Saturday, November 21, 2009

The 48 Team And The Art Of Going In Circles

The time Rev' Jim has to be on line is still very rare, but we can't let this NASCAR season end without a word or two.

At the time of this writing, it looks like Jimmie Johnson and the 48 team once again have the Cup Championship sewn up. Unless, of course, the driver or the team make a serious mistake during Sunday's season closer at Homestead. That, as most racing fans know, is not likely to happen.

"How," one might ask, "Can one driver be so dominant over the others that he wins the championship four consecutive seasons?"

Now, to be fair, the one who might ask that question would be one who is not familiar with NASCAR racing. In fact, the one who asked us that question is of the opinion that NASCAR racing is all about mashing the pedal and turning left. That would be the same as saying football is all about men standing in a field and knocking each other down, baseball is about standing around and adjusting hats and belts, or hockey is about skating in circles.

We might explain that, first of all, Jimmie Johnson and his team are not dominant in their sport in the same sense as teams such as the Dallas Cowboys, the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Miami Dolphins, the Celtics, the Lakers, the Yankees, or the Bruins have been dominant in their respective sports. For example, our favorite driver, Tony Stewart, led the points for most of the regular season, a feat of which we, and the 14 team, have a right to be very proud, considering that this was Stewart's first season with a team that was entirely new to him. If they had been able to maintain the level of competition they showed in April through August for the rest of the season, Chase or not, they could have had the Championship sewn up at this point, rather than Johnson.

We must note here, that it would be easy to blame it on NASCAR's Chase points format, but that is how the championship is determined. Every team in the Sprint Cup Series bases its strategy and agenda for the season on that format. It is the same for each team. Even if there wasn't a Chase Championship format, the teams would still calculate their chances for the championship according to the points system. So, in the Zen of it all, the points format doesn't really make a difference.

They weren't able to maintain that level of competition, and that's the way the proverbial cookie crumbles like a mashed right rear fender. The 48 team, on the other hand, has been able to stay at the same level throughout the entire season, and then even step up their performance in the final stretch, when performance matters most. And this is where we try to explain that NASCAR, like the NFL, NHL, MLB, and NBA, is a team sport.

Of course, at the association of "team" and "NASCAR," a question mark visibly appears over the head of the person who is grilling us. "What," he asks, "does a team have to do with it?"

So, we explain that many races are won in the pits, and the pit crew has to be fit, physically and mentally, in order to provide a pit stop that is a "game breaker." The crew chief has to be able to make decisions that affect the performance of the team, the driver, and the car. Most of the time, the decisions are of the split second variety. Making decisions as to air pressure, wedge, and track bar adjustments take a knowledge of what the driver likes in the handling of his car, along with the knowledge of the time such adjustments would take in relationship to track position among the other teams in the field.

When it comes down to the nitty gritty, Chad Knaus, Johnson's Crew Chief, is NASCAR's equivalent of the internet's UberGeek. We never hear anything about his personal life, so we have to assume that everything Knaus does in his life has to do with making cars go faster. He lives, breathes, and eats racing. His first thoughts in the morning, and his final thoughts in the evening have to do with making a car go fast. Tighty whities or boxers? He probably wears speedos. (Note, if the reader chooses to dwell on that image, the author of this blog can not be held responsible for loss of sight in the mind's eye).

Knaus probably doesn't have a stove, oven, or a crock pot. Everything he eats is probably pre-prepared, as in fast food, or microwaved. Our point is that Knaus probably doesn't do anything that doesn't have to do with going fast. It is not unlikely that he has even trained his pit crew on how far out to pull a dented fender to make the aerodynamics of the car better than it was before the fender was dented.

"But," asks the person who is grilling us, "what does that have to do with one driver being so dominant?"

We sigh, not wishing to rehash what we just explained and press onward.

The crew chief is very important, but so is the chemistry between the crew chief and the driver. Jimmie Johnson has had only Knaus as his crew chief his entire Cup career. Granted, while Knaus was under suspension for the first part of last year, Darian Grubb--now Tony Stewart's crew chief--took the reins, but it was still the House of Knaus, and the team carried on as if it was still Chad on the pit box, sort of like automatic pilot. They did what they were trained to do, and continued the success of Johnson's team.

Chemistry between the driver and the crew chief means that there has to be communication that makes what the driver wants and what the driver gets identical. The 48 team definitely has that chemistry.

This is not to take away from Johnson's skills as a driver. The driver has to be precise, being able to put his car where he wants it in his line before another car takes that line. Beating another driver around the track means beating that driver in the turns--perhaps by out braking or out maneuvering the other car--and being quicker in reflexes, which also ties in to avoiding wrecks and contact, or other things that could increase the lap time unfavorably. Johnson is very good at that--the car is magic in his hands.

We can't say that Johnson is the best driver of all time. We can't even say he is absolutely the best out there, although he is one of the best. There are several drivers--the twelve who made the championship chase cut and a handful of others who didn't--who can always be considered to be championship contenders in any given year. The difference goes back to the team's performance, but it also means that a driver has to be good at every track. Each track on which the Cup series races is different in characteristics and dynamics, no matter how much alike they might look. Johnson understands this, and is equally good at finding his groove at all of them. This is how he takes advantage of having one of the best teams in NASCAR, and is what makes the 48 team a perennial champion.

The real question that should be asked is, "why watch the race if the championship is already in the bag?"

The answer is simple if you are a race fan. It is a race. We might be hoping that something similar to what befell the 48 team at Texas happens, and that Mark Martin leads the most laps and wins the race. But the main reason is we want to see if our favorite driver, no matter who it is, wins the race. That is why we watch any race. A victory by our favorite driver is as good as any old championship, as far as we are concerned. Or we could be watching it as witnesses to history in the making.

"But what does this have to do with mashing the gas pedal and driving in in circles?"

At this point, we answer, "I have no idea. How about them Broncos?"

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Light 'em up!

I seriously doubt that Jeff Gordon reads this blog, but something sure lit a fire in him. At Richmond, last Sunday, he and Denny Hamlin gave us a great of red hot wheel to wheel racing. He wasn't boring at all. That's the Jeff Gordon we want to see.

At the beginning of the season, listening to Gordon gave us the perception that he was ready to grab the bull by the horns and start racing to win again. But that fire we saw quickly dwindled, and suffocated under a blanket of, for the 24 team, mediocrity.

For the majority of teams in the Sprint Cup Series, Gordon's performance would be great, but this is the 24 team we are talking about. This is the team of one of the best drivers in the history of NASCAR, and we expect that desire to win to burn brightly.

Jeff Gordon must know that he will have to win some races in the Chase for the Championship. He should have learned that in 2007 when he gave away the Cup by finishing consistently in the top five while Jimmie Johnson finished consistently in Victory Lane. Now it is not just Johnson who will snag top five finishes and win races during the Championship season. We can be sure that Mark Martin, Tony Stewart, Jimmie Johnson, and possibly even Juan Pablo Montoya will each win at least one of the last ten races as well as post several top five finishes. Jeff Gordon needs to find the old fire that would make him unhappy with a second place finish if he is to achieve that fifth championship that has eluded him for so long.

That being said, here are my uneducated guesses for how I think the Championship points race will turn out:

Champion: Tony Stewart. I know, this is my heart talking, but my mind almost agrees. Stewart took a team that was barely making the top thirty five in points and turned it into a winner. He has mellowed when talking to the press, a necessity for a team owner, but he still has the fire and determination to win. After winning the qualifying season, so to speak, he will be hard to stop. Certainly, there has been some poor performance on the part of him and his team since Watkins Glen, but this is a team and a leader who will overcome those errors. I know this is a change of view from the beginning of the seasons, but I will now admit that all of my expectations from that time were wrong.

2. Jimmie Johnson. The other teams have caught up to what the 48 team has had for the last three seasons, and the competition is better. Besides, Jimmie hasn't been hitting as many cars lately, so it will be harder for Knaus to put the magic aerodynamics improving dent in the right place on the fender. I am only partly joking--many of the races Johnson has won have been won after he has had contact with one or more other cars early in the race. Yes, it's a crackpot conspiracy theory, but it does make you think. But Johnson will still be hard to stop. I think the points race will be close throughout the Chase.

3. Jeff Gordon. The new bridesmaid.

4. Mark Martin. He loves to win, but maybe he just isn't aggressive enough to be competitive with Johnson and Stewart. Still, we would be very happy to see him finally get a championship.

5. Juan Montoya. As mentioned before, this guy knows how to win championships. This team will come together during the Chase, and he will show us he knows how to win races as well. He has to remember, though, that "Shake" comes before "Bake."

6. Denny Hamlin. Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition, and nobody expects Denny Hamlin. Yet the guy is a good racer, and Loudon, Dover, and Martinsville are all good tracks for him. He could keep the points among the top six very close.

7. Ryan Newman. A very competent racer, and he knows when to be aggressive and when not to be. He has been in the Chase before, and he knows how it works.

8. Carl Edwards. It's very difficult to understand why the Roush Magic isn't there this year, but still, they got two drivers in the Chase. Perhaps it's just that, as the teams get the hang of the Cup car, the competition becomes tighter, and things are evening out. Edwards has a strong will, proven by showing us that the only thing he can't do with a broken foot is a victory backflip. His determination will put him in the top ten at the end of the season.

9. Kasey Kahne. We would love to put him in the top five, but the way things are getting shaken up at RPM there may be some lack of concentration.

10 Brian Vickers. He has a lot of determination, and will likely finish in the top ten points position. He will make the Chase interesting, but it is not Red Bull's turn quite yet. They will learn a lot, and will be even stronger next year.

11. Yea, he made the Chase. I wish he would make the top ten, but he won't.

12 Kurt Busch. The same mechanical and emotional problems that have plagued him in the past will continue to plague him his year. Too bad.

So that is my take. As always, I am very interested in discussing this with other fans and maybe changing my mind. Remember, I don't intend to slam any driver or team. This is just for fun, so please don't bet on my picks. Thank you.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Revvin' and Rantin'

As you may have noticed, I have been unable to post anything lately, due to lack of internet access. T'herefore, we will try to take care of several different subjects, including some photos from the 2009 Good Times Auto Show in Old Colorado City, while we have the opportunity.

As the NASCAR Sprint Cup Chase qualifying season winds down to its final race, there is still plenty of drama. Of Greg Biffle, Matt Kenseth, Mark Martin, Kurt Busch, Ryan Newman, Kasey Kahne, Juan Montoya, Brian Vickers and Kyle Busch, two will not make the cut at Richmond Saturday night, so we know these nine drivers will be giving it their all. Carl Edwards could also be included in this group, but, no matter what happens with the other drivers, he can clinch his berth with a mid-pack finish or better.

We know that Kyle Busch will truly make it an all or nothing run for his team at Richmond, so we will have to say the driver with the toughest task in trying to make the Chase is Brian Vickers. He hasn't had a top five finish at Richmond in a Cup car,. and he almost needs to have bad luck happen to one or more of the other drivers who are currently in the top twelve in points. We would like to see him in the Chase, because we think he could bring some additional excitement to the championship season. At the same time we would hate to see any ot the drivers who are currently in the top twelve not make the cut, so we are, as usual, emotionally conflicted.

Tony Stewart's team's performance seems to have fallen off some since his victory at Watkins Glen. They may already be feeling the pressure of the Chase. We should remember that most of the members of Stewart's pit crew have never experienced being on a winning team prior to this year. They are still working out some kinks and some glitches, and hopefully they will get all of their bad stuff out of their system before the final ten races. We should also remember that we expected this to be a team building year for Stewart-Haas racing, and they have gone beyond all expectations. Most of us doubted that Stewart would make the Chase in his first year as a team owner, but those doubts have been dashed, as not only is Stewart in first place for the qualifying season, but his team mate Ryan Newman has a very good chance of making the Chase as well.

Jeff Gordon is boring. There, I said it. Certainly, he and his team have done well to stay in the top three in points throughout the season, but that is expected of the 24 team. We predicted that his fire would be back this season, but it seems to be smoldering. We also predicted that he would win the championship this year, which he still could very well do, but not while he is content with finishing in the top ten every race. Not when he is competing against the likes of Stewart and Johnson. He could step it up during the final ten races, and we hope he does. I have to say, however, that if he was not already locked into the Chase, I would rather see a more exciting driver in the final twelve.

Dale Earnhardt, Jr won't make the Chase, but we have seen some improvement since Lance McGrew came on board as his crew chief. It was fun watching him race with everything going good for him at Atlanta. Nobody rides the rim so close to the outside fence as well and skillfully as Earnhardt does, and it was fun to watch him do so at Atlanta. If he and his team continue to improve, we could see him back as a contender next year.

Atlanta showed us that these new cars can race wheel to wheel on an intermediate track, and they can race for the lead on the track, under green flag conditions. That was probably the best race we have seen on an intermediate track this year, as the Sprint Cup car is coming into its own. I have a feeling the performance of the car will continue to improve, and soon we will forget all about the aero cars. The only problem is parity. As predicted, the parity built into the CoT, CORN, or Sprint Cup Car (whichever one choses to call it), has resulted in separating the good drivers from the mediocre. There are no tweaks a crew chief could make to give Reed Sorenson or Elliott Sadler a chance to compete with a Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, or Jimmie Johnson.

Speaking of Reed Sorenson or Elliott Sadler, Richard Petty Motorsports will be merging with Yates Racing next year. As the tentative drivers' roster implies, the drivers for Petty-Yates will be Sadler, Kahne, Allmendinger, and Menard in Yates powered Fords, and Sorenson will be looking for a ride. This means that Kahne, who was a Ford man before he was a Dodge man, will be back in Ford, Sadler has an excellent lawyer, Allmendinger will get another chance to rise in the ranks with yet another manufacturer, and Menard's daddy is a great sponsor. We will think positively about Sorenson, who would be an excellent replacement for Brad Keselowski at JRM in the Nationwide Series, and we think that this would be an excellent opportunity for him to get that Nationwide Series Championship that so narrowly eluded him a few years ago.

Kahne, we might remember, was the subject of a lawsuit by Ford regarding his contract as a Ford driver, when he first went to Evernham as a Dodge driver. The merger also means that he will have driven for four different Cup Series teams without making a move from one team to another.

Sadler, we may remember, drove for Yates before he drove for Evernham. The number 44, driven by AJ Allmendinger, was once a Yates car number, and will be again. Ironic how things turn full circle, isn't it?

We can't close without remarking on the excellent finish at Bristol a few weeks ago. We got to see two excellent drivers race each other for the win, in a clean but intense battle. Mark Martin is a class act, and races the way he gets raced. If you race him clean, he will race you clean. So shame on those fans who would have rather seen a wreck at the end of the race than the exciting wheel to wheel racing it was.

One more thing. I will be keeping the double file restart poll up until the end of the season, so we can see every instance of the restart at every type of track. I do believe I have the poll set up so you can vote as many times as you like. I will think of an additional poll to put up in the meantime, possibly about the NASCAR wives. The criteria for this poll will include more than being eye candy, as in how involved the wife is in the driver's career. However, there will be a slot marked "other" so you can write in your favorite eye candy wife. Eva and Nicole will be included because of their near cat fight in the pits a couple of seasons ago.

Until I get a chance to get on line again, enjoy the races!

Monday, August 17, 2009

On Type Delay: The Carfax 400 at MIS

This morning, I was awakened at 6:00 AM by the sound of engines and turbo chargers as classic cars, hot rods, street rods, and customized vehicles paraded down Colorado Avenue to enter the annual Good Times Auto Show. This open, just for fun, car show is an annual event that falls,intentionally, on the same weekend as the famous Woodward Dream Cruise in Michigan. Our little show in Old Colorado City gets more popular each year, and, as a result, gets more entries each year. There are no cash prizes, just ribbons and bragging rights. And the cars, as always, are beautiful.

I love car shows almost as much as I love racing, but this is supposed to be my weekly stream of conscious race review, so we shall get on with it.

We can almost be certain, at Michigan, to see the race turn into a fuel mileage race at some point. That is because the track has so many ways to get around it, cautions, and therefore double file restarts, are less likely to happen than at other tracks. But this does provide a different kind of excitement towards the end, as we, the fans can try to second guess what the teams will do.

The race begins well, though, and we have the excitement of the green flag and get to see several of the leaders vie for the honor of leading the first lap. Mark Martin wins that challenge, and takes the lead. Pole-sitter Brian Vickers, who is having a great weekend, falls back to fourth, but regains third place from Jimmie Johnson on lap four.

It wasn't supposed to rain in Michigan today, but there was a 10% chance of showers predicted. That ten percent becomes 100 percent over Michigan International Speedway, and the race is halted on lap nine. Good, I can go to the car show and take some morepictures.

I guess it's time to get new rechargeable batteries. The ones I have are getting old and I was only able to snap 11 photos before I got the low battery signal. Crap. So many neat cars and so short a battery life.

The race resumes under caution, after nineteen minutes, and the leaders stay out on the track. From Brad Keselowski, in twelfth place, on back, most of the teams pit. The green flag flies at the end of lap 11, with Mark Martin in the lead, followed by Kurt Busch, Brian Vickers, Jimmie Johnson, and Joey Logano. Martin gets a great restart. Vickers, on the other hand, doesn't and falls back several places. Martin gains some space in his lead, while behind him there is some great three wide racing going on. Jimmie Johnson passes Kurt Busch for second, and is gaining on the leader by lap 15. Tony Stewart, Kyle Busch, Jeff Gordon, and Matt Kenseth are all moving rapidly up through the field. Jimmie Johnson and Mark Martin have an exciting race for the lead on laps 21 and 22, and Johnson comes out on top. This is what we like to see, green flag racing for a lead change. At Michigan, no less.

Green flag pit stops begin on lap 40, as Ryan Newman pulls into the pits, while Vickers passes Martin for second place. It seems that Vickers' car is weak at the beginning of the run, but is picking up well towards the end of a run. The green flag pit stops cycle through until lap 51, and the running order for the top five is Johnson, Martin, Hamlin, Vickers, and Logano. Then we get a caution on lap 52, after Robby Gordon's car blows a tire. That's too bad, because the leaders were pretty close together after the pit stops cycled through, and we were getting ready for some great green flag action for the lead. Paul Menard stays out, while the rest of the cars pit.

At the restart on lap 58, it's Menard, Kenseth, Jeff Gordon, David Ragan, and David Reutimann. Kenseth, Gordon, and Menard are three wide after they cross the start line, and Kenseth takes the lead. It looks like Kenseth is having a good day, and maybe, at his "house" in Michigan, Jack (Roush) is back.

However, Johnson is moving up quickly, passing Ragan and Gordon, and challenging Kenseth for the lead. Johnson passes Kenseth on lap 64, but Kenseth doesn't give up the lead very easily. Johnson's car proves to be faster as he seals the deal. By lap 74, he has a two and a half second lead over the second place Kenseth.

As green flag pit stops approach, the performance of Mark Martin's car seems to be improving. On lap 90, Martin is approaching Johnson's bumper, and is about to challenge him for the lead. It is also on lap 90 that Kevin Harvick and Paul Menard begin the pit cycle. Martin takes the lead by passing Jimmie Johnson on lap 95, but on lap 96, both Martin and Johnson pit.

After the pit stops cycle through, the top five running order is Johnson, Martin, Kenseth, Bowyer, and Vickers. Jeff Gordon moves into the top five on lap 104. Johnson and Martin are racing each other the entire time, and are nine seconds ahead of the pack by lap 106.

Is it just me, or does the lady on the Progressive Auto Insurance commercials seem slutty? I am a fan of slutty women, but I don't know what the message on these commercials is supposed to be. Is this Madison Ave's representation of the common woman, or of insurance agents? The street wise attitude and the heavy make up seem to imply that insurance agents, like politicians, are prostitutes. Just thinking in print, which is probably not a good idea.

There is a caution on lap 116 for debris. All the lead lap cars, except for the 55, pit again, as the end of race fuel strategy begins. Tony Stewart takes two tires and the lead out of the pits. Waltrip pits, and Stewart will lead the field to the green flag.

The restart is on lap 120, and it's Stewart, Johnson, Vickers, Martin, and Kenseth. Johnson gets a good start, and barely avoids passing Stewart illegally before the start/finish line. He does get the lead as Stewart falls back. Almost immediately, David Ragan and Kurt Busch make contact, and Busch's car hits the wall, suffering heavy damage. the race once again goes under caution.

In the "I didn't know that category," Sam Hornish, Jr gets black flagged for pitting twice for fuel under the last caution. That's a rule we don't hear about very often.

The race restarts on lap 126, with Johnson in the lead, followed by Stewart, Vickers, Martin, and Bowyer. Stewart gets the great start this time, and takes the lead in turn 1, but then gets passed by Johnson in turn 4. Stewart's car doesn't seem to be very good for Michigan, and I think the 14 team may be using this race for testing. In other words, they are taking a Mulligan. To reinforce that feeling, Martin passes Stewart for second on lap 129, and Kenseth is threatening to take third. Stewart loses a four-wide battle and falls back to sixth.

On lap 133, Ragan spins after being bumped by Hornish, and the caution comes out. Stewart, in sixth, and half the cars behind him pit. Green flag at lap 140, with Johnson in the lead. Martin, Kenseth, Vickers, and Jeff Gordon fill out the top five. Kyle Busch moves into the top five right after the restart, and Gordon also advances. Gordon takes second from Kenseth on lap 144, and there is a caution for rain on lap 146. This will be the "money stop" for much of the field on lap 149, as many teams take the gamble that they might be able to make their fuel last for 51 laps. Stewart stops for fuel only. The cars that will be in the top five at the restart all stayed out.

So the restart on lap 152 has Reutimann in the lead, followed by Hamlin, Logano, Earnhardt, Jr., and Truex, Jr. The crowd goes wild as Earnhardt, Jr takes the lead and holds it. Logano takes second from Logano. Logano is racing Earnhardt for the lead on lap 155. The race for the lead continues until lap 157, when David Stremme becomes the meat in an RCR sandwich, between Clint Bowyer and Jeff Burton. Stremme spins and brings out the caution. The top fourteen cars stay out. The number fourteen team pits, trying to get the best they can out of a bad day.

The top five at the restart on lap 161 are Brian Vickers, Jimmie Johnson, Matt Kenseth, Kevin Harvick, and Jamie McMurray. Johnson takes the lead in turn one of lap 166. the top five cars are in fuel conservation mode. Jeff Gordon moves into the top five, and takes third from Martin on lap 171. He is also in fuel conservation mode. Dale Jr, however, is not, and is steadily moving up through the field. He passes Mark Martin for fifth on lap 181. The Booth Bunnies are now calling this Jr's race to win. I bet my Jr fan friends are excited.

On lap 182, Gordon is given the go ahead, by his crew chief Steve Letarte, to go for the win, even though they may be short on fuel. Jr takes fourth place from Carl Edwards on lap 190. Ten laps to go, and the top three are very worried about fuel.

Brian Vickers is pressuring Johnson for the lead. He could run them both out of fuel, but he doesn't seem to be worried. Meanwhile, Matt Kenseth, who started out having a good day, is falling way back. His car isn't running well at all on old tires. With four laps to go, Johnson still leads, but Vickers is not letting up on the pressure. Neither is Jr as he is closing in on the top three. With two laps to go, Johnson runs out of fuel and gives the lead to Vickers. This must be frustrating for Jimmie. I wonder if he is going to get whipped with a dipstick by a Scotsman.

One lap to go. Will Vickers make it? Earnhardt isn't gaining anything on Gordon, as Gordon is going for broke. Halfway through the lap, and we know there has to be nail biting in the #83 pit. The big gamble could pay off, and it does.

This is Brian Vickers' first win in Cup since his Talladega win in 2006, making it his first win in 100 races. This is also Toyota's first victory at Michigan, and Red Bull's first win in NASCAR Cup. Jeff Gordon finished second, Dale Jr third, Carl Edwards fourth, and Sam Hornish Jr overcame early set backs to finish fifth.

There was some pretty good racing in today's race, to go along with the usual fuel strategy drama. Vickers played his cards right in order to take the victory, even though it was a gamble.

In the near future, I will try to post some more pictures from the Good Times Auto Show.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

On Type Delay: The Heluva Good at The Glen

Back in the "old" days, when it came to road course racing, we could almost be sure to see the road course "ringers" in victory lane. Back in the sixties, Dan Gurney, for example, was the "King of the road," a sure winner at Riverside. Gurney's only NASCAR races were on road courses.Parnelli Jones and, before going full time in 2003, Robby Gordon were among other notable road course "ringers." It became a tradition for car owners and manufacturers in NASCAR to hire specialists for the road courses, as nobody expected drivers who ran most of their races on ovals to do well on road courses.

Although we still see teams that are outside the top twenty in points using "ringers" for road courses, those days are essentially gone. Today's top NASCAR drivers show the same kind of ability on road courses as they do on the ovals.

The ringers have the disadvantage of lack of experience in cars that weigh 3400 pounds and have engines capable of producing 800 horsepower. The cars most ringers race regularly weigh 600 to 1000 pounds less than the Cup cars. The open wheel specialists race cars that weigh half as much as the CoT.

Now, the Sprint Cup regulars have the advantage. Full time drivers like Tony Stewart, Jeff Gordon, Kyle Busch, Marcos Ambrose, and Kasey Kahne will almost always outperform the part time ringers on road courses.

Well, enough of that, let's get on with the race.

Jimmie Johnson starts on the pole. He has yet to win a road course race in NASCAR, but that has never kept him from winning a Championship. He has made it clear that he is motivated to win today at Watkins Glen. Kurt Busch shares the front row, and soon passes Johnson for the lead. That number 2 car seems to have a lot of power, and Kurt Busch seems to be hitting his marks and braking points. There is almost a caution on lap 8 when Jeff Burton and Bobby Labonte make slight contact. Labonte spins, but is able to get his car going in the right direction again, avoiding the caution.

There is a caution on lap 17, due to debris on the track. Marcos Ambrose stays out, but most of everybody else pits. Tony Stewart calls for two spring rubbers and a wedge adjustment on both the left and right sides. He was obviously unhappy with the set up and had gained only one spot between the start of the race and the first caution. Jeff Burton, Dale Earnhardt, Jr, and Denny Hamlin are all ticketed for speeding on pit road, and have to start at the end of the longest line.

The restart is on lap 20, with Ambrose leading the field. Kasey Kahne is second, Reed Sorenson third, Kurt Busch, the first driver off of pit road is fourth, and Kyle Busch is fifth.

On lap 23, David Stremme goes into the grass at the "bus stop" chicane, and, as he tries to return to the track, makes contact with Kevin Harvick and Jeff Gordon. Gordon and Stremme are able to continue, but Harvick's car is wrecked, and he takes his car to the garage. David, I like you, but the pass in the grass only works if you have a set of skills similar to Kyle Busch's, and a car-set up that can handle it. Today, at least, you have neither. Anyway, the accident brings out a caution.

Restart on lap 26, with Marcos Ambrose in the lead, Kurt Busch second, Kyle Busch third, Jimmie Johnson fourth, and Boris Said fifth. Kurt Busch beats Ambrose for the lead, and then pits under green for fuel only on lap 29. Ambrose makes his first pit stop of the race, giving the lead to Jimmie Johnson. Tony Stewart has moved into the top five, apparently liking the changes made during the first caution. He is in third by lap 31.

Kyle Busch has been challenging Johnson for the lead since the restart, and passes him in turn 11 on lap 34. Tony Stewart takes second on lap 37, but Kyle Busch has a two second lead. On lap 41, the terrible luck that has been plaguing Dale Earnhardt, Jr all season, once again hits home as the brakes on the 88 car fail going into turn 10. Reed Sorenson happens to be on the outside of Earnhardt, and ends up in the gravel,as a result of contact, and Earnhardt hits the tire barrier. He is alright, as he exits the car, and Sorenson gets his car going and is able to rejoin this race. That was a scary moment, however, and once again the safety of the Cup car is demonstrated.

Restart on lap 45, with Kyle Busch in the lead, Tony Stewart is second, Johnson third, Biffle fourth, and Boris Said is fifth. Busch wins the restart, but Stewart catches him in the esses and passes him for the lead. Green flag pit stops begin as soon as the fuel window opens on lap 55. This is the money stop, no matter what else happens on the track. Everyone who gets fuel now, should be able to go to the end of the race. Tony Stewart and Juan Montoya, who is in second now, pit on lap 56, giving Kurt Busch the lead. Busch makes his final pit stop on lap 58. David Stremme has yet to pit, and takes the lead. Scott Speed is second, also going without pitting, Kyle Busch is third, Tony Stewart is fourth, and Marcos Ambrose is fifth. Busch, Stewart, and Ambrose have all made their final pit stop. Stremme pits on lap 60, and Scott Speed retains the lead until there is a huge accident on lap 61.

Kasey Kahne gets loose in turn 9 and bumps Sam Hornish,Jr. Hornish hits the tire barrier, and bounces back onto the track. At full speed, the 77 car looks like a whip as it collects the cars of Jeff Burton, and Jeff Gordon. Gordon's car goes head on into the rail. This accident is frightening even in slow motion, but all three drivers are able to exit their cars on their own. Hornish's car is completely wrecked, and Gordon's isn't much better. Burton's car also has heavy damage, and Jeff Burton is another driver who should be on the worst luck list for this season, as he has been involved in wrecks not of his own doing in the last five races. The race is red-flagged for clean up on lap 63. Clean up lasts nearly twenty minutes.

After the race resumes, under yellow, Scott Speed gives up the lead to make his final pit stop, giving Kyle Busch the point. Green flag on lap 67, with Tony Stewart second, Marcos Ambrose third, Greg Biffle fourth, and Montoya is fifth. Busch apparently feels that his car would be better starting in the outside lane, which turns out to be a mistake as Stewart gets by him in turn two. But Busch's car is very tight, and he has to lock his brakes up to make the turns. Ambrose takes second, and Biffle takes third in turn ten of lap 69. There is a caution on lap 71 as Elliott Sadler's tire falls apart after contact with Patrick Carpentier. None of the leaders pit, and they try to save as much fuel as they can during the caution period. We can hear Stewart shutting off his engine through the turns, and restarting it on the straight sections.

The broadcasters love this, as it adds more drama to the race. Do the leaders have enough fuel to finish the race? Their crew chiefs all report that it will be very close, some saying that they will be two laps short. This gives the end of the race another level of excitement.

Tony Stewart restarts the race on lap 73. Marcos Ambrose is second, and Greg Biffle, Kyle Busch, and Juan Montoya fill out the top five.

Carl Edwards gets into the top five on lap 74, and Kyle Busch passes Biffle for third. Edwards takes fourth from Biffle, and gets by Busch on lap 79, as Kyle gets loose in the esses.

With nine laps to go Stewart leads Ambrose by nearly two seconds. Ambrose tries to step things up a bit, while still conserving fuel. The booth bunnies are going out of their way to make Stewart fans nervous by talking about fuel and the possibility of running out of it. With six laps to go, Ambrose has caught up to Stewart, and the first two cars are two seconds ahead of the rest of the field. Ambrose can not quite catch the leader.

Stewart takes the white flag. All he has to do is get through this lap without running out of fuel, and he wins. He does win. This is his fifth victory in six years at Watkins Glen, and he now becomes the first NASCAR driver to have five wins at The Glen on his resume. Marcos Ambrose is second, Edwards third, Kyle Busch managed to hold onto fourth place, and Biffle takes fifth.

For some reason, the giant carton of Heluva Good Sour Cream Dip makes me want to go out and buy potato chips before I finish this post.

Monday, August 03, 2009

On Type Delay: Pennsylvania 500

The return of the Old Spice Candy Apple Red: I love that paint job. That is the paint job Tony Stewart's Old Spice car had when he raced in the Nationwide Series last year. For Pocono, in the Sprint Cup Series, that paint job is back.

The race was postponed from Sunday due to weather and wet track conditions. Those conditions have been resolved, the "weepers" on the track have been drained, and we are ready to race on a Monday. There are a surprising number of people in the stands for a Monday. Apparently, a lot of race fans used a sick day to be here.

Because of an accident during Saturday's practice session, Tony Stewart had to go to a back up car and will start at the rear of the field. No problem for Stewart, considering what he did at Pocono in June.

However, as the cars hit the track, their set ups are for the cooler weather that was predicted for Sunday. Since the race was postponed, and the weather is much warmer, every car will seem like it has a missed set up. There will be a competition caution around lap 20.

Jeff Gordon leads the field to the green flag. Jimmie Johnson, who started on the outside in second position, races Gordon for the lead, and leads the first lap. By lap ten, Stewart has moved up to 29th position, but then he reports tire problems, and pits on lap 13, going a lap down. The caution flies at the end of lap 20. Stewart gets the free pass.

Denny Hamlin takes the lead out of the pits. He maintains the lead. Dale Earnhardt, Jr started 22nd and is running around positions twenty sixth and twenty seventh. He makes a scheduled green flag pit stop on lap 50, and then the caution comes out, because of debris from Paul Menard's blown tire. The 88 car gets caught in the pits at the wrong time and goes a lap down, but he can stay out after the wave around and get back on the lead lap. Stewart's car still needs a lot of work, as he can't seem to get past the thirty fourth spot before he starts losing ground again. His crew makes some major changes in the pits.

Hamlin maintains the lead at the restart. Then there is a caution for debris on lap, because a caution light fell apart and landed on the track. The leaders stay out, and the cars from thirteenth position on back pit for tires and much needed adjustments. Hamlin still leads after the restart.

Finally, Stewart is able to start moving up. He gets up to twenty seventh position, so the adjustments are beginning to go in the right direction. Adjustments seem to be working for Dale Earnhardt, Jr, as well, as he has moved up to seventeenth position.

Green flag pit stops begin on lap 82, with the cars that didn't pit on the previous caution. When the pit stops cycle through, Hamlin is back in the lead, but Stewart has yet to pit, and is running in fourth position. He pits, and as he is leaving the pits, the caution comes out on lap 96, due to a spin by Bobby Labonte. Stewart manages to make it out of the pits under caution and stays on the lead lap. This turns out to be very fortuitous for Smoke, as the leaders pit, and Stewart stays out and takes seventh position. Yes, it's lucky, but we will take that kind of luck.

Stewart has four new tires, while most of the cars that pitted among the leaders took two. Kasey Kahne stayed out and will lead the field to the green flag. There is a lot of beating and banging on this restart. At the halfway point, it's Kahne first, Reutimann second, Kenseth third, the Tasmanian Devil, Marcos Ambrose is fourth, and Kurt Busch is fifth.

On lap 106, Jimmie Johnson reports that his engine has dropped a cylinder. He pits, and the crew quickly replaces a spark plug wire that has come lose, He gets off of pit road ahead of the leaders, staying on the lead lap. However, a few laps later, the leader, Kasey Kahne, passes him and puts him a lap down. Johnson is still having engine problems.

Hamlin restarted ninth after the last caution and makes it up to third place by lap 111. Now the 48 car is having problems maintaining minimum speed. The 14 car of Tony Stewart restarted in seventh, fell back, picked up again and is now in tenth position. Denny Hamlin moves up to second on lap 121.

While we are viewing a television commercial, I just want to say that I like Pocono, and when I suggested that I would like to see Darlington as the longest track, it wasn't because of my preferences, but because I'm tired of hearing some fans and bloggers complaining about the lack of good racing at the longer tracks. I am enjoying this race so far, and having fun ignoring the clowns in the booth who insist that Stewart won't get better than a fifteenth place finish. A lot of people complain about clowns in the booth, but I think they are funny.

I would also like to enlighten my readers who may be wondering about the ending of the current Old Spice Swagger commercial with Tony Stewart. Back in his USAC days, Tony and his high school sweetheart, Krista, used to have to skip food in order to be able to pay for enough gas to get to the track at which Stewart was to race. Now, after Swagger, Tony has plenty of money and plenty of food.

Earnhardt, Jr is going sideways around every corner, and it is a nasty loose problem rather than productive drifting. But Junior is hanging in there staying away from serious damage from the walls. He is managing to stay around the twenty fifth position.

Green flag pit stops begin on lap 126 with Jamie McMurray. Kasey Kahne pits on lap 128. New leader Denny Hamlin pits on lap 131, as do Tony Stewart and Ryan Newman. Harvick stays out and gets a five point bonus for leading a lap, then pits on lap 134. Kahne retains the lead after the pit stops cycle through, and Johnson goes two laps down. After 136 laps, it's Kahne, Hamlin, Reutiman, Michael Waltrip, and Kurt Busch are in the top five, but Waltrip hasn't pitted yet, and, when he does, Jeff Gordon moves into the top five.

On lap 139, Denny Hamlin gets by Kasey Kahne for the lead. That's a green flag lead change without a caution being involved. Now the 48 team is speculating that they may be suffering from fuel contamination. If Darrell Waltrip were still racing, we might suspect what the problem is, but right now we have no idea.

David Ragan makes contact with the wall on lap 141 and brings out the caution. After the leaders pit, Hamlin comes off of pit road first, followed by Carl Edwards. I think these were two tire stops, but Kahne took four. Some cars stayed out, so the restart order will be Mark Martin first, Brian Vickers second, Jeff Burton third, Sam Hornish Jr is fourth, and Denny Hamlin is fifth. The restart was on lap 147. On lap 148, Jeff Gordon moves into the top five. Stewart and Newman are battling for twentieth spot, and we have no idea what happened there, because Johnson's engine problems were much more important.

Caution on lap 151, when Robby Gordon spins, and, with nowhere to go, David Stremme makes contact with him. The 48 car is the only car not on the lead lap so it gets the free pass. His team is still working on his engine in the pits. The previous pit stop, they changed the carbruator, and are now changing the spark plugs. We are reporting this because ESPN seems to believe that it is second in importance only to the commercials. The racing takes a distant third.

And, the reason I'm complaining is because Colorado Springs no longer has a radio station that carries the MRN play by play broadcasts, we have to rely on the television coverage, and ESPN makes it very difficult to consistently follow the race. At the same time I am complaining, I have to give ESPN credit for trying to cover all the racing throughout the field.

Restart on lap 153.Martin is first, Kurt Busch is second, Vickers is third. Kurt Busch takes the lead on lap 154.

Well, during the commercial, Robby Gordon tried to spin David Stremme by bumping his car into the rear end of Stremme's car. That doesn't work, so Gordon goes to pass Stremme high in turn two. Stremme apparently didn't care much for the bumping, and decides to show Gordon what it feels like. Gordon spins, and the caution flies. Both drivers get penalized five laps. Robby Gordon's penalty is for bumping a car under caution, Stremme's is for rough driving.


Restart on lap 160. Kurt Busch is first, Edwards second, Martin third, Gordon fourth, and Vickers is fifth.


During the commercial, Juan Montoya pits with 35 laps to go, and a caution comes out for debris. Montoya makes it out of the pits and stays on the lead lap. The leaders pit for what will be the final scheduled stop of the race, as fuel strategy should no longer be a factor. Great stops by teams that will gamble that there will be another caution by taking fuel only, and Earnhardt, Jr comes off of pit road first, followed by Tony Stewart, who gained seventeen positions in the pits.


The top five at the restart are unknown because we are not being told what it is. We can figure out that Sam Hornish Jr will restart third, Juan Montoya will restart fourth, Dale Jr is fifth and Stewart is sixth. Clint Bowyer, we are finally told, will lead the field to the restart with 31 laps to go, and Scott Speed is second. Hamlin took four tires and will restart back in seventeenth.

Wild stuff back in the field. Jeff Gordon, Mark Martin and Carl Edwards are having some funm racing among themselves for eleventh, twelfth, and thirteenth while Hamlin moves into the top ten. Kyle Busch is in a race with guys fighting for twentieth, and that is fun to watch as well. Reutimann gets into some trouble with 27 laps to go and brings out the caution. Great wheel work by Ryan Newman to avoid trouble in that wreck.

Clint Bowyer last got fuel with forty two laps to go. The 33 team is going to go for it, as they tell Bowyer to stay out and conserve fuel. This strategy seems iffy to me.

Jimmy Johnson gets the free pass and is back on the lead lap. Kyle Busch picked up some damage during that last wild restart, and also, apparently made contact with the 00 car of Reutimann while it was spinning, and is sitting in the pits getting repairs.

Clint Bowyer leads the field to the restart with 21 laps to go. Montoya is second, Sam Hornish Jr is third, Kasey Kahne is fourth and Tony Stewart is fifth. The restart is wild, Kurt Busch gets by Stewart, and so does Denny Hamlin. Hamlin gets by Busch, and takes fifth. Cars are going four wide going into turn one, and, of course, there is a big crash involving Reed Sorenson, Joey Logano, David Ragan, and Bobby Labonte. The running order, under caution, with seventeen to go, has Bowyer in the lead, Hornish second, Kahne third, Montoya fourth, Hamlin fifth, and Kenseth is sixth. Hamlin seems to be the booth's favorite to win at this time.

Kurt Busch is lining up in seventh, and Tony Stewart seems to be in eighth. Brian Vickers will restart in ninth with fourteen laps to go. Earnhard, Jr will restart tenth.

At the restart, Kenseth makes a move around Kahne, Kurt Busch gets shuffled way back. Jimmie Johnson gains twelve positions in one lap. In the melee, Montoya and Kahne make contact, Kahne falls back and Montoya maintains well enough to move into third by the time the smoke clears. With thirteen laps to go, Hamlin is challenging Bowyer for the lead, and with ten laps to go Hamlin takes the lead. Montoya moves into second with nine laps to go. With eight to go, Kurt Busch, Jeff Gordon, and Jimmie Johnson are battling for tenth, while Tony Stewart passes Matt Kenseth for eighth. Mark Martin had a great restart a few laps previously, and is running in seventh. with 5 laps to go Kasey Kahne and Sam Hornish Jr are having a terrific battle for fourth, and Brian Vickers is about to take fifth. With four laps to go, Hamlin leads Montoya by nearly a second, Bowyer is still third, Hornish is fourth, and Kahne is fifth.

Three laps to go, and Gordon gets the eighth spot from Stewart. There is just too much good racing going on to watch it all, and this is mainly due to the double file restarts.

Hamlin takes the white flag, Montoya is second. Martin and Vickers are racing furiously for sixth place, one trying to stay in the top twelve, the other trying to make it into the top twelve. Hamlin wins. Montoya finishes second for his first top five finish of the season. Bowyer is third. Sam Hornish, Jr is fourth for his best finish ever in NASCAR. Kasey Kahne takes fifth, and Brian Vickers held of Mark Martin to take sixth. The top ten are filled out by Jeff Gordon, eighth, Kurt Busch, ninth, and Tony Stewart, tenth.

The number fourteen team did a great job of getting a bad car together and pulling a tenth place finish from what could have been a very bad day. The 48 team's day could have been worse, but it also could have been better. They finished thirteenth.

Denny Hamlin is very emotional, still in mourning over the death of his grandmother a few days ago. Hamlin did a great job being able to put aside a personal tragedy to concentrate on racing. Seriously, I need tissues.

My pick fives really sucked this week, but that is a different story, This was a pretty good race at Pocono, especially toward the end. The aggressive racing throughout the field continued long after the restarts, and the importance of making the cut for the Chase for the Championship is made very clear.

ESPN is getting much better at covering the racing throughout the field, although it is still a little jerky, lacking transition, but we feel they are very close to getting the hang of it. Just as the racing gets better, so will the coverage. Good job to all the drivers and to ESPN for providing us with a very good show.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

A Different View

"Major League Baseball players don't play in Triple A baseball games, so why do NASCAR Cup drivers compete in the Nationwide Series?"

That is one of the questions we see on various forums, blogs, and news journals pertaining to the participation of NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers in the NASCAR Nationwide Series. There are several premises, however, in that question that are wrong.

The first flawed premise is the assumption that NASCAR is structured in the same way as professional baseball. It isn't. The teams in baseball are franchises of Major League Baseball, while the teams in NASCAR are, at all levels, fully and independently owned private businesses. The players and the team owners in baseball are employees of Major League Baseball, while the team owners and drivers in NASCAR are not employees of NASCAR.

Major League Baseball can regulate the manner in which new players are recruited, and how much they get paid. NASCAR can not. Major League Baseball teams can not put their players in pads and helmets and play football against the Pittsburgh Steelers. NASCAR team owners can build or own cars for ARCA, Rolex Grand Am, American Le Mans Series, Indy Racing League, or even USAC, if they wished, and put their "Sprint Cup" driver in any of those cars at any time.

One logical comparison, if one must be made, is that while baseball teams use their affiliated Triple A teams for training and remedial training of their players, and NASCAR team owners often use the Nationwide Series to give their drivers "seat time" on certain tracks. Another comparison is that professional baseball players work their way up through the ranks to play in Major League, in order to learn the rules and the style of play, while NASCAR drivers must also gain experience and learn the rules in order to get a license to race on the superspeedways.

The major flaw in the statement that opened this item is that "Major League baseball players don't play in Triple A games."

If one actually follows Major League Baseball, one would know that players are "sent down" to and "called up" from Triple A teams on a nearly weekly basis. So Major League players often do find themselves playing on a Triple A team.

If the NASCAR Nationwide Series were a Triple A team to the Sprint Cup Series, some of the comparisons may be viable, but it isn't. Minor League sports events are not broadcast live on national television. The closest comparison would be that the NASCAR Camping World East/West Series is the Triple A of NASCAR. The Camping World Truck Series, the Nationwide Series, and the Sprint Cup Series are all different organizations in the major leagues of NASCAR, that feature different types of racing. The Truck Series is the sprint racing division of the major leagues. The Nationwide Series is the challenge racing division, and the Sprint Cup Series is the endurance division. This is more akin to the Midget, Sprint, and Triple Crown divisions of USAC than it is to the different levels of baseball.

The only thing that NASCAR is concerned about who races in which series is whether or not they qualify for the event, or if the driver is licensed to drive in the event. A suspended driver who is suspended due to NASCAR drug policy, for instance, is not licensed to participate in a NASCAR event, though that driver may participate in racing sanctioned by a different sanctioning body, such as ARCA or USAC.

In other words, a driver is a Sprint Cup driver if he qualifies for a Sprint Cup race, a Nationwide driver if he qualifies for a race in that series, or a Camping World Truck Series driver, if he qualifies for a Truck Series race. There is, otherwise, no official designation for a driver to race in a particular series.

The Nationwide Series is a challenge series because it gives drivers a chance to challenge, that is, to see how they measure up against, more experienced drivers. That is how it works in theory, and it often works out that way in practice. Unfortunately, since it is mainly the sponsors who determine who drives what car in the series, it is not perfect, nor is it possible for any up and coming driver to make a name for him- or herself in the series. These days, in reality, a driver almost has to have already made his or her name elsewhere. But that is not because there are Cup Series regulars participating in the Nationwide Series. Cup Series regulars race in the Nationwide Series because of the sponsors.

In nearly every race since the former Busch Series began in 1982, there has been at least one full time Cup driver participating. It wouldn't really be a challenge series if there were not Cup drivers involved. Furthermore, it is not necessary for a driver to win races or championships in the Nationwide series in order to become a Cup series driver.

How many drivers are in the Cup Series because of their performance in the Nationwide or Busch Series? Not very many. Jimmie Johnson, the three consecutive time Sprint Cup Champion, had only one win and sixteen top ten finishes in the Nationwide Series, out of 72 races, before he became a full time Sprint Cup driver. Joey Logano never even raced a full season in the Nationwide Series before he became a full time Sprint Cup driver. In fact, the only drivers I can think of who are or will soon be full time Sprint Cup drivers solely because of their performance in the Nationwide or Busch Series are Martin Truex, Jr, Kyle Busch, Brian Vickers, Brad Keselowski (not yet full time, but soon will be), Dale Earnhardt, Jr (or is part of it because of his name?), and Matt Kenseth. With the exception of Jeff Gordon, who had three Busch Series wins and 25 top tens out of sixty-one races, there is no other driver currently in the Sprint Cup series who had what would be called a notable record in the Nationwide or Busch Series. I may have missed some, so feel free to correct me in the comment section.

A few weeks ago, Jenna Fryer--the NASCAR beat reporter and gossip columnist for the Associated Press--was on NASCAR Now's "Monday Round Table" and suggested that NASCAR do away with the Nationwide Series. This would create a similar situation to what we had before 1982. There probably would be sixty to eighty teams show up on qualifying day for the Sprint Cup races. Those that consistently fail to qualify would soon drop out of NASCAR competition entirely, due to lack of the funds necessary to have a car that would be able to qualify. For those teams, the Nationwide Series is a good thing, just as the Busch Series was in 1982.

For the record, I don't agree with Jenna Fryer's suggestion, and am only mentioning it for the purpose of discussion.

One might very well ask, "If the Nationwide Series is part of the NASCAR big leagues, then why doesn't it have the prestige of the Sprint Cup Series?"

And that is a good question, but my guess is that it isn't because it doesn't have as many fans as the Sprint Cup Series. If the same number of fans followed the Nationwide Series as do the Cup Series, the level of prestige would be about the same, as would be the level of sponsorship. At any rate, it would be even more difficult to achieve those levels without the participation of popular Sprint Cup drivers.

Think about this: would the victory by Brad Keselowski in Saturdays US Cellular 250 have been as important or exciting if Kyle Busch and Carl Edwards weren't in the race? There is no way to be sure, but probably not. It is generally better for a Nationwide driver to win against Kyle Busch than it is to win against Kurtus Davis.

The Nationwide Series could be better, of course. It could, for instance, race only at tracks that are one mile in length or shorter. This would likely change the perception of the series from "Cup Light" to a series that has it's own unique identity. But the question remains, "would people watch it?"

Monday, July 27, 2009

Dirty Mouth?

Photo Credit: David Griffin/Nascar Scene

Allstate Insurance has announced they will not be renewing their contract to sponsor the Brickyard 400 next year. I can't blame them, because ESPN never once mentioned the name Allstate in association with the Brickyard 400. As old school race fans, we love the fact that it was referred to as the Brickyard 400 and not the Allstate 400, but the sponsor of a race at least deserves some mention, as in "The Brickyard 400 presented by Allstate Insurance."

This is not the first time ESPN has neglected a race sponsor. They did the same thing with MBNA at Dover a couple of years ago. If the race sponsor does not buy advertising on ESPN, then it is the broadcaster's prerogative to ignore that sponsor. But, one would think that there would be some common courtesy involved.

In the article featured on Chicago, Allstate did not mention ESPN:

"The contract was up and we're always reviewing our properties and how they perform," Allstate spokesman Raleigh Floyd said. "We enjoyed working with them, and the fans are probably the most loyal in sports, but our other sponsorships were just performing a little better."

Now, if only "Allstate Insurance" had been mentioned in association with the race, that would have shown the sponsorship to be performing a little better.

Allstate's departure opens the door to other sponsorship opportunities. After seeing Jimmie Johnson, his crew, his wife Chandra, and Miss Sprint Cup Monica Polumbo kissing the bricks, I imagined them all standing up afterwards with their lips coated with tire rubber, oil, and bits of speedy-dri, and thought "This would make a great Orbit commercial."

Think about it--Orbit would be making a big mistake to pass up this opportunity. They don't have to call it the "Clean Up Your Dirty Mouth 400" or anything like that. "Orbit Presents the Brickyard 400" would be just fine.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

On Type Delay: The Brickyard 400

Indianapolis Motor Speedway is so big, that even if the stands are only half full, there are still 125,000 fans attending. To put things in perspective, for Sunday's Brickyard 400,. the stands were only half full, but there were still enough fans in attendence to nearly double the amount of fans at a Chicago Cubs game.

Of course last year's NASCAR version of Formula 1's 2005 US Gran Prix "Tiregate" made many fans cold to stock car racing at IMS, or else there would have been a few more in the stands. Or maybe not. Due to the state of the economy at this time, many people who would have been there probably had other priorities, and just didn't have the money to attend.

At any rate, there is always a lot of pre-race hype whenever there is a race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, which turned 100 this year. There is a lot of work for NASCAR and Goodyear to do to regain the confidence of race fans in that the disaster of last year can be left behind. And the tires were what all the pre-race hype was all about this year. Driver after driver, and many crew chiefs were interviewed on the subject, and all had high praise for what Goodyear has done to improve the tires. They even ventured that Goodyear's research on tire development because of last year's fiasco could improve racing overall.

It's cool that they are broadcasting the driver introductions. Dale Earnhardt, Jr gets the loudest cheers, followed by Bill Elliot and Tony Stewart. Jimmie Johnson gets cheered more loudly than does Jeff Gordon, who claims Indiana as his home state. Interesting. Near silence for Sam Hornish, Jr, who is an Indianapolis 500 winner and three time IRL champion. There don't seem to be many open wheel fans at IMS today.

So we put last year behind us as the race begins and before the first lap is finished, Robby Gordon spins out and the race is under caution. Elliott Sadler's car is smoking, and black flagged. Martin is officially scored as the race leader and restarts the field on lap five.

Martin's car gets a little loose on the restart, and Montoya passes him for the lead. Dale Earnhardt, Jr moves into second, but Martin regains that position a few laps later.

This is a good indication that the changes made on behalf of Junior a few weeks ago may be paying off. While Montoya checks out on the rest of the field, Junior is able to stay in or near the top five. This is the best we've seen the #88 car perform all season.

Green flag pit stops begin on lap 30. Everybody takes four tires and fuel. Kurt Busch has to return to the pits for a loose wheel, and falls back to 35th position, one lap down. After all the pits stops are completed, Montoya maintains the lead by a little over two seconds.

On lap 45, it looks like Denny Hamlin is out of the race, for all practical purposes, with a broken drive shaft.

On lap 59 the caution flies after Kyle Busch loses a right front tire and hits the wall. He takes his car to the garage. We are witnessing a tranformation in the works as Kyle is interviewed while they are working on his car. The kid is trying to improve his image, and if he keeps it up, he just may do that. It is always interesting to watch a driver mature before our eyes, and is just another good reason to be a NASCAR fan.

Restart on lap 63, with Montoya still in the lead. Mark Martin is second, followed by Brian Vickers, Greg Biffle, and Jimmie Johnson. Tony Stewart is sixth, and after the green flag waves, gets into a great race for fifth with Johnson that lasts for several laps. It's too bad we can't see that battle as it continues. It makes us wish TNT was still carrying the broadcast race coverage.

The battle for fifth between Stewart and Johnson continues until green flag pit stops begin on lap 90. After the pit stops cycle through, Montoya leads Martin by five and a half seconds. Brian Vickers is third, Jimmie Johnson is fourth, and Tony Stewart is fifth. Now a battle for third ensues between Vickers and Johnson. Stewart is playing it safe, holding his position and enjoying the view of the racing in front of him, as he saves fuel and his car.

Why do we want to watch a race that is basically a single file parade? My reason is that there is still a lot that can happen. Since the middle of the 1950's, NASCAR at the Grand National (Cup) level has been as much about endurance and stamina as it has been about racing, with all the 400 and 500 mile races on its schedule. Anything can happen. There could, for instance be another caution, and with the lead lap double file restart, the top positions could be shaken up. Or something else can happen, like the race leader getting a pass through penalty for speeding on pit road.

And that is what happens. Montoya enjoys a routine pit stop, which should be the last of the race, on lap 126, and gets cited for speeding on pit road. This means he will have to serve a pass through penalty. Although I'm not much for conspiracy theories, those fans who subscribe to the Hendrick Conspiracy will have a heyday with this. Does anyone actually use the word "heyday" anymore? And what does it actually mean?

Oh, my, on lap 128, Dale Earnhardt, Jr's engine literally explodes as he is making his entrance to the pits. This is very sad as Junior has been running mostly in the top seven all day, having a great race day. Now it appears that Teresa Earnhardt has had access to the Hendrick garage is has been sabotaging engines again, or maybe it's Tony Eury, Jr--who is still a Hendrick employee, but secretly still works for Teresa--has been doing her dirty work for her.

Okay, I'm just making things up, but the demise of Junior's engine will provide even more fodder for the conspiracy theorists. Junior says he might have let the clutch slip as he was down shifting and over-revved the engine.

It takes a while to clean up the oil spilled from the engine of the 88 car, and pit road is closed. The restart finally comes on lap 137. Mark Martin is in the lead, Johnson second, Greg Biffle is third, Tony Stewart fourth, and Brian Vickers is fifth. Montoya restarts in twelfth. Johnson quickly gets by Martin and takes the lead.

With four laps to go, Johnson is negotiating lapped traffic, and Martin is catching him. This could be a great finish. Martin will not let up, so Johnson can't let up. This final laps race was worth waiting for. With one lap to go Martin has caught Johnson several times, especially coming out of turn two, but Johnson has held him off every time. Martin has one more chance coming out of turn two of the final lap. Johnson holds on to the lead, and becomes the first driver to kiss the bricks two years in a row.

There was a great battle for third between Biffle and Stewart during that final lap, but we didn't get to see it because ESPN isn't TNT. Stewart prevailed and finished third, Biffle fourth--a great effort for his team. Brian Vickers was fifth, followed by Harvick, Kahne, Reutimann, Jeff Gordon, and Matt Kenseth. Montoya, who lost the race because of a tiny little mistake, finished eleventh. Denny Hamlin finished thirty-fifth, Kyle Busch thirty-eighth, and Kurt Busch finished twenty-seventh, all of whom were in the top twelve. The race for the cut for the Chase has been shaken up and is tighter than ever.

It wasn't the most exciting race in the world, but it held our attention. This was actually the first real race at IMS with the Sprint Cup car, or COT, as most people call it. I don't count last year, because we never got to see what the car would do on a long green flag run. This race was clean and green, for the most part, and we saw that the COT has the same problems with closing and passing as did the aero car. But we must remember that the Sprint Cup car is still a work in progress, and the racing may be better next year. Personally, I think the racing would be better if, aside from the road courses and the RP tracks, the longest track on which the Cup cars raced was Darlington, but we know that won't happen. Meanwhile, we must be patient.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Sprint Cup Off-Weeks Can Be Fun (Corrected)

It's almost like being in the off-season without the angst. Instead of three months, over which withdrawal symptoms set in, it is, after all, only one week.

The activity on most of the NASCAR fans forums has died down a bit, without a Cup race about which to speculate. What talk there is, is about the Mayfield Saga, great soap opera material if there ever was any. It pits conspiracy theorists against rationalists, and leaves the rest of us wondering how it got to be this way. Monte Dutton wrote a very concise and clear assessment of the situation on NASCAR This Week, entitled "Stinking Contest." Dutton points out what the whole thing boils down to in very few words:

It seems like middle ground is impossible now. Either Mayfield is an addict in denial, or he's the target of a vast conspiracy. Either he's Leonardo DiCaprio in "The Basketball Diaries" or he's Cary Grant in "North by Northwest." Now it's in the lawyer's hands, and they're going to hurl words like haymakers.

Personally, I wonder if Mayfield had accepted NASCAR's terms first, then began his quest to clear his name later, it might have been easier on both him and NASCAR. But, if you know anything about Mayfield's history, that is not the way he rolls.

While we are on the NASCAR This Week page, let me draw your attention to the Guest Column, written by yours truly. While I don't think I really deserve to be on the same page as Monte Dutton, I can't help but to feel honored by being there. An opportunity for shameless self-promotion never escapes me, however.

Can you believe that Kyle Busch has done nothing to piss anybody off this week? Wait, the Nationwide race hasn't been run yet. It will be run at one of my favorite tracks, Gateway. This is a 1.25 mile track similar in shape to the beloved Darlington Raceway. Though Gateway is similar in shape, the banking is flatter, and turns one and two,at the narrow end are more like turn three and at Pocono than turns three and four at Darlington. It should make for an interesting race, with Kyle Busch, Carl Edwards, Kevin Harvick, and Reed Sorenson being the only Cup drivers in the mix. For those who can't wait for Kyle Busch to do something to send them off in a fit of rage, it is a must see.

The Truck Series is always fun. It is also easy to lose track of, since it doesn't run every week. Kentucky Motor Speedway is the venue, and the local fans are very loyal. This is probably the largest stand alone crowd the series will see on its schedule, and the drivers will certainly put on a good show.

Kevin Harvick has let it be known that he wants out of the final year of his contract with Richard Childress Racing. The common feeling among sports writers is that he is looking for a seat with Stewart Haas Racing. That is not too far-fetched, as Tony Stewart and the Harvicks (aka Kevlana) have a long and tightly knit friendship. With GM pulling support from Kevin Harvick Incorporated, an association with SHR would give KHI better resources through their own association with Hendrick Motor Sports.

However, Stewart himself, though saying that SHR could field a third team, has not definitively said that they would field one in 2010. Childress has said that he will hold Harvick to his contract, and that Harvick's sponsor, Shell Pennzoil, is staying with RCR. Though this sounds similar to what J.D. Gibbs said about Stewart leaving last year, we are going to stick our neck out and say that Harvick going to SHR in 2010 ain't gonna happen. If we are wrong, then we are two for two on "important" silly season stuff, and we prove that we never learn.

Maybe, this weekend has given us a chance to get our writing chops back, and we can come out of our slump. There is always something to write about concerning NASCAR, and,though we usually like to find something about which nobody else is writing, we are sure to find many fun topics.

But whether we find something new to write about or not, we are going to have fun this weekend, and we hope that all our friends have fun as well. Even if Kyle doesn't piss us off.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

On Type Delay: The Chicagoland Lifelock 500

Every time there is a race at one of the intermediate tracks--the 1.5 or 2 mile tracks with relatively flat banking--I always hope that maybe, this time, we will see some racing for the lead. They always seem to allow the driver who takes the lead pull out way ahead of the rest of the field. On tracks that are nice and wide, like Chicagoland, there are few cautions that would tighten the field back up.

The characteristics that allow side by side racing for the lead don't seem to be the characteristics of these so-called "cookie cutter" tracks. It was difficult to pass for the lead with the aero-car that NASCAR Cup teams used until 2008. The hope was that the different aerodynamics and the parity built into what is now the Sprint Cup car would solve some of those problems. So far it hasn't, but we should remember that the new car is still a work in progress. That is why we hope that each race at a certain track would be better than the one before it.

The Team Red Bull Toyotas of Brian Vickers and Scott Speed are on the front row at the start of the race. Speed falls back, but Vickers takes the lead and opens a gap between himself and the rest of the field. Johnson quickly takes second, and begins to gain on Vickers. Vickers holds the lead for ten laps before Johnson passes him. Johnson soon has a two second lead over the rest of the field, and begins lapping cars by lap 30. There is a caution for debris around lap 39.

Mark Martin comes out of the pits first, and Johnson loses six positions on pit road. Brian Vickers comes out second. Restart on lap 44. He started in the fourteenth position, and it didn't seem to take him long at all to get to the front. Johnson's car is still pretty strong, and he gets back into third place in no time at all, a benefit of the double file restart. Other cars that seem strong are those of Brian Vickers, Paul Menard, Dale Earnhardt, Jr, Kurt Busch, Kasey Kahne, Clint Bowyer, and Tony Stewart. Most of the others seem to be having handling problems of one sort or another. Kyle Busch has big problems as he hits brushes the wall and knocks the rear end of his car out of alignment. But his car is not the only car that meets the wall on the curving backstretch.

Green flag pit stops begin after lap 89, and after they cycle through, Martin retains the lead and continues to lap slower cars. There are a lot of problems on pit road, and many cars lose position, due to penalties and pit errors.

Caution for debris on lap 131. All the lead lap cars hit pit road. At the restart on lap 136, the top five are Mark Martin, Jimmie Johnson, Kasey Kahne, and Tony Stewart.

On lap 165, the top five are Martin, Johnson, Kahne, Stewart, and Vickers. Hamlin takes fifth a few laps later, and Vickers falls back to seventh. Green flag pit stops begin on lap 185. Stewart almost hits AJ Allmendinger's car as he is leaving his pit box, and Allmendinger is enterint his, but disaster is barely avoided. When the pit stops cycle through, it's Martin, Johnson, Hamlin, Kahne, and Stewart in the top five. Kyle Busch's team reports that the 18 car has dropped a cylinder. He is having a very bad night.

Paint jobs that look very cool under the lights: the 24, 14, and 99 cars.

Caution for debris on lap 211. Everybody pits, and this might be within the window to make this the final pit stop. Martin barely beats Johnson off of pit road. Stewart's crew drops a lug nut and he falls back to fifteenth. At the restart on lap 215, it's Martin, Johnson, Hamlin, and Kahne in the top four.

On lap 219, Sam Hornish Jr hits the wall and brings out the caution. The top five at the restart are Martin, Johnson, Vickers, Hamlin, and Kahne at the restart with 44 laps to go.

Johnson beats Martin on the restart, and takes the lead. Further back in the field, Earnhardt, Jr slides up the track and makes contact with Menard. Paul Menard's car brushes the wall, cuts a tire, and turns hard left, collecting a couple of other cars, including the unfortunate #31 car of Jeff Burton, and bringing out the caution once again. Jeff Burton does not like the double file restart.

At the restart with 35 laps to go, Johnson takes the outside lane, and after racing with Martin for a quarter of a lap, pulls out ahead of the pack. Vickers moves into second. Martin is third, Hamlin is fourth, and Kahne is fifth. Keselowski, who started twenty-ninth, now moves into the top ten.

With 25 laps to go, it's Johnson, Vickers, Martin, Hamlin, Kahne, Bowyer, Kurt Busch, Jeff Gordon, Carl Edwards, and Brad Keselowski in the top ten. Caution with 21 to go after David Reutimann brushes the wall. Most of the cars on the lead lap from the eighth position on back pit. The restart is with 16 to go, with Johnson leading, followed by Vickers, Hamlin, Martin, Kahne and Bowyer. Vickers beats Johnson on the restart, Hamlin moves up and is racing wheel to wheel for the lead. This is exciting. Vickers gets a little into Hamlin, and Martin gets the opportunity to move by the leaders and takes the lead. Jimmie Johnson and Kurt Busch are having a battle for sixth that is taking casualties. Johnson gets into Busch and Busch retaliates, causing more damage to the 2 car than the 48 car. Newman and Stewart take advantage of the shanannigans and move into fifth and sixth.

With nine to go, the engine in Kyle Busch's car finally gives out, and the caution comes out once again. The restart with four to go has Mark Martin in the lead, Gordon second, Kahne third, Hamlin fourth, and Stewart fifth. Martin gets a great restart, and opens a gap on Gordon. Kahne races Gordon for second, takes it momentarily, then Gordon takes it back. Stewart moves into fourth. At the checkers, it's Martin, Jeff Gordon, Kahne, Stewart and Hamlin in the top five. Newman, Bowyer, Johnson, Edwards, and Juan Montoya fill out the top ten.

By finishing 1-2, in the same order they did at the Michigan Lifelock 400, Mark Martin and Jeff Gordon get to split a $1,000,000 bonus. In addition, a lucky fan got a $1,000,000 check from Lifelock. I wish I had signed up for Lifelock. Now the fees will go up and I will never be able to afford them.

Mark Martin gets his fourth victory of the season. If he is in the top twelve in points after Richmond, in September, at this point in time he is the leader in Chase Bonus points, with 40. I'm starting to agree with the writers like Terry Blount who suggest that NASCAR needs to add yet another ten championship points for a win. That would eliminate the possibility that a driver with the most wins would miss the Chase. It is scary to think about the backlash that would come about if Martin doesn't make the Chase now. There would probably be riots.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Poll Results: Rude racing is acceptable

The poll question was "Should the driver of a slow car in a race pull over to let faster traffic pass?"

67% of those who participated in the poll believe "No, he should make them race for their position"

33% of those who participated believe "Yes, they are going to pass him anyway."

As far as we can recall, NASCAR has never penalized a driver for ignoring the yellow cross on a blue flag that tells the driver to let the faster traffic pass. If a driver is one lap down, it makes no sense for that driver to risk giving up a free pass position to let the faster cars pass. By the same token, there is nothing wrong with a driver wanting to keep whatever position he has earned, no matter if he is on the lead lap or not.

When a driver is falling back because of an ill handling car or bad tires, our readers believe that the driver should make every other driver work to pass him. We may be wrong, but it seems there is no rule against a driver who wants to do everything he can to hold his position, it is merely a "gentleman's understanding" that makes a faster driver believe that there is an obligation for the slower traffic to yield to faster traffic. When a driver does not follow this gentleman's agreement, it often results in a flare up of tempers, and could even cause wrecks and retaliation on the track. That can make for a very interesting race, and/or create a post race altercation. That is the stuff that keeps us watching to see what happens next.

A big thanks to all our readers who participated in the poll. Feel free to participate in the new poll, and Rev Jim promises to try not to forget to publish the poll results in the future.

On Type Delay: The Firecracker 400 (AKA The Coke Zero 400)

Even if we don't really like restrictor plate racing, we are drawn to the potential wreckfest with great anticipation. Even though much of the racing is out of the driver's hands, there is just something about it that makes it exciting. It's not the kind of racing we normally think of as racing, but that's exactly what it is--racing in an abnormal definition. Anything can happen, and that is why we watch, and have fun watching.

Besides, no matter what the sponsor's name is, this is the Firecracker 400, and it is on the Fourth of July for the first time in many years.

Jeff Gordon leads the first lap on the outside lane. With help from Denny Hamlin, Kurt Bush takes the lead by splitting the two lines on lap 3, leaving Jeff Gordon hung out to dry. Hamlin takes the lead on lap 5. There will be a lot of this throughout the race, so we will eventually lose track of every lead change.

Lap 10 and the cars are spread out in single file for the most part. This is normal for a night race at Daytona Early in the race, the drivers are working on figuring out what adjustments they need, or will need for the changing conditions. We won't be seeing a lot of aggression this early in the race. And on lap 13 just as we wrote that last sentence, Mark Martin and Matt Kenseth make contact, and Martin goes spinning into the infield. Montoya almost gets by without getting hit by Martin's car, but it was only almost, and Juan Pablo gets by with some damage to the rear end body work of his car. The leaders pit. Kurt Busch slides through his pit and loses time in the pits. Stewart gets out of the pits first, and lines up on the inside row. Restart on lap 17.

By lap 18, the drivers up front are again in single file. Kurt Busch, who restarted in 27th is already up to 19th, a result of the advantage given to position by the new double file restart. On lap 22 the top five are Stewart, Johnson, Hamlin, Jeff Burton, and Kenseth. The top six are pulling away from the rest of the field.

That Burger King commercial that they showed in the sub screen got me. I was thinking "Oh no, not now, not today," when Stewart was reporting a vibration and a car that had its handling going away, with Darrien Grubb trying to keep him calm and trying to keep him on the track for just five more laps. It takes the King, not King Richard, but creepy King Burger King--who just happens to be riding along in the car--to calm him down by giving him some french fries. It was a very clever commercial, and it reminded us how appropriate it is that Stewart's part time sponsor switched from Subway to Burger King. Tony Stewart is nothing if he isn't a burgers and fries guy.

Casey Mears spins out and hits the inside wall on lap 28, bringing out the second caution. The leaders pit and at the restart on lap 31, it's Stewart, Hamlin, Kenseth, Sadler and Johnson in the top 5. Hamlin takes the lead on lap 33, and then has to move down to block a hard charging Kyle Busch. On lap 34, it's Hamlin, Busch, Stewart, Kenseth, and Johnson in the top five. Things settle down again by lap 36, and the lead cars are once again in single file.

Stewart gets to the outside and around Kyle Busch on lap 45, and moves into second, then slingshots around Hamlin and takes the lead on lap 46 with not drafting help. This is one of the things we like about the Sprint Cup car--the cars can pass for the lead without help, by using the old school maneuver of draft and slingshot.

Hamlin tries to race Stewart side by side, gets hung out by himself, and falls back into line in the fourth position. Montoya gets lapped on lap 50. On lap 51, the top five are Stewart, Kyle Busch, Matt Kenseth, Jimmie Johnson, and Kurt Busch, who seems to have recovered from his earlier pit snafu with some authority.

Bad news for Junior Nation, as Jr has fallen back to twenty-fourth, and is reporting some serious handling issues.

Matt Kenseth pits under the green, dropping out of third place, on lap 56. This turns out to be the old "pit just before the caution" strategy as the caution flies on lap 57after Sam Hornish, Jr brushes the wall and leaves debris on the track. Kenseth stays out while the rest of the field pits. The first five out of the pits are Stewart, Kyle Busch, Kurt Busch, Jimmie Johnson, and Denny Hamlin. Kenseth will lead the restart on lap 61. Stewart starts to take the lead, but gets stuck by himself and drops back to fifth. But he hooks up again, finding the right place to be at the right time, and one lap later finds himself in third, behind Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch.

Now it's hard to listen to radio chatter without thinking it's just another ad. But Johnson is having some handling problems, but is managing to hang in among the top six.

On lap 72, with weather reported on its way, Kyle Busch moves up the track, allowing Stewart to pass below him, then Stewart takes the lead. On lap 73, Carl Edwards moves into the third position. Hamlin gets the lead back on lap 74. On lap 76, the top five are Hamlin, Stewart, Edwards, Kyle Busch, and Jimmie Johnson. On lap 77 there is a big wreck on the backstretch, involving Dale Jr, David Stremme, David Reutimann, Kasey Kahne, Michael Waltrip, Reed Sorenson, Brian Vickers, Kevin Harvick, Ryan Newman, and Jeff Gordon, among others. There are actually thirteen cars involved. Joey Logano barely avoids the wreck. The leaders pit on lap 80, and Stewart's excellent pit crew and pit position get him off of pit road first, once again giving him the lead.

John Andretti stayed out, and is scored in the lead. He pits before the race goes green, and the restart is on lap 82, with Stewart first, followed by Hamlin, Kyle Busch, Carl Edwards, and Kurt Busch. Hamlin takes the lead on lap 83.

On lap 89 the top five are Hamlin, Stewart, Kyle Busch, Edwards, and Jimmie Johnson. Jamie McMurray pits out of ninth position on lap 99. Caution on lap 102 as Reutimann cuts a front right tire and hits the wall. The leaders pit on lap 104. Stewart again gets off of pit road first. Johnson has some issues in the pits because he is too close to the wall. He was in fourth, and comes out in nineteenth. McMurray is scored in the lead, but he pits again. The top five at the restart will be Stewart, Hamlin, Kyle Busch, Kurt Busch, and Jeff Burton. Stewart holds the lead, thanks to a very healthy push by Kyle Busch, and the top five on lap 109 are Stewart, Kyle Busch, Burton, David Ragan, and Matt Kenseth. Hamlin gets dropped back to 12th.

With 45 laps to go Hamlin has made it back into the top six or seven. Kyle Busch gets hung out, and Burton moves into second. Busch moves back into the field, breaking up the potential Roush train of Ragan, Kenseth, and Edwards, then moves back into third, with 42 laps to go. With 39 laps to go, David Ragan and Kurt Busch make contact while going four wide--at Daytona--and bring out a caution. The leaders all pit again with 38 laps to go.

Stewart comes off of pit road first, Edwards second, Kyle Busch third, after having to avoid Robby Gordon entering his pit. Jeff Burton comes out fourth, and Matt Kenseth is fifth. Things should be picking up some now. The restart will be with 35 to go. The weather that was coming has broken up, according to radio chatter between Bob Osborne and his driver Carl Edwards. Edwards takes the lead, after Kyle moves up to the outside, but Stewart also moves tho the outside and falls in line in third. Jeff Burton takes the lead with 33 to go, after Stewart drafts him and follows him into second. Now Stewart takes the lead with Kyle Busch behind him. Jeff Burton drops back, and gets involved in a race with Montoya, who has made it from being a lap down, to getting a free pass, and is now battling for a top five position. Johnson moves into fourth. Burton cuts a tire and has to pit. With 30 to go, the top five are Stewart, Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin, Jimmie Johnson, and Montoya. The top four cars are almost two seconds ahead of the rest of the pack.

With fifteen laps to go, the caution flies because, as far as we can tell, Kyle Busch suggested that there had to be another caution before the end of the race. Joking aside, there must have been debris, as the cleaning crew is on the track. This is going to be fun. Everybody pits. Off of pit road, it's Stewart, Kyle Busch, Hamlin, Johnson, and Kenseth. Wow.

It looks like Stewart will take the inside lane, which will put Hamlin behind him. Johnson is behind Busch. We love these "shootout style" restarts. 12 to go and the green flies. Hamlin pushes Stewart to a clear lead, then Johnson moves down behind Stewart and takes second. With ten to go, it's Stewart, Johnson, Hamlin, Kyle Busch, and Kenseth. With nine to go, Scott Speed, running in fifteenth, gets tangled with somebody and hits the wall. Logano once again does a good job avoiding the wreck. Caution. The top five are Stewart, Hamlin, Kyle Busch, Johnson, and Kenseth.

Now Stewart will have Busch behind him, and Hamlin, on the outside, will have Johnson behind him. We expect the Gibbs drivers to team up after the restart, and Johnson will help his technical team mate, Stewart. Just speculating here. Getting caught up in the excitement of the moment.

Being nerve-wracked is a rush, restart with five to go. Stewart gets the edge on the restart. Johnson gets down behind Busch, leaving Hamlin out, but Hamlin gets down in front of Johnson. So now it's Stewart, Busch, Hamlin, and Johnson in the top four, running nose to tail. Two to go. Right at the end of the lap, Kyle Busch gets around Stewart after a push from Hamlin on the outside, but Hamlin falls back, and Busch is on his own. Down the backstretch on the final lap, Johnson, running in third, catches up to Stewart, and starts pushing him. Stewart gets up behind Busch going through turn three. Stewart goes low, and Busch blocks, Stewart goes high, and Busch goes to block, and runs into Stewart's bumper. Kyle wrecks, Stewart wins, what a finish!

Johnson finishes second, Hamlin third, Edwards fourth, and Kurt Busch fifth. Marcose Ambrose, Brian Vickers, Matt Kenseth, Juan Montoya, and Elliott Sadler fill out the top ten.

Stewart doesn't like the way he won, but we feel that both Stewart and Busch were doing what they had to do to win. Stewart was already on Kyle Busch's right rear quarter panel when Busch moved up to block him. "I wanted to give him (Busch) a good finish...I apologize if I did something wrong, but I don't think I did," lamented Stewart in victory lane.

Indeed, Kyle Busch's wreck collected Kasey Kahne and Joey Logano, among others, so it was an ugly victory. But it was a victory, and, in the end, that's all that matters.

Monday, June 29, 2009

On Type Delay: Loudon I

Often when I think of New Hampshire, I think of the beautiful mountains and countryside. I live in Colorado, and love it, so I must be a fan of beautiful mountains and countryside. After that, since I'm a racing fan, I think of New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

The first think (sic) that comes to mind is how great it is that the New England race fans pack the seats at NHMS every time the NASCAR Cup series races there. Okay, maybe they didn't pack it this time--not everybody has the money to go to races these days--but it did seem as though there were nearly as many people on the concourse between the seats and the fence as there were empty seats in turn three.

There is also this predisposition to think of the races at New Hampshire as being a parade of cars going single file all the way around the track. But those days are over. The track at Concord Loudon seems to be one of those that somehow fits the new car better than it does the aero cars that were in use there before 2007. As a result, we have seen much more side by side racing and racing for the lead in the more recent races there than we have in the past.

Because qualifying was cancelled due to rain, the race starts with the cars in position according to owner points. That puts Tony Stewart on the pole, Jeff Gordon second, Jimmie Johnson third, and so on. Gordon gets an excellent start and takes the lead right off the bat. Kurt Busch, starting in fourth, also starts well, and he is battling Gordon at every turn--excellent racing from the get go. We are also seeing, thanks to the excellent camera coverage from TNT, lots of racing throughout the pack, with cars going three wide at times. Kurt Busch takes the lead on lap 7.

There are three incidents before the scheduled competition caution on lap 35, so we get to see three of the new double file restarts, and the competition caution is rescheduled for lap 45. Perhaps the fact that the double file restarts and the wave-around keep the cars closer together breeds more cautions, but it does produce some interesting racing, and it is fun to watch. No restrictor plates are necessary to keep the cars close together.

Things settle down, eventually, and we get a long green flag run. Even though cars get spread out to some extent, and cars begin to get lapped, the lapped traffic holds up the leaders. Jimmie Johnson, who took the lead on lap 50, does get held up and has Jeff Gordon on his tail.

But though Gordon races him for the lead, Johnson maintains position, until a caution for debris comes out on lap 152. Johnson stalls at the beginning of pit road, most of the leaders take two tires, and the top five at the restart on lap 158 are Jeff Gordon, Kurt Busch, Jimmie Johnson, Tony Stewart, and Dale Earnhardt, Jr.

It looks like Jr's new team is beginning to gel. He has a car he likes, and is competing well with the top drivers. He even gets a chance to take a look at the lead when Gordon and Kurt Busch bump shortly after the restart. Things are looking up for Jr Nation.

There is another caution on lap 169, after the front left wheel on Paul Menard's car locks up and he goes into the wall. The leaders stay out, and the restart at lap 174 is led by Jeff Gordon, followed by Kurt Busch, Dale Earnhardt, Jr, Tony Stewart, and Martin Truex, Jr. Jr gets a bad start, spinning his rear tires, the Truex checks up behind him, and Kyle Busch gives the haters something more to hate him for. Truex, McMurray, Jeff Burton, Kevin Harvick, Casey Mears, Brian Vickers, and David Ragan all get caught up in the result. We'll let the haters draw their own conclusions, with the reminder that hate kills and doesn't make one look very smart. Anyway, the race is red flagged for cleanup.

The race returns to caution and pit road is open on lap 177. The leaders stay out, while Ryan Newman, Joey Logano, Casey Mears, and David Reutimann, among others stop. Casey Mears will make several pit stops for repairs and stay on the lead lap.

Jeff Gordon leads the restart on lap 180. Kurt Busch is second, Tony Stewart third, Jimmie Johnson fourth, and Dale Jr is fifth. As on every restart with Gordon first and Busch second, there is a battle for the lead, and Gordon once again prevails. There is another caution as Joey Logano cuts a tire on lap 182.

The restart is on lap 187, with Jeff Gordon still leading. The first four remain the same, but Mark Martin has moved up to fifth. Tony Stewart gets by Kurt Busch, as Busch gets loose. Jimmie Johnson gets caught up in Busch's bad fortune and loses five spots. Then we get another caution on lap 189 as Scott Speed goes into the wall. We are getting worried about rain, at this point. Green flag at lap 195, and the leaders are Gordon, Stewart, Kurt Busch, Sam Hornish, Jr, and Mark Martin.

We get to see some great racing for the lead as Stewart and Gordon battle it out. Racing doesn't get much better for fans than watching two of NASCAR's greatest drivers go wheel to wheel against each other. Stewart takes the lead on lap 196. The race goes on another long green flag run, as Stewart leads. Gordon nearly catches him a few times, but can't pass. him.

Green flag pit stops begin on lap 233, when Kyle Busch pits. The leaders all pit together on lap 235. Tony Stewart's crew gets hung up on the right front tire, causing him to lose a second or two in the pits. After the pit stops cycle through, Ryan Newman and Joey Logano have not pitted, putting Newman in the lead, and Logano second. Their crew chiefs are taking a gamble that the rain would come soon. That's the way it works--if you have a car that is not as good as those that have led most of the race, go for position and run the car until it rains or it runs out of gas.

Newman holds the lead until lap 263, when he runs out of fuel. Joey Logano takes the lead. Jeff Gordon has raced his way to second place, and Tony Stewart is in fifth. On lap 266, caution is called for rain. The race goes red as the track gets too wet on lap 273. The race is called, and Joey Logano gets his first Cup victory, and is now the youngest driver ever to win a race in the Cup series.

It is always good to see a rookie get his first win. Logano has come a long way since he was allowed to take the fender whiskers off of his car, and he did what he needed to win. Greg Zippadelli, his crew chief, should be proud. His gamble paid off.

The final top ten finishing order was Logano, Jeff Gordon, Kurt Busch, who ran a great race for Penske, David Reutimann, who also stayed out during that last green flag pit cycle, Tony Stewart, who was making a big move to the front when the rain came, Brad Keselowski, another driver who didn't pit when everyone else did, Kyle Busch, Sam Hornish, Jr, also driving for Penske and whom nobody thought would get this good, Jimmie Johnson, and Kasey Kahne. Tony Stewart retains the top spot in the standings, and the race to be in the top twelve is beginning to shape up.

Again, TNT's camera work was wonderful, and we wish the other networks could do what TNT has done in that department. The next race is July 4 at Daytona, where the double file restart should be interesting.