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NASCAR Charlotte postscript

by Dave Grayson
Tuesday, May 31, 2011

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Kevin Harvick - The Closer
Over the previous weekend we watched "The Closer" score another surprise win at the last minute. We watched the hearts of the Junior Nation literally get stomped on at the last minute. We watched gasoline gambles that didn't pan out at the last minute. With all of these thoughts in mind, let's begin with:

THUMBS-UP to Kevin Harvick, who again lived up to his new nickname "The Closer". After watching Dale Earnhardt Jr's gas tank go dry on the final quarter lap of the Coca Cola 600, Harvick claimed his third Sprint Cup win of the year, his 17th career win and his first win at the Charlotte Motor Speedway in 21 starts. In his three wins this year Harvick has only led a total of nine laps. That's because he kept showing up at the last minute to steal the wins. That's how you get named "The Closer." It's also how you virtually guarantee yourself a spot in the 2011 Chase line up.

THUMBS-UP to he Richard Childress freight train that aided fuel consumption. During the final yellow flag of the race, with fuel mileage being an issue for Harvick and Jeff Burton, the two drivers placed their cars bumper to bumper and coasted with their engines turned off while being pushed by team mate Paul Menard who was out of contention, due to an earlier incident, but did have enough fuel to lend a helping hand. Now that's team work.

WHAT'S-UP with Harvick still not liking the Charlotte Motor Speedway despite winning the race? He'll still be the first to tell you the speedway just doesn't suit his style of driving. He even admitted to having a bad attitude from the moment he walked into the garage last Sunday because of the track and the fact his Budweiser Chevrolet wasn't handling well there. Let's at least give him a THUMBS-UP for being honest.

WHAT'S-UP with all of those people spraying Budweiser on each other following a race that was sponsored by Coca Cola? Is this what some people call alcohol abuse?

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WHAT'S-UP with Dale Earnhardt Jr running out of gas "this" close to finally snapping that now 105 win less streak? It was a heartbreaker. and just one of the many gas gambles that didn't pan out.

THUMBS-UP to this driver for taking all of this in his stride after the race. He ran strong all evening and left Charlotte well aware that his team is capable of getting the job done and the next win is coming soon. Their performance is bound to increase driver confidence and team momentum.

The in house girlfriend, always and forever the card carrying T shirt wearing member of the Junior Nation, informed me that Earnhardt deserves an additional THUMBS-UP for shaving off his beard because it makes him look young again.

WHAT'S-UP with yours truly making the mistake of saying "yeah, and he doesn't look like a ferret anymore." Note to self: "I have to be more careful about what I say about this driver when she's sitting that close to me on the couch. I still have a small bruise on my upper right arm."

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On the topic of Hendrick Motorsports teams, WHAT'S-UP with Jimmie "Five Time" Johnson's long Sunday night at the Charlotte Motor Speedway? Heavily favored to win the Coca Cola 600, Johnson had a disappointing evening that began with some less than stellar pit stops that was topped by the driver leaving pit road with an adjustment wrench still attached to the rear window of the car. That resulted in a return to pit road to serve a drive through penalty as well as a huge loss of track position.

But their biggest WHAT'S-UP of the night came with five laps left in the race when the team suffered a very rare blown engine. The result was a 28th place finish and a drop to third in the points standings.

WHAT'S-UP with Johnson's crew chief, Chad Knaus, and his loss of control? The usually stoic Knaus, upon realizing he car's engine had expired, went on a pit box tirade. Unfortunately, this occurred seconds after Fox Sports dialed up the team's in car radio just in time to hear the crew chief drop a major league "F" bomb. That, in turn, caused the Fox broadcast team to issue an immediate apology for the live on air language. By the way, this wasn't the only Chad Knaus televised "F" bomb of the evening.

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WHAT'S-UP with Greg Biffle who literally endured a very hot and miserable evening at the Charlotte Motor Speedway? The long night started early with a malfunction in the car's Kool Box system. The driver was simply not getting any fresh air through the hose attached to his helmet at a time when the in car temperature was approaching 140 degrees. The process of trying to rectify this situation turned out to be rather chaotic and costly in terms of track position, aided by a speeding on pit road penalty, which did nothing to appease the driver's already angry disposition.

But, by the end of the race, Biffle managed to drive his way through the situation and led 50 laps while looking very much like a potential race winner. Unfortunately this team also fell victim to fuel mileage issues and wound up 13th in the final run down. During the post race interview you could literally see the flames of hell dancing in this driver's eyes. One can only imagine what this week's team meeting must have been like.

WHAT'S-UP with the Carl Edwards 16th place finish? His Roush Fenway Ford was heavily favored to win the Coca Cola 600. Edwards led the race two times for a total of 61 laps but they were all during the day light hours. The team simply couldn't find any night time magic to adjust their car after the sun went down.

WHAT'S-UP with Roush Fenway Racing's Matt Kenseth also losing the fuel mileage gamble. Kenseth had a strong run going and led a race high 103 laps. But the urgent need for fuel forced him to come onto pit road with only seven laps remaining in the race which led to a disappointing 14th place finish.

On a brighter note a THUMBS-UP goes to Roush Fenway's David Ragan for his second place finish. A good call had Ragan on pit road for a splash of gas during the final caution flag. It was one of the few times that a pit road gamble actually paid off.

On the topic of Ford drivers, a THUMBS-UP goes to Ricky Stenhouse Jr who brought the Wood Brothers Ford home to an 11h place during his official NASCAR Sprint Cup debut. Stenhouse was subbing for driver Trevor Bayne who has been sidelined for several weeks due to illness. He has never ran a NASCAR race longer than 300 miles. He hit that mileage the day before with a top five finish in Saturday Nationwide Series race and then drove 600 miles Saturday night. It was an impressive effort from a young driver who is generating a lot of positive media ink these days.

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The Coca Cola 600 was also an interesting evening for the three Toyota teams from Joe Gibbs Racing. WHAT'S-UP with two, completely unassisted, spin outs by Kyle Busch? Heavily favored to win this race, Busch found himself losing control of his car, with 88 laps remaining, coming off of turn four and then went for a wild ride through the infield grass. In theory, that grassy area should have caused some major front end damage. However, Busch got lucky and somehow got through the situation with very little consequences. In fact, his Toyota sailed over that grass with the grace of a high performance sports car doing 128 MPH on a North Carolina country road.

(Come on now, you knew I had to go there at least one more time).

Approximately 30 laps later Busch found himself spinning towards the bottom of the track after hitting the wall. During this uncharacteristic excursion the damage was considerably more extensive. Busch parked the car in the garage and had to settle for a 32nd place finish.

By the way, before you sometimes entertaining NASCAR conspiracy theorists starts working overtime there was absolutely no evidence that someone, connected to Kevin Harvick's #29 Budweiser team, was seen using a Kyle Busch voodoo doll.

THUMBS-UP to the pit crew of Denny Hamlin's Gibbs Racing Toyota for their outstanding pit road performance. Alarmed by the fact that their car's engine seemed to be losing horsepower, the team brought Hamlin to pit road, with 105 laps left in the race, and changed the carburetor. The performance of this task was so smooth they were able to keep their driver on the lead lap. That's simply amazing. In the waning moments of the race, Hamlin was a contender for the win before his car, you guessed it, ran out of gas. Despite that he still managed a top ten finish.

A THUMBS-UP also goes out to Joe Gibbs driver Joey Logano for his strong third place finish in the Coca Cola 600. This team has been hampered with some harsh racing luck this year and that finish was very much needed. Logano also gets another THUMBS-UP for some very good defensive driving that kept him out of at least two of the race's caution flags.

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WHAT'S-UP with Kasey Kahne running out of gas just after the green-white-checker restart? His Red Bull Racing Camry had a legitimate shot at stealing the show prior to that moment.

The result of this incident was a bottle neck in the field which caused drivers Brad Keselowski and Jeff Burton to run into each other going into turn one. It was the last thing either driver, especially Burton, needed.

The track cleared very quickly and NASCAR officials made the decision not to throw the caution flag. The opinions regarding that decision, needless to say, became the subject of debate, The conspiracy theorists joined forces with the Junior Nation and yelled WHAT'S-UP because they felt the yellow flag would have benefited Dale Earnhardt Jr's potential return to victory lane. They were completely over looking the fact that NASCAR allows up to three green-white-checker attempts to finish their races. Whether he was running at full race speed, or at slower caution speed, Earnhardt's car was going to run out gas. At least Earnhardt was able to retrieve a seventh place finish, remained fourth in the championship standing and actually gained some ground on the three drivers ahead of him.

Meanwhile there was the opinion of other observers, including yours truly, who yelled THUMBS-UP for NASCAR's decision. The officials knew that fuel was a critical issue for many of the top ten cars. They had already seen the melee caused by a lack of gas during the previous restart attempt and they had a general sense that another dangerous situation was bound to follow. Based on the fact that, again, the turn one area was cleared, they made the decision to let the race conclude under the green flag. With all of the factors being considered, it turned out to be a good call.

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THUMBS-UP to driver Matt Kenseth for winning Saturday's NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Charlotte as a last minute substitute for his Roush Fenway Racing team mate Trevor Bayne. Kenseth passed team mate Carl Edwards, with three laps remaining, to steal the win.

THUMBS-UP to Roush Fenway Racing drivers for their one-two finish, as well as the fourth place finish from Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

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In some final thoughts, THUMBS-UP for comedian Larry The Cable Guy, the honorary pace car driver for the Coca Cola 600, for a very funny one liner. Commenting on the hot weather, he said "it's so hot in Charlotte it's bad for my breast implants."

THUMBS-UP for the special efforts by NASCAR, and their Sprint Cup teams, in honoring the members of our Armed Forces during Memorial Day weekend.

THUMBS-UP for an incredible Sunday filled with all of that great racing on live television. It began early in the morning with Formula One's annual classic Grand Prix of Monaco, followed by the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500 and concluded with NASCAR's Coca Cola 600. I can't recall ever spending that much time on the couch eating that much junk food.

The final WHAT'S-UP goes to the weird similarities between the conclusion of the Indianapolis 500 and the Coca Cola 600. On the final lap of the Indy 500, rookie driver J R Hildebrand was coming off of turn four, with the checkers in sight, when he stunned everyone by hitting the wall. At the conclusion of the NASCAR event, Dale Earnhardt Jr was coming through turn four, again checkers in sight, when he ran out of gas. What the similarities here? Both cars were sponsored by the National Guard. That's kind of spooky isn't it?

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