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NASCAR Montreal and Michigan postscript

by Dave Grayson
Monday, August 22, 2011

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Kyle Busch gets his 4th Cup win of the year
Getty Images for NASCAR
Over the previous NASCAR weekend we witnessed a powerful display of driving talent that led to the first driver to secure a starting berth in the 2011 Sprint Cup Chase For The Championship. We witnessed our favorite "Aussie" score NASCAR gold for the second time in less than a week. We witnessed a Sprint Cup regular, in a hot pick up truck, also score some NASCAR gold for the second weekend in a row and, oh yeah, a prominent NASCAR television personality may have to consume tobacco products in a rather unorthodox manner. With those thoughts in mind, let's begin with:

THUMBS-UP to Kyle Busch, and his Joe Gibbs Racing Team, for an outstanding performance that led to winning the Pure Michigan 400. Busch had to endure a green-white-checker finish and fend off the presence of Jimmie Johnson in a race that ran three laps into overtime. The margin of victory was a mere .568 of a second. The event marked the series' points leader's first ever win at Michigan International Raceway, his series high fourth win of 2011, his 23d career win and it places him a three way tie for 20th, with his brother Kurt and Ricky Rudd, on NASCAR's all time win list.

Of equal importance, Busch's latest win makes him the first driver to officially clinch a starting berth in the 2011 Sprint Cup Chase For The Championship. With only three races remaining, prior to the September 10th Chase cut off, Busch can literally stay home for all three of them and still make the Chase. His four wins alone will guarantee him a wild card berth.

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THUMBS-UP to Brad Keselowski for his third place finish at Michigan despite having to once again endure high pain levels due to a fractured left foot and a back injury. In his last three Sprint Cup starts, while playing hurt, Keselowski, and his Penske Dodge team, has scored a first, second and a third. Over the course of the last four races the team has advanced their ranking in the series' points standings 11 positions. He's currently 12th in the standings, with two season wins, and there's strong possibility he's going to lock down that first Chase wild card berth.

If that happens, then WHAT'S-UP with Jimmy "Mr. Excitement" Spencer having to eat a cigar live on the SPEED Channel? As we all know, every Tuesday Spencer appears on the SPEED Channel's "Race Hub" program to analyze the racing from the previous weekend. He awards high quality cigars to those individuals he was impressed with and crying towels to those performances he was not too thrilled with.

Last week Spencer said that he didn't think Keselowski was going to make the Chase and if he did then he would eat one of his cigars. Here's a suggestion for "Mr. Excitement": he may want to consider lining up his favorite dipping sauce to help that cigar taste a little better and he'll need to back that up with a giant bottle of Pepto Bismol because it's beginning to look like Keselowski and company is going to make the Chase line up. Bon appetite dude.

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WHAT'S-UP with the totally unexpected racing luck by Denny Hamlin and his Joe Gibbs Racing Team? The two time Michigan winner, including last year's race, was heavily favored to be a major player in the Pure Michigan 400 and was expected to advance his Chase status. Instead, he smacked the wall early on and had to make a trip to the garage area for repairs. He wound up finishing 35th and 15 laps down. The damage drops Hamlin to 14th in the points standings.

Due to his previous win this year he still owns the second wild card berth but the safety net is not that strong. For example, if Clint Bowyer could find his way to victory lane next week he would take over control of the second wild card berth. If previous race winners Paul Menard, 18th in points, or David Ragan, 20th in points, could score their second win of the season then Hamlin would lose his current wild card status. Yet another possibility is last week's winner Marcos Ambrose who is currently 23d in the standings but only 11 points away from the top 20. A second win by Ambrose would give him control of a wild card berth. Isn't all of these wild card numbers fun?

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WHAT'S-UP with the Roush Fenway Fords at Michigan? These four teams, and the power of their FR9 engines, were a major part of the pre race chatter. All of the previous race numbers indicated a strong RFR weekend and there were plenty of Ford executives who made the trip from Detroit to the track who were ready to celebrate.

Greg Biffle's Ford came out of the hauler strong and he proved it by winning the Coors Light pole with a lap of 190.345 MPH. On lap two of the race he won the Goodyear Gatorback Fast Lap Award with a lap of 187.568 MPH. Biffle also led a race high 86 laps. We all thought "the Biff" was back and he was finally going to turn around his disappointing season only to watch him fade to a 20th place finish.

Matt Kenseth, who shared the front row with his team mate, led 15 laps race only to fade to tenth due to handling conditions. David Ragan, who barely got a mention during the race broadcast, did manage a respectable 12th. But the big surprise was race favorite Carl Edwards who came down pit road with a major engine problem that sent him to the garage area. Edwards finished a disappointing 36th and a whopping 29 laps down. He started the weekend tied with Kyle Busch for the series' points lead. He finished the weekend fourth in points 39 markers from the top.

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A THUMBS-UP award for making chicken salad out of chicken do do goes to Marcos Ambrose for finally winning a NASCAR Nationwide Series event at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal Canada. After four consecutive years of heartbreaking, late race, losses the fifth time turned out to be the charm for every one's favorite NASCAR Aussie. After winning the Sprint Cup road course event at Watkins Glen last weekend, Ambrose now has two consecutive NASCAR wins in a period of six days.

But winning the Napa Auto Parts 200 in Montreal was not easy. Ambrose had to do a lot of stirring to create that chicken salad. That process started on Friday when the double duty driver could not make the Nationwide Series qualifying due to Sprint Cup commitments at Michigan. Because another driver qualified his Richard Petty Motorsports Ford, Ambrose had to start the race from the rear of the field. Even getting to Montreal from Michigan was not easy due to a scheduled Sprint Cup practice Saturday morning. It required the use of two helicopters, a private plane and a boat to make the trip happen. Once the Montreal race was underway, Ambrose found himself caught up in an early race restart incident, with driver Jacques Villeneuve, that sent him from second to 28th. Fortunately, determination and some very superior road racing skills paid off in the end for Ambrose.

But WHAT'S-UP with the car's post race inspection? NASCAR officials notified Richard Petty Motorsports that they were confiscating the car's right rear spring for an intense inspection. A possible penalty could be announced later this week.

WHAT'S-UP with the dust up between drivers Patrick Carpentier and Steve Wallace that led to a rather bizarre pit road incident after the Montreal race? Carpentier, who was driving his final race before retiring a distinguished 27 year career, only found disappointment when lap 56 contact with the Wallace car ruined any chances of getting one final win. After the incident Carpentier said "I guess Steve Wallace hasn't learned how to brake so he spun me at the Casino Hairpin turn." Relaying his side of the story, Wallace said "we had a couple of challenging moments where me and Carpentier were racing really hard. I got underneath him, he crowded me, I  got loose and I spun him out."

The fact that Carpentier finished 32nd while Wallace finished fourth apparently did not sit very well with Jerry Baxter, Carpentier's crew chief. After the race Wallace was sitting inside of his car, with the window net down,  when all of a sudden an extremely angry Baxter ran up to the Wallace car and pulled his hair.

Seriously Jerry? Hair pulling? Wallace had already removed his driver's helmet and was in perfect position for a round house right. I guess hair pulling was the lesser of the many available evils here. Wallace probably put it best when he said " Obviously Baxter was upset, I'd be upset too: only girls pull hair."

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In some final thoughts this week, THUMBS-UP to Kevin Harvick who did some double duty and won the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race at Michigan following an exciting green-white-checker finish. The event marked Harvick's second, consecutive, truck series win within a period of seven days.

Another THUMBS-UP for making chicken salad out of chicken do do goes to truck series championship contender Johnny Sauter. With 15 laps left in the Michigan race, Sauter's truck got loose, spun out and hit the wall. Sauter began the weekend second in points and only a single point behind leader Austin Dillon. It appeared that this accident was going to create a huge hit in his points rankings. However the team did an outstanding job of making repairs, during the caution flag laps, and kept their driver on the lead lap. Sauter managed to rebound to a 13th place finish. Then he got lucky. With 12 laps remaining, Austin Dillon was caught up a big wreck and went from race contender for the win to a 22nd place finish. Sauter reclaimed the series' points lead, James Buescher moved to second five points out while Dillon dropped to third eight points from the top.

WHAT'S-UP with a Kyle Busch did not finish, DNF, at the Michigan truck race? After being a major player for 63 laps, he went to the garage area with a punctured radiator caused by debris from another truck. You have to go all the way back to 2007, at the Texas Motor Speedway, to find the last time Busch had an engine related DNF in a NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race. 

WHAT'S-UP with the multiple issues of debris getting trapped on the front grill work of the cars during the Michigan Sprint Cup race? It created some genuine concerns over water temperature. This sort of problem surfaces from time to time but all of that paper flying in the wind that afternoon defied believability.

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