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.

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