On Saturday night, Bristol Motor Speedway’s usual chaos contributed to yet another dramatic shift in the Race to the Chase. In hindsight, you’re tempted to say to yourself, “As if it wouldn’t.”
Kurt Busch, Brad Keselowski, Martin Truex Jr., and Ryan Newman – all of them trying to cement a spot in NASCAR’s ten-race postseason dash – suffered setbacks in the Volunteer State, as Busch was victimized by a wheel hub issue on his car and the other three were caught in a late-race crash.
Busch had started on the front row and led 54 laps early on, but his right-rear wheel came loose and he was forced to pit under green. After service, he was promptly tagged for speeding on pit road and then made contact with Josh Wise on the track that damaged his car and sent him back to the pits.
Eventually, he was forced to go behind the wall in order for his team to properly deal with the hub problem.
“We didn’t even pit yet, so we had a wheel start to vibrate loose at an odd time,” said Busch, who would make some progress and finish 31st, but fell back to 12th in the Sprint Cup standings at six points out of 10th position.
“I felt vibrations before, but we are leading the race walking the dog and our right-rear is falling off. It’s just kind of how you have to fight sometimes and overcome the obstacles that come your way.”
Even with that turn of events, Saturday’s Irwin Tools Night Race was playing out to be relatively cleaner than your typical 500-lap romp around the Bristol high banks. At least, until Lap 446.
On that lap, contact between Brian Vickers and Denny Hamlin caused a tire failure for the latter, who then slid up into traffic and started an eight-car incident that involved Keselowski, Truex and Newman.
Truex, who was unable to return to action and finished 35th, said he couldn’t see anything during the incident.
“They just started jamming up and I tried to follow the 29 [Kevin Harvick] through and [the hole] closed up,” he said in the TV broadcast. “We got smashed in the fence and hit a couple of times.
“…We just didn’t have enough gas at the end there and we had to pit, and once you get in the back here towards the end, they start wrecking and you’re an innocent victim.”
Truex wound up falling to 14th in the standings, but thanks to his win earlier this summer at Sonoma, he still maintains hold of a Wild Card spot despite being sidelined before the checkered flag. Newman, who finished 21st on Saturday, has managed to climb into the second Wild Card position.
As for the winless Keselowski, he’s dropped from eighth to 11th in the standings after a 30th-place result – and is now likely steeling himself for what will be a pressure-packed final two weeks of the regular season.
“If you’re not in [the Chase] right now, I don’t care if you’re running eighth or you’re running 13th, every team is worried and concerned – not just mine,” said Keselowski.
“I’m not gonna be out of the worried zone unless I make it or it’s over…We’ve tested at the next two tracks [Atlanta and Richmond] and we’re gonna be very competitive. I feel like this is gonna come down to the last lap at Richmond and I’m ready for that battle.”