Monday, June 29, 2009

On Type Delay: Loudon I

Often when I think of New Hampshire, I think of the beautiful mountains and countryside. I live in Colorado, and love it, so I must be a fan of beautiful mountains and countryside. After that, since I'm a racing fan, I think of New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

The first think (sic) that comes to mind is how great it is that the New England race fans pack the seats at NHMS every time the NASCAR Cup series races there. Okay, maybe they didn't pack it this time--not everybody has the money to go to races these days--but it did seem as though there were nearly as many people on the concourse between the seats and the fence as there were empty seats in turn three.

There is also this predisposition to think of the races at New Hampshire as being a parade of cars going single file all the way around the track. But those days are over. The track at Concord Loudon seems to be one of those that somehow fits the new car better than it does the aero cars that were in use there before 2007. As a result, we have seen much more side by side racing and racing for the lead in the more recent races there than we have in the past.

Because qualifying was cancelled due to rain, the race starts with the cars in position according to owner points. That puts Tony Stewart on the pole, Jeff Gordon second, Jimmie Johnson third, and so on. Gordon gets an excellent start and takes the lead right off the bat. Kurt Busch, starting in fourth, also starts well, and he is battling Gordon at every turn--excellent racing from the get go. We are also seeing, thanks to the excellent camera coverage from TNT, lots of racing throughout the pack, with cars going three wide at times. Kurt Busch takes the lead on lap 7.

There are three incidents before the scheduled competition caution on lap 35, so we get to see three of the new double file restarts, and the competition caution is rescheduled for lap 45. Perhaps the fact that the double file restarts and the wave-around keep the cars closer together breeds more cautions, but it does produce some interesting racing, and it is fun to watch. No restrictor plates are necessary to keep the cars close together.

Things settle down, eventually, and we get a long green flag run. Even though cars get spread out to some extent, and cars begin to get lapped, the lapped traffic holds up the leaders. Jimmie Johnson, who took the lead on lap 50, does get held up and has Jeff Gordon on his tail.

But though Gordon races him for the lead, Johnson maintains position, until a caution for debris comes out on lap 152. Johnson stalls at the beginning of pit road, most of the leaders take two tires, and the top five at the restart on lap 158 are Jeff Gordon, Kurt Busch, Jimmie Johnson, Tony Stewart, and Dale Earnhardt, Jr.

It looks like Jr's new team is beginning to gel. He has a car he likes, and is competing well with the top drivers. He even gets a chance to take a look at the lead when Gordon and Kurt Busch bump shortly after the restart. Things are looking up for Jr Nation.

There is another caution on lap 169, after the front left wheel on Paul Menard's car locks up and he goes into the wall. The leaders stay out, and the restart at lap 174 is led by Jeff Gordon, followed by Kurt Busch, Dale Earnhardt, Jr, Tony Stewart, and Martin Truex, Jr. Jr gets a bad start, spinning his rear tires, the Truex checks up behind him, and Kyle Busch gives the haters something more to hate him for. Truex, McMurray, Jeff Burton, Kevin Harvick, Casey Mears, Brian Vickers, and David Ragan all get caught up in the result. We'll let the haters draw their own conclusions, with the reminder that hate kills and doesn't make one look very smart. Anyway, the race is red flagged for cleanup.

The race returns to caution and pit road is open on lap 177. The leaders stay out, while Ryan Newman, Joey Logano, Casey Mears, and David Reutimann, among others stop. Casey Mears will make several pit stops for repairs and stay on the lead lap.

Jeff Gordon leads the restart on lap 180. Kurt Busch is second, Tony Stewart third, Jimmie Johnson fourth, and Dale Jr is fifth. As on every restart with Gordon first and Busch second, there is a battle for the lead, and Gordon once again prevails. There is another caution as Joey Logano cuts a tire on lap 182.

The restart is on lap 187, with Jeff Gordon still leading. The first four remain the same, but Mark Martin has moved up to fifth. Tony Stewart gets by Kurt Busch, as Busch gets loose. Jimmie Johnson gets caught up in Busch's bad fortune and loses five spots. Then we get another caution on lap 189 as Scott Speed goes into the wall. We are getting worried about rain, at this point. Green flag at lap 195, and the leaders are Gordon, Stewart, Kurt Busch, Sam Hornish, Jr, and Mark Martin.

We get to see some great racing for the lead as Stewart and Gordon battle it out. Racing doesn't get much better for fans than watching two of NASCAR's greatest drivers go wheel to wheel against each other. Stewart takes the lead on lap 196. The race goes on another long green flag run, as Stewart leads. Gordon nearly catches him a few times, but can't pass. him.

Green flag pit stops begin on lap 233, when Kyle Busch pits. The leaders all pit together on lap 235. Tony Stewart's crew gets hung up on the right front tire, causing him to lose a second or two in the pits. After the pit stops cycle through, Ryan Newman and Joey Logano have not pitted, putting Newman in the lead, and Logano second. Their crew chiefs are taking a gamble that the rain would come soon. That's the way it works--if you have a car that is not as good as those that have led most of the race, go for position and run the car until it rains or it runs out of gas.

Newman holds the lead until lap 263, when he runs out of fuel. Joey Logano takes the lead. Jeff Gordon has raced his way to second place, and Tony Stewart is in fifth. On lap 266, caution is called for rain. The race goes red as the track gets too wet on lap 273. The race is called, and Joey Logano gets his first Cup victory, and is now the youngest driver ever to win a race in the Cup series.

It is always good to see a rookie get his first win. Logano has come a long way since he was allowed to take the fender whiskers off of his car, and he did what he needed to win. Greg Zippadelli, his crew chief, should be proud. His gamble paid off.

The final top ten finishing order was Logano, Jeff Gordon, Kurt Busch, who ran a great race for Penske, David Reutimann, who also stayed out during that last green flag pit cycle, Tony Stewart, who was making a big move to the front when the rain came, Brad Keselowski, another driver who didn't pit when everyone else did, Kyle Busch, Sam Hornish, Jr, also driving for Penske and whom nobody thought would get this good, Jimmie Johnson, and Kasey Kahne. Tony Stewart retains the top spot in the standings, and the race to be in the top twelve is beginning to shape up.

Again, TNT's camera work was wonderful, and we wish the other networks could do what TNT has done in that department. The next race is July 4 at Daytona, where the double file restart should be interesting.

Monday, June 22, 2009

On Type Delay: Infinion (Sears Point)

My good friend Debbie once told me that, back in 1996, while PPIR was under construction, she snuck her Kia into the facility and ran a few laps around the track. I believed her, because if there was an ultimate NASCAR fan, that was Debbie. When we went to races at Pike's Peak, she would sneak through the gate into the garage area and, once, into the pit area while the race was in progress. She always wanted to be as close to the action as possible. So yeah, if she said she drove her Kia around the track, she probably did.

If I could take a car of my own around any NASCAR track, my choice would be the 1972 Dodge Charger Special Edition R/T I used to have, and the track would be Sears Point (aka Infineon). I imagine the thrill of going up that hill to turn 2, whipping around turn 3a, and leaving my stomach behind as I race down the drop to turn 4 (there are turns 3, 5, and 6, but those bypass turns 4 and 7 and aren't used for NASCAR) . A touch on the brake, downshift, brake downshift and around the 90 degree right turn, then floor it to turn 7. Downshift again, around the sharp turn with the right wheels on the curb to get a straight exit to the esses of turns 8 and 9. Take some G's going around the short turn ten, but don't go in too hot, or you find yourself off the track, like Scott Speed did during qualifying. Another straightaway, then slow wa-a-y down for the 180 degree hairpin of turn 11. A short left turn and then across the start/finish line. What a thrill.

I get a thrill just watching the race. At the drop of the green flag, 43 colorful cars, sometimes going three wide into the first turn, and then trying to get in line before entering the narrow turn two--four stories higher than turn 1--is a sight of great beauty. One has to marvel at the skills of these drivers in avoiding wrecks before the first lap is finished.

The TNT broadcast crew sounded confused most of the time in trying to describe the racing action--probably more the fault of the producers who are constantly talking in their ear than the actual commentators--so I won't make the same mistake by trying to describe the racing action here. Suffice it to say that there is plenty of action on every lap, with cars spinning at one point or another, being pushed off the track by other cars, or just leaving the track on their own.There are cars going three wide where there should only be two, and somehow everybody gets around the track with little more than a few minor dents and dings. Formula 1 and Indy cars can't race like this, so this race is a grand tribute to bumpers and fenders.

The double file restarts, in place of what used to be all single file restarts on road courses, add greatly to the excitement, and we get to see re-creations of the initial green flag after every caution. The lack of the abilities of Webber, Petty, and Dallenbach to call a decent play by play is made up for by the excellent camera work and video technology for which TNT deserves glowing reviews. While watching the race leaders trying to gain advantage around turn four, we can see the trouble cars back in the pack are having back in turn two. It's about as close as one can get to being there while watching on television.

As we get to the meat of the matter, after the final pit stops have been completed and all the fuel strategy is over with, the cream rises to the top, and we get the thrill of seeing the best road course racers NASCAR has to offer compete against each other with no holds barred. Kasey Kahne, who has yet to finish in the top ten on a road course, takes the lead out of the final pit stop. Tony Stewart, who has proven himself a road course ace time after time restarts beside him, on the outside lane. Juan Pablo Montoya, who has proven himself to be of championship caliber on all sorts of tracks this year, is there, as is Jimmie Johnson, who has beaten and banged his way back to the front after a pit road speeding penalty. Denny Hamlin has proven himself a contender on this day by staying in or near the top five during the entire race. And Marcos Ambrose, who started the race in the very last position, has joined the fray.

Kahne gets a great restart, and Stewart has to fight hard to keep his position going around turn two, but he maintains. Montoya is wonderfully aggressive as he pokes the nose of his car under Johnson's and takes third. But Ambrose is just as aggressive, and looks very much like he is out to win. While we are watching this excellent road course racing, we get comic relief from the booth bunnies with a dialogue that could have come from a Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers comic book.

"Jimmie Johnson is the cleanest driver in NASCAR"
"Yeah, he's clean."
"Real clean."
"He almost wrecked Ambrose, but that was clean"
"Yeah, it was clean."
"Yeah, the cleanest driver in NASCAR."

I don't think they even believed what they were saying, but apparently the TNT producers don't want the defending champ to be portrayed as someone who would do anything he can to win a race.

Another caution and another restart. Kahne prevails against Stewart again. Further back in the pack, Boris Said is acting like a spoiled brat throwing a temper tantrum, and wrecking any car that comes near him. It's Captain Saidhead, the Avenger of the Smashed Guitar, as he takes out Kyle Busch.

Caution again and yet another opportunity for one of those great double file restarts. Kahne once again beats Stewart through turn two, and Stewart once again has to hold off the determined Juan Pablo Montoya, and Montoya has the hard driving Aussie to contend with as Ambrose eventually takes third place from him. Kahne, who isn't known as a road course racer is having no trouble keeping the lead. The Freak Brothers note that both Kahne and Stewart were USAC dirt track aces, and therefore have no problem sliding around on old tires. They are, indeed, having the time of their lives, and Ambrose can match their speed, but can't catch them. Near the back of the field, Said takes out some more cars and we will have a green/white/checker finish, with yet another double file restart. Kahne gets the jump, Stewart maintains second. With less than two laps to go, three cars spin near the back of the pack, but if they can get moving again a caution can be avoided. They get moving, and Kahne takes the white flag. Stewart has nothing for Kahne, and Ambrose can do nothing but hold third place, so Kasey Kahne wins, and gains the first victory for a team bearing Richard Petty's name in ten years.

It is a great day for Kasey Kahne, a great day for Dodge--who can't and doesn't have to pay the support fees that allow the use of their name--and a great day for Richard Petty Motorsports, who recently had to lay off over a hundred employees due to lack of support fees from Dodge. I guess it was a good day for the comedy writers who run the production booth, as well, because we have never before heard such inane commentary.

NASCAR Cup only has two road course races on its schedule, but we have to say that the Cup Series provides us with the finest road course racing in motorsports. We got to see some of that at Infineon, Sunday, and we hope to see more in a few weeks at Watkins Glen. The double file restarts added even more to the excitement, and we have to say that we believe that is absolutely the best rule change NASCAR has made in recent years.

On to New Hampshire.

Monday, June 15, 2009

On Type Delay: The Lifelock 400

First things first:

Kyle Busch goes too farSmack talk is smack talk, but it is neither good, nor a driver's place to criticize the fans of another driver, no matter how over the top they may be. It seems that Busch the Younger wants people to hate him, and eggs them on to do so. As Dale Jr, himself pointed out, it causes problems for other drivers and fans. How can a track promotor expect to sell out a race if nobody wants to sit in the front five rows for fear of getting hit by flying debris from angry Jr fans?

This should never have happened The Camping World Truck Series is without a defending champion, as Johnny Benson has lost his ride due to sponsorship issues. Kyle Busch offered his ride at Detroit to Benson, but his sponsor, Miccosukee Resort and Gaming, nixed the idea. To make matters worse, Benson was seriously injured in a wreck at New Berlin Speedway during a supermodifieds race, suffering several broken ribs and possibly a punctured lung. I don't understand, even during these hard economic times, why no one is willing to sponsor the reigning series champion--it really seems like a lost opportunity. One would think that TRD themselves would want to sponsor a driver who is among their top stars, at least until he could get a sponsor. It is another blow to the NASCAR series that often features the best flag to flag racing.

Best Sponsor Placement Carl Edwards has to be the best thing that has happened to any NASCAR sponsor since Michael Waltrip. He always seems to be able to fit a word for a sponsor into any topic of discussion. Talking about the unseasonal coolness of the weather during Saturday's Sprint Cup practice, Carl remarked, "It's probably because all those people driving their Ford Fusion Hybrids and helping global warming."

Now for the race.

Michigan International Speedway is similar to California AutoClub Speedway, except it is wider and allows even less opportunity for mishaps other than lapped traffic, than California. That means we will probably see some cautions for phantom debris, and long green flag runs.

Kyle Busch, starting on the outside of row one takes the lead. His lead lasts eight laps, then Jimmie Johnson passes him on the low side and assumes the lead. Pole sitter Brian Vickers falls back. Jeff Gordon, who had to start in the back for an engine change is rapidly moving toward the front, as is Mark Martin, who started 26th. Tony Stewart has moved into the top ten, and Kasey Kahne and Juan Montoya are looking strong in the top six. Green flag pit stops begin around lap 36. On lap 42, the top five are Johnson, Kahne, Kyle Busch, Kurt Busch, and Greg Biffle.

Johnson maintains the lead after the pit stops cycle through. Johnson is still leading when the first caution flies on lap 72. Restart on lap 77, after all the leaders pit, and it's Johnson, Biffle, Kahne, Montoya, and David Ragan in the top five.

The next green flag pit stops begin around lap 114, with Kasey Kahne giving up a top ten position to pit. Carl Edwards leads for one lap after the pit stops cycle through, but Jimmie Johnson regains the lead on lap 119. The top five are Johnson, Biffle, Montoya, Kahne and Stewart. The second caution, for debris, comes out on lap 121. Thirteen of the lead lap cars pit, including Jeff Gordon, Kyle Busch, and Kasey Kahne. Ryan Newman has been having troubles and is now a lap down.

Restart on lap 125, and the top five are Johnson, Biffle, Montoya, Stewart, and Hamlin. Mark Martin makes it to the top five on lap 127 and is now in fourth. He gets by Montoya on lap 130 for third. Just as the teams are preparing for green flag pit stops, David Stremme spins at the entrance of the pit road and hits the water barrels, bringing out the third caution of the race. These could be the last pit stops of the race. If they are, fuel conservation will be necessary. The restart is on lap 156, after Biffle gets out of the pits first.

The top five at the restart are Biffle, Hamlin, Johnson, Martin, and Jeff Gordon.

Lap 175 and the race slows down some as the lead drivers are told to save fuel. Some of them, including the leader, Biffle, have been saving since before the restart, so there really hasn't been a whole lot of action.

Now things start to get exciting with ten laps to go. Biffle still leads, Johnson has taken second from Hamlin, Martin is third, Hamlin is fourth, and Jeff Gordon is fifth. The question here is not who will race to the win, but who will have enough fuel to finish the race first.

Johnson seems to think he has enough fuel to race for the finish. He races Biffle for the lead beginning on lap 191 and completes the pass on lap 195. Biffle tries to get the lead back, then lets up to try to save fuel. The white flag flies, and Johnson runs out of fuel at the start/finish line. Now Biffle leads, with Martin in second and Gordon in third. But Biffle runs out of fuel with half a lap to go, and Martin takes the lead. Jeff Gordon is second, and they practically coast across the finish line. Martin wins his third race of the season, Jeff Gordon is second, Denny Hamlin is third, Carl Edwards fourth and Biffle is fifth. The top ten are filled out by Montoya, Stewart, Kurt Busch, Brian Vickers, and Clint Bowyer. Johnson finally crossed the finish line in position 22.

We don't expect a lot of action at the 2 mile intermediate tracks, and that makes it easy to write the On Type Delay post. We could actually go across the street to the corner store without missing anything important. The final ten laps were exciting in their own way, and we are happy to see Mark Martin once again in Victory Lane. He now leads the field in Chase bonus points, with thirty.

This race was 390 miles of not much happening. Perhaps NASCAR could rethink scheduling four races on these two mile long flat tracks that are more suited to manufacturers' testing than to auto racing?

Next week's race is at Sonoma on the road course formerly known as Sears Point. The new double file restarts should be very interesting, and there should be plenty of them. We can hardly wait!

Monday, June 08, 2009

Big Deal? I think not

In NASCAR, something always seems to happen to make headlines, just in case the race wasn't exciting or interesting enough. In recent weeks, we have had the Jeremy Mayfield story, the Carl Long Saga, and, of course, there's always the What's Up With Junior ? story line.

This week also brought us plenty of good stories. Todd Bodine was the first Truck Series driver to win five times at TMS. The defending championsip team in the Truck Series has shut its doors, leaving the defending Champion, Johnny Benson, without a ride. NASCAR implemented the double file "shootout style" restart for the sake of the fans. Tony Stewart became the first owner/driver to win a points race in the Cup Series in over ten years. Stewart also became the first Cup driver to win a race at Pocono starting from the fourty-third position. Robby Gordon won the Baja 500 for the fourth time in his career. That isn't NASCAR news, but it does involve a NASCAR driver. Kyle Busch performed the best burn-out ever in his celebration of his Nashville victory. It had smoke, explosions, and flames.

But the big story of the week, the one that everyone wants to talk about, involves the smashing of an $800 guitar by Kyle Busch in Victory Lane. Gibson Guitars, Inc is ecstatic over it--they got over $300,000 in free advertising at the cost of one guitar. Sam Bass, a mediocre artist at best, stayed in the spotlight by changing his reaction to the act twice, and by getting commissioned by Kyle Busch to paint two new guitars.. Dave Despain set himself firmly in the ranks of propagandists like Chris Wallace, Bill O'Reilly, and Bob Beckel by telling only half the story, or, only the part of the story that served him best.

When Kyle Busch shouted over the radio, "everybody gets a piece of the guitar," as he ran the final lap of the race, we should have had a clue as to what was about to happen. Members of the #18 Nationwide Series crew had asked Busch, back in April, if they could have a piece of the guitar if he won it. He obliged them, and now each and every member of his crew has a signed piece of the trophy to commemorate their first Nashville victory. It wouldn't have been the same if it had been one of the replacement guitars that had been cut up, nor would it have been the same if Kyle had just taken the guitar to the shop and cut it up there, without the Victory Lane performance.

Bottom line is, no one should have been as apalled as they pretend to be. The artist, Sam Bass--who backed into notoriety by painting NASCAR themed pictures rather than Elvis on velvet or pictures of household pets playing cards or billiards--said at first that he was shocked, then that he understood that Kyle's action was actually a tribute to the guitar and to rock and roll, "as someone who appreciates rock and roll."

It is perfectly understandable that an artist would cringe at seeing his work destroyed, and, artists are supposed to be sensitive. On Monday, Bass claimed that, though he understood that the trophy was Kyle's and he could do what he wanted with it, he was appalled at seeing "his baby...destroyed seconds after it was awarded." As if the Nashville trophy is his life's work. Anybody who is familiar with Bass' paintings knows that he only has four basic drawings, on which he only has to change the colors of the cars or the uniform, and facial and hair features of the driver. So Bass isn't complaining about the commision he gets from Busch, nor is it going to be any matter of creativity for him to paint the new guitars. He's had plenty of practice at it, like Elvis on velvet.

The story may have been different if, as one caller on "Wind Tunnel" pointed out, it had been Dale Earnhardt, Jr who had smashed the guitar, it would have been the greatest victory celebration ever. But it was the much hated Kyle Busch who performed the dastardly deed, and that did not win him any fans, nor did he expect it to.

In the results of the ESPN NASCAR Now poll on Monday, seventeen percent of the respondents said they loved Kyle's VL performance, forty-seven percent said they hated it, and thirty-six percent said they didn't care. To be honest, I'm with that thirty-six percent. There are many more stories that don't deserve to be overshadowed by this one.

For example, did anybody see the significance in the car number that won the fourteenth Cup race of the season?

Sunday, June 07, 2009

On Type Delay: The Pocono 500

Countdown to Green would be a great name for a television program sponsored by General Electric or the Corn Growers Association, and hosted by Al Gore, but instead it is the name of the pre-race show on TNT. No "Digger" cartoon here, and the show is refreshingly mature. Probably boring for the kids though, but do kids watch pre-race shows anyway?

Bad luck at the start of the race for Denny Hamlin. His car just stopped, and stalls in the first turn of the race. As the cars come around to start the second lap, the caution comes out. Nobody pits this time, but after the restart, the race goes a couple of more laps, and Hamlin comes out and brings out another caution as his car stalls again. This time the leaders pit, and most take two tires. Tony Stewart takes four tires, and restarts in eighteenth, but the four tires gives him a better ability to gain more positions. While these would have been single file restarts, because there is nobody a lap or more down, now we get to see the double file restarts, and we have already seen the new rule in action twice.

Tony Stewart had to start at the back of the field after going to a back up car. He wrecked his primary during the first practice on Saturday, and had to forfeit the pole. But in 27 laps, he has made it to the top fifteen, and in 39 laps, has made it into the top ten.

There is some real action for the lead on lap 37 as Greg Biffle catches up to the leader, Jimmie Johnson. As Biffle and Johnson battle, Carl Edwards catches up with them, and lap 38 features some very interesting three way racing, as Edwards takes the lead. Who says Pocono is boring? Who says the Sprint Cup car can't make passes at speed, under green? Well, Monte Dutton has said that, as have many fans, but now it looks like something is being done by the teams to correct both problems.

Greg Biffle is exciting enough to watch by himself. He has been sliding sideways at every turn, but his car is fast. That is just the way Da Biff rolls, but his talent in that skill has been overshadowed by Kyle Busch, who takes that style a step further. Another thing interesting about this lead change is that Edwards and Biffle were able to race each other without bouncing off of each other, which, recently, had seemed to have been a habit whenever those two get together.

Green flag pit stops begin on lap 44, and cycle through until lap 49. Edwards retains the lead after the cycle. Edwards gains some distance on second place Greg Biffle, but that may be because we have come into the "save the car and see what we need" portion of the race.

So, not much happens during this stretch of the race, and we have green flag pit stops again, beginning on lap 76. Edwards has some trouble with the refueling, and they do not get all the fuel in his fuel cell. Still, after the pit stops cycle through, Edwards retains the lead. Stewart stays out while the other cars are pitting, and leads a lap before he pits. As the pit cycle ends, Stewart is still running in tenth.

Still not much happening at this point in the race. Ryan Newman's car has developed some intermittant ignition trouble, that may or not be a spark plug wire. His team will have to wait until the scheduled pit stop to check it out. Edwards gives up the lead on lap 102 for fuel and tires, and the other cars begin pit stops one or two laps later. Just as Jimmie Johnson, who has just passed the commitment line is caught entering the pits just as the caution comes out for debris in turn two. The pit road is closed, but Johnson pits anyway, and will have to restart at the back of the field. If things go as usual for the #48 team, this means another victory for Jimmie Johnson.

Before we can set the running order after the restart, we get a caution on lap 115 after Dale Earnhardt,Jr helps David Stremme find the wall. The top four cars stay out, while most of the other leaders pit. Ryan Newman gets caught speeding on pit road, and has to restart in the back of the field. Restart on lap 118 with Edwards first, Kenseth second, Martin third, and Stewart fourth.

This is where we like the new double file "shootout style" restarts. The fastest cars are up front racing the fastest cars. Stewart passes Martin on the restart, being on the outside of the second row. Kenseth, from the outside of the first row, passes Edwards and leads lap 119. Edwards moves back into the lead on lap 121, and Stewart moves into second a few laps later.

Johnson is really moving up through the field. He is back in the top ten after only three green flag laps. As green flag pit stops begin around lap 135 he is running in eighth. Edwards, Stewart, and Johnson all pit on lap 138, and Edwards gets out ahead of Stewart, while Kenseth leads a lap. After the stops cycle through, Edwards is more than a second ahead of Stewart, Kenseth is third, Biffle fourth, and Martin fifth. Kurt Busch, who has been running in or near the top five all day, has a water pump go out and has to go into the garage for repairs. When he finally returns to the track, after the water pump was replaced, he is scored seventeen laps down. Meanwhile, Newman's problems have been solved, and he is moving up toward the top ten.

With 43 laps to go, there is a caution for debris. Edwards was three seconds ahead of Stewart when the caution flew, but it was Edwards who reported the debris, so there is nothing imaginary about this one to tighten the field. This stop is barely within the fuel window, so we may see yet another fuel mileage race at Pocono, no surprise there. The restart here is sure to be exciting. Tony Stewart gets off of pit road first, and now we are getting some rain. Carl Edwards comes off second. The rain is a light rain, so the caution will continue. Jeff Gordon stayed out, hoping for rain. It wasn't supposed to rain at Long Pond today, so hopefully this will just be a short shower. Incidently, we just had a very short rain shower in Colorado Springs, as well.

If the race restarts, it will be Jeff Gordon first, Tony Stewart second, and Carl Edwards third. If the rain wins, it will be a victory for Gordon similar to his Pocono victory in 2007, and Smoke will once again finish second.

The rain stops and the track is dry. Stewart assumes the lead as Gordon pits. This will be good! And, yes it will be a fuel mileage race. Unless there is another caution, of course.

Stewart first, Edwards second. Kenseth third, and Biffle fourth at the restart with 35 laps to go. Stewart leads the lap. Biffle looses positions, and Kasey Kahne comes into the picture. If you hate commercials, and are a Tony Stewart, Carl Edwards, Matt Kenseth, or Kasey Kahne fan, now is the time to really dispise them. The adreneline builds during the commercials, but so does the anxiety.

26 laps to go, and it's Stewart, Edwards, Kahne, Jimmie Johnson fourth, and in fuel conservation mode, and Clint Bowyer is fifth, also in fuel mileage mode. Kenseth, Biffle, Newman, Reutimann, and Martin Truex, Jr fill out the top ten. Kenseth is definitely short on fuel, Edwards could be four laps short, Reutimann has plenty of fuel, Newman has more fuel than Stewart, and just might make it, but Darien Grubb, Stewart's crew chief is hoping that his driver barely has enough fuel to make it. He is also hoping for a caution to be sure.

Crap, more commercials. Rev' Jim is wishing he had stocked up on Depends.

Quote of the race so far: "Michael (Waltrip)'s pit crew is fast. They had to dodge his car twice."

What we like about the TNT coverage is that they cover the cars further back. With fifteen laps to go, Biffle, Kyle Busch, Mark Martin, and Clint Bowyer pit for fuel and tires. Kenseth, Earnhardt, Jr, and more cars pit with thirteen laps to go.

On lap 191, Stewart goes to fuel conservation mode. Edwards is still second, Johnson is third, Reutimann is fourth, and Newman is fifth, as Kahne pitted for fuel during the commercial. We are coming up on the white flag lap and it's all or nothing for Stewart, while Johnson is gaining on him, having passed Edwards. Tony is in turn two, and Johnson and Edwards are barreling down on him, but Johnson is out of fuel. Around turn three, and Stewart floors it. He wins! Tony Stewart is the first owner driver to win a points race since Ricky Rudd did it at Martinsville in 1997, or 98, or somewhere around there. Heck, Smoke even saved enough fuel to perform a good victory celebration.

Another one for the record books: Smoke is the first driver ever to win a race at Pocono from the forty-third starting position. Previously, the starting position furthest back from which a victory was won at Pocono was twenty-ninth. Carl Edwards did that last year.

Carl Edwards was second, Reutimann is third, Jeff Gordon fourth, and Ryan Newman is fifth. Remember, Newman was running on seven cylinders early in the race. He pitted six times during green flag runs while his team figured out what was wrong with the engine, and changed a spark plug. His fifth place finish is a comeback story, and a tribute to a very good team. Other notable finishes were Marcos Ambrose, finishing sixth, and Sam Hornish, Jr finishing in tenth place.

We have written here before about how one of the great things about being a NASCAR fan is that when your driver wins a race, it feels like a major victory in any other sport. For us, today feels like we just won the Super Bowl. Now if you escuse me, I have to strip naked, paint a red number "14" on my chest, and go running down Colorado Avenue whooping and hollering.

Friday, June 05, 2009

Dover, Pocono, and more

Just in case anyone missed the Live on Type Delay post from Dover, we had it written, but just couldn't post it in a timely fashion, due to internet connection issues. We will try to bring it back next week, unless our connection problems persist.

Last Sunday, we were treated to one of the best races of the season so far. There was plenty of side by side racing throughout the field, and lots of lead changes, with twelve different race leaders. There were some cut tires, and a few dents and dings, but there was a lot of green flag racing to keep things interesting. With nine laps to go we got to see one of the best finishes we have seen in a while. Greg Biffle and Tony Stewart took two tires each and restarted first and second, while Jimmie Johnson took four and restarted eighth. In three laps, Johnson had moved up to third, in time to see Tony Stewart take the lead from Da Biff. The rest of the race was a head to head match between two of NASCAR's finest drivers. Johnson obviously had the better running car, but Stewart did everything he could to hold him off. finally, with a little more than two laps to go, Johnson got around Stewart by going almost to the wall, and Stewart settles for second, and the championship points lead. It was some great, and classy, racing--the kind we wish we could see in every race.

From that we move on to a race that many NASCAR fans feel predisposed to not enjoy. Pocono is a 2.5 mile speedway with three turns and the longest straightaway of all race tracks. During green flag runs, the field tends to get spread out wide so, for much of the race, there is not much to watch except for a single file parade of cars. Not to say the track doesn't require some amazing driving skills--it certainly does, as each of the three turns is a completely different animal. The cars enter turn one at a high speed, after that long straightaway, then have to let up to exit the turn safely. Turn two, however, is probably the most treacherous of the three turns, and the short straightaway between one and two is used to try to get in position for the short and narrow turn. There is no three wide racing in turn two. Turn three is actually longer than turn one, but it is flat, flat, flat. The entry is wide and the exit is tight. This is the turn that makes the most of a driver's skill and experience. Reflexes and reaction have to be lightning fast, as the driver has to brake in the middle of the turn and position himself to exit at the highest speed possible, so to be up to speed at the entrance of that long straightaway. This is where the drivers used to shift into overdrive, but, in order to save wear and tear on the engines in 2007, NASCAR mandated a rear end gear that would negate the effects of overdrive. We feel that the "money saving" effects of the gear restriction took away some of the racing at Pocono.

Pocono has become a track at which strategy is as much a "chess match," as Tony Stewart calls it, as the restrictor plate races at Daytona and Talladega. Many of the recent races there have been won through fuel strategy and other decisions in the pits. For those fans who like wheel to wheel racing to the finish, this is not the kind of race for them.

We like to imagine the racing at Pocono would be better if the race was shorter. Strategies would be different, saving the engines would be of less concern, and the racing would be a little more aggressive if the race were a mere one hundred miles shorter. Speaking from our own standpoint, we feel that three hundred and fifty miles would be ideal for a race at Pocono. Since the track is likened to a road course, in terms of the driver's skills required, we feel it should be treated as a road course. A 350 mile race at Pocono would step things up a bit.

Sunday, we will get our first look at NASCAR's new double file restart rule. The lead lap cars start in the front, while the cars a lap down will restart behind them. There will be no more racing to get a lap back, but the lucky dawg position will still be in contention, and restarts should still be interesting in the sense that there will be lots of action from the front to the rear. Unburdened by lap traffic, the lead lap cars will be free to race each other for the lead and position. This could be exciting, or it could be a flop. We shall see.

Sunday's race will also mark the beginning of TNT's six week coverage of NASCAR's Sprint Cup. There are groans from the fans, who do not like the way the TNT booth bunnies comment on the race. Rev' Jim will be able to judge for himself this year, as this will be the first time he will have to listen to the television broadcast, as he doesn't have Sirius Satellite Radio, and MRN no longer has a broadcast outlet in Colorado Springs.

The upside of TNT's coverage is that network's technology. We have always been impressed by their moving and synchronized cameras, that give the television audience a view of the race that is about as good as television coverage can get. With TNT's camera magic, we actually get the sense of speed that we would get by being at the race. This is a feature which we enjoy, and look forward to with much enthusiasm.

In other news, Roger Penske has purchased the Saturn brand from Government Motors. His dealerships include Saturn, so it was his logic that if he bought the company, he could keep the dealerships in business and save 13,000 jobs. According to an article on Scene

Under the terms in the memorandum of understanding, Penske would obtain the rights to the brand as well as certain other Saturn assets. GM would continue production, on a contract basis, of the Saturn Aura, Vue and Outlook.

We have to wonder if there may be a Saturn in NASCAR's future, possibly replacing the Dodge brand?

This will be the second week in operation for the new Dale Earnhardt, Jr team, to which Rick Hendrick has allocated the best engineers he has, as well as veteran Crew Chief, Lance McGrew. We may see some improvement in the 88 team, or we may not. Although we feel that Junior is a top notch driver, we haven't seen him adapt to the new Sprint Cup car. We don't think any amount of brain trust can help him until he gets the hang of the characteristics of the new car. We think he is very capable of doing that, but that it will take some time. The new team will help, in improving the performance and the confidence of the driver, but it still may take a few weeks. As always, we could be wrong, and Dale Earnhardt, Jr could be the victor in Sunday's race.