Saturday, May 09, 2009

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.

2 comments:

JMD said...

Jim,

I think this was Mark's second trip to victory lane at Darlington. He won back in '93? I believe.

RevJim said...

Good catch, JMD. I wish I could spin this some way to make it seem my error was because I wasn't counting the Fall race, but I can't. Mark Martin won the "real" Southern 500 on Labor Day in 1993, and the "fake" one this past weekend. How's that for spin and covering my error?