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Weekly Thumbs-Ups & What's-ups from Talladega

by Dave Grayson
Tuesday, April 27, 2010

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Harvick gives McMurray a sporting stock-car nudge
Last Sunday we witnessed a NASCAR double header that can only be considered as true Talladega classics. Both the Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series events, held on the same day due to inclement weather, had fans on their feet at the track and fans jumping up down in their living rooms at their homes.

By the time the full Sunday in Alabama was concluded we witnessed a driver and team's return to a Sprint Cup victory lane at a point in time when they badly needed their next win. We witnessed a future NASCAR superstar literally steal the Nationwide Series race on the final lap. We discovered that a four time champion superstar isn't quite as perfect as we thought he was while his four time champion team mate publicly announced anger at his colleague. We also witnessed how intensely exciting NASCAR's three attempts at the green-white-checker finish is capable of getting. With those thoughts in mind let's begin with:


Harvick Celebrates
THUMBS-UP to Kevin Harvick for winning the Aarons 499 Sprint Cup race at the Talladega Super Speedway last Sunday. Following three green-white-checker finishes, Harvick and Jamie McMurray treated us all to a skin tight final lap finish. The margin of victory was a very close 0.11 seconds. The event marked Harvick's 12th career Cup win and team owner Richard Childress' 90th Cup victory. But, more importantly, it snapped the team's 115 race win less streak. Harvick also moved into second in the series' championship just 26 points behind leader Jimmie Johnson.

If there ever was a time when this team needed a return to victory lane the time was now. This was especially true in light of the fact that the team was informed earlier in the week that there primary sponsor, Shell/Pennzoil, was not returning and would be moving over to Roger Penske Racing and driver Kurt Busch. Adding to the drama is the fact that Harvick's driving contract is up this year. It's no secret that, in the latter part of the 2009 season, Harvick wanted out of his contract. However Childress insisted that he honor his deal. Now the race is on for Childress who will have to share his focus on a new contract for his driver while locating a new sponsor. The driver's performance in both races at Talladega last Sunday will be a big help for that cause.

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Gordon needs to keep his DuPont paint off Jimmie's
WHAT’S-UP with the situation that is beginning to resemble "a tale of two team mates?" That would of course Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon who, for the second race in a row, found a way to get into each other. This budding situation actually began at the Texas Motor Speedway when the pair of Hendrick Motorsports champions literally ran into each other on the track and then expressed a light level of irritation towards each other. At the time Johnson said they would talk it through, make it right and absolutely would not play out any disagreement in front of the media. We believed him and thought the feud was over before it even started.

But the situation surfaced again at Talladega. In the waning stages of the race, Gordon was on the low line approaching Johnson. Johnson's car came down low and there was contact between the two. Gordon went all the way below the yellow line at the bottom of the track in an effort to gather up his car. In the process two long lines of competitors passed him and he was soon at the back of the field. One half lap later Gordon found himself in the middle of the second multi car crash in the race. A car that was capable of winning this race was now badly damaged and he had to settle for a 22nd place finish.

You can't blame Gordon for being angry. Had it not been for the contact with his team mate he would have never been anywhere near the scene of that crash that soon followed. But he deserves a WHAT’S-UP for presenting his ill feelings towards his team mate on live television when he said "that 48 is really testing my patience I can tell you that. It takes a lot to make me mad. I am pissed now." Expect this to be "the" NASCAR story for the next several days. You can't make a comment like that on national television and not expect a personal feud to be played out in the media.

Unfortunately the reigning NASCAR champion gets another WHAT’S-UP for contact with Greg Biffle that triggered the eighth caution flag of the race following the second green-white-checker restart attempt. That contact sent Jimmie Johnson head first into the back stretch wall and a 31st place finish. It also provided absolute proof that sometimes even the best in the business have their unlucky moments.

However, Johnson does get a THUMBS-UP for manning up and taking responsibility for both the incidents with Gordon and Biffle.

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THUMBS-UP for NASCAR's green-white-checker policy. While it's probably not that popular with some of the team owners and drivers, their willingness to extend the policy to three attempts per race has been amazingly popular with the fans. NASCAR made two very good moves prior to the start of the 2010 season. First they told the drivers to police themselves and return to the old school racing that helped create the sport's popularity back in the day. The second major move was NASCAR's willingness to solicit, and seriously listen to, input from the fans regarding what they would like to see. The result has been a very exciting season so far that could very well turn out to be one of the best years ever.

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Brad Keselowski
THUMBS-UP to Brad Keselowski for literally stealing the Aaron's 312 NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Talladega on the final corner of the final lap. As in the case of the Sprint Cup race, Kevin Harvick and Jamie McMurray were the major players in this race and it appeared they were going to stage a battle to the checkers for the second time that day. But a six car pile up, with four laps left in the race, set up a green-white-checker conclusion

On the restart McMurray spun around, following contact with Clint Bowyer, and that triggered a massive wreck between turns three and four. That's what allowed Keselowski to slip by on the high side of the track and literally steal this race.

But WHAT’S-UP with Keselowski almost being denied the opportunity to even start this race? Actually it was a safety measure. During the final laps of the Sprint Cup race Keselowski was involved in one of the crashes which sent his carbon monoxide levels to extreme heights. His carbon monoxide level was reported to be at 13 which is almost triple NASCAR's required level to drive in a race. Team owner Roger Penske had Sam Hornish, Keselowski's Sprint Cup team mate, on standby while they waited for medical clearance.

Keselowski reportedly went into a tirade in the medical center when he learned of the possibility of not getting medical clearance to drive in the Nationwide Series event. The saving factor here was the approximate 30 minute break between the two events. During that time the driver was given oxygen which eventually lowered the carbon monoxide levels. But it was close. According to reports another five minutes in the medical center and he would not have made the race at all.

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THUMBS-UP to the International Speedway Corporation-ISC, the owners of the Talladega Super Speedway, who last year made the decision to heighten the safety catch fence above their retaining walls. This action was of course based on the Carl Edwards wreck last year that sent his car into the catch fence on the front stretch.

During the green-white-checker restart, at the end of the Aaron's 312, there was a multi car wreck that sent driver Dennis Setzer hard into the catch fence above the turn four wall. While there was a lot of damage to the fence, it did its job and kept Setzer's car inside of the track.

That leads to another THUMBS-UP to NASCAR and its total commitment to safety features they mandate on these race cars. The Setzer car caught on fire and was completely destroyed. But those safety features allowed him to walk away uninjured.

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The Cat's hat stayed where it was at, and that was that, said the cat in the hat. The hat on the track was not the hat that was on the Cat.
Finally we have two closing WHAT’S-UPS for you this week. The first one is for that mysterious straw hat that somehow landed on the bottom of the track during the Sprint Cup race. At first we all thought that it resembled the hat often worn by team owner Jack "The Cat In The Hat" Roush. I even found myself laughing while wondering which Roush Fenway Ford driver threw Jack's hat out their window because they needed a caution flag. However a television camera shot assured us that "The Cat In The Hat" was perched on top of a pit box with his famous chapeau safe and sound. The same could not be said for the straw hat lying on the race track. Dale Earnhardt Jr. ran over it and literally made hay out of it.

The second final WHAT’S-UP of the week goes to Joey Logano who, during the Nationwide Series race, left pit road with a gas can hanging on the side of his car. How embarrassing was that?

We also have two final THUMBS-UPS this week. The first goes to driver Jason Keller. Considered as an "iron man" in the Nationwide Series, Keller drove his Tristar Motorsports Chevrolet to a fourth place finish in the Aaron's 312. This car was completely devoid of sponsorship logos. It would have been easy, and even understandable, it Keller and company chose to employ the start and park method while staying on the track just long enough to recoup Talladega expenses with money left over to travel to the next race. They chose to be racers and they're to be saluted for that. The $33,575 paycheck they earned will go a long way towards operations costs.

A similar THUMBS-UP goes to driver John Borneman III who finished fifth in this race. This is a family owned racing operation out of Ramona-California who will be trying their best to make all of the Nationwide Series events this year. The team does have some rather limited sponsor help from Red Line Oil and Twisted X Boots, but there's still a lot of expenses that is covered out of the family's pockets. With Borneman's first series' top five finish came a post race interview on national television which was understandably charged with emotion. A lot of NASCAR fans may not be familiar with the name John Borneman III. However, those of us who live out here on the "left coast" has known this racing family for years and we all made it a point to load up their email with congrats letters. Way to go Johnny B 3 !

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