Melillo’s Mind: Food City 500 recap; Weather chat, and XFINITY thoughts

By Justin Melillo
April 19, 2018

Kyle Busch took home back-to-back victories this past weekend, laying the bumper on Kyle Larson late in the race to take his seventh career victory at Bristol Motor Speedway.

“I was breathing hard there those last 20 laps, whatever it was,” Busch said. “That was a heck of a run right there with the 42 (Larson) – chasing him down, being able to get to him, being able to get by him and then trying to hold him off with some lap traffic ahead of us.”

The event was run over the course of two days, and had its share of fender bending and weather watching. All 500 laps were run, although at one point, it seemed that the pace car was leading more laps than the rest of the field.

“It’s just the long, long delays and things that happen that kind of get you in and out of your game,” Busch said. “Tell you what, you just have to stay focused for the entirety of it and try to keep going.

“I, of course, used some NOS in order to help me do that, and some Skittles, of course, to help me do that. We had plenty of those during the break, but I can’t say enough about this Skittles Toyota Camry.”

Larson held on to finish in second, while seven-time champion, Jimmie Johnson, posted his best effort of the season with a third-place finish.

Look, nobody likes when it rains at a NASCAR event. People in the stands pay good money to see action when it’s supposed to happen.
However, it’s hard to deny that the product on Sunday and Monday wasn’t positively influenced by the threat that weather could shorten the race.

The race had 13 cautions for 114 laps, including the two stage ends, and three more for weather. Five of the remaining eight cautions were multi-car cautions due to the intense racing that was produced.

Martin Truex, Jr., Chase Elliott, Ryan Blaney, and many others saw their races crippled by aggressive racing and being in the wrong spot at the wrong time.

Blaney was the most unfortunate, being taken out FROM THE LEAD at lap 119 after Trevor Bayne, Harrison Rhodes, David Ragan, and Jamie McMurray tangled around him.

I wish rain would just stay out of the equation, to be honest, but I also really liked the action we had this weekend.

If only the drivers could be in the mindset that it was going to rain every week, without the actual rain happening, the product on the track would be that much more awesome.

How about Ryan Preece and Brandon Jones this weekend? Jones seemingly had his first career victory wrapped up in the closing laps of the Fitzgerald Glider Kits 300, but a late caution shook up the strategy.

Ryan Preece and the rest of the lead lap took four tires, while Jones and his crew elected to take two tires.

The difference was huge, as Jones slipped back to a sixth place finish, and Preece went on to win the race, along with the Dash 4 Cash prize of $100,000. Justin Allgaier came home in second, and Daniel Hemric was third.

The interesting part about this XFINITY Series recap is that it doesn’t include any Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series drivers in it. That’s because NASCAR barred the Cup regulars from competing in the Dash 4 Cash races, to allow their series regulars to shine, truly embracing their tagline of “Names are made here.”

I’ve always been on the side that it’s very difficult to make your name heard when you run sixth or worse behind a handful of Cup regulars like Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano, Ryan Blaney, or Austin Dillon. They already made their names there, hence why they compete on Sunday.

I understand why Cup drivers are necessary to the XFINITY Series, and a lot of it has to do with money. Sponsors are more likely to jump on to sponsor a proven winner in a lower series rather than give the up and coming, unproven driver a chance.

With letting Kyle Busch run a handful of races in the 18, that gives an excess of money that allows for Ryan Preece to compete a handful of times, like he was able to do and capitalize on this past weekend.

NASCAR is doing the best they can with the circumstances, and I applaud them for what we have now. Yes, in a few weeks, the Cup regulars will be back, and they will most likely dominate. It’s always possible that someone steps up and beats them, and those wins would probably be even sweeter.

The Camping World Truck Series continues its off-month, while XFINITY and Cup head to Richmond Raceway for Friday night and Saturday night racing.

XFINITY will race the ToyotaCare 250 Friday night, with the race beginning around 7:00 p.m. ET.

MENCS tears up the track for the Toyota Owners 400, and the green flag will drop just after 6:30 p.m. ET.

I talked about XFINITY this week, so I might as well make some picks. Justin Allgaier has continued to impress at the ¾-mile track. In his first season with JR Motorsports, he had the lead late on a restart, but was taken three wide and out of the race while his boss, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. went on to win.

Allgaier almost won the spring event again last year, but after leading 157 laps, gave it away to Kyle Larson on a late restart.
For Cup this weekend, it’s so hard to not pick Kyle Busch. He’s on a hot streak now, and after burying the 2008 “OH HE TURNED HIM” hatchet with Earnhardt, Jr. this week on the Dale Jr. Download podcast, Busch might have more clear of a conscious as he prepares to try to win his fifth career race at Richmond Raceway.
Kyle Stephens/TRE
Tyler Head/TRE Jonny Olkowski/TRE
Marcus Leno/TRE
Toyota Racing