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NASCAR Charlotte Postscript

by Dave Grayson
Monday, October 15, 2012

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Clint Bowyer
The fall race at the Charlotte Motor Speedway has always been regarded as somewhat of a home coming event. That's because the vast majority of NASCAR's Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series race teams are headquartered in the Charlotte-North Carolina area. This race allows all members of the teams to attend and cheer for their driver. Team members who work long hours in these race shops never get the chance to travel to a race. Last Saturday night they proudly packed the speedway's pit road to beyond capacity prior to the start of the Bank of America 500.

However Home Coming 2012 at Charlotte was rather fuelish. The outcome of the race was once again determined by who had enough fuel to make it to the end and who had to come down pit road for a splash of gas.

Oh yeah, NASCAR's most popular driver stayed home and didn't participate in this event for a very good reason.

With all of that in mind, let's begin this week with:

THUMBS-UP. Clint Bowyer had just enough fuel in the tank of his Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota to make it to the checkers for this third win of the season. That win also moved him to fourth in the championship standings and only 28 points from the top.

WHAT'S-UP. For the third time this season, Bowyer arrived at victory lane without his car which was pushed to the celebration by his team. That's because the potential margin of error on fuel mileage was extremely close and the driver was unable to treat the fans to the traditional post race victory burn out. With a smile on his face, Bowyer raised the question: "will I ever get to do a victory burn out this year?"

THUMBS-UP. All three of Michael Waltrip Racing's Toyotas finished in the top ten. In addition to Bowyer's win, Mark Martin finished sixth while team mate Martin Truex Jr finished tenth. The collective winnings from MWR's great night in Charlotte totaled to $476,973. With all three teams making the Chase this year, MWR has been the talk of the garage this season. The vast improvement of their performance levels, since last year, has been quite remarkable.

THUMBS-UP. Denny Hamlin turned out to be another successful fuel saving driver and that netted him a second place finish in the Bank of America 500. The final separation between Bowyer and Hamlin was a mere 0.417 seconds. Hamlin, and his Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota team, is definitely on track as a championship contender and is now third in the rankings and only 15 points away from first.

WHAT'S-UP. With approximately 58 laps remaining in the race, Brad Keselowski coasted down pit road completely out of gas. They simply ran one lap too many before they needed to pit. This was quite surprising from a team who has five wins this year and has excelled in fuel mileage issues all season long. After leading a race high 139 laps and looking like a potential winner, the team had to settle for an 11th place finish. The Chase points leader, prior to the race, held a 14 point advantage over Jimmie Johnson. Keselowski left Charlotte still the points leader but the margin is now down to seven points after Johnson finished third in the race.

THUMBS-UP. After the race Keselowski took the situation in stride and gave a very gracious post race television interview. At no time during that interview did he even consider throwing any member of his team under the bus.

WHAT'S-UP. At nearly the exact same point Keselowski was out of gas, Jimmie Johnson entered pit road and was extremely close to also running out of fuel. Johnson was seen wiggling his car back and forth, enroute to his pit stall, in an attempt to get enough gas to his fuel pick up. That movement prevented his gas thirsty engine from shutting down.

THUMBS-UP. Johnson kept his famous competitive cool and drove his way to the aforementioned third place finish and avoided a near points losing disaster. It's that competitive cool that earned this team their five championships. It's that same level of cool that could easily turn Jimmie Five Time into Jimmie Six Pack.

THUMBS-UP. After suffering a concussion from a practice crash as Kansas as well as a second concussion from the big wreck at Talladega, Dale Earnhardt Jr made a very smart move by consulting famed neurosurgeon Dr Jerry Petty and then heeding his advice to step out of his #88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet for at least two races. As hard as it must be for a driver to vacate his ride, two concussions in a period of less than six weeks simply cannot be ignored.

THUMBS-UP. Realizing he needed someone to replace Earnhardt for two races, team owner Rick Hendrick approached fellow owner James Finch, owner of the #51 Phoenix Racing Chevrolet, about obtaining the services of driver Regan Smith who was scheduled to make his debut at Charlotte in Finch's car. Hendrick's line of thinking here was based on the fact that Earnhardt and Smith had similar physiques and that would spare his team using valuable practice time to fit the car seat for another driver. James Finch quickly, and graciously, agreed to help out.

WHAT'S-UP. With the opportunity to showcase his driving talent in some of the best equipment in organized motorsports, Smith found himself extremely disappointed after the engine of Earnhardt's car blew on lap 61. It was, of course, just one of those hard luck racing deals. The good news is: Smith gets another chance to drive Hendrick equipment next Sunday at the Kansas Speedway.

WHAT'S-UP. Despite his eagerness to help his long time friend Rick Hendrick, James Finch now found himself needing a driver. It was the latest scenario that capped off some recent unexpected odd circumstances for Finch's operations. Kurt Busch had been driving the Finch car this year and it was recently announced that Busch was going to take over the #78 Furniture Row Chevrolet, in 2013, that Regan Smith had been driving. Then it was announced that Busch was going to make an earlier than expected move to the #78 at Charlotte and Smith was going to drive Finch's car for at least two races to determine if there might be the basis for a future working relationship with that team. 

THUMBS-UP. Finch surprised everyone by filling his empty driver's seat with the presence of A J Allmendinger who was just recently reinstated by NASCAR after successfully completing a rehab program following a violation of the sport's substance abuse policy. Finch deserves a tip of the racing hat for making this move. Anyone who successfully completes a rehab program deserves a second chance to return to a happier and healthier life. Following a slight miscue in qualifying, Allmendinger started the race in 38th and worked his way into the top 20. Unfortunately, that effort was hampered by a late race drive thru down pit road to serve a procedural penalty that occurred during a previous stop for gas and tires. Despite that, he finished 24th in the race and Finch was both pleased and impressed. "He did a real fine job before he received that penalty," Finch said adding " and he was out running Kurt Busch." On Sunday, Finch announced that Allmendinger will be his driver for next Sunday's race in Kansas. All of this driver swapping in recent weeks could actually lead to a very workable relationship between this owner and driver.   

THUMBS-UP. How about those 100,000 fans who attended the Charlotte race that represented all 50 states and 13 countries? Considering the current state of the economy, that is actually some very impressive numbers.

THUMBS-UP. In honor of the month of October being National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, the color pink was seen everywhere at the Charlotte Motor Speedway. Many of the race teams added pink to the color schemes of their cars. Even the speedway's start/finish line was painted pink. It was a very classy gesture in support of a very important cause.

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