Before this race started, based on what we saw on Saturday's Nationwide race at Kansas, we thought this had the makings of a California style race. So far, it isn't like that at all.
Clint Bowyer, a contender or the championship got black-flagged at the start for the same reason Dale Earnhardt, Jr did earlier this year--passing before the starting line at the beginning of the race. This is just an example of how focused these drivers are. It is okay to pass on the outside during a restart, but not at the initial start of the race. A lapse of memory regarding that rule is an indication of concentration on trying to get to the front of the field as quickly as possible. Bowyer got off of the pit road after his drive-through penalty just ahead of Johnson, the leader, and stays on the lead lap.
Matt Kenseth takes the lead on lap 16. Kyle Busch is having engine problems again . This time it seems to be a fuel pressure problem. Three weeks in a row, the 18 team is having mechanical issues. Unbelievable.
A lot of fast cars started from the back. Tony Stewart has made up eighteen spots after starting forty-first. Juan Pablo Montoya had to start at the rear after his pole-winning time was disallowed due to NASCAR officials finding that his team had too much air pressure in the rear shocks, is moving up well, himself. Jeff Burton had to start at the rear due to an equipment change, after his tachometer failed before the start of the race, but he also has a fast car.
Martin Truex Jr takes the lead from Kenseth around lap 38. Green flag pit stops begin around lap 50. Carl Edwards has trouble in the pits again, as Brian Vickers has to cut in front of him to get out his pit. This is a spotters problem, and the 99 car will overcome any setback.
After the pit stops cycle through, Kenseth retains the lead, and there are 29 cars now on the lead lap. Truex is second, Johnson is third, but Johnson takes second around lap lap 63. Caution on lap 75 after Ryan Newman slides across the track and scrapes the wall.
It seems that Kyle Busch's car is fixing itself, and his car seems to be running normally now. All the leaders pit, and the order coming off of pit road is Kenseth, Mears, Truex, and Jeff Gordon. Kenseth has to reenter the pits due to a loose lug-nut. Carl Edwards is like a bull in a china shop on pit road, and has an incident with the 22 and 31 cars. It wasn't Carl's fault, though. At the restart, the top five are Mears, Truex, Gordon, Greg Biffle, and Jimmie Johnson. Johnson moves up fast after the restart, and passes Biffle, then, on lap 85, Jeff Gordon, and is threatening Truex for second. Easy Jeff Gordon follows Johnson into third. That 48 car looks fast again.
Jeff Gordon wasn't feeling well before the beginning of the race, but it seems that he will stay in his car for the race, not wanting to get out of a good car like the one he has today. There's the fire, guts, and determination we love to see in the top drivers.
Johnson and Mears are racing hard for the lead, with Mears following the line that made Johnson's move to the front so successful. That means Johnson no longer has that line, and we are seeing some good racing. The caution comes out on lap 92, and Mears maintains the lead. The caution came out as Kyle Petty spun out, and Scott Riggs lost his drive shaft. Mears stays out, but the cars behind him pit. Mark Martin comes off of pit road first, after a two tire stop. Kyle Busch gets the lucky dog pass.
It only takes a few laps for Johnson to pass the cars that took two tires on the last pit stop, and he has taken second by lap 106. He takes the lead from Mears on lap 107. Biffle is moving up as well, and it is shaping up to be another race between the 16 and the 48. Dale Earnhardt, Jr and Kevin Harvick have moved into the top ten. Tony Stewart is running fifteenth. Elliott Sadler's team is showing that they have something, as they are crashing the party in the seventh position. Further back, Kurt Busch is wrecking all the way around the track without hitting anything. That should be counted as a great save, but his car is not handling well at all.
Caution on lap 117 as Joey Logano loses traction and scrapes the wall. Patrick Carpentier is the lucky dog, after David Reutimann, who was the first car one lap down at the last restart, raced his way onto the lead lap.
Again, the leaders all pit. Truex is off first after a two tire stop, Johnson, Bowyer, Biffle and Jeff Gordon fill out the top five. Before the lap is over, the 17 and 5 cars make contact, and Kenseth does a great job of saving the car and keeping it from sliding up into traffic.
On lap 130, Johnson and Truex are having an exciting battle for the lead, then Brian Vickers and Tony Stewart tangle and Stewart spins into the infield. This is weird, because the 83 team pits just in front of the 20, and they have had issues in leaving the pits. The booth bunnies on TV are suggesting that this may be retaliation on the part of Vickers for the 20 team allegedly not giving the 83 team enough room in the pit stalls. I guess since Kyle Busch is having problems, it's Vickers' turn to have issues with everybody else on the track.
The restart is in the same order as it was, as Truex succeeded in holding off Johnson. Bowyer and Jeff Gordon are racing hard right from the restart for fourth position. Biffle is in third. Johnson takes the lead on lap 137. No surprise there.
Eight of the chasers are in the top ten on lap 154. Johnson is in first, Edwards is in third, Biffle fourth, Jeff Gordon fifth, Dale Jr is in sixth, Burton is seventh, Harvick eight, and Bowyer is running in ninth. Stewart back-marks the Chasers in thirty third.
Is Jeff Burton trying to become the new most hated driver? That would be strange. He gets into the back of Jr because he didn't give him enough room to move down from the top of the track, and almost causes Jr to spin.
With a few laps to go before green-flag pit stops, and with 93 laps to go, Edwards takes the lead from Johnson. Pit stops begin with 92 laps to go.
The 20 team has to repair or replace the front splitter on their car. We can't believe that bad luck Tony Stewart is having this year.
After the pit stops cycle through, Johnson is back in the lead, and Edwards is running second. With 79 laps to go Edwards is racing for the lead again. Kyle Busch has made it up to tenth place, but he hasn't pitted yet. Stewart takes a long pit stop for that aforementioned splitter replacement.
This is painful. They are still working on Stewart's car and he is now four laps down. He finally gets back on the track six laps down.
Travis Kvapil scrapes the wall with 50 to go and Carl Edwards leading. The caution is in perfect timing for the money stop, and Jimmie Johnson retakes the lead in the pits--more testimony to the excellence of the 48 team. Clint Bowyer gets penalized for too fast on pit road.
They restart with Johnson in first, Edwards second, and Jeff Gordon third. Matt Kenseth has made it all the way up to seventh after that earlier spin. Michael Waltrip spins and brings out another caution.
Johnson will restart in first, Edwards second, Jeff Gordon third, Jeff Burton fourth, and Greg Biffle is fifth. Biffle takes fourth before the lap is over. Matt Kenseth is sixth, and Kevin Harvick is in seventh. Martin Truex, Jr has to pit for mechanical problems. It's a broken gear shift lever. No, it turns out to be a broken gear box.
David Ragan is in eighth, and AJ Allmendinger, for whom this may be his last race of the season, has moved up to tenth.
The rest of the race is pretty much uneventful. Greg Biffle, with seven laps to go announces that his car has pretty much given its all, and he will not be able to catch Johnson and Edwards. The last lap is excellent. Edwards catches Johnson, letting him lead through turns one and two and then makes a move, driving hard into turn three. He passes Johnson at the entrance of turn three, then slides up against the wall, Kyle Busch style. He doesn't make it stick however, and Johnson noses past him in the center of the turn. Edwards chops down to the flat below the line to try to straight-line out of the turn, but cannot catch him and Johnson wins.
This race was just frustrating for me to watch for the most part. It did have plenty of action, and plenty of drama, but it was the wrong kind of drama. Joe Gibbs Racing seems to be imploding during the Chase, and this is very uncharacteristic of this organization. Did they get too comfortable being in the Chase. Maybe they can turn things around, but Johnson, Edwards, and Biffle seem to be hitting everything right while everything is going wrong for JGR.
Jeff Gordon brought a car home in the top five, even while he was feeling terrible, and the car kept bottoming out all around the track. Good show for the Gordon, and we do like to see him on top of his game. He looked like the old Gordon we used to love to hate. Matt Kenseth is also showing he can make the best of adversity, and he is still in contention. We shall see what happens next week at Talladega, always a game changer in the Chase for the Championship.
Sunday, September 28, 2008
Before this race started, based on what we saw on Saturday's Nationwide race at Kansas, we thought this had the makings of a California style race. So far, it isn't like that at all.
Thursday, September 25, 2008
It's funny how, as the season winds down, we find less to get fired up about enough to think of a worthwhile post. It isn't that nothing is happening--there has been plenty of news.
NASCAR will implement their new drug testing policy beginning next year, in which all over the wall crew members, drivers, and NASCAR officials will be subject to mandatory random drug testing. Prior to the beginning of the season, all employees of all teams, and all employees of NASCAR will be tested. NASCAR has not, however, come up with a list of banned substances. They probably want to see how many people take over the counter cold remedies, drink Amp, or eat at Starbucks, all products that could result in a false positive. It should be up to the teams to police their own people, and we will stand by that assertation.
As it always seems to happen, just when a driver is getting good, he loses his ride. AJ Allmendinger has been showing steady improvement in adapting to NASCAR style racing, since he got back in the seat of the #84 Red Bull Racing car earlier this year. However, the big wigs in Austria who run the team seem to feel that Scott Speed fits the image they want, better. So, AJ is out of a ride for next year. Red Bull has yet to announce that Speed will be their man next year, but that is expected. Meanwhile, speculation has it that Allmendinger will fill the void left by Reed Sorenson when the driver of the Chip Ganassi Racing #41 car announced that he will be driving for Gillett-Evernham Motorsports next year. There may be more to this than meets the eye, as Red Bull waited until near the end of the season to announce that Allmendinger would be leaving the Red Bull Sprint Cup team. This made it more difficult for him to find options for next year, and we think, personally, that RBR may have been thinking of using Allmendinger in another series. However, Allmendinger has made it clear that he wants to stay in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. He has a lot of talent, and has been learning the car well. It is very possible that he will have a ride next year. It should be remembered that the last time he was released from a team--in the now defunct Open Wheel World Championship Series--he went on to win five out of nine races.
Last week I received an award from Trixie's Trailer Park called the "You Make My Day" award. It's one of these things we bloggers do to show our appreciation for other bloggers. That is very much appreciated.
I will pass it on to some blogs I like to read whenever I go on line.
First I would like to return the favor to Trixie's Trailer Park. She is a lot of fun to read, her passion for NASCAR and Tony Stewart is very much appreciated, and she has some very interesting insights. Trixie, I know you are receiving this award twice, but you deserve it.
Muse and Amuse doesn't seem to get enough recognition. Cheyenne blogs on NASCAR, especially on items pertaining to Dale Earnhardt, Jr. She is, in her own words, very opinionated, and will argue the point to the death. She really has made my day on several occassions. I feel her Muse and Amuse blog is very underappreciated, and we will attempt to remedy that by presenting her with a "You Make My Day Award."
We can't forget Church of the Great Oval. Clance' (pronounced "Clan-see" like my cat) inspired me to start my own blog years ago. She always makes our day, and we are more than happy to present her this award.
The Chase heats up, and the writing about it cools down. Greg Biffle is showing what he can do when he and his team are of a mind to do it. We are all still wondering what is up with the #24 team, because we are certain that Jeff Gordon hasn't lost his talent. So we will sit back and enjoy the next Chase race at Kansas this weekend.
Sunday, September 21, 2008
Saturday night's Craftsman Truck Series race at Las Vegas was not only the highly competitive event which trademarks that series, but was a good illustration of how fast things can change in a championship points chase. Johnny Benson was leading in the points standings by 70 or so points. A cut tire just before the halfway point of the race retired the # 23 team from the competition, while they were leadint the race, and Mike Skinner took the checkers in a hard fought battle with Matt Crafton. Meanwhile Ron Hornaday needed to finish fifth to take the points lead, He finished sixth and now trails Benson by one point. Note that the points chase in the truck series is the entire season--there is no Chase format in the CTS.
Jeff Gordon starts on the pole in today's race at Dover, and is 99 points out of the lead. This in itself has us anticipating a great race. Most of the race will be about catching the leader.
Gordon takes the lead, and Denny Hamlin quickly moves into second, taking that spot from Mark Martin, who got trapped while going to the inside. A wreck involving Kurt Busch, who started in fourth, and David Gilliland, brings out the caution on lap 2. Things are already happening. There could have been much more carnage on the Monster Mile, as the cars were still close together after the start.
Lap 6 restart, and Gordon and Hamlin get a gap on the rest of the field. Greg Biffle is in third and is challenging Hamlin before the end of the lap. Biffle overdrives turn three and loses some ground, and now has to protect his position from Mark Martin, who started second on the grid.
Martin is serious about taking that third spot, and there is some heavy racing between third and sixth. On lap 12, Carpentier spins and makes contact with Edwards, but the damage seems minimal. Most of the cars from fifth place on back pit, and the front five stay out.
Restart on lap 18, and Earnhardt takes sixth from Clint Bowyer, but Jamie McMurray is moving up as well. After a few laps, Bowyer has moved back to tenth. On lap 29 there is a great battle for third, between Denny Hamlin, Mark Martin, and Matt Kenseth. Jamie McMurray has moved up all the way to second, and passes Jeff Gordon on the back stretch.
David Reutimann and Kyle Busch are now making the battle for third a five car affair. McMurray has gained a big lead over Jeff Gordon, and is about to meet up with the rear of the field, where there have already been some near misses among the cars trying to get out of being at the rear of the field.
Lap 49 and Bowyer takes the tenth spot from Dale Earnhardt, Jr. Stewart has moved up from his starting spot of 33rd to 21st place. He is the furthest back of the Chase drivers. It is now lap 54, and many of the cars are looking as if they need tires. We can expect the dreaded Dover green flag pit stops within 20 laps.
The top five on lap 61 are McMurray, Gordon, Martin, Kenseth, and Kyle Busch. Busch takes fourth on lap 63. On lap 64, Joe Nemecheck pops a tire and brings out a much needed caution. Needless to say, everybody pits. Kenseth gains four positions in the pits and exits pit road first. Jimmie Johnson gets caught up in pit road traffic and loses some spots. He was running in sixth before the caution. Mark Martin is second, Jeff Gordon third, McMurray fourth and Edwards fifth. Hamlin exited pit road fourth, but had to serve a pit road speeding penalty.
Restart on lap 70, and Gordon immediately takes second from Martin. Earnhardt, Jr is falling back and is back to 20th. By lap 85, McMurray has made it up to second. Mark Martin takes third from Gordon, and Edwards moves into fourth. Jeff Gordon maintains fifth. McMurray still seems to have the fastest car in the field.
McMurray and Martin aren't the only party crashers in the top ten, they are joined by David Reutimann. In seventh and eighth place, we are seeing another great race between Johnson and Biffle. It looks like Biffle is catching Johnson. Remember, the 16 car is not one of the two cars Jack Roush wants to win the championship. He is doing well for being the Roush black sheep and the Chase dark horse. He completes the pass during the commercial.
Matt Kenseth is having trouble getting around Robby Gordon, who is at the end of the lead lap, and McMurray has caught up to him. But, he too has trouble in the lapped traffic, and Martin takes second. There is some intense racing between second, third, and fourth, as Carl Edwards is also in the mix. McMurray retakes second.
On lap 128, things have settled down a bit, with Kenseth still leading, McMurray in second, Martin in third, Edwards in fourth, and Gordon in fifth. Biffle is in sixth. Two weeks in a row, and Kyle Busch has another problem with a blown engine this time. Meanwhile Jr cuts a tire while trying to stay on the lead lap. This is a well timed caution, as green flag pit stops were expected to begin.
Everybody on the lead lap pits. Kenseth stays in first, Edwards is second, Mark Martin is third. Earnhardt, Jr is still having problems, and is now a lap down. The 88 car is not holding the turns well at all. Jeff Gordon is fourth, and Greg Biffle is fifth. Another caution on 157 as the 84 car and the 9 car make contact. That's AJ Allmendinger and Kasey Kahne. None of the lead cars pit at this time.
Robby Gordon and Jamie McMurray bring out a caution almost immediately after the restart. It looks as if Gordon lost the handle on his car, and McMurray, who was having a great day up to this point, was in the wrong place at the wrong time.
During the pit stops, it seems that Hamlin may be having mechanical problems as well. If it isn't one thing, it's another. The 11 team is looking at a possible oil leak from the rear-end gear housing
Matt Kenseth still leads. Edwards is second, Martin third, Jeff Gordon fourth, and Biffle is fifth. Kenseth gets away from the lapped car of Paul Menard at the restart, but Edwards is momentarily held up. Edwards and Martin also get around Menard, but Gordon is being held up, as Kenseth pulls further into the lead. Hornish wrecks for nearly half a lap, and the caution comes out on lap 172.
Bad news for McMurray--he has had to take his car to the garage. That was a good car, but luck did not smile on him today.
Now the 18 car has stopped completely, and Kyle Busch is out of the race.
Hamlin is the only other Chase driver to pit. Stewart has moved up to 11th. The top five remain the same as it was before the seventh caution, except Greg Biffle is in fourth, and Clint Bowyer has moved into fifth. Kevin Harvick is now in sixth, Jimmie Johnson in seventh, and Jeff Burton is in eighth. Stewart has entered the top ten, and is moving on ninth place Ryan Newman. Jeff Gordon is trapped in a three wide melee, and wisely falls back to avoid a possible catastrophy. Hornish has another incident and there is another caution. We may see some takers to pit road this time, and, the race being just over the halfway point, pit strategies should begin to come into play.
Nearly all the cars on the lead lap pit when pit road opens. Three Roush cars, Edwards, Kenseth, and Biffle lead the field off of pit road in that order. Jimmie Johnson stayed out during the pit stops, and is scored in the lead. Ryan Newman has moved into the second spot. Dave Blaney also stayed out and fills out the top three. Allmendinger is fourth and Montoya restarts fifth.
On MRN, they are reporting that the 18 team may be able to patch up the engine to allow the car to finish the race.
Jeff Gordon takes fifth from Montoya on lap 196 and is about to pass Allmendinger. He does, and now Montoya is challenging for fifth, and he also passes Allmendinger. Meanwhile, Edwards and the former leaders are making their way up from 12th spot.
At this point there is not reason for the 18 car to return to the track, even if they can get the motor running, as the best they could do would be a 42nd place finish. This isn't the driver's fault, for two weeks in a row, mechanical problems have taken that team out.
Jeff Gordon has moved up to third. and Carl Edwards to fourth. Edwards takes third with 164 laps to go. Kenseth is fifth. Johnson has to pit on lap 239. Now Carl Edwards leads, Jeff Gordon is second, but Kenseth takes that spot from him. Biffle takes third, and Gordon stays in fourth. Kevin Harvick is the next chaser back in eighth spot. Hamlin's rear end troubles are getting worse, he loses a rear tire, and has to take his car to the garage. Meanwhile Harvick, Bowyer, Stewart, and Burton have moved into the top ten, while Edwards leads, Biffle is second, and Kenseth is third. It's looking like as good a day for Roush as it is a bad day for two of the Gibbs teams.
Lap 269 is where the green flag stops start for much of the field. Harvick and Bowyer each lead a lap before they pit. The leaders are now Johnson, Carl Edwards is second, Kenseth is third, Biffle fourth, and Ryan Newnan is fifth. Gordon's car is coming around, and he takes fifth from Newman, as Martin follows Gordon and takes fifth. Blaney, Reutiman and Harvick fill out the top ten as we get a debris caution with 109 laps to go.
You know the 48 team is loving this, as this caution will put all the teams on the same pit sequence. The top four cars all pit. Johnson, Edwards, Biffle, and Kenseth leave pit road in that order. Those are the same positions in which they will restart on lap 298. Biffle and Edwards are both battling Johnson for the lead on lap 299 and Biffle takes the lead on lap 302. Mark Martin is still playing the part of the party crasher and has moved into fifth.
With around 65 laps to go, things pick up as everybody is trying to move up in position. there is some hard racing as everybody wants to move up to the lead at once. Martin has taken second, Edwards still leads.
With 49 laps to go, Montoya cuts a tire and hits the wall, bring out the caution, which everybody seemed to need. This will be the "money stop," as there will be no need for scheduled pit stops. unless somebody decides to take a gamble. Edwards comes out first, Mark Martin second, Greg Biffle third, Matt Kenseth fourth, and Jimmie Johnson fifth. Edwards only took two tires, while everyone else took four. Kevin Harvick is sixth, Jeff Gordon seventh, and Ryan Newman is eighth. Jeff Burton and Clint Bowyer fill up the top ten.
Kenseth gets second before the lap is finished Fun watching Biffle and Martin race each other for third. These two drivers are having as much fun racing each other as we are watching them.
Between Edwards and Kenseth, Kenseth seems to have the stronger car. This may be the difference between two and four fresh tires. Kenseth doesn't seem to have enough horsepower to complete the pass, and stays in second.
With 35 laps to go, Stewart begins making his move toward the front. He may have been just conserving his car to this point. That is probably a good idea, as his team mates have both had car problems. Hamlin is 37 laps down, and Busch is out of the race.
29 laps to go and Kenseth is right on Carl's bumper. We are getting a great race for the lead, and Kenseth is being more aggressive than we are used to from him. Biffle is making it a three way race for the lead now. Kenseth makes a move to the inside, but is chopped off by Edwards, while Biffle moves to the ouside and does some serious racing for the lead. Now Kenseth takes the lead, but that race is not over with. Biffle moves to the inside of turn one with 21 laps to go, but Kenseth holds him off. Edwards has used up his tires, and is falling back, but we are still seeing some exciting wheel to wheel racing. Edwards isn't out of it yet, either.
Right now it looks like we are into a race for the lead that will last for the remainder of the race. This is the kind of racing we love in the finishing laps. Biffle and Kenseth are nearly door panel to door panel with 14 laps to go, and they approach lapped traffic .Biffle makes a move to the inside in turn three, and Kenseth holds him off again. Still, Da Biff stays right with Kenseth, and Edwards is re-entering the fray. He is now on Biffles rear bumper. Wow! Now the lapped traffic is just in front of the three leaders, and Biffle is still door to door with Kenseth. Biffle almost gets into Kenseth, and Edwards tries to take the lead. Team mates mean nothing here, Kenseth is trying hard to keep the lead. Biffle finally completes the pass in turn three with 8 laps to go. We have completely forgotten about the rest of the field.
Da Biff looks like he may make it two in a row, if the tire rub on the right front doesn't cause something worse, he will. Another race, another exciting shoot-out at the end. We love this sport.
It was a bad day for the Gibbs teams. Stewart finished the best of the three in eleventh, after being unable to break into the top ten by passing Michael Waltrip. There are some fans on the forums who actually believe Waltrip is running a Ford engine that he stole from the Roush-Yates engine shop. That is a joke, folks.
It was a lot of fun watching the three top Roush drivers race each other hard for the lead. It also would have been fun if Carl Edwards had wrecked all three of them. I like Matt Kenseth, and I definitely have nothing against Greg Biffle, Jamie McMurray or David Ragan. However I can't stand Jack Roush, and I like Carl Edwards even less, so it would have been interesting to see Roush's reaction if Carl had become impatient and screwed up.
All three of the RCR teams finished in the top ten. That organization is doing what they need to do to stay in contention, with all three of their contenders on a consistant streak of top ten finishes.
Johnson finished fifth, and Gordon seventh, but it wasn't a good day for Earnhardt, Jr. The 88 team may be a victim of trying too hard.
What was really great about this finish is that it has been too long since we have seen Biffle show us what he can really do. We have had faith in Da Biff, and have been following his career since he was in the Truck Series. He is an exciting racer to watch, especially when he is wheel to wheel with another driver of his caliber.
Dover was the site of my first experience at a Cup race. The track has changed since then, but it holds a sentimental spot in my heart because it was my first Cup race. Today's race was one of the best of the season, and my love for Dover has gone up a notch.
Friday, September 19, 2008
Last week's race at Loudon turned out to be better than expected, and that is a good thing. We have written this before: It is better to be cynical and pleasently surprised than it is to be optimistic and bitterly disappointed. It seems the teams have the car dialed in for NHMS. The action was non-stop, and there was some great racing all around the track and throughout the field for the entire race. We will find out Sunday if they can say the same about the Monster Mile at Dover.
Dover has been one of those tracks where the inability to complete a pass has been noticable with the new car. Still, the one mile bowl-shaped track has always been able to present exciting racing no matter what car is running in the race. Things happen at Dover. Wierd things.
Earlier this year, Tony Stewart had a very good car and it looked like, after practice and qualifying, that he had the car to beat. We never found out, as, before ten laps were completed, Smoke came out of turn two and ran into a spinning Elliott Sadler.
At this race last year, Denny Hamlin and Kyle Petty had a disagreement on the track, and that carried over to the garage area, when Petty gave Hamlin a sharp slap on the helmet, which got the young Virginian very angry.
We remember the treacherous pit road entrance, the scene of a mishap in nearly every race at Dover. A couple of years ago, Matt Kenseth missed that entrance in the worst way. This track adds the extra challenge of having only 42 pit boxes for 43 cars, which could cause problems if the wrong car has a cut tire or other problems at the wrong time.
Jeff Gordon has the pole position, and his time went pretty much unchallenged, with only Mark Martin and Greg Biffle coming close. We used to be an "Anybody but Gordon" fan, but that has changed to "Anybody but Johnson or
Gordon on the pole should make it a pretty good race from the start.
A few random and strange thoughts:
It was reported that somebody stole a van from the Penske Racing team Wednesday night, and used it to break into Jack Roush's Mooresville shop and steal three engines. What would happen if those engines showed up in Michael Waltrip's garage next spring?
We can't discount any of the Chase drivers from winning the Championship at this point. We expect Kyle Busch to make a comeback, but nobody is going to make it easy for him. Greg Biffle is on a roll, even if Jack Roush doesn't think the driver is responsible for last week's win. He qualified third for Sunday's race. "Concrete" Carl "Eddie" Edwards has a fairly good record at Dover. Hopefully he will remember that he is on probation and not let his on-track temper get the best of him. It would be disasterous for his team if he does something that could be considered rough driving. We are keeping our fingers crossed. (There are some fans who will insist that Carl is not capable of rough driving and would never do anything wrong. We all have blinders when it comes to rooting for our favorite driver, so there is nothing wrong with that. However, if we are keeping track of drivers bumped and run up the track by Edwards, we could tell you he does plenty wrong)
Finally, there are some journalists and bloggers who constantly refer to Tony Stewart as a lame duck driver. Granted, this is his final season with Joe Gibbs, but that does not make him a lame duck--his desire to win has not diminished, and he is not just driving his car around the track until his contract is up. I have a feeling that the next interviewer who asks Smoke about being a lame duck might get hurt. Since Smoke wins championships while he is on probation, and is not currently on probation, punching Tom Bowles or Mike Mulhern in the nose might be a good thing.
Wednesday, September 17, 2008
There are some things that a team owner will say to or about a driver that may make that driver consider another line of work. However, it isn't just the newcomers who are subject hearing such things. Tony Stewart, Greg Biffle, Jeff Gordon and a few others have all been on the receiving end of subtle and not so subtle hints that they may want to plan for retirement. The following aren't exact quotes, but are taken from actual situations or out of context from what was said.
If your name is Tony Stewart, and Joe Gibbs said something like, "We wanted you to retire with us, but if they are giving you a team, go for it," you have to think they won't miss you all that much.
Rick Hendrick to Jeff Gordon (taking creative license here): "We will do what we can to get your team turned around. Would you like to try somebody else as crew chief? Sure we'll get Darien Grubb. Oops, my bad, he's gone. Too bad, so sad." Jeff might be thinking HMS doesn't really need him all that much.
Jack Roush pretty much ignored Greg Biffle's victory at the Chase opener from Loudon. That isn't one of the cars he considered as having a potential to win the chase. When the owner tells the press that it was more because of the engineering of the car than it was the skill of the driver, you may begin to wonder what made you renew that contract.
Sunday, September 14, 2008
I knew before I woke up that it was a dream. The cars were set up so they went up on two wheels, Joey Chitwood style, as they took the turns at Concord. Though it was exciting to watch, even in the dream I realized there is no racing advantage to that, and besides, they call it Loudon, even though Concord, NH is the closest major city. But my subconscious did have all the car numbers, sponsors and drivers correct, and it was fun. The hard reality I had to face after I woke up is that I do not have a Keith Richards 1970's style shag haircut, but more like a Keith Richards 1990's messy hippie style haircut without the debris. Okay, some debris--cat hair--because like any loyal, faithful guard pet, my cats like to sleep as close to my head as possible.
Sometimes it seems that New Hampshire Motor Speedway needs something like Joey Chitwood to make it more exciting. It looks like a big Martinsville, but races like a small California. It is rumored--actually expected--that Bruton Smith, the new owner will reconfigure the track, perhaps add some more banking, to change the way the track is raced. I don't know how much change we really want to see. As it is, it is a thinking man's track, because it presents a very real challenge in passing and in saving brakes and tires. It definitely emphasis's a team effort, and it really doesn't make any difference if it is the Sprint Cup car or the conventional car racing on the track--we expect to see a single file line of cars through most of the race.
But what makes it exciting today is that it is the first race of the Chase, and things can happen. Last year, we expected the Chase teams to be cautious, and they weren't. They took off racing each other hard, and raced aggressively throughout the event. Clint Bowyer, in his first Chase for the Championship got his first career victory at the end.
The rain has moved out, the track is being dried, and it looks like the race may start on schedule. The anticipation is building.
Hooray for the wonderful harmonies of Diamond Rio singing the National Anthem. Wonderful. We're ready to go. We welcome back PRN to help us with this report. It turns out that an old portable radio I've had for 20 years has the best AM reception of any radio in my house.
John McCain makes his obligatory NASCAR appearance. Senator Obama was planning earlier this year to make such an appearance, but his campaign decided that NASCAR wasn't politically correct for him.
Since the teams are lined up by points standings, because of a washed out qualifying, Kyle Busch leads the first lap. Edwards and Busch are racing hard for the lead by lap three, and they are going door to door. Edwards takes the lead on lap 5. Further back, Clint Bowyer and Dale Junior are racing for third and fourth, and we get a four way battle for second as Junior, Bowyer, Stewart and Kyle Busch are racing for second. By lap 9, Bowyer prevails for second, and Stewart starts third. While this was going on, Carl Edwards gains two seconds on the rest of the pack. On lap 12, Dale Earnhardt, Jr passes Busch for fourth, and there was some good racing there as well.
Busch has a car that is not handling well, and that must be very out of kilter for Busch to be falling back, because an ill handling car usually doesn't hamper him. Jimmie Johnson takes fifth from him on lap 14. Harvick is also battling a very loose car and has lost eleven spots. There will be a competition yellow on lap 35 so some of these guys may be able to fix what needs to be fixed then.
Both PRN and ESPN are reporting a broken sway arm on the #18 car, so that is going to take some repair. A bad start for the chase for the points leader. Meanwhile on lap 23, Smoke takes the number two spot from Bowyer, and Edwards leads Stewart by a little over two seconds. Johnson and Earnhardt are battling for fourth at this point. Jr prevails and passes Bowyer for third. Johnson is still in fifth.
On lap 31, Busch has dropped back to 22nd, but as Edwards reaches lapped traffic, Tony Stewart has gained on him. Smoke is within three car lengths of Edwards on lap 34, and he is running a little loose. There should be a caution soon. Logano gets the lucky dog, and you know there will be a lot of adjustments made in the pits.
Edwards comes off of pit road first, Tony second, Johnson gains two positions and comes off third, and Denny Hamlin picked up five positions to come off of pit road fourth. Logano gets a penalty for leaving his pit box with the jack still under the car, which shows how eager to compete this kid is. Kyle Busch's team brings out the jack stands, meaning some extensive repairs are under way. Newman gets a speeding penalty.
Restart on lap 40, and Stewart is pressuring Edwards for the lead with Jimmie Johnson right behind him. Earnhardt Jr, Clint Bowyer, Greg Biffle and Jeff Burton are battling Travis Kvapil for sixth, and Earnhardt gets that position, while the TV audience is getting a techsplanation about sway bars. Johnson takes second on lap 47. Edwards has moved way ahead at this point. Stewart isn't going to let Johnson keep second for long. We are loving all this racing.
Kurt Busch has his #2 car in fourth, having taken that position from Denny Hamlin. Jr is battling Hamlin for fifth. Johnson seems to have the fastest car at this point, as he is moving away from Stewart and catching up to Edwards.
PRN is already declaring this Kyle Busch's mulligan, and we are tending to agree with them. That car is obviously broken. We're having to work with mute buttons a lot here because PRN seems to have a lot more advertising than MRN does, and this is PRN's week for broadcasting. Both PRN and NHMS are owned by Bruton Smith's Speedway Motorsports Inc.
Jeff Gordon's troubles in the pits aren't over either, as he lost five positions in the pits and hasn't been able to gain any positions since the restart. Junior is running in fifth as Kyle Busch is about to go two laps down.
Jimmie Johnson takes the lead on lap 65. And Edwards seems to be slowing down. PRN reports Edwards is just a little tight and not taking chances. He is doing well for a team that hasn't done that well at flat tracks, other than the 1.5 and 2 mile "cookie cutters."
So it is Johnson who puts Kyle two laps down. Stewart is now catching the 48 car, on lap 72. He is now within three car lengths of the leader. Lap 73 and he is closing. It looks like the 20 team has the car for the long runs. Kurt Busch is in third, and Edwards has fallen back to fourth. Earnhardt Jr is in fifth and Hamlin in sixth. Sheesh PRN has more commercials than ABC.
Kyle Busch is now dead last in p-43, and we expect his day to be over soon. It is possible that team is waiting for somebody else to drop out of the race first, so they don't have to finish last.
Stewart isn't letting Johnson get away, after 80 laps, but he isn't gaining on him, either. Kyle Busch finally hits something on lap 83, and that something is Jamie McMurray and David Ragan. Watching it on television now, and it looks like the 26 hit the 6, which hit the 18 while it was spinning. And the leaders all pit, of course.
Well, Johnson came out first, Stewart second, but Stewart hit something coming off of pit road, and had to pit for repairs, but doesn't lose a lap. So Junior restarts in second on lap 89, and takes the lead from Johnson before that lap is over.
I really thought Petree said "Damn pit boxes," while describing Smoke's bad luck in the pits--he hit the #70 car leaving the pit box--but he said "Damp pit boxes." Damned damp pit boxes.
Jeff Gordon is still way back in 14th place. At least he and Smoke are having better luck than Kyle.
Kevin Harvick has found something in his car, after struggling in the first two stints, and has moved up to 11th. There are 200 laps to go.
Hamlin takes fifth on lap 105, and Greg Biffle is running fourth. Kurt Busch is crashing the Chase party in third, and Johnson trails Earnhardt by about four car lengths. Good racing on lap 11 as Biffle is chasing Kurt for third, about a full straightaway behind Johnson and Earnhardt. Biffle takes third. Stewart has already gained twelve positions since the restart. Still plenty of time, so we are not panicking yet.
Lap 126 and Da Biff, Greg Biffle, takes second from Johnson. That #16 car is running well, and many sportswriters, bloggers, and telejournalists have picked Da Biff as the Chase dark horse, and right now it looks like a good pick. I really want to like Biffle, but, for some unknown reason I can't.
Harvick's car still isn't as good as we thought, and is still hanging out in fourteenth, while Gordon has made it up to eleventh. Sheesh, every time I mute the TV for a commercial, PRN is running a commercial. I forgot how much the PRN announcers are beholden to word association. "Depending on how many cautions we have, this could turn into a fuel mileage race. Speaking of fuel mileage, Sunoco gasoline actually prevents fuel evaporation, etc."
Lap 147 and Dale Jr is gaining on the field, extending his lead by a little over three and a half seconds. We are prepping for some green flag pit stops at this time. At the halfway point, Junior is first, Johnson is second, Biffle third, and Hamlin fourth. Now, on lap 155 Biffle shoots past Johnson, then takes to the pits. Hamlin pits on 157, takes four, and leaves after 14.8 seconds, a slower stop than Biffle's. Gordon also pits, and Jr comes in on lap 158, Gordon gets blocked by Robby Gordon, and has to back up again before he can exit. Holy crap, the 88 team loses a tire, and that holds up the leader. Stewart gets caught for speeding, dammit. No problems for Johnson, though. This is not good for Stewart, did he lose a lap? After all this chaos, Biffle ends up in the lead, and Junior comes out of it all in second, even after the delay in the pits. Denny Hamlin is in third, and Johnson is fourth.
Stewart is a lap down in thirtieth. Argh.
Junior is racing Biffle during the TV commercial and passes him on the outside on lap 165. Johnson and Hamlin are fighting for third. This has been a good race so far. Lots of action, and some drama. The wrong kind of drama for this Tony Stewart fan, but he isn't the only one having problems.
The TV was on mute, so we didn't get to hear what Jeff said about Robby. we are willing to bet it was pretty good, as that was the second time Gordon blocked Gordon in the pits.
Hamlin takes third from Johnson on lap 173, and Biffle is still racing Earnhardt. Jimmie Johnson gets his position back. Biffle takes the lead on lap 175, but Jr is racing him back. This is cool.
Jr retakes the lead, then loses it again to Biffle and falls back to fourth. It still seems like the 88 team has long run problems. Now, on lap 190, Biffle is first, Johnson second, Hamlin third, and Earnhardt loses fourth to a charging Jeff Burton. Kurt Busch is in sixth, but moves into fifth on lap 196. Now Edwards is about to pass Jr for sixth.
Stewart is trying to get to the front of the lap down cars, but the leaders keep lapping more cars, and that makes it difficult. Junior is still falling back. It seems to be a bad set of tires that is plaguing him.
On lap 210, Johnson has caught Biffle and threatens a pass a few times. they are still lapping cars, much to this Stewart fan's disappointment. Caution for debris, and Johnson comes out first, Hamlin is second, and Greg Biffle is third. Junior comes out in sixth, and maybe his problems were repaired.
I know you spent a lot of money on your tech center, but do we really need so much Tim Brewer? He gets repetitive and we get it already.
Not quite a fan of ESPN
Stewart races his way to the front of the lapped cars on the restart, and gets the lucky dawg as Joe Nemecheck spins and hits the wall. Somebody put Nemecheck there and he is not happy.
Wow, Hamlin drops out of second place to pit for tires. He is the only one of the lead lap cars to pit, and comes out eighteenth. Mike Ford, Hamlin's crew chief is trying to do fuel strategy. He thinks they can make it to the end with 75 laps left. Oh, they had to stop anyway because of a cut on the left rear tire.
So, Johnson is first, Biffle second, Edwards is third, Burton fourth and Earnhardt restarts in fifth with 73 laps to go and now there is a big wreck in turn four at the rear of the field, and suddenly Matt Kenseth is the Chase driver with the worst luck of the day.
Talk about debris on the grill, Kyle Busch picked up the commitment cone while trying to avoid the wreck, which involved McCumbee, Kenseth, Mears, Brian Vickers, and David Gilliland. Clint Bowyer, Denny Hamlin, Jeff Gordon, and Tony Stewart dodged that bullet, as well as Kyle Busch, running eleven laps down now. The race is red flagged for clean up. ABC/ESPN says five cars were involved in the wreck, but we are missing one.
Fuel strategy is out the window, now, as the caution should allow all cars to save fuel.
The race restarts with 66 laps to go. Johnson is in first, Biffle second, Edwards third, Burton fourth and Earnhardt, Jr is fifth. Biffle is giving Johnson a great run for the lead, but can't pass him.
With 51 laps to go, Tony Stewart is on a mission, and has already moved up to twelfth spot. Kurt Busch is in sixth, Martin Truex, Jr is seventh, Jeff Gordon is finally in the top ten in eighth, Kevin Harvick ninth, and Clint Bowyer tenth. Johnson is now five or six car lengths ahead of Greg Biffle.
Dear Jimmie Johnson,
Please turn right
Not quite a Jimmie Johnson fan
P.S. If you don't want to turn right, please run out of fuel. That would be okay.
We just realized we may want to send a similar letter to
A.J. Allmendinger gets crowded by, or crowds, Michael McDowell, and brings out a caution with 33 laps to go. The first nine cars do not pit. Stewart is the first car to stop for fuel and two tires, . Stewart came in out of twelfth, and this could work to his advantage. He actually will restart in tenth, so he gained two spots in the pits. The front five cars remain the same--Johnson, Biffle, Edwards, Burton and Junior.
It is so much fun watching Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart race each other for eighth. They are fighting hard, and Smoke finally gets it with 22 to go. Also fun is watching Junior and Burton racing for fourth. Burton is racing more aggressively than we are accustomed to, but Junior gets the spot. Caution with 20 to go as David Ragan spins.
Bowyer is the only Chaser to pit this caution, as they have fallen back to the tail end of the lead lap anyway. Restart with 18 to go. Immediately, Patrick Carpentier spins, eh, and Jeff Gordon really dodges that bullet, showing why he is considered great. He gets his car sideways avoiding the spin just in front of him, but makes it around without spinning himself or hitting anything. Great save, Jeff.
Restart with 13 to go, and the top five remain the same, except Burton got fourth back before the caution. Biffle takes the lead with 9 to go and we are getting some good hard racing between Da Biff and Johnson. Junior is trying to catch Burton, and this is damgood racing!
Dear NASCAR Drivers,
I find it hard to sit and type while such great racing is happening toward the end of the race. I am not complaining. Please keep up the good work.
An Avid Fan
Da Biff wins, Johnson is second, Edwards third, Burton fourth, and Junior is fifth. Kurt Busch crashes the Chase party finishing sixth, and Truex is another party crasher in seventh. Tony Stewart made a great come back after his early race troubles and finishes eighth, and he did get five bonus points for leading a lap earlier in the race.
This race was better than expected. There was not a dull moment the entire race, and it did something we always like to see in the Chase--it shook up the standings. If we can see the rest of the races this season compare to this one, we are in for one exciting Chase for the Championship.
Thursday, September 11, 2008
Crossposted from Lift That Torch, Ring That Bell
One of the great things about this country is that we are a nation of individuals, each a Nation unto ourself, that can come together as one greater Nation when circumstances call for it. That is our strength--the strength that was unanticipated by those who sought to bring us to our knees on September 11, 2001.
Those who planned and carried out the vicious attack on American soil thought they would weaken our resolve to survive as the great Nation of individuals we are. As we remember and mourn those who lost their lives on that day, we should also remember and celebrate the strength we showed as our way of life stopped only for a moment, and we came back stronger, by collectively showing that we could not be brought down even by such a tragic and catastrophic event.
Tuesday, September 09, 2008
NASCAR's regular season for 2008 ended with a great shootout between two of the best drivers in the sport. The entire season had its share of similar exciting moments, as well as some huge disappointments.
Dodge started out on a high note, with the Penske and Gillett-Evernham teams making a strong showing at the Daytona 500, resulting in a victory by Penske's #12 team and Ryan Newman. After that they sort of disappeared from the radar screen. Kasey Kahne and the GEM # 9 Dodge team had some brilliant moments, and it looked like Kahne could be a championship contender, but a late season string of bad luck over just a few short weeks virtually put that team out of the running.
Dario Franchitti seemed as though he was on the way to Rookie of The Year status, but an accident in which he broke his ankle, at Talladega, sidelined him for several weeks, and, though he had some promising runs when he returned, was unable to hold onto a sponsorship. Ganassi folded that team, financially unable to keep that team intact. Later in the season, Franchitti announced that he would be returning to the IRL.
Just prior to that, Reed Sorenson announced that he would be leaving Chip Ganassi racing to drive for Gillett-Evernham next season. This put another rookie contender, Patrick Carpentier, in a position where he may not have a ride next year. However, Gillett-Evernham has stated that if they can get full sponsorships for three of their cars next season, they will run four, which would include the popular Canadian. Gillett owns the Montreal Expos Major League Baseball team, and it is expected that he will be able to find sponsorship.
Silly Season has been the big story all season long. It began shortly after the third race of the season, at Las Vegas, when rumors sprang up that Tony Stewart's contract with Joe Gibbs Racing would be renegotiated, and that Stewart had received an offer from Haas/CNC Racing of half ownership of the team in return for leaving JGR and driving for them. These rumors turned out to be true, much to our consternation, but, in the end, we can't fault Smoke for taking what was to him the deal of a lifetime.
There were other rumors. Kevin Harvick, Martin Truex, Jr, Casey Mears, Bobby Labonte, Ryan Newman, and Mark Martin, among others, were all up for contract renewal. Which of these would stay with their teams, and which would go to other teams? Nobody was willing to talk until they saw what Stewart did. As it turned out, Harvick, Labonte, and Truex decided to stay with their respective teams. Mears would be going to RCR, and Martin to Hendrick, where he will return to full-time Cup racing as driver of the #5 car. And Newman, after expressing unhappiness with the performance of his Penske team after Daytona, will join Stewart at Stewart-Haas Racing next year.
The biggest disappointment of the season could be the Allstate 400 at the Brickyard. After much anticipation of the race at the most venerable of all American racing venues, the tires that Goodyear provided for the race did not hold up to the racing surface. It became obvious that the tires were designed for a car with much more downforce than the Sprint Cup car has, and, instead of grinding in to the asphalt, as is expected of the rubber compound, the worn rubber simply powdered and blew away.
Although the #24 team of Jeff Gordon has had some great moments this season, and the team is in the Chase for the Championship, the performance of that team has been somewhat lackluster, especially in view of their success last season. Poor pit stops, run ins with team mate Jimmie Johnson on the track, and completely missed set ups have plagued the team, and we have not seen Gordon, who is arguably the most gifted and talented active driver in the series, show much of his full potential. We don't think he is out of his prime, but if he could turn things around, we would be better convinced that it isn't time for him to retire. Before any Gordon fans get angry at that statement, consider that I often wish my favorite driver, Tony Stewart, would retire so I can pick a new one. However, as long as he is racing, no matter what make of car he is racing or team he is with, we will stick with him. We expect Jeff Gordon fans to feel the same.
The performance of the new car in its first full season in NASCAR has been good at some tracks, but not so good at others, most notably the intermediate tracks. This could also be attributed to the lack of compatibility between the tire and the car. The car seems racy when the contenders are running side by side back in the pack, but it cannot complete a pass on another car that is running in clean air. We hope that NASCAR, who has left it to the teams to figure out how to race the car, will give a little more leeway to the teams in creating different aerodynamic configurations for the car, though that won't solve all the problems. Goodyear definitely needs to come up with a new tire design.
Aside from silly season, the failure of the Dodge teams, and the disappointment in the racing at some tracks, the biggest story of the regular season was most likely the crash between Kyle Busch and Dale Earnhardt, Jr while Junior was leading the first race of the year at Richmond. Busch tried to pass Junior on the bottom of the track, went into a turn too hot and slid up into Junior's car, spinning Junior and costing him the race. This permanently traumatized millions of race fans, and they will probably never get over it without professional help, even after Junior got revenge in the final race of the regular season. That just goes to show how emotionally involving racing is to the fan. That is what NASCAR racing does to all of us, no matter who our favorite driver might be.
All in all, there have been good races and bad races, moments of brilliance and stupidity, times of celebration and bitter disappointment. NASCAR has made a lot of changes since we first began watching it in the early 1960's, but in the end, it is still NASCAR racing, and is still the only motorports racing series that offers to the fan all that NASCAR has.
Sunday, September 07, 2008
This is not the usual flag-to-flag coverage we present in Live on Tape Delay, due to the fact that we committed the almost unforgiveable sin of oversleeping on race day. We managed to start watching just before Kyle Busch got his payback from Dale Earnhardt, Jr in retaliation for "the spin heard around the world" at Richmond last Spring.
That finally being over with, and done with a finnesse of which only Junior is capable of, we watch a race that only Richmond is capable of presenting. Three wide racing all around the track, some bumpin' some beatin' and some bangin' is what makes the Chevy Rock & Roll 400 rock & roll.
The seventh caution of the race gave David Reutimann the opportunity to take the lead by staying out while the leaders pitted. It didn't take long for Tony Stewart and the others who pitted to catch up to him, but he did very well by holding the lead for the entire segment. Shortly after the eighth restart, Smoke catches him and takes the lead, with Jimmie Johnson close behind him.
There is another caution with around forty laps to go, and the leaders pit again. Truex comes off pit road first, but he only took two tires. Jimmie Johnson, whose #48 team got him out first among those who took four tires, makes quick work of Truex, and Stewart is right behind him.The final caution occurs with thirty six laps to go, and the final restart is with thirty one to go.
We have to stop being so cynical of Jimmie Johnson's abilities. For the final 25 laps, Stewart and Johnson are racing hard. Johnson plays it smart and maintains the high line that gives him more momentum off the turns. Stewart catches him with ten to go, and this is getting very exciting. Stewart does gain the lead for one lap, but Jimmie is faster on the high line, and pins Smoke to the bottom. The race goes all the way to the final lap--a well fought race that Johnson wins. This was a great finish that fed us almost too much adreniline. We are as disappointed as Smoke that he couldn't catch Johnson at the end--a win here would have been awesome--but Johnson showed brilliance in holding the lead for the win, and it was a very good race.
Meanwhile we had more drama going on between the drivers trying to get that twelfth position for the Chase. David Ragan, starting the race only seventeen points behind twelfth place Clint Bowyer, got damage to his front splitter in an incident early in the race--something that should have caused him problems, but didn't. At times he was as much as seven points ahead of Bowyer, and for much of the race was running side by side with Bowyer. But a damaged car is just that, and it was only a matter of time before the handling problems multiplied and it became too difficult for Ragan to keep up, so Bowyer ended up safe within the Chase for the Championship. His victory earlier this season gives him fifth seed in the Chase.
Earnhardt, Jr had a good car, but not good enough. He did get a top five finish with the car that never really looked better than being top fifteen capable. This is another thing that impresses us about Junior, and we wonder what would happen if he ever got a really good car. This is Hendrick Motorsports we are talking about, and, for the Chase, maybe they can get things stepped up as far as equipment goes.
There doesn't seem much hope for Jeff Gordon this year. At times, the 24 team has been brilliant, but for much of the regular season, it seemed lackluster. We are still expecting some sort of change in that team during the last ten races of this season. It would be difficult to change crew cheifs at this point, because of communication concerns. But if Gordon and Letarte aren't on the same page at this point, what would it hurt to put someone else on the pit box for the last ten races?
The organizations that performed the best this season are the organizations that made the Chase. Hendrick, Gibbs, Roush-Fenway, and Childress each have three cars in the Chase. Gillett-Evernham was the only Dodge team that had a chance to be in the Chase, with Kasey Kahne, but that team, which had been as high as eight in the standings, ran into trouble earlier this season and never really recovered. We could probably expect NASCAR--who changed the eligibility requirements for the Bud Shootout at the beginning of the season to ensure that all the manufacturers were represented--will once again tweak the Championship rules to include all the manufacturers in the Chase next year.
The race was awesome, and so was the Home Depot ad that featured Tony Stewart literally handing the wheel of the Home Depot car to his replacement, Joey Logano.
Kyle Busch handled himself very well in the post race interview, and did not seem angry or disappointed that he was taken out of the lead by Jr. He didn't put any blame anywhere, and congratulated his team, happy to be going into the Chase seeded in the top position. We will see some more wins from him this year, because he has the right attitude, and the right team with which to do so.
The fans at Richmond are loyal, and, even after the weather postponement, the stands were very nearly full, as far as we can tell. Richmond is one of the best tracks on the circuit, and continues to deliver great racing even with the new car, where the racing at the intermediate tracks has often fallen flat. We feel that the Chevy Rock & Roll 400 is an excellent venue with which to end the regular season.
Friday, September 05, 2008
Richmond is arguably my favorite track currently on the NASCAR Sprint Cup circuit. It is a short track with enough room for the cars to move around. It isn't the high speed of Bristol, but it isn't the traffic jam of Martinsville, another favorite track. Richmond is an appropriate venue for the final race of the "regular" NASCAR season.
As NASCAR fans know, the ten race Chase for the Championsip begins after Richmond. For at least four teams, it is do or die time, and, for other teams in the top twelve, it is the last chance to get those ten Chase bonus points for a regular season win. It doesn't matter how far ahead in points anyone is, the points reset to even except for those bonus points.
David Ragan, currently in thirteenth position in points, has the best chance to make the Chase of those drivers who are outside the top twelve. Clint Bowyer, in twelfth, has the best chance of losing his position. Pundits claim that Jeff Gordon is in danger of losing his position, which is theoretically and numerically true, but he is 103 points ahead of Ragan, and it would take a catastrophy for him to be knocked out. That isn't likely, as the #24 team is on a mission to prove that The Gordon has not lost one bit of his on-track prowess.
A run down of the seven "bubble" drivers and a better explanation of who needs to do what than we can present is available at NASCAR.com
We may remember, however, that Tony Stewart, the defending champion in 2006, did not make the Chase that year after being in the top ten in points nearly the entire season. Handling problems at Richmond in the final regular season race knocked him out of eligibility for the Chase. This just goes to show, anything can happen.
As Hurricane Hannah moves up the east coast this weekend, there is a good chance the race may be rain delayed. However, if it does rain Saturday, the storm may move out before race time. We are hoping that is the case, because we are so fired up for this race that a delay until Sunday would be a letdown.
Wednesday, September 03, 2008
It is official that David Stremme will return to the Sprint Cup as a full time driver beginning next year, taking over the duties of Ryan Newman in the Penske #12 car. He has been the test driver for Penske for most of the current season, as well as a steady hand at the wheel of Rusty Wallace's #64 Nationwide Series car.
Many fans may ask why Stremme? He seemed to be involved in almost every wreck at every track in his rookie year, and in the first two races of his sophomore year. However, in the final thirty weeks of the 2007 season, before he was forced to give up his Ganassi/Sabates seat for Dario Franchitti, he seemed to put his perceived recklessness behind him and begain showing that he could perform competitively. In other words, many Stremme watchers felt as though he was released from his Cup ride just as he was getting good.
To be fair, Ganassi Racing needed to do something in terms of sponsorship and adding new energy to the team, so Franchitti seemed like a good idea at the time. But that didn't work out.
This may work out for Penske. Stremme has shown in the Nationwide Series that he is a competitive driver, and as the test driver for Penske's Cup teams, he has had plenty of seat time in the Sprint Cup car. He is aggressive enough to compete at the Cup level, without being as over-aggressive as he was in his rookie year in that series.
Were there other good choices to fill the #12 seat? Certainly, there were. There is a widespread fan movement--okay, one or two guys commenting in every comment section they can find--to put Jeremy Mayfield back in a Cup ride. But Jeremy has made it clear that he will not race unless he is with a team that can guarantee that he will make it to the Chase, so we can assume that if he was considered for the ride, he might have turned it down. The same goes for Ward Burton, who is happy where he is and will race in Sprint Cup only if it is with a championship team. On the younger side, Brad Keselowski was reportedly sought for the #12 car and turned it down, holding out for a ride with Hendrick in 2010.
Stremme, unlike Mayfield and Burton, is still young, still able to learn, and still learning. Penske can, with Stremme, look further down the road to the future than they would have been able to do with an older driver. We feel Penske's confidence in Stremme is well earned and well deserved, and wish him success in his born-again Cup career.
Strangely enough, the formation of Stewart-Haas Racing has potentially brought about a chain of events that will bring some result to NASCAR's Drive for Diversity program. Joey Logano's move to the #20 JGR Cup car, and Stremme's move to the #12 car, will leave openings for African American up and coming drivers Marc Davis and Chase Austin in the Nationwide Series next year. Both drivers have shown good results in the Hooters Pro Cup, ARCA, and the Camping World Series as developmental drivers for Joe Gibbs and Rusty Wallace Racing. If nothing else, their presence in the Nationwide Series will give NASCAR a much needed public relations boost.
Tuesday, September 02, 2008
Tony Stewart would have made a great "Hancock." We could see Jeff Gordon playing "Spiderman," in a sequel featuring the former teenage superhero as a grown man. Greg Biffle could be interesting in the lead role of the next "Bourne" movie. Kasey Kahne could work on his British accent and be the next James Bond. Mark Martin would make a great "Popeye" Boyle in a "French Connection" revival. Carl Edwards would be a natural as Eddie Haskel in a feature length "Leave It To Beaver" reincarnation.
What the heck are we talking about? We're just trying to help ISC/NASCAR come up with ways to make Auto Club Speedway, in Fontana, California, more appealing to the locals in that part of the state. If some of the stars of NASCAR became movie stars as well, they just might be able to draw the Hollywood crowd to the track.
There are true NASCAR fans in Southern California. to be sure, but the heat of Labor Day in that part of the country, coupled with the reputation of the races there being "boring," results in many of them foregoing the opportunity to see a live race. Part of that will be remedied next year, when the race moves to later in the Fall, and the temperatures will be more tolerable. But, so far in its ten year history, the track has not been conducive to the type of racing many NASCAR fans want to see.
In its current spot on the schedule, not only is it on a day that many consider too hot even for a race, but it seems anti-climatic after Bristol and before the regular season finale at Richmond. Between all that beatin' and bangin', a set-up, tire, and fuel strategy race just doesn't seem appropriate.
Fox Sports'Lee Spencer doesn't think the speedway deserves a slot in the Chase for the Championship, and she does make a point in her argument. But ISC/NASCAR is stubborn, and they will not give up a date for a track that was part of their plan to make NASCAR a mainstream sport. That organization does not always make wise decisions, but it is a multi-million dollar corporation, so they must be doing something right.
Being part of the Chase could help. It will still be anti-climatic, but it will also offer a challenge in the Championship format that does not currently exist. Just being part of the playoffs may draw more fans to the track.
But the purpose of building the track formerly known as California Speedway was to draw new fans to the sport, and if NASCAR wants to do that, they will have to think much further out of the box than they are currently. Being pro-active in Hollywood by producing movies featuring drivers and other personalities as stars may not be that far fetched.
Monday, September 01, 2008
A few pre-race thoughts and commentary:
This is one of those races which many NASCAR racing fans consider boring. It is our contention that racing can't be boring--there is always something going on.
Granted, the characteristics of Auto Club (aka California) Speedway result in single file racing with the leader so far ahead of the pack he seems to be in a different time zone. NASCAR fans and track promotors don't like that, so NASCAR often calls phantom debris cautions to tighten the field up. NASCAR fans don't like that either, but they can't have it both ways.
The Pepsi (aka California) 500 is not a Gran Prix, but the type of racing we expect to see there is similar to the type of racing that draws over 300,000,000 fans world-wide to Formula 1. The idea is not necessarily to win from the start of the race, but to strategize and plan for the end of the race. 400 of the 500 miles is spent setting up the car and the fuel and tire strategies toward having the car that can win at the end of the race.This can result in some interesting and exciting situations in the final laps. The changing conditions as the sun sets and the track cools add to the challenge.
Don't forget, there is always something happening behind the leaders as the other teams try to attain and maintain position that will put them in the contest for the win at the end of the race. This is where the potential winner does not want to be, as traffic often gets congested and accidents happen.
We don't expect to change anybody's mind about this kind of racing--most NASCAR fans prefer side by side racing and multiple lead changes to strategy races, but we would like to remind those fans that the Coca Cola 600 earlier this year turned out to be very exciting, and that is the NASCAR Cup race most like what we will probably see tonight in California. Look at it this way--it has to be better than the Brickyard was this year, or the rain fiasco at the same track in February.
A shout out to our fellow NASCAR blogging friends in California. Be sure to check out Amy's Bad Groove, The Fast and the Fabulous, Diary of a Track Bunny, and Restrictor-Plate This.
Once again, we will not have the aid of MRN in reporting this race, so we will do our best to present it in a way that will put you there, using only what the television broadcast offers and our memories of what racing is like, with some help from our imagination.
Drew Carey is a Marine, and he sounds like one as he gives the command to start engines. I love it. Kevin James set the bar for Grand Marshalls in giving the command, and Carey wasn't afraid to try to surpass that.
Last night, Kyle Busch became the first driver in the Nationwide Series to win from the poll at Auto Club Speedway, and Jimmie Johnson will be trying to be the first pole sitter to do so in the Cup Series.
Green flag, and Allendinger, who started outside of the front row, is side by side with pole sitter Jimmie Johnson. Johnson finally clears for the lead on lap 2.There has been some agressive racing from p-7 on back as many drivers, including Kyle Busch, make an early charge toward the front. Lap 4 and Jamie McMurray cuts a tire, bringing out the caution.
This restart will be single file, as no one hase gone a lap down yet. Fun stuff--Reutimann, Blaney and Kurt Busch go three-wide racing for eighth place at the restart on lap 10. Kyle Busch moves into sixth during lap 11. There are a lot of position changes from sixth on back, as everybody wants to get to the frunt. Dale Jr has moved into the top ten. Martin Truex, Jr moves up even more and takes fifth place. After the tires warm up, David Reutimann speeds past Kyle Busch and takes sixth position. Lap 15, and there is still plenty of action among the top ten cars, and it seems as though it will not stop soon.
Debris caution and the debris is a caution light. Didn't this happen at California earlier this year? That light just fell right off. Luckily, it didn't fall on top of a car. The caution came out on lap 21, and the leaders pit this time.
I stand corrected, it was New Hampshire where the caution light fell.
Nothing new on the restart. Jimmie Johnson is first, Kasey Kahne second, AJ Allmendinger hanging in there in third, and before the restart lap is finished a lot of positions have changed. Restart was on lap 25, and there was a lot of racing, still, in the top ten. This allowed Jimmie Johnson to move away.
Brian Vickers has moved into fourth, right behind his Red Bull team mate. Allmendinger (AJ) takes second from Kahne on lap 27, and Vickers takes third. Kahne has fallen back to fifth by lap 32, as Biffle moves into fourth. On lap 34, Vickers takes second, and Dale Jr is in sixth. Kyle Busch has fallen back to ninth. This is a reminder that, in the Sprint Cup car, at least, flat tracks are not Busch's forte.
AJ and Vickers are still racing side by side, and are catching Jimmie Johnson, who, at one point, was four seconds ahead of the pack.
Lap 44, and Kurt Busch loses his left rear tire after contact with Martin Truex, Jr. Busch makes an excellent save, keeping his car from hitting anything. The caution is out, and just about everybody pits. With the Red Bull drivers being as competitive against each other as they have been, the restart should be interesting.
This race has not settled down yet. Off the pits, Biffle has taken second, and AJ is in third, Vickers fourth, and Junior is in fifth. Montoya, Carpentier, and Riggs all had some good stops, moving into the top twenty. Marcos Ambrose, who started the race near the back is also racing to get into the top twenty.
Happy Harvick is happy, having started way back in the field, he is contesting fourth position with AJ Allmendinger. Lap 53, and he is racing Brian Vickers for third. Earnhardt, Jr has fallen all the way back to fifteenth. but back in tenth through fourteenth positions, Stewart, Kyle Busch, Jeff Burton, Matt Kenseth, David Reutimann, and a few others are engaged in some racing, all trying to get into the top ten. The racing back there seems pretty clean, so these guys understand it is still early.
Jimmie Johnson is about half a mile ahead of everybody else on lap 59. That may be an exaggeration, but it sure looks like it from the airial view. By lap 63, Denny Hamlin has moved into fifth, Kasey Kahne, who a few moments ago was as far back as eleventh, has grabbed sixth. The fourth caution waves on lap 69, as Joe Nemecheck loses control of his car and hit the SAFER barrier hard.
Johnson comes off the pit road first, Biffle is still in second, and Denny Hamlin's crew got him out in third. It looks like Harvick comes out in fourth. AJ Allmendinger lost positions during the pit stops. I wonder if it isn't too early to make adjustments before the sun sets, but some teams seem to be making adjustments. This is one of the different strategies different teams use--some adjust gradually to keep up with the track, while others set up earlier for the cooler track that will come later, and wait for that later time before they make adjustments.
Restart on lap 74, and on lap 75, Da Biff, Greg Biffle, is giving leader Jimmie Johnson a run for his money. We can see the track is still slick as Biffle bobbles a bit, and Hamlin challenges him for second.
Meanwhile, we are watching Junior trying to hang on to a top fifteen position. We can't say enough how much we appreciate Jr's ability to handle a pos (peice of bad word) car. It isn't good news for Earhardt, Jr fans, but if this wasn't Jr driving this car it would probably be at least a lap down. Jr is The Man when it comes to car control. Of course, he has had plenty of practice.
By lap 90, things have finally settled down some, though there are still a few movers, such as Juan Pablo Montoya.
I can't believe Texoco/Havoline is withdrawing its sponsorship after all these years. One would think that with all the bad rap the American oil companies are getting, they would want to increase sponsorship for PR purposes.
Lap 102, and there will soon be pit stops under the green flag, for the first time in the race. This is where the adjustments for a cooler track will be fine tuned, most likely, as the sun is setting.
Lap 110 and green flag pit stops begin. Jr comes in on lap 111, and they make some adjustments for him. He seems to have trouble in the pits, and is slow getting out. The leader pits on lap 112, as does Brian Vickers. Hamlin's a taker on lap 112, as does Biffle. David Ragan, this year's media darling, and Matt Kenseth pit on lap 113 and 114. Jeff Gordon plays it smart and stays out for 5 bonus points for leading a lap, before he pits on lap 116. After the pit stops cycle through, Jimmie Johnson is still in the lead.
Biffle retains second place, Hamlin in third, Vickers fourth and Harvick fifth. Vickers gets third from Hamlin after a few laps. Kahne is is fifth, and it looks like Harvick in sixth on lap 123.
Lap 124, and Harvick passes Kahne for fifth. Stewart has moved up to eleventh place, so his car may be settling in to the track conditions, or visa versa.
Just before scheduled green flag pit stops, there is a caution. Everybody will pit at the same time, at least the eighteen cars on the lead lap will. Johnson comes off first, Biffle second, Harvick third, Hamlin fourth and Vickers is fifth. Tony Stewart has entered the top ten. Restart with 97 laps to go.
Wow look at Smoke go! He has gained two spots in one lap. We are also seeing some good racing between David Ragan and Clint Bowyer having a one on one race within a race for the top twelve.
With 93 laps to go, Dale Earnhardt Jr is officially in the Chase for the Chanpionship. He has enough points now that he doesn't have to worry about what happens at Richmond.
The sixth caution, for another fallen light, comes on lap 160. The leaders all pit. This time Edwards holds fifth place, with Johnson, Biffle, Hamlin, and Harvick in front of him. Biffle comes out in the lead, Edwards second, Allmendinger third, Vickers fourth, and Ryan Newman fifth, all taking gambles by taking fuel only or two tires only.
Restart with 85 laps to go. The cars are bunched up three wide all the way through the field, but Johnson, with four tires, catches third place quickly, and with 84 laps to go, retakes the lead.
With seventy laps to go, Robby Gordon nips the wall and spins, bringing out the seventh caution. If everybody pits now, there will be one more stop before the end of the race.
We have yelled "Turn Right, Jimmie!" 98 times this race, but he didn't listen. Now, there is a mistake in the pits by his team, something that very rarely happens, and Johnson will restart fourth. Reutimann didn't pit and restarts in the lead with sixty-four laps to go. Biffle is second, Edwards is third. After the restart, Johnson is in fourth, then quickly moves into second, and takes the lead from Greg Biffle with 62 laps to go. The 48 team can not do anything wrong. Even when they do something wrong, it doesn't turn out that way. Once again we are reminded why Jimmie Johndon is a back-to back-champion.
40 laps to go, and, if there is no caution, we should see the "money" pit stops begin in ten to twelve laps. We are beginning to feel that, even if Jimmie Johnson did accidently turn right, he would still somehow win this race.
33 laps to go, and, just in time, Marcos Ambrose hits the wall and brings out a caution. This is just about right for fuel mileage, so this caution takes that out of the equation. The outcome of this race will depend on the next restart. Biffle comes out first, Johnson second, Hamlin is lining up in third, Edwards is fourth, and Harvick is fifth.
This should be good. Biffle will not give up the lead easily. Biffle gets a good restart with 28 laps to go, but Johnson gets a good run on him off of turn two, then goes in deep on turn three and passes for the lead on the inside. We have exciting chase contending racing going on back in tenth and eleventh, between Bowyer and Ragan. Any of these other cars they are racing against three wide, could actually ruin their chances of making the chase. Just something to keep the anxiety going.
There have been times where this was a better race that the one we saw at Michigan a few weeks ago. This might be one of them, with seventeen laps to go, as Biffle seems to be catching Johnson.
It seems that debris on the grill was what was making Biffle's car faster, and as soon as it blew off, his car slowed down. At least we didn't hear the "grilled hot dog wrapper" groaner this time. Yes, that was supposed to be a pun.
Now Biffle has found a line that is making him faster than Johnson, and is running faster laps. This is why we stay until the end of a race. Trying to catch the leader is drama, to steal a concept from TNT.
Ten laps to go, and Da Biff doesn't look like he could catch Johnson. It is fun watching Biffle drive like we know he can drive. It reminds you a little of Kyle Busch, doesn't it? He really does use the entire track, something we noticed years ago, when we watched him at PPIR.
2 laps to go and we are giving Johnson the win. The 48 team was incredible, and demonstrated why they are the defending champions.
We were prepared to write that this actually was a better race than the one we saw at Michigan, but, in the end, we can't say that is true. It is close, maybe even identical, but it doesn't make it better. Still it was fun, and we will never say it was boring. If it was boring, then it wouldn't be racing.
Richmond should be quite exciting, and we are very much looking forward to next week's race. Nobody should be able to mess that up!