The Top Five: Breaking down the Bristol race

Five thoughts from Monday’s rescheduled race at Bristol Motor Speedway:

1. What a race!

Bristol was one of those races that was so enjoyable to watch, I was disappointed when it ended.

That’s it? Only 500 laps? How about 600?

Seriously though, I could have watched that racing all day. It was just SO much fun to see the drivers going all out, with close-quarters racing and two equal grooves (yes, even though the bottom wasn’t the dominant lane).

I found myself smiling through many of the battles for position (which seemed constant) — and even while watching the leaders navigate lapped traffic.

It didn’t matter there was no late caution or restart to spice things up (the last 32 laps were green), nor did it matter there was a typical winner (Jimmie Johnson, again?). Bristol was just highly entertaining all day long, with the VHT-aided bottom groove just good enough to even things up with the top lane. As it turned out, that made for perfect racing conditions.

“Honestly, I don’t think it gets much better than that,” Kyle Larson said.

The sticky VHT slowly wearing off through the course of the race made it so that the track was constantly changing, and Bristol and NASCAR deserve a lot of credit for making it work.

Jimmie Johnson explained it this way: When there’s anything that’s consistent in NASCAR, the garage will figure it out. Everyone is too smart. But when the surface underwent a constant evolution like it did on Monday, Johnson said no one could exactly nail the setup.

“The track intentionally tried to create the need to be on the bottom,” Johnson said. “… This race, without a doubt, would have been single-file around the top without the VHT on the bottom,” Johnson said.

There was only one bad thing about the race: It was held Monday, when many fans were at work or school and couldn’t watch. Thanks a lot, Mother Nature.

How unfortunate that so many people missed one of the best races in recent years.

2. Larson Legend

I made a beeline for Larson’s car after the race, because watching him was half the fun of Monday’s race. He got out of his car and we made eye contact, and he looked sort of puzzled because I was grinning.

It took a second for me to remember he finished sixth on a day where he could have won, and probably wasn’t thrilled about the result. But I don’t really care where he finishes; I just know he put on quite a show — and usually does.

This seems so premature to say about a driver with two career wins, but Larson is really going to be an all-timer in this sport. I don’t know if his dry wit will ever translate into superstardom outside NASCAR (he might be too reserved to be the Jeff Gordon type who can guest-host a morning talk show), but he’ll be a legend within it by the time he’s done.

Larson’s driving style makes races more interesting to watch, and that’s not something you can say about many drivers. No matter what his career stats say by the time he’s done, he’ll be remembered as one of the greats of this generation.

3. Ol’ Jimmie does it again

Seven-Time, already the best driver in NASCAR history, just keeps adding to his career tally.

He now has 82 wins, which is one short of Cale Yarborough and two shy of Darrell Waltrip and Bobby Allison. It seems very possible that by the end of the season, the only drivers ahead of him on the all-time list will be Richard Petty, David Pearson and Jeff Gordon — and he may be alone in championships by the end of November.

It will be extra special for Johnson to tie Yarborough whenever he does, because Yarborough was the only NASCAR driver he knew while growing up. Johnson recalled walking into a Hardee’s as a kid and thinking he was in Yarborough’s race shop.

However, I fully recognize it’s not so great for everyone else living in the Jimmie Era — not just fans of other drivers, but the other drivers themselves.

“The damn 48,” Clint Bowyer said. “You know what I mean? Hasn’t he had enough?”

He certainly has, but that doesn’t mean he’s about to stop winning.

4. Dale Earnhardt Jr. in trouble

If the playoffs started today, Earnhardt would miss the cut by 50 points. It’s not even close right now, and Earnhardt — with the exception of his top-five at Texas — just isn’t running that well.

That’s not news to him or his fans, of course. But if this keeps up, he’s going to be in the type of territory where he needs to win — and that changes how a team goes about a race, particularly with strategy.

It’s been a fairly miserable start for Earnhardt, who is 24th in the standings — behind rookies Daniel Suarez and Ty Dillon. He’s five spots behind Aric Almirola in the points.

I honestly don’t think Earnhardt has lost anything despite missing half the season last year, but he hasn’t had good luck (three DNFs due to crashes) and the car hasn’t been all that great in the other races. Bristol wasn’t going to be a memorable race for him even before his oil cooler broke.

He described his car as being too tight and said other drivers were “beating me really bad back to the gas” out of the corners.

“That ain’t no way to run anywhere, really,” he said.

5. Roush Fenway keeps plugging along

Chip Ganassi Racing’s hot start has been well-documented. Kyle Larson is the points leader and Jamie McMurray is tied for sixth in the standings.

But it’s not just Ganassi that is out-running some of the bigger teams this season.

Roush Fenway Racing is much improved, and both drivers finished in the top 11 on Monday (Ricky Stenhouse Jr. was ninth and Trevor Bayne was 11th). In addition, Bayne is 12th in the standings and Stenhouse is 16th (although would currently be on the outside of the playoffs because Kurt Busch has a win and is 18th).

If they keep collecting top-15 finishes, that will be enough to keep them in playoff contention all summer. And right now, they’ve combined for 11 top-15s after having a combined 24 all of last year — this after just eight races.

Are they going to win? Probably not anytime soon. But they’re both ahead of six drivers in the standings from Hendrick, Gibbs and Stewart-Haas, so that’s an accomplishment after the last couple years.

Live blog: NASCAR Monday at Bristol Motor Speedway

Jimmie Johnson won his second straight race, beating out Clint Bowyer and Kevin Harvick in a rescheduled Bristol race on Monday. Stage winners Kyle Larson and Martin Truex Jr. both had late speeding penalties, which hurt their chances.

Lap 420: Erik Jones, who was in the top five for much of the day, cut a tire and hit the wall. As he did, AJ Allmendinger ran into the back of him. Up until the caution, though, Jimmie Johnson, Kyle Larson and Joey Logano put on one of the most entertaining races for the lead all year. During the caution, though, Kyle Larson was caught speeding on pit road.

Lap 381: Kyle Busch crashed for the second time with another tire problem. The frustrated driver pulled the car straight off the track and went to the garage, his day finished. Busch popped two tires during the race.

Lap 360: It’s been a very entertaining battle since the restart. Joey Logano leads, but just barely. Martin Truex Jr. is second, followed by Kyle Larson (running the high line), Erik Jones and Jimmie Johnson — all within 1.7 seconds of each other.

Lap 323: David Ragan, trying to avoid the slow car of teammate Landon Cassill (who was on old tires), collided with Danica Patrick. Both cars crashed on the backstretch, and Patrick’s race was over. “This is the end of a miserable day,” she told her team.

Lap 295: Brad Keselowski had to make an unscheduled pit stop for repairs, leaving him three laps down in 28th place. A few laps later, he had to take it to the garage with steering problems and other issues. Martin Truex Jr. continues to lead Joey Logano.

Final stage restart: Landon Cassill stayed out and took the lead, but was quickly dropped on the restart. Martin Truex Jr. retook the lead ahead of Kevin Harvick, Kyle Larson, Denny Hamlin (who nearly got into Cassill) and Joey Logano.

Lap 250: Martin Truex Jr. wins Stage 2, giving him 10 stage points and a bonus point for the playoffs. The other drivers who scored stage points: Joey Logano, Jimmie Johnson, Kevin Harvick, Jamie McMurray, Erik Jones, Kyle Larson, Denny Hamlin, Trevor Bayne and Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

Lap 218: On the restart, Dale Earnhardt Jr. suffered a mechanical problem that resulted in a broken oil cooler. Earnhardt ended up hitting the wall in Turn 1 and had to go to the garage, done for the day. Then, on his way to the care center, a kid tried to ask him for a selfie (but it didn’t work out).

Lap 210: Kyle Busch pops a tire and his the wall in Turn 2. It’s yet another tire problem for Busch, who seems to have more issues with his Goodyears than any other driver (coincidence or not).

Lap 203: After leading the first 202 laps, Kyle Larson gave up the lead to Martin Truex Jr. Once he lost the lead, Larson quickly fell back to third.

Lap 175: Kyle Larson has led every lap so far and still continues to dominate the race. Joey Logano is second and Martin Truex Jr. is third.

Lap 125: Stage 1 ends with Kyle Larson having led all 125 laps. The rest of the top 10: Martin Truex Jr., Erik Jones, Joey Logano, Jimmie Johnson, Chase Elliott, Jamie McMurray, Denny Hamlin, AJ Allmendinger and Kyle Busch.

Lap 111: FOX shows an in-car camera view of Ryan Blaney’s struggles. He’s been without power steering for roughly the last 30 laps or so and has fallen two laps down in 33rd place.

Lap 100: Kyle Larson has led every lap so far. Martin Truex Jr. is in second place, 2.5 seconds behind.

Lap 88: Erik Jones is on the move. The rookie is now up to second place, trailing only Larson. Jones won Saturday’s Xfinity Series race.  

Lap 71: The race goes back to green with Kyle Larson still leading. Behind him are Martin Truex Jr., Jamie McMurray, Chase Elliott and Kyle Busch.

Lap 67: Red flag. You know that caution (see below)? Well, it’s still going. They stopped the race to clean up the track in Turn 1.

Lap 54: Kurt Busch lost control on the inside of and slid into the inside of the frontstretch wall entering Turn 1. There was significant contact for Busch, and Chris Buescher also crashed into Reed Sorenson when the car in front of him jammed on the brakes. “That’s my bad,” Busch told his team on the radio. This caution will also count as the competition caution, which had been coming up.

Lap 40: With a 2.5-second lead, Kyle Larson has decided to move up to the high line and try to work it in when he can. Chase Elliott is second and Martin Truex Jr. is third.

Lap 15: Kyle Larson is running the bottom as the race leader and has already lapped the first two cars. All the leaders are on the bottom so far, as it’s showing to be the fastest way so far after a morning re-application of VHT TrackBite.

1:11 p.m. ET: Kyle Larson elects to take the top and starts the race as the leader.

1:03 p.m. ET: OK, engines have been fired. Chris Buescher starts at the rear. Ryan Blaney changed a tire, but will keep his starting spot because NASCAR ruled it was no advantage since drivers did not qualify on those tires.

Pre-race: Why are you reading this now? The race hasn’t started yet. Check back in a few for the first update.

DraftKings Fantasy NASCAR picks for Bristol

I’m playing DraftKings this season and will be posting my picks here each week. Disclosure: If you want to play and sign up using this link, DraftKings will give my website a commission. Disclosure No. 2: I might be America’s worst daily fantasy player.

Last race’s results: Played the $4 Chrome Horn game. Finished out of the money.

Season results: $12 wagered, $0 won in seven contests.

This week’s contest: $3 entry Hot Rod game with $20,000 total payout.

Bristol picks:

Kyle Larson ($10,100). I need drivers who are capable of leading a lot of laps, and I envision Larson leading the first 50 — at least — after starting on the pole.

Matt Kenseth ($9,100). He’s so consistent and will be able to adapt to changing conditions with success. He won’t lead many laps after starting 22nd, but I could see him having some success later in the race.

Clint Bowyer ($8,400). He was competitive in the past here even when his cars weren’t, and he was second-fastest in 10-lap averages for final practice.

Erik Jones ($7,800). Even though he made his best laps this weekend on the bottom lane, he clearly has a fast car in general (as do all the Toyotas). He was also fifth-fastest in final practice for 10-lap averages.

Kasey Kahne ($7,600). Pretty great value for a guy who was fastest in 10-lap averages for final practice. Plus, he had the third-fastest single lap speed.

Daniel Suarez ($7,000). It seems like this place suits him, and I like the extra laps he got from the Xfinity race. He might not lead laps, but if he can get a top-10 and get points differential from starting 23rd, that could be a good value.

Old Bristol shows a hint of returning, but drivers resist

With the reemergence of the fast bottom groove at Bristol Motor Speedway, some of the younger drivers don’t seem to be having a very good time.

“Well…. Bristol used to be fun..” Kyle Larson tweeted Friday night.

“Wonder when we will get to Bristol again,” Ricky Stenhouse Jr. tweeted later.

No offense to those guys, but I hope their version of Bristol never returns. After all, they’re talking about New Bristol — and New Bristol, in case you haven’t noticed, hasn’t exactly been the big hit with fans that Old Bristol was.

Old Bristol was the high-banked, one-groove track where cars had to knock each other out of the way to make a pass on the bottom. It once sold out 55 straight Cup races and the Night Race was the hottest ticket in all of sports because fans knew there was going to be guaranteed action.

New Bristol is the multi-groove track that has witnessed a precipitous decline in attendance starting two years after the track was redone with progressive banking. Drivers can race at New Bristol because they have options, which is good for them but boring for everyone else.

Fans don’t come here to get pumped about a side-by-side battle! They just don’t. NASCAR fans can see racing at every other track on any other week. If you want real racing, go to a 1.5-mile track; there’s plenty of them.

But Bristol became famous for tempers and wrecks and bent-up sheet metal — and fans who travel from hundreds of miles away to rural Tennessee want to see that again, damn it!

The bottom groove was the key to that formula. So the sticky VHT in the low lane — or the “grip strip,” as FOX calls it — is a friend to Bristol race fans.

Let’s hope it lasts. As I write this during final practice, Larson is doing his best to work in the top lane with rubber and show that it’s fast enough for other drivers to follow him. Their hope is enough rubber can be laid down in the top lane to negate the effect of the VHT.

Nooooo! I like Larson — he’s wickedly funny, bluntly honest and out-of-this-world talented — but I hope his top-lane efforts fail this weekend. To be clear, I’m not rooting against him personally — just rooting against a race where the high line is viable.

I want to see a one-groove, bottom-lane race as bad as I want to win the lottery (OK, maybe not that bad, but close).

If the VHT doesn’t make drivers stick to the bottom, I suggest putting spike strips on the top.

UPDATE: The VHT was no match for Larson working in the top lane in the Xfinity race, so forget everything I just said.

Danica Patrick responds to Nicki Minaj shoutout in Major Lazer’s “Run Up”

It’s pretty great to be a famous race car driver, but getting a shoutout in a pop song? That’s an even higher level of awesomeness.

In Major Lazer’s song “Run Up,” the EDM trio features a verse from Nicki Minaj — who sneaks in a shoutout to Danica Patrick.

“I told ‘em, ‘Pull up on me faster than Danica,’” Minaj raps. “That’s on the low; I’m tryna blow him like harmonicas.”

Since I ask important questions here at JeffGluck.com, I had to know what Patrick thought of the shoutout (which she believes is her first in a song).

“Very flattering,” Patrick told me. “I’ve never met her, but I’m flattered she knows who I am. She could have called — I would have danced in the video!”

Patrick said she’s actually a fan of Minaj; she often plays Nicki’s Pandora station (along with Beyonce) while working out.

“So that (coincidence) is kind of funny,” Patrick said. “I’ll have to be listening while I’m working out to hear that song pop up.”

(Hat-tip to FoxSports.com for first noticing this.)

Social Spotlight with Mike Joy

This is the latest in a series of interviews where I ask people in the racing industry about their social media usage. The interviews are also available in podcast form. This week: Mike Joy, the longtime NASCAR broadcaster from FOX Sports. Joy is on Twitter at @mikejoy500.

First of all, I see you a lot on Twitter. Are there any other platforms that you are active on?

I’m on Facebook, but it’s mainly as a member of groups: One for the road race car — the BMW my son races — two for vintage MGs and there’s even a group on there for cars that I used to race back in the 70s in IMSA. So, it’s mainly for the group aspects why I’m on Facebook.

FOX introduced us to Twitter. When Twitter was fairly new, they thought that it would be a good idea for us to have an online presence, and when we saw that a lot of the teams and drivers and crew people and families were on there too — and especially when we found at Daytona that we could sometimes get quicker updates of things that were happening by looking at Twitter than by chasing PR people around the pits — that really became a great platform for all the FOX people.

I’ve done a couple of things on Reddit, but just from time to time, and (those) things are scheduled, so I don’t have a regular presence on there. I have a family, so you have to spend some time offline. (Smiles)

But yeah, every once in a while, if I’m at a hotel or an airport or in the evening, I’ll just pop up on (Twitter) and say, “All right, who’s got questions? Who’s looking for a little more information or, more likely, explanation?” Because it’s hard to get into detail on the telecast — we’re always moving from one story to another, from one car to another, and there’s a lot of things about this sport that we know are difficult to understand in 30 seconds of explanation, so if people have questions, it’s fun to try and help.

Some of the angry people online, they’re yelling at the coverage, they’re yelling about that, they’re taking it on you. And instead of saying to yourself, “This guy doesn’t know what he’s talking about, I’m not even going to give this the time of day,” you explain a lot of what’s going on. Why do you choose to do that?

I think if people are better educated about why things happen in sports television, they’ll be more tolerant when things don’t always happen the way they want them to. So if you explain to people, then they can make an informed decision whether they’re really upset about it or not. And a lot of times it won’t change their opinion, but at least they’ll know why we didn’t interview their driver after a race, or why we only had one or two replays of an incident, or why we keep showing one in-car camera and maybe you don’t see as much coverage of another.

All these things happen for a reason — decisions are made often at a very rapid pace down in that TV truck, and hopefully we come out of it with a really good telecast.

I went home from Martinsville and watched the FOX telecast, and it wasn’t the same race that I saw, because I get to see the monitors and the racetrack. And there are so many battles — especially on a short track — there are so many skirmishes and so many things that you just can’t have a camera everywhere all the time.

But we really do the best we can to do a telecast that’s fair, first of all, and tells the story of the race and shows people as much of the different competition as possible. That’s our goal, and certainly some weeks we’re a little better at it than others, but that’s always the effort. We’ve got the best people in sports television working on these shows to try and do a great job for the fans at home if they can’t be at the racetrack.

When you’re answering somebody’s questions on Twitter, do you ever have to go find the answer or ask somebody else on the crew? Or is this stuff your personal knowledge of everything that happened?

It’s pretty much my take on what happened and my opinion because it’s my Twitter account — it’s not FOX’s account. So it’s my take on what happened, or why it happened, and trying to make it make sense.

Every once in awhile, somebody will tweet something at me that I just feel is totally outrageous, totally off the wall and just totally not right. So I’ll just retweet it and put, “Really?” And we have enough fans and we have enough people that look at the telecast in a positive light that oftentimes, they will just light these people up. You know, “Why are you picking on FOX? Why are you picking on Mike? What’s the matter?” (It’s) to try and show them that their opinion’s not widely shared. So it’s kind of fun to see that happen from time to time.

But I think if our fans better understand what we’re doing and why, they’ll enjoy the telecast better and they’ll watch more. That’s the hope.

What does somebody have to do to get blocked by Mike Joy?

Gosh, I’m not sure I’ve ever blocked anybody. I can think of a couple people that I probably should have. But all I ask is that the fans just be respectful. Usually, I’ll get a reaction like, “Oh, I didn’t know you actually replied to tweets. Oh my gosh, I didn’t really mean that.” And you know, sometimes not. Some people are really adamant about their point of view and that’s fine — that’s their point of view. I guess it only gets me upset when they either try and put forth their point of view as fact without knowing the facts or if they start picking on people directly. That doesn’t go.

Do you use Twitter to help your job when you’re on the air? Or is there too much going on that you can’t really incorporate it?

There was a time about a year ago when we glanced at Twitter during a show, especially during a practice show, looking for scraps of news out of the garage or things that were going on to help lead the telecast in a different direction or a more interesting direction. For a time we were doing it during the race as well. Now, Andy Jeffers, who’s our stage manager, he monitors Twitter during the race and he follows the teams, the PR people, the wives, everybody, the drivers and gets us some interesting comments. There’s some of it we repeat on air, some of which they actually pop the tweet up on air, that kind of thing. So Twitter does become a part of the telecast in that way.

But we’ve got so many different things going on that some day I’d like you to just come and sit in and see what that’s all about to gain a better understanding of it for your readers. But there’s enough going on that no, I’m not checking my Twitter feed during the telecast. No time for that.

I know you have a lot of people helping you, and you rely on them to feed you information. But you may not know everything that’s going on. So some information might not get relayed to you.

Well that’s true, but that’s why we have talented pit reporters and their spotters down on the ground chasing those stories. If Andy sees something or if Darrell checks his Twitter and finds something during a commercial, we’ll look at it; if necessary, we’ll talk about it, we’ll get it up there. But hopefully we don’t miss major stories.

Quite frankly, Twitter has become the place where a lot of stories break now. Twitter has really become the place for leaks and squeaks. A lot of stories come there first and then get explored from there.

When Twitter wasn’t around 10 years ago, compared to now, how has that changed what you do as a broadcaster?

Oh my goodness. Our job was incredibly harder (before) because we’d have to spend a lot more time in the garage, in the media center, running back and forth — and at that time TV, radio, and pit reporters, we’d all run together. We’d all run around and I’d bump into you, “Hey, what do you got, what’s going on, who have you talked to?” I’d tell you, you’d tell me, we’d go in the media center, talk with somebody else.

And now everybody rushes to Twitter with the first hint of a story. So in the morning, that’s the last thing I check before I leave the hotel and I’ll have a look at it when I first get to the racetrack to see what’s going on, see what the stories are. So it’s made the job a lot easier.

On the other hand, it means I don’t spend as much time with other reporters and other broadcasters and writers running around because the information flow is so much easier for us now than it was then.

I suppose in some ways, the fans can see everything just like we can. So TV can be two minutes behind Twitter and fans are like, “Yeah, we already know that.” Do you know what I mean?

Yes, but as a medium, it’s completely different. The job of the telecast is to tell the story and give the news of what happened during that practice session, that qualifying session, that race and put it together in a way that informs, educates and entertains.

Twitter strips a lot of that away just to the bare essence of 140 characters and a lot of times, it’s the drivers directly or the crew chiefs or the car owners directly who are on there with their comments, and that’s just pure and unvarnished. I think that’s where professional athletes, not just in racing, have really embraced Twitter because it’s them getting their thoughts out there, and they’re not subject to interpretation by a PR person or a writer or a broadcaster before they get to the fan.

Where do you think this is all going next? Obviously the NASCAR industry is pretty heavily on Twitter at this point — pretty much everybody’s looking at it. What’s the next evolution of this?

I think the best way to look at Twitter is to look at Dale Jr. — Dale Jr. had a Twitter account, never made a tweet and had half a million followers. Then he finally gets on Twitter and he starts having fun with it and now he’s selling JeffGluck.com hats on Twitter that don’t exist!

So we’re having a great time. I think that the ability of Twitter for the athlete or celebrity to connect directly to the fans with a certain amount of direct connection both ways from the fan’s tweets and the athlete’s tweets, but still maintaining distance between the athlete and the fan, is a great model. I think it works really, really well.

The next step would be having that athlete’s cell number or email address, and that probably gets just a little too direct for people to deal with — especially people who have half a million followers. So I think we’re in a really good place. The athletes, the entertainers, the celebrities, they can share, they can read the comments back, they can emote, they can have a very direct connection with their closest fans and everybody enjoys it. Everybody wins.

This interview is sponsored by Dover International Speedway. If you’re planning to attend the Dover race in June, please consider using my ticket link. Thanks!