RICHMOND, Va. – The field of 12 has been set for The Chase after Saturday night’s running of the Rock & Roll 400 at Richmond International Raceway. Kyle Busch and Matt Kenseth are out and Toyota driver Brian Vickers is in. As for Michael Waltrip Racing, it was a wild night on pit road for the NAPA AUTO PARTS team. Three incidents in the pits during the early stages of the race put Waltrip and his fast car to the back of the field. Each time, the loss in track position was devastating and tough to overcome relegating the team to a 32nd-place finish.
“Our day was such a struggle,” said Waltrip after climbing out of his NAPA AUTO PARTS Toyota. “We started out really fast after qualifying 40th. We drove up through the field and were setting in good shape but then had three problems on pit road. We got a penalty twice and then one time when I went to stop in my pit box, Matt Kenseth was in there. I was thinking that everybody standing there had on a NAPA firesuit. His car didn’t say NAPA on it. Sometimes I think I am kind of messed up, but he was in my box.
“The mistakes in the pits made us start behind the lap-down cars. I love the rules. The rules are cool. NASCAR puts all the lead-lap cars together and then puts all the lap-down cars together. But if you have a problem on pit road, it magnifies it. You go to the very back. That’s what happened to us. We could never really recover from it despite having a good car at the beginning and at the end of the race.”
The first two incidents on pit road happened on laps 46 and 59 for tire violations. Both penalties required the NAPA Toyota to go to the tail-end of the longest line. Then on lap 108, Waltrip came onto pit road under caution to find Kenseth in his pit box. The two-time Daytona 500 champion had to return to the track where he was able to lead a lap for five bonus points before pitting on lap 109 for a wedge adjustment to help tighten up the car. Unfortunately, pitting out of sequence once again put Waltrip in the back of the field.
With the track-position deficit, Waltrip and his team kept plugging away. But during the middle stages of the race, the NAPA Toyota’s handling went away. Crew chief Gene Nead, working in only his second race with Waltrip, made a series of adjustments on laps 174, 207, 281 and 321. The biggest issue was the car was extremely loose. Wedge, track bar and air pressure changes were made. Unfortunately, the car’s handling prevented Waltrip from breaking into the top 25.
“I appreciated all the work Gene and the guys did for me,” continued Waltrip. “My car just wouldn’t let me do what I needed it to. I am trying to provide Gene with all the necessary information to fix the car, but we are still coming up short.”
A tense moment for the team happened on lap 327 when the NAPA Toyota went for a spin on the frontstretch. Waltrip’s car was not seriously damaged but had a lot of grass in the grill. He came onto pit road on laps 328, 329 and 330. He returned to the track in 33rd position and was able to pick up one spot before the race ended.
Waltrip’s teammates David Reutimann and Marcos Ambrose earned 20th and 22nd.
Virginia-native Denny Hamlin dominated the 400-lap event and won his second race of the season. Rounding out the top-10 finishers were Kurt Busch, Jeff Gordon, Mark Martin, Kyle Busch, Clint Bowyer, Brian Vickers, Sam Hornish Jr., Kevin Harvick and Ryan Newman.
The Chase is now set with the following 12 drivers contending for the NASCAR Sprint Cup championship – Tony Stewart, Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, Denny Hamlin, Kurt Busch, Mark Martin, Kasey Kahne, Carl Edwards, Ryan Newman, Juan Pablo Montoya, Greg Biffle and Brian Vickers. Vickers got the final spot edging out Kyle Busch by just eight points.
Next Sunday The Chase for the Sprint Cup starts at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. Broadcast coverage will get underway Sunday at 1 pm Eastern on ABC. It can also be heard on PRN and Sirius XM Satellite Radio.
Rock & Roll 400 Unofficial Results:
Rock & Roll 400 Lap By Lap: