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Kobalt Tools 500 race postscript

by Dave Grayson
Tuesday, March 10, 2009

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Kyle Busch leads field down pit road

Sunday's Kobalt Tools 500, at the Atlanta Motor Speedway, provided fans with an exciting green-white-checker finish. Then again dramatic finishes are practically a trademark at this speedway. We saw the unexpected domination of the race by the older Busch brother, we watched NASCAR's most popular driver endure more pit road problems, we were stunned to watch a crew member get perilously close to the high speed action while chasing a tire, and we were treated to more classic tirades from the speedway's owner. With that thought in mind let's begin with:

Thumbs Up for Kurt Busch and the blue deuce. The race winning performance of the older Busch brother and his Miller Lite-Roger Penske Dodge was simply amazing. Not even smacking the wall two times could stop this team from winning this race. There seems to be a major resurgence with this driver and this team. Last year Kurt Busch was clearly unhappy with the team's level of performance and pulled no punches regarding his opinion of the situation. This was especially true from some of his in car radio transmissions heard during the course of many of last year's races. However this year Busch is more confident, more calm and seems to be enjoying his Penske Racing team more than ever. One of the catalysts for the change certainly has to be the arrival of new crew chief Pat Tryson. Busch will be the first to tell you that's true. He also said "good things come to those who wait." He was referring to the last year and a half the Penske team has spent on the car of tomorrow program and how it's finally gelling together.

We all know that young brother Kyle Busch earned the nickname "wild thing" and there were some members of the motorsports media last year that were calling Kurt Busch "mild thing." Busch led 235 laps of this race which is quite a feat considering he led 164 laps during 36 races in 2008. After watching him Sunday I don't think anyone is calling him "mild" anymore. 

Another Thumbs Up goes out to Kurt Busch for the most unique, and possibly the longest, victory lap ever seen. He slowly circled the Atlanta Motor Speedway backwards.

Thumbs Up for tough guy Martin Truex Jr. He spent all day Saturday at the upper level of pain due to the presence of a kidney stone. Because he had qualifying and practice obligations with his Earnhardt Ganassi Racing team he was not able to take any medication for the pain. After the final practice he was sent to a nearby hospital where the painful stone was passed around 10 pm that night. On Sunday a physically improved Truex climbed inside of his car to start the Kobalt Tools 500 and scored a tenth place finish.

What's up with gasman Jimmy Watts? This of course would be the now very famous crew member from the Marcus Ambrose team who decided it would be a great idea to chase after an errant tire that rolled out of pit road and onto the infield grass perilously close to the edge of the speedway. It was quite possibly one of the dumbest moves that we've seen during a NASCAR race in quite some time. Due to the presence of the tire alone, NASCAR had no choice but to throw a yellow flag. Unfortunately a significant portion of the field were on pit road making green flag stops and got trapped by the yellow flag and lost a lap because of it. When the race restarted there were only ten cars on the lead laps with a lot of high profile drivers and teams a lap down. Watts, a Charlotte-North Carolina based firefighter, was suspended from participating in the remainder of the race. He later admitted that he just wasn't thinking when he ran out after the tire. He was summoned for a consultation to NASCAR's "Oval Office" and hopes that he will be allowed to rejoin the team at the Bristol race on March 22nd. Right now, he is waiting on word from NASCAR to see if any further punishment will be coming his way.

What's up with Dale Earnhardt Jr's pit problems. This latest round of frustration involved a seemingly loose rear wheel. The Fox broadcasters noted that NASCAR this year mandated a slightly longer wheel stud and felt that some of the teams were having trouble getting used to the longer length. I can't help but wonder if that was noise from the Fox boys. These teams practice pit stops all week long at the race shops, Sunday was the fourth race of the season so the crews should be used to the new studs by now and I don't recall hearing about any of the other teams losing pit road rhythm because of them. But the problems surfaced a second time in the race. With 27 laps to go Earnhardt radioed in and said "it feels like the left rear is ready to fall off." 

But from that comes a Thumbs Up for Junior for one of the best one liners, via a radio transmission, from this race when he said "if my wheel comes off and I hit the fence I'm going to whack every damn one of you with a hammer."     

Thumbs Up for some other really good lines during the race weekend. During the Sprint Cup Series event Ryan Newman ran into the back of Kyle Busch's M&M's Toyota and caused Fox broadcaster Darrell Waltrip to quip "hey man, do you like plain or peanut?"

Still another good line came last Friday afternoon from NASCAR Camping World Truck Series driver Matt Crafton. Making an observation on sliding through the turns of the Atlanta Motor Speedway, Crafton said "There's nothing better than going out there and drifting at 180 MPH. This is a very large scale version of Darlington."

But my favorite comment came from the always fun Bruton Smith, the Chairman of Speedway Motorsports Inc which owns the Atlanta Motor Speedway. Smith was commenting on observations regarding a decline in attendance at Atlanta and felt the problem started when NASCAR moved their final, championship crowning, race of the season from Atlanta to the Homestead Miami Speedway. Smith is of course well aware that the Florida based speedway is owned by his rival International Speedway Corporation, which is owned by the France family of NASCAR. "Why would you have the last race of the year in some godforsaken area that is north of Cuba?", Smith inquired while adding "why would you do that? I don't understand that. Why don't you pick a place that can accommodate the final race of the year with seats and parking and somewhere that appreciates it?"     
 
What's up with Sam Hornish Jr and that #77 Penske Racing Dodge? This car had the handling characteristics of an out of control Army tank and for someone reason the crew couldn't seem to get a handle on the situation during pit stops. The end result was a crash that also took out Bill Elliot and the Wood Brothers Ford. Hornish, a former Roger Penske open wheeler from the Indy Racing League, has been in NASCAR long enough now where there should be some noticeable signs of improvement. This is a driver that really needs to step up his game and do it soon.

Thumbs Up to Tony Stewart for overcoming adversity during the Atlanta race to get an eighth place finish. Stewart was one of the teams who were caught in the pits when a yellow caution flag came out. At one point his self-owned team was two laps down. Then there was the fuel intake problem that only allowed the car to take in three gallons of fuel. It was nail-biting on the track but fortunately a caution flag allowed Stewart came back in and finally get a full load of gas.

What's up with Mark Martin's racing luck? Once again the fourth Hendrick Motorsports team got snake bit. This time it was a crash due to a blown tire. Amazingly, after four tough finishes in a row, Martin is on the bubble in NASCAR's top 35 in owner's points.

Thumbs Up to Kyle Busch for an amazing win during Saturday's NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race. With just a few laps left in the race, Busch had to restart the race in low gear because his Toyota truck had lost second and third gear. He went from the front of the pack to around tenth in a matter of seconds. But once the RPMs built up in his engine Busch was able to hit fourth gear and ran down the leaders in an amazing display of driving talent. Detractors can say what they want about him, but this driver really is that good.

A Thumbs Up also goes out to the Tilted Kilt, a Scottish themed restaurant and pub chain, for sponsoring Todd Bodine and the Germain Racing team. Bodine and the Germains were planning on meeting with the restaurant's parent company this week in hopes that they will consider signing on with the team for the rest of the season. It's do or die time for this championship team who won the season opener at Daytona. The Germains said over the weekend that may have to consider a shut down if they don't find a sponsor by the March 28th race at Martinsville-Virginia.

Race Facts:

* Kurt Busch won the Kobalt Tools 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway after starting second. Busch posted his 19th career series victory in 296 races. His last victory came at Loudon on June 29, 2008, 23 races ago. This was his third top-10 finish in four races this season. Busch moved to 33rd on NASCAR's all-time win list, tying Davey Allison, Buddy Baker and Fonty Flock.
* Busch posted his third victory in 79 races on 1.5-mile tracks. Busch has scored 28 top-10 finishes in 79 races on 1.5-mile tracks (35 percent).
* This is just the second win by a Dodge at Atlanta since Richard Petty won here in March 1977. Kasey Kahne won in a Dodge in this race in 2006.
* This was Busch's second Atlanta victory in 17 races. Crew chief Pat Tryson posted his seventh Cup career victory in 377 races. Four of his crew-chief victories have come with Busch.
* Busch led six times for 234 laps, including the final two laps. This is the most laps that he has led in a Cup race.
* This is the second victory for Penske Racing at Atlanta. Penske's other Atlanta win came in November 1993, with Rusty Wallace.
* Jeff Gordon leads the series points standings by 43 over second-place Clint Bowyer. Race-winner Busch is third in points, just three points behind Bowyer. Gordon finished second, posting his fourth top-15 finish in 2009, the only driver to do so. Gordon extended his winless streak to 45 races, since October 2007 at Lowe's.
* Carl Edwards (finished third) posted his 125th lead-lap finish in his 161 career races (78 percent).
* Brian Vickers (fifth) scored his third straight top-10 finish. He finished 10th at California and eighth at Las Vegas. This marks just the third time in his career that he has scored three straight top-10 finishes.
* Clint Bowyer (sixth) extended a 77-race streak of running at the finish that began at Homestead in November 2006. Bowyer's last DNF came at Phoenix on Nov. 12, 2006, when he finished 33rd due to an oil-pump failure
* Jimmie Johnson finished ninth at Atlanta and was running at the finish. His crew chief, Chad Knaus, marked his 250th career race of running at the finish in 280 career races (89 percent).
* #20 Joey Logano (30th) was the highest-finishing rookie contender among the two rookies in the race. Scott Speed finished 35th.
* David Reutimann (32nd) ended a streak of three top-15 finishes.
* The top 10 consisted of six Chevys, two Dodges, one Ford and one Toyota.

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