Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Thanks, David!

David Cohea asked your's truly to write a guest column for NASCAR This Week, a request I humbly accepted.

I am a big fan of Monte Dutton's, though I don't always agree with what he writes, and feel quite honored to be featured on the same blog that features his articles.

Please read "Guest Columnist Jim Grady: How to pick a favorite driver"at NASCAR This Week.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

More Silly Season changes

Silly Season is far from over. This week has brought a new flurry of activity, as a multitude of announcements and press conferences were held. This is not surprising, as now is about the right time for NASCAR's Silly Season to begin.

Reed Sorenson has signed with Gillett Everham Motorsports, which may or may not leave an opening in Chip Ganassi Racing for Dario Franchitti, who has had some good performances in the Nationwide Series. It was reported by ESPN's Terry Blount, Tuesday, that Target will be staying with Ganassi racing, rather leaving with Sorenson, as previously reported by Terry Blount. Both ESPN, and Reed Sorenson himself, GEM is looking at a four car team that would include Kasey Kahne, Elliott Sadler, Reed Sorenson, and Patrick Carpentier, if sponsorship is found for all four cars.

If you haven't heard yet, Casey Mears is going to the more relaxed atmosphere of Richard Childress Racing, where he will drive the 07 car currently driven by Clint Bowyer, due to owners' points provisionals. Bowyer will move to RCR's new fourth team, the #33 car. Could Mears be the next Kyle Busch? He has said that he feels the structured atmosphere of Hendrick Motorsports cramps his syle, and he has strongly criticized his team, the Hendrick practice of constantly changing his crew chiefs, and his spotters.

It hasn't been officially announced yet, but it is looking more and more as though David Stremme will be in the Penske/Sabates #12 car next year. Stremme is already with Penske as a test driver, and there is no talk of any other driver under consideration for that car.

I believe everyone already knows that Joey Logano will be driving the #20 car next year for JGR, replacing Tony Stewart. This was expected, but it was made official Monday. Logano will be participating in six Sprint Cup races this year in the 02 car, and will be working to get his superspeedway approval by driving in the ARCA race at Talladega later this year.

In the Craftsman Truck Series, Joe Gibbs Racing's top developmental driver, Marc Davis, will be driving the #81 truck of Randy Moss Motorsports for six races beginning Sept 6. Since Davis is under contract with JGR, Moss had to get permission from JD Gibbs for Davis to drive Moss's Chevrolet. Since Gibbs does not have a team in the Truck Series, that okay was given. We can see how this could help out both JGR and Randy Moss Motorsports, if Davis lives up to expectations.

The most surprising Silly Season News, is that one of our favorite bloggers, Mike Maruska, has scrapped his Trouble in Turn 2 blog, and is now blogging for the excellent fantasy racing and stats site, One Bad Wheel. The changes have been made on my blogroll here. But this, for me, is shocking news. Congratulations to Mike.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Delayed live on type delay: Bristol

This post is late. We tried to get it published Saturday night and Sunday morning, but had no web access available. Hopefully it still has some relevance, or will be useful to those who missed the race, or just want to read about the race as viewed through The Rev's senses. Hopefully this won't happen again. There is something about Bristol that has us bouncing in anticipation of the race all day long. Saturday has been a long day waiting for the green flag. While we were waiting, we had that wonderful rendition of "The Star Spangled Banner" performed by the Motorsports Racing Outreach children, something we always look forward to in the late Summer race at Bristol. Also, a new world record was broken for the biggest wave in sports. That was actually pretty exciting to watch, and seemed fitting for Bristol Motor Speedway.

Because the AM station that carries Performance Radio Network play-by-play here cuts power early on Saturday, we are unable to enhance this post with information from the radio broadcast. We are stuck with what we see or hear on television, but we will try to put you at the race the best we can.

The green flag already produced some action, as Dale Earnhardt, Jr was black flagged for passing before the start finish line. One thing we like about Jr is that he is always learning, and now he has learned that you can't do that at the start of the race.

Pole winner Carl Edwards takes the lead early, but Jeff Gordon is on a mission, as we predicted, and after thirty laps, he has gained position from third to second, and is gaining on Carl Edwards. Jimmie Johnson, however, is having terrible luck and has been to the pits twice, under green flag, and is thirteen laps down.

Already, cars are being lapped. We are seeing the kind of racing we expect from Bristol, and some of these cars already have tire donuts on their door panels.

By lap 45, Gordon and Edwards are racing hard. Gordon did lead a lap, but neither driver has been able to take a definitive lead, because Juan Pablo Montoya is racing them to stay on the lead lap. Kyle Busch, in third has caught up with them by lap 54. He takes advantage of a bump on JPM by Edwards, and passes all three cars, taking the lead. That really did look like a brilliant move. Gordon, showing a little more patience than Edwards, remains behind Montoya, and takes second place.

At lap seventy, it has been flag racing so far, and Kyle is in first, Jeff Gordon in second, Carl Edwards is third Rookie Regan Smith, Ryan Newman, and David Reutimann have been racing each other for fourth and fifth place, and by lap 80, Newman gets fourth and the 01 DEI car of Smith has taken fifth. Kevin Harvick and Tony Stewart have been steadily moving forward. This is a bad place to be in traffic, as we all know, and moving toward the front is a matter of preservation.

I love this three wide at Bristol. It isn't the old Bristol, and this may be for the better. It is exciting to watch, there is a lot of beating and banging going on. Just because they can go three wide doesn't mean that it's a good thing for the drivers to do, but it is good for the fans.

On lap 98, Martin Truex Jr cuts a tire, and collects the unfortunate A.J. Allmendinger. Both cars were running in the top twenty, but this will put a damper on their hopes to gain some big points in this race. The leaders all pit.

We were busy writing and didn't see how they came off of pit road. This is where we are at a disadvantage without the radio broadcast, and we apologize to our regular readers.

At the restart on lap 104, the top five are Kyle Busch, Carl Edwards, Jeff Gordon, Ryan Newman and Kevin Harvick in that order. Great pit stop for the #29 team. Jeff Burton has moved up into sixth, great job there, and wow, Jr is driving very aggressively to get his lap back. This is the kind of beating and banging we are used to at Bristol, even if it is three wide. He has a fast car, and anybody who is slower, especially Clint Bowyer, who is on the lead lap, better watch out. We have confidence at this point that he may be able to get back on the lead lap this way, if he doesn't get wrecked. Whatever the outcome, Junior is fun to watch. That is why he has always been among my five favorite drivers, among currently active drivers.

Continuing the running order, well, we would like to but it is time for another commercial interuption. Kasey Kahne is in seventh and by lap 132, Smoke has made it up to eighth place. For those who don't know about brake heat, Tim Brewer gives us a techsplanation of why the tire beads melt.

Lap 140 and Smoke is now in seventh, after being slowed a little by Bobby Labonte's lapped Dodge, but he gets around Burton with little problem. I would say Kahne is now in sixth place, but I can't see during the commercial break. We'll just assume that's where he is by now.

We have seen a lot of drivers on various missions so far, and with so many with a mission, it is surprising that the only incident bringing out a caution was the one involving Truex and Allmendinger.

Niw we are seeing that Junior's car isn't all that good. He is getting no traction from the rear wheels, but he is doing what he can, and for Dale Jr, that is a lot. Fans who aren't Dale Jr fans don't realize what this guy can do with what we think of as a "POS" car. We know he is one of the best car control guys in the business.

Stewart says his car is too tight, but still he races and takes sixth from Kasey Kahne. At this point, as the reporters are giving condition run-downs on the top twenty drivers, we wish that ESPN had the video technology TNT demonstrated at the races, because this would be a good race to see the moving camera view. With ESPN we are stuck with either the in car cameras or the stationary cameras around the track.

This is how fast things happen at Bristol. Newman has taken third from Gordon by lap 180, and Stewart has moved into fifth. Jeff Burton has gotten up to sixth. This all happened while the two sentences about video coverage.

Now Newman is challenging Edwards for second, and this is racing through lapped traffic. It looks dangerous, and again, that is Bristol--it is dangerous. To be honest, the commercials make me nervous, because I am certain we are missing something important. We did miss something important, as Jeff Burton ran into problems during the commercial and literally ran into lapped traffic, causing terminal damage to his car. You could say Stewart started a chain reaction, bumping Sterling Marlin to get him out of the way, and I will say, once again, that's typical Bristol. As it happened, the 09 had already been in trouble with the 77, and Stewart had nowhere to go. This was sad for both the 20 and the 31 car who were running so well. Especiall the 31 car which will require extensive repair.

Those who miss the "old Bristol," shouldn't have missed that. We will agree, however, that two cautions in nearly 200 laps is tame for Bristol.

We're just hoping that didn't put an end to Stewart's charge to the front. Kyle Busch comes off the pits retaining the lead, and Edwards maintains second. Again, we are forced to wait for coverage to resume before we can tell you anything else.

Busch restarts first, Newman second, Edwards third, so Newman got to finish what he started before the wreck in the pits. Edwards passes Newman after one lap of green, and Gordon has moved into fourth. Gordon takes third on lap 213. Now, on lap 217 we get the big one.. Kasey Kahne, Sam Hornish, Robby "Hard Luck" Gordon, Casey Mears, Michael Waltrip, and Clint Bowyer, were all involved. Reed Sorenson's car also received damage. It looked like the wreck started with Waltrip getting into Mears, and everybody else was in the wrong place at the wrong time. See? Racing at Bristol hasn't changed that much.

Casey Mears will be going to RCR next season, and has expressed that he is looking forward to the "laid back" atmosphere of Childress' operation. The structured style of HMS is not for him. He blames the accident on his spotter, and seems like he is in a hurry to put his Hendrick career behind him. Mears says that his spotter told him he was clear to his right, and he moved up only to hit the 55 car of Michael Waltrip. He put in a word about this kind of stuff always seems to happen to him. I know this sounds funny now, but it is possible that RCR could do for Mears what JGR has done for Kyle Busch. Just a few thoughts while we are under the red flag.

We are given the opportunity to hear the conversation over Mears' radio and his spotter did tell him he was clear. Then we hear that Mears has amazing self control over his language when he is angry. "Gosh durnit" is the strongest language he used.

Restart on lap 223, Kyle Busch leads. Edwards is second, Jeff Gordon third, Denny Hamlin fourth, and Tony Stewart fifth. Stewart seems to be running well, still and he and Hamlin are both challenging Gordon for third. This is some good racing, thank you ESPN for showing it. Hamlin bumps Gordon to get by him, then Stewart passes under Gordon, his car slides up some and bumps Gordon in the side, taking fourth. Gordon is mad. This is what we wanted to see. Love it! Bristol is definitely back! So is The Gordon. We see revenge on the horizon. We just hope we can keep our optimism and good cheer if Smoke falls victim to Gordon's Revenge. We don't really want it to happen, but it will be big if it does happen. We're still cheering for Smoke, and if Gordon does catch up with Stewart, we could see a pretty good Death Match. Oh yeah, it's 2001 and 2002 all over again!

The guys who have had a lot of patience are getting a good pay-off. Aric Almirola and Jamie McMurray are both running in the top ten. Clint Bowyer actually dodged a bullet on that big one a few laps back and is running eleventh, while Kurt Busch is running tenth. The top five are still Kyle Busch, Carl Edwards, Denny Hamlin. Tony Stewart, and a very purpose and anger driven Jeff "The Gordon" Gordon. Ryan Newman and Kevin Harvick are running in sixth and seventh, or the other way around.

This race isn't pegging the Wow Meter, but the needle is staying up toward the top. Lap 281 and it looks like Dave Blaney, who was running in twelfth got caught behind an incident between two other cars, and lost control trying to evade it, hitting the inside wall head on and hard. Another victim of being in Bristol traffic.

How about that move to the flat infield by Kyle Busch to avoid the wreck. How's that for quick reactions and car control?

Uh-oh, this means that Gordon will be right behind Stewart on the restart. Hang in there Smoke, be prepared for something and try to keep control. Both drivers should have their laser sabres fired up. Okay, Gordon comes off of the pit road in third, and Stewart exits in seventh. I wonder if that might have been special strategy on the part of the 20 team to avoid disaster? Still, Stewart will have to meet The Gordon at some point if he wants to win this race. They could just be staying safe to try to finish the race with their points position intact. Just thinking out loud here.

Kyle Busch's team is flawless, and he maintains the lead. and Edwards will restart in second. This is shaping up to be a Busch-Edwards duel, which should keep the media happy.

Denny Hamlin is fourth, Kevin Harvick is fifth, and Ryan Newman is sixth. Stewart is seventh, as mentioned earlier. Clint Bowyer is eighth, Almirola is ninth, and by lap 332, David Ragan has moved into tenth. Tony Raines and David Reutimann are getting jiggy with it back in the pack, and we are getting our beatin' and bangin' fix courtesy of these two and the ESPN camera crew.

Caution for debris, knocked off of the 44 car during the aforementioned beatin' and bangin'. The leaders all pit. Again the 18 team gets Kyle out of the pits first, and Carl Edwards exits second. Great job by the much maligned 24 team as they keep The Gordon in third. Bowyer comes out in sixth, proving the 07 team is on the ball.

Wild restart behind the leaders, and the positions change before we can give the restart positions. Now Carl is challenging Kyle, and it looks like we have a good race going. Carl almost takes the lead on lap 355, but it doesn't stick. He hasn't given up yet and we are seeing some real racing for the lead. Now Carl gets the outside, and should have an advantage, but still doesn't make it stick. Lap 360, and that race is done for now, as Carl falls in behind Kyle. Good show, guys.

Speaking about a good show, Bowyer has done a great job in a car with a damaged suspension, and is running in seventh. Tony Stewart is in eighth. On lap 365 we get a phantom debris caution, as the NASCAR officials apparently liked what they saw while Busch and Edwards were racing early in the run, and wanted to see it again. Strike that, ESPN reports that a truck did go out onto the track to pick up debris.

None of the leaders took tires and Busch and Edwards are putting on a good show again. This is the best racing all night. Earnhardt, Jr looks like he will get his lap back this time, even if he has to race his way back. His car is now good enough to do that.

Almirola stopped for tires, and has made his way into seventh place, by lap 387. Juan Pablo is still serving his purpose as a traveling chicane and is still making it hard for the lead lap drivers to get around. That's entertainment.

96 laps to go and things have settled down a bit, but it should heat up soon. That is unless Edwards and Gordon have decided that they will just give this race to Kyle. The booth bunnies are talking as if this will turn into a fuel mileage race, but we know this wouldn't happen. There will be more cautions. This is just the calm before the storm, we think.

The anticipation is still building. We are really missing the radio play-by-play to keep us informed during the television ads. We just don't know what to do with ourselves during the commercials.

Kyle Busch has been in danger all night long, and has dodged every bullet. He will deserve the win if he gets it. 63 laps to go, and he may do it.

Almirola looks like an old pro staying in the top ten. Good job for that #8 team.

Okay, this is getting nerve-wracking. This close to the end of the race, shouldn't they be finished with the commercials? I mean, this is a short track. The race could be over by the time they get back to race coverage.

And now, we get another debris caution before fuel mileage comes into play. 49 laps to go and everybody will get fuel, most will get tires and some will only take two tires and fuel. I want to know if Junior got the lucky dog here.

Kyle comes onto the track first, Edwards second, Hamlin third, and Jeff Gordon fourth. We are getting close to shoot-out time here. Let's see something happen. Besides a commercial, I mean. 42 laps to go at the restart. Harvick is fifth, and still in contention. Ryan Newman is doing a great job and is still in sixth, and Bowyer is in seventh, while Stewart is in eighth. Another debris caution.

And no, dagnabbit, Junior still doesn't get back on the lead lap. Busch has lapped a lot of cars every stint.

"We" have changed to "I" as I am officially a nervous wreck. This is going to be one heckuva run after the restart with 33 laps to go.

And here they go. Carl is close on Busch's bumper, Busch is really loose, and Carl takes the lead, and they are beatin,' bangin,' bumpin,' and runnin'. Edwards takes the lead, and Hamlin takes second. And here comes Gordon. The front four are pretty close still, so there should still be some more good racing, as Kyle is working hard to get second back from Hamlin. Kyle finally gets second back with 21 laps to go, passing on the high side, and Harvick moves into fourth, also passing Gordon on the high side. Carl is getting away. 17 to go.

Harvick is about to take third. 4 to go, and it looks like we will see another backflip. Kyle is second, Hamlin third, Harvick is fourth, and Gordon is fifth. After the checkers, we see a demonstration of anger by Kyle as he runs into the 99 car. Carl retaliates, this is fun!. Now the fans are happy, because Kyle will be fined and penalized. Oh boy. Drama after the race. Bristol Rules!!!

Final thoughts:

This race gave us everything we expect from Bristol. It was frustrating for the drivers, fun for the fans. Great stuff. Four out of Five Revvin' Rave points!

Thursday, August 21, 2008

The height of stupidity

It is one thing to cheat to win a race. Everybody, it seems, cheats in some way, at least tweaking the "gray areas" in the rules. But they are cheating to get an edge on the competition, not to reduce their chances of winning a race. That is, unless they are very prone to making dumb mistakes.

After last week's Nationwide race at Michigan, NASCAR planned on running chassis dyno tests to see how much horsepower was being transferred to the rear wheels of selected cars from the race. . Before they ran the test, the NASCAR technicians inspected the cars and found that the #20 and #18 cars of Joe Gibbs racing had been tampered with. To be specific, a magnet was placed between the accelerator pedal and the firewall on each car, to prevent the throttle from opening all the way, therefore preventing the engine from producing the full amount of horsepower of which it is capable. In effect, the two teams were caught sandbagging.

This raises the question "why?" Sandbagging in any sport works against the competitive spirit of the sport. Throwing a race is a blow to the integrity of the sport. If a race could be thrown in such a way, it raises questions of gambling involvement, for example.

The two teams had nothing to hide. The cars and the engines were built within the specifications NASCAR requires, and there was nothing in the set up of the cars that would cause a penalty. Except for the extra accelerator stop.

Taking a look back, after the Nationwide race at Chicagoland a few weeks ago, NASCAR pulled the motors from nine different cars and engine dyno-ed them. Because the engine from David Reutiman's Toyota produced 2 horsepower more than David Ragan's Ford, NASCAR saw fit to even things down by implementing a new rule that required the teams with engines that had a cylinder gap of 4.08 inches or more to use a spacer with smaller air intake holes. This reduced the Toyota's output by about sixteen horsepower. Toyota's hp production was accomplished within the rules, but NASCAR had to implement a new one in order for the horsepower advantage to transfer to the Jack Roush Nationwide Series cars. It doesn't matter if that is fair or not, rules are rules. Personally, we would have liked to see the other teams step up to the level of Toyota, rather than seeing Toyota have to step down.

Last Saturday, it was fairly obvious that Toyota had found a way to overcome the disadvantage imposed on them by NASCAR, as the JGR cars could nearly keep up with the Fords on the straightaways. Even though the cars had passed pre-race inspection, somebody in the Gibbs organization saw fit to limit the amount of throttle that could be used during the race. Whether it was to avoid further restrictions, allow an excuse to protest Ford's horsepower advantage, or to hide technology from the competition, it was just plain wrong. Nobody will argue that point--it possibly changed the outcome of the race. If Tony Stewart had been able to use the full throttle, he arguably would have won the race.

It was blatantly stupid. The team's Nationwide series engine tuner, both car chiefs and both crew chiefs were suspended indefinitely from NASCAR. Both crew chiefs were fined $50,000 each by NASCAR, the teams each lost 150 owners points, and Joey Logano and Tony Stewart lost 150 championship points. In addition, Joe Gibbs has promised that those who were responsible for the incident would be fined within the organization as well.

It should be noted that neither driver was involved in the incident, if they were, NASCAR would likely have suspended them as well, and there would have been a monetary fine. Joe Gibbs also acknowledged that neither driver knew anything about the incident.

But for David Rogers, Jr, his brilliant career has ended, all because of a moment of extreme stupidity.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Beware! The Gordon is back!

When Jeff Gordon says he's going to "go for it," he usually means it. The gloves are off. No more Mr. Niceguy.

Showing his frustration a little, after the Watkins Glen race, and a lot after Sunday's race at Michigan International Speedway, Gordon indicated that he is tired of seeing the mistakes in the pits and bad car set ups ruin his chances to win a race. The last time he felt like this, Robby Loomis, who was his crew chief when he won his fourth NASCAR Cup Championship in 2001, lost his job. Now we have to believe that Steve Letarte is on his way out.

Gordon is not one, in spite of what some fans and media pundits may think, who is at the end of his career. He still has the fire, the desire, and the talent to win. That is why he is frustrated when it seems that his team and his teammates *cough*Jimmie Johnson*cough* are working against him. He is frustrated with points racing, because he is a winner, not a points racer.

And when Jeff Gordon is racing as a winner, he can out intimidate The Intimidator. If the late Dale Earnhardt was still with us, he wouldn't admit to that, but he wouldn't tell us we were wrong, either. Rusty Wallace, Tony Stewart, Kevin Harvick, and Matt Kenseth are still around to affirm that statement, and they have and they will.

What will Hendrick Motorsports do with Gordon as far as giving him another crew chief? Darion Grubb seems to be on his way to Stewart-Haas Racing, but that may change. We doubt if Hendrick will want to switch crew chiefs between the 48 and the 24 team, because, if you have paid attention to Jimmie Johnson's driving abilities and the kinds of errors in judgement he is constantly making,* most of the 48 team's success is due to the genius of Chad Knaus. The 48 team is once again in contention for the championship, and HMS won't jeopardize that position in favor of the 24 team. What we expect to see is a crew chief switch between the 5 and the 24 team. We haven't seen Alan Gustafeson work with Gordon, not that we can remember, anyway. Just having someone with a different attitude on the pit box may be what Gordon needs.

* We don't mean to imply that Johnson isn't a top-notch driver, but he still has a lot to learn. Every race he has lost has been due to driver error, not by any call Knaus has made. He has made some dumb moves. Trying to pass between Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart and making it four wide is only one error in a long list. How many times have we seen him give up the lead while trying to block another car? How many times have we seen him miss his pit box--a nearly habitual error of his. All we are saying is that without Chad Knaus it is unlikely he would be a two time champion this early in his career. Knaus has done a great job of covering for Johnson's mistakes and overcoming the Champ's drawbacks.

Whatever happens within the Hendrick organization, we look forward to watching Jeff Gordon race with his fire stoked. Even though we are quick to say he is the driver we don't want to see win, he is, in a backhanded sort of way, one of our favorites. It is a thrill to watch him race when he is focused on winning, and to see him race with everything he has makes the experience exciting.

The season can only get better from here on out.

The Gordon is Back

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Live on Type Delay: Michigan II

The beginning of any race at Michigan International Speedway is always exciting, as forty-three cars take the green flag and immediately go three and four wide. But Jimmie Johnson takes the lead and starts to take off. Dale Earnhardt, Jr, the winner of the previous race at MIS is right behind him, and by lap 7, has caught him and passed him. The Hendrick cars look good right at the start, so it will be difficult for anybody else to catch them at this point.

By lap thirteen, the field has settled into single file, and there is no action to report. Lap 19 and the #21 car of Marcos Ambrose seems to have lost its engine going into turn three. Yes, it seems that the engine blew up and the Wood Brothers car is out of the race. As somebody said last week (or the week before), the oil pan couldn't hold all those engine parts.

Johnson gets off the pit road first and will take the lead, Vickers is second, and Earnhardt, Jr is scored in third. Immediately at the wave of the green flag, Earnhardt makes a move on Vickers for second, That race goes on for a few laps, with Jr ultimately taking the second spot. Meanwhile Kurt Busch, Greg Biffle, and Jeff Gordon are racing three wide for fifth.

Jr retakes the lead on lap 28, and that car is flying. Kyle Busch takes advantage of Jr's forward momentum and passes Johnson for 2nd. Brian Vickers has regained third, but Carl Edwards is making his move toward the front. During the TV commercial, Jimmie Johnson is passed by Edwards, and Edwards has his sights set on Vickers. Johnson continues to fall back as Biffle gains a position.

Did Johnson lose the handle on his car, or was there a bad adjustment on the last pit stop? Perhaps this is the scenario we have seen so many times before on intermediate tracks--the car is good running in clean are, but becomes unmanageable in traffic. That seems to be the case as Jeff Gordon takes sixth place from Johnson.

Now some bad news from the 88 team. Jr is running away from the field but his car is overheating. While we were concerned about that, Vickers races Kyle Busch and takes the second position after a good race between the two purported "bad boys."

Something right was done on Stewart's pit stop, as he remained around 21st spot during most of the first segment, and has now moved up into eighteenth position.

Earnhardt, Jr has slowed down enough to let Brian Vickers pass him, and gets on Vickers's bumper to try to remove any debris from the grill that might be causing the engine to overheat. So Vickers takes the lead during the commercial, Jr's grill is clean, and Jr's car still seems competitive as he backs off to let his engine get some air. While ESPN's beloved "Draft tracks" are being shown on TV, Edwards takes third place from Kyle Busch. Vickers is moving away with the lead.

Green flag pit stops begin on lap 62. Many of the drivers are reporting that their cars are tight going into the turn, and loose from the center off. While they are talking about that on the radio, we can see on the television that Stewart is having some serious handling problems with his car. He looks almost like he is dirt tracking, and doing all he can to hold onto seventeenth position.

Junior pits on lap 66, and reports that the water temperature has dropped about thirty degrees, so he is out of the woods as far as engine temperature goes. There is some contact on the pit lane between Reed Sorenson and somebody else. Jr takes the lead after pit stops cycle through.

Again, we commend MRN for their excellent pit coverage, but it is way too much information to try to keep up with. Not complaining, just making excuses for any errors.

Edwards is second, Brian Vickers third, and Greg Biffle fourth, and Kyle Busch is in fifth. 69 laps are complete. This race is going fast.

Carl Edwards takes the lead on lap 74 as Junior runs up against the tale end of the field. Vickers follows Edwards into second place, and Junior settles in third. Jr's car has gotten loose over the last ten laps, and now loses another spot as Biffle takes third.

The 88 team is probably hoping for a caution, before he loses much more on the track. That comes during the commercial, as Newman gets clipped from behind, runs out of control into Dave Blaney's car, which, in turn hits the wall. Now, looking at the replay on TV, it looks like it was Paul "Daddy bought this car for me" Menard was the one who hit Newman. That was a great save for Newman, but not for Blaney.

Edwards barely beats Biffle and Vickers off the pit lane, and Jr comes off fourth. Kyle Busch will restart in fifth.

Johnson hit something with the left front fender of his car, and heavy smoke is issuing from that wheel well. He returns to the pits for repair.

While that was going on Edwards let Biffle lead a lap for points, then retakes the lead. Kyle Busch has passed Vickers, and then passes Biffle for second and is catching the leader. Now surprise there. Jr has fallen back to seventh, and Smoke has moved into twelfth. Now Jeff Gordon cuts a tire, and a caution comes out. We hate to see this, because racing is much more fun when Gordon is competitive. It turns out that it was Gordon's right front fender that was the something Johnson hit, while they were racing for eleventh place four wide.

The leaders pit, and Edwards once again comes out in the lead. Greg Biffle is second, Brian Vickers is third, Kyle fourth, and a third RFR driver, David Ragan is in fifth. It's Michigan, it's Ford, and it's Ford at Michigan. Oh yeah, Matt Kenseth is in sixth. McMurray, where are you? Might as well get all of them up there in front.

Kyle Bush makes his move on 106 and takes second, while Vickers battles Biffle for third. We may be treated to a Edwards-Busch wheel to wheel contest toward the end of the race, which is a very good reason to keep watching, in our opinion.

We are wondering, along with ESPN, why the 88 car can start a race in good shape, and then just start losing handling before the race is half over. This is not a good day for HMS. Jr is still running in the top ten, but his car looks very loose. This is where, once again, we admire Junior's car handling abilities. There would be several Cup regulars who would be out of the race by now if their car was handling like that.

73 laps to go, and Edwards has a four second lead over Kyle Busch, who has a substantial lead over Brian Vickers and Greg Biffle. Biffle has debris on his grill that is causing overheating, and Vickers once again obliges another driver by moving in front of Biffle so the debris clears off of the grill.

Now Kasey Kahne is having engine problems. He lost a cylinder a little while earlier, and now smoke is issuing from the rear of the car.

Green flag pit stops begin on lap 137. Edwards Kyle Busch, and Biffle pit on lap 141, as does Brian Vickers. and the stops cycle through with Busch in the lead. Edwards catches him and he takes the lead. Then Busch races back for the lead. This was good stuff.

Greg Biffle comes out in third, and Vickers in fourth. 56 laps to go and fuel is good for about 44 laps, so there should be one more set of pit stops to go. Will there be another caution or will the "money stops" be under green. We do expect some stops to begin in about fourteen laps, as that will be the window to make it to the end of the race.

A caution does come for debris from the 24 car, which has re-entered the race, and on lap 166, the lead cars pit. Vickers gets out first by virtue of a two tire stop, and Kyle Busch will restart second. This should be very interesting when the race goes green. Carl Edwards is third, Greg Biffle is fourth, David Ragan fifth, and Dale Jr. is sixth.

Wow, Busch has the advantage at the wave of the green, and quickly passes Vickers. Now we see Busch using the entire track while in the lead, to find the fastest line. Vickers, loses second to Edwards.

Kurt Busch spins with a cut left side tire, but the race stays green. Biffle has fourth, and Dale Jr has moved all the way back to nineth, while Jeff Burton has moved up to eighth. Biffle now takes third from Vickers, and Edwards is about to engage Kyle Busch for the lead. Ragan maintains fifth and Kenseth is running in sixth.

Wow wow wow, some great racing between Busch and Edwards with 23 to go. This is some real racing that goes up and down the track, from the bottom to the top. Great stuff, wheel to wheel for the lead. With 22 to go, Kyle is still in the lead, and just as this was getting exciting, we get a debris caution. Here is where we see a possible psych-out between the leaders, but I don't think anyone will pit.

Wrong. Kyle pits, and Edwards makes a last minute decision to pit. Both Edwards and Busch take two and fuel, but Edwards gets out first. David Ragan and Dale Jr stayed out, which makes this even more exciting because we know these guys are going all in to win.

18 laps to go when they take the green, and I think this is going to be fun! Ragan is first, Jr second, Edwards third, and Kyle is fourth. Awwww &%#! Junior gets tangled up with lapped traffic and gets clipped, and hits the outside wall. His day is over. Kyle wasn't involved.

As things settle, Edwards has taken first, Ragan is second and Kyle is third. Another caution for debris with thirteen laps to go.

There are fifteen cars on the lead lap when the race restarts with ten laps to go. Will Ragan, running on much older tires than the leader, be able to hold his spot, or hold up Kyle? No, Kyle quickly gets around Ragan, but now with nine to go Ragan is racing Busch for his position back. Good racing but Carl is getting away.

Denny Hamlin loses his engine with five laps to go. This will tighten the field up again as the caution comes out. There is likely oil on the track, and there will be a shootout. This will be a single file restart, and will be a two lap shootout in regulation time. I like this much better than a fuel mileage race, and something tells me most fans do as well.

Kyle Bush did get second before the caution, but Edwards gets a great restart and is ahead by five car lengths as he takes the white flag. Busch has nothing for him. Edwards win, and the fans get to see a backflip for the second day in a row.

Final thoughts. It was okay. That's about it. Mostly predictable, though we can't really say that or else we could have won the pick five for this week, so maybe ist wasn't that predictable. But the race started, the cars raced, and Carl Edwards won. Average.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Could NASCAR please balance the variety of tracks?

Aside from the official announcements that Ryan Newman will be joining Tony Stewart at Stewart-Haas Racing next year and that JTG-Daugherty Racing will be stepping up to the Cup level, along with their driver Marcos Ambrose, the big news this week has been about track promotors and owners. First, Darlington's promotor announced that the name of next year's Mother's Day weekend race at that speedway will be "The Southern 500."

The Southern 500 was, historically, NASCAR's original annual event at a superspeedway. Darlington was, after all, NASCAR's first superspeedway, and the Southern 500 became a Labor Day weekend tradition. The reinstatement of the name is in recognition of that tradition, and in honor of the fan base that feels it is responsible for NASCAR's success. It can also be seen as an excuse to raise ticket prices.

The traditional fan base, however, will not easily accept the name change, which is meaningless to them. The Southern 500 is not the Southern 500 unless it is held on Labor Day weekend. That date is currently held by Auto Club Speedway, formerly the California Speedway. Perhaps ISC could change the name of that race to "The Firecracker 400" to sell more tickets. They do need to figure out how to sell more tickets to that race, because it has always had a poor showing in the grandstands. Which brings us to our next rant.

If the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino at Kansas Speedway, Kansas is approved by the Kansas Racing and Gaming Commission, ISC will ask NASCAR for a second date for Kansas Speedway. That part is easy, as, basically the same people who run ISC run NASCAR. The date, which won't be on the schedule until at least 2011, after the casino is built, is expected to come from Martinsville. That puts those of us who prefer our NASCAR at short tracks out of luck.

Granted, the intermediate tracks with which NASCAR and ISC are seemingly obsessed provide the race goer with a genuine sense of speed. Watching cars go fast is part of the attraction of racing, after all, and the shape and size of the track ensure that there is not a bad seat at the track. However, with either the conventional car or the new Sprint Cup car, these tracks often offer little side by side racing, which makes them hard to watch on television. The television viewer often misses what is going on back in the pack, where the traffic is often heavy while racers battle for position. Instead we see a single file line of cars try to catch the leader, who is often fifteen seconds or more ahead of the rest of the field. .

These races are often won in the pits, rather than on the track, as the typically long green flag runs force green flag pit stops.

There is nothing wrong with the type of racing at the intermediate tracks.To be sure, each track offers a different challenge to each and every driver. It's just that too much of anything is too much. All I am saying here is that there need to be fewer of these types of races in order to keep the fans interested in watching week after week.

ISC and NASCAR seem intent on keeping two races at California, and two at Michigan, the only two 2-mile intermediate tracks on the circuit. Michigan is understandable, as that is the headquarters of three of the manufacturers involved in NASCAR--the parent companies of Daiwoo, Saab, and Mitsubishi--aka GM, Ford, and Chrysler Corp. The fans in Michigan are usually pretty good at filling the stands, and the multi groove track lends much to good racing. The problem lies with California. The first race of the season is during the rainy part of the year in Southern California, and the Labor Day weekend race is on a day that is just too darn hot to bring the Californians to the track. Honestly, does NASCAR really need four of these races in one season, especially where they can't sell all of the tickets?

Bringing this dialog to a full circle, we must remember that the reason that the Southern 500 is no longer held at Darlington during Labor Day weekend is because the weather proved too hot and humid for most people, and the promoters had trouble selling tickets to that event.

The bottom line is that NASCAR needs to be more careful with their scheduling. They need to realize that there is more to a successful season than a saturation of intermediate tracks at "destination locations." If they are on the right track, so to speak, then why are the only races that are certain to sell out are at Bristol and Loudon? There should be more to racing than 1.5 or 2 mile "D" shaped ovals. There are plenty of other venues featuring other types of tracks to give the schedule a little more balance. Please.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Trust is the key to happiness in racing

Those of you who are still regular readers of this blog have stuck with me while I've been going through emotional ups and downs over my favorite driver's impending "doom."

I hope that my readers understand that, in reality, I am not that emotionally unstable over Tony Stewart's move at the end of this season, when he leaves Joe Gibbs Racing and moves on to his own team, Stewart-Haas Racing. My purpose is to entertain, and broadcasting my feelings in the way it has been done on this blog is mainly to provide what we hope is entertainment.

In reality, though we still have some misgivings, we are looking forward to seeing how Smoke handles this new challenge. We don't expect immediate success, but we trust Stewart's competitive instincts, and his strong desire to be a winner, so we have to believe that he will turn his new team into a winning operation.

As you may have read in Sunday's "Live on Type Delay," we read comments on Trent Cherry's blog that discussed the possibility that Hendrick Motorsports would lease Haas CNC and Stewart-Haas racing with equipment not equal to that which HMS uses themselves. That is the thinking of football fans, not racing fans.

Racing is about trust. Every week, every driver's well being is dependent on the competition being good enough so as not to mess up his own chances to finish the race well. That would include the equipment the competition is using. Each team knows that there is less of a chance of being taken out by another car due to equipment malfunction or failure if the equipment is as good as their own. Any team leasing equipment to another team may not be able to control the other team's driving abilities, or the attitude of the team itself, but at least they can ensure that it would not be the equipment that causes a bad accident involving their own drivers.

Something else to consider is enterprise. HMS, for example, receives income from Haas in exchange for the equipment Haas CNC uses. If they are dissatisfied with the equipment they could always go to someone else, or, being owned by Haas Automation, they could easily build their own equipment. Haas does, after all, sell test equipment and high tech suspension components to most of the other teams in NASCAR. Is there anyone who would accuse them of selling substandard equipment? They could make Scott Riggs unbeatable with so much power, but, in order to sell equipment to the other teams, they have to be trusted.

So, we are looking forward to next season already, with eager anticipation that Smoke will succeed. Ryan Newman seems to believe Stewart-Haas will succeed as well, as the announcement that he will be joining Smoke next season has been made official. And all that is because of trust.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Live on Type Delay: The new Roadmaster

First some apologies. I said that Jimmie Johnson was in the lead when he ran out of fuel during the final laps of the Zippo 200 at Watkins Glen. That was not a live on type delay report, and I was trying to write from memory,. which isn't that good these days. Jeff Burton was in the lead, and never gave it up until he, too, ran out of fuel.

Now on to today's race. There is nothing like seeing those cars going in to turn one from the start three wide and beatin' and bangin' on each other. When things settle down after the first lap, Dale Earnhardt, Jr, who likes Watkins Glen much better than Sonoma, takes the lead. Jimmie Johnson is second, Jeff Gordon third, and pole sitter Kyle Busch is fourth. There is a commercial already.

No MRN or PRN today, but Kyle Petty says that they make up the action because nobody can see what they are talking about. He is only saying that because he is a TV guy, but that makes me nervous anyway. I fear I may not be able to write anything that you don't see on television. Screw it, MRN is on, but it will be interrupted for the radio station's special promotion, a fund raiser for the ASPCA. Worthy cause, so I won't complain.

By lap ten, Tony Stewart, who has been moving up agressively from the start, has moved into fourth position. Dale Jr is checking out, doing very well, and Jeff Gordon has fallen back to fifth. Now Carl Edwards has made it into the top five, and Kevin Harvick is in sixth, while Gordon falls all the way back to seventh. Now Jeff Burton is trying to pass Jeff Gordon. This is disturbing, actually, that Gordon is starting the race so poorly. There is plenty of time to get that car fixed, but Jeff Gordon falling back at Watkins Glen is just plain wrong.

PJ Jones and Patrick Carpentier perform some synchronized spinning, similar to what we saw with Busch and Burton yesterday, and there is no caution as they race on. Allmendinger makes the first green flag pit stop of the day on lap 17. On lap 19, more spinning by Reed Sorenson.

Lap 23 and more cars, including the three JGR cars make their pit stops. Jr and Johnson are still leading, not having pitted yet. We are keeping our eye on yesterday's winner, Marcos Ambrose, who started in p-43, and has moved up as far as 13th before he pits. Johnson pits on lap 27. This reminds us somewhat of the different pit strategies used at last week's race at Pocono. Jr still has yet to pit. Then he pits on lap 29.

Jeff Gordon is staying out, but only because he hasn't heard the team's orders to pit. something is wrong with the radio, and NASCAR helps out by black flagging him so he has to pit. That was done as a favor by NASCAR. Here we go, techsplanation time, and it doesn't surprise us at all that ESPN is back to their old tricks. Does anyone really care about where the radio plugs in?

After the pit stops cycle through, Kyle Busch is in the lead, Johnson is second, Stewart third, Edwards fourth, and Harvick fifth. Earnhardt, Jr came out of it in seventh, but soon moves up into sixth. Jeff Gordon has fallen back to 23rd. Marcos Ambrose has settled into 20th place. There still have been no cautions, though 12 cars have been involved in spins and general leaving of the track. There is a battle going on for third, but the lapped car of Robby Gordon, in 39th place, is preventeng Carl Edwards from getting close to Stewart. Gordon wants to stay close to the leaders in hopes of a caution that will give him a free pass.

Lap 42, and Johnson has a tire issue. This pit stop will be too early to get Johnson to the end of the scheduled race on fuel, but it could work out for him if the race is stopped because of rain, which could happen.

It doesn't look good for the #48 team, as all the tires that came off look good, and it could mean that there is something else wrong with the suspension, which could be serious. This does put Tony Stewart in a distant second place.

Marcos Ambrose has now moved up to fifteenth. I would like to see Energizer sponsor Ambrose's car, and put Marcos in the place of "Jacko," the wild and crazy Aussie who used to stomp through the commercials holding a giant battery over his head, shouting, "Hoy!" Do Tasmanians shout "Hoy!"? Marcos would make a good "Jacko."

Finally, a caution on lap 49. This will still be early for fuel mileage, so some cars will stay out. Maybe. There could be a massive psych-out here. Several cars do take to the pits, including Ambrose, Earnhardt Jr, Jeff Gordon, David Ragan, Hamlin, and Kasey Kahne. Gordon is getting more adjustments, and stays in the pits longer in hopes of a better car late in the race. Most of the cars that pitted stop for four tires and fuel. Johnson exits the pit road first, and Jr is second out of the pits.. Busch, Stewart, Edwards, and Harvick stayed out. Montoya also stayed out, and moves into fourth place.

Tony Stewart is now racing Kyle Busch for the lead, and this should be some good racing. I think Stewart can outdrive Busch in the turns, we shall see. This is good.

Carl Edwards takes his pit stop with thirty seven laps to go. He should be good to the end of the race, if it goes as scheduled. Stewart and Busch have yet to pit. While Edwards was in the pits, Stewart took the lead in turn eight, I think, but then Busch takes the lead back in turn one of the next lap. That race is not over yet.

Now with 34 laps to go, Stewart, Busch, Harvick, and the rest of the cars that didn't pit earlier stop. Hamlin stops again for fuel only, to get him to the end of the race, as does Marcos Ambrose, from 17th place. Robby Gordon is on the lead lap now, by virtue of the leaders pitting.

Montoya is now the leader, but he takes his pit stop. Jimmie Johnson is now in the lead, and Earnhardt Jr is second, then takes the lead as Johnson pits. Nobody wants to run out of fuel now.

If Stewart could race Busch so well while his car was tight, he should be great if his team made the right adjustments. during that last pit stop.

Robby Gordon went back to a lap down after he pitted. Jr is still in the lead, and still hasn't pitted. Kyle Busch and Tony Stewart, who have pitted are running second and third. Jr stayed out too long, and you know there will be words between him and Tony Eury Jr, as the caution comes out for the second time. Jr will be stuck having to pit by himself, and will likely have to restart at the back of the field with twenty six laps to go. The 88 was the only lead lap car to pit. That is not good. There are twenty five laps to go in the race.

Busch is now in first, Stewart is in second. Restart on lap 66. Ryan Newmnan is third, Martin Truex is fourth, and Marcos Ambrose is fifth. Busch and Stewart are still racing hard. Ambrose is racing Truex hard. And here come Hamlin and Montoya.

I have the TV on mute and the radio on, but back in the pack, Earnhardt Jr is making some amazing moves, the kind of which only he is capable, to work his way back to the front. He is now in 28th place, I believe.

Truex, Ambrose, and Montoya are getting crazy as well, battling for fourth place. Lots of exciting stuff going on here. PJ Jones moves off of the track and gets rear ended by the fence, but still no caution. Now, on TV we see that it was Jeff Gordon who did the moving. Way to go Jeff! We love to see that.

I will have to say, at this point, ESPN's coverage is somewhat better than it was last year. It seems to me as though they are still stretching some story lines for drama value, which was one of the worst things they did last year, but that is not as bad as it was last year, where the story lines were stretched so far they took away from the race.

Fourteen laps to go, and everyone seems to be behaving themselves, so far. There should be some action coming up soon, though.

Ouch! Newman loses it in turn one and spins off the track with 13 laps to go. His car stalls, and comes back onto the track with the driver's side facing the oncoming traffic. Caution. That had to be a scary moment for Newman. Hornish has to push Newman back to the pits, as the car will not restart.

In the pits, they still can't get Newman's car fired up. This is sad, because Newman was doing so well, especially for Watkins Glen, and this will probably kill his chances to make it into the top twelve. Hornish's act of teammanship and generosity moves the 77 out of the top 35 in points.

Ten laps to go, with Busch first, Stewart second, Ambrose third, Montoya fourth and Truex fifth. Newnman has left the pits and stalled on the bgackstretch, so the restart is waved off. This should be one heck of a shootout to the end of the race. I can now turn off MRN and let the ESPN guys cover the rest of the race. I think. They have time for a commercial with nine laps to go. This is going to be an interesting restart. Something of interest, Ambrose moved up all the way from last to third without a mark on his car.

Montoya makes a move on Ambrose going into turn one, but doesn't make it stick. Busch and Stewart are again racing hard and pulling away from Ambrose and Montoya. MRN is still on here, just in case.

There is a big wreck coming off of turn eleven. Blaney, McDowell, Nemecheck, Kvapil, Bobby Labonte, Michael Waltrip, Hornish, Sorenson, PJ Jones, David Gilliland, and Max Papis are all involved. The race is red flagged. On TV, the barrel barrier at the beginning of the pit lane is devastated. Heck the wall is crumbled there. Reports say that the #77 car spun into that backwards. That is a hard hit.

MRN is reporting that it started with Gilliland and Mcdowell getting together coming out of turn eleven. The chain reaction was the result of being stuck back in the pack with less then ten laps to go, because everybody back there was racing for position all the way around the track. Something had to give, where the traffic was so thick.

ESPN has now confirmed that MRN wasn't lying. This time. Sorenson may have gotten away with only a little damage, but most of those other cars are out. Once again, Watkins Glen takes on the characteristics of a short track race.

Bobbly Labonte, who walked away from the wreck is being transferred to a local hospital for further evaluation. Our prayers are with him. Hopefully, he hasn't suffered injuries that would cause him to miss a race.

Poor Max Papis. He is so enthusiastic about racing in NASCAR. Unlike many European drivers, his heroes are Tony Stewart, Dale Earnhardt, Jr, Jeff Gordon, and other NASCAR drivers, rather than Michael Schumacher and Ayrton Senna. He really wants to race NASCAR. It is his dream. Much like Scott Speed and Marcos Ambrose, he has already had his chance at Formula 1 and has made NASCAR his big league of choice. Even after the wreck which, in his words, has left him heartbroken for his team, he remains enthusiastic about continuing his duties as road test driver for Hendrick Motorsports.

They are wondering if Stewart will settle for second, or push the issue against his team mate to win, possibly risking a wreck and falling out of the top twelve. I say race him hard, Smoke. Think "What Would Kyle Do?"

That would be dumb. Would I give up driving for a championship caliber team if someone gave me half ownership of a second rate team to drive for them? Certainly, in a heartbeat. We can't blame Smoke for taking that deal, but it is still dumb.

I was getting excited about Stewart Haas, and getting over my misgivings, until I read Trent Cherry's blog, in which he speculated that Newman would be joining Stewart-Haas next year, and his readers, who think that will be a move for the worse, asked if Hendrick would actually provide equipment that would allow Stewart - Haas to have better race results than HMS. Reading that, I immediately regressed to depressive pessimism. So stay dumb, Smoke, and you could win this race. (For those who don't know, Trent Cherry is a pit crew member for the #12 team, who blogs on That's Racin' dot com.) Oh well, I would rather be depressively pessimistic and be pleasently surprised later than be manically optimistic and be bitterly disappointed later.

Thanks, Ryan Newman fans. I really was growing way too optimistic.

Gosh I'm hard on my favorite driver, but we are still under red flag conditions, and I am rambling like the guys on TV and radio are.

They have fired up the cars and will restart the race soon.

Interesting. Sam Hornish Jr's #77 car hit those barrels that hard, and they are getting him back out to finish the race.

Getting excited now. Will Smoke get Busch on the restart? In turn one? Or will he just play it safe and hang out for second place? Will he get an opportunity in the next five laps and take advantage of it? Or will he settle for second?

Busch floors it at the green and pulls ahead. Through the esses, Tony is catching him. The racing is going for fifth place, though. Harvick is trying to catch Truex. This is excellent racing. Allmendinger holds off Johnson for eighth position. This could be Allmendinger's best finish in his career. Will he be in that car next year, or will it be Scott Speed? Allmendinger is fighting well for that job right now.

2 laps to go and Johnson takes eighth, but holds off a charging Edwards for ninth. Ambrose is threatening Stewart for second, and Kyle takes the white flag, pulling away. Kyle Busch sweeps the road courses, Ambrose holds off Montoya for third, and Stewart gets second. Great race for the Tasmanian Devil. Hoy!

At the beginning of the season we had no inkling that Kyle Busch would be a road course ace. He has won at Mexico City, Sonoma, and Watkins Glen, giving him more road course wins in one season than any driver in NASCAR's history. Wow.

Nationwide Series puts on good show from Watkins Glen

It's been mentioned at Rev'Jim's RantsnRaves before, but these Nationwide Series races can be a lot of fun to watch. Saturday's Zippo 200 race at Watkins Glen was no exception, but it was exceptional.

Watkins Glen, as configured for NASCAR races, is less technical than the road courses at Sonoma, Mexico City, and Montreal. There are more passing points and the track is considered "racier" than other road courses in North America. At Watkins Glen, the drivers can be more aggressive.

There were a total of nineteen Cup drivers entered in the race--the four "claim jumpers" racing for the championship, and fifteen in the race to, according to Jimmie Johnson, "get more seat time" on a road course. Indeed, Johnson and most of the others, Matt Kenseth, Ryan Newman, and Jeff Burton, for instance, are drivers who have not performed well on road courses in the past.

Though the "European Style" qualifying didn't draw as many fans as it seemed to do in Canada, it still proved interesting in the final two sessions, as drivers continued to compete with each other during the four lap sessions to get the fastest time. After several changes in the provisional pole position, Dario Franchitti came out on top.

From the very start of the race, there was plenty of action. We know that there are many NASCAR fans who don't care for road racing, but if they missed this one, they missed a good one. The race actually looked more like a Martinsville race, with lots of pushing, shoving, and even some beating and banging.

The number of full course cautions through the teams off of any reverse engineered pit strategies, and this proved to be a factor in the outcome of the race. Before we get to that, however, there are a few events of note that happened during the race.

For example, around the halfway point, both Jimmie Johnson and Kyle Busch were penalized for pit violations and sent to the back of the field.It didn't take them long at all to get back to the front, and then Kyle did something that only Tony Stewart or short track frustration have been able to do in the past--that is to get race leader Jeff Burton so angry he went looking for retaliation. Busch attempted to pass Burton on the inside of a turn, but Burton was following his line, and clipped Busch's car, sending both of them spinning. They did not crash, however, and the race stayed green, with Busch taking the lead. Burton was on a mission, though, and was driving with an aggression which we have rarely seen from him. Busch knew what was coming, and try as he did to stay ahead, it proved to be difficult. The spin had thrown out the toe of his car, and it was not handling well enough for even a wheel man like Kyle Busch to hold the lead. Burton's retaliation was done expertly--a tap on the rear bumper to move Busch's car out of the way.

Let this be a lesson to all drivers--if you don't want to get beaten by Jeff Burton, don't make him mad.

Meanwhile, Joey Logano was disappointed in his own performance during the race, while running fourteenth, and he apologized to his crew chief, Dave Rogers, over the radio. Rogers replied with what has to be the "funny" of the race, saying something like, "One thing I never want to hear is somebody bad-mouthing my driver, even when it is my driver doing it."

Logano ended up finishing seventh.

Ryan Newman volunteered to drive the #22 car for Armando Fitz, without pay. Perhaps he was getting seat time in preparation for Sunday's race, or maybe he was getting used to driving second rate equipment, as he is expected to join Stewart Haas racing next year. Either way, he did well for himself, running in the top ten most of the race and finishing in twelfth place.

Jimmie Johnson was running second to Jeff Burton, with less than seven laps to go, but it was clear that he wouldn't have enough fuel to finish the race. The expected late-race caution never materialized, and it had been a while since most of the leaders had refueled. Marcos Ambrose was running third, and all he had to do was wait for Johnson and Burton to run out of fuel. Johnson ran out with four laps to go, and Burton ran out with two to go. Marcos Ambrose finally got his win.

Ambrose did a Kyle Busch style victory burnout, and Busch himself finished second. Brad Keselowski had an impressive sixth place finish, and Matt Kenseth proved that he can run on a road course, after all, by finishing third. Kevin Harvick, who was my pick to win finished fourth, and castaway Dario Franchitti got an impressive fifth place finish. Keselowski's finish placed him back in second place in the standings, 128 points behind Clint Bowyer, who still can't get the hang of road courses. Overall, the Nationwide Series regulars beat the claim jumpers and the experienced road course ringers, and that is something we like to see.

It's always great seeing a driver win for the first time in one of NASCAR's top tier series, and we knew that Marcos' time was coming. Now he really has something to smile about. It was a fun race, but it had to be seen to be believed. There was plenty of action throughout, and we have to say that NASCAR style racing fits in well with Watkins Glen. It is a shame it only happens once a year.

Friday, August 08, 2008

My Bad

I was thinking I had a notification subscription for Ron Fellows' podcasts, which had an item posted about them here.

So, I waited for an email notifying me when the next podcast was available, and never got one. Until Fellows won at Montreal last week, the podcasts were completely forgotten about.

So, during this time of selective amnesia, there have been three more podcasts posted at Sunoco's Canadian website. Since episode three has little about NASCAR and seems to be the dreaded infomercial I was worried about in the first place, I would suggest that episode be skipped, except for the talk about GM's role in NASCAR.

Episode 2 is a continuation of episode one, with more interesting discussion with TSN's (the network that broadcasts NASCAR races in Canada)Vic Rauter and some more great stories about racing.

Sunoco High Octane Audio with Ron Fellows Is an interesting program, and the fan can get a good idea of how much fun Fellows is as his tells of his own career and discusses racing in general. If you haven't listened to the program yet, please do--you will at least be pleasently surprised, and the discussions are rewarding for the serious race fan, no matter whom your favorite driver is. If you have listened to the show before, and like it, enjoy the new episodes.

I am not getting paid to plug this show. I simply like Ron Fellows, and I think his show deserves a listen.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

"Parity" doesn't have to restrict competition

From its very beginnings, NASCAR has attempted to impose parity among the teams participating in the races they sanction. From the very beginning, car owners and drivers have been trying to find a way to get an edge on the competition by going around the rules and finding "gray areas."

NASCAR began as a "strictly stock" series, where the only modifications allowed to the cars was to tape the headlights and bolt the doors shut. The "strictly stock" rules only lasted all of 1949 and 1950, because, after constantly having to disqualify cars because of modifications, NASCAR conceded to the owners that modifications were part of the competition.

Since then there have always been parameters within which the teams can modify their cars, but there has also been some leeway in which the teams can try to find a competitive edge. As the NASCAR version of the stock car evolved, so did the methods in which the teams and even the manufacturers "tweaked" their cars to make them run better than the competition. Notorious "tweakings" were Chrysler's Hemi engine, which was disallowed by NASCAR in the mid sixties, and Chrysler's flying wing, which was also disallowed by NASCAR in 1971, and resulted in Chrysler's withdrawal from NASCAR competition as a manufacturer.

In 2007, NASCAR began introducing what was then known as the "Car of Tomorrow" or CoT to the series. The idea behind the car was twofold--safety and parity. Now known as the "Car of Today (CoT)," the "Car of Right Now (CoRN)," or simply "the Cup car," absolutely no aerodynamic modifications to the body or the rear wing are allowed. In addition, NASCAR dictates what rear end gearing can be used, and how far the rear end tracking can be offset. This was supposed to even things up between the well financed and the not-so-well financed teams. It was also meant as a way to cut costs for the teams and sponsors.

While there have been some good races this year, most notably at Lowe's, Phoenix, Talladega, and Martinsville, the Cup car has shown that it still needs a lot of work. Often, "parity" becomes "mediocrity," as the cars are able to catch up to other cars, but unable to complete a pass while racing wheel to wheel. In order to leave the fans completely satisfied at a race, NASCAR needs to allow more competition by allowing the teams to do a little more with the aerodynamics, and allow some experimentation with the other aspects of the car. Until the introduction of the Cup car, the crew chiefs could custom fit the car's handling characteristics to the driver's wants and needs, but now, with specifications nearly as limited as they were in the "strictly stock" days, that has become much harder to do.

If NASCAR wants to find the competitive edge among the teams that would keep the fans happy, while maintaining some semblance of parity, they might want to consider administrively limiting the amount of money a team may spend on a car during the racing season. This would be similar to the salary caps imposed in other professional sports.

It has been estimated that it costs about $7 million to run one race car in the Sprint Cup Series for an entire season. That includes the construction of the car and its engines, testing costs, transportation, salaries, tires, repairs, and entry fees. "Testing" doesn't include wind tunnels and seven post shaker rigs, those are extra. If NASCAR were to limit all teams to $7,000,000 per car, if that were possible, that would be a type of parity. But there would still be engineers and crew chiefs on each team who would want to change something on the car, and they would. In that case there would still be competition within the limits of parity. The downside would be that, just as in the "parity" we see now, innovation would be strictly limited.

Of course, NASCAR is correct in not trying to impose spending. It probably would take too much administration, and would also be an overstepping of authority by the sanctioning body. The idea of the teams having their financial records under review by NASCAR would not sit well. The best sponsors want to see the teams they sponsor have a competitive edge, and will provide as much financial support as is needed. As private corporations, the teams and their sponsors would be free to go to another series and race at venues not sanctioned by NASCAR, if they didn't like the rules that NASCAR imposed. It would likely result in NASCAR losing its top notch participants, and tranfering their power and prestige to, for instance, a new sanctioning body organized by Bruton Smith.*

*In 2004, Bruton Smith was rumored to be involved with Cale Yarborough in forming a new series featuring more traditional style stock car racing than NASCAR offers, but the idea never got off the ground due to lack of interest by sponsors and team owners.

Something that would make the cars race better would be to have tires that were made for the Cup car. NASCAR is still using tires designed by Goodyear for the conventional racing stock car. Since the Cup car has far less downforce than the conventional car, the tires either provide not enough grip to make the car controllable at high speeds, as we saw earlier this year at Atlanta and Texas, or have a compound so soft it does not hold up to the rigors of the track itself, as we saw at Indianapolis and Las Vegas. The Cup car requires a wider tire that would provide more grip while using a rubber compound that would stand up to the track conditions.

Goodyear, who has an exclusive contract with NASCAR through 2012, is working on a tire that would fit the needs of the Cup car, but that tire is not expected to be available for two more years.
This leaves the responsibility for better racing now in the hands of NASCAR.

Putting louvered vents on the left side of the car that would allow air to pass through the oil tank container would give the car a little more downforce, without affecting the aerodynamic characteristics of the car itself. That would be a quick fix that would not require an overall redesign of the body, and would not be too expensive for the teams to implement. Several teams, including the #99 team of Roush-Fenway Racing, tried to get away with leaving the lid of the oil tank container loose to allow air to pass through, so it must be a good idea.

The most practical thing for NASCAR to do right now is to allow a little more adjustment. Raising the front splitter would provide a little more downforce on the front end of the car. NASCAR could allow more adjustment on the rear wing as well, giving the teams a little more leeway. The #66 and #70 teams got caught a few weeks ago trying to raise the rear wing by 1/32 inches, so, again, it must be a good idea.

At Lowe's, for the Coca Cola 600 this year, we saw some great racing. This could be attributed to the fact that NASCAR allowed the teams extensive testing at that track, and also allowed the teams to offset the rear tracking of the car by so much it seemed as thought the cars were crabwalking around the track. This required a tougher differential and rear axle, so, NASCAR, in trying to limit the cost to the teams, limited the rear end offset to 1/2 inch. If NASCAR could ease up on that restriction, and allow the teams up to 1/4 inch offset more, we may get to see, once again, the kind of racing we saw at Lowe's.

It was wrong, in our opinion, for NASCAR to design this car and then leave it up to the teams to figure out how to make it race well, without allowing more tolerance within which the teams could work than they have.

Granted, for the second time around at the tracks, the racing is expected to be better than the first time, because the teams have had some experience at those tracks. But it has become obvious that more testing is needed at each track before the teams race at each track, and NASCAR has promised that more testing will be allowed next year. They have said, however, that there will be no more testing scheduled for this year. The problem is now, and we fear that the final race of the season at Homestead may be a disaster of the kind we saw at Indianapolis.

NASCAR needs to listen to the feedback given them by the teams, and relax the rules just a little bit this year, rather than waiting until next year. Parity shouldn't mean supressing innovation. It seems that a little bit would go a long way toward better racing.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Live on Type Delay: Pocono II, Part Two

The track is dry and the race restarts with 67 laps to go. Kahne stays in the lead, and Hamlin stays in second. Mark Martin starts in fifth, with his usual negative attitude, and mashes the pedal and takes fourth from Kenseth within two laps. On lap 137, Paul "Daddy bought me this car" Menard and Joe Nemecheck tangle, and bring out a caution.

During the rain delay, Mark Martin seemed like he was giving up, even though he would be restarting in fifth. On both ESPN and MRN he gave the interviewers a concession speech, thanking his team for giving him such a great car, and apologizing for not getting it into Victory Lane. After the restart, though, he didn't seem as though he was giving up.

Come on let's get going before those thunderstorms get to the track.

Restart on lap 131. Nope, the caution stays out for rain. Restart on lap 132, because the rain isn't that bad. Kahne still leads. No restart, it is still sprinkling somewhere on the track. Getting the one to go again.

Hamlin is in second and Mark Martin is in third. 56 laps to go, but the restart is again delayed. The one to go signal is given again.

Stewart pitted on lap 128, which means he is good for one stop between now and the end of the race. Gordon is in the same boat. The teams that haven't pitted this cycle yet, will probably have to pit twice for fuel.

Restart with 55 to go, for real this time. Wow, the front two have taken off, and it looks like Hamlin is catching Kahne.

Before the lap is over, Montoya's engine lets go, but the race stays green.

Mark Martin has caught up with Hamlin and Kahne, and has entered the fray.

Oh man, I am cheering for Jr to hold his 9th place position against Jimmie Johnson. It is a good race, and in a wheel to wheel match up like this, I actually think Jr is the better driver. Jr does hold his position with 51 laps to go.

We are expecting green flag pit stops soon. This is going to be all about fuel strategy. There will be some dicey plays made. Most of the cars will pit around lap 160, and it will be taking a chance to try to make it to the end. Stewart and the others who took fuel on lap 128 will pit around lap 170 and will be good to the end.

Kasey Kahne takes for tires and fuel on lap 155, dropping out of the lead. Hamlin pitted as well, and Biffle takes the lead. Kurt Busch is second, Matt Kenseth third, and Scott Riggs is in fourth. Brian Vickers is in fifth. Wouldn't it make a lot of race fans mad if it rained enough to end the race now? Kurt Busch fans would be happy, though, and I would be happy to see Scott Riggs get a top five finish, but it would still be bad, because that would be what we think of as two incomplete Cup races in a row.

Carl Edwards has made his way back to the top five, and we know he is a contender to win. The other contender is Jimmie Johnson, and he is in sixth. The pit stops have begun in earnest now, so we will wait for the pit stops.

Wow, bad break for Kurt Busch. He was trying to gain distance before he pitted, and ran out of fuel going into turn three. The good news is that the entrance to the pit lane is at the end of turn three. The other bad news is his engine has stopped. The good news is that after fueling the engine restarts right away. The bad news is that the engine stalls and they have to push start the car.

That round of pit stops is over, and with 36 laps to go, Edwards leads, Tony Stewart is in second. Reid Sorenson runs out of gas. And the pit stop round part 2 begins as Kyle Busch pits.

With 34 laps to go, Edwards, Stewart, Newman, Gordon, and the others make what should be their final pit stop. After they exit, Johnson makes his final pit stop.

David Ragan holds the lead for a lap before he pits. This will be an interesting finish, because it seems like a little less than a quarter of the cars on the lead lap will make it to the finish, while the rest will either take a chance on a lucky break or stop for a gas and go before the end of the race.

Lap 169 and Jeff Burton has to take a drive through penalty for speeding in the pit lane. Meanwhile, on lap 171, Bill Elliott gets to lead a lap as pit stops continue. I bet the crowd went wild. That is cool, and I bet he is loving it. Wood Brothers does need that five bonus points.

With 26 laps to go, Kasey Kahne is back in the lead. Keep in mind that this is one of the teams taking a gamble.

Mark Martin is second, Greg Biffle is third, Hamlin fourth. Hamlin pits for fuel to get him to the end.

Scott Riggs is running sixth. Good for him. One of these days we will publish a post about why we like Scott Riggs. If we haven't already. Part of the reason is that he is one of the few of the current drivers who wasn't "given" a Cup ride. Like Mark Martin, he really had to work for it from the Busch Series. He was destined to be a career Nationwide Series driver, in other words, rather than being one of the talented and privileged who participated in that series just to keep their skills honed until their designated Cup ride was ready.

I should probably turn on the TV audio to see why they are paying so much attention to Tony Stewart, It seems that he has raced his way up to fifth place.

Biffle makes his final pit stop for tires and fuel At this point, I would guess the race for the win will be between Edwards, currently in third and Stewart in fifth, because Kenseth has to stop for fuel, and Kahne has to pit on lap 185 as well. Martin is now leading, but he will have to pit within the next four laps.

Mark Martin makes his stop on 187, giving Carl Edwards the lead, and Stewart second place. Johnson is in third. Now, MRN is saying that Edwards and Stewart might not be able to go the last twelve laps. But they pitted at 34 laps to go and that is about right for a fuel run.

No matter, the race is getting toward the jitters part now. This is the part where I start cheering for Smoke. This is the part where I say a win would be great, but if we make second, that would be pretty darn good. We know that the Toyota has been getting better mileage than the Ford's , so maybe something interesting will happen that doesn't involve bad luck for Smoke.

7 laps to go. Osborne, Edwards' crew chief is nervous. I think Carl is joking when he says "I haven't been saving (fuel) at all."

Or maybe not, he has a seven second lead over Tony Stewart. Five laps to go.

This particular Tony Stewart fan is very nervous, but that is good because it means it is a good race. Three laps to go.

Smoke is gaining a second per lap on Edwards, but it doesn't seem like enough time to catch him. Edwards is still five seconds ahead. Kyle Busch ran out of fuel, and has to pit.

One lap to go. Carl Edwards wins. I'm not going to stick around to watch him flip, though, so we will appreciate it if someone lets me know if he sprains his ankle on his landing.

Smoke finishes second, Johnson is third, Harvick is fourth and David Ragan is fifth. Great job for Harvick making up all that time after his problems early in the race. Unfortunately, Dale Jr ran out of gas on the final lap, and didn't make the top ten. He finished thirteenth.

Final thoughts:

After last week, any race would seem good. This Pennsylvania Red Cross 500 was fun. It wasn't the best race we have seen this season, but it was far from the worst.


During the red flag period, MRN radio interviewed Robert "Bootie" Barker, crew chief for the Haas-CNC #66 car of Scott Riggs. When asked if he planned any adjustments, Barker said, "I was going to ask you to make a track bar adjustment for me...the rule book says the teams can't work on the car during a red flag, but it doesn't say anything about MRN working on it."

Now that is thinking outside the box!

Barker just recently returned to duty after a six race suspension. He and Tony Stewart should get along just fine next year.

Live on Type Delay: Pocono II, Part One

Mark Martin takes the lead from the outside front row at the start of the race. The first caution comes out as the cars are exiting turn 2, and Kevin Harvick gets hit in the left rear by Joe Nemecheck, who immediately takes responsibility. Dayum, that's two weeks in a row for Kevin. He may be thinking of changing his name from "Happy" to "Hard Luck" Harvick. Harvick did a very good job of saving his car, and nobody hit him, so he is still in the race. Nemecheck broke the front splitter on his car, though, and that has to be repaired.

Restart on lap 6. Caution on lap 7 as Kurt Busch spins out for the second week in a row. It looked to me as though he lost traction as he accelerated out of the turn. It was a single car incident. Some cars opt to start at the end of the longest line by pitting.

Perhaps, because the time to the do or die race at Richmond is getting short, the drivers are being a little more aggressive at the beginning of the race than they would normally be in a 500 miler.

The race restarts on lap eleven, with Mark Martin in the lead, and Jimmie Johnson right behind him. They pull away from the field. Johnson tries to take the lead, can't make the move stick, and falls behind the leader. There is a great battle for third involving Ryan Newman, Jeff Gordon, and David Gilliland. Gilliland wins, Newman is in fourth and Gordon falls back to seventh. Earnhardt, Jr is looking good.

For eleventh place, a real battle is ensuing. Biffle, Stewart, and Vickers are racing three wide. Stewart is fighting a loose car and finds himself off roading through turn 2. Stewart loses two positions, and is dirt tracking around the turns, going sideways, and actually gaining ground. He looks like, well, a young Tony Stewart driving that car.

Meanwhile Mark Martin is fifteen car lengths ahead of Jimmie Johnson, and Johnson is wa-a-a-ay ahead of the rest of the field. The much needed competition caution comes on lap 21.

Pretty exciting race so far. Everybody will pit, and there may be differing strategies even this early in the race. Johnson takes two tires only and exits the pit lane first. Kyle Busch (take a shot, Kitten) also takes two, as do Jeff Gordon, Matt Kenseth, and David Reutimann. Waltrip stayed out, and will restart as the leader. I thought pit stops were mandatory during competition cautions, but I must be wrong.

Waltrip got his five bonus points and pits. The race restarts with Johnson, Kenseth, Gordon, Kyle Busch, and Greg Biffle, in that order. Martin quickly challenges Biffle and passes him,.Martin and Busch race side by side through the next lap, and Martin takes fourth. He quickly beats Jeff Gordon for third, and is now racing Matt Kenseth hard for second. He takes the second position on lap 28. It sure is fun watching Martin race like this.

Kyle Busch, in ninth, nearly hits the wall as his right front loses grip, but saves it, losing three spots, but quickly gets up to speed.

Johnson had been pretty far ahead of the field, but Mark Martin has caught him, and is running on his tail. David Gilliland is coming on strong, and takes fifth from Gordon.

Michael Waltrip needed those five bonus points. "Something is broken under the hood," and his car is on jack stands in the garage area.

Martin, meanwhile is stalking Johnson, and looking for a move to get around him. They have pulled away from third place Matt Kenseth and fourth place David Gilliland by about a second. For third position, it is Ford vs Ford and they are racing hard. This is fun, I'm telling you!

Gilliland takes third, and now Denny Hamlin (where did he come from?) is challenging Kenseth for fourth. Mark Martin has taken the lead from Johnson on lap 37. On lap 38, Hamlin passes Kenseth.

Early in the race, Juan Montoya was having ignition problems, possibly involving spark plug wires, and fell a lap down. He has now moved up into twenty third place.

Lap 42, and there is some more wild racing going on around tenth position on back. That must mean Kyle is trying to get back into the top ten, and that is the case. That car is loose, but loose never bothered the young driver.

Martin is three seconds ahead of Jimmie Johnson, so all the action is happening back in the field on lap 46. They have settled down beyond tenth position and that is now Kahne in tenth Ragan in eleventh, and Kyle Busch in twelfth. For Jr fans, Dale Jr has been holding steady in seventh place, then passes Jeff Gordon for sixth with Edwards falling in behind him. Gilliland has taken second place from Johnson, and everybody else seems to be doing a lot of sliding around the track. Pit stops expected in about five laps.

Kyle Busch pits first, takes four tires and an adjustment. Gilliland, Johnson, and Stewart pit on lap 53, all taking four tires and chassis adjustments. Most of the drivers are saying that their cars are tight, and front grip seems to be the general problem.

After the pit stops cycle through, Mark Martin is still in the lead, and seemingly unstoppable. Gilliland is in second and Johnson in third. I know what we are thinking, and it is a pretty exciting prospect, but it is still early in the race, and we shouldn't jinx anyone. But Martin is nearly six seconds ahead of the rest of the field after pit stops.

Commercials on both MRN and ESPN are leaving me temporarily blinded, but I needed a break.

Kasey Kahne got what he needed during those pit stops and is moving up quickly. He is going for two Pocono wins in a row , and he is getting the car to do it, if he could catch Mark Martin. Kahne is in fifth place as of lap 63. By lap 64, Kyle Busch has finally made it back to the top ten.

Caution for debris on lap 66. There must be real debris, because we couldn't understand NASCAR wanting the field to catch up to Mark Martin, as popular as a win by him would be. Yes, there's the debris. They brought the truck out to clean it up.

Martin chooses to pit, and everybody follows. Newman and Vickers take two tires, Edwards does as well, and exits pit lane first.

Scott Riggs, who started the race from the rear, gets to lead a lap and get his five bonus points before he pits.

Edwards restarts in first, and there is a mess of cars negotiating lapped traffic behind him. It is getting wild. They are trying to go into the tunnel turn three wide, and somehow make it through without mishap. It is so much fun watching these guys race four wide down the long front stretch. Jimmie Johnson and Mark Martin are racing back toward the front. Hamlin is also moving up quickly, and takes a position from Johnson. I can't tell you which position--there is a lot of action and moving around among the sixth through fourteenth positions. Wild stuff.

Up front, Edwards is still leading, with a serious challenge from Kahne. Dale Earnhardt, Jr is third, and Matt Kenseth is fourth.

Jr, in third place by himself is closing on the leaders during the commercial. His car seems to be among the best in the field. Biffle and Martin have now made it up to fifth and sixth positions. Now is lap 81. It is nice having a decent lap counter back where I can see it.

On television they are showing Dale Jr running to catch up to the leaders. He is not holding anything back, and we are seeing why it is so much fun to watch him drive.

The battle for fourth is heating up. Martin is moving on Biffle, and Biffle is moving on Kenseth. Then they settle down again without changing positions. Back in the rear, Nemecheck brushes the wall, but saves it while staying up to speed. Stewart has now gained twelve positions since the restart. We would like to say they have that 20 car in good shape now, but I don't want to bring bad luck to my driver. Another debris caution on lap 87.

Edwards waits until the last minute to make his move to pit lane, and there is some confusion going in. Differing pit strategies are still the order of the day. Jimmie Johnson exits the pits first. Jeff Gordon comes off the pit lane second, after taking two tires. Tony Stewart gains ten positions, also taking two and exiting the pit lane third. Martin seems to have run into some trouble in the pits and will restart seventeenth. Green flag on lap 92.

Jimmie and Jeff are racing for the lead side by side with Stewart just behind them. Johnson prevails, and now Tony Stewart and Jeff are racing side by side for second. Stewart almost makes it, but doesn't make it stick. Carl Edwards is on the move in fourth, while Hamlin, Kahne, Truex, and Earnhardt are fighting for sixth. Stewart loses third to Edwards, tries to take it back, but seems to lack the front grip he needs to complete the move. Kenseth then takes fourth, Jr has made sixth, and Stewart is trying to get fourth back from Kenseth. Maybe two tires wasn't that great of an idea, but you don't know until you take the gamble.

Blind again, because of commercials on both TV and Radio.

On lap 102 we are settling down again, and it's Johnson first, Edwards second, Earnhardt third, Jeff Gordon fourth, and Kenseth fifth. Behind them, it's Kahne, Hamlin, Stewart. On lap 103, Kahne takes fourth from Gordon.

Kyle Busch has taken ninth place from Greg Biffle. Edwards isn't letting Johnson get away from him, and Jr isn't letting Edwards get away. Jeff Gordon makes a move on Jr, but falls back in line. Kasey Kahne looks like a threat.

Hah! ESPN invented the "gopher cam" and they are reminding us of that.

Edwards is just behind Johnson during the commercial and is poised to take the lead. We still seem to have this problem with the Sprint Cup car in completing a pass. The nose of Edwards' car is right on Johnson's rear bumper as they exit turn two, and Edwards tries to pass coming out of turn three, but Johnson out powers him. Around turn one they go, side by side down the stretch, and Edward's takes the lead in turn 2.

Allmendinger makes an unscheduled stop after bouncing off the wall, but the next green flag pit stop is expected in about five laps or so. During the Kasey Kahne commercial, Kasey Kahne catches Gordon and passes him for fourth like he is standing still. If you can't see the action on TV, you might as well see a commercial featuring the driver who is performing the action.

Kyle Busch is the first to pit on schedule, on lap 118. The leaders come in on lap 119. Both Johnson and Edwards have four tire pit stops in just over 13 seconds. Good job by both crews. Edwards gets out first. Jr leads a lap and then has another great pit stop. The last group of stops, led by Kenseth, happens on lap 121. I love MRN's pit coverage, but the fingers just can't keep up with it.

After the cycle is complete, it looks pretty much the same as it did before. Edwards first, Johnson second, Jr third, Kahne fourth and Jeff Gordon fifth. Stewart is still hanging in there in eighth. It doesn't seem as though the #20 team is going for a win, just watching their points and staying in the top twelve. We don't know for sure--part of what we like to see Stewart do is hold his cards close to his chest until the time and opportunity comes to take the lead.

There are still seventy four laps to go, and it looks like we will get a rain delay. It doesn't seem as though this is the type of rain that will end the race, as it is not heading directly to the track. It will rain on turn 2 and then move off. The leaders are once again pitting. Two tires and fuel for Newman, Johnson, Earnhardt, Gordon, Edwards, and Stewart. Most of the others take four. Kahne, Kenseth, and Hamlin stay out, perhaps gambling that the rain could be enough to end the race.

Read my previous post and join me in a chorus of "Bring on the rain tires."

Just kidding. Rain tires could not hold up to speedway racing, no matter who makes them. That was just for fun.

It doesn't seem like it will rain enough to call the race, it is expected to pass in about twenty minutes, but we are under red flag right now.

A few thoughts: There is still a problem with the Sprint Cup Car in that we are seeing too much parity. As we saw at Texas, Atlanta, and Las Vegas, the cars can catch each other but they can't pass. A remedy to both this problem, and further problems such as the one we saw last week, would be to give the teams more leeway in tweaking the car. ESPN's Terry Blount has been advocating this for quite a while, as has this blogger.

When NASCAR first began, it was with "strictly stock," and there was no leeway given the teams at all, and NASCAR seems to be back in that position. They are looking for ways to bring back better competition, and I say they shouldn't put so much emphasis on parity, and put more on competition.

This is not the end of this race, but it is the end of this post. More later.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

NASCAR's first points race in the rain

It is much better to be sceptical of something, and be pleasently surprised afterwards, than it is to be optimistic and be bitterly disappointed. This is what we have learned over the last two weeks.

NASCAR had to have a lot of guts to experiment so soon after the tragic excuse for a race at the Brickyard last week. As far as this fan is concerned, it paid off.

NASCAR's experiment was the Nationwide Series NAPA 200 race in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. Since rain was forecast in the area, NASCAR made the decision earlier this week to go with rain tires if they needed to. They did need them eight laps into the race.

There were some stumbles, and a little bit of stammering. But they somehow got it right. The first competition turn in the rain was not the disaster predicted by some--nobody crashed on the first turn--and there was actually some passing. In fact, Marcos Ambrose immediately passed Scott Pruett for the lead.

One of the things the teams learned was that, in the rain, they wanted the car to roll more as it turned, as the weight shift actually helped the car through the turns. So, some teams disconnected the sway bars when they switched tires. When it became evident that the track would stay wet, the other teams followed suit.

There were very few mishaps under green, and more racing than was expected. The drivers who had little experience in rain, gradually learned what they could and could not do, while the ran veterans ran quite competitively. Marcos Ambrose took a huge lead, but there was plenty of hard racing going on for second through tenth places behind him.

There were actually green-flag pit stops. Ron Fellows, driving the #5 car for JR Motorsports, pitted for fuel twelve laps ahead of schedule, hoping to gain positions when the other teams pitted. While the rest of the field pitted, beginning with around thirty-four laps to go, some teams took tires, while others took fuel only, and others had to stay in the pits to fix the windshield wipers or disengage the sway bars, if they hadn't already done so. Marcos Ambrose got caught speeding, on both the entry and exit on the pit lane. The drive through penalty didn't hurt him that much, as, after the pit stops cycled through, he came out in third. But third place was forty-seven seconds behind race leader Ron Fellows at that point.

Then the rain started to come down very hard. There is a point where the race just has to stop because of too much rain. The visibility was very bad, between the rain and the lack of light, so the caution came out. The visibility was so bad that Jaques Villeneuve hit the car in front of him, under caution, hard enough to damage his car beyond the ability to finish the race. This is where we learned that there is not much difference at all between a Villleneuve fan from Quebec and a Dale Earnhardt, Jr. fan from North Carolina. The stands more than half-emptied at that point as the disappionted Villeneuve fans decided the race was over for them.

As it turned out, the race was over for everybody. Joey Logano, who had been doing a spectacular job in his first road race and rain race, running as high as fifth, lost traction, still under caution, and hit the wall hard. NASCAR red-flagged the race with 23 laps to go, giving Fellows his fourth Nationwide Series victory. Not bad for a part-time driver.

NASCAR's first ever points race in the rain was not a disappointment. We really didn't think the 3400 lb cars could put on a decent show in wet conditions, but they did. It wasn't the jump-up-and- down-yell-at-the-TV-set good of the the races we saw at Phoenix, Talladega, Lowe's, Richmond, and Martinsville, but it was chuckle-in-appreciation-and-rub-the-hands-together-in-gleeful-satisfaction good. There was more action than anticipated, and less tragedy than expected. And plenty of drama.

NASCAR had to put on a good show after the Brickyard, and, even though it wasn't the best race ever, making history was good this time.