Friday Bristol Notebook
· Jimmie Johnson's victory celebration comes with a price
· Changing track has made Bristol tougher on Kurt Busch
· Absence of veterans doesn't hurt Dash 4 Cash competition
· Short Strokes
April 21, 2017
By Reid Spencer
NASCAR Wire Service
Jimmie Johnson’s victory celebration comes with a price
BRISTOL, Tenn. -- After his victory two weeks ago at Texas Motor Speedway, Jimmie Johnson was late for his post-race press conference – and with good reason.
Because of a malfunction with his fluid delivery system, Johnson was dehydrated by the end of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race. Consequently, a trip to the infield care center for IV fluids delayed his appearance in the media center.
During the NASCAR off week over Easter, Johnson took on very different sorts of fluids, in Mexico no less. After all, what good is a well-earned vacation if you can’t celebrate your most recent victory?
“Yeah, the three IV bags did wonders,” Johnson said in a press conference prior to Sunday’s Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway (2 p.m. ET on FOX). “After leaving the media center, I started my off weekend quickly that night and proceeded to chase out the pain with as many margaritas and beers as I could down in Mexico.
“I recovered well, but unfortunately came back sick from Mexico, and I’m just on the tail end of that now. If you are going to play you are going to pay, I guess, at the end of the day.”
What made the trip worth playing – and paying – was a victory that reversed a sluggish start to the season for the No. 48 team. Uncharacteristically, Johnson had posted just one top-10 finish in six races before the Texas win.
“We would have been drowning sorrows instead of celebrating and enjoying it (if the team hadn’t won),” Johnson said. “There’s no better way to go into an off weekend than with a win or a strong run, strong performance.
“We all sit inside of our heads and think about where we’re at, what’s going on. A tricky start to our season, to say the least, and to punch our ticket to the playoffs and get that win made for a great off weekend.”
CHANGING TRACK HAS MADE BRISTOL TOUGHER ON KURT BUSCH
Kurt Busch is tied with his brother Kyle for most victories among active drivers at Bristol Motor Speedway.
Only one problem: that’s ancient history. Busch earned four of his five Bristol victories during a five-race stretch from spring 2002 through spring 2004. His last win at the .533-mile high-banked short track came in the spring of 2006, his first season with team owner Roger Penske.
Since then, the feast has turned to famine, and Busch knows why. It has everything to do with changes to the track that have opened up the outside lane – and simultaneously opened the path to victory for a much broader group of drivers. Busch ran third at BMS in last year’s spring race, matching his best finish since his most recent victory.
“It’s definitely gotten tougher, with the amount of options there are with the low lane, the high lane, the way that the tires have changed,” Busch said on Friday before opening practice at Bristol. “The races that I won had a nice, consistent pattern. It was to be a bulldog on the bottom lane, move guys out of the way, and let the rough edges drag.
“The new Bristol and where we are now, it’s a little bit more finesse, and you have to find the lane that works the best to be able to get by the guy that’s already in the best lane, and you can’t necessarily just move him because we’re all on that ragged edge. That high lane, we’re all up there running that 15-second lap time, and you’re right on the edge of slipping already, so you’re trying to get to the guy and move him, and yet if you do one little extra step, you’re gonna slide up into the fence.
“It’s such a large consequence when that happens, so it’s just a different way of going about it, and I haven’t quite mastered it like I did before, and, again, third last spring here and just trying to build off of that.”
ABSENCE OF CUP VETERANS DOESN’T HURT DASH 4 CASH COMPETITION
A difference in format and a ban on five-year Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series veterans may have changed the tenor of the Dash 4 Cash races in the NASCAR XFINITY Series, but it hasn’t diminished the quality of competition in the eyes of the drivers.
This year, eligibility for the $100,000 Dash 4 Cash bonuses is determined during the first two stages of a race, rather than through separate heat races. And though Cup drivers with five-year full-time tenures aren’t allowed to compete, there are plenty of talented drivers with less than five years of Cup experience eager to fill the top-quality rides.
“You put Kyle Larson, Daniel Suarez, Erik Jones, Ryan Blaney, Austin Dillon, Ty Dillon – they’re still equally as good, in my opinion,” said JR Motorsports driver Justin Allgaier, one of the top XFINITY regulars competing for the Dash 4 Cash bonus. “Anybody that gets in the 18, 19 or 20 (Joe Gibbs Racing Toyotas) has been great. They’ve kind of been able to plug-and-play drivers.
“The 42 car has been lights-out, with Tyler (Reddick) in it or Kyle (Larson) in it. I think the caliber of drivers in the XFINITY Series right now is as good as I’ve ever seen it in a long time. For me personally, yeah, it does change the feel of the weekend, but I think you’re not changing the competitiveness of it.”
Michael Annett, Allgaier’s teammate, agreed wholeheartedly.
“I think the parity this year is closer than it’s ever been between the guys racing on Sunday and racing on Saturday as well,” Annett said. “We’ve already seen it – Ryan (Reed) winning Daytona, Justin winning Phoenix, five top 10s for Bubba (Darrell Wallace Jr.).”
Allgaier won both the Phoenix race and the first Dash 4 Cash bonus in March. He’ll try for two in a row in Saturday’s Fitzgerald Glider Kits 300 at Bristol. Should any driver win all four Dash 4 Cash bonuses, he would also get an additional $600,000 to bring the total bonus money to $1 million.
Sunoco Rookie of the Year contender Erik Jones was fastest in opening Monster Energy Cup Series practice with a lap at 127.843 mph… Series leader Kyle Larson, who will start from the pole because of a qualifying rainout, ran 72 laps in the session, more than any other driver… Both Kasey Kahne and Joey Logano scraped the outside wall during practice, but the damage to their respective cars was cosmetic… Chase Elliott spun off Turn 4 and slid sideways down the frontstretch but avoided contact with the walls.