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NASCAR Pocono postscript

by Dave Grayson
Tuesday, August 09, 2011

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Brad Keselowski celebrates his win
Getty Images for NASCAR
We've often heard the stories regarding professional athletes playing hurt and how they use a strong mental focus to overcome the high levels of pain from a physical injury. Brad Keselowski certainly proved how that theory can work. Then there were other drivers who rolled into the garage area after the race feeling the pain of a disappointing afternoon in Pocono and the impact it had on their chances of making the Sprint Cup Chase For The Championship. Meanwhile, on the other side of the country, things got pretty interesting in Iowa. With those thoughts in mind, let's begin this week with:

THUMBS-UP to Brad Keselowski for scoring his second win of the season at Pocono despite having to drive a 500 mile race while dealing with the massive pain from a broken ankle and a back injury sustained from a practice crash at Road Atlanta earlier in the week. There were video clips of Keselowski climbing in and out of his car and you could literally see the pain in the man's eyes. Then to have to drive 500 miles around one of the most physically demanding race tracks on the NASCAR schedule, while working the clutch and brake pedals with a broken ankle, is just unimaginable.

THUMBS-UP to Penske Racing for having the wisdom to fly in Keselowski's Charlotte-North Carolina based chiropractor to assist the driver with treatments. This decision really loomed large during the approximate one hour and forty minute rain delay in the race which allowed the doctor to give his patient an additional adjustment in the comfort of Keselowski's motor home.

THUMBS-UP to Paul Wolfe, the winning crew chief, for a gutsy call from the pit box that provided his driver the track position to win the race. A THUMBS-UP also goes out to the Miller Lite crew for some great pit service that also helped with track position.

THUMBS-UP for Keselowski's win at Pocono elevating his status as a contender for the Chase. His second win moved him from 21st to 18th in the points standings and he's now the top seed for one of the wild card berths. The wild card system states that the two drivers with the most wins, while maintaining a points position between 11th and 20th, will become the 11th and 12th seed in the Chase line up.

Let's send yet another THUMBS-UP to NASCAR for implementing this wild card procedure into the Chase system. The concept has more than done its job. It has us all paying attention and excitedly talking about the various Chase scenarios.

During the victory lane interview Keselowski was referred to as a hero for winning this grueling while under a high level of pain. He quickly responded with a reference to a record high 30 U.S. servicemen who died during an attack in Afghanistan the day before. "I'm no hero," he said adding "the heroes are the guys who died in Afghanistan this weekend and I want to spend time thinking about them." Keselowski gets a double THUMBS-UP for that very classy statement.

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In a Pocono storyline that we're going to be hearing about all week long, WHAT's-UP with that personal moment between drivers Jimmie Johnson and Kurt Busch during the final moments of the race? At first it appeared to be a case of hard racing between two drivers who were trying to claim third place. However, as the moments unfolded, it quickly became apparent that this situation was getting very personal and the on again off again feud between these two drivers, that dates back to the Infineon Speedway race in 2009, has been rekindled. With the next stop on the Sprint Cup being the Watkins Glen road course can you imagine the possibilities? Now there's a place where a driver can do the bump and run and make it look like an accident. 

WHAT's-UP with those constant comments that claims Jimmie Johnson is vanilla? I'm not exactly sure what that even means. If it turns out that vanilla means exercising self control, especially during a live television interview, after a race then I suppose it might apply here. When Johnson was standing in Busch's face on pit road, I didn't notice anyone serving vanilla ice cream. It also occurs to me that if Jimmie Johnson is indeed vanilla then Kurt Busch must be extra hot Tabasco Sauce.   
     
WHAT's-UP with the members of Kurt Busch's pit crew not getting in between these two drivers? Generally, when these post race square offs occur, at least one crew member will place himself between the drivers to insure a verbal argument doesn't turn physical. The members of the Busch team remained a few feet behind their driver during the entire confrontation. Could it be that they truly believed  the vanilla driver wasn't actually going to throw a punch? Or perhaps it was something else.

(Cinch up your seat belts NASCAR conspiracy theorists, you're going to love this one.)

Kurt Busch is well known for taking out his on track frustrations on his team members via his in car radio system. In fact, some of those comments bring brand new levels to the term verbal abuse. Is it just possible that the Busch crew members thought we'll give Johnson one punch before we step in because our guy deserves it? It's one of those things that makes you say "hmmm" seconds before you yell "WHAT's-UP ?"

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We all know that Joey Logano's first ever NASCAR Sprint Cup win came following a race that was called due to rain. After a strong performance during the first half of the Pocono event a red flag came out due to heavy rain with Logano in the lead. I truly believed they were going to call the race and send Logano to victory lane. I even wrote the headline "Deja Vu, The Rain Man Strikes Again." WHAT's-UP with Mother Nature spreading sunshine all over the place that ended that rain delay? Logano was never a factor again during the second half of the race and finished 26th.

THUMBS-UP to the Pocono Sprint Cup race for not turning into another fuel mileage event. Those drivers were racing hard at the end of the event and it was a pleasant change of pace from what we've seen lately.

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THUMBS-UP to Ricky Stenhouse Jr for that stunning NASCAR Nationwide Series win at the Iowa Speedway. The Roush Fenway Racing Ford driver scored his second win of the season with both of them occurring in Iowa.

A combined WHAT's-UP/THUMBS-UP goes to the stunning finish of the Iowa race. WHAT's-UP with Stenhouse blowing an engine several yards from the checkered flag? Team mate Carl Edwards was right behind him and tried to take evasive action to avoid a hit and steal the race during the final few yards to the finish line. Unfortunately, Edwards tires got into the oil from his team mate's car and he hit the rear of the Stenhouse car hard. Fortunately, the impact caused both cars to slide under the checkers for their fifth one-two finish of the season. The margin of victory was a mere 66-one thousandths of a second. Stenhouse had to take his victory lap in the back of a speedway emergency truck. Afterwards Stenhouse's crew chief, Mike Kelly, walked up to Edwards and thanked him for the push. The THUMBS-UP part of this story is for the sheer stunning excitement of the finish to this race.

WHAT's-UP with the contact between Edwards and Stenhouse that clearly wasn't just a racing deal? With 82 laps left in the race the team mates were racing hard for the lead when there was contact between their two cars. The contact continued and it became quickly apparent that this situation was getting very personal. At one point Stenhouse came over his radio and said "when I get to him he's done." Crew chief Mike Kelly came over the radio in an attempt to calm his young driver down. This is not the first time these two drivers have been seen beating and banging on each other. But the one comment that convinced us all this incident had become personal came from a radio sound bite, picked up by ESPN Television, between team owner Jack Roush and Carl Edwards. Roush asked "Carl, are you all right?" His driver replied "I'm good Jack, we're even."

WHAT's-UP with Nationwide Series garage rumors that states Stenhouse truly believes that Edwards doesn't really like him?

The Iowa event was part of the Nationwide Dash 4 Cash program, a special four race promotion for series regulars that pays a $100,000 bonus to the highest finisher among the four drivers eligible for the program. THUMBS-UP to Turner Motorsports driver Reed Sorenson for winning the bonus for the second race in a row. If Sorenson can maintain this pace, he could wind up collecting a cool one million dollar bonus from Nationwide Insurance at the conclusion of the four race competition.

THUMBS-UP to the Iowa Speedway for again selling out all of their seats for this race. That is also proof positive that the NASCAR Nationwide Series, as well as the Camping World Truck Series, deserves more stand alone events that allows them to shine.

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In some final comments THUMBS-UP to Kevin Harvick for winning the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race at the Pocono Raceway under some lengthy circumstances. The race began on a Saturday but was postponed by rain after 17 laps. Harvick had to wait to Sunday to get the win in his self owned Chevrolet Truck. He led a race high 44 laps, of the scheduled 125, but had to fend off rival Kyle Busch in a green-white-checker finish.

THUMBS-UP to Johnny Sauter for his fourth place finish that kept him on top of the truck series' points standings. The post Iowa standings showed Sauter with a five point advantage over Austin Dillon. WHAT's-UP with Sauter's truck failing to pass post race inspection? The right rear of the truck was reported to be too high. The penalty that's certain to come is going to cost him the points lead.

WHAT's-UP with that NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race hauler that completely wiped out the flag stand at the Pocono Raceway? While coming down the speedway's front stretch, enroute to their assigned parking space in the garage area, the hauler somehow hit the flag stand. The hauler belonged to the #66 Turn One Racing Team owned by Stacey Compton. The raceway maintenance squad had to make quick work of erecting a temporary flag stand. I bet it was fun explaining that one to the insurance company.

Sadly, our final item this week is a GOD BLESS for the family of NASCAR team owner Rick Hendrick. His mother, Mary Hendrick, passed away at a Charlotte-North Carolina hospital this past Monday at the age of 88. This grand lady, fondly known as "Miss Mary", was the registered team owner of the Hendrick Motorsports #25 Chevrolet from 2005 through 2007. In 2008, she was listed as the owner of the #5 HMS Chevrolet. She officially has seven NASCAR Sprint Cup wins as a team owner including five, in the 2009 season, by driver Mark Martin. Our sincere condolences goes out to the Hendrick family during this sad time. 

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