Sunday, November 16, 2008

Live on Type Delay: The Ford 400 (Homestead)

Tony Stewart gets emotional as he talks about his time with Joe Gibbs Racing and the #20 Home Depot team. He has just finished a photo session with the crew he is leaving after the end of this race and this season, and has hugged each of his crew members as he turns for the interview. His voice is choked up, and, if not for the dark glasses he is wearing, we would be certain to see tears in his eyes. He would like nothing more today than to get one last victory for the team with which he has spent his entire NASCAR Cup career to date.

Carl Edwards also would want a victory. In order to have a chance of winning the 2008 NASCAR Nextel Cup Championship, he needs to lead the most laps and win the race. And even doing that wouldn't give him the championship. Edwards also has to hope that Jimmie Johnson, who leads him in points by 141 markers, finishes thirty-seventh or lower at the checkered flag. Noting the performance of the 48 team over the past ten races, we would have to say "Fat Chance!"

But, you never know. Anything can happen.

David Reutimann leads the field in his first career Cup pole position, and next to him is newcomer Scott Speed. But Matt Kenseth, who also wants to win so he can chalk up a victory for this season, quickly takes the lead on the first lap. A few laps later, Carl Edwards, starting fourth, finds his way to second place.

Kenseth is racing to win, and to maintain a spot in the final top ten standings. He isn't about to just give the lead to his team mate. He wants to make Carl work for it. Finally, around lap 18, he succumbs to pressure from the spotters and lets Carl by.

Which reminds us, there are many more races going on here than a race victory and a championship. Several teams are racing for the top ten, and several more are racing for the top thirty-five positions in owners points. That should keep the action interesting enough.

Tony Stewart, who started 13th, has moved up to ninth position, and Kevin Harvick has taken second place from Matt Kenseth. Harvick has been consistently in the top five, lately, and he also wants a win this season.

And the potential Champ, Jimmie Johnson, isn't content with running toward the back and protecting his points. He has moved up to seventeenth from his starting position of thirtieth.

Green flag pit stops begin on lap 51, and Edwards, the race leader, pits on lap 52, and retains the lead after the pit stops cycle through. Matt Kenseth loses some time after overshooting his pit box, and drops back from third to seventh.

Caution on lap 69, after Alric Almirola has a tire go down, and everybody pits. Track conditions are changing as the sun sets, so do the car set-ups. Edwards beats Harvick off of pit lane by half a car length. It looks like Clint Bowyer came off third, David Ragan fourth, and David Reutimann fifth.

Greg Biffle is the first car a lap down at the restart, and he races his way to the lead lap at the wave of the green flag. It's a wild restart as the field bunches up behind the leaders, but there are no mishaps and the race continues.

There is lots of movement of positions behind Bowyer, and Stewart has raced his way up to seventh. After 82 laps, it's Edwards, Harvick, Ragan, Reutimann, and Bowyer in the top five.

Clansi, my sweet old calico cat has parked herself on my lap, and has found that my typing fingers provide an invigorating massage for her nose and cheeks. Typos can now be blamed on the cat.

I didn't have an excuse before, now I have one.

During the commercial, David Ragan has moved up into second, and my man, Tony Stewart, has moved up to fifth. Carl Edwards has a four-second lead on the rest of the field, a familiar sight this season. Jamie McMurray has been having great runs lately, and today is no exception as he has been running in sixth place. Jimmie Johnson has run all the way up to eleventh. That's the way Jimmie runs--you will never see him taking it easy at any track in any situation. Unless he is comfortably in the lead.

Johnson is being followed by two of his team mates, Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt, Jr, in twelfth and thirteenth, or thirteenth and twelfth. Kyle Busch is the next of the chasers, in fifteenth, and Jeff Burton is sixteenth.

Tony Stewart has moved up a spot, on lap 108, and is running in fourth. Green flag pit stops should begin shortly. Harvick has dropped back to fifth, so, before the commercial break, it's Edwards, Ragan, Reutimann, Stewart, and Harvick in the top five.

During the commercial, Jeff Gordon moved up into the top ten, racing Casey Mears for eighth position, and Johnson has moved back to twelfth. Junior, running way up high, moves into the ninth spot, passing Mears.

Surprisingly, on lap 125, all 43 cars are in the race, but their are only twenty cars on the lead lap. Sterling Marlin is doing a great job, running in sixteenth, in the "have-not" #09 James Finch Racing car.

Tony Stewart is the first to pit, on lap 125, then a bunch of cars make their green flag stops on lap 126. Edwards drops out of the lead to pit on lap 129, and, after the pit stops cycle through, is still in the lead. Ragan is still second, and Stewart has moved up to third. Brian Vickers, trying to get the 84 car--normally driven by Scott Speed--into the top thirty five, serves a pass through penalty for speeding on pit road.

Caution for debris on lap 140. With the track cooling down, there will be continuing adjustments for many of the teams. Dale Earnhardt, Jr runs into some bad luck in the pits, with his car stalling, and will restart at the back of the lead lap in 21st. At the restart, it's Edwards, Hamlin, McMurray, Ragan, and Kyle Busch. Did they stay out? I don't know, because I can't get MRN today, so we don't get the pit stop details we usually get from the radio broadcast.

Kurt Busch hits the wall on lap 152, twice, and brings out another caution. There will not be many takers for pit stops this caution.

On lap 153, Carl Edwards clinches the most laps led 10-point bonus, one of his goals for this race. Clansi has gone to eat, satisfied that her whiskers have been successfully groomed, so I am back to having to take responsibility for typos.

Kurt Busch has to serve a bunch of penalties, after pitting while the pits were closed, missing the pitting commitment line, and speeding on pit road. He got another penalty for failure to obey an official's "stop" signal while leaving the pit lane. He may have the record for the number of pit road penalties for one stop.

At the restart, it is Edwards in the lead, Hamlin second, McMurray third, Ragan fourth, and Kyle Busch fifth. Hamlin gives Edwards a good run for the lead after the green flag waves, but can't quite catch the leader. Kyle Busch is racing side by side with David Ragan for fourth place, and Tony Stewart is moving back up toward the top five, racing for sixth position against his good buddy, Kevin Harvick.

Now this race is getting fun, as the sun is down, and the track has more grip as it has cooled down. By lap 165, Kyle Busch has taken fourth from David Ragan, but Ragan isn't giving that spot up, either, and they change positions back and fourth. Stewart gets around Harvick on lap 168 and moves into sixth. Marcus Ambrose has contact with Reed Sorenson and hits the wall, bringing out another caution. Ambrose is racing the #47/00, for Michael Waltrip Racing and trying to keep that car in the top 35 in owners' points, while Reed is trying to make his last race with Ganassi Racing a good one. All the leaders pit for tires, fuel, and adjustments.

Clansi has eaten her fill and is back on my lap, now getting a freebie from my typing fingers by pressing her forehead against my knuckles, as I type. This is quite an exercise, and a challenge. Good cat.

Pit strategy moves Edwards back to seventh. Ambrose's car is the first car to go to the garage. Jimmie Johnson will restart in fourteenth. Jeff Gordon stayed out during the caution and leads. Reutimann is second, Kenseth third, Bowyer fourth, and David Gilliland is fifth. Restart on lap 174.

Edwards moves into fifth with 91 laps to go. Johnson just has to be careful to protect his car and avoid danger at this point. Jeff Burton spins with 90 to go, and we get a caution. It's Gordon, Kenseth, Bowyer, Reutimann, and Edwards in the top five now. Johnson pits for tires and adjustments, after four laps of harrowing racing in some dangerous traffic. This will also put the 48 car out of sequence for fuel strategy toward the end of the race, a common Knaus tactic.

Restart with 85 laps to go. It looks like Jeff Gordon, Matt Kenseth, David Reutimann, Denny Hamlin, and Carl Edwards, in the top five, and they are racing hard from positions two on back after the restart. Kenseth takes the lead from Gordon with 82 laps to go. Edwards tries to advance on the low side of the track, but falls short, then moves up into fourth. Ragan and Reutimann are putting on a David and David show, battling for fifth. Now Hamlin gets low on Gordon and is racing for second place. Hamlin hasn't made good his pass on Gordon yet, and Edwards takes advantage and joins the fray. Just as I was wondering where my drivers were, Tony Stewart moves into fifth. Kevin Harvick is running in tenth, with 75 laps to go.

Sorenson wrecks and brings out a caution with 69 laps to go. Johnson pits, but takes two tires and the lead, moving up twelve spots. Kenseth is second, and almost before we can get the running order straightened out, there is another caution as Kurt Busch wrecks again, but not before Kenseth takes the lead. Gordon pits from seventh spot, along with Kevin Harvick and others, and they may be good on fuel until the end of the race, so this is more strategy coming into play.

At the restart, it will be Kenseth, Johnson, Hamlin, Edwards, and Stewart in the top five. They all stayed out. With 53 laps to go, Kyle Busch is challenging Stewart for fifth. Greg Biffle, the winner of the last three races at Homestead, has now moved into the top ten. Dale Jr is in thirteenth, Harvick is fourteenth, and Jeff Gordon is back in sixteenth.

Junior loves running at the top of the track and moves into twelfth. Harvick follows into thirteenth. With 46 laps to go, it's Kenseth, Hamlin, Johnson, Edwards and Stewart. Kenseth leads by just under one second.

While Edwards, Hamlin, and Johnson are all racing for second, Stewart takes advantage and takes fourth from Johnson, third from Edwards, and second from Hamlin. Edwards gets third, and Hamlin falls to fourth, while Johnson runs in fifth. Stewart will have to pit for fuel before the race is over, but he is moving fast, now, and will soon be challenging Kenseth for the lead. Johnson only has to finish fortieth to win the championship now, and that is if Edwards wins the race.

Love it, Stewart is stalking Kenseth, and saying "Here kitty, kitty, kitty." It would be great to see Stewart win this, but the fuel situation is touchy. Maybe we will get a caution? Is that too much to hope?

Dale Jr pits with 22 laps to go, for tires, fuel, and to see what is causing the handling problem. It may be a tire going down, so they change four. Stewart takes first.

Dale Jr pits again, reporting something wrong with the left front. Biffle pits with 17 laps to go. It's a broken brake caliper for Junior's car, and it goes to the garage.

Johnson takes a splash of fuel and two tires with 13 laps to go. Stewart pits with eleven laps to go, as does Hamlin. Hamlin takes two new skins, while Stewart's stop is a splash and dash. The top five are now Kenseth, Edwards, Ragan, Kyle Busch, and Clint Bowyer. If these cars run out of fuel, Kevin Harvick, in sixth has the best chance of winning. Matt Kenseth runs out of fuel with three laps to go. Edwards is leading and saving fuel. Kyle Busch moves into third with two laps to go. White flag, and Edwards has a thirteen second lead over second place Kevin Harvick. Edwards runs out of fuel coming off of turn four, and wins the race. Jimmie Johnson is the Champion, for a history making three in a row.

I have been critical of Edward's on camera vs on track split personality, but that is not to take away from his ability, nor from the ability of his crew chief Bob Osborne. Carl Edwards is a great all around driver, and if things had worked out, he would have had a well-deserved championship.

But it is Johnson's and Knaus' day, as they accomplished what is a very difficult feat in any sport, but especially in NASCAR. And they are also very deserving of the championship.

Tony Stewart did have a good enough finish to gain eighth place in the final standings, but, unfortunately, two other of my favorites, Matt Kenseth and Dale Earnhardt, Jr, were knocked out of the top ten.

It is the end of the season for NASCAR, but not yet for Rev Jim's RantsnRaves. We still have to write some stuff about the Nationwide Series and Truck Series final and championship races, some thoughts about the 2008 season, and a few thoughts on next season, so, if you like what you read here, check back later this week.

We give thanks for racing, for NASCAR, for NASCAR racing, and for an interesting and dramatic season. Congratulations to Jimmie Johnson, and to all NASCAR drivers for giving us what we love about the sport of auto racing.

Thanks to my readers for pointing out my errors, and still sticking with me throughout the season, even though we have been in somewhat of a writing slump.

Oh, and thanks to my sweet old calico cat for keeping me entertained while I was writing this final "Live on Type Delay" episode for 2008.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

To All Who Serve, Have Served, And Will Serve

Thank You And Happy Veteran's Day!

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Live on Type Delay: The O'Reilly Auto Parts 500 KM(Phoenix)

Pre-race thoughts: Dale Jr is sporting a nice beard. Although it is neatly trimmed, it doesn't seem to fit the Hendrick dress code. I wonder if Rick is going to make Junior hit the floor and give him fifty for appearing on television like that.

Not to belittle Jimmie Johnson's racing skills--he is a very good driver--but why haven't we heard Carl Edwards say, "A monkey could win in that (#48) car?"

I have a lot of respect for Jimmie Johnson, but what if he didn't have Chad Knaus as his crew chief? He makes a lot of mistakes, and often gets himself into accidents, penalties, and other situations that would keep other drivers out of a good finish. Knaus and the team 48 pit crew invariably make up for those mistakes. My guess is that Hideo Fukyama would be a household name if he had had Knaus as a crew chief.

Eddie Haskell Mr. Phony Carl Edwards is an exceptional driver, whether he's driving a Sprint Cup car, a Nationwide Series car, or a CTS truck. He's old school in the way he man-handles a car throughout the entire race, and he apparently is very good at saving fuel. Obviously, he is not one of my favorite drivers, but I hope the points race between between him and Jimmie Johnson tightens up after this race. I would rather see Johnson as the champion than Edwards, but what I'm really hoping for is that both of them have bad finishes this race, and Greg Biffle gets into the mix at Homestead, making it a three-way race for the Championship.

Just my thoughts, as deranged as they might be.

Jimmie Johnson drops to the bottom at the wave of the green flag, but Jamie McMurray gets around in turns three and four and leads the first lap. There is already a lot of action this early in the race, as Carl Edwards tries to advance his position from his fifteenth place start. But the cars are bunched up three-wide back there, and Edwards has to let up some.

Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex, Jr make contact with each other and the wall on lap sixteen, but there doesn't seem to be a lot of damage, and there is no caution, then, on lap twenty, Sam Hornish Jr and Elliott Sadler get into each other, causing minimal damage to the cars, but their spinning causes enough of a potential hazard that the first caution flag flies. Everyone pits.

Restart on lap 26, with Kurt Busch first, and the top five positions immediately get mixed up as everybody tries to gain the lead. Martin Truex, Jr's engine is seriously overheating and he has to go back into the pits, with a stalled engine. Truex seems to be out of the race as they take the car to the garage.

On lap thirty, Brian Vickers has the right front tire go down, and slams into the wall, bringing out the second caution. Kurt Busch was in the lead, Jimmie Johnson second, Ryan Newman third, Jamie McMurray fourth, and Dale Earnhardt, Jr is fifth. Nobody in the front of the field pits.

Restart on lap 36 and an immediate caution for debris. Then it starts raining, but just a sprinkling of drops. The race remains under caution, but the cars stay on the track and count off laps. Jet driers are also making laps. Now, on lap 43 we get a red flag.

If you have ever lived in the Southwest United States, especially the dryer areas, you would know that "20% chance of rain" means that it's going to rain.

Only Matt Kenseth has the kind of luck that would get him a flat tire under a red flag. He was in twentieth, but will have to restart in the back, after he pits under caution to change the tires.

The race restarts on lap 46. Johnson quickly tries to take the lead, but Dirty Kurty holds the top position. Again, lots of hard racing all around the track. Kyle Busch uses the top line to move into the top seven. Hamlin is racing Earnhardt hard to get into the top five, but Earnhardt is also moving up. Edwards is still trying to make progress, but the traffic is terrible. Kevin Harvick, Juan Pablo Montoya, and Tony Stewart are all up there around the 99 car.

Meanwhile, the relative positions in the top five are changing constantly. Earnhardt, Jr moves up into fourth, Newman falls back, as Hamlin also gains position. But Jeff Gordon is in the mix, and he ends up in fifth, as Newman drops to sixth. On lap 75, the running order is Kurt Busch, Jimmie Johnson, Jamie McMurray, Dale Earnhardt, Jr, and Jeff Gordon in that order in the top five. Newman falls way back as he has a tire going down, or suspension problems, or both.

On lap 79, Johnson is able to catch Dirty Kurty Busch and is challenging for the lead. As we know, Dirty Kurty is very hard to pass, especially while he is in the lead. Johnson tries the inside, but can't get by. He tries the outside, and can't make it stick. Finally, on lap 82, he gets around the outside and takes the lead. McMurray has caught up to the front two and is looking to take second place. Dirty Kurty won't give up second very easily, either. There should be green flag pit stops coming up soon. That is always fun at Phoenix.

McMurray moved into second during the commercial. I had to turn off the radio, because the interference was really bad. I wish we had an FM station here to pick up the MRN and PRN broadcasts. One of our local Classic Rock stations has a big sponsorship from a NASCAR sports bar, and does a lot of NASCAR promotion, so I would hope they get the MRN/PRN contracts soon. I know a music station wouldn't normally carry sports, but this one is already carrying the Colorado College Hockey radio broadcasts, so a NASCAR race every week wouldn't hurt.

Green flag pit stops begin on lap 98. The top five are pitting on laps 100 through 103. Everyone is taking four tires. Travis Kvapil leads a lap while the leaders pit. Mark Martin has to come back into the pits for a missing lug nut. Remember, this is under green, so that has to hurt. Greg Biffle, who started in the back for a transmission change, leads a lap while pit stops continue. Biffle is out of sequence from the other leaders, as he pitted on lap 44. He pits on lap 109. Johnson retains the lead. Newman ground down the front sway bar, while he was making laps on a left front tire that was very low in air pressure, so he is back in the pits while his team tries to repair the damage.

After the green flag pit stops cycle through, it's Johnson, McMurray, Earnhardt, Jr, Jeff Gordon, and Kurt Busch in the top five. Carl Edwards has made it into tenth place. All the Hendrick cars are in the top six, as Casey Mears is running in sixth. Hamlin is still in seventh. There are 21 cars on the lead lap.

On lap 126, Kevin Harvick is running in eighth, and Carl Edwards has moved up to ninth, while Kasey Kahne fills out the top ten. Now Kyle Busch moves into tenth.

Caution on lap 141 for debris. The leaders all pit on lap 143, and Johnson leads, Dale Jr is second, Jeff Gordon is third, Jamie McMurray is fourth, and Dirty Kurty is fifth. The rest of the top ten is as last reported. Kyle Busch passes Edwards for ninth, shortly after the restart on lap 153. Greg Biffle is running twelfth, Tony Stewart is thirteenth, and Jeff Burton is fourteenth.

On lap 160, they are showing the view through the windshield of Jeff Burton's #31 car, and it looks just like Martinsville. That is how rough the racing is between tenth and fourteenth positions. We have a good race going between Carl and Kyle, and should we expect less? That would be a fun one to watch.

I'm getting a kick out of that new NAPA commercial with Michael Waltrip and Ron Capps. Capps isn't used to having to work for fifteen seconds. That, according to the commercial, is three times as long as his normal "five second work day." Funny! Ron Capps is one of the superstars of the NHRA drag racing series, for those who don't know.

Jeff Gordon reported something wrong with his engine earlier in the race, and on lap 173, he starts dropping back, as he has lost a cylinder. Tim Brewer gets to talk about broken valve springs for the first time since last year. I bet he is having a flashback. Last year, he got to talk about broken valve springs and bent valves every ten minutes.

Things have finally settled down back beyond ninth place, by lap 190. Tony Stewart is in tenth, Kyle Busch in eleventh, and Jeff Burton is in twelfth. Jeff Gordon has fallen back to seventeenth. Casey Mears is now in fifth place, Denny Hamlin is sixth, Kevin Harvick is seventh, Edwards is eighth, and Biffle is ninth.

Edwards finally gets around Kevin Harvick on lap 220, for seventh, just before a caution comes out for debris. All the lead lap cars pit. In Jimmie Johnson's pit, a tire carrier fumbles with tape he was going to add to the grill of Johnson's car, and the 48 team loses first place to Jamie McMurray, who beats Johnson out of the pits. Restart with 94 laps to go, and McMurray does not hold on to first place long at all. Johnson takes that position almost immediately. That was a pretty move. This time the driver saved the pit crew, rather than the usual other way around.

Uh-oh, Steve Letarte said "valve train." I guess that means we have to hear from Tim Brewer again? Maybe not. ESPN/ABC has shown some improvement over last year.

Jamie Little reports that Tony Stewart said he would vote for David Ragan as Driver of the Year, if he had a vote. Last year, Stewart accurately called Ragan "a dart without feathers." Driver of the Year would be a good call as well, because David Ragan has made that much improvement in one year.

I missed it somewhere, but McMurray lost second to Dirty Kurty somewhere, and now Dale Earnhardt, Jr is taking third from McMurray. Caution for debris with 51 laps to go and this will be the money stop. I actually wrote that before the guys on TV said it.

Johnson maintains the lead, coming off of pit road, and Carl Edwards moves up three positions into fourth place. I think Dirty Kurty is back in second place. Jamie McMurray is third, and Harvick will restart in fifth. Earnhardt, Jr lost several positions in the pits and will restart in sixth. Great save by Casey Mears in ninth position, as he nearly hits the wall. Hamlin makes a great move and gets into sixth, and Earnhardt gets to fifth. Harvick falls back to seventh. Jeff Gordon's engine lets go with 42 laps to go, and though there is a lot of smoke, the race stays green.

Big wreck. Casey Mears goes around, and all these other cars get involved, in the dog-leg on the back stretch. Johnny Sauter, Scott Speed. Scott Riggs, and David Gilliland are some of the other cars involved. The rear wheels of Gilliland's car ended up on the hood of Scott Speed's car. I want a picture of that. Marcos Ambrose was also involved while the traffic was trying to slow down. Red flag to clear up the wreckage. 39 laps to go in the race.

Maybe the Awesome Wreckage blog will have some good video of that wreck.

As the cars restart, Tony Stewart's #20 car had trouble starting. His fellow Hoosier and next year's team mate, Ryan Newman, gives him a push start, but he will restart in 17th. Caution with 28 laps to go, and Johnson stays out, but several cars pit for tires. The restart will see Johnson in first Kurt Busch in second, Jamie McMurray in third, Edwards in fourth, and Earnhardt Jr in fifth. Restart with 24 laps to go.

Kurt Busch gets right on the bumper of the 48 car at the restart, and Mark Martin looks like he is racing to get back on the lead lap. Another caution for debris with 21 laps to go.

It looks like everyone will stay out this time. They are showing videos of some of the action just before the caution, and I have to say, if anyone could get Jeff Burton mad, other than Kyle Busch, it would have to be Paul Menard. Yup.

Restart with fifteen laps to go, and Jimmie Johnson just takes off, and makes a big cushion between himself and second place Dirty Kurty Busch. McMurray is still in third, with Carl Edwards on his bumper, Dale Earnhardt, Jr is hanging in there in fifth. Now Harvick is racing The Bearded One for fifth, and he is going into the turns hot. So has Tony Stewart, and Allmendinger tries to get under Matt Kenseth, as Stewart is trying to get around the #17 on the outside. There is no room inside of Kenseth, so Allmendinger hits Kenseth, who hits Stewart, who spins and stalls. Stewart can't get his car restarted and goes a lap down. Allmendinger takes responsibility and feels terrible, according to his radio chatter. He ought to feel bad.

After all that mess It will be a green/white/checkered restart. Johnson is first, Kurt Busch second, McMurray third. After all that hard racing for fifth, Carl Edwards comes out of the mess in fourth, and Dale Jr is still fifth. Kevin Harvick is sixth. Kurt Busch makes a move to the inside of Johnson at the restart, but doesn't quite make it. Still racing hard on the white flag lap. He tries the outside and misses, but this race is going right down to the finish line. Johnson wins, Busch is second, McMurray third, Edwards fourth, Hamlin fifth, Earnhardt, Jr six, and it seems that everybody behind them wrecks. Matt Kenseth got some payback against the #10 car to remind AJ Allmendinger that he should feel terrible, and everyone gets caught up in the wreck.

This was another fun race, even though Johnson dominated. Dirty Kurty always throws some excitement into the mix when he is racing for first, or any position for that matter. There was no lack of action, except during the red flag. Although I feel bad for Matt Kenseth and my favorite driver, who has now fallen back to twelfth in points, I feel bad for AJ Allmendinger as well, because he knew it was a boneheaded move, but every driver out there has made that same mistake at one time or another.

Still one race to go, and I already know my NASCAR withdrawal this off-season is going to make for a difficult winter.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

How 'bout them trucks!

Expect anything to happen in a Craftsman Truck Series race, and the race will always produce more than you could ever expect. Whether the race is for the lead, the win, championship points, or even just to finish in the top ten, the competition level is very high, and the level of excitement is at its peak.

For the last seven or eight races, the championship battle has been between Ron Hornaday and Johnny Benson, with the points lead changing between them several times. Hornaday went into Martinsville with a 39 point lead over Benson, but ran out of fuel in the final laps, giving Benson the lead by sixty-five points. He dominated the race at Atlanta, only to be beaten by his team mate, Ryan Newman, on the last lap. This put him 33 points behind Benson.

At Texas, last week, Hornaday again dominated, and won the race, but Johnny Benson took fourth place on the last lap and maintained a six point lead. This set the stage for Phoenix.

Phoenix International Raceway is often referred to as "the speedway that acts like a short track." (Richmond is the short track that acts like a speedway.) Turns one and two are wide and banked like Lowe's, while turns three and four are tight and flat, like New Hampshire. This produces a drivers' track, and you know the drivers of the Craftsman Truck Series have to love it.

Ron Hornaday sat on the pole for the start of the race, with Kyle Busch on the outside. This was believed to give Hornaday an automatic advantage over Benson, who started in fourteenth at a track where moving up through traffic is difficult. But, before the first lap was finished, Hornaday, trying to pass Kyle Busch on the inside in turn three, lost control of his truck and hit the outside wall, then slipped down into traffic, which, including Johnny Benson's #23 truck, caused more damage.

While Benson's truck sustained only minor damage, Hornaday's had to go to the garage so the rear track bar could be replaced, the front suspension completely rebuilt, and the body work repaired as much as possible. After a laudatory effort, Hornaday later returned to the track, thirty laps down.

So, we would expect that Benson would be able to pad his lead in the points some, which he did. Until sixty laps to go, when he misjudged the line TJ Bell was taking through turn three, and ran into the #7 truck, then the wall, causing major damage to his truck's suspension.

Meanwhile, Kyle Busch and Kevin Havick were having the time of their lives racing for the lead. They are the only two NASCAR drivers who have won at least one race at the same track in each of the three top tier divisions--CTS, Nationwide/Busch, and the Sprint Cup Series. And that one track is Phoenix. Lap after lap, Harvick challenged Busch, until finally taking the lead with forty-five laps to go. Busch reported that his truck's handling was very loose as he dropped back to second place. With twenty laps to go, Busch said he felt a tire going down, but disaster was averted as a caution came out following another accident. By this time, Benson had returned to the track, but behind Ron Hornaday. It was his spin that caused the caution. Busch pitted for tires, adjustments, and fuel, and restarted in twelfth place. After the restart, Busch moved through the field like a hot knife through "I Can't Believe It's Not Butter." With four laps to go, he had passed Todd "Onion" Bodine for second place, but didn't have quite enough to catch Harvick, who won the race.

With Hornaday finishing twenty-fifth, and Benson finishing twenty-sixth, there are now only three points separating the two points leaders in the Championship battle. Benson barely holds the lead going to the final race at Homestead, and, if you can believe it, Todd Bodine is in third place, 145 points behind Benson. That means that if, by another strange twist of fate, Benson and Hornaday both suffer from a similar situation to that they had at Phoenix, Bodine could take the championship by finishing in the top three. Wow!

Other notes: Where the heck did this Brian Scott kid come from? Earlier this year, at O'Reilly Motorsports Park in Indianapolis, he finished 29th. Since then, his finishes have become steadily better.The young rookie, who drives the #16 Toyota has had a career best finish in every race in which he has participated. Friday night, he finished fourth. This guy seems to have a future in NASCAR.

On the other side of the coin is John Wes Townley, another young entry level driver. Bad luck seemed to plague him in qualifying this weekend. Friday, entering turn three, he lost the front right tire. I mean lost it--it came completely off the wheel. And today, during Nationwide Series qualifying, the exact same thing happened at exactly the same place! It seems as if Somebody is trying to tell Townley something like, maybe, "With a name like John Wes Townley, you should have a guitar in your hands, not a steering wheel."

I wonder if he can sing?

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Live on Type Delay: The Dickies 500

We got to hear another Championship quality "Gentlemen, start your engines" and that got us fired up for what we hope to be a fun race. Jimmie Johnson doesn't have to win or even finish in the top ten to maintain a healthy lead in the points, but we know he will be making his way to the front, very quickly, from his 26th place starting position. We can expect some others to be able to move up, namely Kyle Busch and Tony Stewart. Stewart had to start in the back after going to a back up car, due to extensive damage to his primary car in Saturday morning's practice.

Jeff Gordon leads the field to the green flag, and leads for thirteen laps, but Clint Bowyer seems to be riding a rocket, and catches and is quickly closing what was a one second gap. He gets the low line, and passes Gordon on the bottom in turn three of lap 14. Dale Earnhardt, Jr follows and quickly takes second.

David Reutimann, who is not in the Chase, also has a very fast car, and has moved from twelfth to fifth in a very short period of time. The top line seems to be the fastest, and that is the one Reut has been taking. By lap 28, he has taken second place.

By lap 47, Bowyer has lapped several cars, and is a half second ahead of Reutimann. Carl Edwards is third, Jamie McMurray is fourth, and Dale Jr is fifth. As Bowyer gets hung up in lapped traffic, David Reutimann catches him, finds an opening on the bottom, and takes the lead. Green flag pit stops begin on lap 48.

Bowyer surrenders the lead to pit on lap 53, as Earnhardt Jr leads a lap, then pits. Travis Kvapil and Paul Menard both get caught speeding on pit road, and have to serve drive through penalties. After the pit stops cycle through, Bowyer retains the lead, but there is a race going on immediately as Carl Edwards catches him on lap 57 and goes around on the outside, making it look easy. Caution as the #41 Dodge of Reed Sorenson seems to have lost an engine. Edwards is first, Bowyer second, David Reutimann third, Jamie McMurray is fourth, and Greg Biffle is fifth. Dale Jr, from seventh position, leads a bunch of cars back to pit lane. Sorenson's trouble was a loose oil line, so he will continue to race.

Sorenson did lose a lot of oil at the entrance to pit road, so the clean up will take a while. There are now 29 cars on the lead lap. This could be a long race for a lot of teams. Not for Juan Pablo Montoya, however, as he has moved up from a starting position near the back and made his way all the way up to seventh.

On the restart, lap 66, Montoya passes Jeff Gordon for sixth. McMurray presses Reutimann for third, but it is Biffle who moves up and takes that position. Biffle seems to have a good car, now, and is in serious contention for second place. Biffle and Bowyer battle through lap 69, and Biffle finally gets around Bowyer, while Edwards increases his lead. On lap 73, McMurray gets third from Bowyer.

We've seen this movie before. Paul Menard is trying to keep his position of being the first car a lap down, and is racing Greg Biffle hard. Biffle just wants to get by him so he can try to catch up to Edwards, and stay ahead of McMurray. Menard finally checks up, but not before McMurray takes second. Edwards is four seconds ahead of this group.

Jimmie Johnson has been battling a loose handling car, but, knowing the #48 team, that probably won't last long. However, on lap 82, he is running in 24th. Stewart has made it up to 21st position, and seems to be staying there. Kyle Busch is running in the top ten.

On lap 95, Carl Edwards smells blood. He can see Jimmie Johnson, running 26th ahead of him, and wants to put him a lap down. As if that will do any good. Edwards does pass him on lap 96, and Johnson's car seems to be having problems.

Lap 100, and it's Edwards, McMurray, Biffle, Reutimann, and Bowyer in the top five. Montoya is sixth, The Gordon is seventh, and Kyle Busch is running in eighth. Green flag pit stops should begin soon. Pit stops for the fast cars begin with Kyle Busch on lap 110. A great stop at 13.6 seconds. Edwards pits on lap 113. Vickers leads while the other cars pit, and he pits on lap 119, giving the lead back to Carl Edwards. McMurray is two seconds behind Edwards in second, Biffle is third, Reutimann is fourth, and Bowyer is fifth. Montoya is sixth, Kyle Busch is seventh, Jeff Gordon is in eighth, Martin Truex Jr rides in ninth, and Brian Vickers is tenth. There are 22 cars on the lead lap on lap 130.

Who wants to see a caution? I do! I do!

Kurt Busch and Denny Hamlin are making it difficult for Edwards to lap them, but Edwards is racing hard, and McMurray is not getting that much of an opportunity to close the gap. Denny and Dirty Kurty try to block Edwards, but, even though Edwards is the Big Phony personality-wise, he is a genuinely good driver and he gets around Hamlin. Dirty Kurty won't give up the lead lap that easily, however, and he is making Edwards work for it.

Still no caution, and on lap 142, Tony Stewart gets lapped, but, on lap 143, we get a caution for debris. The debris is real, as we see the clean up crew in turns three and four on television, and Smoke gets the lucky dawg pass. The leaders all pit.

Brian Vickers almost gets the lead in the pits, as Edwards crosses the exit line just 1/4 a length in the lead. Greg Biffle is third, Jamie McMurray is fourth, and Clint Bowyer is fifth, in the race off of pit road.

Edwards seems to be getting what he has been hoping for, as the #48 car looks like junk. For once, Klever Knaus can't seem to get a handle on what is wrong with the car.

At the restart, there are nineteen cars on the lead lap. Restart on lap 149.

Kurt Busch races his way back to the lead lap, and AJ Allmendinger also passes the leader. Vickers, is trying to hold off Biffle and McMurray for second, but both of them get by him. Kyle Busch is running sixth and trying to get into the top five, but David Reutimann is still running well, and is a serious contender for sixth place.

Greg Biffle takes second in turn four of lap 156, but Edwards has a two -second gap over him. All five of the Roush-Fenway cars are in the top ten.

By the half-way point of the race, Edwards has passed Allmendinger and Kurt Busch, and they are back to being a lap down.

This seems early, but my PRN broadcast has disappeared, so from here on out, we will have to rely on the television broadcast. In the meantime, I will feel frustrated during commercials and tend to drift off.

The handling of Jimmie Johnson's car does seem to have improved, as he has gained some positions in his attempt to be in the beneficiary position of being the first car a lap down. But Edwards is about to lap Jeff Gordon, and that won't help Johnson much.

Right now, we're wondering where Dale Earnhardt, Jr is. Before the last restart, he re-pitted to top off on fuel, so he will be off sequence on these next green flag pit stops, which begin on lap 199. This could, under certain circumstances, give him an opportunity to take the lead. Just before the pit cycle begins, Jr is running in fourteenth.

The track is mostly in shade, now, so conditions will be changing. Everybody makes adjustments.

After pit stops cycle through, it is Edwards in first, seven seconds ahead of second-place David Reutimann. Jamie McMurray is third, Kyle Busch, who started the race in twenty-ninth, is fourth, and Greg Biffle, after pit stop problems is fifth. On lap 220, there are only sixteen cars on the lead lap. as both Stewart and Jeff Gordon have been put a lap down. Earnhardt, Jr is running in fifteenth.

Bowyer, Montoya, David Ragan, Matt Kenseth, and Kevin Harvick fill out the top ten.

With 95 laps to go, there are only 12 cars on the lead lap. Just as we are wondering if Edwards will lap the entire field by the end of the race--just like the "good ol' days--" there is a caution for debris on the backstretch. All the cars pit,

Edwards comes off pit road first, Reutimann is second, Kyle Busch is third, but takes second shortly after the restart. Greg Biffle is fourth, and before I can see who is in fifth, there is a wreck and the caution comes out. Travis Kvapil and Marcos Ambrose get into each other, trying to go three wide with Elliott Saddler. Mark Martin gets the free pass, and there are now fifteen cars on the lead lap.

Restart will see Edwards in the lead, Kyle Busch second, Reutimann third, Greg Biffle in fourth, and Jamie McMurray in fifth.

Restart with 83 laps to go, and Jeff Gordon tries to race his way to the lead lap, but Edwards gets by. This puts the 24 car between Edwards and Kyle Busch, so it looks like Cuzzin' Carl will break away again.

Wouldn't it be cool if Carl did his back flip while firring off the six-shooters he gets for winning at the same time? Awesome thought! Or not. Even blanks could cause serious injury in an accident at close range.

There was a caution during the commercial involving the #42 Dodge of Juan Pablo Montoya. It looks like David Gilliland hit him in retaliation for an earlier bump and run. That looked pretty blatant. Oops! Rough driving has become a judgment call in NASCAR, but this is a case where the judgment should be easy. We expect the 38 car to be parked. We expect it, but that doesn't mean it will happen. This should be a good video though.

McMurray and several other cars took two tires only. McMurray restarts in first, Bowyer second, Biffle third, Truex fourth, Dale Jr is fifth. Kyle Busch will restart in sixth, the first car that took four tires, and Edwards is in seventh. Gilliland's car has been parked for the remainder of the race. First is was a five lap penalty, but somebody must have said something inappropriate, as both the driver and the crew chief have been called to the NASCAR hauler.

With 57 laps to go, Edwards takes sixth from Busch. A few laps later, he takes fifth from Earnhardt, Jr.

32 laps to go, and we should see some green flag pit stops soon. This is kind of anti-climatic. We need to see some more retaliation or something. Matt Kenseth is the first to pit, for two tires and fuel, with 25 laps to go. Kevin Harvick has moved up to seventh from tenth, where he has been hanging most of the latter part of the race. Johnson is still a lap down at this cycle, but he is the first car a lap down. Allmendinger gets a speeding penalty. Carl Edwards is staying out, and this may be a "go for it" moment. The front four, McMurray, Bowyer, Biffle, and Edwards have yet to pit.

McMurray pits for two tires and fuel with thirteen to go, putting Biffle in first, and Edwards in second. Biffle pits with 12 to go, for two and fuel. Carl Edwards still leads, but it really does seem like a stretch for fuel. But now, the 24 car of Jeff Gordon and the 88 car of Dale Jr also plan on staying out until the end. Six to go, and Edwards, with a 21 second buffer between himself and the second place car of Jeff Gordon is going for it, able to conserve fuel now. Jr runs out of fuel with 5 to go.

On an incredible, gutsy fuel call, Edwards wins, Jeff Gordon is second, McMurray is third, Bowyer fourth, and Greg Biffle is fifth.

That was an amazing call by Bob Osborne, Edwards' crew chief. I don't think anybody has gone sixty-nine green flag laps on fuel before, but it worked out. Getting the buffer between first and second position helped, because it allowed Edwards to manipulate the throttle to save as much fuel as he could without losing position. The Chase has changed, and, with two races left, it is a two-man race again. Edwards is now 106 points behind Johnson, a difference that can be made up in one race.