|BRISTOL, Tenn.(April 20, 2015) -- On a day when there was typical Bristol weather and typical Bristol chaos, the Food City 500 produced a typical winner.|
But "typical" wouldn't be a way to describe the day -- and night -- Sunday at Bristol Motor Speedway, where Matt Kenseth won for the fourth time at the track, visiting Victory Lane more than nine hours after the race was scheduled to start. How appropriate. The driver with the driest sense of humor on the circuit won on a day when the term "dry" was the goal and it took a while to reach.
Bristol, with its new April date designed to avoid the cold and possible snow that had haunted many of its spring races, enjoyed a warm spring weekend for once. The wet weather, though, returned Sunday, and NASCAR needed to dance around the raindrops, needed its Air Titan drying system to work to perfection, and needed the wind and the mountains to create enough windows to run 500 laps.
It got all of that. And Kenseth, who started from the pole but led just 47 laps, had everything fall his way, too, to snap a 51-race winless streak.
"Honestly, [the losing] does [get to you], it wears on you a little bit," said Kenseth, who won seven races in 2013 but then went winless in 2014. "We had such a good 2013, we came a little short of the ultimate prize there, but we had such a great season, and last year there were some races we had some chances to win and just things wouldn't line up for us.
"We just couldn't get it to happen. Tonight was kind of the opposite. Everything worked out. We had a good car on the short run, not so good on the last 40 or 50 laps of the run, and we had all them cautions and short runs at the end that really benefited us."
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It didn't take Kenseth 500 laps to snap the winless streak. It took him 511, including 117 run under caution in a race that never seemed as if it would end. After an opening rain delay of about 90 minutes, there were three more that lasted 4 hours, 18 minutes, including one that lasted nearly four hours after the first 22 laps.
The last red flag lasted just seven minutes, and it showed the dogged determination of NASCAR to finish the race under green for the smattering of fans who stuck around after last year's rain-delayed event ended under an inadvertent caution that was followed by rain.
They easily could have just thrown the checkered flag when rain started falling on lap 497 of the 500-lap event. Instead, they ran about 10 laps before stopping the cars and drying the track.
Kenseth was the leader. And while he wouldn't have minded the race being halted, he was glad it wasn't.
"At least 90 percent of the time or more, I'd be all about, 'Man, call that thing because anything can go wrong,'" Kenseth said. "I felt pretty good about where we were. The top [on] restarts [was] so much better, just off of [Turn] 4, the way the banking is.
"I felt like unless I really, really messed it up I was going to be clear getting into 1. I felt like our car was good enough to hold on for two laps. I felt like no matter who was behind me, unless I made a really bad mistake, we were going to be able to hold on the way my car drove."
Jeff Gordon, in second on the final restart, knew he had no shot restarting in the inside lane. Jimmie Johnson, in fourth, was able to get past him for second, but neither had anything for Kenseth on the final two laps.
Gordon was miffed that NASCAR spent so long to throw the red flag as he came close to running out of gas (others had to pit). For a sanctioning body often criticized for taking the easy way out, NASCAR wasn't going to let the rain win on this day, stating they were going to do everything they could to keep the track from getting too wet and giving the fans and drivers the opportunity to have an exciting finish. "I love the fact that that race ended under green," Gordon said. "What makes no sense to me is when it started raining hard that they ran lap after lap after lap under caution. ... I don't think it was right that they ran that many laps under caution when they started to lose the track. "At that point you've got to recognize everything going on in the race, and all you have to do is stop the cars and give everybody kind of that fair shot to go finish that race off."
He wasn't the only driver to question a NASCAR decision. The rain nearly won from the start. NASCAR scrambled to get the track dry and despite some drizzle, started the race. Brad Keselowski promptly wrecked on Lap 19, and he took outJoey Logano, putting both Team Penske cars -- considered two of the top cars in the field -- out of contention.
The rain then became heavy and Bristol, for the second consecutive year, turned on the lights for an impromptu night event. All was going somewhat normally for the first half of the race, which is normal for Bristol. And then the contenders started stumbling.
Kurt Busch, the class of the field early, lost it while battling Johnson for position on Lap 278 but didn't suffer too much damage.
Kevin Harvick, who led 184 laps, couldn't slow his car down and smashed intoDavid Ragan with 189 laps remaining. Harvick, Martin Truex Jr. and Logano -- all of whom started the year with seven consecutive top-10s -- finished outside the top 10 for the first time this season.
Busch wasn't done. He rallied to retake the lead with 56 laps remaining. The caution came out with 23 laps to go, and he promptly pitted. No one else did and Kenseth inherited the lead.
Carl Edwards, who led 86 laps and had hoped to challenge his JGR teammate at the end, wrecked while battling Gordon for position on a restart with eight laps remaining.
Then the rain started to fall. And NASCAR had one more red flag up its sleeve. While absent of fireworks, it was a satisfying finish, especially for Kenseth, who won at Bristol for the fourth time in his career. He has won more times at Bristol than at any other track.
Is it his best track?
"I don't know," Kenseth said with a smile.
Thanks, Matt. Oh, that was serious, not just a deadpanned comment meant to get chuckles.
"I really don't," Kenseth said. "It's funny how it works. [Crew chief] Jason [Ratcliff] hates hearing this, but I always thought Texas was my best track, and for some reason, the last two years we've run terrible at Texas. I've always thought Martinsville was my worst track, and I think Martinsville has been one of our best tracks the last two and a half years.
"So I really don't know."
Bristol tends to bring out the racer in people. And it tends to bring out the weather. And they both appeared to bring out the best in Kenseth on Sunday. He had entered the race with a 51-race winless streak. He finished the race -- the longest at Bristol when not counting red flags since 1991 at 3 hours, 37 minutes -- knowing he had survived a long day with a fast car.
"I do enjoy this track," Kenseth said. "I've always enjoyed this type of racing, even though sometimes it's frustrating -- you get caught up in a wreck, you have those things happen, but I enjoy it because it's just so fast and it's a short track and you get to do more racing -- [you are] less dependent on aero and other things."