When Brad Kesolowski won the race in Bristol in August 2011 almost everyone you talked to about it said it was because of how he took advantage of the timing lines on pit road and that his car was not good enough for the win, myself included. So NASCAR made changes to the timing lines, and Kesolowski went out to prove that he could win even without that advantage, and he did by winning the 2012 Food City 500 after leading the final 111 laps and holding off Matt Kenseth right up to the end. with a margin of almost 6 full car lengths at the finish line, Kesolowski proved how fast his #2 Miller Lite, Penske Racing Dodge, really was.
“I got on Twitter, and I got kind of PO’d at some people that said I won it because of the timing line,” Keselowski said. “I knew this Blue Deuce was fast enough to win the race last fall with or without timing lines. It feels so good just to prove it here in the spring race.
“This car here, this brand-new car that Penske Racing built — everybody back at the shop did a phenomenal job. The last few races have been really good, and I knew we had a shot at winning one if we closed the deal.”
“Matt didn’t make it easy,” said Kesolowski. ”That’s his job, to not make it easy on me. He raced me hard; I raced him hard, rubbed a little bit. That’s good racing.”
Kenseth in his #17 Best Buy Ford, who finished second, felt he may have had a chance on the final restart if Kesolowski has chosen the bottom line.
”If I’d have been on the top, maybe I could have pinned him down there,” Kenseth said. ”But on old tires, I knew he was going to choose the top.”
“Yeah, he screwed that up,” Kenseth said, joking about the lane choice. “He should have started on the bottom for me. Unfortunately, he didn’t. I don’t know. I couldn’t run on the bottom, and Brad was really strong on the bottom of 1 and 2.
“I was thinking I could run outside of him, but he would roll through there so fast you could never get a run on him. I think he liked the bottom of 1 and 2, but I could never get around on the bottom of 1 and 2, so that was the right thing to do, to start on the top and leave me on the bottom — for him.”
Michael Waltrip Racing had a banner day with all three of their cars finishing top 5. The 56 of Martin Truex Jr finished third followed by teammates Clint Bowyer in the #15 5 Hour Energy machine, and Brian Vickers making his return to racing in 5th in the #55 Aaron’s Dream Machine which he shares with Mark Martin this year.
“It was a great day for us. The only way it could have been better would have been to have the cars run one-two-three,” said Scott Miller, executive vice president of competition at MWR. “It was just a super-good day for us.”
“It’s been a long time coming,” Truex said. “I told a lot of people in the off season that we’ve done a lot of things to make our team better. We had a great end to the year last year and we’ve really just been carrying that momentum. I’ve got a lot of confidence in my team right now — and obviously we’ve got good race cars. That makes our job a lot easier.”
Clint Bowyer put a lot of emphasis on the team success over his personal finish. Having moved to the #15 car this year when RCR could not find the funding to run a 4th car full time in 2012, Bowyer moved from Chevy to Toyota with MWR and has not seemed to lose any momentum in the changes.
“The 56 bunch had a really good package for this race last year. We elected to go with that and it paid off pretty good,” Bowyer said.
Brian Vickers, however, was the talk of the garage. After losing his ride last yet to a combination of time off recovering from an illness, and a team pulling out of the sport, Vickers was left without a ride at the end of the 2011 season. In his first on track showing this year however he took a 25th place qualifying effort and turned it into a top 5 result. Vickers even led the second most laps of the race with 125, second only to the eventual winner Brad Kesolowski’s 232 laps led.
“It felt really good when we were out there leading,” Vickers said. “It would have been awesome to hold onto that, but it was my first time back so I can’t complain.
“What an organization. I’m so proud to be a part of getting all three cars in the top five. I can’t thank [team owners]Michael Waltrip and Rob Kauffmann and everyone at MWR enough. I don’t know those two guys that well, but I can tell a lot about them by the group of people they’ve assembled and the team they’ve built. What an incredible organization.”
Other notable names had mixed results in their finishes. Tony Stewart was unable to find the handle on his car this week and ended up 14th. Dale Earnhardt Jr was in the top 5 all day long, but on the final pit stop of the day Jr was caught speeding on pit road entry and was sent to the back of the lead lap as punishment. Unable to make up spots in traffic Jr finished as the last car on the lead lap in 15th place and dropped 2 positions in the points to 6th. Jeff Gordon and Dale Jr had an on track incident which was blown out of proportion by most of the fans and media. What was actually a minor rub on the track ended with Gordon cutting a tire on Earnhardt Jr’s tailpipe relegating the #24 car to a lackluster 35th place finish. While the media made a big deal out of Gordon’s initial comments, Gordon himself noted afterwards that it wasn’t intentional, wasn’t even a hard knock, and was simply a racing incident, the kind of thing one expects to happen at Bristol.