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NASCAR Atlanta postscript

by Dave Grayson
Tuesday, September 07, 2010

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A happy Tony Stewart
Getty Images for NASCAR
Over the previous weekend we watched Tony Stewart "smoke" up Atlanta-Georgia following Sunday night's NASCAR Sprint Cup race. In Nationwide Series action we watched a popular driver, crew chief and team owner return to victory lane. Meanwhile in the truck brigade an "onion" returned to victory lane only to get attacked by a "rowdy Busch." With those thoughts in mind, let's begin with:

THUMBS-UP to Tony Stewart for an outstanding driving performance while winning Sunday's Emory Healthcare 500 at Atlanta. "Smoke" led this race eight times, for a race high 176 laps, and returned to victory lane for the first time since the Kansas race last October which was 31 races ago. The win was Stewart's first of the season, third at Atlanta and 38th career win. Stewart's win streak also remains intact. He's won at least one race in every year of his time spent in the Sprint Cup Series which began 12 years ago. It also moved him from sixth to fourth in the championship standings and officially clinched a starting berth in the 2010 Chase For The Championship.

THUMBS-UP to the Darrien Grubb led Stewart Haas Racing Team for their outstanding performance on pit road. With tire management being such a critical factor in this race, there were a lot of pit stops. The vast majority of these stops for the #14 team were in the low 12 second range.

On the subject of the team's pit stops, THUMBS-UP to the race winner's dad, Nelson Stewart, who helped his son out by shining a bright flash light up and down the pit stall so his driver could find his stopping point on a heavily congested, hard to see, pit road.

WHAT'S-UP with some of those restarts? Stewart clearly had a rhythm problem on some of the double file restarts and it often cost him track position. There were times when he actually came over the radio and apologized to his team for the results. But Stewart redeemed himself during the final restart when it mattered the most. With 25 laps left he came in for his final stop for tires and fuel. His team responded with another outstanding pit stop that placed him on the front row. Stewart relocated his restart rhythm and ran away during the final laps for the win.

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WHAT'S-UP with the lap 153 incident that is going to force Greg Biffle to wait one more week to clinch his Chase berth? Some brief contact from Ryan Newman sent Biffle sliding into Elliot Sadler who went front bumper first into the wall. The entire front end of Biffle's Ford was severely damaged and had to go behind the wall.

That leads to a THUMBS-UP for his team, as well as members of other Roush Fenway Racing teams, who did an outstanding job completely restoring the front of this race car. Biffle returned to the track 71 laps down, but that return elevated him from a 40th place finish to 36th. He now needs to finish 43d next week in Richmond to clinch his Chase berth.

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WHAT'S-UP with Ryan Newman being involved with yet another major incident in this race? At lap 302 Newman made a three wide move that accidentally led to contact with Kasey Kahne. That hit sent Kahne's Ford into the side of Kurt Busch's Dodge. The impact forced Kahne to make an unscheduled trip to the garage due to a flat tire and a broken water tank. Prior to that incident Kahne was a major player in this race and led 16 laps. He wound up 32nd and 15 laps down.

Kahne also wound up very angry at Newman and retaliated during the waning moments of the race. He gave Newman a shove that almost turned him sideways. At the time Newman was listed as 13th in the points and was attempting to gain some ground on Clint Bowyer, in 12th, in an effort to find some way to sneak into the Chase line up via the back door. The hit from Kahne allowed Bowyer to pass Newman for position. Newman finished the race 117 points away from 12th and will now require a surprise miracle next week at Richmond to make the Chase.

Kahne and Newman were caught on camera exchanging some angry words on pit road after the race. But don't be looking for the "F" word from that incident: (I was referring to the word feud, what word were you thinking about?)

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Speaking of Clint Bowyer: he deserves a THUMBS-UP for a rock steady driving performance in the Atlanta race that led to a seventh place finish. He now needs at least a 28th finish at Richmond next week to clinch a Chase berth.

Carl Edwards also gets a THUMBS-UP for his Atlanta driving performance and his second place finish. Many race observers noted that this effort resembled the days of old when Edwards and Roush Fenway Racing were such a strong force in the Cup series.

WHAT'S-UP with the uncharacteristic performance of the Joe Gibbs Racing teams? After leading the race seven times, for a total of 74 laps, Denny Hamlin finished 43d when a blown engine ended his evening. He dropped from fifth to tenth in the standings but still managed to clinch his starting berth in the Chase.

Team mate Joey Logano nursed a weak engine, everyone thought was going to expire, to a 27th place finish. Kyle Busch was the Joe Gibbs highlight with a fifth place finish but was no where near the factor in the race that many expected.

WHAT'S-UP with the bizarre in car radio incident that garnered driver David Reutimann a black flag? NASCAR has a strict safety rule that demands one hundred percent radio contact between a driver and his track spotter. Reutimann's radio failed and he was ordered, via the black flag, to pit road for repairs. At first the team thought the problem may have been the radio control switch on the steering wheel and were planning to hand their driver a back up steering wheel. It turned out that the handling of Reutimann's car was so bad that his arms were flailing up and down while trying to turn the steering wheel. During the course of that action he accidentally unplugged the wire that connects the team's radio to his driving helmet. Reutimann eventually managed to get back on the lead lap and drove to a 16th place finish.

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THUMBS-UP to Jamie McMurray for winning Saturday night's NASCAR Nationwide Series Atlanta event. McMurray is having an outstanding season in the Cup ranks and collected another feel good moment after collecting his eighth career series win for JR Motorsports which is co owned by Dale Earnhardt Jr and Rick Hendrick. McMurray, in the #88 Hellman's Chevrolet, led the race three times for a total of 48 laps, including the final 23 circuits, to give his team owners their first series win of the season. It was also great to see an emotionally charged Tony "Pops" Eury Sr return to victory lane as the winning crew chief.

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THUMBS-UP to Todd "The Onion" Bodine for winning Friday night's NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race at the Kentucky Speedway. It was Bodine's fourth win of the year and 21st series career win. He also padded his series points lead to 261 over Aric Almirola. With only seven races left in the season, it's looking like Bodine is going to collect his second series championship.

But WHAT'S-UP with that bizarre confrontation the race winner had with driver Kyle Busch in victory lane? On lap 81 Busch and Bodine were racing close together when Bodine spun out. Ironically, it was the trip to pit road, to replace flat spotted tires, that gave Bodine's Toyota truck just enough fuel to go the remaining distance when the other teams had to pit for fuel late in the race, Bodine was able to stretch a tank of fuel 55 laps.

In victory lane Bodine raised a lot of eyebrows when he said "I'd like to thank Kyle Busch for driving dirty, sucking me down and getting me spun out." He went on to suggest that it was Busch's actions that set up his team to make the race winning fuel gamble. However it was noticed by many that there was no contact between the trucks and many observers openly wondered what it was that Busch did wrong.

Meanwhile Busch was in his car hauler changing clothes when he heard Bodine's accusations on television. He surprised everyone by showing up in victory lane to express his anger. Busch later explained that he confronted Bodine in victory circle because there was no time to talk to him later. He had to catch a plane to Atlanta that night where he was scheduled to race in the NASCAR Nationwide and Sprint Cup events that weekend. In a sheer note of irony Busch was flying to Atlanta that night in a private plane owned by Bob Germain who also happens to be the owner or Bodine's racing team.

After some brief moments of yelling and finger pointing, Busch left victory lane. The media reporter then asked Bodine what it was all about. Bodine replied "I've always had a lot of respect for Kyle. Slowly but surely I'm losing it. That's a shame. It's not just the truck series, it's every division he races. He's so good. He's without a doubt one of the best drivers NASCAR has ever seen. He doesn't have to drive like that to win races but he does it and he's getting away with it because NASCAR won't do anything about it. He was mad because I called him out on it."

The following day in Atlanta Busch responded by saying "I don't feel like I'm a dirty racer. I feel like I'm a hard racer and an aggressive one, but I wouldn't call it dirty, dirty is when you run into the back of someone on the straightaway and put them in the fence."

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THUMBS-UP to three year old Ella Gordon, the daughter of NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Jeff Gordon, who teamed up with Sam Bass, the official artist of NASCAR, to completely redesign the paint job on her dad's #24 Chevrolet. Called "My Papa's Car," the design featured Ella's original art work as well as her hand prints. The project was created to bring awareness to the Jeff Gordon Children's Foundation which supports pediatric cancer research. The foundation's logo was on the hood of the car and that leads to a THUMBS-UP to Gordon's long time primary sponsor, DuPont Automotive Finishes, who gladly relinquished their advertising space on the car to support this important cause.

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Finally this week we have a THUMBS-UP to the Song Of Atlanta Show Chorus and to Ernie Haase and Signature Sound for their performances of "The National Anthem" prior to the Atlanta NASCAR Nationwide and Sprint Cup events. These performances were extremely well done and polished with a strong sense of spiritualism and patriotism. It was a nice change from past performances from burned out looking rock stars and newly crowned pop stars who warble their way through the song like they don't have a clue what a privilege it is to be asked to perform "The National Anthem" at a major event in this country.

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