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?

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