Sunday, July 06, 2008

Live on type delay: The Firecracker (Coke Zero) 400

It is fitting that Dale Jarrett is the Grand Marshall for the "First Coke Zero 400" because he was the original member of the Coca Cola racing family. And he is still good at plugging his sponsors. We just expected a more enthusiastic "Gentlemen, start your engines!" from him.

The cars that qualified from outside the top thirty five in owners points dropped to the back of the field before the start, though they aren't required to by NASCAR. They will need to pit as soon as possible to put the belts on their engines that they ran without for qualifying.

And here's the start. Pole sitter Paul Menard maintains the lead for the first lap, and the lead pack settles in to single file.

By lap 2, as predicted the 21 car driven by Jon Wood has entered the garage to switch the car from qualifying trim to race trim. Jeff Burton's car is the last one in single file, and the cars behind him are running side by side. A few more laps and they are running side by side from Tony Stewart's ninth place and back.

The first six cars are still in single file, with Menard in first and Dale Earnhardt Jr just behind him. Stewart leads the second pack in seventh place. I still don't have a lap counter visible on my television screen. but this is an older set with issues. That creates an issue for me.

Back in thirteenth place, with ten laps gone, Jeff Gordon is in the middle of three wide racing, he gets out of that dangerous situation and takes the spot. He says his car is loose, but so is everyone else at this point.

Cool moment of the race part 1: Mark Martin bump drafting Tony Stewart. If only some of the other drivers in the race could see how the real pros do it. Actually something else that raises the Wow Meter is Dale Earnhardt, Jr's camo paint job. Awesome.

Dale Jr takes the lead on lap 18, and then Allmendinger cuts a tire and the first caution comes out. Pit road is open on lap 20, and everybody takes it. No fancy strategies here, it is just a matter of who is the fastest on this pit stop. Kyle Busch takes the lead from the pits.

Paul Menard is in second, Robby Gordon is third, but he will pit, and, get this, Dave Blaney is in fourth. Jr had some problems in the pits David Ragan restarts third.

Jr and Travis Kvapil team up and gain a bunch of spots shortly after the restart. There are a bunch of cars including Vickers, David Ragan, Jr, Regan Smith, and now Tony Stewart, all racing hard for the top five spots. Now we are seeing two wide racing. and play by play becomes difficult as so much is happening. After all this chaos, settles a bit, around lap 32, Kyle Busch is first, Jr is back in second, Dave Blaney is third, Brian Vickers in fourth, and Mark Martin in fifth. That was some wild racing for a while.

Lap 34 and Tony Stewart is making a move for the top five, with the help of Jeff Gordon, it looks like. He has been working with Jeff Gordon, but now Gordon is in the inside line, and Stewart on the outside, so they will change sixth position back and forth for a while. After a while Smoke moves into forth, and Dale Jr takes the lead.

Stewart and Martin are working together again, and Stewart moves into third. We are impressed by the racing that is going on back at the fifth position this is pretty wild. Mark Martin has settled for fourth place, but doesn't want to stay there, and races Stewart for the third position at every turn. The #20 car looks to be a bit stronger than the #8, but it is fun watching two of the best drivers ever race each other for position at Daytona. This doesn't look all that much like the restrictor-plate racing we have seen before. Martin and Stewart are racing hard without much drafting help.

Ryan Newman spins out and brings out the second caution of the race at lap 44. It looks like a one car incident.

Kyle Busch beats them out of the pits again, and takes first place, with Juneyah in second and Stewart in third. Again, the pit stops are all four tires and fuel, with no radical strategies. Boris Said was the only car one lap down, so he gets the free pass. Jon Wood is seven laps down after his car's readjustments. Allmendinger is out of the race.

Mark Martin restarts in fourth and Jeff Gordon is fifth. That line of Stewart/Martin/J Gordon should be formidable if it stays together.

It doesn't stay together long. Earnhardt, Smoke, and Martin move to the outside and leave Kyle hanging dry. Earnhardt takes the lead, Jeff Gordon and Mark Martin stay in line with Jr, and take third and second, while Stewart tries to hook up with his team mate. the eighteen and the twenty cars fall back, though, so on lap 58, it's Earnhardt, Martin, and Jeff Gordon in the top three. Now Stewart can't find a friend and has fallen back to fifteenth. Johnson started in thirtieth and is now in the 11th position. After things settle down again, Kyle Busch makes it up to eighth place, Johnson is around ninth, and Sam Hornish is in tenth, and Stewart is in eleventh. Clint Bowyer is somewhere in that mix as well.

Behind the lead pack of three, there is still plenty of hard racing going on. Matt Kenseth and Elliott Sadler are battling for fourth, Kyle Busch and Jimmie Johnson have also joined that mix. Stewart takes tenth from Bowyer, Hornish falls back to twelfth, and Kasey Kahne is also in the race for the top ten. By the time the commercial is over, Kahne has moved into ninth, Jimmie Johnson into seventh, and Tony Stewart is eighth.

A caution comes out as Greg Biffle and last week's hero, Juan Pablo Montoya get into each other. It looks like the contact came because Biffle didn't see Montoya and moved up on him, pinching him into the wall. Montoya's hero status is safe. At the time of the caution, Jr is first, Martin second, Jeff Gordon is third.

Earnhardt maintains the lead coming out of the pits, Jimmie Johnson crowds Jeff Gordon off of pit road and takes second, and Kyle Busch takes third. Tony Stewart is out of his car, replaced by JJ Yeley. We don't know what this means at this time.

Johnson, in the lead, is blocking aggressively as he does at Daytona, but Matt Kenseth gives Jeff Gordon a good shove on the outside, and now it is a close race for the lead between the three HMS team mates. Hamlin and Kyle Busch are right behind him.

Now there is some really wild stuff going on up front. Denny Hamlin lives up to his Daytona reputation and forces Kyle Busch to make an incredible save. Kyle finally gets his car under control and moves down to the apron. He comes out by himself in thirty-seventh way at the rear of the pack. No caution.

Things have settled down a bit, and Jeff Gordon leads, Dale Jr is in second, Jimmie Johnson third and Mark Martin is in fourth. After some more movement around fifth place, a different black car moves into fourth, and it turns out to be David Gilliland. He looks fast, and tries to move around Jimmie Johnson, and does, without drafting help. Now Gilliland is going for second, and passes Dale Jr on his own.

It turns out that Tony Stewart is being treated for "flu-like symptoms." It is probably better that he get out of the car than risk passing out in the middle of the race. We can remember what happened when Dale Earnhardt passed out in the car at Darlington, if we remember correctly, in 1997.

Montoya has rejoined the race, and Biffle has now joined Allmendinger in the "out of the race" list.

Elliot Sadler cuts a tire and brings out a caution on whatever lap this is. It seems to be just in time for Jeff Gordon, whose engine is acting up. Gordon once again has problems getting off of pit road, and Gilliland almost missed his pit box and had to be pushed back, so the top three will change after this all gets settled down. Kyle Busch took responsibility for the run in he had with Hamlin earlier, and Hamlin also took responsibility, because they have forgiven each other.

It looks like Earnhardt, Jr takes the lead with forty-six laps left to go. This is another wild and exciting restart. Denny Hamlin and Ryan Newman team up on the inside to challenge Earnhardt's lead, But Jr is in line with Jimmie Johnson. Hamlin takes the lead. David Ragan, who has been very impressive in every race this year, has moved into second.

Jr gets back to the bottom and gets the lead back. Kyle Busch has made it all the way up to seventh place and is in the mix for the top five. Hamlin takes the lead again with the help of Jeff Gordon, but the 88 car is fast, and takes the lead before the lap is over, also with the help of Jeff Gordon. That fast #38 car with David Gilliland at the wheel has also made up some position after the pit stops, and he is influencing the lead pack. Good news for Yates. I bet somebody wishes they were sponsoring that car now. They would have had about $2 million worth of advertising just today if they had.

The race for the lead is still active, and Jr retakes the lead. With less than forty laps to go, we are talking fuel mileage now. Another caution, and all fuel mileage calculations are out the window. Gilliland got hung up on the outside, there was some contact with Ryan Newman, and, as cars checked up behind them, Jeff Burton gets turned. Newman and Burton's cars look as if they didn't get too much damage, so this could go down as more great saves.

Hamlin comes out of the pits first, and his team mate Kyle Busch comes out in fifth. Does anyone doubt the "Rowdy" kid's driving ability now? Probably, but we won't dwell on that, as we have officially declared Jr Nation off the hook over in the comments section at Do You NASCAR?

Michael Waltrip and Boris Said didn't pit and are scored in first and second places. David Ragan is penalized due to a refueling safety violation. Waltrip pits and Said restarts in the lead.

After the restart, Earnhardt emerges as the leader, Jeff Gordon is second, and before we get a run down, McMurray and Vickers back in twentieth spot get tangled up and another caution flies. Before the caution, we see that JJ Yeley, in Tony Stewart's car has make it up to sixteenth. That should help protect Stewart's points position, if nothing bad happens. We know the real racing is about to begin.

Kyle Busch will restart in third, Hamlin is in fifth, so that must mean Jimmie Johnson is in fourth. After some very tight racing in the front of the pack, Jeff Gordon comes out in the lead, with Kyle Busch in second. Johnson is in third, and none of these guys want to give anything up. Junior got shuffled all the way back to tenth. But now Johnson got shuffled back further. Hamlin gets turned and Ryan Newman found himself in the wrong place at the wrong time, and they make contact and bring out another caution. We are doing a happy dance, because now we are certain there will not be a fuel mileage race now. Johnson has to pit, and will restart deeper in the field, but with fresh tires.

Good for JJ Yeley, he will hold twelfth position at the restart. Hang in there, Palindrome Guy.

21 laps to go, and it's Jeff Gordon, Kyle Busch and Mark Martin, and before the lap is even done, there is another wreck caused by another chain reaction. Ragan got Yeley loose, but Yeley saves it. Behind them, cars get checked up and Jeff Burton and Casey Mears are the victims.

No matter, Yeley is restarting in eleventh. He has to stay out of trouble.

Seventeen laps to go. Gordon is still in the lead, Kyle Busch in second and Martin in third. Earnhardt is moving up with help from a big hit from behind. Kahne is trying to wreck Yeley who is trying to get away from him because the #9 car is about to lose a tire. Yeley is making me nervous, but it is not his fault, there are a lot of crazies around him.

Jr has moved into third, behind Kyle Busch, but I am still watching Yeley, hoping he can get a good finish in that 20 car. We catch our breath as another caution comes out, but this will mean another wild restart. That restart will be with less than ten laps to go. The Wow Meter is jumpin'. To paraphrase one of Tracy Morgan's Saturday Night Live characters, "This is crazy!"

Can we go eight laps without another caution? I wouldn't bet on it. There are about eleven drivers that can and want to win up front. I have to agree with Kyle Petty on that camera shot. Yeley is dirt tracking on the pavement, turning right to go left. Kyle Busch takes the lead with four laps to go but J Gordon is challenging him and on the outside. Jimmie Johnson spins, Yeley narrowly avoids trouble but does, and this looks like it could have been the big one, but wasn't. It looks like four cars got in trouble, but we don't count it as the big one unless at least seven cars are involved. It looks like Johnson got the worst of it. Yeley spun, but avoided serious damage. It will be a Green/White/Checker finish.

Kyle Busch starts in first, Jeff Gordon is second, Carl Edwards is third, Kenseth fourth, Gordon gets turned by Edwards. still green. door to door racing between Kyle Busch and Carl Edwards and cars are wrecking like crazy behind the leaders, It will be close between Busch and Edwards to see who won. Wow.

They have to check the scoring loops to see who was in the lead at the time of the caution. Kyle Busch wins. Wow again!

The people sitting in the front row of the grandstands once again get pelted with beer and beer cans, but there seem to be more cheers for the most hated driver in the sport than there have been in the past, not counting Sears Point. In fact, the boos and cheers seem to be about equal. I just wonder how long it will be before all the tracks on the Cup circuit ban coolers and canned beverages.

I can see why people like restrictor-plate races now. There was a lot of excitement here. It has taken me a long time to warm up to it, but Talladega caught my interest because it was a very good race. The entire final lap could be counted as The Big One, as just about everybody from eighth place back wrecked.

Unofficially, JJ Yeley finished twentieth, which drops Tony Stewart back to twelfth place in the championship point standings. Kurt Busch, who had so much trouble during Thursday's practice finished fourth. Matt Kenseth moves into ninth place with his top five finish.

Although we don't like to see races won under caution, which seem to be happening a lot lately, this was a pretty good finish. There was a high amount of drama as we were waiting on the scoring loop decision. The race could have been better, but for Daytona, it was great.

Oh, by the way, even though a Coke Racing Family driver didn't win, Kyle Petty announced that you can still get a coupon for a free 20 oz bottle of Coke Zero by logging on to www.cokezero.com before July 13th.

1 comment:

Tim Zaegel said...

I'm not gonna lie ... even I thought it was pretty cool watching Martin hook up with the other Hendrick cars while they ran away from the rest of the pack. A sign of things to come? Hmmm.