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.

No comments: