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.

1 comment:

Clance' said...

Boo! Did I scare you?
Missed ya!