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NASCAR weekend postscript

by Dave Grayson
Tuesday, August 4, 2009


Jimmie Johnson pulls out of Pocono garage area
Jim Garrahan/
NASCAR's three national touring series found themselves in three different locations over the previous weekend. We watched an emotionally charged Sprint Cup winner on a Monday afternoon in Long Pond-Pennsylvania. We were treated to a spectacular Nationwide Series debut in Newton-Iowa and a piece of Camping World Truck Series history was extended even further in Nashville-Tennessee. With those thoughts in mind let's begin with:

THUMBS-UP to Denny Hamlin for returning to victory lane under some very trying personal circumstances. Hamlin's Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota was a rocket ship and he was a huge factor in this race much of the day.

But this young man was driving with a heavy heart. In recent days his grandmother passed away and, the truth be known, he probably didn't feel like racing and would have preferred to be in Florida with his family. The race getting rained out on Sunday and rescheduled to Monday afternoon likely didn't help Hamlin's state of mind. Heartfelt condolences goes out to the Hamlin family during this time of loss.

THUMBS-UP for the final twenty laps of the Sunoco Red Cross Pennsylvania 500. This race was a genuine snooze festival until a multi car crash , with 26 laps left in the race, brought out the final caution flag. The moment the green fell on the double file restart, the cars began to fan out three and four wide. The race became a 20 lap free for all, with everyone looking to improve their positions, and it was very exciting.

This week's THUMBS-UP from making chicken salad out of chicken do do without question goes to Jimmie Johnson and the #48 Lowes team. A mysterious loss of power, later diagnosed as a faulty spark plug, had the reigning NASCAR champion mired in 34th position three laps down. The mammoth size of Pocono Raceway's 2.5  mile triangle actually played a small role in the resolution of Johnson's problem. With a track that large the entire field was on the lead lap except for Johnson. Three caution flags later Johnson received three successive free passes and returned to lead lap status. He raced through the field, following the final restart, and worked his way to a 12th place finish. This team's refusal to give up in the face of adversity is exactly why they are three time champions.

Yet another driver who deserves a THUMBS-UP for making chicken salad out of chicken do do is Tony Stewart. The current series points leader's Pennsylvania weekend started off all wrong on Saturday afternoon when he crashed his primary car during the opening minutes of a practice session. The crash also cost Stewart the pole position which was determined by points after Friday's qualifying was rained out.

Stewart started Monday's race from the rear of the field in a back up car that was wicked loose. The car was completely undriveable and it forced Stewart to make an unscheduled pit stop for adjustments on lap 13. A series of additional adjustments, during subsequent stops, took the car to the opposite extreme and the handling became so tight it was almost impossible to turn. In the latter stage of the race the car eventually began to come around and that's when crew chief Darien Grubb made a gutsy call during their final pit stop. He called for fuel only to gain track position. The gamble worked and it allowed Stewart to turn a 25th place car into a top ten finish.

THUMBS-UP to Juan Pablo Montoya for his second place finish that was created by a great call from his crew chief Brian Pattie. When it comes time to officially name the contestants for the Chase For The Championship , the Pocono race may very well be the reason why this Earnhardt Ganassi Racing team is part of that 12 man line up.

THUMBS-UP to Clint Bowyer, and Richard Childress Racing, for their third place finish. The lack of performance from the RCR teams has been a mystery this year and to have one of their teams leading this race, as well as being a race winning contender, is a momentum booster the entire organization needs.

WHAT'S-UP with Robby Gordon and David Stremme? These two drivers clearly had personal problems on the track. NASCAR officials assessed a five lap penalty for aggressive driving on Stremme. Gordon received a five lap penalty for hitting the Stremme during a caution lap.

This incident doesn't bode well for either driver. Gordon is both the owner and driver for his team and will have to recover repair costs, on a car that was running this race unsponsored, out of his own pocket. While Stremme's car is well sponsored and owned by a wealthy man, it's hardly a secret that his performance levels this year has been sub standard and his job may be on the line. Then there's the issue that says the race track is absolutely no place to seek revenge.

THUMBS-UP to the Pocono Raceway maintenance staff for pulling an all nighter Sunday to redirect the backed up water under the track surface. This water was seeping through the fissures in the track surface, commonly referred to as weepers, and that was the major reason why the race had to be postponed until Monday.

WHAT'S-UP with driver Mike Wallace and his team being ordered by NASCAR officials to park their car? It seems that the Larry Gunselman owned team, well known for their start and park status, failed to present an official pit crew on pit road at the start of the race.

That leads to a THUMBS-UP for a terrific one liner from the ESPN broadcast crew who observed that "start and park teams are NASCAR's answer to the federal government's Cash For Clunkers Program.

THUMBS-UP to the White House for finding a way to reschedule lunch in the midst of the President's very busy schedule. Reigning NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson, along with some past champions and last year's Chase alumni, were scheduled to have lunch with President Obama on Monday afternoon. But mother nature had other ideas and the Sunday rain out forced a postponement of lunch in the nation's capitol. This very special event has been rescheduled for August 19th.

THUMBS-UP to the fans at the Pocono race for coping with the bad weather and filling up the grandstands on a Monday. You can't help but wonder how many of these fans called in sick Monday morning.

WHAT'S-UP with the Speed Channel's Jimmy Spencer and his on air tirade over the use of plastic flowers at the Pocono Raceway? Spencer tossed the flowers off of the Speed stage and said "where did they get these fake flowers from, China? I shop at the Home Depot for real flowers. Come on Pocono Raceway."

WHAT'S-UP with yours truly again raising my annual question: do we really need two races at the Pocono Raceway approximately six weeks apart? With all proper respects to the raceway owners, and the fine residents of Long Pond-Pennsylvania, it seems to me that one of these dates would be better served at another facility. The Iowa Speedway immediately comes to mind. This Rusty Wallace and Associates designed track has more than proven that they deserve a Sprint Cup date.

On the topic of the Iowa Speedway a rarely issued triple THUMBS-UP goes to the NASCAR Nationwide Series' Iowa debut last Saturday. The was a very classy race held at a very classy facility. The seven-eighths of a mile oval, with its triple tier of progressive banking, was a perfect fit for the Nationwide teams who provided 60,000 fans, as well as the television viewers, some very exciting side by side racing.

THUMBS-UP to Brad Keselowski for winning this race. Making his Saturday afternoon in Iowa even more prosperous was the fact that he also won the $75,000 Dash For Cash bonus. This victory was also a great moment for his dad who was there celebrating his 58th birthday.

THUMBS-UP to Tony Eury Sr, the race winner's crew chief, for a gutsy call when he told his driver to remain on the track during the final pit stops of the race. The move gave them the track position needed to be able to pass Kyle Busch for the lead with eight laps left in the race.

THUMBS-UP to Kyle Busch who did everything that he could to make sure that Keselowski earned this win. The torrid duel between these two drivers during the final laps of the race had the fans on their feet.

WHAT'S-UP with Brad Coleman getting penalized by NASCAR for having too many men over the wall during a pit stop? That's a miscue that we would never expect to see from an organization like Joe Gibbs Racing.

WHAT'S-UP with Justin Allgaier for trying to drive his way at full speed through a collision with Austin Dillon's car during the Nationwide Series race? The end result was substantial damage to the right front of the Allgaier car and massive damage to the left side of the Dillon machine.

But from this incident comes a THUMBS-UP to Rusty Wallace for a clever comment made during the ESPN broadcast. After observing Allgaier trying to drive his way through the crash Wallace said "the only time that works is on video games."

THUMBS-UP to Ron Hornaday Jr for extending a piece of NASCAR Camping World Series history one giant step further after winning his fifth consecutive race at the Nashville Super Speedway. Hornaday now becomes the third driver, in NASCAR's three national touring series, to win five or more races in a row. Richard Petty won ten consecutive races in 1967 and five in a row in 1971. Bobby Allison also won five in 1971 as well.

All of this prompted the 51 year old Hornaday's team owner, DeLana Harvick, to quip "just like wine he gets better with age."

A THUMBS-UP also goes out to Rick Ren, Hornaday's crew chief, who scored his 27th win in Nashville which is a new series record for a crew chief.

The final THUMBS-UP this week belongs to the manufacturers of Tony Stewart's new souvenir T shirt which was released last week. The new shirt promotes his sponsor, Old Spice, and their new line of Swagger products. The logo on the shirt reads "your driver stinks, mine doesn't."

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