Philadelphia, PA – From lots of beating and banging to helmet throwing and even some finger-pointing. Saturday night's race at Bristol Motor Speedway was very entertaining to say the least.
Tony Stewart and Matt Kenseth have become NASCAR's best rivalry this year following their late-race altercation. While fiercely battling for the lead after a restart, both drivers bumped into each other and then crashed into the inside retaining wall along the frontstretch. Stewart's retaliation against Kenseth was a classic, as he threw his helmet, using both hands, directly at Kenseth's car.
Stewart might have the best fastball in NASCAR after throwing a perfect strike at the front end of Kenseth's Ford as Kenseth was exiting pit road following repairs to his car.
Shortly after their incident, Stewart told reporters that he vowed to "run over" Kenseth every chance he gets for the remainder of the year.
"We ran on the restart faster than him each lap, so we just learned our lesson that next time, just drive through him, not even be patient by him," Stewart added. "We're not going to give him that chance again."
Kenseth knew that Stewart would retaliate in some fashion.
"I was expecting it," Kenseth said. "I've seen that for awhile. I was expecting it, and it didn't really bother me. It wasn't gonna hurt it any worse."
The feud between Stewart and Kenseth is nothing new. The two have had numerous altercations with one another throughout their NASCAR careers. Bristol just raised the temperature gauge in their on-going rivalry.
As for Stewart's threat to run him over every chance he gets, well, let's just say that Kenseth isn't going to lose any sleep over it.
"Yeah, that's fine," Kenseth replied. "Tony is probably the greatest race car driver in the garage. I don't really have anything bad to say about Tony. On the racetrack for years and years, we've had tons of respect for each other and, for whatever reason this year, he ran me off the track at (Sonoma) and said he was sorry. It cost me seven spots in the finishing order.
"And at Indy, he was mad because he said I blocked him, and I asked for five minutes of his time to clear the air, and he wouldn't give it to me and pretty much just got cussed out and knocked my whole side off and put us in position to get wrecked, so I just said, 'Okay, that's fine'."
Stewart and Kenseth's wreck was one of many throughout the 500-lap event on Bristol's modified concrete surface. This race featured 13 cautions, which is the most since the track was reconfigured with variable banking in the summer of 2007.
During the past five years, Bristol featured more passing and less beating and banging, which significantly reduced the number of cautions. It had long been known for its numerous cautions, with as many as 20 of them in a race. On Saturday night, yellow-flag fever returned to this 0.533-mile, high-banked oval.
"Even though it was really tough to pass, it just reminded me of old school Bristol," Jeff Gordon said after his third-place run.
Since Bristol's reconfiguration in '07, fan response to the new banking was not favorable. It eventually convinced officials from both the track and its parent company, Speedway Motorsports Inc., to make changes. Following the spring races there in March, the top groove of the surface was grinded with the intention of bringing back the old style of racing at this track.
Old school Bristol was back, and the fans loved it.
"I say they grind the whole place," Gordon added. "I hope they do that next time."
When it came to tempers flaring, some controlled themselves and others didn't. Danica Patrick, who made just her fourth Sprint Cup Series start, managed to keep her cool after she was involved in an accident with Regan Smith on lap 435. Instead of tossing her helmet or making any obscene gesture, Patrick simply finger-pointed at Smith for causing the wreck.
"This is Bristol and this is why people love this track because you see a lot of that and you see tempers flare," Patrick said.
Denny Hamlin prevailed at the end to claim his third win of the season and strengthen his bid to make the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship. Hamlin wrestled the lead away from Carl Edwards with 39 laps left and then held off Jimmie Johnson at the finish for his first Bristol victory.
"It was a different type of racing, for sure," Hamlin said. "You had to be very aware of what was behind you before you even attempted to pass the guy in front of you."
When all was said and done under the lights at Bristol, Gordon summed it up best by saying, "It was pretty exciting."
Indeed, it was.