Monday, September 01, 2008

Live on Type Delay: The Pepsi 500

A few pre-race thoughts and commentary:

This is one of those races which many NASCAR racing fans consider boring. It is our contention that racing can't be boring--there is always something going on.

Granted, the characteristics of Auto Club (aka California) Speedway result in single file racing with the leader so far ahead of the pack he seems to be in a different time zone. NASCAR fans and track promotors don't like that, so NASCAR often calls phantom debris cautions to tighten the field up. NASCAR fans don't like that either, but they can't have it both ways.

The Pepsi (aka California) 500 is not a Gran Prix, but the type of racing we expect to see there is similar to the type of racing that draws over 300,000,000 fans world-wide to Formula 1. The idea is not necessarily to win from the start of the race, but to strategize and plan for the end of the race. 400 of the 500 miles is spent setting up the car and the fuel and tire strategies toward having the car that can win at the end of the race.This can result in some interesting and exciting situations in the final laps. The changing conditions as the sun sets and the track cools add to the challenge.

Don't forget, there is always something happening behind the leaders as the other teams try to attain and maintain position that will put them in the contest for the win at the end of the race. This is where the potential winner does not want to be, as traffic often gets congested and accidents happen.

We don't expect to change anybody's mind about this kind of racing--most NASCAR fans prefer side by side racing and multiple lead changes to strategy races, but we would like to remind those fans that the Coca Cola 600 earlier this year turned out to be very exciting, and that is the NASCAR Cup race most like what we will probably see tonight in California. Look at it this way--it has to be better than the Brickyard was this year, or the rain fiasco at the same track in February.

A shout out to our fellow NASCAR blogging friends in California. Be sure to check out Amy's Bad Groove, The Fast and the Fabulous, Diary of a Track Bunny, and Restrictor-Plate This.

Once again, we will not have the aid of MRN in reporting this race, so we will do our best to present it in a way that will put you there, using only what the television broadcast offers and our memories of what racing is like, with some help from our imagination.

Drew Carey is a Marine, and he sounds like one as he gives the command to start engines. I love it. Kevin James set the bar for Grand Marshalls in giving the command, and Carey wasn't afraid to try to surpass that.

Last night, Kyle Busch became the first driver in the Nationwide Series to win from the poll at Auto Club Speedway, and Jimmie Johnson will be trying to be the first pole sitter to do so in the Cup Series.

Green flag, and Allendinger, who started outside of the front row, is side by side with pole sitter Jimmie Johnson. Johnson finally clears for the lead on lap 2.There has been some agressive racing from p-7 on back as many drivers, including Kyle Busch, make an early charge toward the front. Lap 4 and Jamie McMurray cuts a tire, bringing out the caution.

This restart will be single file, as no one hase gone a lap down yet. Fun stuff--Reutimann, Blaney and Kurt Busch go three-wide racing for eighth place at the restart on lap 10. Kyle Busch moves into sixth during lap 11. There are a lot of position changes from sixth on back, as everybody wants to get to the frunt. Dale Jr has moved into the top ten. Martin Truex, Jr moves up even more and takes fifth place. After the tires warm up, David Reutimann speeds past Kyle Busch and takes sixth position. Lap 15, and there is still plenty of action among the top ten cars, and it seems as though it will not stop soon.

Debris caution and the debris is a caution light. Didn't this happen at California earlier this year? That light just fell right off. Luckily, it didn't fall on top of a car. The caution came out on lap 21, and the leaders pit this time.

I stand corrected, it was New Hampshire where the caution light fell.

Nothing new on the restart. Jimmie Johnson is first, Kasey Kahne second, AJ Allmendinger hanging in there in third, and before the restart lap is finished a lot of positions have changed. Restart was on lap 25, and there was a lot of racing, still, in the top ten. This allowed Jimmie Johnson to move away.

Brian Vickers has moved into fourth, right behind his Red Bull team mate. Allmendinger (AJ) takes second from Kahne on lap 27, and Vickers takes third. Kahne has fallen back to fifth by lap 32, as Biffle moves into fourth. On lap 34, Vickers takes second, and Dale Jr is in sixth. Kyle Busch has fallen back to ninth. This is a reminder that, in the Sprint Cup car, at least, flat tracks are not Busch's forte.

AJ and Vickers are still racing side by side, and are catching Jimmie Johnson, who, at one point, was four seconds ahead of the pack.

Lap 44, and Kurt Busch loses his left rear tire after contact with Martin Truex, Jr. Busch makes an excellent save, keeping his car from hitting anything. The caution is out, and just about everybody pits. With the Red Bull drivers being as competitive against each other as they have been, the restart should be interesting.

This race has not settled down yet. Off the pits, Biffle has taken second, and AJ is in third, Vickers fourth, and Junior is in fifth. Montoya, Carpentier, and Riggs all had some good stops, moving into the top twenty. Marcos Ambrose, who started the race near the back is also racing to get into the top twenty.

Happy Harvick is happy, having started way back in the field, he is contesting fourth position with AJ Allmendinger. Lap 53, and he is racing Brian Vickers for third. Earnhardt, Jr has fallen all the way back to fifteenth. but back in tenth through fourteenth positions, Stewart, Kyle Busch, Jeff Burton, Matt Kenseth, David Reutimann, and a few others are engaged in some racing, all trying to get into the top ten. The racing back there seems pretty clean, so these guys understand it is still early.

Jimmie Johnson is about half a mile ahead of everybody else on lap 59. That may be an exaggeration, but it sure looks like it from the airial view. By lap 63, Denny Hamlin has moved into fifth, Kasey Kahne, who a few moments ago was as far back as eleventh, has grabbed sixth. The fourth caution waves on lap 69, as Joe Nemecheck loses control of his car and hit the SAFER barrier hard.

Johnson comes off the pit road first, Biffle is still in second, and Denny Hamlin's crew got him out in third. It looks like Harvick comes out in fourth. AJ Allmendinger lost positions during the pit stops. I wonder if it isn't too early to make adjustments before the sun sets, but some teams seem to be making adjustments. This is one of the different strategies different teams use--some adjust gradually to keep up with the track, while others set up earlier for the cooler track that will come later, and wait for that later time before they make adjustments.

Restart on lap 74, and on lap 75, Da Biff, Greg Biffle, is giving leader Jimmie Johnson a run for his money. We can see the track is still slick as Biffle bobbles a bit, and Hamlin challenges him for second.

Meanwhile, we are watching Junior trying to hang on to a top fifteen position. We can't say enough how much we appreciate Jr's ability to handle a pos (peice of bad word) car. It isn't good news for Earhardt, Jr fans, but if this wasn't Jr driving this car it would probably be at least a lap down. Jr is The Man when it comes to car control. Of course, he has had plenty of practice.

By lap 90, things have finally settled down some, though there are still a few movers, such as Juan Pablo Montoya.

I can't believe Texoco/Havoline is withdrawing its sponsorship after all these years. One would think that with all the bad rap the American oil companies are getting, they would want to increase sponsorship for PR purposes.

Lap 102, and there will soon be pit stops under the green flag, for the first time in the race. This is where the adjustments for a cooler track will be fine tuned, most likely, as the sun is setting.

Lap 110 and green flag pit stops begin. Jr comes in on lap 111, and they make some adjustments for him. He seems to have trouble in the pits, and is slow getting out. The leader pits on lap 112, as does Brian Vickers. Hamlin's a taker on lap 112, as does Biffle. David Ragan, this year's media darling, and Matt Kenseth pit on lap 113 and 114. Jeff Gordon plays it smart and stays out for 5 bonus points for leading a lap, before he pits on lap 116. After the pit stops cycle through, Jimmie Johnson is still in the lead.

Biffle retains second place, Hamlin in third, Vickers fourth and Harvick fifth. Vickers gets third from Hamlin after a few laps. Kahne is is fifth, and it looks like Harvick in sixth on lap 123.

Lap 124, and Harvick passes Kahne for fifth. Stewart has moved up to eleventh place, so his car may be settling in to the track conditions, or visa versa.

Just before scheduled green flag pit stops, there is a caution. Everybody will pit at the same time, at least the eighteen cars on the lead lap will. Johnson comes off first, Biffle second, Harvick third, Hamlin fourth and Vickers is fifth. Tony Stewart has entered the top ten. Restart with 97 laps to go.

Wow look at Smoke go! He has gained two spots in one lap. We are also seeing some good racing between David Ragan and Clint Bowyer having a one on one race within a race for the top twelve.

With 93 laps to go, Dale Earnhardt Jr is officially in the Chase for the Chanpionship. He has enough points now that he doesn't have to worry about what happens at Richmond.

The sixth caution, for another fallen light, comes on lap 160. The leaders all pit. This time Edwards holds fifth place, with Johnson, Biffle, Hamlin, and Harvick in front of him. Biffle comes out in the lead, Edwards second, Allmendinger third, Vickers fourth, and Ryan Newman fifth, all taking gambles by taking fuel only or two tires only.

Restart with 85 laps to go. The cars are bunched up three wide all the way through the field, but Johnson, with four tires, catches third place quickly, and with 84 laps to go, retakes the lead.

With seventy laps to go, Robby Gordon nips the wall and spins, bringing out the seventh caution. If everybody pits now, there will be one more stop before the end of the race.

We have yelled "Turn Right, Jimmie!" 98 times this race, but he didn't listen. Now, there is a mistake in the pits by his team, something that very rarely happens, and Johnson will restart fourth. Reutimann didn't pit and restarts in the lead with sixty-four laps to go. Biffle is second, Edwards is third. After the restart, Johnson is in fourth, then quickly moves into second, and takes the lead from Greg Biffle with 62 laps to go. The 48 team can not do anything wrong. Even when they do something wrong, it doesn't turn out that way. Once again we are reminded why Jimmie Johndon is a back-to back-champion.

40 laps to go, and, if there is no caution, we should see the "money" pit stops begin in ten to twelve laps. We are beginning to feel that, even if Jimmie Johnson did accidently turn right, he would still somehow win this race.

33 laps to go, and, just in time, Marcos Ambrose hits the wall and brings out a caution. This is just about right for fuel mileage, so this caution takes that out of the equation. The outcome of this race will depend on the next restart. Biffle comes out first, Johnson second, Hamlin is lining up in third, Edwards is fourth, and Harvick is fifth.

This should be good. Biffle will not give up the lead easily. Biffle gets a good restart with 28 laps to go, but Johnson gets a good run on him off of turn two, then goes in deep on turn three and passes for the lead on the inside. We have exciting chase contending racing going on back in tenth and eleventh, between Bowyer and Ragan. Any of these other cars they are racing against three wide, could actually ruin their chances of making the chase. Just something to keep the anxiety going.

There have been times where this was a better race that the one we saw at Michigan a few weeks ago. This might be one of them, with seventeen laps to go, as Biffle seems to be catching Johnson.
It seems that debris on the grill was what was making Biffle's car faster, and as soon as it blew off, his car slowed down. At least we didn't hear the "grilled hot dog wrapper" groaner this time. Yes, that was supposed to be a pun.

Now Biffle has found a line that is making him faster than Johnson, and is running faster laps. This is why we stay until the end of a race. Trying to catch the leader is drama, to steal a concept from TNT.

Ten laps to go, and Da Biff doesn't look like he could catch Johnson. It is fun watching Biffle drive like we know he can drive. It reminds you a little of Kyle Busch, doesn't it? He really does use the entire track, something we noticed years ago, when we watched him at PPIR.

2 laps to go and we are giving Johnson the win. The 48 team was incredible, and demonstrated why they are the defending champions.

We were prepared to write that this actually was a better race than the one we saw at Michigan, but, in the end, we can't say that is true. It is close, maybe even identical, but it doesn't make it better. Still it was fun, and we will never say it was boring. If it was boring, then it wouldn't be racing.

Richmond should be quite exciting, and we are very much looking forward to next week's race. Nobody should be able to mess that up!

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