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.

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