Monday, June 30, 2008

Live on Type Delay: Loudon I

Patrick Carpentier is the first Canadian to take the pole position since the 1950s, and leads the first lap. He has said that he is still learning the car, but does a good job after Harvick and Bobby Labonte pass him and hangs in third place for several laps.

While the cars are spreading out, as they do at Loudon, we will take the time to correct an error made in a previous post. The race is 301 laps, not 301 miles. Somehow, my mind works good with miles and kilometers, when we are thrown for that particular loop, but we missed the fact that this race is actually 318 miles long on the 1.58 mile circuit. Glad we could get that cleared up.

Kevin Harvick, to many a favorite to win the Lennox Industrial Tools 301, is running away from the field early in the race, but back in the field, some cars are moving up. by lap 35, Jeff Burton has moved up to the sixteenth position, and Tony Stewart has gained eleven spots and is in eighteenth.

Dale Earnhardt, Jr has a great car so far, and, as the sun comes out from behind the clouds, somewhere around lap 41, he takes the lead. It was an artful pass--using lapped traffic to catch Harvick, and taking the bottom line, forcing Harvick up behind the slower cars. As they say, the crowd goes wild. Once he is in the lead, Junior takes off and soon leads the field by over one second.

There are a lot of fast cars making their way up through the field. Besides Stewart, who is now running in thirteenth, having gained fifteen positions from his starting spot, Jeff Gordon seems to finally have a good car to start with and has made it into the top ten.

Green flag pit stops begin with Kasey Kahne on lap 62. The rest of the cars start pitting on lap 62. Nearly everybody takes adjustments. Race leader Dale Earnhardt, Jr makes his stop around lap 72. Most of the adjustments have been because of the change in the weather. With the sun out, the track conditions are changing. Kevin Harvick emerges from the pit cycle in the lead on lap 73.

Now Kasey Kahne, who seemed to be having trouble before the pit stops is the threat for the lead, as he is quickly gaining on Harvick, who seems to be having trouble in lapped traffic. Just as Kahne seems to be about to take the lead, Dario Fanchitti spins out and brings out the yellow flag on lap 86.

There are many different strategies taking play, as it has only been a few laps since the pit stops. All the lead lap cars pitted, and some took two tires, some four, and some, like Tony Stewart, none. This helps the #20 car gain some track position, and he comes off pit road fourth. Kevin Harvick takes two and comes off first.

Casey Mears and Brian Vickers do not pit and lead the field at the green. Harvick, restarting in third gets hung up in the lapped traffic, as does Stewart in fourth. This is some great restart racing. As Mears and Vickers take off clear of the field, racing each other for the lead, Harvick and Stewart trade positions several times trying to clear the lapped traffic. Some cars further back are actually going three wide, notably among the cars that took four tires, such as Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon.

As things settle down, Mears leads, Vickers is second, Harvick is third, Stewart fourth, Bowyer fifth, and Jeff Gordon is sixth. Dale Earnhardt restarted in fifth, but got shuffled back to ninth. Kasey Kahne seems to have come out the worst after the caution, but is still in the top ten. Denny Hamlin is also in the top ten.

Kevin Harvick takes second place from Brian Vickers. On lap 109, Stewart is about to take third position from Brian Vickers. Both of these cars seem to be doing well for having taken no tires. Mears is taking off from the field and leads by over two seconds. If the race continues under the green flag, however, he will have to pit at least ten laps ahead of the rest of the field.

The Roush-Fenway cars, which did well during qualifying and practice, seem to be having the most problems. Jeff Gordon is having no problems, and takes the fifth position from Bowyer. Tony Stewart also has a strong car and is about to take second from Kevin Harvick. Both Harvick and Stewart are catching Mears as he meets up with lapped traffic.

But Mears maintains and is still lapping cars, and Stewart has taken second. Both Mears and Stewart are working through lapped traffic, and that gives the race leader some cushion. Stewart is in his favorite line at NHMS, on the bottom. Jeff Gordon has taken fourth, and Jr is challenging Bowyer for sixth. Much to the delight of the #5 team of Casey Mears, a caution comes out on lap 139.

Stewart comes out of the pits first, with Mears close behind him. Everybody is taking four tires this time. From the personal standpoint, we are holding our breaths hoping Smoke doesn't get a speeding penalty. Something like that always seems to happen when the 20 car is running well. Tony Stewart takes the green in the lead. Again we see some three wide racing back around fifth place, among the lead lap and lapped traffic. These restarts are exciting.

Harvick and Jeff Gordon are batlling for third, and Gordon takes it, as Stewart gains on the field, Brian Vickers is back in the mix, and stays in fifth. Earnhardt is in seventh.

Gordon is racing Mears hard for second, and this looks like good racing as well. Mears is using the outside lane to his advantage, but Gordon looks good on the inside. Just as Gordon takes the position, Joe Nemecheck in the #78 Furniture Row car (I'm from Colorado, so I feel somewhat obligated to mention that sponsor) spins and brings out the caution. After faking it, the top three cars choose not to pit, and stay out.

We're liking this race so far. The action is better, especially for Concord, er, Loudon, than we remember at these races, whether in the Sprint Cup car or the older car.

Stewart leads a good restart and pulls away from the highly competitive Gordon. Harvick and Vickers are battling among the lapped cars for position, as are Jimmie Johnson and Earnhardt, Jr. Further back, Labonte, Sorenson, and others actually going four wide. This is at Loudon, remember, and they are racing for twentieth. We can't type fast enough to describe all the action.

Again things settle down up front. Stewart leads Gordon by about six car lengths. Mears maintains third, Harvick is fourth, and Vickers is fifth. Bowyer is in sixth and is being challenged by Jimmie Johnson, and Earnhardt, Jr is in eighth. It seems to be shaping up to be a good day for HMS. Hamlin is nineth, and Jeff Burton is tenth.

A few laps later, Johnson has moved up to fifth. Now Bowyer is racing Harvick for sixth, and Dale Jr is moving up. After Bowyer passes Harvick, Jr does too, and takes seventh. This is with 118 laps to go.

Lap 189, and Stewart is two seconds ahead of Gordon, but has to deal with lapped traffic. Stewart quickly puts four lapped cars between himself and the second place car. Harvick has fallen way back with handling problems, and Hamlin and Jr are racing for seventh. Hamlin passes on the outside, and it is interesting to see all the different lines in which different drivers are doing well and not so well. Now Jeff Burton has taken eighth from Earnhardt.

Certainly I am not the only Stewart fan who is nervous. Notice I have switched to first person, which is a definite sign of nervousness. There are ninety nine laps to go, and the race has been fairly clean, knock on wood. Just as I write this, Allmendinger's car looses its engine coming out of turn four and on lap 203 we have a caution. Allmendinger has to go all the way around the track, most of the way with his car on fire and his cockpit full of smoke. Needless to say, the car is laying oil on the track.

This will turn the race into a fuel mileage contest now, as the cars will pit at a time that will create the need for one more fuel stop before the race is over.Four and fuel for most of the leaders. Stewart gets out of the pits just ahead of Jeff Gordon. Jimmie Johnson exits third, and Casey Mears fourth.

All the teams seemed to play it conservatively here, which is wise. As the closing laps loom, it can be expected that there will be another caution as the action picks up.

Gordon stays on Stewart's tail at the restart, but by the end of the lap Stewart has gained five car lengths. Back around tenth and eleventh place, cars are still going three wide, two laps after the restart. Bowyer and Mears are racing for fourth, and it is a very exciting race. Bowyer passes on the bottom, and Hamlin has taken sixth, and is threatening Mears for fifth.

The caution comes out as Aric Almirola gets tapped by Kasey Kahne going into turn two. The rookie Almirola, who hasn't had a whole lot of seat time, nearly saves the car, and barely hits the SAFER barrier with the left rear of his car as it comes to a stop.

Mears made a fuel only stop, and Bobby Labonte takes four tires, but none of the other leaders pit. There are eighty one laps to go, and things are going to get hot. Again Stewart gets away from Gordon early. Johnson restarts in third, and Bowyer is in fourth. Johnson tries to pass Gordon on the inside, but Gordon hangs on. While this is going on, Bowyer is catching Johnson. Kahne spins further back in the field, but there is no caution. The Wow Meter is getting close to pegging at Loudon, which was not expected.

It is pegging because Gordon and Johnson are still racing hard, several laps after the restart. They are beating and banging, trading paint, and racing like kids at the local track. But these are two of the best of the best. Gordon and Johnson are bumping each other and fighting hard for second. After five laps of this, Johnson finally prevails, Hamlin passes Gordon on the bottom, and now Bowyer and Gordon are in a hard race, while Harvick, Burton, and Vickers come into the fray for fourth place. This is GREAT stuff.

All that beatin' and banging allows Stewart to check out on the field, but, man that was exciting. Both MRN and TNT are running commercials now, so we can catch our breaths and try to slow our heart rate. I'm still at the top of the Wow Meter. This is New Hampshire, where we are not used to seeing this kind of action.

Sixty laps to go, and Stewart is 1.2 seconds ahead of Johnson. His car is still running well. I think he is determined to win.

Now Earnhardt, Jr, in tenth place is experiencing some chatter and his handling is falling off. Johnson is catching up to Stewart. We are about fifteen laps away from green flag pit stops at this point, and we know there will be some adjustments, as well as differing strategies as the last pit stop becomes a chess match. It could be a splash and dash for many of the leaders.

This time simultaneous commercials become frustrating as it leaves us blind. We do know that weather may become a factor at this point, as rain is visible on the horizon.

Johnson is gaining on Stewart, after Stewart has some trouble lapping Kasey Kahne, and shortly after Smoke gets by Kahne, so does Johnson. Johnson seems to have the advantage on the turns. Lapped traffic or not, Stewart needs to hold his position to maintain the lead, and he does not seem to be able to hold the bottom. Robby Gordon makes me nervous as Stewart is about to lap him, but he gives both Stewart and Johnson room to pass. Stewart does gain a little on Johnson while they are negotiating the always competitive, if unlucky, Robby Gordon.

We know that, with 32 laps to go, and with rain looming, the lead cars are going to wait forthe last minute to get fuel. More lapped traffic and Johnson is on Stewarts bumper. No matter what you may think of New Hampshire, this is racing. Caution as Jr, still in tenth, tries to get into the pits, and McMurray doesn't see him slowing and runs into the back of the 88 car, then Ragan hits McMurray. This caution came just Johnson was about to pass Stewart on the inside.

Stewart, Johnson, and the rest of the leaders pit. Burton gets gas only. Stewart takes two and fuel. Hamlin and Johnson take gas only, Gordon takes gas only. Stewart comes out sixth, as the only car among the leaders to take tires. This may or may not work to his advantage. The green flag waves witrh 23 laps to go.

Kurt Busch stayed out and is scored in the lead. Michael Waltrip restarts in second, and JJ Yeley, who also stayed out, is in third, but on lap 280, Bowyer is involved in a wreck with Sam Hornish, Jr, and under caution, Montoya hits and spins Kyle Busch and the crowd goes wild.

Meanwhile, the rain has come, and Kurt Busch just may get the victory by staying out. The cars have been parked and the race is under a red flag.

The dissappointment doesn't seem to stop. The race is over, due to rain, and a car that couldn't possibly have had a chance to win has won. That is just the way luck runs in NASCAR.

I will say that this is one of the better races we have seen at Loudon, but the end was really a let down. As Stewart said, it is just something that you can't do anything about. In the end, the big Wow turned into an even bigger OUCH. The only consolation for me is that, with Stewart's thirteenth place finish and bonus points, he has moved up into nineth in the points standings. There is also some consolation to be taken in the fact that my computer isn't broken due to frustration, and my radio and television are still intact.

Okay, I'll admit, the racing between Johnson and Gordon was pretty darn good, too. But my final word is still "ARRRGH!"


Tim Zaegel said...

Well, Smoke just can't buy a break in this series, now can he?

RevJim said...

I really thought he got what he needed to win on that last pit stop, but then the rain came. That is rotten luck.
How fickle is Lady Luck? Why didn't it start raining fifteen minutes earlier?

Tim Z said...

Well, if you recall Kansas last season, we all know that if it starts raining with Smoke in the lead, they'll eventually get it restarted.

That aside, I thought the team made the wrong call regardless. They needed a gas & go like the teams that came out ahead of him did. Restarting outside of the top-10 was just too far back to make it back to the front in 20 laps at a place like New Hampshire. So, even if the rain didn't come, it still wouldn't have been Stewart in Victory Lane.

'Tis the downside of being the first car down pit road.