By Jared Turner
Chase Elliott is no ordinary rookie
Eight races into his much-anticipated rookie season in the Sprint Cup Series, Chase Elliott continues to impress. The 20-year-old who replaced legendary Jeff Gordon in Hendrick Motorsports’ iconic No. 24 Chevy this year delivered his best finish yet on Sunday, coming home fourth at Bristol – a track notoriously unkind to newcomers. That makes five top-10 finishes – including two top fives – for young Elliott, who has lived up to the hype and arguably even exceeded expectations for this point in his rookie campaign. Elliott’s Bristol finish was one position better than his fifth-place outing at Texas a week earlier. “I think it just comes back to having a good car, and I thought our guys did a really good job throughout the weekend,” he said.
Dale Jr. and the No. 88 team have a lot of heart
Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s afternoon at Bristol got started on the wrong foot when his No. 88 Chevrolet quickly experienced an issue with its ECU unit and fell all the way to the tail end of the field, losing two laps to the leaders. By Lap 146, NASCAR’s most popular driver was back on the lead lap in 27th position, however. From there, Earnhardt scratched and clawed his way toward the front and moved all the way up to second on the final restart, ultimately holding onto the spot despite a stiff challenge from Kurt Busch. Earnhardt was pleased to come home in the top five, all things considered. “We had about a 10th‑place car,” he said. “We weren’t really that good all day.”
Joe Gibbs Racing is in a league all its own
What can be said that hasn’t already been said about the strength of Joe Gibbs Racing this season? On a day when the JGR cars of Matt Kenseth, Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch all suffered major setbacks, the lone remaining JGR car, of Carl Edwards, stomped the field on the way to a commanding victory that guarantees him a berth in the 2016 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. With eight races in the books this season, Kenseth is the only one of the JGR drivers who hasn’t been to Victory Lane. Busch, Hamlin and Edwards, meanwhile, have combined for four wins, giving JGR exactly half of the Sprint Cup Series race trophies handed out this year. Impressive? You’d better believe it.
Bristol is still a great place to watch a race
Sunday’s 500-lap race produced a season-high 15 cautions as multiple frontrunners endured major setbacks that included collisions with the outside wall. Incredibly, more than 20 percent of the race was run under caution – a testament to just how chaotic things were. While wrecks don’t necessarily equate to good racing, the reality is that fans buy tickets at least in part to see drivers run into each other and tear up sheet metal. Sunday’s race delivered in vintage Bristol fashion, proving that the notoriously treacherous .533-mile high-banked oval is still one of the most exciting places to watch a race, even if the stands on Sunday were nowhere near as full as they used to be every time the Sprint Cup Series visited Thunder Valley.
Matt DiBenedetto beat long odds at Bristol
Raise your hand if you predicted Matt DiBenedetto would finish in the top 10 at Bristol. Yeah, neither did we. But that’s exactly what happened. Proving once again the “World’s Fastest Half-Mile” is prone to produce results that no one sees coming, the unheralded DiBenedetto earned by far and away his best finish in 41 starts as a Sprint Cup Series driver. For DiBenedetto, who competes for the underfunded back-marker BK Racing team, a sixth-place finish might as well have been a victory. The 24-year-old California native fought back tears during his post-race interview on live TV, making no bones about just how much Sunday’s finish meant to him and his family, which fittingly joined him after the race for an extended celebration of his unlikely achievement.