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NASCAR Chicagoland Postscript

by Dave Grayson
Monday, July 13, 2009

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Mark Martin took the youngsters to school Saturday night
Getty Images for NASCAR
Watching the NASCAR weekend at the Chicagoland Speedway was often tedious but it did turn up a few exciting moments here and there. That was especially true regarding who parked his car in victory lane. There was also a surprised Colorado couple who became America's newest millionaires. With those thoughts in mind let's begin with:

THUMBS-UP to Mark Martin for that dominating performance during the LifeLock.Com 400. The "old man" took the youngsters to school last Saturday night by leading 195 of 267 laps en route to his fourth win of the season and his 39th career win. More importantly, he elevated himself back into the top 12 which determines the Chase For the Championship lineup.

Another THUMBS-UP goes out to Martin's crew chief, Alan Gustafson, who made the call to have his driver restart from the outside lane coming off of the final yellow flag of the race. That decision, along with Martin's very good restart maneuver, led to the trip to victory lane.

Speaking of crew chief decisions: THUMBS-UP for Steve Letarte, Jeff Gordon's chief, for his late in the race pit call. With his car struggling in 14th position, Letarte called his driver to pit road following a caution flag for tires and adjustments. It was a great call. Gordon roared his way to a second place finish.

Yet another THUMBS-UP goes out to the Hendrick Motorsports teams who finished first, second, seventh and fifteenth. Their performance was a very nice present for team owner Rick Hendrick who celebrated his 60th birthday on Monday.

Once again a THUMBS-UP goes out to NASCAR's decision to initiate the double file restart. The first 230 laps of the LifeLock.Com 400 was a real snooze festival. If modern medical science could have bottled that portion of the race it would have been turned into an instant cure for insomnia.

However, the final 35 laps turned up some caution flags, and more importantly double file restarts, that made the race highly entertaining. There was a lot of good old fashioned beating and banging during the waning laps of the race as drivers did whatever was necessary to improve their race positions.

That leads to either a THUMBS-UP or a WHAT'S-UP, depending on your opinions, over some interesting post race comments. The usually calm Jeff Burton has every reason to be frustrated. He's had a roller coaster of a season in his Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet and he's watching his hopes of making the Chase For The Championship slip away. Burton was caught up in one of the late race incidents and it turned out to be the difference between a badly needed top fifteen and the 37th place finish that he wound with. Commenting on double file restarts, he said "this is the fourth time in a row we've been in a wreck on these restarts. I'm about done with that."

Equally frustrated was Kurt Busch whose Penske Racing Dodge was the victim of contact with Jimmie Johnson's Chevrolet in the final laps which resulted in a 17th place finish. After the race a clearly upset Busch said "the 48 ran into us at Sonoma and he did it again tonight. I'm starting to lose faith in his ability to be a three time champion on the track. A couple of good runs for us were spoiled by the 48. I'm not digging it."

Speaking of trimming the Busch's, WHAT'S-UP with Kyle Busch turning in another bad finish in a race that he was heavily favored to win? Busch had to endure handling issues early on to the point of hitting the wall on lap 63. That was followed by a loss of a cylinder that eventually turned into a blown engine, a spin caused by his own oil and a 33d place finish. Once again an angry Busch stormed off without speaking to anyone. This latest setback drops him back to 10th in the championship standings. One more bad night like this one could impact his presence in the top 12 and hurt his championship ambitions.

Busch spent his entire weekend in Chicago angry. Friday morning he addressed the media and commented on the last lap contact with Tony Stewart that cost him a win at Daytona the week before and it was pretty evident that he was still mad about it. That's interesting because earlier that same week Stewart said he spoke to Busch on the phone and he seemed to be fine.

He was clearly unhappy Friday night when he finished second, in the Nationwide Series race at Chicago, to teammate Joey Logano.

Over the next several days expect to hear some media buzz, and lots of blog entries, suggesting that maybe Kyle Busch is over extended. After all, he's already participating full time in the NASCAR Cup and Nationwide Series. There's also frequent appearances in the Camping World Truck Series as well as occasional appearances in the NASCAR East and West Series along with some late model events. He even raced a Chip Ganassi owned sports car in the Grand American Rolex Series on a Saturday afternoon prior to a 400 mile Sprint Cup race that night in Daytona. Maybe it's time for Kyle Busch and Joe Gibbs Racing to spend a little more time focused on the grand prize: the Chase For NASCAR Sprint Cup. Again, expect to hear a lot about that issue over the next few days.

WHAT'S-UP with Martin Truex Jr's luck of the draw? Here's yet another reason why he's probably glad that he's leaving Earnhardt Ganassi Racing to take over the Toyota ride at Michael Waltrip Racing. After Saturday night's Sprint Cup race NASCAR officials did their random inspection drawing and selected Truex's car number. That meant his car was sent through the inspection shed for a full bumper to bumper post race check. Unfortunately for the Truex team the tech inspectors discovered that the right rear quarter panel on the car was too high. The car was confiscated by NASCAR and was transported to their Research and Development Center in Concord, North Carolina where officials will determine if it's a rules violation. An announcement of a possible penalty levied against the team is expected either Tuesday or Wednesday.

THUMBS-UP to the TNT Network who last Saturday concluded their summer series stint of broadcasting NASCAR Sprint Cup Races. Their "Wide Open Coverage" format provided some highly entertaining moments backed with some well done special feature segments.

However, WHAT'S-UP with veteran racing broadcast Bill Weber? The only problem area with the TNT NASCAR effort seemed to stem from a mysterious scuffle launched by their lead anchor in a hotel lobby prior to the New Hampshire race. Network officials declined to comment on the details but did say that they were suspending Weber for the final two races. Ralph Sheheen filled in for Weber and did a fine job.

Finally this week a THUMBS-UP for Donna and Richard Musgrave from New Castle, Colorado. Who are they you ask? They are the lucky race fans who won a million dollars Saturday night because Mark Martin and Jeff Gordon finished one-two in the Chicagoland race. It seems that LifeLock.Com was also involved with a special promotion for the Sprint Cup race in Michigan last month. Last week they announced that if they same two drivers who finished first and second at Michigan repeated the feat in Chicago then some lucky fan would become an instant millionaire.

Miracles of miracles, Martin and Gordon did indeed repeat the Michigan finish and the Musgraves were shocked to learn that they were LifeLock's grand prize winners. Making this story even more special was the fact that the Musgraves were in the process of celebrating their 40th wedding anniversary that same week.

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