Jimmie Johnson isn't scheduled to celebrate his 35th birthday until September 17th. However he received an early birthday present last Sunday at the Infineon Raceway after Marcos Ambrose decided to turn himself off. Then we watched Johnson's team mate, Jeff Gordon, turn a Chevrolet Impala into a weapon of mass destruction. Adding to the general confusion from last Sunday's race is the fact that basketball legend Shaquille O'Neal has challenged Dale Earnhardt Jr to a stock car race. With those thoughts in mind let's begin with:
THUMBS UP for Jimmie Johnson for winning Sunday's Toyota/SAV MART 350 at the Infineon Raceway. The event marked Johnson's fourth win of the season, 51st career win and, much to every one's amazement, his first ever win on a road course.
Johnson's impressive performance was also an example of how a little moon lighting can help a primary cause. He's been doing some occasional road racing stints in the Grand American Rolex Series and said that the experience that he gained there was part of the big picture that led to Sunday's win.
But Johnson had to admit that he was amazed by the good fortune that came his way following fellow Sprint Cup driver Marcos Ambrose's misfortune.
That leads to an unfortunate, and rarely issued, DOUBLE WHAT’S UP to Ambrose for shutting off his engine, while in fuel conservation mode, during the final caution flag of the race. While he was told that his Toyota had enough fuel to finish the race's scheduled distance, there was concern that there might not be enough fuel to cover the extra laps from the green-white-checker finishes that everyone felt was coming. The conservation move ruined a spectacular performance by the driver and eliminated a better than good chance of him scoring his first ever Sprint Cup win.
Unfortunately, following one of the times that the car was coasting with the engine turned off, his power plant would not re fire and it coasted to a stop on the track. After getting the car started again, Ambrose went from first to seventh in the restart line up after six cars passed him while his car was stalled. NASCAR invoked a rule that states a driver must maintain reasonable yellow flag speeds and informed the driver that he had to restart from seventh. He managed to gain back one of those lost spots after the race went green again.
This race took on a very aggressive tone during the final laps. It's understandable that there was concern over the possibility of at least one if not even three green-white-checker overtime restarts. However, after the race, everyone was asking the same question: if the team was so positive that the final laps were going to be a hard fought free for all, and the green-white-checkers were coming, then wouldn't the laps ran under the slower caution speeds provide enough of a fuel mileage buffer to cover the overtime laps?
Despite the questionable decision to turn the engine off, and the fall out that came with it, Ambrose deserves a THUMBS UP for having the wisdom to take a time out in his car hauler before talking to anyone. During the live television interview you could see the disappointment in his eyes and hear it in his voice. But a much calmer Ambrose said "It's NASCAR's house and they call the shots. It's my bad, I should have had the motor cranked up and it never would have been an issue. I know the rule. There aren't words to say, I just feel sorry for my guys."
During the course of that post race interview he did acknowledge that he was told to shut off the engine to conserve fuel but made no additional comments on that issue. He deserves another THUMBS UP for not throwing his crew chief, Frank Kerr, under the bus on national television. Any other angry Sprint Cup driver in the garage would have done it in a New York minute.
Making the embarrassment levels worse for the popular Australian driver is the fact that this incident is already being described as the blunder from down under. His only consolation lies in the fact that he was the best driver, with the fastest car and the best team in the race. These guys will bounce back soon and win that first ever Cup race.
WHAT’S UP with Jeff Gordon trying to turn a Chevrolet Impala into a weapon of mass destruction? It would be almost easier to count the cars Gordon's aggressive driving did not impact during this race. Okay, we get that Gordon is frustrated over his failure to snap that Sprint Cup winless streak. We understand that he spent Sunday afternoon watching his team mate, Jimmie Johnson, win another race while passing him in the championship points standings. We absolutely get the fact that Gordon was heavily favored to win this race because he leads the stats in nearly every category you could name at this race track.
Officially we know that Gordon managed to make enemies of drivers Martin Truex Jr, Elliot Sadler who got into his face after the race along with Clint Bowyer and Kurt Busch. They all claim that Gordon's driving ruined a solid top ten finish for them.
Gordon does deserve a THUMBS UP for manning up and taking responsibility for his actions. After the race he said "there are some things that I'm not proud of that I did today, certainly with Martin, (Truex). I mean, I completely messed that up and I will try to patch that up. Other things that happened out there were just really hard racing incidents."
After the incident that sent Truex to the garage area, Gordon sent an apology message over his radio. In was an olive branch that was declined by Truex who said "does it matter? We're parked at the trailer and he's still out there trying to win the race." Later he added "what goes around comes around. If these guys don't respect me then I won't respect them. We'll get him, (Gordon), at Loudon," (next week's race in New Hampshire).
Does that mean that Gordon's DuPont Chevrolet will become the DU-PUNT Chevrolet next week?
Long time country music lovers may recall a Willie Nelson song that said "there's nothing cold as ashes after the fire is gone." That leads to a WHAT’S UP with Joe Gibbs Racing and the performance of their Toyota teams during the Infineon race? The hottest team in NASCAR literally went cold as ashes.
The process started when previous Infineon winner Kyle Busch sustained damage from an on track incident early in the race. He finished a disappointing 39th and 34 laps down. After the race he sent a "Twitter" message that read: "unfortunately, it looks like we will have a few new pieces of race used sheet metal for sale on shop Joe Gibbs Racing Dot Com."
There were times when JGR's Denny Hamlin had to feel like a human pin ball while out there on this road course. His Toyota finished 34th and seven laps down. After the race he sent a "Twitter" message that read "we hit everything but the lottery."
Gibbs' lone hope for a good finish rested on Joey Logano. However, following some on track contact, he fell victim to an apparent act of retaliation from Juan Pablo Montoya who spun him out. That cost him two laps and led to a 33d place finish.
Many observers noted that this, also, is part of the young driver's learning curve. So what has Logano learned over the past few weeks? It's probably don't mess with Kevin Harvick and Juan Pablo Montoya.
Speaking of the happy Harvicks, the THUMBS UP for the best "Twitter" message of the week goes to the always fun DeLana Harvick who, after the Infineon Cup race, wrote: "phew, glad that's over. I thought I was going to have a heart attack or get knocked out by my mom for screaming too many F bombs."
THUMBS UP to Carl Edwards for returning to victory lane, and bringing Ford with him, after winning last Saturday's NASCAR Nationwide Series debut at Road America in Wisconsin. It was good to see that winning back flip again. The race was Edwards' first win of the season, and first for Ford, in 2010.
By the way, if you found that race as entertaining as I did then send a THUMBS UP tweet, text, email or letter to NASCAR and let them know we would like to see Road America became a permanent part of the Nationwide Series schedule.
We also have two GOD BLESS items for you this week. The first goes to the family, friends and fans of the late Raymond Parks who passed away last Sunday morning at the age of 96. Please take the time to type this man's name into your Internet search engines and read about his contributions to the sport that we all love so much. Parks was the last living member of a group who participated in meetings, hosted by Big Bill France, at a Daytona Beach-Florida motel that led to the creation of NASCAR. His contributions to the creation and future growth of the sport simply cannot be measured by mere words.
The second GOD Bless goes to Christy and Jamie McMurray who last weekend announced that their expecting their first child in December.
The final WHAT’S UP of the week goes to professional basketball icon Shaquille O'Neal who recently decided that he wants to challenge Dale Earnhardt Jr to a stock car race. Yes, you read it right. It's going to be Shaq versus Junior and the race is going to be held on Wednesday at the Concord Speedway located outside of Charlotte-North Carolina.
It's all part of the ABC summer replacement television show titled "Shaq VS." The format has O’Neal stepping out of his comfortable basketball environment to challenge other athletes in their native surroundings. So far O'Neal has challenged Major League Baseball slugger Albert Pujols to a home run contest. He's challenged Olympic gold medalist Michael Phelps to a swimming contest and he's worked the net in a volleyball contest with women's champions Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh. He's even experienced the sweet science by climbing into the ring with boxing champion Oscar De La Hoya.
Now he wants to challenge NASCAR's most popular driver in a late model stock car grudge race. By the way, the results of this race will be aired by ABC on the evening of Tuesday, August 3rd.
The question remains: can Shaq even fit inside of a late model stock car?