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.

No comments: