Sunday, April 26, 2009

Live on Type Delay: The Aaron's 499

Love it or not, restrictor-plate racing is here to stay. Certainly, we don't see the racing at Talladega as being the same thing as we see at the 1.5 mile intermediate tracks, which isn't the same as what we see at the short tracks, which isn't the same as we see on road courses, which isn't the same as we see at Talladega and Daytona (thank-you "Scooters" Scooters, by the way, is no relation to Digger).

Indeed, to many of us mashing the pedal and waiting for something to happen isn't even what many of us consider racing. It really is racing, however, of the sort that requires a different set of skills from both the drivers and their teams, and in that sense, it is a facet in the myriad of accomplishments the drivers and their teams have to master in order to be the best at what they do.

What we can usually expect is anything. The restrictor-plates cause the cars to run at nearly 200 mph while only inches apart. The slightest driver error, the most minute mechanical fail, or any other element that could cause the car to get out of line could result in a very big wreck.

Note, to save time for those who may not want to read the entire post, there is some text in bold script to mark the highlights.

The green flag waves, and Juan Pablo Montoya leads the field to the start. Before the first lap is complete the cars are going three wide as they form lines. Montoya leads the first lap with his team mate Martin Truex, Jr. in his draft. Dale Earnhardt, Jr takes the lead on lap 5, with drafting help from Denny Hamlin. Then, on lap 8, shortly after Montoya has retaken the lead, only to be passed by David Ragan, that wreck we mentioned before the race started happens.

Jeff Gordon tries to move down to avoid David Gilliland, who is making a fourth lane on the outside. At the same time Matt Kenseth is moving up to avoid a car that is moving up on his inside. The two make contact, and many, many cars are unable to avoid the accident.

Gordon, Gilliland, Kenseth, Kevin Harvick, Mark Martin, Kurt Busch, AJ Allmendinger, Scott Riggs, Brian Vickers, Clint Bowyer, Kasey Kahne, Jamie McMurray, and Casey Mears are all involved in the wreck. We think that Digger may possibly have been a casualty, as we haven't seen him yet. No matter, there have to be a lot of fans out there who are as disappointed and frusterated as the drivers with the "Big One" happening so early in the race.

The race restarts on lap 14. Some of the cars that were involved in the wreck were able to make some repairs during the caution and join the restart. Because of the nature of the type of racing, where the lead and the top five positions are usually in a constant state of flux, it is almost pointless to list the top five at the green, but Joey Logano is on the point. He is soon overtaken by Martin Truex, Jr., who is overtaken by Juan Montoya on lap 18, who is overtaken by Kurt Busch--who was, remember, involved in that wreck. Denny Hamlin takes the lead on lap 20.

It's futile to try to keep up with the lead changes and try to watch the race, so while Live on Type Delay tries to catch up with the action, we will try to stick with the most significant events.

Jeff Burton leads on lap 24, and then reports alternator problems, and Kurt Busch retakes the lead on lap 27, and we get a caution for debris on lap 28. Kyle Busch takes the lead out of the pits and the restart is on lap 34, with Elliott Sadler in second, Michael Waltrip third, Matt Kenseth--another crash survivor--in fourth, and Martin Truex, Jr in fifth.

Lap 42 features a heroic and terrific save by Michael Waltrip, as he cuts in front of Marcos Ambrose, who taps Waltrip's behind in a show of man love for his team mate and boss. Waltrip misses the outside wall, then shoots into the infield and misses the inside wall as well. With a show of some uncharacteristically great driving, Waltrip hits nothing, and his car comes out unscathed.

On lap 46 Kyle Busch leads the field at the restart, followed by Brad Keselowski, Jimmie Johnson, Casey Mears--who recovered nicely from the Big One--and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. Jeff Burton's crew changed his alternator, and he is scored two laps down. Joonyer takes the lead on lap 48, and Matt Kenseth takes the lead on lap 50. Kevin Harvick returned to the race on lap 49, but returns to the pits on lap 54, being unable to maintain a reasonable speed. Dale Jr retakes the lead on lap 53, and by lap 57 everyone has settled into single file behind him. That relatively safe condition lasts only a short while, however, as Kurt Busch loses control and takes an excursion through the infield that is very similar to the one taken by Waltrip earlier. The caution flies on lap 60.

The restart is on lap 64, with Martin Truex, Jr leading, Sadler second, Dale Jr third, and Kyle Busch fourth. Those four cars break away from the field, and the field is mostly single file. Hamlin and Kenthis--DW has taken elocution lessons from Rusty Wallace, and has learned not to call Matt Kenseth "Kensis"--form a line of four cars on the inside.

Hamlin takes the lead on lap 75, then loses it as Montoya moves out of his draft, and gets bumped to the lead by Dale Earnhardt, Jr on lap 77. Earnhardt, Hamlin, and Montoya all trade the lead,.with Hamlin prevailing on lap 80. On lap 82, while the field is going four wide, Dale Jr and Brad Keselowski avoid disaster, as both fall below the yellow line, trying to avoid each other. Jr makes it back in the same general position he held, but Keselowski falls to the rear of the pack. On lap 83 Sam "How 'Bout That?" Hornish takes the lead. How 'bout that?

On lap 86, there is a caution for debris on the backstretch. Paul Menard takes the lead by staying out while everyone else pits, and leads the restart on lap 88. He is followed by Denny Hamlin, Elliott Sadler, Joey Logano, and David Reutimann. Hamlin takes the lead on the next lap.

At the halfway point, things have settled down a bit. Jeff Burton got the free pass on the last caution and is now only one lap down. Since he is the only car one lap down, the next caution will put him back on the lead lap. On lap 103 the top five are Hamlin, Reutimann, Stremme, Vickers, and Sorenson. There are 33 cars on the lead lap, with Carl Edwards and John Andretti bringing up the rear of the field. 49 laps back, Kevin Harvick and Jeff Gordon are racing for the 37th position.

On lap 111, the inside line is formed by Dale Jr, Jeff Burton, and Matt Kensis, Kenthis, or Kenseth. Jr takes the lead with Burton in his draft. They gain a gap on the rest of the field. On lap 114, disaster is narrowly avoided by Reed Sorenson as he cuts a tire and makes it safely to the pits, with no accidents and no caution. Martin Truex, Jr takes the lead. Joey Logano momentarily takes the lead on lap 117, but Truex gets it back. Vickers gets the lead on lap 121, and it looks like we may have a green flag pit cycle for the first time in the race. Caution on lap 124, and Burton is back on the lead lap. He raced his way back to that lap, so Paul Menard gets a lap back.

Kyle Busch gets out of the pits ahead of Jimmie Johnson, while Carl Edwards leads a lap by staying out. Jeremy Mayfield also stays out and is in second. Hey, we almost forgot the #41 car was in the race, but there he is and he has stayed on the lead lap the entire time, so far. Those guys pit, and on lap 127, Kyle Busch leads the field at the restart, followed by Jimmie Johnson, Martin Truex, Jr, Dale Earnhardt, Jr, and Brian Vickers.

Man it is fun to watch The Most Hated Driver in the lead at a restrictor plate race. He is constantly moving up and down the track to keep the others behind him. Then they settle into three wide. Michael Waltrip has made it into fifth. Kyle Busch is on the inside line, and Denny Hamlin is on the outside, with David Ragan in the middle. Busch thrills us with some more three-wide driving, and Keselowski pushes Elliott Sadler into the lead on lap 134. That three wide racing that Kyle Busch does by himself never seems to work out well in the long run. At some point, he has to let someone by, as he is elsewhere.

Kurt Busch takes the lead on lap 137, Denny Hamlin on lap 140, Casey Mears on lap 141. Jeff Burton--who, remember, was three laps down after electrical problems--takes the lead on lap 143, with help from Dale Jr, then Jr passes him in the middle and takes the lead. Kurt Busch momentarily takes the lead, but Jr gets it back as a caution for debris flies on lap 146.

During what could be "The Money Stop," there were several different strategies in play. The restart is on lap 150, with Kurt Busch in the lead, Sam Hornish, Jr. second, Casey Mears third, Montoya fourth, and--check this out--Da Biff is fifth.

On lap 151, Kyle Busch, Tony Stewart, and Dale Earnhardt, Jr move the inside line from mid-pack to the front, and on lap 154, Dale Earnhardt, Jr pushes Kyle Busch to the lead. Did you see that, Junior Nation? Don't panic, Jr knows what he is doing.

On lap 157, as if to let the tension and expectations grow slowly, the entire field is in single file. The top five is Kyle Busch, Dale Earnhardt, Jr, Jimmie Johnson, and Brian Vickers.

Kenseth is making a move on lap 168, on the inside, with Dale Earnhardt, Jr in his draft. He takes the lead on lap 169, then Kyle gets it back, much to his detriment. You know how Jeff Burton would never spin someone on purpose? Kyle must have really made him mad, as he spins from a bump by Burton. It took a long time for him to spin--he almost saved it, while Truex spun while the cars in front of him checked up, but, Busch finally spun out in turn three, bringing out the caution on lap 172.

Kenseth leads the restart on lap 175, with Earnhardt, Jr second, Burton third, Kurt Busch fourth, and Joey Logano. On lap 177, Denny Hamlin pushes Ryan Newman to the front of the field. They speed into the lead, and build a gap. As we know, gaps close quickly in restrictor plate racing.

Just when you think things might be over, it isn't. In the fashion of a classic horror film, action in the midfield of the pack results in Denny Hamlin making contact with Juan Montoya, Montoya making contact with Robby Gordon, and the Big One--Part Deaux happens. Jimmie Johnson's car is one of the ones that gets taken out of the race because of the wreck. "It sucks racing here," the disappointed reigning champion declares. For him, certainly, he had a chance to take the points lead, and that chance got brutally taken away.

The most important restart in the race comes with four laps to go. We have to stop typing to watch. We will stop to groan as Tony Stewart's #14 car, trying to restart in eighth, fails to restart.

With two laps to go, it is almost exactly like the finish of yesterday's race, with Newman leading and Jr pushing him around the track. But on turn one of the white flag lap, Carl Edwards, with Brad Keselowski's help takes the lead on the outside. Newman and Jr can't catch them. Going into the tri-oval, Keselowski fakes to the outside, and Edwards moves up to block. Keselowski takes the inside, and is moving forward as Edwards tries to come back to the inside. Keselowski is already there, and Edwards makes contact with the '09 car with his left rear quarter panel. This sends Edwards spinning and airborne. The flying #99 car flies across the hood of Newman's car, taking all the body work off the front of the #39. Edwards car hits the catchfence, spewing debris in all directions, and falls back to the track.

Thankfully, Edwards isn't hurt, and he gets out of his car and runs across the finish line to finish the race. But Keselowski is the winner, the eighth driver in NASCAR history to get his first career victory at Talladega.

Dale Earnhardt, Jr finished second, after an incredibly good race, and Newman managed to get his wrecked car across the finish line in third. Marcos Ambrose finished fourth, and Scott Speed got his first Sprint Cup top five finish in fifth. Kurt Busch, Greg Biffle, Brian Vickers, Joey Logano, and Jeff Burton round out the top ten.

Kyle Busch negates any good will he may have gained recently by bumping Keselowski while he is performing his victory celebration. He couldn't find Jeff Burton, so he went for the first black painted car he could find. Actually, according to the Fox Sports Booth Bunnies, Keselowski drove up to Kyle's car in celebration and got bumped. I was busy typing, and didn't see what happened, so I will leave it up to the reader to decide what happened, if it is really that important.

This was truley a unique race with an amazing finish. There was no way we could have guessed the outcome of the race until the final 100 feet. Wow.

Update: Reports are that 8 fans in the grandstands were injured by flying debris, but none were seriously injured.

Kyle Busch was minding his own business on the cool down lap, when the victorious Keselowski spun into him while doing donuts.

And Digger seems to be okay.

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