KANSAS CITY, Kan. Denny Hamlin got the confetti shower. Mother Nature got the last laugh.
"Well, (it was the) conditions," sighed Brian Pattie, crew chief for local favorite Clint Bowyer, one of 11 casualties Sunday at the STP 400. "I don't think they anticipated 60 degrees and cloudy."
We were supposed to see Saturday's sequel at Kansas Speedway: 68-69 degrees, sunny, and breezy. Instead, it was about 10 degrees cooler, the sky was a wash of grey soup, and a gust persisted from the north at roughly 20 miles per hour. Fans dressed for early May and wound up being greeted by a slice of mid-October.
In the pits, pre-race setups turned into a crapshoot. When Pattie threw caution to the wind, it landed somewhere west of Olathe.
"It was pretty important because the forecast itself changed 10 degrees just in a matter of 24 hours," offered Darian Grubb, Hamlin's crew chief. "So we pretty much had to guess what was going to happen."
Grubb and the Hamlin team guessed right. Several didn't.
Unofficially, eight different drivers suffered some kind of engine problem over the course of the race. Officially, there were three drivers Bowyer, the Emporia, Kan., native, being the most notable who didn't finish because of engine issues. Another two didn't finish because of engine-related overheating.
Cooler-than-expected conditions meant a harder track surface, tighter grip, and less give. Throw in the wind, and suddenly every time and how hard you hit the accelerator became a spin of the roulette wheel.
"That was something, as a driver, you tried to manage all day, and (try) not to run it up," noted Kevin Harvick, who started second and wound up sixth. "It was a lot cloudier which brought our RPMs up and gave us more grip as well, tightened the track a little bit."
The surface was already pretty well beat up; somebody earlier in the weekend had pulled a hunk of concrete about the size of a Big Mac from the track. Kansas Speedway is slated to be repaved and reconfigured over the summer, before the Sprint Cup series returns in October.
"I think it made a lot of difference," said points leader Greg Biffle, who who'd been warned on Lap 97 to take it easy on the gas. "We have a 9800 RPM limit and we were getting close to that on this front stretch.
"This'll give the guys a chance to go home, look at all the data and find out, maybe learn something about how we were, and how much margin we have."
A cold track also put passing at a premium. Of Sunday's top 8 finishers, none started the race farther back than 18th (Kenseth), and five began the afternoon among the top 9. In all, there were 14 lead changes and just three cautions on the day.
"It's more of a track-position type race when there's overcast conditions," said Hamlin, who snatched the lead from Martin Truex Jr. with 31 laps to go and rode that rally all the way to Victory Lane. "When the sun is out, the drivers, in my opinion, are more prominent. Your driver can move around, find the grip, do things in the car to make up for what his car doesn't have. So the slicker the conditions are, the better it tends to lead (for) our race team."
With about half-hour left in the race, the mush in the sky melted. The clouds began to part. The sun finally broke through. For that matter, so did Hamlin.
You can follow Sean Keeler on Twitter @seankeeler or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.