Sunday, June 08, 2008

Live on type delay: Pocono

Pocono is actually one of my favorite tracks, because it is different, and I like different. Yes, the race may seem a little long, and there are not a lot of places to pass, but it is fun to see how the drivers and teams handle the challenge of three completely different kinds of turns.

Early in the race, my favorite driver is already making me nervous. He is running a different line than the other cars in his pack, and gaining positions like crazy. There is a lot of nervous as Stewart passes AJ Allemendinger for sixth, and Allmendinger gets loose and nearly slides into the 20. We're already thinking "Oh no, not again," but AJ saves it and the race continues.

Weather is affecting my AM radio reception today, so we are stuck with the television broadcast audio. It's okay, though, Kyle Petty is a good analyst, and the booth bunnies don't seem to be that apt to say things just to say something.

It could be because TNT has lost its audio feed. Oh this is bad. The whistling on the AM radio on which I usually get MRN or PRN is louder than the commentary, and we are missing the race on television due to technical difficulties. Way to grab the torch, TNT.

This track seems to be right so far for Allmendinger, as he is running competitively in seventh and eight positions. The former Champ car star seems to be finally getting a handle on the Sprint Cup car.

As we head into the first green flag pit stops, the field has settled down a bit, with Kasey Kahne, who started in the pole position--by pole winner Jimmie Johnson's choice--in the lead.

One thing TNT has already outdone Fox with is commercials. I didn't think that was possible. We have no clue as to what brought out the caution as the scheduled pit stops began, but Scott Riggs, who pitted first, got back on the track before the caution flew, and luck went his way and he restarts in the lead. Kahne is second, Johnson is third, and Mark Martin is fourth in the #8 car. Earnhardt, Jr made it to the top five before the caution, and restarts in fifth.

Another thing about the TNT broadcast is that we do not see a lap count. That could be a problem for those of us who like to write about the race. Anyway, a lap or two after the restarts, Johnson passes Kahne for second, on the straightaway, but Kahne gets the position back before the lap is done. Meanwhile, Jr takes fourth position from the car he used to drive.

The second caution comes out after lap 39, as Kurt Busch loses traction, spins, and goes off-roading on the grass. No one has been lapped yet, and everybody pits during this caution. In the first thirty minutes of the race, we have seen ten minutes of the race, and twenty minutes of commercials, or so it seems. TNT seems to be competing with ESPN for being the cutting edge of what not to do when broadcasting a race. You can tell I miss my MRN, can't you?

The race restarts on lap 44, I think, with Martin Truex, Jr in the lead. Truex did not pit with everyone else, taking the gamble for track position. Johnson comes out in second, Mark Martin in third, and Tony Stewart in fourth, as these teams only took two tires. Kahne is the first one with a four tire stop to come out, and restarts in fifth. A few laps later, Kyle Busch, running in the twenty first position, tries to move to the outside, and has a miscommunication with his spotter, because Jamie McMurray is where Busch is trying to be. The resulting contact sends Kyle to the garage. On the restart, Johnson is in first and Tony Stewart is in second, the two having gained their positions just before the caution. Mark Martin is in third, Hamlin in fourth and Carl Edwards is in fifth.

Denny Hamlin moves into third with some damage on his front right fender, from damage caused by contact during the recent pit stops. The damage doesn't seem to be helping him much. Edwards seems to be having problems, as Kasey Kahne soon passes him for fifth. Another caution flag flies, as Hornish and Carpentier make contact back in the field, and both take an excursion through the luxurious lawn of Pocono's infield. At the time of the caution, Johnson is in first, Stewart second, Hamlin third, Martin fourth, and Kahne is fifth. They come out of the pits with Johnson in first and Kahne in second, after varying pit stop strategies. Unfortunately Kahne's team missed a lug nut, and Kahne has to return to the pits, dropping him back through the field. Brian Vickers did not pit and he actually has the lead at the pit stop. Jimmie Johnson is in second, Mark Martin in third, Kenseth in fourth, Edwards in fifth, and Earnhardt, Jr in sixth.

The restart is around lap sixty-five or somewhere, and Johnson soon takes the lead from Vickers, but Vickers holds on to second. The fifth caution comes out on lap (unknown) as Carpentier and Hornish again tangle with each other, this time taking David Gilliland with them. Still, there doesn't seem to be a lot of damage, so we could see even more of the antics between these two cars later in the race. Rain somewhere around the track brings the race to a halt after lap 71, but the rain is expected to pass. So, we are now on rain delay.

To continue my critique of TNT's broadcast, it seems to me that the producers and director don't seem to be aware that there is something going on during the race. Hopefully, they will learn before TNT's six weeks. Kyle Petty knows that there is a race, but he can't control what the producers cover.

"There is good racing going on," Kyle remarks as the cars come back onto the track. Watching TV, we just don't get to see it.

It seems to me that the lackluster feel of the race so far isn't because of what is happening on the track, but what is going on in the production room.

The green flag sees Johnson in the lead, Vickers in second, Kenseth in third, Earnhardt, Jr in fourth, Stewart fifth and Mark Martin sixth. Something interesting is in seeing Martin, who considers Stewart to be one of the greatest racers of all time, bump drafting Stewart down the long front stretch. These are two drivers we don't see working together often, and it is cool to see them doing this at Pocono.

On lap whatever, Stewart and Earnhardt, Jr are racing for fourth. It is a good clean race, between two car control experts, and Stewart prevails.

Wow, there seems to be an incident involving Bowyer and Montoya, and Montoya's car bursts into flame. Montoya takes his car to the fire truck, and quickly, and safely exits the car. The incident was started when Bowyer lost it after getting under the rear bumper of Paul Menard's #15 car, and, as he was spinning, Montoya broadsided him.

Again, there is plenty of interesting and exciting stuff going on, TNT just isn't getting it to the fans.

There will be pit stops during this caution, but right now, it is Johnson, Vickers, Kenseth, Stewart, and Earnhardt in the top five. Bill Weber is kind enough to let us know that 84 laps are complete. It is good to hear Kyle Petty talking strategy, anticipating what the teams will do on these stops, because that is the same kind of information we are thinking about. Petty may not be that good of a driver, but he does have a lot of experience and expertise going for him.

Elliott Sadler has elected to stay out for track position, and he leads Bobby Labonte, Denny Hamlin, Dave Blaney, and Martin Truex, Jr on the restart. Johnson is quickly passing these cars on his way back to the lead, with Stewart close behind. Now Stewart is falling back and Kahne takes his place. Johnson has already moved into third. Hamlin takes the lead on lap whatever.

Stewart must be making sure he is staying out of range of Sadler's "Smoke magnet."

To TNT's credit, the lack of commentary is preferable, in my opinion, to Darrell Waltrip constant yammering, but we still feel like something is missing. I know this is the fourth time I have mentioned this, but maybe it is just me.

Hamlin leads the race heading into the halfway point. Johnson is second, Edwards in third, Biffle in fourth, and now Sadler and Labonte pit under the green. This is good for Stewart, as it gets him by Sadler incident-free. Stewart is the first of the drivers who pitted during the previous caution to pit in this cycle, and the last one to luck out as Michael "Mikey" Waltrip hits the wall and brings out the sixth caution of the race. Luckily, Stewart has exited the pits by the time that happens, and it seems to have worked out for him. However, this will put him close to Sadler for the restart. Hopefully, the #19 crew has remembered to remove the Smoke magnet, and nothing bad will happen.

Good news for Jr Nation--Dale Earnhardt, Jr has gained 12 positions during the pit stop, and is the first of the group of cars that pitted under caution to leave pit road.

Sadler, Stewart, Bobby Labonte, Biffle, and Earnhardt, Jr restart the race in that order. Here we go, and Stewart passes Sadler with no incident.

How about this, Kyle Busch haters? The Schrub takes responsibility for his wreck with the 26 car and apologizes to McMurray and his team for causing the accident. He thought that McMurray's car had fallen back after getting loose, and couldn't see it.

Favorite Kyle Petty quote so far: "It's lap 112 and it is all take and no give."

This means the real racing is about to begin.

Kahne has a great car and has moved into fourth, while Greg Biffle, driving like he used to in the kind of loose car he loves, has taken second. Right now Biffle looks like he did when he first started in Cup, using the entire track and loving it. We have said before that Biffle and Kyle Busch have a similar driving style, and we are getting to see that now. Well, we would if it weren't for the commercial.

Gilliland and Franchitti mix it up, and the seventh or eighth caution of the day comes out. Stewart is first, Biffle second, Kahne third, and Hamlin fourth as they pit. Wow, Biffle has lots of problems in his pits, hits a crew member, and gets hit by McDowell while leaving his pit box. Stewart takes two tires and barely gets beat out of the pits by Kasey Kahne, and somehow, Biffle makes it out third, after being pin balled by McDowell and McMurray. The crew member is okay, doing the tuck and roll move over the hood of the 16 car and avoiding injury. That was some exciting pitting.

Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon did not pit, and lead the field to the green in that order. Kahne is third, Stewart is fourth, and Biffle is fifth. Gordon still doesn't have a car that he can drive, and drops back, so now it is Johnson, Kahne, and Stewart.

According to the foil hat club, Hendrick couldn't match the bribe to NASCAR that Toyota made, so that is why Gordon is having so much trouble this year, after having a great year last season. That must be it.

Kahne takes the lead, Stewart passes Johnson with Biffle in tow, and Sam Hornish, Jr is once again involved in an incident with another former open wheel driver, to bring out a caution. Told ya so! Except this time it is Franchitti, and not Carpentier, and Ashley must be mad. I wish Dario Franchitti was having a better time at Pocono so we could see some pictures of Ashley.

Kyle Busch re-enters the race 83 laps down at this point. We don't think he will win this one.

Kasey Kahne restarts in the lead. What is interesting is that, even at this late point of the race, the restarts are still single-file, because the only cars that are not on the lead lap are in the garage, or, like Busch, 83 laps down. Stewart is second, but Biffle soon passes him. Johnson and Martin pit, their teams working on fuel strategy, and come out ahead of the leaders. It must be time for another commercial. Yes it is.

After the commercial, the running order is Kahne, Biffle, Edwards, Hamlin, and Stewart. We are heading into the final fifty laps of the race, and the next-to-final green flag pit stops are approaching. Amazing stories: Kurt Busch, whose car had to undergo extensive repair early in the race, is running in seventh, while AJ Allmendinger, who has never fallen out of the top fifteen is now running eighth. Three minutes of race coverage between commercials. That is amazing, but not in a good way.

The Vitamin Water commercial with Carl Edwards is pretty funny, I have to admit. The Zen garden in the car cracks me up.

Green flag pit stops begin. Fuel mileage is coming into play, and Stewart pits a little early to take car of an awful loose situation that has come up over the last few laps. We'll see if these pit stops cycle through without a caution. If they do, Johnson should come out in the lead, as he won't be pitting at this time.

It is a good thing for TNT to have Larry McReynolds on board, I think. He is giving some expert pit strategy analysis, as in how many tires they can get away with taking on the final pit stop, which will be, if the race stays green, between 30 laps to go and 15 laps to go. Larry explains how the crew chiefs treat the last half of the race like a road race at Pocono, and planning pit strategy to set up the point in the race at which the last pit stop will take place. Interesting information there.

Pocono isn't a fan favorite, but, as mentioned before, we like it because of the challenges presented to the teams and drivers. It isn't pure racing, but the field has stayed close enough together to keep some position battles interesting. The guessing games for pit strategy are always part of the competition, but are even more so during a Pocono race. A good example of the strategy game is that Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt, Jr, now running in third and fourth, may be trying to delay their pit stops to try to make it all the way to the finish of the race. Vickers also stops with thirty five laps to go. This could work, if there are no more cautions, and if the cars can go 35 laps without running out of fuel.

Bad luck again for Biffle, and he has to serve a pass-through penalty for exceeding the pit road speed limit. Kahne is now in the lead as we go to a commercial.

More bad luck during the final pit stops. Stewart doesn't like his set up, and comes back in, then incurs a speeding penalty and ends up a lap down, in 32nd place.

But Kasey Kahne is on a roll, and there is no-one who can catch him. He cruises to the finish, and takes his second trip to Victory Lane in two weeks.

Final thoughts on the race. I don't think it was a boring race for the reasons given above. I think TNT needs to change where they put the emphasis during the race broadcasts.
It does seem that, in the case of Pocono, 400 miles is too long. It is not as though it is an oval track, where the mileage literally flies by, but the characteristics of the track itself make it more like a road course. The road course races are no more than 300 miles and Pocono should be the same way. There is just too much that can happen because of those three turns, and the race usually becomes a race of attrition rather than the kind of race we like to see in NASCAR. It isn't the venue that makes folks change the channel or forego buying tickets, it is the pointless and excessive length of the race.


Tim Zaegel said...

I thought it was pretty good "for Pocono" ... I was honestly expecting something much more boring than what we were treated to on Sunday. Even though Kahne was by far the dominant car, they managed to sneak a little bit of drama in there.

Btw, I was going to link this to my Rating the Race article, but there was no title for your story, so I couldn't get an actual url for it. Sorry, bro.

ZuDfunck said...

That was excellent!

TNT is so much different I am just gonna hold my tounge cause in 5 weeks it wont matter..

But then ESPN takes over, oh well

Tim Zaegel said...

I'm actually a huge fan of the ABC / ESPN coverage. I thought they did a tremendous job last year. As of right now, though, I'm just rejoicing in the fact that I'm relieved from hearing "Boogity, boogity, boogity" at the start of every race, and let's face it ... that dang gopher was getting pretty annoying, too.