The only driver among the Chase field to not have an issue Sunday was race winner Jimmie Johnson. In all 11 of the 12 NASCAR Chase contenders had problems during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Bank of America 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
It started even before the green flag fell for Matt Kenseth. NASCAR penalized the team for unapproved adjustments and Kenseth was forced to start in the rear of the field. He was later penalized for his crew going over the wall too soon. Despite those issues, Kenseth fought back to finish second.
“I think this is one of the toughest tracks there is on the circuit to pass at,” Kenseth said. “It was better during the day than it is at night and that’s a good thing, because we had to go to the back twice, so we were able to make up some ground and finish okay.”
“Honestly, last two years in a row pretty much Charlotte has kind of taken us out of the Chase – mostly my doing, different things happening the last couple years here – so had a lot of problems last year, this year we had a lot of problems again,” he added. “But we were able to kind of rebound from them and just kind of take our time. We knew it was a long day and they had good pit stops, good strategy and got us back where we needed to be there at the end.”
Brad Keselowski was penalized during a caution on lap 70 for his crew going over the wall too soon. Kyle Busch had a tire issue and was forced to pit under green on lap 89. He lost a lap fell to 31st. Later he was penalized for his crew over the wall too soon and an uncontrolled tire, and was suffered damage in a crash.
Both Keselowski and Busch however were able to rally back for decent finishes; Busch finished 6th, Keselowski 7th.
“It’s a solid day,” Keselowski said. “To run seventh is OK. We just weren’t quite anywhere near as fast as the 48 and the 24, and we were behind a bunch of the others, so we just need to find a little bit of speed, but the execution was great.”
Kevin Harvick was another Chase driver to see his day end in disaster. Harvick slowed with an engine issue on lap 153. He would eventually go behind the wall and out of the race, finishing 38th.
“I hate it for everybody on our Busch team,” Harvick said. “They made some great adjustments today and got our car back where we needed to be to run up front and everything was going fine. Lots of things can go wrong and today they did.”
On the same lap, Joey Logano hit the wall hard for the second time in the race; he would go to the garage for extensive repairs. He finished 36th 80 laps down.
“We’re not out by any means,” Logano said. “We had a very fast car. I’m super-proud of the car we brought here. It was capable of winning, for sure. We ran up from 10th to third and was still running down the leaders early in the race, so I felt really good about the Pennzoil Ford we had. Things happen. It’s part of racing, but we’re not out. We’re not going to die. This team is resilient. We’ve proved it before and we’ll just have to go out and prove it again. We just have to have two flawless races. It’s something we can make up.”
The biggest hit was yet to come.
Austin Dillon had been running outside the top 10 much of the day, but during stops on lap 258, his crew elected to take only two tires while the leaders took four. He made up 9 spots and restarted second. On the restart, Dillon couldn’t get going; Martin Truex Jr. just behind, got into Dillon spinning him and setting off a 14-car crash.
“I don’t know,” Dillon said. “I felt like I got hit more toward the right. But whatever happened there……I felt like I got to third (gear) pretty good. I don’t have a good vantage point because I haven’t seen the replay and what I would have done different. I would have just hopefully not wrecked, but it’s all good.”
Among those involved were Chase drivers Kurt and Kyle Busch, and Chase Elliott. Elliott, who had led 105 of the 334 laps, saw his day come to an end, as did Dillon. Dillon was scored 32nd, Elliott 33rd. The crash resulted in a red flag of 10 minutes and 48 seconds.
“Definitely this it seems like has been a troublesome day for a lot of guys,” Elliott said. “Hopefully, we can just try to have another car like we had today and not make any mistakes next week.”
Truex Jr., who had pushed and ultimately spun Dillon, had issues of his own . Truex Jr. who led all but 8 laps in May, and was running in the top five and contending, but during stops on the races final caution, stalled exiting his pit stall. He rejoined the field 16th and could only work his way to 13th at the end.
Truex took responsibility for the crash with Dillon.
“I’m disappointed at how we ran today, but at the same time we were running fourth when we had our issues,” Truex said. “As bad as we were we were still going to have a good day and then the clutch problem. That really just took any chance we had away. All in all, we just missed it and we fought hard and we did a good job of making something out of it until the clutch went out. Unfortunate, but more importantly I want to say that I’m sorry to Austin Dillon, the 3 team, Slugger (Labbe, crew chief) and all those guys. I know they’re working hard and they certainly didn’t need me to turn them around on that restart. I feel terrible about that.”
Denny Hamlin led 52 laps and was contending for the win in the closing laps, but on lap 308 the engine in his Toyota let loose and he was done for the day. Hamlin finished 30th.
“I think each race you’re going to have a handful that are going to have issues – Kansas I don’t think will be any different and Talladega we know will be crazy. That’s why we’re not out of it my any means, we just have a little hole we have to dig out of.”
The NASCAR Sprint Cup series heads to Kansas Speedway for next Sunday’s Hollywood Casino 400, the second race in the Round of 12. Live coverage will be on NBC with the green flag coming around 2:15 p.m. ET.