Monday, August 17, 2009

On Type Delay: The Carfax 400 at MIS

This morning, I was awakened at 6:00 AM by the sound of engines and turbo chargers as classic cars, hot rods, street rods, and customized vehicles paraded down Colorado Avenue to enter the annual Good Times Auto Show. This open, just for fun, car show is an annual event that falls,intentionally, on the same weekend as the famous Woodward Dream Cruise in Michigan. Our little show in Old Colorado City gets more popular each year, and, as a result, gets more entries each year. There are no cash prizes, just ribbons and bragging rights. And the cars, as always, are beautiful.

I love car shows almost as much as I love racing, but this is supposed to be my weekly stream of conscious race review, so we shall get on with it.

We can almost be certain, at Michigan, to see the race turn into a fuel mileage race at some point. That is because the track has so many ways to get around it, cautions, and therefore double file restarts, are less likely to happen than at other tracks. But this does provide a different kind of excitement towards the end, as we, the fans can try to second guess what the teams will do.

The race begins well, though, and we have the excitement of the green flag and get to see several of the leaders vie for the honor of leading the first lap. Mark Martin wins that challenge, and takes the lead. Pole-sitter Brian Vickers, who is having a great weekend, falls back to fourth, but regains third place from Jimmie Johnson on lap four.

It wasn't supposed to rain in Michigan today, but there was a 10% chance of showers predicted. That ten percent becomes 100 percent over Michigan International Speedway, and the race is halted on lap nine. Good, I can go to the car show and take some morepictures.

I guess it's time to get new rechargeable batteries. The ones I have are getting old and I was only able to snap 11 photos before I got the low battery signal. Crap. So many neat cars and so short a battery life.

The race resumes under caution, after nineteen minutes, and the leaders stay out on the track. From Brad Keselowski, in twelfth place, on back, most of the teams pit. The green flag flies at the end of lap 11, with Mark Martin in the lead, followed by Kurt Busch, Brian Vickers, Jimmie Johnson, and Joey Logano. Martin gets a great restart. Vickers, on the other hand, doesn't and falls back several places. Martin gains some space in his lead, while behind him there is some great three wide racing going on. Jimmie Johnson passes Kurt Busch for second, and is gaining on the leader by lap 15. Tony Stewart, Kyle Busch, Jeff Gordon, and Matt Kenseth are all moving rapidly up through the field. Jimmie Johnson and Mark Martin have an exciting race for the lead on laps 21 and 22, and Johnson comes out on top. This is what we like to see, green flag racing for a lead change. At Michigan, no less.

Green flag pit stops begin on lap 40, as Ryan Newman pulls into the pits, while Vickers passes Martin for second place. It seems that Vickers' car is weak at the beginning of the run, but is picking up well towards the end of a run. The green flag pit stops cycle through until lap 51, and the running order for the top five is Johnson, Martin, Hamlin, Vickers, and Logano. Then we get a caution on lap 52, after Robby Gordon's car blows a tire. That's too bad, because the leaders were pretty close together after the pit stops cycled through, and we were getting ready for some great green flag action for the lead. Paul Menard stays out, while the rest of the cars pit.

At the restart on lap 58, it's Menard, Kenseth, Jeff Gordon, David Ragan, and David Reutimann. Kenseth, Gordon, and Menard are three wide after they cross the start line, and Kenseth takes the lead. It looks like Kenseth is having a good day, and maybe, at his "house" in Michigan, Jack (Roush) is back.

However, Johnson is moving up quickly, passing Ragan and Gordon, and challenging Kenseth for the lead. Johnson passes Kenseth on lap 64, but Kenseth doesn't give up the lead very easily. Johnson's car proves to be faster as he seals the deal. By lap 74, he has a two and a half second lead over the second place Kenseth.

As green flag pit stops approach, the performance of Mark Martin's car seems to be improving. On lap 90, Martin is approaching Johnson's bumper, and is about to challenge him for the lead. It is also on lap 90 that Kevin Harvick and Paul Menard begin the pit cycle. Martin takes the lead by passing Jimmie Johnson on lap 95, but on lap 96, both Martin and Johnson pit.

After the pit stops cycle through, the top five running order is Johnson, Martin, Kenseth, Bowyer, and Vickers. Jeff Gordon moves into the top five on lap 104. Johnson and Martin are racing each other the entire time, and are nine seconds ahead of the pack by lap 106.

Is it just me, or does the lady on the Progressive Auto Insurance commercials seem slutty? I am a fan of slutty women, but I don't know what the message on these commercials is supposed to be. Is this Madison Ave's representation of the common woman, or of insurance agents? The street wise attitude and the heavy make up seem to imply that insurance agents, like politicians, are prostitutes. Just thinking in print, which is probably not a good idea.

There is a caution on lap 116 for debris. All the lead lap cars, except for the 55, pit again, as the end of race fuel strategy begins. Tony Stewart takes two tires and the lead out of the pits. Waltrip pits, and Stewart will lead the field to the green flag.

The restart is on lap 120, and it's Stewart, Johnson, Vickers, Martin, and Kenseth. Johnson gets a good start, and barely avoids passing Stewart illegally before the start/finish line. He does get the lead as Stewart falls back. Almost immediately, David Ragan and Kurt Busch make contact, and Busch's car hits the wall, suffering heavy damage. the race once again goes under caution.

In the "I didn't know that category," Sam Hornish, Jr gets black flagged for pitting twice for fuel under the last caution. That's a rule we don't hear about very often.

The race restarts on lap 126, with Johnson in the lead, followed by Stewart, Vickers, Martin, and Bowyer. Stewart gets the great start this time, and takes the lead in turn 1, but then gets passed by Johnson in turn 4. Stewart's car doesn't seem to be very good for Michigan, and I think the 14 team may be using this race for testing. In other words, they are taking a Mulligan. To reinforce that feeling, Martin passes Stewart for second on lap 129, and Kenseth is threatening to take third. Stewart loses a four-wide battle and falls back to sixth.

On lap 133, Ragan spins after being bumped by Hornish, and the caution comes out. Stewart, in sixth, and half the cars behind him pit. Green flag at lap 140, with Johnson in the lead. Martin, Kenseth, Vickers, and Jeff Gordon fill out the top five. Kyle Busch moves into the top five right after the restart, and Gordon also advances. Gordon takes second from Kenseth on lap 144, and there is a caution for rain on lap 146. This will be the "money stop" for much of the field on lap 149, as many teams take the gamble that they might be able to make their fuel last for 51 laps. Stewart stops for fuel only. The cars that will be in the top five at the restart all stayed out.

So the restart on lap 152 has Reutimann in the lead, followed by Hamlin, Logano, Earnhardt, Jr., and Truex, Jr. The crowd goes wild as Earnhardt, Jr takes the lead and holds it. Logano takes second from Logano. Logano is racing Earnhardt for the lead on lap 155. The race for the lead continues until lap 157, when David Stremme becomes the meat in an RCR sandwich, between Clint Bowyer and Jeff Burton. Stremme spins and brings out the caution. The top fourteen cars stay out. The number fourteen team pits, trying to get the best they can out of a bad day.

The top five at the restart on lap 161 are Brian Vickers, Jimmie Johnson, Matt Kenseth, Kevin Harvick, and Jamie McMurray. Johnson takes the lead in turn one of lap 166. the top five cars are in fuel conservation mode. Jeff Gordon moves into the top five, and takes third from Martin on lap 171. He is also in fuel conservation mode. Dale Jr, however, is not, and is steadily moving up through the field. He passes Mark Martin for fifth on lap 181. The Booth Bunnies are now calling this Jr's race to win. I bet my Jr fan friends are excited.

On lap 182, Gordon is given the go ahead, by his crew chief Steve Letarte, to go for the win, even though they may be short on fuel. Jr takes fourth place from Carl Edwards on lap 190. Ten laps to go, and the top three are very worried about fuel.

Brian Vickers is pressuring Johnson for the lead. He could run them both out of fuel, but he doesn't seem to be worried. Meanwhile, Matt Kenseth, who started out having a good day, is falling way back. His car isn't running well at all on old tires. With four laps to go, Johnson still leads, but Vickers is not letting up on the pressure. Neither is Jr as he is closing in on the top three. With two laps to go, Johnson runs out of fuel and gives the lead to Vickers. This must be frustrating for Jimmie. I wonder if he is going to get whipped with a dipstick by a Scotsman.

One lap to go. Will Vickers make it? Earnhardt isn't gaining anything on Gordon, as Gordon is going for broke. Halfway through the lap, and we know there has to be nail biting in the #83 pit. The big gamble could pay off, and it does.

This is Brian Vickers' first win in Cup since his Talladega win in 2006, making it his first win in 100 races. This is also Toyota's first victory at Michigan, and Red Bull's first win in NASCAR Cup. Jeff Gordon finished second, Dale Jr third, Carl Edwards fourth, and Sam Hornish Jr overcame early set backs to finish fifth.

There was some pretty good racing in today's race, to go along with the usual fuel strategy drama. Vickers played his cards right in order to take the victory, even though it was a gamble.

In the near future, I will try to post some more pictures from the Good Times Auto Show.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

On Type Delay: The Heluva Good at The Glen

Back in the "old" days, when it came to road course racing, we could almost be sure to see the road course "ringers" in victory lane. Back in the sixties, Dan Gurney, for example, was the "King of the road," a sure winner at Riverside. Gurney's only NASCAR races were on road courses.Parnelli Jones and, before going full time in 2003, Robby Gordon were among other notable road course "ringers." It became a tradition for car owners and manufacturers in NASCAR to hire specialists for the road courses, as nobody expected drivers who ran most of their races on ovals to do well on road courses.

Although we still see teams that are outside the top twenty in points using "ringers" for road courses, those days are essentially gone. Today's top NASCAR drivers show the same kind of ability on road courses as they do on the ovals.

The ringers have the disadvantage of lack of experience in cars that weigh 3400 pounds and have engines capable of producing 800 horsepower. The cars most ringers race regularly weigh 600 to 1000 pounds less than the Cup cars. The open wheel specialists race cars that weigh half as much as the CoT.

Now, the Sprint Cup regulars have the advantage. Full time drivers like Tony Stewart, Jeff Gordon, Kyle Busch, Marcos Ambrose, and Kasey Kahne will almost always outperform the part time ringers on road courses.

Well, enough of that, let's get on with the race.

Jimmie Johnson starts on the pole. He has yet to win a road course race in NASCAR, but that has never kept him from winning a Championship. He has made it clear that he is motivated to win today at Watkins Glen. Kurt Busch shares the front row, and soon passes Johnson for the lead. That number 2 car seems to have a lot of power, and Kurt Busch seems to be hitting his marks and braking points. There is almost a caution on lap 8 when Jeff Burton and Bobby Labonte make slight contact. Labonte spins, but is able to get his car going in the right direction again, avoiding the caution.

There is a caution on lap 17, due to debris on the track. Marcos Ambrose stays out, but most of everybody else pits. Tony Stewart calls for two spring rubbers and a wedge adjustment on both the left and right sides. He was obviously unhappy with the set up and had gained only one spot between the start of the race and the first caution. Jeff Burton, Dale Earnhardt, Jr, and Denny Hamlin are all ticketed for speeding on pit road, and have to start at the end of the longest line.

The restart is on lap 20, with Ambrose leading the field. Kasey Kahne is second, Reed Sorenson third, Kurt Busch, the first driver off of pit road is fourth, and Kyle Busch is fifth.

On lap 23, David Stremme goes into the grass at the "bus stop" chicane, and, as he tries to return to the track, makes contact with Kevin Harvick and Jeff Gordon. Gordon and Stremme are able to continue, but Harvick's car is wrecked, and he takes his car to the garage. David, I like you, but the pass in the grass only works if you have a set of skills similar to Kyle Busch's, and a car-set up that can handle it. Today, at least, you have neither. Anyway, the accident brings out a caution.

Restart on lap 26, with Marcos Ambrose in the lead, Kurt Busch second, Kyle Busch third, Jimmie Johnson fourth, and Boris Said fifth. Kurt Busch beats Ambrose for the lead, and then pits under green for fuel only on lap 29. Ambrose makes his first pit stop of the race, giving the lead to Jimmie Johnson. Tony Stewart has moved into the top five, apparently liking the changes made during the first caution. He is in third by lap 31.

Kyle Busch has been challenging Johnson for the lead since the restart, and passes him in turn 11 on lap 34. Tony Stewart takes second on lap 37, but Kyle Busch has a two second lead. On lap 41, the terrible luck that has been plaguing Dale Earnhardt, Jr all season, once again hits home as the brakes on the 88 car fail going into turn 10. Reed Sorenson happens to be on the outside of Earnhardt, and ends up in the gravel,as a result of contact, and Earnhardt hits the tire barrier. He is alright, as he exits the car, and Sorenson gets his car going and is able to rejoin this race. That was a scary moment, however, and once again the safety of the Cup car is demonstrated.

Restart on lap 45, with Kyle Busch in the lead, Tony Stewart is second, Johnson third, Biffle fourth, and Boris Said is fifth. Busch wins the restart, but Stewart catches him in the esses and passes him for the lead. Green flag pit stops begin as soon as the fuel window opens on lap 55. This is the money stop, no matter what else happens on the track. Everyone who gets fuel now, should be able to go to the end of the race. Tony Stewart and Juan Montoya, who is in second now, pit on lap 56, giving Kurt Busch the lead. Busch makes his final pit stop on lap 58. David Stremme has yet to pit, and takes the lead. Scott Speed is second, also going without pitting, Kyle Busch is third, Tony Stewart is fourth, and Marcos Ambrose is fifth. Busch, Stewart, and Ambrose have all made their final pit stop. Stremme pits on lap 60, and Scott Speed retains the lead until there is a huge accident on lap 61.

Kasey Kahne gets loose in turn 9 and bumps Sam Hornish,Jr. Hornish hits the tire barrier, and bounces back onto the track. At full speed, the 77 car looks like a whip as it collects the cars of Jeff Burton, and Jeff Gordon. Gordon's car goes head on into the rail. This accident is frightening even in slow motion, but all three drivers are able to exit their cars on their own. Hornish's car is completely wrecked, and Gordon's isn't much better. Burton's car also has heavy damage, and Jeff Burton is another driver who should be on the worst luck list for this season, as he has been involved in wrecks not of his own doing in the last five races. The race is red-flagged for clean up on lap 63. Clean up lasts nearly twenty minutes.

After the race resumes, under yellow, Scott Speed gives up the lead to make his final pit stop, giving Kyle Busch the point. Green flag on lap 67, with Tony Stewart second, Marcos Ambrose third, Greg Biffle fourth, and Montoya is fifth. Busch apparently feels that his car would be better starting in the outside lane, which turns out to be a mistake as Stewart gets by him in turn two. But Busch's car is very tight, and he has to lock his brakes up to make the turns. Ambrose takes second, and Biffle takes third in turn ten of lap 69. There is a caution on lap 71 as Elliott Sadler's tire falls apart after contact with Patrick Carpentier. None of the leaders pit, and they try to save as much fuel as they can during the caution period. We can hear Stewart shutting off his engine through the turns, and restarting it on the straight sections.

The broadcasters love this, as it adds more drama to the race. Do the leaders have enough fuel to finish the race? Their crew chiefs all report that it will be very close, some saying that they will be two laps short. This gives the end of the race another level of excitement.

Tony Stewart restarts the race on lap 73. Marcos Ambrose is second, and Greg Biffle, Kyle Busch, and Juan Montoya fill out the top five.

Carl Edwards gets into the top five on lap 74, and Kyle Busch passes Biffle for third. Edwards takes fourth from Biffle, and gets by Busch on lap 79, as Kyle gets loose in the esses.

With nine laps to go Stewart leads Ambrose by nearly two seconds. Ambrose tries to step things up a bit, while still conserving fuel. The booth bunnies are going out of their way to make Stewart fans nervous by talking about fuel and the possibility of running out of it. With six laps to go, Ambrose has caught up to Stewart, and the first two cars are two seconds ahead of the rest of the field. Ambrose can not quite catch the leader.

Stewart takes the white flag. All he has to do is get through this lap without running out of fuel, and he wins. He does win. This is his fifth victory in six years at Watkins Glen, and he now becomes the first NASCAR driver to have five wins at The Glen on his resume. Marcos Ambrose is second, Edwards third, Kyle Busch managed to hold onto fourth place, and Biffle takes fifth.

For some reason, the giant carton of Heluva Good Sour Cream Dip makes me want to go out and buy potato chips before I finish this post.

Monday, August 03, 2009

On Type Delay: Pennsylvania 500

The return of the Old Spice Candy Apple Red: I love that paint job. That is the paint job Tony Stewart's Old Spice car had when he raced in the Nationwide Series last year. For Pocono, in the Sprint Cup Series, that paint job is back.

The race was postponed from Sunday due to weather and wet track conditions. Those conditions have been resolved, the "weepers" on the track have been drained, and we are ready to race on a Monday. There are a surprising number of people in the stands for a Monday. Apparently, a lot of race fans used a sick day to be here.

Because of an accident during Saturday's practice session, Tony Stewart had to go to a back up car and will start at the rear of the field. No problem for Stewart, considering what he did at Pocono in June.

However, as the cars hit the track, their set ups are for the cooler weather that was predicted for Sunday. Since the race was postponed, and the weather is much warmer, every car will seem like it has a missed set up. There will be a competition caution around lap 20.

Jeff Gordon leads the field to the green flag. Jimmie Johnson, who started on the outside in second position, races Gordon for the lead, and leads the first lap. By lap ten, Stewart has moved up to 29th position, but then he reports tire problems, and pits on lap 13, going a lap down. The caution flies at the end of lap 20. Stewart gets the free pass.

Denny Hamlin takes the lead out of the pits. He maintains the lead. Dale Earnhardt, Jr started 22nd and is running around positions twenty sixth and twenty seventh. He makes a scheduled green flag pit stop on lap 50, and then the caution comes out, because of debris from Paul Menard's blown tire. The 88 car gets caught in the pits at the wrong time and goes a lap down, but he can stay out after the wave around and get back on the lead lap. Stewart's car still needs a lot of work, as he can't seem to get past the thirty fourth spot before he starts losing ground again. His crew makes some major changes in the pits.

Hamlin maintains the lead at the restart. Then there is a caution for debris on lap, because a caution light fell apart and landed on the track. The leaders stay out, and the cars from thirteenth position on back pit for tires and much needed adjustments. Hamlin still leads after the restart.

Finally, Stewart is able to start moving up. He gets up to twenty seventh position, so the adjustments are beginning to go in the right direction. Adjustments seem to be working for Dale Earnhardt, Jr, as well, as he has moved up to seventeenth position.

Green flag pit stops begin on lap 82, with the cars that didn't pit on the previous caution. When the pit stops cycle through, Hamlin is back in the lead, but Stewart has yet to pit, and is running in fourth position. He pits, and as he is leaving the pits, the caution comes out on lap 96, due to a spin by Bobby Labonte. Stewart manages to make it out of the pits under caution and stays on the lead lap. This turns out to be very fortuitous for Smoke, as the leaders pit, and Stewart stays out and takes seventh position. Yes, it's lucky, but we will take that kind of luck.

Stewart has four new tires, while most of the cars that pitted among the leaders took two. Kasey Kahne stayed out and will lead the field to the green flag. There is a lot of beating and banging on this restart. At the halfway point, it's Kahne first, Reutimann second, Kenseth third, the Tasmanian Devil, Marcos Ambrose is fourth, and Kurt Busch is fifth.

On lap 106, Jimmie Johnson reports that his engine has dropped a cylinder. He pits, and the crew quickly replaces a spark plug wire that has come lose, He gets off of pit road ahead of the leaders, staying on the lead lap. However, a few laps later, the leader, Kasey Kahne, passes him and puts him a lap down. Johnson is still having engine problems.

Hamlin restarted ninth after the last caution and makes it up to third place by lap 111. Now the 48 car is having problems maintaining minimum speed. The 14 car of Tony Stewart restarted in seventh, fell back, picked up again and is now in tenth position. Denny Hamlin moves up to second on lap 121.

While we are viewing a television commercial, I just want to say that I like Pocono, and when I suggested that I would like to see Darlington as the longest track, it wasn't because of my preferences, but because I'm tired of hearing some fans and bloggers complaining about the lack of good racing at the longer tracks. I am enjoying this race so far, and having fun ignoring the clowns in the booth who insist that Stewart won't get better than a fifteenth place finish. A lot of people complain about clowns in the booth, but I think they are funny.

I would also like to enlighten my readers who may be wondering about the ending of the current Old Spice Swagger commercial with Tony Stewart. Back in his USAC days, Tony and his high school sweetheart, Krista, used to have to skip food in order to be able to pay for enough gas to get to the track at which Stewart was to race. Now, after Swagger, Tony has plenty of money and plenty of food.

Earnhardt, Jr is going sideways around every corner, and it is a nasty loose problem rather than productive drifting. But Junior is hanging in there staying away from serious damage from the walls. He is managing to stay around the twenty fifth position.

Green flag pit stops begin on lap 126 with Jamie McMurray. Kasey Kahne pits on lap 128. New leader Denny Hamlin pits on lap 131, as do Tony Stewart and Ryan Newman. Harvick stays out and gets a five point bonus for leading a lap, then pits on lap 134. Kahne retains the lead after the pit stops cycle through, and Johnson goes two laps down. After 136 laps, it's Kahne, Hamlin, Reutiman, Michael Waltrip, and Kurt Busch are in the top five, but Waltrip hasn't pitted yet, and, when he does, Jeff Gordon moves into the top five.

On lap 139, Denny Hamlin gets by Kasey Kahne for the lead. That's a green flag lead change without a caution being involved. Now the 48 team is speculating that they may be suffering from fuel contamination. If Darrell Waltrip were still racing, we might suspect what the problem is, but right now we have no idea.

David Ragan makes contact with the wall on lap 141 and brings out the caution. After the leaders pit, Hamlin comes off of pit road first, followed by Carl Edwards. I think these were two tire stops, but Kahne took four. Some cars stayed out, so the restart order will be Mark Martin first, Brian Vickers second, Jeff Burton third, Sam Hornish Jr is fourth, and Denny Hamlin is fifth. The restart was on lap 147. On lap 148, Jeff Gordon moves into the top five. Stewart and Newman are battling for twentieth spot, and we have no idea what happened there, because Johnson's engine problems were much more important.

Caution on lap 151, when Robby Gordon spins, and, with nowhere to go, David Stremme makes contact with him. The 48 car is the only car not on the lead lap so it gets the free pass. His team is still working on his engine in the pits. The previous pit stop, they changed the carbruator, and are now changing the spark plugs. We are reporting this because ESPN seems to believe that it is second in importance only to the commercials. The racing takes a distant third.

And, the reason I'm complaining is because Colorado Springs no longer has a radio station that carries the MRN play by play broadcasts, we have to rely on the television coverage, and ESPN makes it very difficult to consistently follow the race. At the same time I am complaining, I have to give ESPN credit for trying to cover all the racing throughout the field.

Restart on lap 153.Martin is first, Kurt Busch is second, Vickers is third. Kurt Busch takes the lead on lap 154.

Well, during the commercial, Robby Gordon tried to spin David Stremme by bumping his car into the rear end of Stremme's car. That doesn't work, so Gordon goes to pass Stremme high in turn two. Stremme apparently didn't care much for the bumping, and decides to show Gordon what it feels like. Gordon spins, and the caution flies. Both drivers get penalized five laps. Robby Gordon's penalty is for bumping a car under caution, Stremme's is for rough driving.


Restart on lap 160. Kurt Busch is first, Edwards second, Martin third, Gordon fourth, and Vickers is fifth.


During the commercial, Juan Montoya pits with 35 laps to go, and a caution comes out for debris. Montoya makes it out of the pits and stays on the lead lap. The leaders pit for what will be the final scheduled stop of the race, as fuel strategy should no longer be a factor. Great stops by teams that will gamble that there will be another caution by taking fuel only, and Earnhardt, Jr comes off of pit road first, followed by Tony Stewart, who gained seventeen positions in the pits.


The top five at the restart are unknown because we are not being told what it is. We can figure out that Sam Hornish Jr will restart third, Juan Montoya will restart fourth, Dale Jr is fifth and Stewart is sixth. Clint Bowyer, we are finally told, will lead the field to the restart with 31 laps to go, and Scott Speed is second. Hamlin took four tires and will restart back in seventeenth.

Wild stuff back in the field. Jeff Gordon, Mark Martin and Carl Edwards are having some funm racing among themselves for eleventh, twelfth, and thirteenth while Hamlin moves into the top ten. Kyle Busch is in a race with guys fighting for twentieth, and that is fun to watch as well. Reutimann gets into some trouble with 27 laps to go and brings out the caution. Great wheel work by Ryan Newman to avoid trouble in that wreck.

Clint Bowyer last got fuel with forty two laps to go. The 33 team is going to go for it, as they tell Bowyer to stay out and conserve fuel. This strategy seems iffy to me.

Jimmy Johnson gets the free pass and is back on the lead lap. Kyle Busch picked up some damage during that last wild restart, and also, apparently made contact with the 00 car of Reutimann while it was spinning, and is sitting in the pits getting repairs.

Clint Bowyer leads the field to the restart with 21 laps to go. Montoya is second, Sam Hornish Jr is third, Kasey Kahne is fourth and Tony Stewart is fifth. The restart is wild, Kurt Busch gets by Stewart, and so does Denny Hamlin. Hamlin gets by Busch, and takes fifth. Cars are going four wide going into turn one, and, of course, there is a big crash involving Reed Sorenson, Joey Logano, David Ragan, and Bobby Labonte. The running order, under caution, with seventeen to go, has Bowyer in the lead, Hornish second, Kahne third, Montoya fourth, Hamlin fifth, and Kenseth is sixth. Hamlin seems to be the booth's favorite to win at this time.

Kurt Busch is lining up in seventh, and Tony Stewart seems to be in eighth. Brian Vickers will restart in ninth with fourteen laps to go. Earnhard, Jr will restart tenth.

At the restart, Kenseth makes a move around Kahne, Kurt Busch gets shuffled way back. Jimmie Johnson gains twelve positions in one lap. In the melee, Montoya and Kahne make contact, Kahne falls back and Montoya maintains well enough to move into third by the time the smoke clears. With thirteen laps to go, Hamlin is challenging Bowyer for the lead, and with ten laps to go Hamlin takes the lead. Montoya moves into second with nine laps to go. With eight to go, Kurt Busch, Jeff Gordon, and Jimmie Johnson are battling for tenth, while Tony Stewart passes Matt Kenseth for eighth. Mark Martin had a great restart a few laps previously, and is running in seventh. with 5 laps to go Kasey Kahne and Sam Hornish Jr are having a terrific battle for fourth, and Brian Vickers is about to take fifth. With four laps to go, Hamlin leads Montoya by nearly a second, Bowyer is still third, Hornish is fourth, and Kahne is fifth.

Three laps to go, and Gordon gets the eighth spot from Stewart. There is just too much good racing going on to watch it all, and this is mainly due to the double file restarts.

Hamlin takes the white flag, Montoya is second. Martin and Vickers are racing furiously for sixth place, one trying to stay in the top twelve, the other trying to make it into the top twelve. Hamlin wins. Montoya finishes second for his first top five finish of the season. Bowyer is third. Sam Hornish, Jr is fourth for his best finish ever in NASCAR. Kasey Kahne takes fifth, and Brian Vickers held of Mark Martin to take sixth. The top ten are filled out by Jeff Gordon, eighth, Kurt Busch, ninth, and Tony Stewart, tenth.

The number fourteen team did a great job of getting a bad car together and pulling a tenth place finish from what could have been a very bad day. The 48 team's day could have been worse, but it also could have been better. They finished thirteenth.

Denny Hamlin is very emotional, still in mourning over the death of his grandmother a few days ago. Hamlin did a great job being able to put aside a personal tragedy to concentrate on racing. Seriously, I need tissues.

My pick fives really sucked this week, but that is a different story, This was a pretty good race at Pocono, especially toward the end. The aggressive racing throughout the field continued long after the restarts, and the importance of making the cut for the Chase for the Championship is made very clear.

ESPN is getting much better at covering the racing throughout the field, although it is still a little jerky, lacking transition, but we feel they are very close to getting the hang of it. Just as the racing gets better, so will the coverage. Good job to all the drivers and to ESPN for providing us with a very good show.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

A Different View

"Major League Baseball players don't play in Triple A baseball games, so why do NASCAR Cup drivers compete in the Nationwide Series?"

That is one of the questions we see on various forums, blogs, and news journals pertaining to the participation of NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers in the NASCAR Nationwide Series. There are several premises, however, in that question that are wrong.

The first flawed premise is the assumption that NASCAR is structured in the same way as professional baseball. It isn't. The teams in baseball are franchises of Major League Baseball, while the teams in NASCAR are, at all levels, fully and independently owned private businesses. The players and the team owners in baseball are employees of Major League Baseball, while the team owners and drivers in NASCAR are not employees of NASCAR.

Major League Baseball can regulate the manner in which new players are recruited, and how much they get paid. NASCAR can not. Major League Baseball teams can not put their players in pads and helmets and play football against the Pittsburgh Steelers. NASCAR team owners can build or own cars for ARCA, Rolex Grand Am, American Le Mans Series, Indy Racing League, or even USAC, if they wished, and put their "Sprint Cup" driver in any of those cars at any time.

One logical comparison, if one must be made, is that while baseball teams use their affiliated Triple A teams for training and remedial training of their players, and NASCAR team owners often use the Nationwide Series to give their drivers "seat time" on certain tracks. Another comparison is that professional baseball players work their way up through the ranks to play in Major League, in order to learn the rules and the style of play, while NASCAR drivers must also gain experience and learn the rules in order to get a license to race on the superspeedways.

The major flaw in the statement that opened this item is that "Major League baseball players don't play in Triple A games."

If one actually follows Major League Baseball, one would know that players are "sent down" to and "called up" from Triple A teams on a nearly weekly basis. So Major League players often do find themselves playing on a Triple A team.

If the NASCAR Nationwide Series were a Triple A team to the Sprint Cup Series, some of the comparisons may be viable, but it isn't. Minor League sports events are not broadcast live on national television. The closest comparison would be that the NASCAR Camping World East/West Series is the Triple A of NASCAR. The Camping World Truck Series, the Nationwide Series, and the Sprint Cup Series are all different organizations in the major leagues of NASCAR, that feature different types of racing. The Truck Series is the sprint racing division of the major leagues. The Nationwide Series is the challenge racing division, and the Sprint Cup Series is the endurance division. This is more akin to the Midget, Sprint, and Triple Crown divisions of USAC than it is to the different levels of baseball.

The only thing that NASCAR is concerned about who races in which series is whether or not they qualify for the event, or if the driver is licensed to drive in the event. A suspended driver who is suspended due to NASCAR drug policy, for instance, is not licensed to participate in a NASCAR event, though that driver may participate in racing sanctioned by a different sanctioning body, such as ARCA or USAC.

In other words, a driver is a Sprint Cup driver if he qualifies for a Sprint Cup race, a Nationwide driver if he qualifies for a race in that series, or a Camping World Truck Series driver, if he qualifies for a Truck Series race. There is, otherwise, no official designation for a driver to race in a particular series.

The Nationwide Series is a challenge series because it gives drivers a chance to challenge, that is, to see how they measure up against, more experienced drivers. That is how it works in theory, and it often works out that way in practice. Unfortunately, since it is mainly the sponsors who determine who drives what car in the series, it is not perfect, nor is it possible for any up and coming driver to make a name for him- or herself in the series. These days, in reality, a driver almost has to have already made his or her name elsewhere. But that is not because there are Cup Series regulars participating in the Nationwide Series. Cup Series regulars race in the Nationwide Series because of the sponsors.

In nearly every race since the former Busch Series began in 1982, there has been at least one full time Cup driver participating. It wouldn't really be a challenge series if there were not Cup drivers involved. Furthermore, it is not necessary for a driver to win races or championships in the Nationwide series in order to become a Cup series driver.

How many drivers are in the Cup Series because of their performance in the Nationwide or Busch Series? Not very many. Jimmie Johnson, the three consecutive time Sprint Cup Champion, had only one win and sixteen top ten finishes in the Nationwide Series, out of 72 races, before he became a full time Sprint Cup driver. Joey Logano never even raced a full season in the Nationwide Series before he became a full time Sprint Cup driver. In fact, the only drivers I can think of who are or will soon be full time Sprint Cup drivers solely because of their performance in the Nationwide or Busch Series are Martin Truex, Jr, Kyle Busch, Brian Vickers, Brad Keselowski (not yet full time, but soon will be), Dale Earnhardt, Jr (or is part of it because of his name?), and Matt Kenseth. With the exception of Jeff Gordon, who had three Busch Series wins and 25 top tens out of sixty-one races, there is no other driver currently in the Sprint Cup series who had what would be called a notable record in the Nationwide or Busch Series. I may have missed some, so feel free to correct me in the comment section.

A few weeks ago, Jenna Fryer--the NASCAR beat reporter and gossip columnist for the Associated Press--was on NASCAR Now's "Monday Round Table" and suggested that NASCAR do away with the Nationwide Series. This would create a similar situation to what we had before 1982. There probably would be sixty to eighty teams show up on qualifying day for the Sprint Cup races. Those that consistently fail to qualify would soon drop out of NASCAR competition entirely, due to lack of the funds necessary to have a car that would be able to qualify. For those teams, the Nationwide Series is a good thing, just as the Busch Series was in 1982.

For the record, I don't agree with Jenna Fryer's suggestion, and am only mentioning it for the purpose of discussion.

One might very well ask, "If the Nationwide Series is part of the NASCAR big leagues, then why doesn't it have the prestige of the Sprint Cup Series?"

And that is a good question, but my guess is that it isn't because it doesn't have as many fans as the Sprint Cup Series. If the same number of fans followed the Nationwide Series as do the Cup Series, the level of prestige would be about the same, as would be the level of sponsorship. At any rate, it would be even more difficult to achieve those levels without the participation of popular Sprint Cup drivers.

Think about this: would the victory by Brad Keselowski in Saturdays US Cellular 250 have been as important or exciting if Kyle Busch and Carl Edwards weren't in the race? There is no way to be sure, but probably not. It is generally better for a Nationwide driver to win against Kyle Busch than it is to win against Kurtus Davis.

The Nationwide Series could be better, of course. It could, for instance, race only at tracks that are one mile in length or shorter. This would likely change the perception of the series from "Cup Light" to a series that has it's own unique identity. But the question remains, "would people watch it?"