During the previous weekend at Darlington Raceway we found out that Denny Hamlin is a lot tougher than we first believed. We also found out that Hamlin knows how to sweep with a very large broom. We also witnessed four time champion Jeff Gordon asking for a snake bite kit again and we're also wondering if four time champion Jimmie Johnson's horseshoe is painted gold instead of plated with gold. With those thoughts in mind let's begin with:
THUMB’S UP to Denny Hamlin for an outstanding weekend at Darlington where he completed the sweep by winning both the NASCAR Nationwide and Sprint Cup events on the same weekend. The Sprint Cup win was his third of the season and his 11th career win.
The Saturday win was particularly impressive because it was such a long day. It began at 830 am with a two and one half hour Nationwide Series practice session followed by two 90 minute Sprint Cup practices. The 13 hour day ended with qualifying for both events and concluded in victory lane after winning the Royal Purple 200 Nationwide Series race. That's all pretty amazing when you consider it's only been six weeks since Hamlin underwent knee surgery to repair a torn ACL. In fact, that sore knee almost buckled after he slipped in the Gatorade, water and beer shower that comes with parking in the winner's circle.
THUMB’S UP to Hamlin's team owners, Joe Gibbs Racing, who scored their 81st series win Saturday night. If there's going to be any serious challenge to Hendrick Motorsports' Sprint Cup dynasty this is likely the team to do it.
The numbers in the last seven races certainly supports that theory. For example, in the first four races of the 2010 season Denny Hamlin was still looking for his first win, was 22nd in the points standings and had only led 39 laps in those four races. Seven races later Hamlin now has three wins, has moved 16 positions to sixth in the points and led 305 laps.
Team mate Kyle Busch has also posted some strong numbers lately. During the first four races of the year Busch was also winless, 15th in points with 37 laps led. Seven races later he has a win, he's now third in the points and has led 390 laps.
WHAT’S UP with Jeff Gordon getting snake bit again? As in past races, Gordon had a very strong car capable of winning the Showdown Southern 500. In fact, he led 111 laps of the race and earned ten bonus points for the effort.
But it all unraveled during the course of negotiating the entry to pit road. Gordon later admitted that he failed to display a properly visible hand signal to let traffic behind him know he was entering the pits. After realizing that oncoming traffic was rushing up on him, he aborted the attempt to pit and went back around the track. Once he finally made it to pit road the caution flag came out and Gordon had to return to the track without stopping to avoid going a lap down. With the four tire pit stop finally accomplished, Gordon restarted the race in 12th, with only 17 laps left, and raced his way back to a fourth place finish.
In previous races, where he was strong and looked like a race winner, NASCAR's green-white-checker finish policy played a vital role in Gordon's failure to snap that 40 race winless streak. There was no such finish at the conclusion of the Darlington race and that prompted Gordon to quip "the one time we really needed it, we didn't get it."
On the subject of bad luck from a surprising source, WHAT’S UP with Jeff Burton's eighth place finish? Like Gordon, Jeff Burton had a very strong car at Darlington and was considered to be a major player in the event. But his final pit stop turned it all upside down on him. When the car came off of the jack Burton took off down pit road just like he's supposed to. Unfortunately his right front tire changer was still on the outside of the car and Burton ran over his air hose. That's a stop and go penalty that puts a driver at the tail end of the longest lead lap line. Despite that late in the race setback, Burton still raced that strong Chevrolet to a top ten finish.
WHAT’S UP with Jimmie Johnson and his latest round of bad luck that occurred at Darlington? Johnson had a minor scrape with the wall early on, and earned his Darlington Stripe. The #48 Lowes team made pretty quick work of repairing the damage to the rear fender. Moments later he got caught up in an incident with Martin Truex Jr and Greg Biffle and went on a wild spin. The crew made quick work of repairing the right front of the car following this second incident.
But the crushing blow that the crew couldn't fix came around lap 179. That's when a brake failure on A J Allmendinger's car caused him to slide hard into the driver's door of Johnson's car which in turn sent him into the wall. It was a very hard hit. The kind of hit that rattles the molars inside of a driver's mouth. It was likely one of the hardest hits Johnson has ever had during his career. The badly wrecked car was done for the day and Johnson had to settle for a disappointing 36th place finish.
Three races ago Johnson was leading the Sprint Cup driver's championship standings with a 108 point lead over Kevin Harvick. He left Darlington second in the standings and 110 points behind Harvick.
Early in the season, when everything including good luck was going Johnson's way, Harvick jokingly said that Johnson "must have a golden horseshoe up his ass." From what we've seen in recent weeks you have to ask is that horseshoe really gold plated or is it just painted gold?
In some final thoughts a THUMB’S UP goes out to Fox Sports and the SPEED Channel for their frequent on air promos that reminded us all of the efforts by the American Red Cross to provide aid and comfort for the flood victims in the Nashville-Tennessee area. The NASCAR television announcers pointed out that this important relief effort has somehow slipped off of the national news media's radar and has not been getting the important coverage it needs and deserves. Sadly, they are correct in that assessment.
THUMB’S UP to all of those NASCAR moms who, led by Michael Waltrip, gave their famous sons the command to start their engines prior to Saturday night's Sprint Cup race. It was precious and very appropriate for Mother's Day weekend.
The final WHAT’S UP of the week goes to Kyle Busch for missing driver introductions because he was busy with a live television interview with Fox Sports. Busch was one of six Sprint Cup drivers who had problems with a retaining wall during practice and had to revert to the use of a backup car. According to the NASCAR rule book that relocates a team to the rear of the field and Busch was scheduled to start the race from 39th. The missed driver intro also gets you a NASCAR penalty. Busch took it all in stride because he was already pretty close to the back of the back. But you have to wonder where were the Joe Gibbs Racing PR people who should have stopped that interview and sent their driver to the stage?
The final THUMB’S UP comes from the NASCAR Good guy file and belongs to the staff and volunteers from the California based Auto Club Speedway for their charity car wash last Monday. Entitled Jaylen's Car Wash, the event benefited the Loma Linda University Children's Hospital, (LLUCH), as well as the NASCAR Foundation which supports a wide range of charitable initiatives.
Jaylen, a four year old heart patient currently being treated at LLUCH, was on hand for the event and told everyone he wants to be a NASCAR driver when he grows up. According to speedway reports, literally hundreds drove down the speedway's pit road where their cars were washed pit stop style by the volunteers. But it was drying the cars that was so special. The car owners got to take a lap around the speedway's two mile oval in the sunshine and they also received an official NASCAR Day pin for their $10 donations.