Wrapping up Sunday's race at Atlanta as we make the turn toward Britsol Motor Speedway and next weekend's racing:
If you heard Tony Stewart ripping Goodyear after the race and thought that was just Tony being Tony, you should know that Dale Earnhardt Jr. sat right beside Stewart in the postrace interviews and largely agreed.
Once again, it is LONG past time for NASCAR and Goodyear to spend some of the money that's part of their exclusive deal on a dedicated research and development team that works year-round making the tires Cup, Nationwide and Truck teams as safe and as competitive as they can be.
Yes, that balance is difficult to strike perfectly. But Stewart and Earnhardt Jr. are exactly right when they say that there has to be a way to find the room between tires that are too soft to last and ones that are too hard to race on.
OK, Toyota has now won a race in the Sprint Cup Series. And the sun still came up this morning.
You know, I've just about had it with "Digger" already. It's a camera buried in the track. Nice idea. We appreciate the idea and its execution. Use it when you get a good shot. But, for the love of Pete, shut up about it already.
Toyota celebrates its first win
Jim Aust announced last week that he would retire as president and chief executive officer of Toyota Racing Development on June 30 and said he felt confident he'd see Toyota’s first Sprint Cup win before that.
Kyle Busch made that happen Sunday.
"To have Kyle come in and take this one and Tony finish second, the feeling can't get any better than that," Aust said.
"Finishing one-two for our first Cup win – I don't know how you improve on that."
Aust said earlier this year he felt that Toyota would win "somewhere in the area of eight" races this year.
"I'm going to stick to that and hope my prediction comes through," he said Sunday.
Lee White, TRD's senior vice president and general manager, said the work is just beginning.
"We have a lot of things we are working on," White said. "We are just kind of getting that figured out, how to handle the engineering support and how to get these guys the parts and pieces that they need. Obviously, we are looking forward to a few more opportunities."
Earnhardt Jr. tries to hold up the sky
Dale Earnhardt Jr. has now finished second and third in his past two races and sixth in the Sprint Cup standings after four races.
"I'm desperate, you know, just to get into the top five and top 10 every week when the car is capable of it," said the driver of the No. 88 Chevrolets for Hendrick Motorsports.
"There's a real sense of desperation there in the last half of the race not to mess it up. We had a good finish going.
"I don't want to miss the Chase. The sky might fall."
Earnhardt Jr. said he and crew chief Tony Eury Jr. worked hard in Sunday's race to overcome the frustrations dealt them by the tough racing conditions.
"Everything seems to be working out really good," he said. "I just want to keep it going. ... I'm just trying not to make any mistakes myself. They give me great, great race cars. ... Hopefully, I can do my end of the job."
Edwards' strong run ends early
Carl Edwards said he felt like he had everything going his way Sunday until his engine problem developed and took him out on Lap 275. He was leading at the time his Ford started trailing smoke.
"I was just cruising around," Edwards said. "I don't know what happened, but the oil tank lid was on."
Edwards was penalized 100 driver and owner points and lost 10 Chase bonus points while crew chief Bob Osborne was fined $100,000 and suspended for six races after the lid on his oil tank container was found loose following his win at Las Vegas last week.
"I just appreciate my fans for sticking with us this week," Edwards said after having to settle for a 42nd-place finish that dropped him 10 spots to 17th in the standings.
"It has been a long week with a lot of stuff said, but I think we showed them here today, other than something coming apart in the engine, I believe we had the car that was the class of the field. I’m just really happy to be driving it."
Biffle rings up another top five
Greg Biffle is second in the points standings after his third top-10 finish of the season and his second straight top five. After finishing third at Las Vegas he was fourth on Sunday despite losing two spots in the final two laps.
"I just burned my tires up racing Tony (Stewart)" for second, Biffle said. "I used it all up right there. I should have known better. I'm more experienced than that, but that’s what I did."
Gordon puts in a hard day's work
Jeff Gordon started first and finshed fifth Sunday, moving him up eight spots to 15th in the Sprint Cup standings.
"It was just one of the most challenging days drivers and teams have ever had in and on a race car since I have been in this series," Gordon said. "I felt like I was going to crash every single lap. I feel like I have run 1,000 miles. ... It's not any one person or group's fault. It's a combination. This car, this tire at this race track was just terrible."
Gordon will be at Darlington Monday to take part in a test to help Goodyear pick a tire for the race on that track's newly paved surface in May.
Vickers in top 10, but job’s not done
Brian Vickers finished ninth in Sunday's race and is also ninth in the standings after four races. But until he gets through next week's race at Bristol, he’s still considered outside the top 35 in owner points based on last year's standings.
"I don't know exactly where we stand on whether we have to make Bristol or where we have to finish, but we just have to keep our heads down," he said. "It's all about focus and doing what we've been doing."
At Las Vegas and again at Atlanta, Vickers' Toyota was the last car to make the race on speed. But he's capitalized on those opportunities and can't fall out of the top 35 even if he doesn't make the race at Bristol. He's 211 points ahead of Sam Hornish Jr., who’s now 36th in this year’s owner points.
Matt Kenseth fell a lap down early and was almost two laps down at one point. But he rallied to finish eighth. "The end result was great," he said. "It was really a struggle. We ran really bad and got a good finish, so I'm happy with that."
All three Richard Childress Racing cars were in the top 10 Sunday, with Clint Bowyer sixth, Kevin Harvick seventh and Jeff Burton 10th. Harvick is third and Burton is fifth in the current points standings. "It wasn't find sliding around," Bowyer said. "It's fun when you are leading. It is fun when you are fast. When you aren't, it wasn't fun."
Kasey Kahne's streak of top-10 finishes to start the season ended at three. Kahne finished 28th after spinning out in his Dodge on Lap 114. "The longer we went on with the race, the harder it was to figure it out," he said. "It was hard to get it right. Everybody struggled with the conditions as far as grip with that tire, definitely some more than others."
Lap 84 – The second yellow flag comes out, but not before the fast early pace set by Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kyle Busch already has half the field one lap down and in position to have to fight uphill the rest of the day.
Lap 233 – Kyle Busch, Jeff Gordon and Clint Bowyer stay out on a caution while Carl Edwards leads the rest of the leaders to pit road. The fresh tires pay off quickly for Edwards, who comes from fourth on Lap 236 restart to the lead by Lap 240.
Lap 262 – Elliott Sadler's third incident in 41 laps brings out a yellow that allows Busch to get back on the same tire sequence as Edwards, erasing the advantage that the No. 99 Ford had from the previous stop.
Lap 268 – Just after a restart, Edwards' Ford begins trailing smoke as he leads the field around the track. Edwards keeps going for a few laps, but the smoke gets worse quickly and by Lap 275 he's on pit road and done for the day with an engine issue.
Lap 284 – Busch gets off pit road first on his final pit stop and has Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Tony Stewart behind him in second. It takes Greg Biffle several laps and a lot of effort on his tires to get past Stewart, and by the time he does Busch is long gone.
Food City 500
Where: Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway.
When: 2 p.m. Sunday.
TV: Fox Sports.
Radio: Performance Racing Network.
Last year’s winner: Kyle Busch.