Monday, June 23, 2008

Live on Type Delay: The Toyota/Save Mart 350

Say what you want about NASCAR road races, there is no other racing in the USA like it. These are 3400 lb cars speeding up and slowing down for multiple turns--twelve turns in the case of Sears Point, aka Infineon Raceway. Add to that the famous elevation changes at Sears Point, which has an effect on how the car handles going uphill or downhill. Elevation changes have a much more profound effect on the NASCAR machines than it would on open wheel cars, or even the Grand Am cars. Just watch the first lap, while the cars are still close together. That is truly one of the beautiful sights of racing.

Other than Bobby Labonte spinning out on his own early in the race, and the forward movement of Tony Stewart from the 37th position and Juan Pablo Montoya from the seventeenth position, there isn't really much to report during the first segment of the race. This is a part of the race where give and take is mostly even, as nobody wants to risk not finishing the race. The first car that won't finish the race is Brian Simo, who is black flagged as his engine begins smoking.

Kasey Kahne, who started the race on the pole, soon loses his lead. After some movement at the front, Jimmie Johnson takes the lead and leads by a fair distance for twenty-seven laps.

Pit stops begin on lap 24, then, on lap 28, David Regan knocks a part of the tire barrier across the track in turn 11, and brings out the first caution of the race. This is very fortuitous for Greg Biffle, Kyle Busch, JP Montoya, Kevin Harvick, and Tony Stewart, who have already pitted. Jimmie Johnson and the rest of the lead pack pit, putting the aforementioned six in the top six positions.

Bad news for AJ Allmendinger, who was expected to do well in this race, who can't get his car started, and loses a lot of positions. Boris Said has some brake issues, and loses a lot of ground while his crew works on the problem.

After the restart, Greg Biffle overdrives a turn and spins out, Montoya has to check up, and Kyle Busch passes them both and takes the lead.

Drivers whose names don't come immediately to mind as road course drivers seem to be doing well in this race. Carl Edwards, who actually threatened to lead before the first caution is running well, and maintaining a top ten position. Jeff Burton, who doesn't really like road races is hanging near the top five. Marcus Ambrose, who we do expect to do well in a road race, is also staying near the top ten, in what is his first Sprint Cup start. Jeff Gordon, who we think of as a great road racer, is having handling problems.

Somebody needs to tell TNT that, when they are showing JPM's footwork, they should put that in the small window, and show the on track action in the large window, rather than they bass ackwards way they are doing it. See, I can complain about TNT just like the normal race fans.

We often forget that Jamie McMurray is a competitive road course driver, but he has come so close to winning before, only to be foiled by fuel issues or mechanical problems. He has been doing well and hanging out in the fourth position.

Once again, as we begin scheduled pit stops, there is a caution. Kurt Busch and Robby Gordon have gotten tangled up, and Max Papis, in the Haas/CNC #66 car gets involved. Seventeen cars have already pitted this time, including all three RCR cars, leader Kyle Busch, and Tony Stewart, who stalled his car during his pit stop, but still managed to stay in the fifth position when the field restarted.

Shortly after the race restarts, Juan Pablo Montoya gets spun by Marcos Ambrose, while they are racing for position. Being in the final 35 laps of the race, this is where the racing starts, and it is only the beginning of the craziness. One indicater of this is that NASCAR throws another caution because of this, in a situation similar to ones that remained green earlier in the race.

David Gilliland is having a great race, and has moved into the top three, after some excellent racing with Tony Stewart. McMurray catches Stewart during that racing and gets the fourth position. Kyle Busch is perfect, maintaining the lead, hitting all his marks, and gaining on the field.

Marcos Ambrose was running in fourth position, but is being shuffled back as everybody rushes toward the front. Elliott Sadler, with his Smoke Magnet turned up to full power spins Ambrose in the process.

Ambrose is out of the race, after breaking his transmission. Bad news again for the Wood Brothers team, whose day had looked so promising.

Great radio chatter--Dale Earnhardt, Jr is right behind JPM, who has made it back to the eleventh position after being back as far as 30th. He sees that he could be caught, and not wanting to race JPM for position, he tells his spotter, "tell Juan to go, he's the pro."

With ten laps to go, David Reutimann's terrible day ends, as he crashes into the tire barrier and brings out a caution. Kyle Busch still leads, McMurray is in second, and Stewart is in third. The reason we have missed what had to be some great moves is because TNT isn't covering the racing and my AM radio is not recieving any signal at all well, so again we are doing this without the benefit of a radio play-by-play broadcast.

Whether we get to see it or not, these last six laps should be good. Before the lap is over, Stewart takes second, then DAMMIT!!! DAMMIT AGAIN. Tony is leading McMurray and Gilliland, and Kevin Harvick comes in hot, passing David Gilliland and running into McMurray, who spins forward and hits Stewart, spinning him. DAMMIT. What is with all this bad luck? That really was a freakish chain of events that took Stewart out just as he looked like he could challenge for the win. Stewart is now out of the top twelve in points, and this really sucks. Before the race is over, I will just give it to Kyle Busch, and quit writing.

Or not.

We were given the time to take a few deep breaths. Just had to demonstrate that we can feel frustration, and therefore are human. Gordon is now running in third. Back in the field, a bunch of cars bunched up, and Stewart had a choice of either stopping or going through. He went through, and some cars wreck, including Scott Pruett. Caution, and we are looking at a red flag, while the mess is cleaned up, and a Green/White/Checkered finish. The TNT commentators do not place the blame on Stewart, and being biased as I am, I will agree with them. I would like to see that again though, because we are not clear on what actually happened there. Jeff Burton in tenth, and Dale Earnhardt, Jr, in ninth barely avoided the mess.

Since this won't be posted until Monday morning, due to circumstances that prevent me from going on line at this time, maybe we will get a chance to clear this up. This means I will have to watch NASCAR Victory Lane rather than 1,000,000 BC (not to be confused with 10,000 BC which is being released on DVD this week) on Sci Fi or Spiderman on TNT. Watching the replay on VL, it looks like Stewart did get into the back of the 41 car, but that was as the field was checking up while Denny Hamlin was spinning, so this will go down as a racing incident, rather than a case of Smokey frustration. As a Smoke fan, I know this to be the correct call, because if it was out of frustration, Stewart would have wrecked himself as well.

Kyle Busch is still in the lead, as the race restarts. David Gilliland is in second, and Jeff Gordon is in third. We are not counting on the race finishing under a green flag, at this point, however, as there are a lot of guys behind him racing for points. Something else has to happen.

Tony Stewart has actually done some great driving and is now in eleventh position as the white flag comes out. No doubt now that Kyle Busch will win, for his fifth Cup race of the season. Tony Stewart finishes in tenth, having moved up from nineteenth, where he restarted after that spin involving Harvick and Gilliland. This puts him back to eleventh in points. I feel better now.

Kyle pulls off the smoke trick, and the crowd is actually cheering him.

This is Busch's first road course win at the Sprint Cup level. He did win at Mexico City earlier this year, so it is not that big of a surprise. He came up to win after starting in the thirtieth position, so that is quite an accomplishment, considering that eighteen of the last twenty races at Sears Point (Infineon) were won from the top eight in starting positions.

In racing, success is measured by winning, and by good points finishes, rather than popularity. But if popularity is important, Kyle Busch is popular at Sears Point, at least, so he was successful by all counts.

Personally, I like road races, and I like the show the Sprint Cup cars give us on the road races. This was a good race, for the most part, and it kept us watching. It may have been boring for some fans, but this particular blogger will count it as a success.


Tim Zaegel said...

Well, hell ... Even I'll give some props to Kyle on that one. Didn't see it comin'.

Mike said...

I love the tape delay posts. I was out of town and missed almost all of the race, but I knew I could count on Jim's recap.