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NASCAR Pocono Postscript

by Dave Grayson
Monday, June 13, 2011

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Jeff Gordon celebrates his 84th win
Getty Images for NASCAR
During the previous NASCAR weekend, at the Pocono Raceway, we saw multiple sides, i.e.: story lines, from a famed speedway that is known as the tricky triangle because of its unique three turn shape. We watched a four time Sprint Cup champion put on a sterling performance that could very well guarantee his place in the 2011 Chase. We watched an expected Pocono race winner, and Chase contender, experience more bad luck from a bizarre tire and brake incident. We also watched the interesting saga of Childress versus Busch take new twists that ranged from monetary donations from fans to an expensive post race inspection. With those thoughts in mind, let's begin with:

THUMBS-UP to Jeff Gordon for winning the 5 Hour Energy 500 at Pocono. Gordon and his Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet cruised under the checkers a full three seconds ahead of runner up Kurt Busch. It also marked the four time champion's 84th career win which ties him at third, with Darrell Waltrip and Bobby Allison, on NASCAR's all time win list.

However, of more importance to the current racing season, the Pocono win moved Gordon to 11th in the standings and only six points away from the coveted top ten which determines the final line up of Chase contenders in September. Gordon also bought himself a Chase insurance policy as well. Pocono was his second win of the season and that may make him eligible for one of the two wild card berths in the Chase system if he falls out of the top ten in points. That wild card system will place the drivers with the most wins, in points positions 11 through 20, into the Chase. Before the season even began there were theories that said any driver with at least two wins was likely going to become a championship contender.

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WHAT'S-UP with that tough break suffered by Denny Hamlin and his Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota. Hamlin virtually owns the driver stats at Pocono and was heavily favored to finally get his first win of the season there. For that matter Hamlin was also heavily favored to win the 2011 Sprint Cup Chase for the Championship. After a surprisingly slow start to the 2011 season, Hamlin slowly but surely worked his way back to 11th in the points standings prior to the Pocono race.

But, after leading a race high 76 laps, the high expectations hit a sudden low in the race when a flat tire forced unscheduled time on pit road. This was followed by the flat tire somehow completely shearing off the brake line connected to the left rear wheel. Between the loss of track position in the pits, combined with virtually no brakes on a track like Pocono, the best Hamlin could do was limp home to a 19th place finish and a drop to 12th in the points. In other words: another round of bad luck for this team.

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On the topic of unexpected problems for Joe Gibbs Racing, WHAT'S-UP with Kyle Busch's Toyota failing to pass post race inspection? After finishing third at Pocono, NASCAR officials discovered an irregularity with the car and ran it through inspection three time. The final result determined that the left front of the car was too low but only by a mere one-sixteenth of an inch outside of NASCAR's accepted tolerances. The car was transported to NASCAR's Research and Development Center, in Concord-North Carolina, for further inspection.

On Monday afternoon NASCAR announced that crew chief Dave Rogers had been fined $25,000. They also docked Kyle Busch six championship points and Joe Gibbs six owner's points.

Now I'm wondering if any fans of Kyle Busch and/or Joe Gibbs are going to send money to help pay the crew chief's fine.

(Oh yeah, you know where I'm going next.)

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THUMBS-UP to the fans of Richard Childress who actually sent the veteran NASCAR team owner money to help him pay the massive $150,000 levied against him by NASCAR officials last week. This was, of course, the aftermath from the physical altercation between Childress and Kyle Busch following the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race at Kansas. On Friday Childress announced that he would be paying the fine from his personal account and, as far as he's concerned, the matter is now a closed issue.

But Childress did admit that he was completely overwhelmed by the show of fan support. He deserves a THUMBS-UP for announcing that the fan money will be donated to the Childress Institute For Pediatric Trauma. It's yet another reason why everyone thinks Richard Childress is a class act.

THUMBS-UP to Kevin Harvick for injecting a little humor into this situation via "Twitter". Harvick has been taking the credit for teaching his team owner how to use his very own brand new "Twitter" account. Harvick, updating us all on that progress, wrote: "RChildress3 gained almost 2,500 followers in a couple of hours. I had is watch timing it," a reference to Childress removing his wrist watch prior to the altercation with Busch,

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Whether or not this next item is a THUMBS-UP or a WHAT'S-UP I suppose depends on how you feel about the drivers involved and their recent personal dealings with each other. This item is about Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch referencing their pit road altercation following the Darlington race, that resulted in a four race probation period levied on each driver.

That probation period ended at the conclusion of the Pocono race. But Harvick apparently decided to have some fun and surprise Busch with some early race tactics that included a little pushing while in the process of trying to make a pass. Meanwhile, in the control tower, NASCAR officials were not exactly amused over what they were watching and made quick work of sending radio messages to tell both drivers to settle down and "just race."

Kyle Busch wasn't that amused either and, over the radio, said "apparently he thinks probation is over so he's back to wrecking me." After the race Busch said "it seems like he was trying to make it awfully difficult on me. There were a couple of times I had to back off and wait, (to complete a pass), It's not my fight, he's trying to turn it into one."

With that famous faint half smile on his face, Harvick said "I was just playing with him. He hasn't seen the last of it yet. He knows he's got one coming, I just wanted him to think about it."

I have to give Harvick a somewhat reluctant WHAT'S-UP for pushing that envelope during the final race of his probation. He had to know NASCAR was watching every time he and Busch got close to each other. In one more week the probation would have been over and he would be fully reinstated in the "have at it boys" club again.

At the same time I also have to give Harvick a THUMBS-UP for his Pocono prank because I was enjoying watching it way too much.

A reluctant WHAT'S-UP also goes to Kyle Busch for finding himself in the middle of most NASCAR major stories lately despite trying to behave himself even to the point of seemingly choosing his words very carefully during interviews. Ever since his extreme embarrassment of getting a speeding ticket, for doing 128 MPH in a 45 zone, Busch has had to deal with the backlash of his Darlington incident with Harvick, getting pummeled by a 65 year old team owner in Kansas, the surprise tactics of a race rival during the Pocono race followed by his car's failure to pass technical inspection. It's enough to make the leaves of any shrub fall off.

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The final THUMBS-UP of the week goes to the SPEED Channel's Kenny Wallace for an on air comment made following the Pocono race. When asked if he felt the Harvick-Busch feud would continue after their probation was over, Wallace replied "they must continue, simply because it's awesome."

There's two final WHAT'S-UPS for you to consider this week. The first goes to Carl Edwards. Heavily favored as a Pocono race winner, a very rare engine failure, reported to be a faulty valve, sidelined that effort on lap 56. He still maintains his status as the points leader but the 37th place finish has slashed his lead to six points over Jimmie Johnson and ten points over Dale Earnhardt Jr.

The final WHAT'S-UP goes to Johnny Sauter for literally giving away a win in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race at the Texas Motor Speedway. Lined up against Ron Hornaday Jr, for a green-white-checker double file restart, Sauter changed lanes prior to crossing the start-finish line. That's against NASCAR's restart rules and they made quick work of showing Sauter the black flag. He was regulated to a 22nd place finish while a surprised Hornaday went to victory lane.

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