Sunday, October 26, 2008

Live on Type Delay: The Pep Boys 500 (Atlanta)

This weekend has already given us some exciting finishes. In the Craftsman Truck Series race at Atlanta, Ron Hornaday, second place in the Truck Series championship points, dominated the race, but found himself in a tough battle with his temporary team mate, Ryan Newman Newman caught him and raced him clean and hard for several laps, clinching the lead in turn two of the final lap. In his first CTS race of his career Rocket Ryan Newman won after an exciting closing race.

Meanwhile, in Memphis, David Reutimann opted to race Eddie Haskell Carl Edwards clean, not the way Mr.Personality would have raced if the situation were reversed, and blew his chance to repeat his performance at Memphis last year. This isn't me, Reutimann himself said he should have done it, because he knew that Edwards would have done it had it been the other way around. Even the TV commentators said that it would take a bump and run for Reut to win the race.

But it was exciting to watch as the race ran right down to the wire with Reutimann just off of Edward's bumper.

Today's Pep Boys 500 at Atlanta starts out promising more excitement. Jeff Burton, starting in third gets a bad start and the field has to spread out behind him. Right from the start, Carl Edwards quickly moves up to second and is challenging Jimmie Johnson for the lead before the first lap is over. Greg Biffle, who started second according to points, is also challenging for the lead by lap three, then Bill Elliott and Sam Hornish, Jr get crossed up and bring out the first caution of the race.

The race restarts on lap eight, with Johnson first, Edwards second and Biffle third. The front three quickly widen the gap between themselves and the rest of the field. Edwards' charge forward is more aggressive than Jimmie Johnson's protection of his lead--smart for Johnson this early in the race--and Edwards breezes into the lead on lap 20.

Caution on lap 36, as Scott Riggs brushes the wall, and everybody pits. The restart is on lap 38, with Johnson, Edwards, Biffle, Jeff Gordon, and Matt Kenseth are the top five at the green flag. Edwards immediately races Johnson for the lead at the drop of the green, and Matt Kenseth tries to take fourth from Gordon, as Dale Jr, who restarted sixth, battles for the fifth spot. This is good racing among the top five.

Edwards retakes the lead on lap 46, as Kenseth takes third place. Jeff Gordon has moved back into fourth, and Denny Hamlin has taken fifth. Tony Stewart started the race with a tight car, and had fallen back to seventeenth prior to the second caution, but some adjustments were made and he has moved into fourteenth. Kyle Busch also had a poor start to the race, but air pressure adjustments made his car more to his liking, and he has made his way up to eighth place.

By lap 55, Dale Jr has made it back into the top five, but this happened during simultaneous commercial breaks on both TV and PRN.

We prefer the MRN broadcasts over those of PRN, because MRN has less commercial breaks, but, according to broadcast agreements, we only get one or the other each week. That's okay, because it's hard enough listening to one radio station and the TV at the same time--imagine two radio stations and the TV all at once.

While I was busy typing that last paragraph, Johnson has fallen back to fourth by lap 65, and, while Edwards still leads going through lapped traffic, the top five is still a volatile situation. Kenseth, Dale Jr, Jeff Gordon, and Johnson are mixing it up. Excuse me while I yell at the TV. "EFFIN' GREAT TIME FOR A COMMERCIAL, ESPN/ABC."

Still, PRN is just as bad, if not worse, and we may be better off if I just ditch the radio broadcast and go by what we see and hear on television.

By lap 75, the top three cars are more spread out, with Edwards nearly three seconds ahead of Kenseth, and Kenseth two seconds ahead of Jeff Gordon. Earnhardt Jr is still running in fourth, and Kurt Busch takes fifth from Jimmie Johnson. Of the other chasers in the top ten, Hamlin is running eighth, Kyle Busch ninth, and Tony Stewart is tenth. After 78 laps, there are 28 cars on the lead lap, and we are starting the green flag pit stop cycle.

Kasey Kahne, already a lap down pits first for new tires. Tony Stewart passes Kyle Busch for ninth, so it seems they have fixed his car. The cars a lap down or more are pitting first during the green flag run, on lap 85, then Hamlin is the first of the leaders to pit on lap 87. Stewart, Kurt Busch, and Kyle Busch pit on lap 89, and Edwards hasn't pitted yet. Edwards pits on lap 90, and Johnson comes in. Matt Kenseth gets five bonus points for leading a lap.

Dale Jr pits on lap 91, and Johnson has to drive through the pit lane, after getting a pit road speeding penalty.

After the pit stops cycle through, Edwards retains the lead, Kenseth is second, Kurt Busch is third, Jeff Gordon forth, and Dale Jr is fifth. There are only twenty cars on the lead lap at this point. Johnson is a lap down in twenty fourth. Where some cars started the race tight, almost every driver is complaining about his car being loose. Michael Waltrip, in his 1000th start in the series has moved into tenth spot, having a very good run in the ill fated #55 car. 108 laps are now gone.

Caution on lap 109, it happened during commercials, and the leaders all pit. Kenseth beats Edwards out of the pits, and takes the lead. Gordon is third, Biffle fourth, and Earnhardt Jr is fifth. Johnson gained seven spots in the pits and restarts as the first car a lap down. on lap 114. Johnson, Kenseth, Edwards, and Jeff Gordon are giving us some exciting racing, as Johnson tries to pass Kenseth to race his way to the lead lap. Earnhardt Jr and Jeff Gordon are battling for third, racing side by side into turn four, and Earnhardt passes on the bottom for the position.

The fourth caution of the day comes out on lap 130 as Kasey Kahne gets sideways, spins, and doesn't get hit or hit anything. Jimmie Johnson is back on the lead lap. No surprise. It seems that nothing that goes wrong stays wrong with the 48 team.

Restart on lap 135, with Kenseth in the lead, fighting off Edwards close in second. Jeff Gordon is third, Dale Jr is fourth, and Kurt Busch is fifth. Dale Jr falters a bit, as a tear off is obstructing his vision, but it gets blown off of his windshield, and Jr only loses one position. Jr doesn't let Dirty Kurty get away, and races him for several laps. On lap 147, he gets the bottom and passes Busch for fourth.

At the halfway point, Kurt Busch has retaken fourth, Jeff Burton and Tony Stewart running in fifteenth and eighteenth are both reporting loose cars that are very hard to drive. Since the racing has settled down some, I will take this opportunity to voice my opinion, for what it is worth.

I am a die hard Tony "Smoke" Stewart fan. But if I were Tony Stewart, I would retire right now. Not only from the race, but from active driving. Go out while still a respected competitor. Just concentrate on being a team owner. But I am not Smoke, and Smoke is not me. Stewart still has his famous competitive edge, and is far from done. That is just another reason he is my favorite driver.

While I'm at it, if I was one of those people who got free tickets from a sponsor, I would be in that one section of the stands that is nearly empty. No matter what. Even if I weren't such a hard core NASCAR fan, I would go for the party, because, outside of a Grateful Dead concert, NASCAR races are the best event parties there can be.

Meanwhile, Mikey Waltrip almost loses his car, brushes the wall, and saves it enough to get to the pits. No caution. On lap 183, the next green flag pit cycle begins. Pit road is very busy on laps 184 and 185, as the cars pit closer together this time around. Edwards and Stewart pit on lap 187, as does the leader, Matt Kenseth. Kenseth actually stops and retains the lead. Edwards is still second, Kurt Busch is third, Denny Hamlin is fourth, and Kevin Harvick is fifth, after the stops cycle through.

A name we haven't mentioned much in the past, Juan Pablo Montoya, is having a great day and has taken sixth place from Jeff Gordon on lap 194.Gordon takes it back on lap 200. On lap 204, the leaders pass Greg Biffle, and there are now only fourteen cars on the lead lap. Caution for debris as Michael Waltrip hits the wall for the fourth time in ten laps and cuts his right rear tire. The leaders all pit.

Kurt Busch beats Matt Kenseth off of pit lane by less than a hair's width. Biffle is the lucky dog. Jr re-pits to complete adjustments, but stays on the lead lap, restarting at the end of the line. Kurt Busch is the leader, Matt Kenseth second, Denny Hamlin is third, Carl Edwards is fourth, and Jeff Gordon is fifth.

On lap 222 Matt Kenseth catches Kurt Busch. He goes low, and passes the leader, but doesn't press the issue, and Busch gets the lap. Kenseth on the bottom, Kurt Busch on the outside, Kenseth fights for a few more laps, and on lap 225 takes the lead. Denny Hamlin has gained some time on the two leaders, but is still ten car lengths back.

With 85 laps to go, it's pretty much routine driving around the track. Dale Jr has moved back up into tenth and may be a contender. The reason for the multiple pit stops for the 88 was to make sure all the adjustments that were needed were made, and in the last runs of the race, the 88 may be the strongest car in the field. Babs sure would be happy if Matt won this race, and I would be happy for her and Matt, but a lot of people would be happy if Jr were to see Victory Lane.

Lap 250, and Junior passes Kyle Busch for ninth. He is moving up. Caution on lap 253 for debris. That saves Greg Biffle from getting lapped. David Ragan is the lucky dawg. Matt Kenseth needed this stop because, even while in the lead, he was too tight going into the corners and too tight coming off.

The #11 crew celebrates as they get Hamlin off of pit road in the lead. Kevin Harvick, who has been having a very good day, gets caught speeding, and will have to restart at the end of the longest line. Kenseth will restart second, Kurt Busch is third, Carl Edwards is fourth, Jeff Gordon is fifth.

With 65 laps to go, Earnhardt, Jr is challenging Gordon for fifth, Edwards beats Dirty Kurty for third, and Earnhardt Jr makes a cross-over move and gets in front of his team mate, Jeff Gordon. Kyle Busch is also moving up from eighth, challenging Juan Pablo Montoya for seventh, and, with 60 laps to go, gets by Jeff Gordon for sixth. Meanwhile, Earnhardt Jr is racing Dirty Kurty for fourth, and Denny Hamlin is increasing his lead. Carl Edwards is closing in on second place Matt Kenseth. A lot of racing going on, as Jeff Gordon continues to fall back. He has been passed by Montoya, McMurray, and Johnson over the course of two laps. Now, it's Hamlin by a huge lead over Kenseth. Edwards is in third, Dirty Kurty is in fourth, and Junior is in fifth. 47 laps to go.

Kyle Busch is in sixth, followed by JP Montoya. Jamie McMurray is eighth, Jimmie Johnson is ninth, and Casey Mears is tenth. With 40 to go Montoya takes sixth from Kyle Busch, then gets in a side by side race with Dale Jr for three laps, then gets the bottom and takes fifth. Michael Waltrip crashes again, and brings out the caution. If anybody has been keeping track, I think Waltrip has broken Kyle Busch's record for hitting the wall the highest number of times during a single race. I think Kyle hit the wall at Darlington some 297 times on his way to victory, and Waltrip has hit the wall 312 times in this race, on his way to another disappointing finish. Jeff Burton gets the free pass.

Off of pit lane, it's Hamlin, Kenseth, Montoya, Kurt Busch, and Carl Edwards. Coming off of pit road, Dirty Kurty got dirty and ran into Edwards, who ran into Earnhardt Jr. Junior is not happy and lets Dirty Kurty know before the cars start forming up for the restart.

Caution for debris in turn one with 27 laps to go. Some of the lead lap cars pit, from Montoya on back. On his way out of his pit, Montoya gets hit by Clint Bowyer and messes up the body work on the front of his car. A great day ruined.

It looks like Hamlin will lead the restart, followed by Kenseth, Edwards, Kurt Busch and Kyle Busch. Restart with 23 laps to go. Edwards moves up fast to the inside of Matt Kenseth, and as he takes second, about five cars get involved in a big wreck. Montoya, Reed Sorenson, Jeff Burton, Joe Nemecheck and Dave Blaney are involved. It looks like Blaney fell off the pace, was clipped by Burton, and the other guys couldn't avoid the carnage. It looked almost like "Dog pile on the kid with the ball," a game we played in elementary school before adult supervision was deemed necessary and it became organized football.

Restart will see Hamlin in the lead, with Carl Edwards right behind him, wanting the lead. Matt Kenseth is third, and Kyle Busch is fourth. I'm assuming that would put Kurt Busch in fifth. They're interviewing Blaney TV about the wreck, but I can't hear it because I have the radio on. Montoya, of course, is too irate to interview. Can't blame him here.

Carl Edwards gets around Hamlin on the high side right after the restart, and there is a big battle for third behind them. Earnhardt Jr restarted in sixth. That battle for third settles down as Sam Hornish, Jr, two laps down, gets involved in racing Kenseth and Kyle Busch. With 12 laps to go, there is a phantom caution to allow Tony Stewart to get the lucky dawg pass, or for something or other. Oh well, at least Smoke is back on the lead lap.

Okay, the caution was because Jeff Gordon ran over debris. I feel better. I don't want to go through another month of reading forum posts about how NASCAR treats Tony Stewart more favorably than any of the other driver.

Johnson, running in eighth, pits for tires, Biffle and Stewart follow. Jeff Gordon, who may have tire damage, stays out. Restart will be single file, with Edwards first, Hamlin second, Kenseth third, Kyle Busch fourth, and Dale Earnhardt, Jr in fifth. Staying out nabbed eighth position for Jeff Gordon. Restart with eight to go.

Edwards gets away as the rest of the cars in the top seven battle for position. Johnson is taking advantage of his fresh tires--he restarted in twelfth position, and with 4 laps to go has made it into fourth position. With three to go he has his sights set on Kenseth. Edwards will get the win, but the race for third is where the action is. Johnson gets by, and is catching Hamlin for second. Johnson passes Hamlin on the last turn of the last lap, and gets second. This will probably clinch the championship for the #48 team of Johnson and Knaus, for all practical purposes. That team is magical and mystical in the way they can turn bad luck to their advantage. Amazing.

Hamlin was third, Kenseth fourth, and Kyle Busch finished in fifth.

Don't have much to say in the way of final thoughts here. That 48 team is amazing, and they certainly deserve the championship. Imagine that, being in danger of going two laps down early in the race, they finish in second. The fat lady is finished warming up, she is about to sing.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

How old school is this?

Brian Vickers finished eleventh at Martinsville. But his #83 Red Bull Toyota was chosen for random inspection after the race, and the NASCAR inspectors found that the sheet metal on some parts of the car's body work was thinner than the .025 inch required by NASCAR. That has resulted in a 150 points penalty for Vickers and 150 points penalty for the Red Bull team. Kevin Hamlin the crew chief was suspended indefinitly, according to this article, and fined $100,000. Car chief Craig Smokstad was also suspended indefinitly.

The sheet metal was allegedly made thinner by acid dipping. A better explaination than I can provide, of how this would affect the performance of the car is given at Stock Car Science, but if there is less weight in the body work, then more weight in ballast can be added, and that extra ballast could be used to lower the car's center of gravity. That would help the car perform better in the turns.

Smokey Yunick lives! That was my first thought upon reading the story. Yunick set the bar for crew chiefs, and his innovations were so subtile, NASCAR officials were never sure if what he did was actually cheating.

Then I wondered, how in the heck did they think to check the thickness of the sheet metal? It seems to be getting harder and harder to get away with cheating these days.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Recommending a great site.

I want to give a shoutout to Seeing 20twenty and WFO Racing Fans, A site that has much to offer the NASCAR race fan. I discovered the site after they discovered me, and, with permission, posted a copy of my "Live on Type Delay: Kansas" item a few weeks ago.

The site has many different pages, featuring blogs, charities, and bits and pieces from the world of NASCAR race fans.

From the editor's page:

Seeing20twenty and WFO RACING FANS(TM)
We want to put racing in focus, but we also want to put you in focus! Whether you are a business or a fan, we want you to feel that we are doing everything possible to make sure the focus is on you.
Fans:WFO Racing Fans will be a fan oriented web site, and will focus on getting the fans veiw noticed. There will be many forums for your opinions, as well as chances to be a featured writer

I've spent much of my allotted hour per day on line exploring this site, and, while it is still in its growing stages, it already has a lot to offer, and promises to offer much more. Please check it out, it is worth the visit.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Live on Type Delay: The Tums Quick Pack 500 (Martinsville)--Corrected

There is nothing in racing like short track racing, and when you have 43 Sprint Cup level racers on a short track at the same time, it is very special. That is why I love the racing at Martinsville. The action is non-stop, as the drivers meet the unique challenge of negotiating the track and traffic while trying to keep their cars intact.

The first twelve laps feature side by side racing all around the track, then the race straightens out to single file to run the preferred bottom line. Jeff Gordon demonstrates why he is the Professor of Martinsville, as he quickly negotiates his way to third place, then moves up into second by lap 19

Travis Kvapil spins on lap 29, bringing out the first caution. Most of the leaders stay out, but Denny Hamlin and Dale Earnhardt, Jr lead many of the cars further back on to pit lane. Jr gets caught speeding and has to restart at the back of the longest line.

The restart is on lap 37, with Johnson in first and Jeff Gordon in second. Gordon quickly challenges for the lead, and there is some hard racing up front, Gordon moves to the outside, and Johnson tries to block the bottom line. Gordon completes the pass and leads the field by lap 39. Meanwhile, Jeff Burton has fallen back some, and Tony Stewart has moved up to fifth. There is some good side by side racing for eighth and ninth, as Kyle Busch and Clint Bowyer find themselves side by side.

Jimmie Johnson retakes the lead, having never let off of Jeff Gordon, around lap 56. Kasey Kahne's car stalls for some reason and brings the caution out on lap 63. All the leaders pit this time. Off of pit road, it's Johnson, Edwards, Biffle, Jeff Gordon and Kevin Harvick, But several cars stayed out for the caution laps, and it will be Aric Almirola leading the field at the restart. Johnson and the others who pitted will restart from positions 14 and back. Ryan Newman, Jamie McMurray, Casey Mears, and Michael Waltrip also stayed out, and will be restarting in the top five. Dale Jr stayed out and will restart in seventh.

On lap 82, Jamie McMurray, running in third is bumped from behind by Dale Jr, and spins, an accidental contact as Jr went into the turn a little hotter than McMurray, and the caution comes out. Nobody pits this time, and the restart is on lap 87.

Jr makes a move for second, racing Ryan Newman, then Regan Smith loses his brakes and spins out in turn two, bringing out another caution on lap 89. The restart will be with Almirola still in the lead, Ryan Newman second, Dale Jr in third, Jimmie Johnson fourth, and Casey Mears in fifth. Johnson is moving up quickly, and challenges Jr for third on lap 97. He makes it stick, and then takes second from Newman, as Dale Jr retakes third right behind him. There is heavy action in eleventh through fourteenth as some of the top drivers try to get their cars back into the top ten. Tony Stewart, Kevin Harvick, Denny Hamlin, and Kyle Busch are racing close and hard, with Michael Waltrip trying not to fall back too far. Stewart prevails and moves into eleventh.

On lap 114, Matt Kenseth's luck continues to suck as he gets tagged from behind, or cut a tire, or both. He either cut a tire, then got hit, or got hit and cut the right rear tire.

Tony Stewart takes two tires during the resulting caution and comes off of pit road first. He will start in sixth behind Jamie McMurray and four other cars that stayed out during the caution. At the restart, it's McMurray, Bobby Labonte, Clint Bowyer, and David Gilliland in the top five.

Stewart quickly moves up to third, while McMurray cushions his lead. Johnson, who restarted in eighth, moves up to fourth. On lap 135, McMurray leads, Bowyer second, Stewart third, Johnson fourth, and Denny Hamlin fifth. Jeff Gordon has moved up into sixth. Johnson then takes third from Stewart, and continues a very strong march forward, passing Bowyer a few laps later. Positions eighth through fourteenth seem to be changing as if they were racing at Talladega, as Dale Jr, Juan Pablo Montoya, Keven Harvick, Denny Hamlin, Carl Edwards, and Casey Mears are engaged in heavy combat.

Johnson is catching McMurray, as leader catches the tale end of the field. Stewart has regained third position from Bowyer, even though his car isn't supposed be that good because he only took two tires.

On lap 154 Jimmie Johnson catches Jamie McMurray and takes the lead, but McMurray is running well on older tires, and may stay in contention. Jeff Gordon is on a forward march of his own in fourth. Carl Edwards, who usually isn't that good on short tracks, has a happy car running in fifth.

The first real weirdness of the race occur on lap 165, as three cars, those of Kyle Busch, Tony Raines, and Sam Hornish, Jr all seem to cut a right front tire simultaneously, and all three end up against the wall. Kyle Busch is penalized two laps for "intentionally causing the caution flag."

Jimmie Johnson leads the field off of pit road, followed by , Jeff Gordon, Jamie McMurray, and Carl Edwards, while Tony Stewart has fallen back to sixth, with Jr in seventh. Greg Biffle, who stayed out during the caution and takes the lead on the lap 171 restart, Johnson takes the lead on lap 173, as Biffle got lose. Biffle is really having problems, in fourth, and Carl Edwards takes that position from him. Tony Stewart, now on four fresh tires gets the fifth position.

The seventh caution comes out on lap 197, as Elliott Sadler tried to move down to the inside, and found Aric Almirola there. He gets clipped in the left rear and spins.

I hate it when both the radio and television broadcasts break for commercials at the same time, because we don't know who is pitting this time.

The restart will be with Johnson leading, Jeff Gordon in second, McMurray third, Carl Edwards fourth, and Tony Stewart in fifth, on lap 203. Kurt Busch is 26 laps down, and looks like he wants to race Johnson for the lead. We have seen this movie with Dirty Kurty before, haven't we?

Earnhardt, Jr has taken fifth from Stewart, while Kurt Busch was raising mayhem up front. Dirty Kurty doesn't want anyone to pass him. Team mates Kevin Harvick and Clint Bowyer are doing some good ol' fashioned beatin' and bangin' for tenth, further back. Bowyer hangs on, and we have the three RCR cars running in tenth, eleventh, and twelfth.

As we near the halfway point of the race, things seem to settle down as all the drivers seem to be happy where they are, set up for the final laps of the race. This is still an important part of the race, as the drivers realize they need to save brakes and tires. Surprisingly, the attrition rate has been low, for Martinsville, as there are only two cars in the garage area; those of Elliott Sadler and Joe Nemecheck. I feel like I inadvertently jinxed Sadler, as I picked him in a pick five game. Sorry about that, Elliott.

Now the leaders have caught the rear of the field, and the action picks up a little. Jeff Gordon dives to the inside of Johnson in turn one of lap 243. Going through the traffic, McMurray and Edwards close in on the leaders, and Jr is right behind them. Ken Schrader is making it hard for anyone to lap him, fighting to stay on the lead lap, and Gordon and Johnson find themselves racing him. Biffle falls of the pace and pits. It is a scheduled pit stop--the only green flag stop of the day, as far as we can tell.

Gordon finally gets around Schrader and is in the clear. Arrrgh, simultaneous commercials again! This is one of those races where I really wish I was at the track, can you tell?

During the commercials, three cars again cut tires about the same time, at the exit of turn 2. Tony Raines, again, Bobby Labonte, and someone else.

Johnson, Gordon, Edwards, Earnhardt, and McMurray are the first five cars off of pit road, and Biffle gets caught a lap down. Ryan Newman gets penalized for rough driving in the pits, as he forces a jam between Harvick and Burton. Restart with 233 to go. Stewart will restart in sixth. Three wide, unbelievable at Martinsville, but that is what is happening as Biffle tries to race his way back to the lead lap.

They actually pull it off with no problems. After they clear the lapped traffic, Jimmie goes wide on the exit of turn 2, and Gordon immediately takes advantage and takes the lead.Somewhere along the way, the 83 car of Brian Vickers has made it into the top ten.

Gordon has not been able to increase his lead over Johnson, and Johnson makes several attempts to get underneath the 24 car. On lap 291, he gets under him again, and makes the pass for the lead.

Matt Kenseth is back on the lead lap, after his earlier problems and is in seventeenth, working his way toward the front. His #17 team seems to be always under the radar, but this shows how good they can actually be. They deserve the praise they are getting.

Earnhardt Jr quietly takes fourth from McMurray, and is in competition with Carl Edwards for third. They are catching Jeff Gordon, and on lap 328 Gordon and Edwards are side by side. They go three wide through lapped traffic, and on lap 329, Edwards and Earnhardt pass Gordon on the low side. Breathtaking racing there for second and third. Earnhardt is running strong, and seems to be a serious challenge for Edwards in second place. A bunch of cars have blown tires, over the last several laps, including Ryan Newman, but none of the incidents have brought out a caution. Now McMurray gets by Gordon, and is now running in fourth. Gordon is reporting that the handling is off on his car.

Johns finally gets a mark on his car on lap 241, trying to get by Michael Waltrip. His car has been unmarked up to this point, which is why it was worth a mention. Say what you will about the Champ, the guy has been great in lapped traffic today.

I jinxed him. Now Johnson gets nose damage as he gets into Bill Elliott. Kyle Busch's bad luck gets worse, as he cuts a tire, and is now five laps down. Still no caution.

Tony Stewart, who was running in eighth cuts a tire and has to pit on lap 363. Still no caution. Stewart is now two laps down.

Let's just give Johnson the championship now and move on to next year. No, wait a minute. I'm a Tony Stewart fan, so I will probably have to move on to 2010 or 2011 while his new team works its way to a competitive quality.

We finally get a caution on lap 389, for debris, after Kurt Busch cut a tire for the third time. We will see pit stops, and this could be the money stop. Johnson comes off pit road first, Edwards second, Earnhardt, Jr third, and it is close between Brian Vickers and Jamie McMurray for fourth and fifth. McMurray wins that race and makes it out fourth.

After the restart, as Carl Edwards is about to catch Johnson, Junior catches Edwards, and engages him in a battle for second. Edwards protects the bottom of the track, and Earnhardt, Jr tries to feint to the outside, then dives to the bottom, but still can't get around him. But that race isn't over yet, and it will continue until Jr gets around him. Meanwhile, Jamie McMurray, who has been running so well in the race, spending most of the day in the top ten even after an early spin, has mechanical problems and takes his car to the garage. Broken rear end, is what they are saying. What a disappointment. The top five are now Johnson, Edwards, Earnhardt, Jr, Jeff Gordon and Denny Hamlin.

Junior finally gets by the #99 car on lap 412 or somewhere around there. The crowd goes wild. Now it is only a question of how good the 88 car really is. We know the driver is good, so if he can catch Johnson, we should see a pretty good race at the end.

And with 76 laps to go, Earnhardt Jr is catching Jimmie Johnson. But Johnson is a little better going through lapped traffic, and Jr falls back to nearly two seconds behind the leader.

Kyle Busch cuts down a right side tire again, and has to pit. He's not a contender, but we are tracking bad luck here, while at the same time thinking that if this trend continues, there will be another caution before the end of the race. That would change everything.

A little personal commentary here--sometimes we don't appreciate how good all the Sprint Cup drivers really are, but think about it:

If this were an ARCA race, with all the three wide racing through the lapped traffic at Martinsville, no less, it would be safe to say that many of these cars in the top ten would have been crashed by now. The talent it takes to be a Sprint Cup racer in NASCAR is real, and pretty much at the pinnacle of racing. Just had to give some props there, because we are impressed by the skillful driving and lack of big wrecks in this race.

That being said, Tony Stewart cuts another tire and falls back further. Reed Sorenson wrecks with 41 laps to go and brings out the caution. This is going to be a chess game in the pits. The cars could make it to the end on fuel, but they are going to want tires and adjustments. Johnson and Earnhardt Jr pit, and so do the rest of the leaders. Jimmie Johnson gets out of the pits first, Earnhardt Jr second, Carl Edwards third, and Jeff Gordon, comes out fourth. Matt Kenseth--remember that wreck I was crying about earlier (?)--stays out and will restart in the lead. Jeff Burton had some bad problems in the pits, pitting outside the box, after trying to avoid contact with the 24 car of Jeff Gordon. He had to go around again and re pit, then got penalized for pit service outside the box.

Greg Biffle races his way back to the lead lap on the restart, Kenseth momentarily holds the lead, then has to race Johnson side by side with a little bit of beatin' and bangin.' Johnson has the better car and takes the lead.

Man, oh man, that 48 team of Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus is good. There will be no stopping them from winning this race, and probably no stopping them from winning this Championship. Something drastic would have to happen. And that doesn't happen with the 48 team.

Something drastic does happen to David Gilliland, however, as he runs into the wall after contact with the #44 car, and brings out the caution. We are getting close to shootout time now. This could be interesting. Some cars pit for tires, but not the front five cars.

Here comes the restart with eight laps to go. Johnson gets the jump, but both Earnhardt Jr and Carl Edwards try to go low. Johnson gets some cushion, and Edwards tries to pass underneath Jr, but doesn't make it.

David Ragan hits the wall and brings out a caution. Green/white/checker restart, and Johnson holds the lead and wins. Dale Earnhardt Jr comes in second, Edwards third, Jeff Gordon fourth, and Denny Hamlin is fifth.

I love short track racing, and this was a fun race. There have been better races, even this year, but this is still some of the best racing in NASCAR. Johnson's points lead increased by quite a bit, Biffle's twelfth place finish moved him into second, Gordon moved up to seventh in the standings, and Stewart fell to eighth, but other than that, this "wild card" race didn't shake things up. Most of all we are impressed by the quality of racing we saw during the Tums Quick Pack 500 at Martinsville. It could have been a real wreckfest, but it wasn't. For once NASCAR wasn't so quick with the cautions as they have been in the past, and at Martinsville, that is a good thing.

Four races to go, and, as we said, it is getting hard to imagine anybody but Jimmie Johnson winning the Cup. That would make history, as Johnson would be the first NASCAR driver to win three consecutive Cup titles since Cale Yarborough did it in 1976, '77, and '78. He would be only the second driver to do so. Should we congratulate him now?

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

A Tale Of Two Championship Series

It was the last race of the ARCA season, and the championship had come down to the wire. All Scott Speed needed to do to clinch the title was finish seventeenth or better, and all Ricky Stenhouse, Jr had to do was hope that something would happen to make sure he could make up the 90 point deficit he held. .

From the very beginning of Sunday's race at Toledo Speedway, it looked as though Stenhouse was out to make sure Scott Speed wouldn't finish seventeenth or better. Starting in the second row, along with Speed, he rode Speed's bumper lap after lap, beating and banging aggressively until only a little more than twenty laps into the race, he rode Speed's bumper all the way into the wall.

It is possible that Speed's car could have been repaired well enough to finish seventeenth or better, but Speed himself felt that it would at least take twenty laps to repair the car well enough to the point where he could make it around the track. So, already two laps down, he took his crippled car back on to the track, waited for Stenhouse to pass him, then gunned the throttle and knocked Stenhouse's #99 car hard into the wall. Needless to say, neither Speed nor Stenhouse won the championship. Justin Algaier, who entered the final race fourth in the championship points, won the race and the championship.

In my mind, retaliation is never a good thing. It is a poor display of sportsmanship, and endangers not only the two cars and drivers involved, but often results in damage to the innocent bystander who might get collected in the wreck. But that doesn't mean it can't be justified. If Stenhouse had won the championship after wrecking Speed, something would have been terribly wrong.

As Brad Daugherty pointed out on ESPN's NASCAR Now, every stock car has either been on the giving or receiving end of retaliation, at some point in his or her career. However, retaliation doesn't always have to result in a wreck. I'm thinking about Jeff Burton's retaliatory bump of Kyle Busch's car after Busch used his bumper to move Burton out of the way earlier, in the race at Kansas a few weeks ago.

Jeff Burton lives by the rule "you get raced the way you race." He was upset by the way Busch had passed him, but he didn't wreck the 18 car. Instead, he bumped him just enough to let him know he was displeased, and to get the car loose enough for him to pass.

Burton is quite possibly the most unique driver in the sport. Where every other driver sees racing as primarily a physical sport, Jeff Burton takes the cerebal approach. He studies every track, and every driver. He notes where his best line is, and how he races against each driver's unique style. He remembers how his car handles at every turn, and the effect of traffic on the handling of his car. He plans, and he is always ready to advance his position when the opportunity presents itself. He seems to never be caught by surprise. He knows the car in front of him is going to get loose in turn three, because he has been watching it, and he will be there to pass when that other car does get loose.

He avoids trouble in much the same way he gains positions. He pays close attention to the way the cars in front of him are moving up and down the track. He sees it when a driver gets too close underneath another driver's car and compensates to avoid the inevitable spin, or, at least, the wobble. As good at car control as most of the other best NASCAR driver, Burton is always prepared to thread the needle when the need arises.

All this is part of why Jeff Burton is the second favorite driver of many a NASCAR fan. If he were to win the championship this year, something which he has a very good chance of doing, there would be very few fans who would be unhappy. He now stands a mere 69 points out of first place in the championship points. All he needs to do is keep on doing what he is doing.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Live on Type Delay: Chase Race 5 at Lowe's

The starting lineup for Chase race number 5 at Lowe's Motor Speedway was determined by points standings, due to the rain out of qualifying Thursday. Jimmie Johnson takes the lead from the pole, and already, Jeff Gordon gets pinched against the wall. By lap three, Gordon has moved up to sixth, behind fifth place Dale Earnhardt, Jr, hits the wall again, and Tony Stewart takes sixth from him. Johnson is taking off in the lead while the rest of the field goes three wide at times battling for position. This could be a wild one.

Gordon has to pit on lap ten to pull out the fenders and change the right side tires. It is still early in the race, so this is not too bad of a deficit for the 24 team at this point.

Stewart takes third from Biffle on lap 24 and is still the fastest car on the track. Johnson still leads second place Carl Edwards by .7 seconds, and Stewart is .8 seconds behind Edwards. Johnson hasn't exactly got away from Edwards, but he is in a position where he can take it easy and preserve his car. This is one thing I like about the 1.5 mile tracks, is that every team and driver holds their cards close to their chests during the early going, so we don't know what to expect until the race nears the end. It keeps the drama going.

By lap 31, as Johnson runs up on the tail end of the lead lap, Stewart has caught Johnson, and takes the lead on lap 33. Dale Jr is also running well, and has moved into fourth, quickly approaching third place Carl Edwards. After Junior passes Edwards, he reports his car is "real, real loose," and he begins to drop back. As the coverage breaks for commercial, Jr has fallen back to sixth spot.

We have no radio play by play to go by this week, because the station that carries MRN and PRN--it would be PRN this week--cuts power at 6 PM Mountain Time on Saturdays, so we don't get it here. I am as blind as everyone else watching the race on TV.

Joe Nemechek hits the wall on lap 40 or something during the commercial. Everybody pits. Jimmie Johnson retakes the lead, exiting the pit road first, while Tony Stewart comes out fourth. Carl Edwards regains second spot. Jeff Burton is third, and Greg Biffle is fifth.

I have to say, I love the 800 lb gorilla Amp Energy commercial with Dale Earnhardt, Jr. That's great.

While we are doing commercials, there are five races left in the 2008 NASCAR season after this week These races are not yet sold out, and, if you want tickets, check out Tickco Ticket Brokers for your NASCAR ticket needs. Since we are headed into the off season, you may also want to consider Tickco for concert and show tickets, where premium seating is offered at regular prices. In fact, Tickco ticket brokers offers seats for most sporting events in your area.

AJ Allmendinger, in the MWR #00 car, spins and hits the wall hard on lap 51, bringing out the caution again. Carl Edwards, who had just pitted to investigate a vibration he was feeling from his car, gets caught in the pits, as the yellow waves, and gets put a lap down. Excuse me while I do a backflip in celebration.

More confusion as NASCAR gives the lucky dog pass to Jeff Gordon, but the 99 team seems to think that they should have the free pass, but NASCAR says the field was frozen at the caution, and the 99 car was still on the lead lap at the time, and was passed after the caution came out. I don't get it either, so there must be a better explanation than the one I gave here.

Johnson leads the restart at lap 60, with Tony Stewart in second. Greg Biffle is third, Jeff Burton fourth, and last night's Nationwide Series race winner, Kyle Busch is fifth.

On lap 64, the caution comes out again as Michael Waltrip gets shoved into the infield, comes back up, and Mike Skinner, stuck in the middle between Waltrip and Schrader, gets tangled up with Ken Schrader's #96 HOF Racing Toyota and they both wreck.

As the cars are getting lined up for the restart, Carl Edwards' car stalls, and he can not get it started. I really don't wish this kind of luck on anyone, even if it is my least favorite driver. As Edwards goes yet another lap down, we can see that the Chase standings will once again get shaken up, and the bad luck for the 99 team, which was 79 points out of first at the beginning of the race, is good luck for points leader Jimmie Johnson.

The restart is on lap 71, with Johnson leading, Stewart second, Biffle third, Burton fourth, and Kyle Busch is in fifth. Busch takes fourth on lap 72. Kasey Kahne, winner of the last two Sprint Cup races at Lowes, as been moving up steadily, and enters the top ten on lap 73.

I really do feel bad for Carl Edwards, who still can not get his car started, so please ignore the break dancing and back flips, because I am actually celebrating as Tomy Stewart takes the lead on lap 78.

Dale Earnhardt, Jr, racing dangerously close to the wall, as he is wont to do at Lowe's, has moved back up to sixth place, and Kyle Busch has moved into third by lap 81. Stewart is taking advantage of his lead position, and has left quite a gap between himself and Jimmie Johnson.

The #99 team finally gets the car fired up, and Carl Edwards returns to the race sixteen laps down. Jack Roush is taking it philosophically and manages to express his disappointment without blaming Toyota.

It looks like Kyle Busch is gaining on second place Jimmie Johnson as his car is gradually being adapted to track conditions. Tony Stewart is still moving away from the field.

My favorite AT&T commercial is still Mary, the "Phelps Phan," because I know someone like that, but this one with the guy being taken to jail because he didn't get the call about the alarm code for his friend's house is pretty good.

What is not pretty good is that Dale Earnhardt, Jr has lost his right front tire, and has hit the wall. When will the 88 team's luck change for the better? There is a lot of talent in the driver and on the team, and they still can't do better than run well in the first part of the race.

This race off of pit road is exciting, as Tony Stewart beats Kyle Busch by what looks like an inch or less, with Johnson coming out of the first pit nearly side by side with the 18 and the 20. Three cars trying for one position--first place. Matt Kenseth stayed out and will be leading at the restart.

Kenseth pits, so at the restart, it's Stewart first, Kyle Busch second, Jimmie Johnson third, Jeff Burton fourth, and Clint Bowyer is in fifth. Restart on lap 110, and Kyle Busch catches Stewart quickly and takes the lead on lap 111. Johnson is also good on the restart, and takes second place before lap 112, but Stewart is reporting that his car is loose and has fallen back to seventh position by lap 118.

It has been noted that the 20 car takes a few laps to come in to the track, so this could just be typical. Perhaps the handling will get better after a few laps. Now, Mike Wallace, in the GEM #10 car, blows a tire and spins out, and the caution comes out again. This is still too early to begin fuel strategy stops, so Kyle Busch leads the leaders to the pits. Now, we get some fuel only and two tire stops, as everybody is trying for position and makes me a liar about strategy. I am not surprised.

Johnson and Burton took fuel only and come off of pit road in first and second, while Kyle Busch took two tires and exits pit road in third. Ryan Newman stayed out and will restart in first, so the restart will be Newman, Johnson, Burton, Busch and Bowyer in the top five. Johnson makes a move at the lap 126 restart, but Newman hangs on and maintains the lead. By lap 130, Brian Vickers has moved into third, and his car is a rocket, as they say. Meanwhile, on lap 132, Johnson feints high then goes low to pass the Rocket, Ryan Newman. Vickers' # 83 car comes into second, and challenges Johnson for the lead. He takes the lead on lap 135. Kyle Busch has taken third spot from Newman, and Johnson is still in second as we head into commercial time.

I think Dale Earnhardt, Jr has gotten used to his bad luck, because he doesn't seem nearly as consternated about his luck as he has in the past.

Closing in on the halfway point, Vickers is first, Johnson is second, Kyle Busch in third, David Ragan is fourth, and Greg Biffle is fifth. On lap 150, Dale Earnhardt Jr;s team gets his car back on the track after extensive repairs, 45 laps down. It is important for a Chaser to finish the race, because you never know what is going to happen. Earnhardt needs to get as many points as he can, just in case the improbable happens and Knaus and Kompany have a run of bad luck. If there is any consolation, Jr is only one position behind Carl Edwards in this race.

Tony Stewart's team has his car running better now, and Tony Stewart has taken the # 20 car to fifth place, but he reports his engine is running hot. It is lap 176, and green flag pit stops have begun. The leader, Vickers pits on lap 180.

David Ragan and Regan Smith both incur speeding penalties on pit road, and have to serve drive through penalties. After the pit stops cycle through, it's V ickers in the lead, Greg Biffle moving up fast in second, Jeff Burton third, Jimmie Johnson fourth, and Kyle Busch is fifth. Caution for debris on lap 187, and Kasey Kahne gets the free pass. The leaders stay out.

We could say at this point that the 48 team is playing it safe and protecting Jimmie Johnson's points lead, but we said that about this time last year, and that proved not to be the case, as Johnson began running more aggressively than ever for the rest of the season.

Look for Biffle to make a move for the lead on this restart. But Vickers gets a good jump and pulls ahead, so Biffle hyas to wait a lap before he can make his move. He is running hard behind the leader, and looks like he just needs to be in the rightr place to take the lead. But now we have a big wreck on the back stretch, involving Tony Raines, Matt Kenseth, Chad McCumbee, and Travis Kvapil. I hate seeing this for Kenseth, especially because I have been secretly rooting for him to get his second championship this year. The Chasers have been having terrible luck this year.

They showed some great in car video and audio of Kasey Kahne threading the needle to avoid that wreck. We heard some great throttle control and saw some great car control as Kahne barely avoided disaster. Good save, we say. Bravo.

The leaders all pit this time during caution. Vickers takes two tires, but Jeff Burton comes out first, with Biffle second, Johnson third, and Kyle Busch fourth, while Vickers comes out fifth. Martin Truex, Jr stays out and leads a lap.

Restart with 132 laps to go. Truex is in first, Jeff Gordon second, and Mark Martin is third. Jeff Burton is the first car that pitted and is in fourth. Gordon takes the lead on lap 204. Another big wreck on lap 204, on the front stretch, involving Bobby Labonte, Casey Mears, and Michael Waltrip. It looked like it started when Jimmie Johnson got sideways and saved it, but causing an accordion effect where Kyle Busch and Tony Stewart also had to save their cars, and the guys behind them got all tangled up checking up. It looked like their may have been oil or fluid on the track. Close call for a lot of cars. Reed Sorenson gets the free pass.

TV is affecting my writing, so I have to write--and this is an entirely unsponsored comment--Orange Blossom Cream Ale is great stuff. If you like that kind of beverage, and it is available in your area, you should give it a try. It is currently keeping me mellow and satisfied. It has a great flavor, not too heavy, and has a nice aftertaste.

Maybe Buffalo Bill's Brewery will see this and send me some big bucks, hint hint.

Going to the restart, it's Jeff Gordon in first, Mark Martin second, Martin Truex, Jr in third, Jeff Burton in fourth, and Greg Biffle is fifth. Great racing between Jeff Gordon and Mark Martin for the lead, as they race side by side and both get loose and save it. Martin hangs in there for a lap, but gets loose again and has to fall back, allowing Jeff Gordon to keep the lead. Biffle takes second from Martin on lap 215. There are three other Chasers in the top ten, with Kyle Busch in sixth, Jimmie Johnson in eight, and Tony Stewart in tenth.

It is actually exciting with Jeff Gordon in the lead. Gordon in the lead always seems to result in a good race. While the commentators are talking about how much trouble Smoke is having, he makes his way up to sixth position.

On lap 235, Denny Hamlin almost wrecks it after contact with Clint Bowyer, but makes an amazing save. No caution.

As we approach another round of green flag pit stops, we know that Jeff Gordon fans are feeling that anxiety that accompanies the exciting feeling that maybe their driver will win his first race of the season. My readers know that, even though I am not a Jeff Gordon fan, I respect him immensly for his talent and demeaner, and I know how those fans feel. I would not be unhappy if Gordon were to win this one.

Pit stops begin with 83 laps to go. Vickers hits the wall, but saves it, and there is no caution. Paul Menard is black flagged for a loose panel on the rear of his car, then, after he can't get into the pits, is white crossed, which means he is not being scored. He finally makes it to the pits for repairs.

Aw man, too fast on pit road penalty for Tony Stewart. Dammit again. The 18 of Kyle Busch also gets pegged for speeding. This is the kind of stuff you do not want to have happen at Lowe's, especially in the final segments of the race.

Robby Gordon cuts a right rear tire and brings out the caution with seventy laps to go. After all the different pit strategies and cautions, and whatever happened, Greg Biffle will restart in the lead. Jeff Gordon re pitted, and is in seventh. Burton is in second, Tony Stewart is a lap down and trying to race his way back to the lead lap. Jonson is in third, and with 57 laps to go Jeff Burton is challenging Biffle for the lead. Burton takes the lead with 61 laps to go. Stewart has passed Biffle and is on the lead lap, though at the tail iend.

With forty laps to go, there should at least be some gas n go stops coming up. Now we will see strategy come into play. If there is a caution, Jeff Gordon's earlier strategy, may work out for him. Now a caution with 38 laps to go as Montoya wrecks from contact with the 2 car of Kurt Busch, as they are beatin and bangin for five laps. The contact cut a tire, and Montoya hits the wall. This is the money stop, and it will be interesting to see the various strategies. It's strategy or stragedy time.

Jeff Burton leads the field to the restart. Johnson is second, Kasey Kahne is third, Kurt Busch is fourth, and Greg Biffle is the first car that took four tires, restarting with 33 laps to go in fifth. Jimmie Johnson immediately begins racing Burton for the lead, and Burton is racing well and fighting hard to maintain the lead. This is pretty good stuff. Gordon and Kyle Busch are fighting hard for seventh place.

With 27 left to go, this is exciting watching the race for the lead, and now, Kurt Busch, in third, is moving to crash the party. Kasey Kahne is up there as well, and may be a factor in the finish. He takes third from Kurt Busch with 22 laps to go, and Kyle Busch is moving up to fifth, taking the position from Jamie McMurray with 21 laps to go.

Jimmie Johnson seems to have used up his car, and he starts falling back with a little more than ten to go. Jeff Burton increases his lead, but Kasey Kahne is moving up from second with seven to go. Kahne's car is faster than Burton, but you know a lot of us want to see Burton win at this point. Still it's exciting as it looks like Kahne has just about caught the leader with two to go.

We hold our breath, Burton takes the white flag, and Kahne is not close enough to challenge. Jeff Burton Wins!!!! Let's watch Kim, that is always fun.

This was a good race, technical and pretty much straight forward. There was nothing really exciting about it, but it had its moments. The 31 team did the right thing at the right time and their strategy for position paid off big. Good job for the 9 car in their second place finish for Kasey Kahne.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Live on Type Delay: The Amp Energy 500

Many broadcast personalities refer to the Chase race at Talladega as a "wild card," as the results of the race are not primarily in the hands of the driver, but as Jeff Gordon points out, "every race is a wild card race."

Talladega is NASCAR's largest oval, at 2.66 miles around and with four-story high banking in the turns. The side-by-side and nose to tail racing at nearly 200 mph is tight and sometimes four wide, and like no other racing in the world. This is one of the few venues at which the Sprint Cup car has provided more excitement than the conventional car did.

Travis Kvapil, possibly fighting to keep a ride next year, starts in his first Cup Series career pole position, among other cars and drivers either on the bubble of, or outside the top 35 owners points positions. This should be interesting.

It doesn't matter where you start at Talledega, the move from the back to the front happens quickly and often. That is one of the thrills of 'Dega. Carl Edwards has the highest starting position of the Chasers, starting in twelfth.

Eric Almirola and Paul Menard line up behind Kvapil and Kvapil leads the first lap. The first three cars are in single file, and back in fifteenth they are three wide. The outside lane has moved up by lap 4 and Mike Wallace leads that lane, passing the leaders. Kvapil retakes the lead almost immediately. Now Wallace gets stuck in the middle without help, until Matt Kenseth gets behind him and keeps him from getting shuffled back further. Kvapil, Almirola, Menard, and Nemecheck break away from the field. All the racing is going on from fifth back.

The outside lane has moved up again, on lap six, and Edwards is challenging for the lead, with help from Brian Vickers. But Kvapil's line is faster, and after eight laps maintains the lead.

Whew! These guys are racing as though it were the final laps of the race. Patience is not a virtue today, it seems to be tooth and claw.

Now Edwards has the lead, finally making the top line work. Kvapil has fallen back to seventh. A mere lap later, the top five are single file, and Brian Vickers has taken the lead. Kvapil and the others who prevously led the field are moving back to the front. Aric Almirola takes the lead from Vickers, with Paul Menard just behind him.

Johnson is way in the back, with no drafting help, but the 48 team is not reporting any problems. We know how that works with Johnson's team--they may look like the worst car in the field at first, and things always seem to get turned to the positive for them.

After 20 laps, David Ragan leads, followed by Almirola and Menard. Jeff Gordon is moving up on the outside with help from Tony Stewart, but the outside lane stalls out on the back stretch. Ryan Newman, Stewart's future team mate is just behind them. Three wide for third place, and the movers are David Gilliland and Dale Jr. Jimmie Johnson and Ken Schrader, who finally teamed up are getting lapped. That hooks up Johnson and Junior and Earnhardt, Jr takes the lead on lap 26 with help from his team mate.

It's Earnhardt, Ragan, Almirola, Kvapil, and Paul Menard going around lap 28.

A caution for debris comes out on lap 33, just in time for pit stops, and just as Mike Wallace was challenging Earnhardt for the lead. Jr and Gordon were hooked up, a strong pairing, so if Jr lost the lead it wouldn't have been for long. Pit stops on lap 34. Some cars take only two tires, but most take four. Robby Gordon gets the free pass. Carl Edwards stayed out to lead a lap, then pitted. Smart points play for the 99 team.

Kenny Wallace in the #00 car has to return to pit lane for speeding. It is much better to serve a penalty under caution at Talledega than it is to have to do it under green, so Wallace stays on the lead lap. The debris was from a cut tire on the car of Tony Raines.

Jeff Burton takes the lead at the end of lap 39, after the restart, but the racing up front is intense, and Kyle Busch almost got pushed into the wall. Great save. Jr takes the lead momentarily, but Vickers gets a good shove and he gets the lead. Johnson may be a lap down, but he is a factor, as he becomes the drafting partner for a succession of drivers, including Earnhardt, Mears, and Vickers. He leads the field, although he is a lap down. There is nothing wrong with that car. Caution for debris on lap 45.

Johnson now gets the free pass. Many of the lead lap cars pit for fuel only. Ryan Newman's car stalled in the pits, and they have trouble restarting it. His engine is gone.

We can see damage on some cars already, although there haven't been any wrecks. Of concern is the front splitter on Tony Stewart's car. Deja Vu.

Elliott Saddler has the lead at the restart. Casey Mears is second, and before the end of the lap Kyle Busch with help from Denny Hamlin move up on the outside. Busch takes the lead going into turn 2.

Kurt Busch, with help from Vickers takes the lead on the next lap. Is this the BIG ONE on lap 53? No, only three cars were actually involved. Jeff Gordon hits the wall trying to avoid the spinning David Reutimann, who cut a tire, and heavily damages his car.

Bad day for Penske, now Kurt Busch's team is talking about engine problems.

Skinner takes the lead in the 84 Red Bull Toyota shortly after the restart, then Kasey Kahne gets the lead on the next lap. Bobby Labonte has made several attempts to take the lead, but can't make it stick. Now Reed Sorenson takes the lead from the outside lane. The race for the lead is three wide and continues that way for several laps, with too many lead changes to keep track of. Behind fourth position, they are four-wide. There is plenty of beatin' and bangin' at 200 mph here.

Junior takes the lead with Montoya pushing him, then Montoya gets help from Harvick and challenges for the lead.

Now we get the BIG ONE involving maybe eight cars. Vickers looses the front right tire in the tri-oval and wrecks, Kasey Kahne has wrecked. Aric Almirola and Martin Truex, Jr were also involved. David Gilliland's car is totally messed up. Mike Skinner's car is going to the garage. Jamie McMurray and Tony Raines were involved as well. A lot of cars barely escape disaster, because they were running packed three wide and tight.There were no Chase contenders in the wreck, miraculously. Red flag, the race is stopped to clean up the mess.

Brian Vickers' tire exploded much like Dale Earnhardt, Jr's did during final practice, Friday. Goodyear will probably hear about this.

Earnhardt is the leader, and Montoya is second. Johnson has made it up to sixteenth. No doubt that the 48 team could win this one, a great feat after being a lap down, but a piece of cake for Knaus and Kompany.

Pit stops before the green flies. Kvapil has troubles in the pit stalls with the front left tire, and loses many positions in the pits. Jr takes two tires only and maintains the lead. Restart on lap 72.

Paul Menard, Montoya, Burton and Harvick fill out the top five.

Montoya is racing toward the front on the inside with Hamlin as his drafting partner, and takes the lead on lap 74. Now Hamlin takes the lead. Montoya tries to take the lead again, gets shoved to the infield, but maintains control of the car and its speed, staying in third. Here comes Jr with help from Johnson, and they pass Hamlin like he is standing still. Stewart now comes up on the inside and hooks up with Johnson to take the lead, then Johnson gets the lead, and Stewart with Montoya in tow makes a move on the outside, but can't make it stick. Holy cow, three wide for the lead.

Jr and Ragan are trying to catch Johnson, but there is no drafting help, Johnson blocks his team mate, Jr , aggressively, but gives up the lead to Mike Wallace. This is wild. By lap 79, Johnson controls the lead, Earnhardt, Mike Wallace, Montoya, Stewart fill out the top five, and oh wow, Mike Wallace cuts a tire up there in the lead pack. Somehow, tragedy is averted as Wallace's car is the only one that recieves damage in that incident. Wallace did not actually wreck, and mangages to get some repair and new tires while staying on the lead lap.

The top five off of pit road are Kyle Busch, Earnhardt, Montoya, Stewart and Kenseth. Johnson seems to be having some engine problems. The 48 team removes the rev chip to see if there are other problems. Johnson will restart in 23rd.

Green flag on lap 86. The front five are in line, then Stewart passes Montoya and is side by side with Earnhardt. Three wide for third as Nemecheck leads the outside line toward the front. Busch is first, Stewart is second. Bobby Labonte looks strong in that outside line and gets help from Jr. Now Jr shoves Labonte then moves down to the inside, and we have a three wide race for the lead. Jr moves back up with Labonte, but they fall back some. Busch still leads, and Stewart is second, and Jr moves up again. Busch tries to block, but Jr momentarily takes the lead. This is a side by side race for third now, as Hamlin takes the lead with help from Montoya. Montoya makes a move for the lead, then Jr comes back into the lead, and Aric Almirola is second, after being involved in that earlier wreck. But now Hamlin gets it back, with Busch and Stewart behind him. Now David Ragan pushes Matt Kenseth to the lead on the outside, Jr comes back on the inside, with Montoya in tow, but they get stalled and fall back.

This is incredible three wide racing up front. It is very difficult to keep track of positions, and even the lead, but this sure is fun. The Wow Meter is pegged.

Now Denny Hamlin leads again at the half way point. All four of the manufacturers represented in NASCAR are running strong, though the toll has been heavy on the Dodges. Kyle Busch is second, Tony Stewart third, then Hamlin cuts a tire and hits the wall in turn one, pancaking the right side. and keeping the car against the wall all the way down to the end of the backstretch. He did a great job of not letting the car drop into traffic and causing a big wreck, if that is any consolation.

A bad pit stop for the 88 team causes Jr to lose some positions. Everybody is taking four tires this time, except for Menard who takes two. Now Robby Gordon leads, from staying out while the others pitted. Carl Edwards also stayed out, but now pits on lap 101. It is explained that Edwards is pitting away from the other lead cars to avoid the kind of pit road problems with contact that have plaqued him the past two weekends. He's not taking any chances.

Scott Riggs now leads at the green flag, Paul Menard is second, Almirola third, Kyle Busch is fourth and Stewart is fifth. Kenseth is in sixth.

Menard takes the lead, with Almirola behind him. Now Busch, Stewart, and Kenseth have a line going and catch the leaders. The top seven cars are in single file. Stewart passes Busch, makes contact, but saves it, and moves up to side by side with Menard. He takes the lead on the outside.

Stewart moves up, and Menard takes the lead on the bottom. The top three are now Menard, Almirola and Kyle Busch. 80 laps to go. 49 lead changes so far. This is Racin'!

Stewart takes the lead with the help of Montoya and leads for about five laps. Jeff Burton makes several good runs for the lead on the outside line, with help from Harvick and Dale Jr, and takes the lead for three laps. Now Harvick follows through and takes the lead. Things settle down a little with Harvick in the lead, David Ragan is second, Tony Stewart is third and Kyle Busch is fourth.

Kenseth leads a group on the outside to catch up to the top five. A third line forms in the middle as even more cars try to reach the front.

The front five are literally nose to tail as the outside line makes another move to the front, with Kvapil leading that group. Clint Bowyer, and Matt Kenseth are the pushers in that line. Stewart starts to make a move for second, gets no drafting help, and falls back into line to keep his third place position.

57 laps to go, and it's Harvick, Ragan, Stewart, Almirola and Kyle Busch in the top five. Kvapil and the outside line have taken the #28 car to fifth position, and the outside line is challenging the leaders.

53 laps to go and the top five remain the same. While we are in a temporary lull in the action, we should report that Denny Hamlin was apparently injured in that single car accident earlier, and was taken to the hospital. It is reported that he is alert and talking.

The front five maintain an unbroken line, and are able to stay ahead of that outside line lead by Kvapil. He really wants to make that pole count this race.

Caution for debris on lap 138. It is speculated that some of the cut tires that have happened are due to debris, so NASCAR is being more cautious about leaving any debris on the track. The leaders all pit on lap 140, which is still outside the fuel window to the end of the race. That means that the money stops could possibly be under green with only a few laps left. If there is no caution for the rest of the race, this will be a fuel mileage nail biter.

Carl Edwards spins leaving his pit stall, and it seems that his troubles with traffic during pit stops isn't over. Kyle Busch takes only two tires, but most of the others take four.

Greg Biffle leads, but he and the rest of the top five haven't pitted yet. Kyle Busch is the first off pit road.

A lot of cars are topping off before the green, and a lot are staying out. This will mean nothing if there is another caution.

Kyle Busch leads to the green with 44 laps to go. Jimmie Johnson has make it back up to fifth. David Ragan is second. Travis Kvapil is third and Stewart is fourth.

Kyle holds the lead, Johnson moves to the outside, and Stewart moves with him. Montoya and Jr form a third line on the outside. Busch moves up to the outside line, and David Ragan goes low. Montoya drops down behind Ragan, than back up. Busch still maintains the lead after all this, with Montoya on his rear bumper. This is actually getting scary. Then things settle down again, with Kyle Busch first, Montoya second, Dale Earnhardt Jr third, Jeff Burton fourth, and Kevin Harvick fifth. Jr takes a peek, then drops back in line.

What a move by Kyle Busch to block everybody! That car is three lanes wide, but he can't keep it up, and Jr nudges him out of the way and takes the lead. Burton is running in second. Kyle Busch falls way back.

Burton has taken the lead, but Jr has lined up behind David Ragan, and pushes the 6 car into the lead. Jr goes on the outside and takes the lead with no drafting help. Now Ragan, Montoya, and Burton are hooked up. Ragan takes the lead, but Montoya gets behind Jr and Jr retakes the lead.

If this keeps up all the way to the checkers, this will be one heck of a race. Excuse me, it has already been one heck of a race.

The teams of Mears, Montoya, and Biffle say they can go the distance. Kyle Busch's team says they can't. Stewart is conserving fuel, having fallen back to twentieth, but may be two laps short on fuel.

Harvick spins in turn three, but no other cars are involved, as he was on the inside, and was not in danger of being hit by other cars. There is no apparent damage on the 29 car. The caution changes everything there was about fuel strategy.

Not everybody pits, but Stewart and Kyle Busch don't take chances and pit for fuel and tires. Bobby Labonte and Busch take two tires and Stewart and most of the others who pit take four. This is more interesting strategy. Busch has over 108 laps on his left side tires. Everybody who needed to has topped off.

Montoya and Mears did gas only stops and are in first and second. Paul Menard is third, Clint Bowyer is fourth and Jr is fifth. The top five cars break away after the restart but that doesn't last long. Stewart and Kenseth are coming up fast on the outside lane, and soon they are challenging Montoya for the lead.

Stewart takes the lead in the middle line, then the outside line has trouble as Greg Biffle in fourth gets turned in turn four, and comes up the track, collecting many of the cars behind him, including Carl Edwards and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. It looked like Harvick got caught up in that as well.So was Matt Kenseth, making it five Chase drivers involved in this wreck. If we had the BIG ONE earlier, this is the REALLY BIG ONE. Now they are saying that it was Eddie Haskell Carl Edwards who turned Biffle. Jack Roush must be livid. Sorenson and Kvapil were also caught up in the wreck. Michael Waltrip and Juan Pablo Montoya were also involved. A lot of good cars were taken out here.

Edwards mans up to the mistake. He tried to push Biffle through the corner, which he should have known better not to do. We have to give Carl credit for taking the blame. He doesn't want Jr Nation hating him now. This will help him keep his good guy image, and even though he took responsibility, Ward Cleaver (played by Jack Roush) will probably ground The Beaver (played by Greg Biffle) because Eddie is such a good boy and didn't mean it.

Mr Cleaver: Eddie! What have you done?

Eddie: Gee Mr Cleaver, I didn't mean to do anything wrong. Has anybody mentioned how good you smell today?

Mr Cleaver: Aw Eddie, you are such a good kid. I can see now it was really Wally (played by NASCAR) and the Beaver's fault. They will be punished.

Eddie: Please don't hurt them too bad, Mr Cleaver, they didn't mean to do it. Did I mention how nice your shirt looks?

Roush is blaming it on NASCAR, actually, for allowing the cars to bump through the turns. He does have a point, because NASCAR has said in the past that they would not allow bump drafting in the turns.

With ten laps to go, it is Tony Stewart first, Joe Nemecheck second, and Elliott Saddler is in third. Jimmie Johnson is in ninth position, the points leader and next Chaser in race position. This could get wild, no more give and mostly take.

Saddler blows by Nemecheck and is on Tony Stewart's bumper. This is cool, because these guys have been good friends since 1999, and they are pulling ahead of the rest of the field. It is also scary remembering Darlington.

Behind them there is a line of seven cars led by David Ragan, and they catch Saddler and Stewart. Regan Smith is in second, with DEI team mates Paul Menard and Aric Almirola right behind him.

Burton and Bowyer are moving up on the outside, with four laps to go. Jamie McMurray slides sideways in turn two as his right rear tire explodes. Another single car accident, and another great save. Goodyear says it isn't tire wear or heat, from what they can see on the tires, but possibly running over debris. We already written this before, but if we repeat often enough we may start to believe. it.

It will be a green/white/checker finish. This is so intense the needle has broken off of the Wow Meter and imbedded itself in my left shoulder. This is wild. 2 laps to go.

Tony is in first with Paul Menard and Regan Smith right behind him. Elliott Saddler is in fourth, with David Ragan behind him, and they have caught the lead draft with one to go. Saddler moves up but has no drafting help. Tony Stewart is still leading. I can't believe it, can he win? Smith passes at the last second on the bottom, but I thought you can't pass below the yellow line, and it seemed like Smith was on the apron. Smoke is officially being shown as the winner, but Smith's team is celebrating. I am having a serious anxiety attack. Smoke Wins!!!!! Holy Smokes!!!!! The top five are Tony Stewart, Regan Smith, Paul Menard, David Ragan, and Jeff Burton.

Smith's team is protesting that Smith was forced below the yellow, and therefore had the right to pass.

Talladega has now brought us two of the most exciting races of the season. This was once a track that made restrictor-plate racing look like a 200 mph parking lot, but today we had some real racing throughout the entire event. All time records in lead changes and number of race leaders were broken. So was my imaginary Wow Meter.

It really feels good when a favorite driver finally wins after being second six times at Talladega, and his first win of the season. There will be those who think Ragen Smith was cheated, but according to the rules, he did begin the pass below the yellow line while he had the option open to move to the outside, but that doesn't justify him being penalized sixteen positions. A win is a win and it feels good.