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NASCAR Phoenix postscript

by Dave Grayson
Monday, November 16, 2009

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Jimmie Johnson celebrates a key win
Getty Images for NASCAR
During the NASCAR weekend at the Phoenix International Raceway we watched one of the best racing teams in the country take a giant stride towards a historic fourth consecutive Sprint Cup championship. We watched a Nationwide Series rivalry flare up again and we watched an old school driver truck on to a fourth title. With all that in mind let's begin this week with:

THUMBS-UP for Jimmie "Max Points" Johnson and his Lowes 48 team for an outstanding performance during the Checker O'Reilly Auto Parts 500. It was Johnson's seventh win of the season and his 47th career win. More importantly, he now has a 108 point lead, over rival and team mate Mark Martin, with the final event of the season coming up on Sunday. All Johnson has to do is finish 25th in Florida to claim that fourth title.

A THUMBS-UP also goes out to Kevin Purcell the jack man for Jimmie Johnson. Despite a heavily taped left ankle from a recent injury this man was a tough guy and got the job done.

THUMBS-UP to Jeff Burton, and his Richard Childress Racing team, for a very strong run at Phoenix that netted them a second place finish. It's no secret that it's been an extremely dismal year for all four of the Childress teams and their only recourse was to set their sights on damage control procedures that will hopefully make them stronger for the 2010 season. Recent improvements in the Burton team performance, especially last Sunday, is a step in the right direction.

Once again we're forced to ask WHAT'S-UP with Dale Earnhardt Jr's team and the bad luck that just continues to haunt their efforts? The latest round of the unexpected began Sunday morning when six members of the pit crew were treated and released by the track's medical center following an automobile accident that occurred en route to the track. The team's van was reportedly T boned by another car.

These guys are entitled to a THUMBS-UP for performing their pit road duties despite some reported soreness. When Earnhardt brought the car down pit road, for an early race green flag stop, these wounded warriors pulled off an impressive 14.2 second stop.

Then the 88 team's day became another WHAT'S-UP when Earnhardt spun out, coming off of turn four on lap 171, and triggered a multi car accident. Adding insult to injury was a lengthy amount of time the car spent behind the wall while searching for a hard to find oil leak. The hard luck afternoon saw Earnhardt finish 35th and 56 laps down.

WHAT'S-UP with Sam Hornish Jr's unusual approach to his pit stall during Sunday's Sprint Cup race? During the first round of green flag pit stops, Hornish came towards his stall too hot and spun the car. The nose of his Dodge wound up against the wall. He had to back the car up so the team could change the left side tires.

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THUMBS-UP to Carl Edwards for a very impressive performance that allowed him to win Saturday's Nationwide Series race the Able Body Labor 200. It was his fifth series win of the season.

But WHAT'S-UP with that abbreviated victory flip. Edwards, due to a foot injury, still can't do his famous back flip off the left side window of the car. Instead he treated the fans to an extremely slow roll over on the front stretch. It was a nice try but no where near the back flip.

Unfortunately it's necessary to issue a double WHAT'S-UP to driver Steve Wallace and his team for the pit stop from hell than turned out to be very embarrassing. Wallace brought his Chevrolet to pit road for a green flag stop to take on fuel and four tires. But the right front tire changer had a problem with a lug nut. Next the caution flag came out in the middle of the stop and getting back on the track became urgent. The crew chief called an audible and changed the stop to right side tires only.

While the front tire changer was recovering from the lug nut problem, his counterpart at the rear of the car had already moved to the left side and had removed the lug nuts just as the car came off of the jack. Believing that the two tire pit was completed the driver took off and came perilously close to running over his front tire changer. With the car now back on the track the left rear tire minus its lug nuts came off, rolled down the backstretch and actually outran the pace car.

Meanwhile the driver's team owner and dad, Rusty Wallace, had to sit in the ESPN broadcast booth while maintaining his television decorum. But you can bet he was seething inside.

Yet another double WHAT'S-UP goes out to Brad Keselowski and Denny Hamlin who managed to contact each other on the track for the third time in the past nine weeks. While making a pass Hamlin managed to strike the side of Keselowski's door who, in turn, reciprocated with a hit on Hamlin's rear bumper. Apparently Keselowski didn't feel like he had extracted enough revenge and decided to ram Hamlin's bumper again. This time he caused Hamlin to spin in front of oncoming traffic. It was a miracle that there wasn't a multi car crash. In fact, a THUMBS-UP goes out to Matt Kenseth for doing an amazing job of defensive driving while avoiding Hamlin's spinning car.

In the aftermath there were several opinions, heard several times in the past, regarding Keselowski's aggressive driving style. That included Hamlin who, during a live television interview, said "I'm just glad that I'm signed up for next week's Nationwide Series race. There's a lot of guys who feel like they owe him one and might try to cash in their chips. I'm going to make sure I'm first in line at the pay window."

That leads to a THUMBS-UP to NASCAR who summoned Keselowski to their oval office Sunday morning prior to the Sprint Cup race. The topic of that meeting covered the difference between aggressive and destructive driving and was reportedly hosted by the NASCAR Czar himself: Chairman Brian France.

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THUMBS-UP to Kevin Harvick Inc for the fantastic Friday night they enjoyed in Phoenix. First off Kevin Harvick won the Lucas Oil 150 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race in his self owned truck.

Making the night even sweeter was the fourth place finish by KHI driver Ron Hornaday Jr. The finish was enough for the veteran driver to officially clinch his fourth truck series title.

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The final WHAT'S-UP goes to ESPN racing broadcaster Dr. Jerry Punch. We all know that Jimmie Johnson has been given the nick name "Superman" by the media. It's actually very accurate and well deserved. But during Sunday's broadcast of the Sprint Cup race, while Johnson was in the process of spanking his competition, Punch kept using the "Superman" reference over and over to the point it actually got annoying.

The final THUMBS-UP of the week goes to your truly because I managed to stay awake during the broadcast of Sunday's race. It wasn't easy, it wasn't pretty but I hung in there and made it to the end of the race.

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