Kevin Harvick, Matt Kenseth among Bristol leaders that got in trouble

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A long list of race leaders in tonight’s Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway wound up having their nights turn into something much less that what they were hoping for.

With 50 laps to go, a potential Top-10 for Kevin Harvick literally went up in flames when his already smoking No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet slammed into the wall. The incident caused Jamie McMurray to check up and Brad Keselowski wound up slamming into the back of the Chip Ganassi Racing driver.

Harvick’s car then caught fire on its way to the garage, causing him to quickly climb out and leave the mess behind. McMurray retired from the race shortly afterwards, while Keselowski soldiered on without a hood to a 14th place finish.

All three drivers had led earlier in the race, with Harvick in particular coming on late to lead 28 laps. But they were far from the only leaders to suffer.

On Lap 394 of 500, Kyle Busch crashed while running 17th and forced cars to evade him on the inside and outside as his wrecked machine came to a stop in the middle of the backstretch.

One of those oncoming cars was Kurt Busch, who tried to go to the outside of Kyle but clipped the No. 18 Toyota instead. He then went into the backstretch wall.

Kyle and Kurt would finish 29th and 35th respectively after also leading earlier in the race. Kyle’s downfall was particularly noteworthy, as he had led a 73-lap portion in the middle stages and was the halfway leader as well.

But on Lap 272, Kyle sensed a problem and decided to pit under green. That decision cost him when the caution came out six laps later for a Ryan Truex crash that sent a piece of debris – a brake rotor – to be ultimately run over by Busch.

Busch went down two laps in the sequence, but took the wave-around to get within one lap of the leaders. He was still at that point when he crashed on Lap 394.

Then there was Matt Kenseth, who had an up-and-down day before finishing 13th.

Kenseth was the leader coming out of the three-hour, 19-minute red flag and held the point until Kurt Busch took it on Lap 153. Four laps later on Lap 157, Danica Patrick and Cole Whitt made contact that put Whitt in the wall.

As the caution lights turned on, Busch and Kenseth checked up for Whitt but Timmy Hill failed to slow down and plowed into the back of Kenseth.

Multiple repairs on pit road enabled Kenseth to stay on the lead lap though, and with the back of his car crumpled in, he rocketed from 29th all the way through the field and to the lead on Lap 285.

Kenseth would lead for a race-high 165 laps but late in the race, he suffered handling issues and fell back. Then with 92 laps to go, he tagged the wall after apparently running over debris with his tires.

He would continue on, but it was a disappointing ending to a night that had been largely positive.

Finally, Jimmie Johnson led 44 laps early in the race but on Lap 114, his right front tire unexpectedly went down and he lost multiple laps having to pit under green.

“Something made it come apart in this really long 50-foot section,” Johnson said according to NASCAR.com’s David Caraviello. “I don’t know if we clipped something on the track that wore the tread and it unwound, or if something else happened…”

Johnson would eventually come home 19th.

March 28 in Motorsports History: Adrian Fernandez wins Motegi’s first race

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While auto racing is an international sport, oval racing remains uniquely American. 

That almost always has remained the case since the inception of the sport, but in 1998, the citizens of Japan got their first taste of American oval racing.

Having opened the previous year, Twin Ring Motegi was built by Honda in an effort to bring Indy-style racing to the Land of the Rising Sun. 

Adrian Fernandez was the first driver to win at the facility, taking the checkered flag in CART’s inaugural race after shaking off flu earlier that day.

Fernandez held off a hard-charging Al Unser Jr to win by 1.086 seconds. The victory was the second of his career and his first since Toronto in 1996.

Adrian Fernandez celebrates with Al Unser Jr and Gil de Ferran after winning the inaugural race at Motegi. (Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images)

The race was also memorable for a violent crash involving Bobby Rahal.

Running third with 15 laps remaining, Rahal’s right front suspension broke in Turn 2, causing his car to hit the outside wall and flip down the backstretch.

Luckily, Rahal walked away from the accident without a scratch.

“The car was on rails through (turns) 1 and 2, and all of a sudden it just got up into the marbles, and it was gone,” Rahal said. “Thank God we’ve got such safe cars.”

The following season, Fernadez went back-to-back and won again at Motegi. The track remained on the CART schedule until 2002.

In 2003, Honda switched their alliance to the Indy Racing Leauge, and Motegi followed suit.

The track continued to host IndyCar racing until 2011 with the final race being held on the facility’s 2.98-mile road course, as the oval sustained damage in the Tōhoku earthquake earlier that year.

Also on this date:

1976: Clay Regazzoni won the United States Grand Prix – West, Formula One’s first race on the Long Beach street circuit. The Grand Prix would become an IndyCar event following the 1983 edition of the race.

1993: Ayrton Senna won his home race, the Grand Prix of Brazil, for the second and final time of his career. The victory was also the 100th in F1 for McLaren.

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