Sunday, March 29, 2009

Live on Type Delay: The Goody's Fast Pain Relief 500

Martinsville is not only the shortest track on the NASCAR Sprint Cup Circuit, it is the oldest. Though NASCAR's premier series has been racing there since 1956, the track was built in 1947, and home to many a stock car race. And it has been home to only stock car and NASCAR racing. This is the little paper clip, as opposed to the big paper clip at New Hampshire, so called because of it's shape, with long straightaways and tight turns. The speeds vary from close to 120 mph at the end of the straightaway to a little under 40 mph in the center of the turn. This tells us a little about how the cars have to be set up for this track. Overall, we can see that Martinsville is proof that the cars don't have to be fast to give us good racing.

Jeff Gordon takes the point at the beginning, due to a rain-out for qualifying, and is just about to lap the field when Michael Waltrip spins and brings out the caution on lap 22 or so. Before that, although Gordon checked out on the field, there was plenty of racing for position among the cars second place and back. Enough to make us wonder if the drivers may be trying too hard, too soon.

Scott Speed and Robby Gordon are the only cars that stay out, while everyone else gets tires. Speed leads the restart, and Robby Gordon falls back. After a few laps Jeff Gordon, retakes the lead from Speed, and the scheduled competition caution flies at lap 40. Nothing much changes here, and Jeff Gordon continues to lead. The rest of the top five continues to change often, but it is mostly the drivers we expect to do well at Martinsville--Stewart, Johnson, and Hamlin--who are providing the most action.

Friends and readers, we have entered an alternate reality. According to whoever writes the Aflac trivia questions--and at the expense of Mike Joy, who had to read the information-- Brian Vickers' only win came at Martinsville in 2006. Those of us who believe that his first win came at Talladega in 2006 now have to adapt to the environs of a different universe.

Robby Gordon spins and brings out the caution on lap 76. Jimmie Johnson and Matt Kenseth incur penalties during the pit stops and have to restart at the back of the field. Only Matt doesn't fall back to the tail end by the time the green flag flies, and has to take a drive through penalty, which puts him a lap down. When Kyle Busch spins out and collects Scott Speed, on lap 122, "Kensiss," as Darrell Waltrip likes to call him, is no longer the first car a lap down, as Jeff Gordon has lapped David Stremme just before the caution flies.

When the lap count reaches the mid 130's, we get to see the first real racing for the lead. Denny Hamlin has caught Gordon and is letting him know he is there. In a superb show of driving skill, Hamlin drives into the turns harder, nearly hitting the rear of Gordon's car at every corner, while Gordon remains steadfast. He has rediscovered his ability to control what goes on on the track, and does not let Hamlin's harrassment unsettle him. It takes several laps before Hamlin finally takes the lead.

During this long run, several cars have had to pit for right-front tire problems. This isn't Goodyear's fault, but is due to the fact that the brakes get so hot at Martinsville, they melt the bead on the tires, and the air blows out through the broken bead.

During this long run, Stewart moves as far up as second place. Smoke has fun making contact with other cars, but Jeff doesn't, unless he is the one initiating the contact. In a great nostalgic moment, Gordon whines, "If he hits me one more time, I'll knock his head off."

Yes, the old Jeff Gordon is back, and it is good. It is good for the fans, and it is good for the bloggers, but it is especially good for the bloggers who are fans. We can make fun of Jeff, while at the same time admiring his very impressive ability as a driver.

Dale Earnhardt, Jr has moved into the top five during this long run. The much maligned Tony Eury, Jr, Earnardt's Crew Chief, has done an excellent job of changing the 88 car to match the conditions. The Juniors are definitely in this race.

We have had so much fun watching this race, we have forgotten to write about it, so we move ahead to lap 320-something. At Martinsville, lapped traffic plays a big role when the leaders catch it. Passing is not easy as it is, and the drivers of the lapped cars are not only fighting for position, they do not want to give up another lap all that easily. When there are two cars like Hamlin's and Jeff Gordon's battling for the lead, the lapped traffic provides a huge challenge. Jeff picks the traffic, bumps Hamlin and takes the lead. Hamlin returns the favor, and retakes the lead. While this racing has gone on, Johnson has made it up to third. The most recent Dominator of Martinsville challenges his team mate, Gordon, and takes second. Now a caution for debris flies.

The debris turns out to be a beer can. At track like Martinsville, where fans cherish the right to be able to bring in their own coolers and beer, it is not good to throw a beer can, especially while the race is in progress, and Kyle Busch is nowhere near the lead.

Even though Johnson has won six of the last eight races at Martinsville, this is really the House of Hamlin. Aside from the Dale Jr fans, the majority of the fans in the stands are more than likely there for Denny Hamlin. Martinsville is as much Hamlin's home turf as Las Vegas is home to the Busch brothers. So, whether the can was thrown by a disgruntled Gordon fan, or just someone who hates Toyotas, it was probably easy for security to feret out the can thrower and escort that person off the premises (Pssst, it's the guy wearing the #24 cap and the "Toyota" t-shirt).

The next caution is brought out by a car that has hit the wall and is unable to get in position to enter the pits by the time it gets to turn four. This takes the fuel mileage factor out of the equation, as everybody stops for tires and fuel. They are good to go for fuel until the end.

Jimmie Johnson takes the lead out of the pits, and Hamlin will restart in second. With less than fifty laps to go, the cream has risen to the top, as they say, and the top three are Johnson, Hamlin, and Stewart. Hamlin sticks right to Johnson's tail at the restart, and takes the lead in turns one and two, driving hard into the corner.

A few more cautions later, which happened so quickly we were unable to keep up with them, and we get another great restart with just a little over twenty laps to go. This time it's Hamlin, Johnson, and Stewart in the top three. Hamlin makes a clean restart, and gets away from Johnson, as Kyle Busch, laps down and aiding his team mate, stays on the inside of Johnson to prevent him from catching the leader on the inside.

But Johnson isn't finished. With fifteen laps to go, Johnson catches Hamlin and gives him the ol' chrome horn. Both cars get loose and go up the track, but third placed Stewart is just a little too far back to take advantage of the situation. Johnson strongarms his way to the lead. It was a bad day turned good for Johnson, and he easily runs the final laps to take his first checkered flag of the season, giving him wins in five of the last six races at Martinsville.

Hamlin holds on for second, Tony Stewart posts his best finish so far in third, Jeff Gordon is fourth, and Clint Bowyer is fifth. Ryan Newman makes his boss' day by finishing sixth, Mark Martin is seventh, and Dale Jr is eighth, putting all six Hendrick cars in the top eight.

Martinsville is fun for the race fan. We loved watching the cars battling for the top ten, and the great battles and passes for the lead. While the Sprint Cup car has yet to give us as exciting a race at the 1.5 mile venues, it seems to be made for the short tracks, where it has made the racing better than it was with the former car. Virginia is for lovers, they say, and we love Martinsville.

Meanwhile, as soon as I get on line and post this, I will look up the answer to the " question of the day." The question was "Which Cup driver has had their only win at Martinsville?" I'm going to guess Casey Mears, but if the answer is "Brian Vickers," I'm going to check myself in to the nearest mental health facility for treatment and therapy.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Live on Type Delay: The Food City 500--after the fact

Bristol Motor Speedway has been a part of NASCAR history since 1961, and has been one of the biggest challenges for the drivers. Theoretically a short track, at a little more than a half mile in length, its high banks allow higher speeds than would be seen at a normal short track. Until its reconfiguration two years ago, those higher speeds would be at single file along the inside line, with the only method of passing being the fabled "chrome horn."

The reconfiguration was made on the theory that fans would rather see side by side racing, and the track became a multiple-grooved venue where the drivers could find a racing line either on the outside and the inside, or even in the middle. The prospect of three wide racing at the Roman Colosseum of NASCAR racing was exciting.

Now instead of one line of frustrated drivers having to spin other drivers and getting spun, we have two lines of such action. As the drivers and teams get a handle on the Sprint Cup car, which was reconfigured around the same time as Bristol, it actually makes the racing at the "World's Fastest Half-Mile" more difficult.

It is also difficult to write a play-by-play for Bristol, as things happen so quickly that there is no keeping up with the action while we are typing it. The laps roll by so quickly, at fifteen seconds, that we can mention a driver's name, and by the time we're finished typing it, something changes. Without help from the radio broadcast--PRN and MRN no longer have an on air venue in Colorado Springs--we are stuck with what we see on the television broadcast.

After Dave Blaney crashed early in the race, there was little for demolition derby fans to get excited about. Not to say there wasn't any beating and banging--there was plenty of that. At Bristol, as at any short track, the leaders often have to battle lapped traffic. So the air was filled with the cacophony of chrome horns.

Saturday, Kyle Busch looked like a sure winner in the Nationwide Series race, He dominated the race, never giving up the lead for more than a few laps. Late in the race, during what would be the final caution period, his pit crew let a tire roll out of the box as Busch was leaving his pit, incurring a penalty which gave the lead to Kevin Harvick and put Kyle at the end of the longest line. Harvick was Happy as he won his first race as an owner/driver, while Busch managed to work his way to a sixth place finish, and was very unhappy.

Today, in a different car with a different pit crew, Kyle Busch is, once again, dominating. As the laps wind down, there is little competition for him. Denny Hamlin is behind him, and behind him is Jimmie Johnson.

Although he is known as a short track ace, Jimmie Johnson has never won a race at Bristol. True to the form of a champion, a top ten finish isn't good enough. Today, Johnson looks good. If it was anybody else but Kyle Busch in the lead with less than ten laps left, Jimmie Johnson would be smelling victory.

Jeff Gordon's car doesn't look so good--it's bouncing and sliding all over the place, but he has skill, and he has been showing off that skill in every race so far this season. He has done the best he could with a car that obviously doesn't handle well, and that is pretty darn good as he is running in fourth at the end of the race.

Kasey Kahne has managed to fend off disaster, and will finish where he started--fifth place, while pole winner Mark Martin finishes in sixth.

So we get a GWC finish after Joey Logano's engine lets go. From similar situations in the past, we know that if Kyle is leading the race at this point, the only way to catch him is on the restart. Nothing doing, Kyle wins, mimes drinking a beer from a can thrown to--or at--him, and celebrates by doing a Polish victory lap the right way, without the clowning for which his brother is known.

Dale Jr performed well with a fourteenth place finish--well, because he went down a lap three times during the race, and managed to stay in position to get the free pass three times. Of course we are going to hear more criticism of his crew chief, Tony Eury, Jr, but Dale Earnhardt, Jr, as always straight spoken and honest, tells us that what the media reports (about Eury's suitability as crew chief) is nothing like reality.

Racing is never boring. If the fans don't like it, that probably means the race is a challenge, and therefore exciting, for the drivers. When we can imagine ourselves being in the driver's seat, we can get much more out of the race. We feel the urgency of Ryan Newman, Marcos Ambrose or Juan Pablo Montoya to finish high enough to ensure a starting spot in the next race, and we feel the relief as they did just that. We are in Denny Hamlin's head as he is planning on how to catch and pass his teammate to win a race that has become very important to him personally, and feel his disappointment as he sees the #18 car disappear into the distance with one lap to go.

Kyle Busch should make racing better overall, as the other drivers and teams figure out what they need to beat him. More drivers, Jeff Gordon in particular, and taking up his practice of never being happy with the car, to make his team perform better and work to make the car better. Whether the fans like Kyle Busch or not, he is good for the sport.

Rev' Jim's favorite races are at the short tracks, and this was no exception. It was short track racing, with side by side contests all around the track and all through the race. That's Bristol, and That's racing.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Waiting for more

Not long ago, the NASCAR season began with a bang for one week, a fizzle for the next, and then a week off. Now we get a bang, a fizzle, an "okay" race, and a race of uplifting competition before having the week off. Where the old schedule wouldn't even give us enough time in which to build anticipation, the new schedule lets the the anticipation for the next race build, and then lets us down. The big difference now is that we take the week off in anticipation of a race at one of the favorite venues of the NASCAR fan--Bristol Motor Speedway. Bristol seems to make waiting a week so much more worth it.

Another advantage to the schedule the way it is now, is that it gave the teams enough practical experience to see what they needed for the races that will follow, and to use the non-racing week for adjustments, repairs, testing, and promoting for sponsorship. All of these elements are important to each team in increasing their ability to be highly competitive for the rest of the season.

As fans of the sport we used the off week to take a retrospective look at the season so far.

Our assessment is "not bad."

Daytona Speed Weeks gave us our first look at what racing would be like without the testing. We also saw several new teams for the first time, as economic compression created the opportunity for legendary crew chief Tommy Baldwin and drivers Jeremy Mayfield and Joe Nemecheck to form their own teams.

Baldwin and his driver Scott Riggs thrilled us as they raced their way into the lineup for the Daytona 500. Jeremy Mayfield, with a team that was less than three weeks old, also raised some eyebrows. Then Matt Kenseth, who had not won a race all season last year, took the checkers and the trophy at the 500.

It wouldn't be the Daytona 500 if it didn't have controversy, and this year's was no different. We learned that the difference between controversy and a racing incident is the name of the driver involved. The name of the driver in this case was Dale Earnhardt, Jr.

That was a big enough name to overshadow whatever happened the next week at California. As always, the California race didn't do much to thrill the fans who were watching it on television. The Auto Club Speedway is a driver's track, and it takes a lot of skill and experience to come out on top. For much of the race, Jeff Gordon showed us that his skill and experience still counts for something, and Tony Stewart, with his new Stewart-Haas Racing #14 team, proved that he has enough skill and talent to make something out of a former back-marker team. But the driver who had the most skill and talent on this day was, once again, Matt Kenseth. He became the first driver in NASCAR's modern history to win each of the first two races of the season in one series.

Kyle Busch, who was born and raised in the Las Vegas, New Mexico area, had yet to win a NASCAR race at LVMS. He changed that in week three of the season by winning two, and becoming the first NASCAR driver in history to win two races in two different series at the same venue on the same weekend. This history making feat was largely ignored as everyone was still talking about Daytona and Dale Earnhardt, Jr.

However, even though Kyle Busch dominated at Las Vegas, we could still get a look at what the other teams were up to, as there was some very good racing behind the leader for the entire event.

And finally, an exciting race that had plenty of controversy at Atlanta, when a crew member from Marcos Ambrose's team chased a runaway tire to within seventy-five feet of the racing surface. Granted, NASCAR would have thrown a caution flag eventually, to pick up the tire, but the crewman put himself in a very dangerous place, where cars going 180 mph or more often make side trips. This caused a caution to fly while many of the competitors were making their green flag pit stops, thus putting all but six of them at least a lap behind the leaders.

In the long run, the incident didn't have an effect on the outcome of the race. Due to the free passes that occur due to cautions, there were about the same number of cars on the lead lap as the end of the race neared, as there would have been if the race had been run entirely under a green flag. And Busch won again, but this time it was Kyle's older brother, Kurt, who took the checkers. The new "class clown" of NASCAR, who has decided to do something different in celebration of every victory he claims, celebrated this time by driving around the track with his car in reverse gear.

So, that's the season so far. Jeff Gordon is looking strong, and we still feel this could be his year. Tony Stewart surprised many of us by making some strong showings with a team that seemed like it needed a lot of work to become competitive, and we can only assume that a lot of work was done.

Speaking of needing work, the rookies, Scott Speed and Joey Logano, both need some of that. However, we still feel they will both be quick learners,. though it might help Logano if his car had fender whiskers attached.

It is still too early to make an assessment of anything or anyone, but we do know that this season is going to keep getting better. Bristol is always unique and fun, and Martinsville, a favorite of short track fans like the Rev', follows. One thing we know for sure is that anything can, and probably will, happen

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Live on Type Delay: The Kobalt Tools 500

After the thrill we saw at Atlanta Motor Speedway during the truck race, the Sprint Cup series Kobalt Tools 500 may be a let down. Long green flag periods, and varying track conditions may cause the field to become spread out, and diminish the number of cars that stay on the lead lap. But, even if it is half as good as the truck race was, it will still be racing, and it will still be good.

Mark Martin leads the field to the green flag, and then begins to gain some distance away from the field, then, on turn one of the third lap, a caution comes out because Reed Sorenson hits the wall.

At the restart, it's Martin, Kurt Busch, McMurray, and Biffle in the top four. Kurt Busch gains the advantage at the green, and takes the lead before the lap is over. Jamie McMurray is looking racey and also challenges for the lead, but he can't get past Martin, who prevails in second. Lap 12, and there is another caution as Bobby Labonte gets "so-o-o-o loose," and spins out.

Most of the leaders pit, and there are varying strategies. Ryan Newman's #39 team gets off of pit road first after taking two tires, while the rest of the field took four. After the restart on lap 15, Kurt Busch soon takes the lead and begins checking out on the field. Denny Hamlin has moved into second, but is a good five seconds back by lap 37. Dale Earnhardt, Jr and Carl Edwards are the two drivers on the move. Jr has moved up from his starting position in the twentieth spot, and is fighting Kyle Busch for tenth. Carl Edwards is in the top five, after starting twenty-ninth.

The Other Busch, Kurt, is lapping cars and seven seconds ahead of the field on lap 46. Out of the race at this early point are Travis Kvapil (#28--engine), Mike Bliss, and Reed Sorenson. By lap 51, there are only 21 cars on the lead lap.

The green flag pit stops begin around lap 60. The 66 car of Dave Blaney is now out of the race due to engine problems. Most of the drivers are still talking about loose, so there are plenty of adjustments. As Denny Hamlin and Carl Edwards pit, a crew member from Marcos Ambrose's team chases a tire to within seventy feet of the racing surface, and brings out a caution.

This changes things, as the only cars that are on the lead lap are the six leaders who have yet to pit. That includes the 99 car of Edwards, who is waved through pit road by his crew as the caution comes out. The restart is on lap 73, with Jimmie Johnson first, Bowyer second, Truex, Jr third, Edwards fourth, and The Other Busch formerly known as Dirty Kurty is fifth. There are eight cars--those that had been exiting the pits at the time of the caution--in front of the leaders at the tail end of the lead lap.

Oh well, it's early, things could change. With the "slick" track and tires, we could see some more cautions, which would put more cars on the lead lap. After the correction, there are actually eleven cars on the lead lap.

On lap 81, Carl Edwards goes high on the track and gets around Jimmie Johnson for the lead. Clint Bowyer runs up to second.

Lap 83 and the 87 car of Joe Nemecheck leaves the race. At lap 84, Kurt Busch gets around Jimmie Johnson for third.

Now we are getting some pretty good racing as Dale Earnhardt, Jr is fighting race leader Carl Edwards to stay on the lead lap. After some tough racing, Edwards completes the pass and now there are nine cars on the lead lap. Things don't look good for Stewart-Haas racing this week as the #14 car of Tony Stewart goes two laps down.

Caution on lap 104 as Bobby Labonte's engine lets go and he spins. Robby Gordon gets penalized for leaving the pit with equipment--the gas can--still attached. Kurt Busch took the lead just before the caution, but the leaders all pit. Dale Jr gets the free pass.

Rev' Jim is happy to be able to mention Dale Earnhardt, Jr often today. It is good for traffic. We offer a hearty "Welcome Back" to Jr Nation.

The restart on lap 128 almost looks like a Daytona restart, as Montoya gets stuck in the middle lane and falls back. Brian Vickers gets a pit road speeding penalty and has to start at the tail end of the longest line.

The restart order was Kurt Busch, Carl Edwards, Clint Bowyer, Jimmie Johnson, and Denny Hamlin. Kurt Busch checks out on the field, but Edwards gains some ground back.

Mike Bliss is listed as the only car out of the race. Apparently the engine problems of Labonte, Kvapil, and Nemecheck were not fatal. Sorenson's car was repaired after the early race wreck, and he is back in the race. As of lap 120, there are still ten cars on the lead lap.

Does this remind anybody of the "Good old days" when the leaders would be several laps ahead of the field at the halfway point?

By the way, Dale Earnhardt Jr is still on the lead lap in ninth position. Brian Vickers is at the tail end of the lead lap in tenth.

Now we are told that Nemecheck's problem was brake trouble, not engine trouble.

Speaking about trouble, Dale Earnhardt, Jr is reporting that he is feeling a vibration, possibly brake trouble, and has fallen back to tenth on lap 125. Kasey Kahne is the first car one lap down. AJ Allmendinger is running in eighteenth and is the first car two laps down.

A caution would be good right now. Maybe Sam Hornish, Jr will bring it out. He certainly has his hands full with a car that can only stay up to speed if it looks like it is wrecking. To use an old Tony Stewart phrase, Hornish is wrecking, he just hasn't hit anything yet.

By lap 142, lap times have fallen as the handling of all 42 cars has fallen off. Kurt Busch is leading the field by nine seconds. Montoya is the first car to pit in the upcoming green flag pit cycle, on lap 143. The top five on lap 145 are Kurt Busch, Carl Edwards, Jimmie Johnson, Clint Bowyer, and an alternating fifth position as Mark Martin and Jeff Gordon are battling it out. Dale Earnhardt Jr is still on the lead lap in tenth. But Kurt Busch puts him a lap down on lap 153.

The news has come in that the pit crew member who chased the tire almost all the way to the race track, and forced the caution that screwed up the race, has been suspended for the remainder of the race. We would like to see him fined, hung, crucified, drawn and quartered, and then shot, for being too stupid to exist. Sure, he meant well but we all know the old saying about good intentions.

Caution on lap 156 for fluid in turn 2. David Stremme and Robby Gordon get caught in the pits, and Dale Earnhardt, Jr gets the free pass.

The top five cars off of pit road are Kurt Busch, Clint Bowyer, Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson and Carl Edwards. Dale Earnhardt, Jr is the last car on the lead lap in tenth.

Restart on lap 163 and look at Jeff Gordon go! He moves into second, and may be threatening Kurt The Other Busch for the lead. Dale Earnhardt, Jr is still on the lead lap in tenth.

Dave Blaney is now listed as the last car still in the race, 88 laps down in forty-first place.

And here comes The Gordon. Great stuff, he gets to the inside of Kurt The Other, and the lead is changing back in fourth. It seems as if the #2 Dodge has a little more power on the straightaways, but Gordon is catching him in the turns. But Gordon gets loose, and backs off, and Busch retains the lead.

On lap 177, the leaders are Kurt The Other Busch in first, followed by Jeff Gordon, Carl Edwards, Mark Martin, and Jimmie Johnson. Dale Earnhardt, Jr is still in tenth and on the lead lap, putting all four Hendrick drivers on the lead lap and in the top ten.

Lap 179 and the #47 car of Marcos Ambrose loses oil onto the track and brings out the sixth caution of the day. Kasey Kahne gets the free pass and there will now be eleven cars on the lead lap. The top five cars at the time of the caution are Busch, Gordon, Edwards, Martin, and Johnson.

Coming out of the pits, on lap 189, it is Martin Truex, Jr who comes out first, Kurt Busch is second, Jimmie Johnson third, Jeff Gordon fourth, Mark Martin is fifth. Then Truex pits, and that changes to Busch, Johnson, Gordon, Martin and Brian Vickers. Dale Earnhardt, Jr will restart in ninth, and Kasey Kahne once again got the free pass, and is restarting in eleventh.

Restart was on lap 192. Tony Stewart gains a lap back on lap 198 by racing his way back, and is now only one lap down. On lap 202, Sam Hornish cuts a tire and finally hits the wall. On his way down the track, he collects Bill Elliott, and the caution comes out. This answers the prayers of the #14 team, which was short on fuel, and proves that Tony's continuing friendship with Joe Gibbs could be a very good thing.

The leaders pit on lap 204, and Jeff Gordon barely wins the race off of the pit road. Kurt Busch is second, Jimmie Johnson third, Mark Martin fourth, and Clint Bowyer is fifth. Dale Earnhardt, Jr comes out in ninth, and Matt Kenseth gets the free pass and is now in twelfth at the back of the lead lap. Restart on lap 209.

Three and four wide in the front five rows at the restart. What a blast! It straightens out by turn three, without any wrecks. On lap 213, the top five are Gordon, Kurt Busch, Johnson, Martin, and Bowyer. In turn two, on lap 214, Mark Martin's right rear tire explodes, and the eighth caution comes out. Kevin Harvick gets the free pass. The restart on lap 222 will be with Jeff Gordon in first, followed by Johnson, Bowyer, Hamlin, and Kurt The Other. Biffle gets a one lap penalty due to pitting outside the box.

Dale Earnhardt, Jr is in tenth, and Ryan Newman is now the first car one lap down in thirteenth. He can't get by the 24 to gain a lap, because that car is looking very good right now. On lap 225, the running order is Gordon, Johnson, Hamlin, TOB (Kurt The Other Busch), and Bowyer. Kevin Harvick has moved up to eleventh, and Dale Earnhardt, Jr has fallen back to twelfth. Stewart has taken thirteenth place from his team mate, Ryan Newman, and is now the first car one lap down.

During the commercial, Kurt Busch raced his way into second place, and he is followed by Johnson, Hamlin and Edwards, 82 laps to go. The Gordon's lead has been stretched to over two seconds.

But with 75 to go, TOBusch has caught The Gordon and retaken the lead. On lap 251, as we break for yet another television commercial, the top five are Kurt Busch, Jeff Gordon, Carl Edwards, Jimmie Johnson, and Brian Vickers. Vickers takes fourth from Johnson on lap 254. Dale Earnhardt, Jr is the last car on the lead lap and is in twelfth. Ryan Newman reports that he has a cylinder down in his motor.

Vickers is now on the move, on lap 258, and we get a caution for debris in turn four, off of Robby Gordon's car as he scraped the wall. This puts Smoke back on the lead lap. Way to go #14 team! Yes, The Revvin Jim is biased. We can't help it, we are race fans.

The leaders pit on lap 260, and TOB comes off in first, Jimmie Johnson came out second, but gets caught for speeding on pit road, and will have to restart at the tail end of the longest line. This means Brian Vickers is second, Bowyer third, Jeff Gordon fourth, and Carl Edwards is fifth. Restart on lap 266.On lap 267 , there is a big wreck, as Ragan gets knocked into Scott Speed by Greg Biffle. Speed hits the wall and rebounds down the track, Biffle wrecks, and several cars have to mow the infield grass to avoid the carnage. Neither Dale Earnhardt, Jr, nor Tony Stewart were involved in the wreck, and we breathe a sigh of relief.

By the way, the leaders will refuel barely within the theoretical fuel window, though it may still be a stretch. This will make things interesting. Pit road is open with 54 laps to go. Apparently expecting everyone to have to pit again, Kurt "TOB" Busch, Brian Vickers, Clint Bowyer, Jeff Gordon, and Carl Edwards stay out. Kasey Kahne and Denny Hamlin also stay out, so Kevin Harvick and the rest of the lead lap behind him pit, and hold positions eight through fourteen. Jeff Burton got the free pass, and there are no more cars one lap down. There are a lot of cars two laps down and further back.

At the green on lap 276, the top five are Busch, Vickers, Gordon, Bowyer, and Edwards. Jr falls back to fourteenth after handling problems create a close call between him and Aric Almirola. Almirola is three laps down in twenty-fifth.

Dale Earnhardt, Jr is still okay and on the lead lap. We are now able to say that this race is better than the one at California, two weeks ago. The handling problems that everyone has experienced have made it exciting. At lap 285, there are no more or less cars on the lead lap than there would normally be at this point in any Atlanta Motor Speedway Sprint Cup race. Because The Other Busch, Brian Vickers, and Denny Hamlin have been running so well this race, it is not about the same ol' same ol'. In fact, on lap 296, Kasey Kahne has won his multi-lap battle with Matt Kenseth and has moved into fifth. Denny Hamlin has dropped back to fourteenth. Dale Earnhardt, Jr is in thirteenth.

If this race goes green to the finish, somebody is going to run out of fuel.

Jamie McMurray is the first car not on the lead lap, two laps down and in fifteenth. That doesn't matter now, there are only seventeen laps to go. There are no more lucky dogs.

Here comes Vickers again, as TOB, the race leader has to pick his way through lapped traffic. Vickers is gaining down the back stretch and in turn three. We will have a race to the finish.

With this race marking the end of the first four weeks of the new season, there will be a one week break, and the next race, the one determining the new top thirty-five owners points standings. will be at Bristol. This will give us plenty to anticipate. If we can get close finish at Atlanta, before the break, that one week break will seem too long.

There is lots of debris coming off of Robby Gordon's car on lap 322. I mean the car looks like it is falling to pieces. There is a caution. All the lead lap cars pit.

Carl Edwards comes off of pit road first, after taking two tires. There will two laps to go when the race restarts in overtime. The order is now Carl Edwards, Kurt Busch, Jeff Gordon, Truex, and Harvick. At the restart, Kurt Busch goes high and takes the lead foorm Edwards. Jeff Gordon makes a run on the leader, but it looks like the #2 car is too fast. Kurt "The Other Busch" Busch takes the checkers. Gordon is second, Edwards is third, Kevin Harvick raced his way to fourth, and Brian Vickers is fifth. They are followed by Clint Bowyer, Kasey Kahne, and Tony Stewart, who has now finished eighth in three of the first four races of the season. Jimmie Johnson was ninth, and Jr was tenth. Martin Truex, Jr, that is. Truex's kidney stone was eleventh. Just kidding, and that is not that funny, it is painful. A lot of credit should go to Truex Jr who has obviously gone through a lot of pain over the last few days.

Dale Earnhardt, Jr finished eleventh, and Matt Kenseth finished twelfth, the last position on the lead lap.

Always creative, sometimes not for the best, Kurt Busch makes his victory lap in reverse

So, we take a week off, and look forward to the next race. It's Bristol, Baby!

Interesting stats about this post: Dale Earnhardt, Jr was mentioned 19 times. The winner's brother was only mentioned once, and that was just now. Just thought that might be of note. It is our final note.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

And this is only the beginning

It is about this time of the year that the Rev' starts raving about the truck series, and this year is no exception. In spite of the new pit rules in the Camping World Truck Series (CWTS)--as well as the economic situation that is leaving some of the best teams and drivers unsponsored--the trucks continue to offer us some of the best racing on television.

Atlanta is always a good race, no matter which series is racing there, and the trucks lived up to the reputation. As was the case at California, Kyle Busch held the pole position, but, contrary to the California race, he did not dominate from the start.

Kevin Harvick was feeling quite racey from the start, and he quickly took the lead. From then on, the racing for the lead never stopped. In fact, from the lead all the way back to fifteenth, the racing never stopped, and we certainly got our share of the beatin' and bangin' we expect from the Truck Series.

The new NASCAR requirement for the double pit stops receives a B- from Rev' Jim. We do have to admit, that it does add some drama during long green runs, as strategy comes into play. A stop for tires early in the fuel run, for example, may produce an advantage for a team that is looking to improve handling, and to be able to make one stop for fuel only during the caution, when and if it comes. Most teams will wait until the almost inevitable caution, and pit twice during that period.

The problem we see in this is that it takes a factor away from the racing and gives it to pit strategy. Pit strategy is fine for the longer Sprint Cup races, but, during the relatively short Truck races, it just doesn't seem to fit. Pit strategy in the Truck races should only be about who can get four tires and fuel the fastest.

However, when the racing on track is as good as it was at Atlanta, Saturday afternoon, we can forget what the pit road rules put into play.

They mixed it up for the entire 200 miles. Newcomers Ricky Carmichael, JR Fitzpatrick, and Max Papis, along with relatively new drivers like Colin Braun, Brian Scott, and Timothy Peters, race fender to fender with former champions like Hornaday, Todd Bodine, Johnny Benson, and Mike Skinner. Grizzled veterans like Terry Cook and Matt Crafton are out to show the world that their racing days aren't over, and they mix it up throughout the race as well. Still, after every restart--even though other drivers get a chance to lead for a little while--it always seems to come down to Harvick and Busch fighting for the lead.

Late in the race, with eight laps to go, Kyle Busch fell back to ninth place at the restart, having lost second and third gear. It looked like the race to the checkers would be between Harvick and Bodine.

But Kyle Busch wasn't out of the race. Lugging his engine in fourth gear, he slowly built up speed, and was challenging Harvick for second with four laps to go. Not letting off the gas for anything, Busch soon passed Harvick and raced Bodine, passing him with three to go and with Harvick on his rear bumper.

Harvick momentarily took the lead, but Busch got it back almost immediately, keeping his accelerator floored even as he was turned nearly sideways. The battle for first never let up, going into the final turn and all the way to the finish line. For the first time this year, we got the kind of finish we like to see in the truck series.

And Kyle Busch won his second Truck Series race in a row, by less than a half a second. Once again, we have to appreciate the driving ability of this young man from Las Vegas, Nevada. We could be seeing greatness in the making. Most of the fans in the stands at Atlanta Motor Speedway could have been thinking the same thing as they gave Busch a rousing and enthusiastic ovation. We couldn't see any beer cans or seat cushions being thrown. Times have changed.

The truck series season is only now beginning. Daytona didn't really count, because superspeedway racing really doesn't fit well with the trucks, and California, well, enough has been said about that. In two weeks, things will really heat up at Martinsville. Short track racing is what the Truck Series is all about.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Live on Type Delay: The Shelby 427

Due to technical difficulties, and the fact that we were nowhere near a race track, television, radio, or a computer at the start of the race, we were unable to report directly the first 64 laps of the Shelby 427, from Las Vegas Nevada. It could have been worse--we could have been in Las Vegas, New Mexico, where none of the above exists.

KKKX., the local station that carries the race broadcasts for Colorado Springs, does not have a contract with SMI's Performance Radio Network this year. Perhaps a sign of the times, but it taught us the important lesson that one can be anywhere and still be able to catch a NASCAR Sprint Cup race broadcast anywhere.

So the Rev thanked his friend for the wonderful morning and the enjoyable excursion, apologized for having to get home so abrubtly, fumbled for his keys, and finally got inside his apartment and got the television on.

It seems that, by lap 64, Jimmie Johnson--who had started in first position after the Pole winner, Kyle Busch had to start in the back--pretty much dominated the race. Matt Kenseth, a contender to make history as the first driver to win the first three races of the season, lost his engine after only seven laps. It was there one moment, then it was gone. A careful search found the engine, but it had blown up.

Around lap 74, another Roush-Fenway Ford, driven by David Ragan, loses its engine, and Ragan is out of the race. This brings out the fourth caution of the race. Greg Biffle takes the lead on the restart, and begins to check out on the field, while Jeff Gordon moves up through the field and takes a commanding second.

Engine woes continue as Mark Martin's Hendrick Motorsports car slips out of gear, and the engine over-revs and expires. This brings out another caution, around lap 124, and we wonder if maybe everyone should have changed their engines and started in the back of the field. Jimmie Johnson once again leads at the restart, then, seven laps later, Regan Smith spins out, bringing out another caution.

The restart on lap 142 has Jimmie Johnson on in the lead, Jeff Gordon second, Before we can type another word, Aric Almirola hits the wall and is out of the race. We have another caution.

At the restart on lap 149, It's Johnson, Gordon, Biffle, Stewart, and Kyle Busch. Jeff Gordon takes the lead in turn four, and it begins to look like a race. We have mentioned this before--racing seems to get more exciting overall when The Gordon is on top of his game.

Lap 160 puts Gordon at the 20,000 mark for laps led. What an amazing career.

The race has a relatively long green flag run--a full seven laps, before another caution comes out when Michael Waltrip gets up in the marbles on the outer edge of the track and spins. All the lead cars pit. Restarting in the lead, after pit road strategies will be Jeff Burton. He is followed by Bobby Labonte, and Brian Vickers. Burton holds the lead for one lap, and Denny Hamlin spins out in turn two after getting too high up the track.

At the restart, it's Burton, Labonte, Vickers, Biffle, and Gordon. Johnson, restarting in sixth, moves up quickly and takes third before the lap is over. He doesn't stop there, and passes Labonte for second. At the commercial break, it's Burton, Johnson, Labonte, Biffle, and Jeff Gordon in the top five.

Does the light go off when the refrigerator door is closed? Does the race continue during the commercials? We have no way of knowing for certain.

With 84 laps to go, we begin to see the pit strategies for finishing races come into play, as Ryan Newman pits, reporting a vibration. Two laps later, Tony Stewart pits for two tires and fuel, giving up tenth place, and also reporting a vibration. With 71 laps to go, the other cars on the lead lap have yet to pit.

Hey, isn't it cool to see the Cat car leading the race? It's number 31, rather than 22, but it still gives us a nostalgic feeling. We wonder what Ward Burton, who made the Cat car famous, is doing now? Enlightenment! We just realized that it isn't just the Cat car, it is another Burton driving it.

Stewart has to pit again with 65 laps to go, as his earlier vibration problem had not been repaired. Jeff Gordon has to abort his pit stop, as Jimmie Johnson pits and skids through his pit box. A caution flies as Gordon's left front tire blows. Stewart gets a penalty for pit road speed. All kinds of doo-doo is happening all at once. Wow!

Burton comes off of the pit road first, Carl Edwards is second, Bobbie Labonte is third, but Edwards had to come back to the pits because of a missing lug nut. So, at the restart, it will be Burton, Labonte, Kyle Busch, Brian Vickers, and David Reutimann in the top five with 58 laps to go. Kyle Busch and Jeff Burton race hard, but cleanly for the lead, and with 57 laps to go, the younger Busch takes the lead.

Busch wisely lets Johnson race his way back to the lead lap. The 48 car seems like it is the fastest on the track. Just as we were beginning to think that Joey Logano might need fender whiskers on his car, after consistantly brushing the wall in practice, we realize that the young rookie is doing very well this race and is now in the top ten. How many people out there remember fender whiskers? That was one of my childhood obsessions, for some reason.

38 laps to go, and we know that every crew chief on pit row is figuring out fuel mileage numbers at this point. Some of the leaders are going to have to stop for fuel before the race is over.

Jeff Gordon, who brought out the most recent caution with a cut tire, had to make several pit stops during that caution. He is now back in the top ten. Carl Edwards is now in fifth, with 30 laps to go. He came back from having to pit twice.

Debris in the backstretch brings out a caution. There will be no fuel strategy now, as everyone will fuel. There will be tire strategy.

Clint Bowyer didn't pit, so now the #33 car is in the lead. Kyle Busch, who is never happy with his car--something his Crew Chief, Steve Addington has credited to that team's success--takes two tires, fuel, and a chassis adjustment, and exits the pits third, after being beaten out by Jeff Burton and Jeff Gordon. Restart with 21 laps to go.

Bowyer holds the lead, Kyle Busch makes a risky move and gets by Jeff Gordon. It isn't long before he is challenging Burton for second, but Burton hasn't given up the race. This is the kind of racing for which we watch NASCAR--three cars racing for the lead.

Making a very Earnhardt-like bumper tap, Busch takes the lead, keys his mike, and quotes the words made famous by Burns and Allen, "Say good-night Gracie."

The proper response from Bowyer should have been "Good-night Gracie," but, if he did say something, we don't think those were the words he used. Now we get another caution as Paul Menard finally wrecks.

Why do TV commentators keep on talking even when they have nothing to say? Why does Rev' Jim keep typing when he has nothing to write? More mysteries of Nature.

We are anticipating a big finish here. And it is being delayed as NASCAR decides to make sure the sta-dri, which isn't really sta-dri these days, is swept off of the track.

The restart will be with seven laps to go. Kyle is first, Burton is second, and Bowyer is third. If Kyle Busch makes this restart stick the race is his. He makes it stick, but the race isn't his yet. Jimmie Johnson has gotten up into the absorbant formally known as sta-dri and gets rear-ended by the wall. The green flag comes with three laps to go.

Busch makes the restart stick. Bowyer and Burton are racing hard for second. One lap to go and Carl Edwards, runnning in fifth, sees his engine blow up. Bowyer passes Burton for second.

Kyle Busch has been the first driver to win the pole position and the race in a Cup race at Las Vegas. He now holds the record for winning the race from the highest numbered starting position. If that sounds like a paradox, it is, but it actually happened, which justifies the rumors that Kyle is from Area 51. Most importantly, he has won at home, in front of a very supportive crowd.

It wasn't a great race--too many accidents, penalties and wierd things happening, but it was a good race. It did have its great moments, with some great racing, which is something we haven't seen at the so-called Cookie Cutter tracks and the Sprint Cup car. It was at least as good as we had anticipated. If we don't stop writing, we might even convince ourselves that it was a great race after all. It was certainly entertaining, which is a good thing for most race fans.

Say good-night, Gracie.