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NASCAR Fontana Sprint Cup Postscript

by Dave Grayson
Monday, October 12, 2009

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Jimmie Johnson, driver of the No. 48 Lowe's/Jimmie Johnson Foundation Chevrolet, crosses the finish line to win the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Pepsi 500 at Auto Club Speedway
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images for NASCAR
Please don't try to tell me that the Auto Club Speedway, in Fontana-California is incapable of presenting its fans good racing. We've all read those stories, as well as watched the television reports, in the past. Anyone who was watching Sunday's Pepsi 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup race, or Saturday's Copart 300 Nationwide Series event, now knows better. Both races had thrilling green white checker finishes that had the fans jumping out of their seats. With that thought in mind lets' begin this week with:

THUMBS-UP to Jimmie Johnson and the #48 Lowes Chevrolet team for once again showing us why they're a three time, and possibly four time, champion. Johnson's fifth win of the season allowed him to take home maximum points including the bonus for leading the most laps in the race. More importantly. Johnson and company left California as the new Chase leader with a 12 point lead over team mate Mark Martin.

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This week's THUMBS-UP for making chicken salad out chicken do do goes to Tony Stewart who had to overcome adversity to score a fifth place finish. On lap 163 Stewart got nailed for speeding on pit road and had to observe a pass through penalty. That incident put him a lap down on the field. The Lucky Dog pass didn't work out for Stewart so he had to make up the lap the hard way: via aggressive driving and good pit strategy. It also placed him fifth in the Chase standings and only 84 points out of first.

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WHAT'S-UP with the decision to bring Dale Earnhardt Jr down pit road for tires following a lap 236 caution flag? Earnhardt was strong all day and was riding eighth at the time of this caution. With the amount of cars still on the lead lap, and only 14 laps left in the race, a sure fire top ten finish was placed in jeopardy. It got worse of lap 244 when Earnhardt got caught up in the multi car crash that placed the race under a red flag condition. The result was a damaged car and a 25th place finish. Had he stayed out on the track with the race leaders, Earnhardt would have been in front of the wreck and dodged the bullet.

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On the subject of that big wreck that red flagged the race for a little over 20 minutes, WHAT'S-UP with wreck victim Kasey Kahne and his bizarre post wreck comment? Kahne claimed that NASCAR threw a bogus yellow flag for debris just to make the finish of the race more interesting for the fans and that set the stage for the big wreck. That, of course, was not true especially in light of the fact that the ABC television cameras actually did find debris on the track.

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THUMBS-UP to Richard Childress Racing drivers Clint Bowyer, Kevin Harvick and Casey Mears who finished ninth through 11th in the Pepsi 500. The overall ineffectiveness of this organization has been a major mystery this year and RCR really needed that strong showing. This is especially true of Casey Mears. A recent announcement that said his primary sponsor, Jack Daniels, will not be returning next year has placed the team's future in jeopardy. A great run like this one could hopefully entice a new sponsor to look at this team.

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THUMBS-UP to Joey Logano for winning the Copart 300 NASCAR Nationwide Series race under some rather trying circumstances that also qualifies for making chicken salad out of chicken do do. Logano suffered right front fender damage early in the race following contact with Greg Biffle. His crew spent the majority of the race trying to get the car's handling back. After diligently working his way towards the front, a late race caution set up a green white checker finish and allowed Logano to take the lead with only two laps left.

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That leads to a WHAT'S-UP with Greg Biffle and those allegations that said he intentionally put Logano into the wall? The allegations inferred that Biffle had a problem with the young driver from the Kansas race held the week before which Logano also won. There was a reported radio transmission from Biffle that said "the 20 car better have casters on it because I'm going to fence him." It was further reported that NASCAR officials are going to be looking into these allegations this week.

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Here's some THUMBS-UPS for some one liners heard during the Auto Club Speedway weekend.

During the course of the "Press Pass" program, aired on Sirius Satellite Radio's NASCAR channel, a caller said "if Juan Pablo Montoya wins the NASCAR Sprint Cup Chase For The Championship something's going to get thrown through my television set."

During the pre race show ABC sent a reporter to the grandstands for their Office Depot Survey. A lady fan was asked "who going to win the Pepsi 500?" The lady, in a very loud voice, screamed "DALE EARNHARDT JR!" The fan was next asked "how is Dale Jr going to win this race?" The lady screamed "I HAVE NO IDEA!" Sadly, it turned out that she was another member of the Junior Nation who left Fontana disappointed.

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The final WHAT'S-UP this week goes to ESPN2's "NASCAR Now" program who, last Wednesday afternoon, thought it would be clever to use NFL football verbiage to describe the current state of the Chase For The Championship. In just one example commentators Mike Massaro and Ricky Craven decided that the drivers in Chase positions 10 through 12 were in "a fourth down and long yardage situation and it's time to punt." At a point in time when NASCAR is having its traditional battle for television rating with the NFL was this really a good idea? I think not.

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There are two final THUMBS-UPS for you this week. The first goes to Gillian Zucker, President of the Auto Club Speedway, who last weekend earned the right to say "I told you we have exciting racing here." This speedway has been bombarded with media reports in the past about the quality of the racing.

According to my score sheets, for Sunday's Pepsi 500, there were approximately 13 lead changes, and a huge amount of position changes in the top five, within the first 100 laps. I'll concede that the middle of this race got a little tedious, but the final 50 laps had us all seriously paying attention. Saturday's NASCAR Nationwide Series event was outstanding and, just like Sunday's race also ended with a green white checker finish.

Sunday's Pepsi 500 wasn't a sell out and the speedway will have to endure those criticisms over the next few days. But, in this economy, it wasn't expected to sell out. One can't help but notice that a lot of the other major sports are also having this problem.

NASCAR reported that approximately 70,000 were in the stands for Sunday's race. So, where were the fans who didn't occupy those empty seats? They were packed in the speedway's infield camping area. If you could have transferred the campers to the grandstand the empty seats would have been at a minimum.

That leads to the final THUMBS-UP which goes to those happy campers. I had the chance to visit them over the weekend. 90 percent of them seemed like very nice and fun loving people. The remaining ten percent were a little bizarre such as the full grown man riding a child's bicycle who almost ran me over inside of the men's restroom That's okay, sometimes bizarre can be fun.

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