Under the threat of cloudy skies and rain, Jeff Gordon proved that the Drive for Five is still alive and well with a convincing win at Michigan. Gordon started on the pole and led the second-most laps on the day, but he had to fend off the likes of Joey Logano, Kevin Harvick, Paul Menard, and teammate Dale Earnhardt, Jr. late in the day to pick up the win. Kurt Busch was in contention for the win until he got loose off turn two on a late restart and hit the wall hard enough to scatter debris all over the track and bring out the caution flag once again. Just like it was at Indianapolis a few weeks ago, the final restart of the day at Michigan came with seventeen laps to go. At Indianapolis, Gordon called the final restart ďthe restart of my lifeĒ and blew past teammate Kasey Kahne for the lead and eventually the win. At Michigan, Logano gave Gordon everything he had, but he couldnít stay with Gordon and Gordon drove away for his 91st career win and his third win of the season, with the other two coming at Indianapolis and Kansas.
Fun Fact: The last time Gordon won the championship in 2001, he won at Kansas, Indianapolis and Michigan that year in addition to Las Vegas, Dover, and Watkins Glen.
In other news, in reaction to dirt-track driver Kevin Wardís death last weekend after Ward was killed when he was struck by NASCAR driver Tony Stewartís dirt-track carís rear tire, NASCAR announced that if drivers are unable to drive their car away from the scene of an accident, they are no longer allowed to exit their cars immediately following the wreck. They must now stay strapped in the car until told to exit by safety workers. That rule will probably be tested this weekend.
The series will return to Thunder Valley for one of the most popular races on the schedule among fans: the night race at Bristol. Racing at Bristol is close enough between the drivers that contact is inevitable and throw in the element of night so the fans can see the sparks fly and the brake rotors glow and you have a recipe for an enjoyable night of racing for fans. And no driver knew how to put on a show for the fans at Bristol better than Dale Earnhardt. Earnhardt and Terry Labonte put on not one but two memorable finishes for the fans in 1995 and 1999.
In 1995, Earnhardt made few friends that night. He roughed up Rusty Wallace, Lake Speed, and Derrike Cope during the race and he wasnít done yet. Labonte had the lead on the last lap but got caught behind some lapped traffic, allowing Earnhardt to close in. Earnhardt nailed Labonte in the rear bumper coming off turn four, sending Labonte spinning into the outside retaining wall across the line in first place. Four years later, Earnhardt learned his lesson: If youíre going to wait until the last lap to wreck the leader, donít wait until the last turn. Earnhardt had the lead as the laps wound down, but Labonte pitted for fresh tires under a late caution. Labonte then picked off the few cars that were on the lead lap and set his sights on Earnhardt. He got underneath Earnhardt in turn three coming to the white flag and cleared him going into turn one. It was a lead that he didnít have for long because Earnhardt drove straight into Labonte in turn two, sending him spinning around in a cloud of smoke, reducing the visibility of the drivers behind them. Earnhardt went on to take the checkered flag and was welcomed into Victory Lane with boos from the fans. In response to the boos, came the classic line from Earnhardt: ďI didnít mean to wreck him, I meant to rattle his cage.Ē
Most wins among active drivers: Two drivers with five wins apiece. (Jeff Gordon and Kyle Busch)
Defending Winner: Matt Kenseth held off Kasey Kahne for his fifth win of 2013 and his third in the fall race at Bristol. The other two came in 2004 and 2005.
Prediction: While this driver has struggled somewhat this year, heís the defending winner and has the patience to survive 500 laps at Bristol to put himself in position to score the win. Iím going with Matt Kenseth this week. Kenseth is most likely safe to make the Chase on points if he doesnít win over the next three weeks but I think that changes on Saturday night. The first time he won the night race at Bristol, he backed it up with another the next year. I think history repeats itself and Kenseth eliminates another Chase berth for drivers who are trying to get in on points and gives himself and his team confidence going into the Chase.
David Barr is a graduate of Daniel Boone High School and Mansfield University, where he received his degree in Communications.