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NASCAR postscript - The Long And Winding Road

by Dave Grayson
Tuesday, June 28, 2011

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NASCAR's top two series were turning left and right last weekend
Bob Heathcote/AR1.com
Over the previous weekend NASCAR temporarily changed its racing format and sent its Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series teams to road course venues. It was a long and winding road in each case. There were times when the road was bumpy, there were times when the cars spent more time moving dirt and gravel than actually driving on the road, and, oh yes, there was road rage. With those thoughts in mind, let's begin this week with:

THUMBS-UP to Reed Sorenson for winning the Bucyrus 200 NASCAR Nationwide Series race at the mammoth Road America in Elkhart Lake-Wisconsin. The Turner Motorsports/Dollar General Chevrolet driver only led the final lap of the race, in a very wild finish, to claim his fourth series win, his first of 2011 and his first NASCAR win since 2007. He also left Wisconsin as the series' new points leader.

WHAT'S-UP with the bizarre, not to mention confusing, circumstances that placed Sorenson in the Road America victory lane?

The confusion began on lap 50, the scheduled final lap of the race, following a yellow flag restart from a single car spin on lap 46. WHAT'S-UP with road course ringer Jacques Villeneuve pulling a questionable, bonsai, move from his fourth starting position? The result was contact with Brian Scott who went sailing into a gravel pit. Max Papis, another road course ringer, wasn't so fortunate. He went slamming nose first into a retaining wall. Scott and Papis, two potential major players to win this race, wound up finishing 16th and 23d respectively. After the race Scott displayed his displeasure with a rear bumper tap on Villeneuve's car as it came down pit road. Papis pulled up alongside the Villeneuve car to state what had to be a rather unpleasant opinion.

On the topic of opinions, THUMBS-UP to Papis for a calm, but stern, radio comment after he was sent flying into the wall when he said: "sorry guys, I just knew the 22, (Villeneuve), was going to do something stupid."

WHAT'S-UP with Michael McDowell literally giving away this race following the first green-white-checker restart? Driving the Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, normally occupied by Kyle Busch, McDowell ripped off a beauty of a restart and appeared to be on the way to the win. only to spin out. Due to a very quick recovery, there was no caution flag following this spin.

But there was a caution flag that stemmed from a bottle neck accident that followed the McDowell spin involving four cars. Following this incident it was announced that driver Steve Wallace and his crew chief were going to be summoned to the NASCAR trailer after the race.

WHAT'S-UP with the lack of overall information, from the ESPN Network, following this incident? First off, the video replay was shot from a long distance away and it was virtually inconclusive regarding exactly what happened. The ESPN broadcast team did announce that Wallace and crew chief, Doug Randolph, had a post race appointment with NASCAR officials but never said exactly why. We later learned the meeting concerned aggressive driving by Wallace but by the time that was revealed, a full 24 hours had gone by.

ESPN has an outstanding reputation for accurate and timely reporting in any form of sports you could name. Why wasn't one of their highly professional pit reporters dispatched to gather information regarding the Wallace incident? Let's see, could it possibly have anything to do with the fact that the driver's father-team owner was also an ESPN broadcast analyst who was sitting in the live booth at the time? Is it possible that his broadcast colleagues didn't want to step on the toes of Rusty Wallace during a live broadcast?

By the way I swear that I heard a slight hissing sound in the audio background from the ESPN broadcast booth. I wondered if it was steam pouring out of Rusty Wallace's ears. Well known for never holding back a candid comment and, in all fairness, it had to be difficult for a father-team owner-network analyst to have to sit there choosing his words very carefully.

WHAT'S-UP with the fact that we haven't quite made it to the bizarre and confusing part of this race yet?

The green flag fell on lap 55 for the third, and final, green-white-checker attempt to finish this race. Justin Allgaier ripped off a perfect restart to take the lead. His team mate, Sorenson, passed road race ringer Ron Fellows for second and it appeared that Turner Motorsports was lining up a one-two finish.

Unfortunately, lap 55 never got completed before Aric Almirola and Michael McDowell spun in turn five followed by another spin from Brian Scott. Almirola's car went into the turn five gravel pit. WHAT'S-UP with race officials not immediately throwing a yellow flag when they realized Almirola was stuck in that pit? The car was up to its axles in gravel and wasn't going anywhere without the assistance of a wrecker. Yet, a full green flag lap, on a four mile road course, went by before the caution finally came out.

Under caution, Allgaier ran out of gas. The great debate from the NASCAR Nation was now on and it was centered around that extra lap of high speed, green flag, racing before a needed yellow flag appeared. If they caution flag would have come out, right after the lap 55 spin outs, would Allgaier have had enough fuel in the tank to slowly complete that final green-white-checker finish and win this race? Considering that many of the top ten contenders had to come to pit road for fuel under caution, the answer to that question is: "probably not."

However, Allgaier deserves a THUMBS-UP for a very gracious and articulate post race television interview despite the bitter disappointment he felt. Keep a sharp eye on this young driver race fans. In the years to come he's going to be showing us a lot both on and off the track.

Meanwhile back on the long and winding road, Fellows, realizing that Allgaier was out of gas, roared around Sorenson's car to seemingly take the lead. WHAT'S-UP with Fellows continuing to move at full speed despite the presence of a caution flag? He never slowed until the pace car picked him up to take command of the field.

At the time NASCAR officials stated that Fellows was the race leader due to Sorenson's failure to maintain the minimum speed under the caution flag. By now the entire NASCAR Nation was sitting in front of their televisions sets screaming "WHAT'S-UP."

THUMBS-UP to NASCAR for deciding to err on the side of caution by double checking the elaborate video replay system located in their Race Control Center. That replay clearly showed a Road America official waving a yellow flag when Fellows passed Sorenson for the lead.

Sorenson was sent to victory lane and Fellows was credited for finishing second. It was a good move, and a good call, by NASCAR.

******************

Now let's move on to the long and winding road part two: that would be the Toyota/Sav Mart 350 NASCAR Sprint Cup race at the Infineon Raceway in California's wine country.

THUMBS-UP to Kurt Busch for an outstanding winning performance that led to his first win of the 2011 season and his first ever win on a road course. Busch's Roger Penske/Shell-Pennzoil Dodge was dominant all day long and easily led a race high 76 laps.

It wasn't that long ago that this winning driver was on a major tirade. He was frustrated by overall team performance and pulled no punches in delivering his thoughts on the matter that were often very loud, very angry and, in the case of in car radio transmissions, very foul mouthed.

Despite the often irritating, and embarrassing, impact of these tirades, team owner Roger Penske was listening carefully and made some personnel changes and job position changes. The result has been a complete turn around in performance that has generated some very impressive on track numbers in many major categories. These changes has also benefited their second team driven by Brad Keselowski. THUMBS-UP for Roger Penske for looking past the tirades and realizing what needed to be done. Another THUMBS-UP goes to Busch for admitting that it's time for him to "shut up and drive."

WHAT'S-UP with the road rage between Tony Stewart and Brian Vickers? It turned out to be a double dose of road rage that may not be resolved just yet. It started on lap 38 when Vickers locked up his brakes while making contact with cars in a tight pack. Meanwhile Kyle Busch slid off of turn 11, trying to pass Juan Pablo Montoya, and his efforts to get back on the asphalt kicked up a lot of dirt that obscured Vicker's vision. Vickers checked up to avoid Busch and Stewart, believing that he was intentionally being blocked, got angry and dumped him.

WHAT'S-UP with "Road Rage 2: The Sequel" that occurred between these two drivers on lap 88? At virtually the same turn 11 location, Vickers found Stewart and dumped him. Stewart's self owned Chevrolet spun backwards with the rear of the car landing on a tire barrier located adjacent to the crash wall. That prompted a radio comment that said "I don't think I can drive away from this one."

WHAT'S-UP with the collateral damage that came from this double dose of road rage? Both of these drivers were looking at the strong possibility of top five finishes at a point in their season where a good finish was absolutely needed.

WHAT'S-UP with the innocent victims who found themselves becoming unwilling participants in this collateral damage? This is especially true of Dale Earnhardt Jr who found himself getting collected during the first Stewart-Vickers incident. A damaged radiator from that incident led to a major engine failure, which led to a 41st place finish and that led to a fall from third to seventh in the championship points standings.

WHAT'S-UP goes to the other acts of road rage during the Infineon race that may or may not resurface at a later date? This list includes Joey Logano vs. Robby Gordon and Logano vs. Matt Kenseth. Also making this list are Juan Pablo Montoya vs. Kasey Kahne and Montoya vs. Brad Keselowski. Each of these incidents were performed in the midst of race traffic which could have easily increased the collateral damage factor.

The final WHAT'S-UP goes to Roush Fenway Racing driver David Ragan for being penalized for having too many men over the wall during a pit stop. How does that happen during this modern day and age?

The final THUMBS-UPs goes to Jeff Gordon and Carl Edwards for the where did they come from finishes. A heavy pre race favorite, because of his impressive Infineon stats, Gordon was a non factor in this race much of the day until the closing moments. Good pit adjustments allowed him to charge his way to a second place finish. It also moved him to ninth in the points standings.

Edwards was also a non factor much of the day. His team also found the right adjustments and he finished third while increasing his championship points lead to 25 over Kevin Harvick.

Edwards deserves another THUMBS-UP for a Friday night decision not to perform double driving duty as originally planned. He was scheduled to compete in the Nationwide Series race in Wisconsin and then fly to California for the Sprint Cup event. But there were performance issues with the Cup car and Edwards felt the priority should be focused on California so he could take advantage of the two scheduled practice sessions on Saturday.

The decision turned to be a very smart move for two reasons: first, he had a strong finish and a good points day in California. Secondly, the Nationwide Series car departed the race early with oil pressure problems.

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