Sunday, August 03, 2008

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.

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