Sunday, September 14, 2008

Live on Type Delay: The Sylvania 300

Pre-race thoughts:
I knew before I woke up that it was a dream. The cars were set up so they went up on two wheels, Joey Chitwood style, as they took the turns at Concord. Though it was exciting to watch, even in the dream I realized there is no racing advantage to that, and besides, they call it Loudon, even though Concord, NH is the closest major city. But my subconscious did have all the car numbers, sponsors and drivers correct, and it was fun. The hard reality I had to face after I woke up is that I do not have a Keith Richards 1970's style shag haircut, but more like a Keith Richards 1990's messy hippie style haircut without the debris. Okay, some debris--cat hair--because like any loyal, faithful guard pet, my cats like to sleep as close to my head as possible.

Sometimes it seems that New Hampshire Motor Speedway needs something like Joey Chitwood to make it more exciting. It looks like a big Martinsville, but races like a small California. It is rumored--actually expected--that Bruton Smith, the new owner will reconfigure the track, perhaps add some more banking, to change the way the track is raced. I don't know how much change we really want to see. As it is, it is a thinking man's track, because it presents a very real challenge in passing and in saving brakes and tires. It definitely emphasis's a team effort, and it really doesn't make any difference if it is the Sprint Cup car or the conventional car racing on the track--we expect to see a single file line of cars through most of the race.

But what makes it exciting today is that it is the first race of the Chase, and things can happen. Last year, we expected the Chase teams to be cautious, and they weren't. They took off racing each other hard, and raced aggressively throughout the event. Clint Bowyer, in his first Chase for the Championship got his first career victory at the end.

The rain has moved out, the track is being dried, and it looks like the race may start on schedule. The anticipation is building.

Hooray for the wonderful harmonies of Diamond Rio singing the National Anthem. Wonderful. We're ready to go. We welcome back PRN to help us with this report. It turns out that an old portable radio I've had for 20 years has the best AM reception of any radio in my house.

John McCain makes his obligatory NASCAR appearance. Senator Obama was planning earlier this year to make such an appearance, but his campaign decided that NASCAR wasn't politically correct for him.

The Race:
Since the teams are lined up by points standings, because of a washed out qualifying, Kyle Busch leads the first lap. Edwards and Busch are racing hard for the lead by lap three, and they are going door to door. Edwards takes the lead on lap 5. Further back, Clint Bowyer and Dale Junior are racing for third and fourth, and we get a four way battle for second as Junior, Bowyer, Stewart and Kyle Busch are racing for second. By lap 9, Bowyer prevails for second, and Stewart starts third. While this was going on, Carl Edwards gains two seconds on the rest of the pack. On lap 12, Dale Earnhardt, Jr passes Busch for fourth, and there was some good racing there as well.

Busch has a car that is not handling well, and that must be very out of kilter for Busch to be falling back, because an ill handling car usually doesn't hamper him. Jimmie Johnson takes fifth from him on lap 14. Harvick is also battling a very loose car and has lost eleven spots. There will be a competition yellow on lap 35 so some of these guys may be able to fix what needs to be fixed then.

Both PRN and ESPN are reporting a broken sway arm on the #18 car, so that is going to take some repair. A bad start for the chase for the points leader. Meanwhile on lap 23, Smoke takes the number two spot from Bowyer, and Edwards leads Stewart by a little over two seconds. Johnson and Earnhardt are battling for fourth at this point. Jr prevails and passes Bowyer for third. Johnson is still in fifth.

On lap 31, Busch has dropped back to 22nd, but as Edwards reaches lapped traffic, Tony Stewart has gained on him. Smoke is within three car lengths of Edwards on lap 34, and he is running a little loose. There should be a caution soon. Logano gets the lucky dog, and you know there will be a lot of adjustments made in the pits.

Edwards comes off of pit road first, Tony second, Johnson gains two positions and comes off third, and Denny Hamlin picked up five positions to come off of pit road fourth. Logano gets a penalty for leaving his pit box with the jack still under the car, which shows how eager to compete this kid is. Kyle Busch's team brings out the jack stands, meaning some extensive repairs are under way. Newman gets a speeding penalty.

Restart on lap 40, and Stewart is pressuring Edwards for the lead with Jimmie Johnson right behind him. Earnhardt Jr, Clint Bowyer, Greg Biffle and Jeff Burton are battling Travis Kvapil for sixth, and Earnhardt gets that position, while the TV audience is getting a techsplanation about sway bars. Johnson takes second on lap 47. Edwards has moved way ahead at this point. Stewart isn't going to let Johnson keep second for long. We are loving all this racing.

Kurt Busch has his #2 car in fourth, having taken that position from Denny Hamlin. Jr is battling Hamlin for fifth. Johnson seems to have the fastest car at this point, as he is moving away from Stewart and catching up to Edwards.

PRN is already declaring this Kyle Busch's mulligan, and we are tending to agree with them. That car is obviously broken. We're having to work with mute buttons a lot here because PRN seems to have a lot more advertising than MRN does, and this is PRN's week for broadcasting. Both PRN and NHMS are owned by Bruton Smith's Speedway Motorsports Inc.

Jeff Gordon's troubles in the pits aren't over either, as he lost five positions in the pits and hasn't been able to gain any positions since the restart. Junior is running in fifth as Kyle Busch is about to go two laps down.

Jimmie Johnson takes the lead on lap 65. And Edwards seems to be slowing down. PRN reports Edwards is just a little tight and not taking chances. He is doing well for a team that hasn't done that well at flat tracks, other than the 1.5 and 2 mile "cookie cutters."

So it is Johnson who puts Kyle two laps down. Stewart is now catching the 48 car, on lap 72. He is now within three car lengths of the leader. Lap 73 and he is closing. It looks like the 20 team has the car for the long runs. Kurt Busch is in third, and Edwards has fallen back to fourth. Earnhardt Jr is in fifth and Hamlin in sixth. Sheesh PRN has more commercials than ABC.

Kyle Busch is now dead last in p-43, and we expect his day to be over soon. It is possible that team is waiting for somebody else to drop out of the race first, so they don't have to finish last.

Stewart isn't letting Johnson get away, after 80 laps, but he isn't gaining on him, either. Kyle Busch finally hits something on lap 83, and that something is Jamie McMurray and David Ragan. Watching it on television now, and it looks like the 26 hit the 6, which hit the 18 while it was spinning. And the leaders all pit, of course.

Well, Johnson came out first, Stewart second, but Stewart hit something coming off of pit road, and had to pit for repairs, but doesn't lose a lap. So Junior restarts in second on lap 89, and takes the lead from Johnson before that lap is over.

I really thought Petree said "Damn pit boxes," while describing Smoke's bad luck in the pits--he hit the #70 car leaving the pit box--but he said "Damp pit boxes." Damned damp pit boxes.

Jeff Gordon is still way back in 14th place. At least he and Smoke are having better luck than Kyle.
Kevin Harvick has found something in his car, after struggling in the first two stints, and has moved up to 11th. There are 200 laps to go.

Hamlin takes fifth on lap 105, and Greg Biffle is running fourth. Kurt Busch is crashing the Chase party in third, and Johnson trails Earnhardt by about four car lengths. Good racing on lap 11 as Biffle is chasing Kurt for third, about a full straightaway behind Johnson and Earnhardt. Biffle takes third. Stewart has already gained twelve positions since the restart. Still plenty of time, so we are not panicking yet.

Lap 126 and Da Biff, Greg Biffle, takes second from Johnson. That #16 car is running well, and many sportswriters, bloggers, and telejournalists have picked Da Biff as the Chase dark horse, and right now it looks like a good pick. I really want to like Biffle, but, for some unknown reason I can't.

Harvick's car still isn't as good as we thought, and is still hanging out in fourteenth, while Gordon has made it up to eleventh. Sheesh, every time I mute the TV for a commercial, PRN is running a commercial. I forgot how much the PRN announcers are beholden to word association. "Depending on how many cautions we have, this could turn into a fuel mileage race. Speaking of fuel mileage, Sunoco gasoline actually prevents fuel evaporation, etc."

Lap 147 and Dale Jr is gaining on the field, extending his lead by a little over three and a half seconds. We are prepping for some green flag pit stops at this time. At the halfway point, Junior is first, Johnson is second, Biffle third, and Hamlin fourth. Now, on lap 155 Biffle shoots past Johnson, then takes to the pits. Hamlin pits on 157, takes four, and leaves after 14.8 seconds, a slower stop than Biffle's. Gordon also pits, and Jr comes in on lap 158, Gordon gets blocked by Robby Gordon, and has to back up again before he can exit. Holy crap, the 88 team loses a tire, and that holds up the leader. Stewart gets caught for speeding, dammit. No problems for Johnson, though. This is not good for Stewart, did he lose a lap? After all this chaos, Biffle ends up in the lead, and Junior comes out of it all in second, even after the delay in the pits. Denny Hamlin is in third, and Johnson is fourth.

Stewart is a lap down in thirtieth. Argh.

Junior is racing Biffle during the TV commercial and passes him on the outside on lap 165. Johnson and Hamlin are fighting for third. This has been a good race so far. Lots of action, and some drama. The wrong kind of drama for this Tony Stewart fan, but he isn't the only one having problems.

The TV was on mute, so we didn't get to hear what Jeff said about Robby. we are willing to bet it was pretty good, as that was the second time Gordon blocked Gordon in the pits.

Hamlin takes third from Johnson on lap 173, and Biffle is still racing Earnhardt. Jimmie Johnson gets his position back. Biffle takes the lead on lap 175, but Jr is racing him back. This is cool.

Jr retakes the lead, then loses it again to Biffle and falls back to fourth. It still seems like the 88 team has long run problems. Now, on lap 190, Biffle is first, Johnson second, Hamlin third, and Earnhardt loses fourth to a charging Jeff Burton. Kurt Busch is in sixth, but moves into fifth on lap 196. Now Edwards is about to pass Jr for sixth.

Stewart is trying to get to the front of the lap down cars, but the leaders keep lapping more cars, and that makes it difficult. Junior is still falling back. It seems to be a bad set of tires that is plaguing him.

On lap 210, Johnson has caught Biffle and threatens a pass a few times. they are still lapping cars, much to this Stewart fan's disappointment. Caution for debris, and Johnson comes out first, Hamlin is second, and Greg Biffle is third. Junior comes out in sixth, and maybe his problems were repaired.


I know you spent a lot of money on your tech center, but do we really need so much Tim Brewer? He gets repetitive and we get it already.

Not quite a fan of ESPN

Stewart races his way to the front of the lapped cars on the restart, and gets the lucky dawg as Joe Nemecheck spins and hits the wall. Somebody put Nemecheck there and he is not happy.

Wow, Hamlin drops out of second place to pit for tires. He is the only one of the lead lap cars to pit, and comes out eighteenth. Mike Ford, Hamlin's crew chief is trying to do fuel strategy. He thinks they can make it to the end with 75 laps left. Oh, they had to stop anyway because of a cut on the left rear tire.

So, Johnson is first, Biffle second, Edwards is third, Burton fourth and Earnhardt restarts in fifth with 73 laps to go and now there is a big wreck in turn four at the rear of the field, and suddenly Matt Kenseth is the Chase driver with the worst luck of the day.

Talk about debris on the grill, Kyle Busch picked up the commitment cone while trying to avoid the wreck, which involved McCumbee, Kenseth, Mears, Brian Vickers, and David Gilliland. Clint Bowyer, Denny Hamlin, Jeff Gordon, and Tony Stewart dodged that bullet, as well as Kyle Busch, running eleven laps down now. The race is red flagged for clean up. ABC/ESPN says five cars were involved in the wreck, but we are missing one.

Fuel strategy is out the window, now, as the caution should allow all cars to save fuel.

The race restarts with 66 laps to go. Johnson is in first, Biffle second, Edwards third, Burton fourth and Earnhardt, Jr is fifth. Biffle is giving Johnson a great run for the lead, but can't pass him.

With 51 laps to go, Tony Stewart is on a mission, and has already moved up to twelfth spot. Kurt Busch is in sixth, Martin Truex, Jr is seventh, Jeff Gordon is finally in the top ten in eighth, Kevin Harvick ninth, and Clint Bowyer tenth. Johnson is now five or six car lengths ahead of Greg Biffle.

Dear Jimmie Johnson,

Please turn right

Not quite a Jimmie Johnson fan

P.S. If you don't want to turn right, please run out of fuel. That would be okay.

We just realized we may want to send a similar letter to Eddie Haskell Carl Edwards.

A.J. Allmendinger gets crowded by, or crowds, Michael McDowell, and brings out a caution with 33 laps to go. The first nine cars do not pit. Stewart is the first car to stop for fuel and two tires, . Stewart came in out of twelfth, and this could work to his advantage. He actually will restart in tenth, so he gained two spots in the pits. The front five cars remain the same--Johnson, Biffle, Edwards, Burton and Junior.

It is so much fun watching Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart race each other for eighth. They are fighting hard, and Smoke finally gets it with 22 to go. Also fun is watching Junior and Burton racing for fourth. Burton is racing more aggressively than we are accustomed to, but Junior gets the spot. Caution with 20 to go as David Ragan spins.

Bowyer is the only Chaser to pit this caution, as they have fallen back to the tail end of the lead lap anyway. Restart with 18 to go. Immediately, Patrick Carpentier spins, eh, and Jeff Gordon really dodges that bullet, showing why he is considered great. He gets his car sideways avoiding the spin just in front of him, but makes it around without spinning himself or hitting anything. Great save, Jeff.

Restart with 13 to go, and the top five remain the same, except Burton got fourth back before the caution. Biffle takes the lead with 9 to go and we are getting some good hard racing between Da Biff and Johnson. Junior is trying to catch Burton, and this is damgood racing!

Dear NASCAR Drivers,

I find it hard to sit and type while such great racing is happening toward the end of the race. I am not complaining. Please keep up the good work.

An Avid Fan

Da Biff wins, Johnson is second, Edwards third, Burton fourth, and Junior is fifth. Kurt Busch crashes the Chase party finishing sixth, and Truex is another party crasher in seventh. Tony Stewart made a great come back after his early race troubles and finishes eighth, and he did get five bonus points for leading a lap earlier in the race.

Final thoughts:

This race was better than expected. There was not a dull moment the entire race, and it did something we always like to see in the Chase--it shook up the standings. If we can see the rest of the races this season compare to this one, we are in for one exciting Chase for the Championship.

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