BRISTOL, Tenn. (AP) – Rain wreaked havoc on the second Sprint Cup Series race of the season as Sunday’s show at Bristol Motor Speedway was stopped for more than five hours while NASCAR struggled to get at least to the halfway point.
The initial start was delayed nearly two hours, and drivers made it to Lap 124 before the race was stopped by rain again. The second stoppage lasted 3 hours, 18 minutes and action resumed under the lights in front of a sparse Bristol crowd.
NASCAR needed only to get to lap 251 of the 500 scheduled laps for the event to be official.
When the cars were racing, there was action on the track, including a bizarre debris caution that caused what looked to be toilet paper to be strewn everywhere and incidents. Two other incidents ruined the races for Matt Kenseth and Jimmie Johnson when each driver was running in second place.
Kenseth was the leader when the race resumed following the lengthy rain delay. He was passed by Kurt Busch but holding second and in traffic when caution came out because Danica Patrick spun Cole Whitt.
Kenseth lightly ran into the back of Busch as he tried to slow down for the caution, but he was drilled from behind by Timmy Hill, who came around the track at a considerably higher speed.
“I just got peeled straight from behind real hard,” he calmly radioed his Joe Gibbs Racing crew.
Kenseth had to pit for repairs and dropped to 24th – 10 seconds behind the leader.
Hill took responsibility for the accident.
“This place, things happen real quick,” Hill said. “I saw (Whitt) spin, by the time I got communication, it was too late. Everybody was checking up. I ran into the back (Kenseth). I had no reaction time. It’s on me, really.”
Johnson was second before the rain delay when his tire came apart. He had to pit for repairs and dropped to 39th, two laps down from Kenseth.
Crew chief Chad Knaus grumbled on the radio that the tire wasn’t flat.
“The tread just fell off of it. There’s nothing wrong with it. The rest of the tire is … great,” Knaus radioed. He then sarcastically said he was certain the team would be blamed for the tire falling apart.
“I’m sure it’s something we did. I’m sure it’s our fault.”
Goodyear quickly responded via Twitter, posting that Johnson’s team didn’t change the right front tires on its first pit stop. Going 115-plus laps caused the right front tire to wear through, Goodyear said.
Joey Logano, who led 12 laps early, had his problems when he lost power steering. He’d raced his way past teammate Brad Keselowski, only to lose it on pit road during a competition caution early in the race. The power steering went shortly after and Logano dropped to 28th in the field before the caution for rain stopped the race at Lap 124.
“I’d say 500 laps is going to be a lot longer than I thought it was going to be around here,” Logano said during the rain delay, speculating about how difficult it will be to navigate around the 0.533-mile bullring without power steering.
“I was already huffing and puffing pretty hard trying to get the thing to turn. You can’t be quick with it. That’s the biggest problem, you can’t go fast. We’ll just have to fix it. The good thing is we’re (124) laps into this thing and there’s a long ways to go. The bad news is if we can’t fix it, we’re only (124) laps into it. So, either way, we’ve got our work cut out for us today.”
Team Penske made repairs after the rain delay and Logano was 39th when he got back on the track.
Meanwhile, teams were racing the rain for the second time this season. Unsure if more weather was headed into the area, teams had to use strategy just in case the race suddenly ended.
Clint Bowyer did it at the second competition caution, choosing not to pit. It moved him from 20th to the lead. But without fresh tires, he was quickly passed by Kyle Busch.
The Feb. 23 season-opening Daytona 500 was stopped by rain for almost six hours before resuming for a frantic finish won by Dale Earnhardt Jr. before midnight.
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