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.

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