Sunday, May 31, 2009

The CC Shuffle

There has been no news out of the Roush-Fenway camp that there are plans to swap out the crew chief for the 99 car, driven by Carl Edwards. It is likely that there will be no such news, even though Edwards is not living up to the expectations that he earned by being the winningest driver in the Sprint Cup Series last year. His crew chief, Bob Osborne, was switched to another team in 2007, and Edwards had a lackluster season that year, but with Osborne back in 2008, he had a stellar season. Deep in a twelve race slump this year, it is not expected that there will be any changes to the #99 team as far as the driver or the crew chief is concerned.

In NASCAR racing, it is somewhat difficult to put a finger on what may cause a slump in a team's performance. When there is a continuing slump some change has to be made, and often it is the crew chief. who takes the responsibility, whether he deserves it or not. Richard Childress Racing recently swapped the crew chiefs for the #29 and #07 teams, hoping to spark something, or at least learn something. It is too soon to see the effect of the swap, but, so far, it has had the effect of bogging down the performence of the entire RCR camp. However, the swap will help the organization to pinpoint where their problems are.

Dale Earnhardt Incorporated tried switching the entire teams between the #8 and the # 15 cars in 2006, and the result was a disaster. Dale Earnhardt, Jr had had an impressive record up to that point, but, even after the teams were switched back for 2007, he has failed to achieve the level of performance he had prior to the switch.

Part of the problem could be that Junior has yet to get the hang of the still new Cup car, or COT, as the media continues to call it. They have only been in that car for a year, and many drivers have had a hard time adjusting to the handling characteristics--good drivers such as Earnhardt, Jr, Kevin Harvick, and Matt Kenseth. In fact, it seems that the drivers who made the trasistion best are drivers who drove USAC sprint cars, excelled in the Truck Series, or began their careers in modifieds--cars that don't have the downforce of the ARCA, Nationwide, or the former Cup aero-cars. Earnhardt, Jr has always been a stock car driver, and always during a time when the downforce is measured in thousands of pounds, rather than the mere hundreds of the COT.

This is not to say that the crew chief isn't important. Jimmie Johnson without Chad Knaus would likely be David Stremme--a very talented driver who has a knack for being where the trouble is while running in the pack. Chad Knaus has been very instrumenal in getting Johnson out of that kind of trouble, repairing the damage and set backs, and giving him the opportunity to win three, maybe even four, consecutive championships.

We are not saying that Tony Eury, Jr is not a good crew chief. Perhaps with some experience in other parts of the Hendrick organization, he will, some day, be right up there with Knaus, Zippadelli, or Osborne. However, even though he had a lot of chemisty with his cousin, Dale, Jr, it just doesn't seem like the right kind of chemistry for success.

With Lance McGrew coming on board as crew chief for the #88 team there is a new hope among the fans of Dale Earnhardt, Jr. It is a fresh start, that may change Junior's perspective, and hopefully get him back on track. To add to that hope, Kyle Busch talked some smack on Junior at a press conference on Friday, Darrell Waltrip style. That publicity stunt fired up the rivalry, fired up the fans, and should fire up Junior. Kylr Busch wants Junior to prove him wrong. Dale Jr isn't only popular among the fans, he is also very well liked among the other drivers, including Busch. They want to see him back to his winning ways as much as his fans do. Perhaps he will respond to Busch's smackdown with a renewed "I'll show you" attitude.

We can't expect immediate results, but we should see some change in the momentum of the #88 team from negative to positive. NASCAR racing is a team effort, and with the excitement of a new "coach" and team support, we should see an attitude of renewed hope. The fans are encouraged, and, in the near future, we should see some encouraging performance from the sports most popular driver.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The Much Delayed Live on Type Delay: The World 600

This item is being posted 24 hours after it was originally intended to be posted. We hope that the reader can find something enjoyable and/or interesting here, even though it is late.

There is a strong belief in Colorado that this is "God's Country." It must be, because whenever it rains in Colorado Springs, it seems like it rains wherever the Sprint Cup race is being held. It rained all day in Colorado Springs on Sunday, canceling much of the annual Territory Days celebration in Old Colorado City, and it rained all day in Charlotte North Carolina, postponing the World 600 until today. It snowed in in Colorado Springs while the Daytona 500 was running, as well, and that race got rain shortened, as did the race at Atlanta, on another rainy day in Colorado.

As NASCAR's longest race (in miles) begins in Charlotte today, periodic thunderstorms are forecast for Colorado Springs, just as they are in Charlotte. The outlook is not good for the race to run the full 600 miles, so we will likely see many teams racing for the 300 mile mark--the point at which the race would become official if rain were to stop the event early.

It does no good to complain about the weather. NASCAR will try to present the entire show, but the rain trumps everything.

Ryan Newman chose the outside lane to start the race, and gets a good jump on Kyle Busch at the drop of the green flag, but Busch gets by him on the third lap. Gordon started third and is falling back. We have a sprinkling of rain on lap 8 and the race goes under caution.

Kevin Harvick cuts a tire on lap 18, hits the wall, and the second caution of the race comes out. Kyle Busch leads the field at the restart on lap 22. There is some good racing going on back in the field, with constant change going on in the top five and top ten positions. Jimmie Johnson moves into the top five on lap 30. When the scheduled competition caution occurs after lap 40, all the lead lap cars, except for Tony Raines, pit. Several of the leaders take only two tires, and Johnson is the first out of the pits, and assumes the lead. After six laps, Kyle Busch regains the lead.

Again, we see some good racing for position in the top ten. But, on lap 70, the rain once again halts the race. This time, the rain is heavy enough to let NASCAR make the decision to display the red flag.

The booth bunnies are using the red flag time to present their "report cards" on the various teams involved in the Sprint Cup. Darrell Waltrip wants to lump Stewart-Haas Racing with Hendrick Motorsports in determining the grade, because SHR uses Hendrick engines and chassis. I don't remember him wanting to consider Haas CNC as part of Hendrick last year, when they were using Hendrick engines and chassis, but were running in the rear of the top thirty-five in points. The grading is based on uncertain criteria, so we don't really need to accept this segment as a legitimate critique. The good news is that, after next week's race at Dover, no more Digger, as NASCAR Sprint Cup coverage will be handed over to TNT, with it's superior camera technology and inferior reporting.

During green flag runs, there is a lot of good side by side racing, and there are actually green flag lead changes, as Brian Vickers passes Kyle Busch, Busch passes Vickers, and Vickers passes Busch. There is a moving tribute after lap 165, when the race is stopped for a Memorial Day moment of silence for those who have given everything they had for their country. The race is not restarted after that, due to rain.

During this rain delay, there is an incident on pit road in which Tony Stewart is explaining to David Reutimann why the #00 car has so many tire doughnuts on its left side--marks made from contact with other cars that nearly obliterate the white double-doughnuts that signify the car's number. It seems that Reutimann, who had been running in the top five for most of the recent race, was losing the handling in his car and was falling back. Rather than give the faster cars room to pass him, he made them race him in order to gain a position from him. Every driver who passed him thanked him for the challenge by giving him a nudge to the side panel as they passed, thus leaving the distinctive "doughnut" badge on the left side of his car. A younger, brasher Stewart would have put him in the wall, but Tony apparently decided it would be better to talk to him about it when he got the chance.

Stewart had no reason to believe that the race would be rain shortened, so he thought it was way too early to be racing like that, and using up his car to pass slower traffic. He talked to Reutimann, letting him know that there was plenty of time left in the race, and that Reutimann didn't need to be racing for position as he was falling back in the field at this point. That type of racing, Stewart said, was for the final laps of the race, after the car was set up to be competitive at the end.

The conversation seemed amiable enough, but a crew member on the 00 team decided he needed to get involved. "Billy Baddbutt," as Stewart and Fox Sports identified the crew member, took umbrage at the fact that Stewart was telling his driver how to race. He mocked Stewart by "kissing the ground he walked on."

That was as far as the conversation got, as we know it. Without being judgemental, we must note that Stewart received similar advice from his mentors and idols, AJ Foytt and Dale Earnhardt, and he has made it clear several times in the past that he would give advice to other drivers when he was in the position to do so. Some drivers, such as David Ragan, Denny Hamlin, and Greg Biffle, resented it at first, then, as time went on expressed their appreciation for Stewart's help. Time will tell if any of Stewart's advice affects Reutimann's career. For this race, as it turns out, David "Doughnuts" Reutimann didn't need Tony's advice.

When the race restarts on lap 180, the top five are Kyle Busch, Kasey Kahne, Jimmie Johnson, Carl Edwards, and Juan Pablo Montoya. Montoya looks strong, and pulls up to second place. He is gaining on Busch when the rain interferes again, and the caution flies again on lap 221. Most of the leaders pit, but Doughnuts stays out, and takes the lead. As the red flag stops the race on lap 228, the top five are David "Doughnuts" Reutimann, Ryan Newman, Robby Gordon, Carl Edwards, and Brian Vickers. The rain continues to fall, in Charlotte, and in Colorado Springs.

Several hours later, the race is called, and that is how it ends. David Reutimann gets his first Sprint Cup victory of his career. Newman is second, Gordon third, Edwards fourth, and Vickers fifth. It is also the first Cup victory for Michael Waltrip Racing, and for a Toyota team that is not associated with Joe Gibbs Racing.

A rain shortened race is always a disappointment, especially after all the hype and build up to the World 600. But it is a race, and the results are official. The teams that stayed out took a gamble, and it paid off. We knew it was only a matter of time before Reutimann won a race this season, and the time was now. Although we would have liked to have seen a wheel to wheel race to the finish, we must congratulate David "Doughnuts" Reutimann on his first Cup victory, and we must also congratulate Robby Gordon for his much needed top five finish.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

What if the Championship were determined by race wins?

What if NASCAR's schedule and Cup Championship consisted of thirty-six races where winning the race is the only way to gain Championship points? This suggestion has been discussed on the Internet since the season began this year, and has been taken up by some on-line journalists, such as's Terry Blount. The idea is that if winning was all that counted, the racing would be more intense, and there would be no reason to hang back to protect points standings.

But would the racing be better? How many teams that are presently participating at the Cup level afford to participate in an entire season of "Checkers or Wreckers?" Who would want to be in the lead on the last lap with a pack of hungry racers on his rear bumper? More importantly, how often would the winner of the race be determined by a penalty based on a judgement call by a race official?

The problem of teams entering just for the prize money would not be solved, unless the purse was "winner take all." If that were the case, there would be few teams willing to participate. The number of regulars in the field would likely shrink from the thirty-nine Cup regulars we have now, to twenty or fewer. The teams that are underfunded now, relative to "the big four," would be even more underfunded, and there would be no reason for them to compete if they don't have the equipment to win.

In NASCAR, part of the challenge to the driver in any race is in negotiating lapped traffic, and, with a field of twenty or so, the lapped traffic would be sparse, if not absent. The purse in a checkers or wreckers type race would have to be disbursed pretty much the same as it is now, if there was to be a full field.

There would be no guarantee of better racing in a checkers or wreckers race. In a 334 lap race, the first 270 laps would be the same chess game it is now, with the drivers and teams testing their cars, saving their engines and brakes, and finding the best set up for the final sprint to the finish. There would be no point in going all out in the early part of the race, and risking a blown engine, worn out brakes, or a broken gear box. We would likely see one car pulling an eight to ten second lead for most of the early race while the other teams half-heartedly battle for position, hoping for a caution, or maybe hoping that a team mate, with nothing to lose, will take out the leader while racing to stay on the lead lap. With no points at stake, lapped traffic would have no reason to continue in the race as the laps wind down, unless there is the chance that all the cars on the lead lap will wreck, of course.

That is one reason why a checkers or wreckers series would be more expensive for participants than it is now. Repairing a NASCAR racing car after a wreck is very expensive, and one thing an all or nothing situation will produce is plenty of wrecks. It would be safe to say that we would see plenty of situations in the final laps as we did at this year's All Star Challenge--where, with eight laps to go, Ryan Newman, Kyle Busch, and Jeff Gordon all went into a turn three abreast, and none came out with a car capable of winning the race. All three of them went into that turn with nothing to lose, and everything to gain. It was exciting, for sure, but it really wasn't great racing. It was, however, great and expensive demolition derby.

The leader with five laps to go would be very lucky to be the winner of the race, unless he was so far ahead of the field that nobody could reach him. That would be unlikely, as the cautions and restarts would be frequent, as drivers back in the field give it their all to get into a position where they, theoretically, at least, could catch the leader. That leader would have a big target on his rear bumper, and no driver will have second thoughts about using the chrome horn to get him loose, or move him up the track a little, when winning is all that matters. Of course, there is always the chance that the first car to cross the finish line will be black flagged for rough driving.

So where is the fine line between a legitimate bump and run and a bump and dump that earns a black flag? Any driver will tell the press and the race officials, "I didn't mean to wreck him," after he makes contact and takes the lead. When the winner of the race is determined by a judgement call by a race official, that is not better racing. If no contact at all is allowed, then we are back to the follow-the-leader type race that so many race fans claim to find "boring."

Another situation that would come out of a checkers or wreckers series would be that many top drivers would be absent from some of the races. In 1974, David Pearson only ran in nineteen of the thirty races, and finished the season third in points. He participated only in races where he knew he would have a good chance to win. We would see the same thing in a checkers or wreckers championship. Why risk a season or career ending injury at a track where the driver has had no success, when that driver knows he could win races at tracks at which he has excelled in the past? A driver who has a two or three race lead early in the season would be likely to skip a few races during the remainder of the season, racing only at those tracks where he feels he has a good chance of winning.

Aside from that, there is the possibility that the championship could be determined with several races left on the schedule. There would be no need for the champion who is six races ahead of everyone else to finish the season with five races to go. The rest of the field would be racing for a top ten position in the final standings, and drivers and teams who have no wins would only be there to act as blockers for a team mate, perhaps. For most race fans, the novelty of a demolition derby wore off by the time we graduated from high school, so, instead of an exciting finish to a season, we would likely see a big fizzle.

As with most of these bright ideas that get thrown around in cyberspace, it would be unlikely that such a series would be a success. In forums, blogs, and sports network sites, fans and journalists bemoaned the fact that Rockingham no longer had racing, but when ARCA brought a race to Rockingham, only about three thousand fans showed up initially, and then only 300 fans showed up for the second ARCA race there. And then there are the calls for NASCAR to make the Nationwide Series a replication of the ARCA Series, by banning Cup drivers from racing in that series, and re-defining the Nationwide Series as a ladder series for novice drivers only. We could see that as being a huge success among race fans.....yeah, right!

NASCAR Cup racing is a championship series that requires a test of both drivers and teams, in races of marathon proportion. In other words, the championship not only depends on a driver's skill, but on the skills of the mechanics, engineers, and pit crews on the team. Winning a race is not the only measure of these skills, though it is important. Winning could be, as Terry Blount suggests, be made more important by adding more points to the race winner's score, rather than creating an all or nothing competition. It might make for better competition if the award for winning were raised to 200 points, while keeping the remainder of the points awards the same as they are now. In addition, NASCAR could add an extra ten bonus points to the Chase standings, beyond the bonus points that are already in place for each regular season win. This would make it more difficult to protect points by settling for a top ten finish,and should create a more aggressive form of racing among the top teams. But it would still award consistency to a point, and still give an opportunity for the championship to be determined at the very end of the season. Most importantly, we would still see racing, rather than a series of wreckfests. If we want to see a wreckfest, we can always go to the demolition derby at our local track.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Pass the salt, please

I was in denial at the end of the 2008 NASCAR season. I was among the many who couldn't believe that Tony Stewart would give up a successful career with Joe Gibbs Racing for anything other than retirement. When that concept finally sank in, I found myself among the many who thought it would take a long time for Stewart-Haas Racing to build to a level at which it could be competitive among the strong teams that run in the NASCAR Sprint Cup series.

I am happy to admit how wrong I was. Stewart's #14 team came out of the box strong, with three eighth-place finishes in the first four races. In the last six points races, Stewart has finished in the top five five times. He is currently second in the points standings, 29 points out of the lead.

Stewart's team mate Ryan Newman got off on a rocky start to the season, but has shown steady improvement over the last seven races, with three top fives in the last three points races.

It has become pretty much a given that SHR will see at least one victory in the near future, as both drivers from that team come closer to winning with each race. So we had to eat crow and develop a liking for consuming the proverbial dirty bird. There will be no complaints about it from this writer, anyway.

To date, Stewart-Haas Racing's finest hour was Saturday night's NASCAR Sprint Cup All Star Challenge. Ryan Newman's car developed serious suspension problems in the second segment, and it was only an act of generosity on segment leader Jimmie Johnson's part that kept him from going two laps down. Thanks to the "Lucky Dawg" free pass, Newman was able to start the third segment on the lead lap.His car had been repaired, and he was able to hold his own during that segment. Two laps into the final "Shootout" ten lap segment, Busch, Newman, and Gordon entered turn three, battling for the lead. Newman moved to the outside of Busch, and Gordon to the inside, putting the three cars side by side. The racing area seems to compress coming out of turn four, and where there were three cars, there was only room for two. Somebody would have to lift off of the accelerator, but who would do that when one million dollars was at stake? The answer was, nobody.

Kyle Busch, seeing Gordon drifting up the track, faces a choice--he could give Gordon room, which would mean drifting up into Newman, who is not in a position to give any more room since he is already against the wall. Running into Newman would likely be worse than running into Gordon, because running into Newman would likely result in both of them wrecking and giving Gordon the lead. Making contact with Gordon would be the better choice, because there would be more room to move.

Of course, this complicated thought process is not what goes through a driver's mind while such a situation is developing at 185 mph. Natural talent, experience, and skill combine to create an instinctive reaction that occurs faster than the speed of thought. If anything crossed the mind of any of the three drivers, it was "Somebody has to let up, and I'm going to be the one to make them do it."

Three gunfighters at the shootout, and all three of them go for their guns at the same instant. As Gordon moves up, Busch moves down, and the two make contact. The rebound knocks Busch into Newman, and both slap the outside wall, while Gordon spins through the infield. It almost looks as though Gordon is going to save it, but his car travels back up the track and nose-first into the wall, bringing out the caution.

After the clean up, the survivors line up according to the position they were in at the last completed lap. So, it is Kenseth first, Newman second, Kyle Busch third, and Tony Stewart fourth. But Newman recieved enough damage to his car from hitting the wall that he has to drop out of the race, while Kenseth and Busch battle for the lead. Stewart follows them warily as the laps count down. The chess game of playing the inner groove against the outer groove continues, until Kenseth finally gets the upper hand and clears Kyle Busch. Stewart makes his move, and gets past Busch while hugging the bottom, with five laps to go. It's another chess match, and Stewart gains on Kenseth, still taking the bottom. The lead changes twice during the lap, and Kenseth retains the lead out of turn four, but Stewart has the faster car, so Kenseth takes the line Stewart is using. Another lap counts down. To turn three again, and Kenseth can't hold his car on the bottom and keep his speed up at the same time. Stewart slips below him and takes the lead.

The final two laps seem to take forever, but Stewart leads them both and wins. Victory is sweet. It's only a non points race, but it feels like Smoke just won the championship. This is his first victory as an owner/driver. It is also the first All Star victory by an owner/driver since Geoffrey Bodine won in 1994. And, if I am not mistaken, it is the first victory ever for the Haas organization at the Cup level.

We should have known that Tony Stewart can do anything that people tell him he can't do. We should have seen that he is a good organization builder, and he knows how to get the right people and put them in the right place. But we had our lapse of faith and were proven wrong.

I am glad that I have the opportunity to admit I was wrong, and now I am happy to eat my words. Pass the salt, please.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Accidental Substance Abuse policy violations can't be excused

After it was announced, Saturday, that Jeremy Mayfield--the owner and driver for the #41 Sprint Cup team--would be suspended indefinitely for violating NASCAR's Substance Abuse Policy, , Mayfield issued a statement that implied the violation may have been accidental:

“As both a team owner and a driver in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, I have immense respect for the enforcement policies NASCAR has in place. In my case, I believe that the combination of a prescribed medicine and an over the counter medicine reacted together and resulted in a positive drug test. My Doctor and I are working with both Dr. Black and NASCAR to resolve this matter."(AP newswire via Jayski's)

Although an accidental abuse of a substance can not be excused by NASCAR in dealing with its Substance Abuse policy, it goes to show how careful one must be when working in an environment that requires the person to avoid substances which could affect his or her ability to perform the duties required. A NASCAR driver or crew member under the influence of alcohol or other debilitating substance presents a danger to all other participants on the track. Furthermore, we expect that most experienced drivers, including Jeremy Mayfield, would not knowingly consume a substance that would impair their ability or reflexes on the track. There have been exceptions, such as Shane Hmiel, Taylor Walker, Aaron Fyke, and the late Kevin Grubb, and they are what brought us to the current NASCAR policy. I would not put Mayfield in that category, though we can't be certain that he isn't in the same category until we see what the conditions are for his reinstatement, if that information is released publicly.

Mayfield's error was allegedly in performing actions that many of us take as every day behavior.

If Jeff Gordon were taking medication for his back pain, would we expect him to race? If Matt Kenseth were to take an over the counter medication containing ephedrine, should he be allowed to race? What if Dale Earnhardt, Jr tested positive for marijuana, would NASCAR look the other way? Absolutely not, and if any if those drivers tested positive for any banned substances, they would certainly be suspended as well--no matter what their monetary value to NASCAR--wouldn't they?

Note that Mayfield did not deny use of a banned substance, nor did he criticize NASCAR's policy. He knows that NASCAR must stand by its policy, without prejudice or bias, and has agreed with the action taken against him. We do not know what the substance for which he tested positive is, nor do we know what his prescription contained, or how it may have reacted with an over the counter product, but we do know that there are many over the counter medications and other products that contain substances listed in the following overview of NASCAR's banned substances:

- Seven different amphetamines, including methamphetamine and PMA, a synthetic psychostimulant and hallucinogen.
- Three drugs classified under
- 13 different
narcotics, including codeine and morphine.
- Ten different benzodiazepines and barbituates.
- Marijuana, cocaine, zolpidem,
nitrites, chromates and drugs that can increase specific gravity. (from the Jayski's page cited above)

Ephedrine is found in many over-the-counter cold and flu medications. Ephedrine is also an ingredient in some sports or energy drinks.

Narcotics can be found in many prescription drugs used to treat pain, pneunoma or severe flu symptoms. It should also be noted, as researched by, that certain bakery goods can also result in positive results for opiates. 

"Opiates (morphine and codeine) can be detected in urine for at least 48 hours after one eats food containing poppy seeds. As little as a single bagel covered with poppy seeds could produce a false positive for these drugs."

Be careful, Tony Stewart.

Nitrites, particularly sodium nitrite, can be found in Slim Jims, processed beef jerky, smoked meat products, and lunchmeats when used as a preservative and food coloring. In other words, Elliott Sadler could get banned from racing because of his love for bologna burgers. It's okay for Jeff Hammond to eat a bunch of Martinsville hot dogs, but we have noted that the drivers wisely avoid them.

As easy as it seems to accidentally commit a violation, the drug policy requires that a driver or crew member should not lead a life that contains elements that most of us take for granted. Jimmie Johnson should get banned for eating a Johnsonville Brat as easily as Mayfield could for taking asthma medication and smoking a cigarette afterward.

Live on Type Delay: The Southern 500

NASCAR tried to upstage itself by announcing, just an hour before the race at Darlington, that Jeremy Mayfield and two of his crew members have been suspended indefinitely from participation in NASCAR due to a violation of NASCAR's substance abuse policy. We are currently researching this story, and it will follow in another post. But first, more important things--the race.

How can anyone not like the racing we see at Darlington? The unique layout of NASCAR's first superspeedway offers a tough challenge for the drivers, and great racing for the spectators. The Lady in Black is not Lady Luck, and even if she likes you, she will hurt you. Yes, she's a sadistic beyatch.

It's scary going into those first two turns from the green flag, because the cars are still two wide, and there is only room for one lane coming out of turn two. But the cars make it around the first lap safely, and the leaders are pole sitter Matt Kenseth, who took off like a rocket, Jeff Gordon, "Suddenly Sam" Hornish, Jr, Ryan Newman and Joey Logano. But, on lap three, Scott Speed, substituting for Joe Nemecheck in the 87 car, gets into Max Papis in turn one and brings out the caution.

Restart on lap seven, and it's a little safer now because the cars are in single file. Robby Gordon has a tire going down on lap 9, but can't make it into the pits and has to go around the track again, slowly. Still no caution.

Lap 17, and Jeff Gordon passes on the inside of Kenseth, at the end of the backstretch, and takes the lead. Caution during the commercial, of course, on lap 21 when Michael Waltrip spins himself. Several of the leaders pit, but Jimmie Johnson, who started way back in position 43 after going to a back up car stays out and takes the lead. David "Cinderella" Gilliland also stays out and is in second. Nope, Gilliland is having trouble and takes his car to the garage. Ryan Newman is the first car out of the pits and will restart second. Restart on lap 24, and Ryan Newman takes the lead.

Shouldn't that be "Cinderello" Gilliland, or maybe "Cinderell" or "Cinderlou?"

Trouble in turn two again, as many cars racing for position further back in the field become too many cars in the same spot, on lap 30. Brian Vickers barely avoids disaster when he gets bumped by Casey Mears. Mears doesn't escape as there is an accordian effect behind him and he collects Denny Hamlin and AJ Allmendinger. David Stremme manages to get by without a scratch. Mears to the garage, Hamlin and Allmendinger stay out.

Carl Edwards needed something very badly for his car, and makes two pit stops while pit road is closed. His car must be bad, as in not good, but he is willing to take the penalty of starting at the back of the longest line.

Restart on lap 37. Newman brings the field to the green flag, followed by Johnson, Kahne, Biffle, and Kenseth Jeff Gordon finds his way to the top five, passing Kenseth for fifth on lap 40, then moves into fourth after passing Greg Biffle on lap 46.

We see a great battle for the lead on lap 47, as Johnson threatens Newman's position and brings Kahne along with him. But Newman holds the lead. Brian Vickers is moving up, but then seems to have a tire going down, and starts falling back again.

Kasey Kahne takes the lead on lap 71. Johnson has to pit on lap 75--while the race is still under green--because he stayed out during the caution on lap 30, and needs fuel.

Scary visual on lap 77 as Michael Waltrip's car literally detonates. Flames everywhere, but the fire is under the car, and Waltrip gets his car safely to his pit and exits the car--safely. Since everyone is safe we can say how cool it was to see a car blow up in a night race. Wow.

The clean up takes a while, and the pits aren't open until lap 82. Restart will be on lap 85 with Kasey Kahne in the lead and Martin Truex, Jr second. Tony Stewart has made his way up from his eighteenth position starting spot, and is in sixth, racing his team mate Ryan Newman for fifth. Johnson restarted on the end of the lead lap, which was in front of the leaders, and falls a lap down as Kahne passes him.

Martin Truex, Jr has been trying several times for the lead and finally passes Kahne on lap 116. Jeff Gordon, meanwhile, has reported a vibration and pits, going a lap down. Tony Stewart has moved into third. then gets passed by Biffle on lap 117. On lap 118, Sam Hornish, Jr spins, but doesn't hit anything. The caution comes out anyway, and Johnson gets the free pass.

All the lead lap cars pit, and Bobby Labonte stays out to lead a lap. Biffle is the first off of pit road, and Tony Stewart gains two spots in the pits and comes off second. Truex, Kenseth, and Kahne follow them. Restart on lap 124. Biffle gets a good start and takes off like a rocket. By lap 138, Biffle has increased his lead margin to 6.2 seconds.

Kasey Kahne passes Stewart for second on lap 142, but he is still wa-a-a-ay behind Biffle. I think we should forget about the lead for now, as, by lap 150, Biffle leads the field by eight seconds. Wow again. And, as similar as his style is to Kyle Busch's, he's doing it without hitting the walls.

Lap 160, and that lead is gone, because the caution comes out after David Ragan turns Denny Hamlin around while passing him. Again Biffle takes the lead from the pits, but Tony Stewart's team gains him another spot, and he exits in second. Restart on lap 165 with Da Biff in the lead, Stewart second, Kahne third, Truex fourth, and Jamie McMurray fifth. Mark Martin had to come back to pit road for a missing lug nut. Elliott Sadler got the free pass and is back on the lead lap.

All through this race we have been seeing some good side by side racing throughout the pack, but haven't been able to keep up with it. Ryan Newman has raced his way back into the top five by lap 167. Further back, David Ragan and Denny Hamlin are still causing problems for each other. Temper, temper.

Harvick has made his way up to eleventh, and Brad Keselowski is running twelth.

David Ragan spins as he bumps Jimmie Johnson, and brings out the caution on lap 185. Brian Vickers, who, on lap 118 was almost two laps down, gets the free pass and is now on the lead lap.
All the lead lap cars pit, and the first thirteen off of pit road only took two tires. At the restart, on lap 190, the top five are Biffle, Truex, McMurray, Kyle Busch, and David Reutimann. They make it six laps before Ragan wrecks again. This time a cut tire put him into the wall. David Stremme gets the free pass, then gets held a lap for speeding on pit road.

At the restart on lap 201, it's Biffle, Truex, McMurray, Kyle Busch, and Reutimann. These restarts are getting scary, as there are two lines of cars going all the way around the track for a lap or two, and, as mentioned before, the Lady in Black does not have room for two lines of cars in her turns.

On lap 205, Kasey Kahne and David Stremme make contact, and Kahne has to pit with a cut tire. On 208, Logano is trying to break into the top five, racing Reutimann for that spot. On lap 213, Jeff Gordon beats Bobby Labonte in the race to be the first car one lap down. Just in time, too, because the caution comes out on lap 214, after Kurt Busch hits the wall and spins. More tire strategy shuffles the top ten. At the restart on lap 220, the order is Martin Truex, Jr, Kyle Busch, Jamie McMurray, Elliott Sadler, and Tony Stewart.

On lap 222, AJ Allmendinger and Clint Bowyer hit each other, and Bowyer spins to the inside wall, then to the outside, smashing up his car pretty well. It kind of has that AMC Gremlin look to it.

Dale Earnhardt, Jr, who has stayed on the lead lap through the race so far, has to start at the tail end of the lead lap because of a tire rolling out of the pit box violation.

Green flag on lap 226, and it's Truex, Kyle Busch, McMurray, Stewart, and Sadler in the top five. Then there is a bottleneck in turn 2 on lap 228, as Reutimann gets into the wall and loses something off of his car. He slows quickly, and the field somehow misses him as he tries to get to pit road. He can't get there, but there is no caution.

Greg Biffle races his way back into the top five on lap 238, passing Sadler for the fifth position. His car still looks like the best car in the field. The next caution is for debris on lap 249.The field again gets shuffled due to tire strategy. Biffle retakes the lead off of pit road, followed by Logano, Newman, Kenseth, and Martin. Restart on lap 253.

On lap 257, weird. See lap 228. This time Reutimann makes pit road safely. No caution.

Last year's winner will not win this year. Kyle Busch cuts a tire on lap 273 and hits the wall in turn 1. The race stays green, but Kyle has to take his car to the garage, as he has no brakes. But we get a caution on lap 275, when Jamie McMurray cuts a tire and hits the wall.

Joey Logano is the first car out of the pits, and will lead the race to the restart. On lap 281, it's Logano, Newman, Stewart, Jeff Gordon, and Martin Truex, Jr. On lap 283, Greg Biffle clips Carl Edwards in the rear, Edwards gets into the wall, can't make it to the pits, and the caution once again comes out. Edwards then incurs a one lap penalty for making a u-turn into the pits.

Joey Logano held on to the lead, and the front five on lap 287 are Logano, Newman, Stewart, Gordon, and Truex. After the restart, Biffle is moving up to sixth. Hornish makes contact with Martin on lap 290, and spins the entire way down the front stretch. But he saves it, and there is no caution. On lap 291, Biffle passes Truex, and Da Biff is fifth.

But not for long. On lap 295, Da Biff spins and hits the wall in turn four, bringing out the caution. I think it was psycic energy from Carl Edwards that caused it. Caution, and everyone but Kenseth and Truex pits. As the green flag waves at the end of lap 300, its Truex, Kenseth, Stewart, Harvick, and Jeff Gordon in the top five.

Stewart passes Kenseth for second, on lap 302, and Logano is racing Martin for sixth. He takes that position on lap 304. Nice pass. Student passes mentor. And here comes Jimmie Johnson. Again, we wonder, how does that guy have such a terrible time early in the race, and still be among the leaders toward the end of the race? Amazing. It must be magic.

Logano gets by Harvick on lap 309 and is back in the top five. Harvick falls back to eighth, Mark Martin moves up to sixth, and Johnson to seventh. On lap 316, Jeff Gordon has moved up to third. On lap 317, Hornish hits the wall, ending a good day, but the caution has yet to fly. Then, we get a caution for debris on lap 319.

More two-tire stops. Mark Martin, Jimmie Johnson, Ryan Newman, Brad Keselowski, Denny Hamlin, Elliott Sadler, and Dale Earnhardt, Jr all stay out. Green flag after lap 325. The top five are Martin, Johnson, Newman, Keselowski, and Hamlin. Tony Stewart has the first car out that took tires, and is in eighth.

On lap 327, Stewart has moved into fifth, and into third by lap 333. Jimmie Johnson is challenging Mark Martin for the lead, but can not close the deal. Caution on lap 342 when Dale Earnhardt, Jr spins. Restart on lap 250, with Martin first, Johnson second, Stewart third, Newman fourth, and Jeff Gordon is fifth. There is some fuel concern among the Martin and Johnson teams, but there may have been enough laps under caution to keep their mileage up enough to finish the race.

Mark makes a clean break on the restart and pulls ahead. Johnson gets up to his bumper a few times, then falls back. Both of the top two drivers are pulling ahead of Stewart, who is in third. The restart was single file, as it was with less than twenty laps to go, and there have been no position changes in the top ten. The laps count down, and once again we begin to feel excited for the old man of the current NASCAR Cup field. White flag, and Martin is still in the lead by a full two seconds. Halfway through the final lap, the leader realizes that he has nothing to sweat, even if he does run out of fuel.

Mark Martin holds off Jimmie Johnson and Tony Stewart to win the race, his second this year, and his first at Darlington. Ryan Newman and Jeff Gordon fill out the top five. The old Cheez cutter--his sponsor for this race was Cheez-it--still has it in him. How 'bout that?

There are lots of noteable finishes to this race. The fact that Johnson made it all the way up to a second place, after starting fourty-third and having a terrible time in the first part of the race is like old news--it happens all the time. Stewart-Haas finished third and fourth, which is still pretty good after the low expectations we had for this team, before the season began. It was Stewart's best Cup finish at Darlington. Brad Keselowski showed that his Talladega win may not have been a fluke, by finishing seventh, and Joey Logano got a top ten finish at Darlington, after leading laps, by finishing ninth.

There was not a dull moment in today's race, something that makes us continue to wonder--why two dull races at California every year and only one great one at Darlington? Maybe we are blessed in a way, because if there were more races like this one, we would be spoiled, and all the other races would seem dull. Strange logic? Maybe, but the Darlington International Speedway is a strange place. And, by the way, it is a full moon, after all.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Revvin' and Ramblin'

When the Busch (now Nationwide) Series was running at PPIR, I used to like to get there early, as in at the opening of the gates. I would either catch a ride with my dear friend Debra (still dear, but now, sadly departed) or with someone I knew who worked at the track. One year I hitch-hiked and caught a ride with the team engineer from the Brewer Motorsports racing team. Anyway, I would get there early, and savor the experience of being there while things were relatively quiet, and I had the entire facility to myself, with the exception of a few others who practiced a similar race day ritual. I would walk along the catch fence, studying the track from every angle, going to the infield and visiting the garage area, when that was allowed, and walking the perimeter of the infield, and along the fence separating the pit area from the public. Then I would go to the top of the grandstands and take the whole thing in. I would have a big smile on my face, as I would declare to myself, "I love this place!"

I imagine that if I lived near the Darlington Speedway, in South Carolina, I would have a similar ritual. I love the place, even though I have never been there. There has never been a race there that wasn't exciting.

Even last year--which was the first race with the new Sprint Cup car at Darlington--when none of the teams had a car that their driver was happy with, it was exciting to watch Kyle Busch race by himself, bouncing off the wall in every turn. He not only had the expected Darlington Stripe off of turn two--he was bouncing off the walls in turn four. He won, because--even though the car wasn't set up well for Darlington--he got the most out of the car he could get. He had no idea of how to do it the "right way."

Nobody had a good car at Darlington last year--because nobody really knew what they needed to run at Darlington. Jeff Gordon had yet to get a handle on the new car, and Tony Stewart, who was driving for Joe Gibbs at the time, probably had one of the better cars--and was essentially taken out of the race early on, having been trapped by Elliott Sadler's Smoke Magnet. The only driver who had a chance to catch Kyle was Carl Edwards, and all he could do was watch Busch bounce off the walls as he continued to broaden the lead.

We have good reason to believe that this year, the situation will be different. First of all, over the last few races, it seems that Elliott has removed the Smoke magnet from his car. Jeff Gordon seems to have gotten a handle on his car, as have several other top drivers. There are guys like David Ragan, David Reutimann, Marcos Ambrose, and Sam Hornish, Jr., who seem poised to win their first race, and will likely give the usual suspects some competition in the race to get up front and be there for the most important lap.

All that being said, if I were to try to write a preview--which I won't since I always seemed to jinx the drivers whenever I did--my five drivers to watch would be as follows:

Jeff Gordon--Stating the obvious here. Jeff has found the handle on the car, and can race even while he is in serious pain and get a good finish anywhere. He knows how to drive smart, and he has five Darlington wins to prove it.

Kyle Busch--If he can't win it the way he did last year, he'll figure out another way to do it. The boy is a lot smarter than people give him credit for.

Tony Stewart--He is ready to get his first win as an owner-driver. He will be careful most of the race, and take the opportunity when it comes. He has yet to win at Darlington, which would add sweetness to the first victory for his own team. Out of sixteen starts, he has 8 top ten finishes including two top fives. He has finished out of the top twenty only two times--one thirty-sixth place due to a race ending crash after lap 225, and last years twenty-first place finish after his very bad start to the race.

Dale Earnhardt, Jr--I am not mentioning him just to get more hits this time. Last year, with all the "crappy" cars, he managed a fifth place finish. He has a knack for Darlington, and it is really fun to watch him race there. Fans who underate him, fail to notice that he is one of the best car control drivers there are, and Jr. can show us how that works at Darlington. He just needs to be patient, and if he can find that patience, he will be very likely to get a very good finish. It would be a good win for his cousin Tony Eury, Jr as well.

Matt Kenseth--If patience is what it takes to win at Darlington, Kenseth is the epitome of patience. He drives a lot like the all time Darlington winner, David Pearson, and perhaps that legacy will pay off. I know I promised my friend Babs that I wouldn't pick him to win in my previews, but, remember, this is not a real preview, this is only a "if I were writing a preview" preview.

So, I'm very excited in looking forward to Saturday night. Part of the anticipation is after the great race at Richmond last week, and part of it is that it is the second race in a row at a track for which I feel genuine affection. Hang on to your hats, this should be good!

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Live on Type Delay: The Crown Royal Presents the Russ Friedman 400

Call me sentimental. I have never been to a race at Richmond, but it has always been part of my NASCAR experience. I remember reading about the action on the dirt track back when I was growing up, and the writers made that action seem very exciting. I could see legends being made there.

Even after its reconfiguration to a .75 mile paved track, Richmond is still a legend maker. In my opinion, it features some of the best pure racing in NASCAR today. It is a short track with plenty of room to pass. Every position has to be hard fought for, however, and to win at Richmond, a driver has to be on top of his game. Being a short track, the leader will quickly encounter lapped traffic, and most of the racing takes place in traffic. No mistakes are forgivable on pit road, and it is a true challenge to be successful at this track.

It has been raining most of the day, but the track is mostly dry, and it is time to start the engines.

After a few caution laps to dry the track, Brian Vickers takes the point for the green flag, which officially begins lap three. Jeff Gordon, starting on the outside of the front row, makes a move to pass, and, after a lap long battle leads the first green flag lap. Vickers, however, retakes the lead, and leads until Dave Blaney loses control of his car and hits the wall, bringing out the caution on lap 9.

The race restarts on lap 13, with the top five being Vickers, Jeff Gordon, Denny Hamlin, Martin Truex, Jr, and Mark Martin. Displaying his restart skill, Kyle Busch immediately moves from eleventh to seventh. Jeff Gordon retakes the lead on lap 23 and immediately begins pulling out on the field. On lap 44, Gordon encounters the tail end of the lead lap and begins lapping cars. This allows Denny Hamlin, who has taken second, to begin closing on the leader.

Kurt Busch is riding a rocket and has moved into the top five on lap 55. He takes fourth from Brian Vickers on that lap, with his brother Kyle right behind him. Gordon is held up by lapped traffic for several laps, and on lap 61, Hamlin is right on his bumper. It takes Hamlin twenty more laps to actually take the lead, but, when he does so, it is a textbook perfect pass on the bottom.

Green flag pit stops begin around lap 91. There will be a lot of adjustments done now, as the set ups that were made from Friday's practice weren't meant for a green track. As the pits cycle through, Ryan Newman, who has been running in the top ten for most of the race leads a lap, and pits on lap 102. After the leaders have cycled through their pit stops, the top five are now Denny Hamlin, Kurt Busch, Mark Martin, Kyle Busch, and Jeff Gordon.

Kyle Busch is on a roll. He takes third form the old kid, Mark Martin, on lap 114. And, we get a caution as Jeremy Mayfield's car literally loses it's suspension and hits the wall. Or, it may have been a cut tire. Anyway, the caution flew just as America's Driver, Dale Earnhardt, Jr, was about to be lapped, so Jr. gets saved, and remains on the lead lap.

We were beginning to worry we wouldn't have a chance to mention Dale Earnhardt, Jr at all, during the first half of the race.

All the lead lap cars pit, and Jimmie Johnson is penalized for too fast on pit road, while Clint Bowyer takes the lead coming out of the pits. Restart on lap 121, and the top five are Bowyer, Hamlin, Newman, Kurt Busch, and Mark Martin. Denny Hamlin retakes the lead on lap 124, and, while Bowyer and Newman are battling for second, pulls away from the field.

Newman finally wins that battle on lap 129, and takes second, while Kurt Busch passes Bowyer for third. Kurt Busch passes Newman for second on lap 30, and his brother, Kyle, follows him for third. There are 22 cars on the lead lap, with Juan Pablo Montoya in the 22nd position. Dale Earnhardt, Jr has moved up to nineteenth, and Reed Sorenson is the first car a lap down in twenty-third.

Kasey Kahne, who was struggling with his car in 34th place, finally loses any handle he had on his car and spins into the infield. Caution on lap 150.

Denny Hamlin leads the restart on lap 154, followed by Kyle Busch, Kurt Busch, Mark Martin, and Ryan Newman. Greg Biffle fights to stay on the lead lap, but gets passed by the leader on lap 157, as Hamlin feels pressure from Kyle Busch, who feels pressure from his brother, Kurt.

Tempers are flying back in the pack, and the rubbin' and racin' and beatin' and bangin' have begun. On lap 160, David Reutimann and Juan Montoya get together. AJ Allmendinger is unhappy with David Stremme as Stremme and Sam Hornish are racing each other for thirteenth, and make it three wide going into a turn. Allmendinger is a lap down, so he is already frustrated. A few laps later, Stremme hits Edwards, who is trying to pinch him into the wall, Edwards hits McMurray, and the Roush team mates spin into the infield, bringing out a caution. Stremme gets a bad rap for this, but I have to agree with DW on this one, Stremme really had no choice but to drive through the 99 car, or crash himself into the wall.

Restart on lap 174, with the top five being Hamlin, Kyle Busch, Kurt Busch, Martin, and Tony Stewart, who stayed out during the caution. On lap 174, the Kyle and Kurt show continues as the brothers continue their battle for second. Kurt the Klown finally gets around his brother on lap 177.

There is more action further back on lap 180 as Jimmie Johnson, having braking issues, rear ends Joey Logano, and while the cars are getting bounced around, Stremme puts Kenseth into the wall. No caution, and again, Stremme was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. Remember, this writer really likes Matt Kenseth, and would love to call it Stremme's fault, but it really wasn't . It looked very much like it was a chain reaction. We stay impartial as we can, but our fingers hurt from exercising restraint.

Still green on lap 183 as Mark Martin passes Kyle Busch for third, and Ryan Newman follows through and takes fourth. Jimmie Johnson spins on lap 191, with no brakes at all, and the caution flies.

Hamlin leads the field to the green on lap 196, followed by Kurt Busch, Mark Martin, Kyle Busch, and Martin Truex, Jr. Jimmie Johnson is black flagged for not restarting in the correct position.

Caution on lap 211, as Dale Earnhardt, Jr gets into the side of Jeff Burton in turn 4 and spins him. All the lead lap cars pit. Martin Truex, Jr takes two tires and the lead off of pit road. He restarts in first on lap 217, with Ryan Newman second, Denny Hamlin third, Sam Hornish, Jr fourth, and Mark Martin fifth.

On lap 218, Newman and Truex are side by side racing for the lead. Truex maintains for a while, while the bumping and beating and banging continue behind the leaders.

Ryan Newman continues to challenge Truex for the lead, and finally takes it on lap 236. Rain is coming, and the action picks up even more, as Denny Hamlin, who really, really, really wants this race moves into second on lap 239.

Newman tries desperately to hold the lead, and does a pretty good job of it until lap 249, when Hamlin passes him on the bottom of the track.

Hamlin continues to lap cars, while increasing his lead over Ryan Newman. As Mark Martin passes Truex for third, then Kurt Busch passes him for fourth, Hamlin is lapping Dale Earnhardt, Jr, David Ragan, and Carl Edwards. Jeff Gordon has found something in his car and has used it to move back into the top five.

Caution on lap 273 for debris. This is very close to the money stop. The cars should have enough fuel to make it to the end of the race if it is shortened by rain, or might have enough fuel if it goes all the way. Race leader Hamlin loses the lead to Ryan Newman, after Hamlin's crew has lug nut troubles during the pit stop.

Newman will lead the field to the restart on lap 278, followed by Jeff Gordon, who had a great stop, Mark Martin, Kyle Busch, and Kurt Busch.

On lap 281 Kyle Busch passes Mark Martin for third in a pretty good race, while Kurt Busch falls back to seventh. By lap 283, Denny Hamlin has overcome his pit road woes and has moved into sixth.

This is not a tame race. It was never meant to be. Things happen. What happens next is Joey Logano hits Greg Biffle on lap 285, and spins him. Caution flies again. The green flag comes out again on lap 290, but doesn't last long, as Kevin Harvick makes contact with another car--it's hard to see which one--and cuts a tire, hitting the wall in one of those crashes that lasts the entire backstretch before he finally hits something.

Restart on lap 299, with Newman in the lead, Kyle Busch second, Jeff Gordon--in a car he doesn't like--is third, Mark Martin fourth, and Truex fifth. Kyle Busch makes another great restart move and passes Newman for the lead. Ryan doesn't give up, though, and sticks to the bottom lane, regaining the lead on lap 302. Sam Hornish Jr slides into Marcos Ambrose on lap 306, and another caution comes out.

Jeff Gordon, Carl Edwards, Jamie McMurray, Sam Hornish, Jr, Robby Gordon, and David Stremme stay out while the other lead lap cars pit. Jeff Gordon inherits the lead, while Robby Gordon gives up fifth to pit. Restart on lap 317 with Jeff Gordon in the lead, Edwards second, McMurray third, Hornish fourth, and Stremme fifth.

It is especially true in short track racing that "cautions breed cautions," but the cars have been bunched up the entire race, and we have been seeing three and four wide racing. There is lots of contact, and nobody will come out of this unscathed. This is exciting and the Wow meter is pegged.

The inevitable happens on lap 325, David Stremme gets bumped by Bobby Labonte, after the cars in front of them check up. Kasey Kahne and Jimmie Johnson are caught up in the chain reaction, and the caution comes out again. None of the leaders pit. Jimmie Johnson takes his car to the garage.

The top five cars on the restart, on lap 335, are Jeff Gordon, Carl Edwards, McMurray, Hornish, and Hamlin. Allmendinger, starting on the inside, locks up his brakes going into turn three, and Gordon barely escapes disaster. Hornish falls back to seventh, while Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin move into the top five. On lap 345, Bobby Labonte, who is not on the lead lap, spins after being bumped by Kurt The Klown, spins and brings out caution number fourteen. Some cars pit, but most of the lead lap cars stay out, including the top five.

The restart is on lap 351, with Jeff Gordon, Carl Edwards, Kyle Busch, Jamie McMurray, and Denny Hamlin in the top five. Kyle Busch moves to the outside at the drop of the green and takes second, immediately challenging Gordon for the lead. This battle goes on for the entire lap, and Busch takes the lead on lap 352. The next caution comes out on lap 356, as Reutimann and Vickers get into it and spin.

The restart is on lap 362, with Kyle Busch, Jeff Gordon, Jamie McMurray, Carl Edwards, and Denny Hamlin in the top five.

This is obviously the Big Restart. Behind the top four, Stewart, Burton, Newman, and Hamlin are four wide trying to get into the top five. After the smoke clears, Smoke and Burton have cleared the mess, and Burton moves up into second, with Stewart behind him on lap 273. Meanwhile, Kyle Busch has increased his lead to over three seconds. Burton and Stewart have fresher tires than the leader, and seem to be gaining on him. Stewart feels that he has a better chance of catching Kyle, and takes second place from Burton. Kyle has a 2.7 second lead over Stewart with thirteen laps to go.

Burton and Stewart race each other some more on lap 291, but Stewart stays in second, and Kyle is still increasing his lead. Nothing will change the outcome, now, except for maybe a caution flag.

There is no caution flag. Kyle Busch takes the checkers 2.75 seconds ahead of Stewart. Burton hangs in for third, Ryan Newman comes in fourth, and Mark Martin is fifth. Sam Hornish, Jr, Jamie McMurray, Jeff Gordon, Casey Mears, and Juan Pablo Montoya fill out the top ten. With all the racing and the cautions, with the free passes, the race ended with 26 cars on the lead lap, with Carl Edwards in twenty-sixth. Dale Earnhardt, Jr finished as the first car one lap down, never having had a chance to "get back" at Kyle Busch for last year, as his fans wanted to see. And Kyle Busch got cheered for winning this race, his second victory this weekend. Well, this is his twenty-fourth birthday. Happy Birthday, young man.

The joy of NASCAR Cup level short track racing has not been diminished. Every driver was a hero in his own right. Many of the cars that finished in the top ten were involved in crashes earlier in the race. Now that is short track racing at its best.

While the Fortress Burns

Yesterday, our esteemed and hard-working United States House of Representatives to the Congress began investigation the important and economically stimulating issue of championship playoffs for college football. It shouldn't be long now, before they turn their attention to NASCAR. I'm sure Congress will make sure they mold NASCAR into a pastime that is fair, ecologically friendly, and politically correct. The following is some examples of legislation we may expect Congress to pass concerning NASCAR:

All vehicles participating in each event will produce a fuel mileage of no less than 50 miles per gallon.

The top speed of any vehicle participating in each event shall not exceed 55 miles per hour.

Any participant who is female, African-American, Hispanic, Homosexual, or an undocumented immigrant shall be awarded, at the start of any event, a 20 lap lead over any other participants.

For safety purposes, spectators shall be separated from the track by a 200 foot tall, 20 foot thick reinforced concrete wall.

In order to ensure that citizens who earn less than $40,000 per year do not mis-spend their income, the following excise taxes will be levied:

1. On the price of admission to all NASCAR events a 200,000 percent excise tax will be levied.

2. On the price of all souvenirs and collectibles, a 1,000,000 percent excise tax will be levied.

The revenue collected from this tax will be allocated to funds covering a 200 percent salary increase for all members of Congress, thus returning the investment of the taxpayers to the people.

There will be a 100 percent tax on all winnings awarded from each event. Members of Congress and the Executive Branch of the United States Government shall be exempt from this tax. Revenues from this tax will be allocated to the campaign funds of all political candidates who represent the Democratic or Republican parties.

The minimum wage for all pit crew members shall be no less than $500 per hour, or an equivalent salary.

The Federal Income Tax on the wages and salaries of pit crew members shall be levied at 95%, under the "New Millionaires" tax rate.

All vehicles used in NASCAR events shall be converted to operate on wind energy by the year 2013.

I'm sure Congress will do to NASCAR what it thinks is best for every American and undocumented immigrant. The above suggestions should give them a good start.