (It is likely that all the large teams have been able to return at least some of the downforce removed by this year's rule package.). Perhaps their drivers are at the peak of their careers. Perhaps Coach Gibbs' legendary team-building skills have created a magic moment. Perhaps it's a combination of all three.

Whatever the reason, Joe Gibbs Racing is crushing the competition, even with three of four cars having major tire trouble on Sunday. In Sprint Cup, JGR has won half of the eight races so far in 2016. In the XFINITY series, JGR has been to victory lane after five of the seven races we've seen. Of the 15 races in the two series this year, Joe Gibbs Racing has won nine. It appears we may be heading into a Hendrick-esque period of domination for JGR.

Speaking of JGR...



Credit: Matt Sullivan/Getty Images
Carl Edwards emerges as gladiator victorious

Carl Edwards loves this year's rules package. He loved it last year when it was tested (and he won) at Darlington, and he loves it now. Just ask him; he'll happily tell you so. Edwards dominated the Food City 500 at Bristol, winning from the pole in his Joe Gibbs Racing No. 19 Toyota. His win puts three JGR drivers in the Sprint Cup Chase: Denny Hamlin, Daytona 500 Champion, and Kyle Busch, reigning Sprint Cup champion, and now Edwards. That leaves only Matt Kenseth without a win in the Joe Gibbs stable of drivers.

Throughout the grueling 500-lap race, Edwards remained calm and collected on the radio. The most intensity entered his voice on the last restart, when he asked his spotter to tell him exactly what the No. 41, driven by Kurt Busch, was doing. Only the eldest Busch had successfully passed Edwards on any of the restarts, and Edwards wanted to ensure he could block any moves Busch made. This proved unnecessary, however, when Edwards shot off like a rocket at the restart and sailed into Victory Lane.



Credit: Matt Sullivan/Getty Images
Erik Jones' last-minute Dash to the checkered flag and $100,000

We saw a different format for the NASCAR XFINITY series race this weekend; two qualifying heat races followed by the main race. The main race, though, was essentially two races in one. The Bristol race weekend marked the first of four Dash 4 Cash races for the XFINITY Series regulars, with the first series regular crossing the finish line winning $100,000, the chance for a ticket into the Chase, and a chance to win an extra $600,000. Then there was the race for the checkered flag. Throughout the Fitzgerald Glider Kits 300 Saturday, it appeared that either Kyle Busch or Kyle Larson would take their race car to victory lane; they were clearly the class of the field. But rookie Erik Jones took advantage of a late-race restart to sneak by the Sprint Cup regulars, taking the checkered flag.

Jones went home $100,000 richer, with a trophy and a virtually guaranteed spot in the XFINITY series Chase. He is also the first XFINITY Series regular to win a race this season. Not bad for a day's work.



Credit: Debbie Ross for Skirts and Scuffs
Matt DiBenedetto and BK Racing bring home best-ever finish

You wouldn't normally see BK Racing near the top of the pylon. They aren't one of the big powerhouse teams. If they run in the front half of the field, it's a good race for them. So when the driver of the No. 83 Cosmo Motors Camry, Matt DiBenedetto, took home sixth on Sunday's race, it felt as good as a win. DiBenedetto was nearly speechless with emotion after the race, and his teammates, family and friends stood around in various stages of disbelief and joy. He was greeted as a hero upon his arrival home after the race.

Last week, during an AMA ("Ask Me Anything") on the social media site reddit.com/r/NASCAR, Landon Cassill was asked, "Which young driver, in your opinion, should be more often recognized?" Cassill's response? "Matt D."  He clearly knew what he was talking about, and the NASCAR subreddit community has embraced Dibenedetto (or DiBurrito, as he is affectionately known), and is making plans to try to vote the underdog into the All-Star Race, much as they did Josh Wise in 2014.



Credit: Charlotte Bray for Skirts and Scuffs
...and so does rookie phenom Chase Elliott

You could almost see him learning, lap-by-lap. At the beginning of the race, Chase Elliott, driver of the Hendrick Motorsports No. 24 Chevy, followed the car in front of him, searching out grooves and figuring out how to set up a pass, a task even some Sprint Cup Series veterans find difficult. Each lap, Elliott got better and better at setting up those passes and finding the best groove for his car. After a loose wheel left him two laps down, Elliott kept practicing his passing as he drove through the field, getting his laps back and ultimately finishing fourth, his career-best Sprint Cup finish and second top-five in as many weeks.

Victory Lane can't be far away for this young talent.

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