Monday, July 27, 2009

Dirty Mouth?

Photo Credit: David Griffin/Nascar Scene

Allstate Insurance has announced they will not be renewing their contract to sponsor the Brickyard 400 next year. I can't blame them, because ESPN never once mentioned the name Allstate in association with the Brickyard 400. As old school race fans, we love the fact that it was referred to as the Brickyard 400 and not the Allstate 400, but the sponsor of a race at least deserves some mention, as in "The Brickyard 400 presented by Allstate Insurance."

This is not the first time ESPN has neglected a race sponsor. They did the same thing with MBNA at Dover a couple of years ago. If the race sponsor does not buy advertising on ESPN, then it is the broadcaster's prerogative to ignore that sponsor. But, one would think that there would be some common courtesy involved.

In the article featured on Chicago, Allstate did not mention ESPN:

"The contract was up and we're always reviewing our properties and how they perform," Allstate spokesman Raleigh Floyd said. "We enjoyed working with them, and the fans are probably the most loyal in sports, but our other sponsorships were just performing a little better."

Now, if only "Allstate Insurance" had been mentioned in association with the race, that would have shown the sponsorship to be performing a little better.

Allstate's departure opens the door to other sponsorship opportunities. After seeing Jimmie Johnson, his crew, his wife Chandra, and Miss Sprint Cup Monica Polumbo kissing the bricks, I imagined them all standing up afterwards with their lips coated with tire rubber, oil, and bits of speedy-dri, and thought "This would make a great Orbit commercial."

Think about it--Orbit would be making a big mistake to pass up this opportunity. They don't have to call it the "Clean Up Your Dirty Mouth 400" or anything like that. "Orbit Presents the Brickyard 400" would be just fine.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

On Type Delay: The Brickyard 400

Indianapolis Motor Speedway is so big, that even if the stands are only half full, there are still 125,000 fans attending. To put things in perspective, for Sunday's Brickyard 400,. the stands were only half full, but there were still enough fans in attendence to nearly double the amount of fans at a Chicago Cubs game.

Of course last year's NASCAR version of Formula 1's 2005 US Gran Prix "Tiregate" made many fans cold to stock car racing at IMS, or else there would have been a few more in the stands. Or maybe not. Due to the state of the economy at this time, many people who would have been there probably had other priorities, and just didn't have the money to attend.

At any rate, there is always a lot of pre-race hype whenever there is a race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, which turned 100 this year. There is a lot of work for NASCAR and Goodyear to do to regain the confidence of race fans in that the disaster of last year can be left behind. And the tires were what all the pre-race hype was all about this year. Driver after driver, and many crew chiefs were interviewed on the subject, and all had high praise for what Goodyear has done to improve the tires. They even ventured that Goodyear's research on tire development because of last year's fiasco could improve racing overall.

It's cool that they are broadcasting the driver introductions. Dale Earnhardt, Jr gets the loudest cheers, followed by Bill Elliot and Tony Stewart. Jimmie Johnson gets cheered more loudly than does Jeff Gordon, who claims Indiana as his home state. Interesting. Near silence for Sam Hornish, Jr, who is an Indianapolis 500 winner and three time IRL champion. There don't seem to be many open wheel fans at IMS today.

So we put last year behind us as the race begins and before the first lap is finished, Robby Gordon spins out and the race is under caution. Elliott Sadler's car is smoking, and black flagged. Martin is officially scored as the race leader and restarts the field on lap five.

Martin's car gets a little loose on the restart, and Montoya passes him for the lead. Dale Earnhardt, Jr moves into second, but Martin regains that position a few laps later.

This is a good indication that the changes made on behalf of Junior a few weeks ago may be paying off. While Montoya checks out on the rest of the field, Junior is able to stay in or near the top five. This is the best we've seen the #88 car perform all season.

Green flag pit stops begin on lap 30. Everybody takes four tires and fuel. Kurt Busch has to return to the pits for a loose wheel, and falls back to 35th position, one lap down. After all the pits stops are completed, Montoya maintains the lead by a little over two seconds.

On lap 45, it looks like Denny Hamlin is out of the race, for all practical purposes, with a broken drive shaft.

On lap 59 the caution flies after Kyle Busch loses a right front tire and hits the wall. He takes his car to the garage. We are witnessing a tranformation in the works as Kyle is interviewed while they are working on his car. The kid is trying to improve his image, and if he keeps it up, he just may do that. It is always interesting to watch a driver mature before our eyes, and is just another good reason to be a NASCAR fan.

Restart on lap 63, with Montoya still in the lead. Mark Martin is second, followed by Brian Vickers, Greg Biffle, and Jimmie Johnson. Tony Stewart is sixth, and after the green flag waves, gets into a great race for fifth with Johnson that lasts for several laps. It's too bad we can't see that battle as it continues. It makes us wish TNT was still carrying the broadcast race coverage.

The battle for fifth between Stewart and Johnson continues until green flag pit stops begin on lap 90. After the pit stops cycle through, Montoya leads Martin by five and a half seconds. Brian Vickers is third, Jimmie Johnson is fourth, and Tony Stewart is fifth. Now a battle for third ensues between Vickers and Johnson. Stewart is playing it safe, holding his position and enjoying the view of the racing in front of him, as he saves fuel and his car.

Why do we want to watch a race that is basically a single file parade? My reason is that there is still a lot that can happen. Since the middle of the 1950's, NASCAR at the Grand National (Cup) level has been as much about endurance and stamina as it has been about racing, with all the 400 and 500 mile races on its schedule. Anything can happen. There could, for instance be another caution, and with the lead lap double file restart, the top positions could be shaken up. Or something else can happen, like the race leader getting a pass through penalty for speeding on pit road.

And that is what happens. Montoya enjoys a routine pit stop, which should be the last of the race, on lap 126, and gets cited for speeding on pit road. This means he will have to serve a pass through penalty. Although I'm not much for conspiracy theories, those fans who subscribe to the Hendrick Conspiracy will have a heyday with this. Does anyone actually use the word "heyday" anymore? And what does it actually mean?

Oh, my, on lap 128, Dale Earnhardt, Jr's engine literally explodes as he is making his entrance to the pits. This is very sad as Junior has been running mostly in the top seven all day, having a great race day. Now it appears that Teresa Earnhardt has had access to the Hendrick garage is has been sabotaging engines again, or maybe it's Tony Eury, Jr--who is still a Hendrick employee, but secretly still works for Teresa--has been doing her dirty work for her.

Okay, I'm just making things up, but the demise of Junior's engine will provide even more fodder for the conspiracy theorists. Junior says he might have let the clutch slip as he was down shifting and over-revved the engine.

It takes a while to clean up the oil spilled from the engine of the 88 car, and pit road is closed. The restart finally comes on lap 137. Mark Martin is in the lead, Johnson second, Greg Biffle is third, Tony Stewart fourth, and Brian Vickers is fifth. Montoya restarts in twelfth. Johnson quickly gets by Martin and takes the lead.

With four laps to go, Johnson is negotiating lapped traffic, and Martin is catching him. This could be a great finish. Martin will not let up, so Johnson can't let up. This final laps race was worth waiting for. With one lap to go Martin has caught Johnson several times, especially coming out of turn two, but Johnson has held him off every time. Martin has one more chance coming out of turn two of the final lap. Johnson holds on to the lead, and becomes the first driver to kiss the bricks two years in a row.

There was a great battle for third between Biffle and Stewart during that final lap, but we didn't get to see it because ESPN isn't TNT. Stewart prevailed and finished third, Biffle fourth--a great effort for his team. Brian Vickers was fifth, followed by Harvick, Kahne, Reutimann, Jeff Gordon, and Matt Kenseth. Montoya, who lost the race because of a tiny little mistake, finished eleventh. Denny Hamlin finished thirty-fifth, Kyle Busch thirty-eighth, and Kurt Busch finished twenty-seventh, all of whom were in the top twelve. The race for the cut for the Chase has been shaken up and is tighter than ever.

It wasn't the most exciting race in the world, but it held our attention. This was actually the first real race at IMS with the Sprint Cup car, or COT, as most people call it. I don't count last year, because we never got to see what the car would do on a long green flag run. This race was clean and green, for the most part, and we saw that the COT has the same problems with closing and passing as did the aero car. But we must remember that the Sprint Cup car is still a work in progress, and the racing may be better next year. Personally, I think the racing would be better if, aside from the road courses and the RP tracks, the longest track on which the Cup cars raced was Darlington, but we know that won't happen. Meanwhile, we must be patient.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Sprint Cup Off-Weeks Can Be Fun (Corrected)

It's almost like being in the off-season without the angst. Instead of three months, over which withdrawal symptoms set in, it is, after all, only one week.

The activity on most of the NASCAR fans forums has died down a bit, without a Cup race about which to speculate. What talk there is, is about the Mayfield Saga, great soap opera material if there ever was any. It pits conspiracy theorists against rationalists, and leaves the rest of us wondering how it got to be this way. Monte Dutton wrote a very concise and clear assessment of the situation on NASCAR This Week, entitled "Stinking Contest." Dutton points out what the whole thing boils down to in very few words:

It seems like middle ground is impossible now. Either Mayfield is an addict in denial, or he's the target of a vast conspiracy. Either he's Leonardo DiCaprio in "The Basketball Diaries" or he's Cary Grant in "North by Northwest." Now it's in the lawyer's hands, and they're going to hurl words like haymakers.

Personally, I wonder if Mayfield had accepted NASCAR's terms first, then began his quest to clear his name later, it might have been easier on both him and NASCAR. But, if you know anything about Mayfield's history, that is not the way he rolls.

While we are on the NASCAR This Week page, let me draw your attention to the Guest Column, written by yours truly. While I don't think I really deserve to be on the same page as Monte Dutton, I can't help but to feel honored by being there. An opportunity for shameless self-promotion never escapes me, however.

Can you believe that Kyle Busch has done nothing to piss anybody off this week? Wait, the Nationwide race hasn't been run yet. It will be run at one of my favorite tracks, Gateway. This is a 1.25 mile track similar in shape to the beloved Darlington Raceway. Though Gateway is similar in shape, the banking is flatter, and turns one and two,at the narrow end are more like turn three and at Pocono than turns three and four at Darlington. It should make for an interesting race, with Kyle Busch, Carl Edwards, Kevin Harvick, and Reed Sorenson being the only Cup drivers in the mix. For those who can't wait for Kyle Busch to do something to send them off in a fit of rage, it is a must see.

The Truck Series is always fun. It is also easy to lose track of, since it doesn't run every week. Kentucky Motor Speedway is the venue, and the local fans are very loyal. This is probably the largest stand alone crowd the series will see on its schedule, and the drivers will certainly put on a good show.

Kevin Harvick has let it be known that he wants out of the final year of his contract with Richard Childress Racing. The common feeling among sports writers is that he is looking for a seat with Stewart Haas Racing. That is not too far-fetched, as Tony Stewart and the Harvicks (aka Kevlana) have a long and tightly knit friendship. With GM pulling support from Kevin Harvick Incorporated, an association with SHR would give KHI better resources through their own association with Hendrick Motor Sports.

However, Stewart himself, though saying that SHR could field a third team, has not definitively said that they would field one in 2010. Childress has said that he will hold Harvick to his contract, and that Harvick's sponsor, Shell Pennzoil, is staying with RCR. Though this sounds similar to what J.D. Gibbs said about Stewart leaving last year, we are going to stick our neck out and say that Harvick going to SHR in 2010 ain't gonna happen. If we are wrong, then we are two for two on "important" silly season stuff, and we prove that we never learn.

Maybe, this weekend has given us a chance to get our writing chops back, and we can come out of our slump. There is always something to write about concerning NASCAR, and,though we usually like to find something about which nobody else is writing, we are sure to find many fun topics.

But whether we find something new to write about or not, we are going to have fun this weekend, and we hope that all our friends have fun as well. Even if Kyle doesn't piss us off.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

On Type Delay: The Chicagoland Lifelock 500

Every time there is a race at one of the intermediate tracks--the 1.5 or 2 mile tracks with relatively flat banking--I always hope that maybe, this time, we will see some racing for the lead. They always seem to allow the driver who takes the lead pull out way ahead of the rest of the field. On tracks that are nice and wide, like Chicagoland, there are few cautions that would tighten the field back up.

The characteristics that allow side by side racing for the lead don't seem to be the characteristics of these so-called "cookie cutter" tracks. It was difficult to pass for the lead with the aero-car that NASCAR Cup teams used until 2008. The hope was that the different aerodynamics and the parity built into what is now the Sprint Cup car would solve some of those problems. So far it hasn't, but we should remember that the new car is still a work in progress. That is why we hope that each race at a certain track would be better than the one before it.

The Team Red Bull Toyotas of Brian Vickers and Scott Speed are on the front row at the start of the race. Speed falls back, but Vickers takes the lead and opens a gap between himself and the rest of the field. Johnson quickly takes second, and begins to gain on Vickers. Vickers holds the lead for ten laps before Johnson passes him. Johnson soon has a two second lead over the rest of the field, and begins lapping cars by lap 30. There is a caution for debris around lap 39.

Mark Martin comes out of the pits first, and Johnson loses six positions on pit road. Brian Vickers comes out second. Restart on lap 44. He started in the fourteenth position, and it didn't seem to take him long at all to get to the front. Johnson's car is still pretty strong, and he gets back into third place in no time at all, a benefit of the double file restart. Other cars that seem strong are those of Brian Vickers, Paul Menard, Dale Earnhardt, Jr, Kurt Busch, Kasey Kahne, Clint Bowyer, and Tony Stewart. Most of the others seem to be having handling problems of one sort or another. Kyle Busch has big problems as he hits brushes the wall and knocks the rear end of his car out of alignment. But his car is not the only car that meets the wall on the curving backstretch.

Green flag pit stops begin after lap 89, and after they cycle through, Martin retains the lead and continues to lap slower cars. There are a lot of problems on pit road, and many cars lose position, due to penalties and pit errors.

Caution for debris on lap 131. All the lead lap cars hit pit road. At the restart on lap 136, the top five are Mark Martin, Jimmie Johnson, Kasey Kahne, and Tony Stewart.

On lap 165, the top five are Martin, Johnson, Kahne, Stewart, and Vickers. Hamlin takes fifth a few laps later, and Vickers falls back to seventh. Green flag pit stops begin on lap 185. Stewart almost hits AJ Allmendinger's car as he is leaving his pit box, and Allmendinger is enterint his, but disaster is barely avoided. When the pit stops cycle through, it's Martin, Johnson, Hamlin, Kahne, and Stewart in the top five. Kyle Busch's team reports that the 18 car has dropped a cylinder. He is having a very bad night.

Paint jobs that look very cool under the lights: the 24, 14, and 99 cars.

Caution for debris on lap 211. Everybody pits, and this might be within the window to make this the final pit stop. Martin barely beats Johnson off of pit road. Stewart's crew drops a lug nut and he falls back to fifteenth. At the restart on lap 215, it's Martin, Johnson, Hamlin, and Kahne in the top four.

On lap 219, Sam Hornish Jr hits the wall and brings out the caution. The top five at the restart are Martin, Johnson, Vickers, Hamlin, and Kahne at the restart with 44 laps to go.

Johnson beats Martin on the restart, and takes the lead. Further back in the field, Earnhardt, Jr slides up the track and makes contact with Menard. Paul Menard's car brushes the wall, cuts a tire, and turns hard left, collecting a couple of other cars, including the unfortunate #31 car of Jeff Burton, and bringing out the caution once again. Jeff Burton does not like the double file restart.

At the restart with 35 laps to go, Johnson takes the outside lane, and after racing with Martin for a quarter of a lap, pulls out ahead of the pack. Vickers moves into second. Martin is third, Hamlin is fourth, and Kahne is fifth. Keselowski, who started twenty-ninth, now moves into the top ten.

With 25 laps to go, it's Johnson, Vickers, Martin, Hamlin, Kahne, Bowyer, Kurt Busch, Jeff Gordon, Carl Edwards, and Brad Keselowski in the top ten. Caution with 21 to go after David Reutimann brushes the wall. Most of the cars on the lead lap from the eighth position on back pit. The restart is with 16 to go, with Johnson leading, followed by Vickers, Hamlin, Martin, Kahne and Bowyer. Vickers beats Johnson on the restart, Hamlin moves up and is racing wheel to wheel for the lead. This is exciting. Vickers gets a little into Hamlin, and Martin gets the opportunity to move by the leaders and takes the lead. Jimmie Johnson and Kurt Busch are having a battle for sixth that is taking casualties. Johnson gets into Busch and Busch retaliates, causing more damage to the 2 car than the 48 car. Newman and Stewart take advantage of the shanannigans and move into fifth and sixth.

With nine to go, the engine in Kyle Busch's car finally gives out, and the caution comes out once again. The restart with four to go has Mark Martin in the lead, Gordon second, Kahne third, Hamlin fourth, and Stewart fifth. Martin gets a great restart, and opens a gap on Gordon. Kahne races Gordon for second, takes it momentarily, then Gordon takes it back. Stewart moves into fourth. At the checkers, it's Martin, Jeff Gordon, Kahne, Stewart and Hamlin in the top five. Newman, Bowyer, Johnson, Edwards, and Juan Montoya fill out the top ten.

By finishing 1-2, in the same order they did at the Michigan Lifelock 400, Mark Martin and Jeff Gordon get to split a $1,000,000 bonus. In addition, a lucky fan got a $1,000,000 check from Lifelock. I wish I had signed up for Lifelock. Now the fees will go up and I will never be able to afford them.

Mark Martin gets his fourth victory of the season. If he is in the top twelve in points after Richmond, in September, at this point in time he is the leader in Chase Bonus points, with 40. I'm starting to agree with the writers like Terry Blount who suggest that NASCAR needs to add yet another ten championship points for a win. That would eliminate the possibility that a driver with the most wins would miss the Chase. It is scary to think about the backlash that would come about if Martin doesn't make the Chase now. There would probably be riots.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Poll Results: Rude racing is acceptable

The poll question was "Should the driver of a slow car in a race pull over to let faster traffic pass?"

67% of those who participated in the poll believe "No, he should make them race for their position"

33% of those who participated believe "Yes, they are going to pass him anyway."

As far as we can recall, NASCAR has never penalized a driver for ignoring the yellow cross on a blue flag that tells the driver to let the faster traffic pass. If a driver is one lap down, it makes no sense for that driver to risk giving up a free pass position to let the faster cars pass. By the same token, there is nothing wrong with a driver wanting to keep whatever position he has earned, no matter if he is on the lead lap or not.

When a driver is falling back because of an ill handling car or bad tires, our readers believe that the driver should make every other driver work to pass him. We may be wrong, but it seems there is no rule against a driver who wants to do everything he can to hold his position, it is merely a "gentleman's understanding" that makes a faster driver believe that there is an obligation for the slower traffic to yield to faster traffic. When a driver does not follow this gentleman's agreement, it often results in a flare up of tempers, and could even cause wrecks and retaliation on the track. That can make for a very interesting race, and/or create a post race altercation. That is the stuff that keeps us watching to see what happens next.

A big thanks to all our readers who participated in the poll. Feel free to participate in the new poll, and Rev Jim promises to try not to forget to publish the poll results in the future.

On Type Delay: The Firecracker 400 (AKA The Coke Zero 400)

Even if we don't really like restrictor plate racing, we are drawn to the potential wreckfest with great anticipation. Even though much of the racing is out of the driver's hands, there is just something about it that makes it exciting. It's not the kind of racing we normally think of as racing, but that's exactly what it is--racing in an abnormal definition. Anything can happen, and that is why we watch, and have fun watching.

Besides, no matter what the sponsor's name is, this is the Firecracker 400, and it is on the Fourth of July for the first time in many years.

Jeff Gordon leads the first lap on the outside lane. With help from Denny Hamlin, Kurt Bush takes the lead by splitting the two lines on lap 3, leaving Jeff Gordon hung out to dry. Hamlin takes the lead on lap 5. There will be a lot of this throughout the race, so we will eventually lose track of every lead change.

Lap 10 and the cars are spread out in single file for the most part. This is normal for a night race at Daytona Early in the race, the drivers are working on figuring out what adjustments they need, or will need for the changing conditions. We won't be seeing a lot of aggression this early in the race. And on lap 13 just as we wrote that last sentence, Mark Martin and Matt Kenseth make contact, and Martin goes spinning into the infield. Montoya almost gets by without getting hit by Martin's car, but it was only almost, and Juan Pablo gets by with some damage to the rear end body work of his car. The leaders pit. Kurt Busch slides through his pit and loses time in the pits. Stewart gets out of the pits first, and lines up on the inside row. Restart on lap 17.

By lap 18, the drivers up front are again in single file. Kurt Busch, who restarted in 27th is already up to 19th, a result of the advantage given to position by the new double file restart. On lap 22 the top five are Stewart, Johnson, Hamlin, Jeff Burton, and Kenseth. The top six are pulling away from the rest of the field.

That Burger King commercial that they showed in the sub screen got me. I was thinking "Oh no, not now, not today," when Stewart was reporting a vibration and a car that had its handling going away, with Darrien Grubb trying to keep him calm and trying to keep him on the track for just five more laps. It takes the King, not King Richard, but creepy King Burger King--who just happens to be riding along in the car--to calm him down by giving him some french fries. It was a very clever commercial, and it reminded us how appropriate it is that Stewart's part time sponsor switched from Subway to Burger King. Tony Stewart is nothing if he isn't a burgers and fries guy.

Casey Mears spins out and hits the inside wall on lap 28, bringing out the second caution. The leaders pit and at the restart on lap 31, it's Stewart, Hamlin, Kenseth, Sadler and Johnson in the top 5. Hamlin takes the lead on lap 33, and then has to move down to block a hard charging Kyle Busch. On lap 34, it's Hamlin, Busch, Stewart, Kenseth, and Johnson in the top five. Things settle down again by lap 36, and the lead cars are once again in single file.

Stewart gets to the outside and around Kyle Busch on lap 45, and moves into second, then slingshots around Hamlin and takes the lead on lap 46 with not drafting help. This is one of the things we like about the Sprint Cup car--the cars can pass for the lead without help, by using the old school maneuver of draft and slingshot.

Hamlin tries to race Stewart side by side, gets hung out by himself, and falls back into line in the fourth position. Montoya gets lapped on lap 50. On lap 51, the top five are Stewart, Kyle Busch, Matt Kenseth, Jimmie Johnson, and Kurt Busch, who seems to have recovered from his earlier pit snafu with some authority.

Bad news for Junior Nation, as Jr has fallen back to twenty-fourth, and is reporting some serious handling issues.

Matt Kenseth pits under the green, dropping out of third place, on lap 56. This turns out to be the old "pit just before the caution" strategy as the caution flies on lap 57after Sam Hornish, Jr brushes the wall and leaves debris on the track. Kenseth stays out while the rest of the field pits. The first five out of the pits are Stewart, Kyle Busch, Kurt Busch, Jimmie Johnson, and Denny Hamlin. Kenseth will lead the restart on lap 61. Stewart starts to take the lead, but gets stuck by himself and drops back to fifth. But he hooks up again, finding the right place to be at the right time, and one lap later finds himself in third, behind Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch.

Now it's hard to listen to radio chatter without thinking it's just another ad. But Johnson is having some handling problems, but is managing to hang in among the top six.

On lap 72, with weather reported on its way, Kyle Busch moves up the track, allowing Stewart to pass below him, then Stewart takes the lead. On lap 73, Carl Edwards moves into the third position. Hamlin gets the lead back on lap 74. On lap 76, the top five are Hamlin, Stewart, Edwards, Kyle Busch, and Jimmie Johnson. On lap 77 there is a big wreck on the backstretch, involving Dale Jr, David Stremme, David Reutimann, Kasey Kahne, Michael Waltrip, Reed Sorenson, Brian Vickers, Kevin Harvick, Ryan Newman, and Jeff Gordon, among others. There are actually thirteen cars involved. Joey Logano barely avoids the wreck. The leaders pit on lap 80, and Stewart's excellent pit crew and pit position get him off of pit road first, once again giving him the lead.

John Andretti stayed out, and is scored in the lead. He pits before the race goes green, and the restart is on lap 82, with Stewart first, followed by Hamlin, Kyle Busch, Carl Edwards, and Kurt Busch. Hamlin takes the lead on lap 83.

On lap 89 the top five are Hamlin, Stewart, Kyle Busch, Edwards, and Jimmie Johnson. Jamie McMurray pits out of ninth position on lap 99. Caution on lap 102 as Reutimann cuts a front right tire and hits the wall. The leaders pit on lap 104. Stewart again gets off of pit road first. Johnson has some issues in the pits because he is too close to the wall. He was in fourth, and comes out in nineteenth. McMurray is scored in the lead, but he pits again. The top five at the restart will be Stewart, Hamlin, Kyle Busch, Kurt Busch, and Jeff Burton. Stewart holds the lead, thanks to a very healthy push by Kyle Busch, and the top five on lap 109 are Stewart, Kyle Busch, Burton, David Ragan, and Matt Kenseth. Hamlin gets dropped back to 12th.

With 45 laps to go Hamlin has made it back into the top six or seven. Kyle Busch gets hung out, and Burton moves into second. Busch moves back into the field, breaking up the potential Roush train of Ragan, Kenseth, and Edwards, then moves back into third, with 42 laps to go. With 39 laps to go, David Ragan and Kurt Busch make contact while going four wide--at Daytona--and bring out a caution. The leaders all pit again with 38 laps to go.

Stewart comes off of pit road first, Edwards second, Kyle Busch third, after having to avoid Robby Gordon entering his pit. Jeff Burton comes out fourth, and Matt Kenseth is fifth. Things should be picking up some now. The restart will be with 35 to go. The weather that was coming has broken up, according to radio chatter between Bob Osborne and his driver Carl Edwards. Edwards takes the lead, after Kyle moves up to the outside, but Stewart also moves tho the outside and falls in line in third. Jeff Burton takes the lead with 33 to go, after Stewart drafts him and follows him into second. Now Stewart takes the lead with Kyle Busch behind him. Jeff Burton drops back, and gets involved in a race with Montoya, who has made it from being a lap down, to getting a free pass, and is now battling for a top five position. Johnson moves into fourth. Burton cuts a tire and has to pit. With 30 to go, the top five are Stewart, Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin, Jimmie Johnson, and Montoya. The top four cars are almost two seconds ahead of the rest of the pack.

With fifteen laps to go, the caution flies because, as far as we can tell, Kyle Busch suggested that there had to be another caution before the end of the race. Joking aside, there must have been debris, as the cleaning crew is on the track. This is going to be fun. Everybody pits. Off of pit road, it's Stewart, Kyle Busch, Hamlin, Johnson, and Kenseth. Wow.

It looks like Stewart will take the inside lane, which will put Hamlin behind him. Johnson is behind Busch. We love these "shootout style" restarts. 12 to go and the green flies. Hamlin pushes Stewart to a clear lead, then Johnson moves down behind Stewart and takes second. With ten to go, it's Stewart, Johnson, Hamlin, Kyle Busch, and Kenseth. With nine to go, Scott Speed, running in fifteenth, gets tangled with somebody and hits the wall. Logano once again does a good job avoiding the wreck. Caution. The top five are Stewart, Hamlin, Kyle Busch, Johnson, and Kenseth.

Now Stewart will have Busch behind him, and Hamlin, on the outside, will have Johnson behind him. We expect the Gibbs drivers to team up after the restart, and Johnson will help his technical team mate, Stewart. Just speculating here. Getting caught up in the excitement of the moment.

Being nerve-wracked is a rush, restart with five to go. Stewart gets the edge on the restart. Johnson gets down behind Busch, leaving Hamlin out, but Hamlin gets down in front of Johnson. So now it's Stewart, Busch, Hamlin, and Johnson in the top four, running nose to tail. Two to go. Right at the end of the lap, Kyle Busch gets around Stewart after a push from Hamlin on the outside, but Hamlin falls back, and Busch is on his own. Down the backstretch on the final lap, Johnson, running in third, catches up to Stewart, and starts pushing him. Stewart gets up behind Busch going through turn three. Stewart goes low, and Busch blocks, Stewart goes high, and Busch goes to block, and runs into Stewart's bumper. Kyle wrecks, Stewart wins, what a finish!

Johnson finishes second, Hamlin third, Edwards fourth, and Kurt Busch fifth. Marcose Ambrose, Brian Vickers, Matt Kenseth, Juan Montoya, and Elliott Sadler fill out the top ten.

Stewart doesn't like the way he won, but we feel that both Stewart and Busch were doing what they had to do to win. Stewart was already on Kyle Busch's right rear quarter panel when Busch moved up to block him. "I wanted to give him (Busch) a good finish...I apologize if I did something wrong, but I don't think I did," lamented Stewart in victory lane.

Indeed, Kyle Busch's wreck collected Kasey Kahne and Joey Logano, among others, so it was an ugly victory. But it was a victory, and, in the end, that's all that matters.