Amy Henderson · Monday June 24, 2013
Looking for the Who, What, When, Where, Why and How behind Sunday’s race? Amy Henderson has you covered with each week with the answers to six race day questions, covering all five W’s and even the H…the Big Six.
Who…gets my shoutout of the race?
It was a vintage Jeff Gordon run at Sonoma as the No. 24 roared through the field late in the race after pitting for four tires on the final caution. Gordon went from 14th to second in the final laps, completing a run reminiscent of his string of road course wins in the 1990s. After an early-race setback, sent to the rear for pitting too soon under yellow the four-time champ reminded everyone why he’s the series’ winningest active driver on road courses. He was smiling after the race, clearly relishing a day on which he’d had fun driving his race car looking, at least for a few moments, like a weight had been lifted from his slight shoulders.
More importantly than that, Gordon showed that he and his team are capable of contending for wins, something they haven’t done much of in 2013. Bad luck, equipment failure, and just plain failure to perform have been the norm this year. This week, Gordon made a statement that he’s not ready to be counted out. If the team can find their stride, he’ll be dangerous come midsummer.
What… was THAT?
While fans were treated to a well-broadcast, fun race in Sonoma, the feel-good story of the weekend took place halfway across the country. It was a year ago last year when AJ Allmendinger failed a NASCAR random drug test after what he claimed was an isolated incident in which a friend of a friend gave him a pill to combat fatigue — one that turned out to be amphetamines. (NASCAR’s drug counselors must have agreed, because Allmendinger was reinstated from his indefinite suspension several weeks later after completing the sanctioning body’s recovery program.) Allmendinger, in his first year with Penske Racing, was subsequently fired by Roger Penske according to company policy.
But apparently that company policy doesn’t say anything about eligibility for rehire, because Penske never stopped believing in Allmendinger’s talent behind the wheel. Penske hired his former driver for a handful of IndyCar races (including the Indianapolis 500, a race Allmendinger could very well have won if not for a seat belt issue). And this weekend, with usual drivers Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski in Sonoma, Penske put Allmendinger in the No. 22 Nationwide ride at Road America.
Allmendinger repaid Penske for his loyalty the only way he knew how: he won the race. His exuberance in Victory Lane showed why the California native has always been a popular driver; it was complete, unabashed joy and he didn’t care what anyone thought of the tears he was trying not to shed. It’s a compelling story. People make mistakes in life, and pay for them… but sometimes, when someone keeps believing in that person, it makes all the difference. Penske never stopped believing in Allmendinger, and the veteran showed that he can get the job done this weekend. It was a redemption a year in the making, and the win, which many had thought was inevitable once the duo reconnected, proved to be so.
Where… did the defending race winner wind up?
All in all, it was a good day for the defending Sonoma champ. Clint Bowyer looked solid from the start, cutting through the field toward the front seemingly at will. In the end, Bowyer wasn’t quite able to repeat the victory, instead ending up fifth. But his Michael Waltrip Racing organization did take the top spot for the second year in a row, as Martin Truex, Jr. finally shook the bad luck that seemed to plague him at Sonoma and drove the No. 56 to the win.
The victory puts Truex back in Chase contention as he gained three spots in points, moving into tenth. It also gives him a dog in the “wild card” fight should that hotly contested tenth spot slip away. Teammate Bowyer is showing no sign of the runner-up jinx, though that has plagued drivers finishing second in points in recent years, and is solidly inside the top 5 in the standings.
Seems like a great season, right? Not completely. There’s a little disappointment surrounding the MWR camp as they’re not quite as solidly in contention each week as they were a year ago. And that kind of disappointment is actually a good thing, because it means MWR’s place among the sport’s elite is no longer a surprise.
When…will I be loved?
When Paulie Harraka got into Alex Kennedy before the green flag, I had him penciled in as the villain. I mean, really? But luckily for the rookie, his mistake wasn’t enough when it came down to it, because a veteran who shouldn’t have needed such tactics put a less-than-clean move on a competitor and earned the villain tag the easy way over a rookie mistake.
It already wasn’t Kyle Busch’s day after an early tangle with Juan Pablo Montoya knocked him out of the top 10; Busch, with a damaged car was never able to really recover. Still, he was working his way back into the top 15 with 30 laps or so remaining when he apparently got in the way of a charging Carl Edwards. Edwards made a move on Busch, who closed the door on him… and that’s when Edwards punted Busch into the runoff area. Edwards had a faster car than Busch’s damaged machine, but instead of setting Busch up again as he could have, Edwards intentionally wrecked him. And that was all she wrote because well, dirty move by a veteran who should have known (and driven) better beats rookie bonehead every week in this department.
Why… can’t we have TV coverage like that every week?
With little change in the points this week, I switched this one up. How come the TV coverage at road course races is so much better than at any other track on the circuit? Perhaps it’s because with a track so big, they have to use more of the stationary cameras that show more of the action… but that’s just it. Throughout the race, viewers saw the action throughout the field! Viewers were treated to battles for position instead of a camera following the leader, lap after lap. Even late in the race, the cameras were focused on the racing instead of on one or two cars.
In the end, this is what every race broadcast should be like. Every battle during every race is important to someone. Whether it’s a small team battling for a top-15 finish, a beleaguered former champion struggling to find his stride, or a rookie sensation actually having a sensational race, there are so many storylines we never see on television because the broadcasts are too busy focusing the cameras on a handful of cars. This week, fans were treated to a rare view of the real race, not just the bits and pieces the networks seem to think they want to see. And maybe it’s just me, but shouldn’t fans get to see the whole race every weekend? Whether or not you think the road race at Sonoma was the best one of the year, in my book at least, it was the best broadcast of the year… by miles.
How…did the little guys do?
Germain Racing; Casey Mears (No. 13 GEICO Ford): Mears was the best among his small-team peers in both practice sessions and, though he never got close to his practice ranking in qualifying, it should be no surprise that he was the best in this group in the race, finishing 16th. Mears also gained a spot in driver points, moving up to 24th, and he’s best in class in points as well. The team hit a rough patch in mid-spring but is starting to flash their potential again, as they did early in 2013.
BK Racing; David Reutimann & Travis Kvapil (No. 83 & 93 Burger King/Dr. Pepper Toyotas): It wasn’t pretty, but when it was over, Kvapil had his best finish of 2013 in 17th. Both BK cars were damaged when the field checked up for an Alex Kennedy crash on lap 33, as Joey Logano got into Reutimann, who got into Kvapil before spinning through the grass beside the track. Reutimann suffered more damage than Kvapil and wound up 26th.
FAS Lane Racing; Boris Said (No. 32 Hendrickcars.com Ford): If you’re wondering why teams hire road course specialists, here’s your answer. Said beat the team’s season-best finish (25th at Bristol by Terry Labonte) by seven spots, bringing in the team’s first top 20 since Labonte finished 16th at Talladega last fall. This organization, when it has the cars to compete, can improve… but Sunday’s race certainly made it look as though the driver is holding them back most weeks.
Circle Sport; Ron Fellows (No. 33 Canadian Tire Chevy): This team also elected to go with a road course ringer, and Fellows performed well, equaling the team’s best finish without full Richard Childress Racing support (the team has full RCR backing and operates as an RCR team when Austin Dillon is in the seat). It wasn’t Fellows’ best Cup run (he has three top 5s and five top 10s in 24 Cup starts), but at the age of 52 and with no race experience in the Gen-6 car, Fellows had a very decent day (22nd) and took the team another step in their slow improvement in the series.
Front Row Motorsports; David Ragan & Josh Wise & David Gilliland (No. 34 Taco Bell Ford & No. 35 MDS Transport Chevy & No. 38 Jong John Silver’s Ford): Gilliland was the best of this group this week with his 24th-place finish, and is quietly becoming the team’s most dependable driver. Wise finished 32nd in his second career Cup race at Sonoma, while Ragan was spun by David Stremme early but would recover to finish 33rd and on the lead lap.
Tommy Baldwin Racing; Justin Marks & Victor Gonzalez, Jr. (No. 7 GoPro Chevy & No. 36 IMCA Dominican Republic Chevy): Ringers sat behind the wheels of both TBR cars this week (JJ Yeley was relegated to a third car that started and parked) but unlike the results from FAS Lane or Circle Sport, it didn’t help. Gonzalez was involved in a lap 71 incident with Brad Keselowski and Aric Almirola, limping home a lap down in 37th. Marks fared a bit better, pulling off a 30th-place finish but was never really a factor. Unfortunately, those results aren’t going to help the team’s search for sponsor dollars, and they continue to struggle mightily in 2013, a year in which some of their peers have shown vast improvement.
Swan Racing; David Stremme (No. 30 Lean 1/Raley’s/Swan Energy Toyota): Stremme got into the No. 34 early and spun David Ragan; later, he survived a spin of his own as the laps wound down and battles heated up, winding up a lap down in 36th spot. But in reality, Stremme and his car were better than their finish indicated. He ran in the mid-20s for most of the day, so the late spin did cost the team several potential spots in the end.
NEMCO Motorsports; Tomy Drissi (No. 87 TheWoverineMovie.com Toyota): Unlike the No. 30, which ran better than it finished, the No. 87 finished where it ran all day: last among the cars that didn’t suffer damage or mechanical woes during the race (38th). NEMCO, once a top Nationwide Series team, has gotten so far behind the curve in Cup that it’s unlikely Joe Nemechek and Co. will ever catch up even to their small-team peers most weeks. Nemechek is a proven Cup winner, but he’s past his prime and his team just can’t compete at this level. Front Row Joe is basically using this effort to fund his slightly more competitive Nationwide ride, but the time is coming where he should think about hanging up the driving shoes.
Go Green Racing; Paulie Harraka (No. 52 Hasa Pool Products Ford): Harraka ran into Alex Kennedy on pit road before field rolled off, causing damage to both cars as well as to the No. 47, and that wasn’t the last incident for Harraka in his Cup debut. He bounced off a barrier in Turn 2 just six laps into the race and by the time his team made repairs, Harraka could only struggle home 21 laps behind the winner, the last one still running at the end of the day. While NASCAR’s Drive For Diversity graduate has shown some promise, in lower series he simply didn’t have the experience to warrant a Cup debut yet.
Humphrey Smith Racing; Alex Kennedy (No. 19 MediaMaster Toyota): Kennedy also had a rough day, crashing on lap 31, an incident which triggered a chain reaction in which both Travis Kvapil and Ron Fellows suffered damage. It was a shortened race for a team on a day when they might have made a rare attempt to go the distance.
Phoenix Racing; Jacques Villeneuve (No. 51 Phoenix Construction Services Chevy): Many fans (and probably drivers) worried about Villeneuve in the field because he has a less-than-stellar track record when it comes to racing cleanly. But as it turned out, all competitors were safe; the No. 51’s engine expired after just 19 laps, sending Villeneuve to the showers early.
JTG-Daugherty Racing; Bobby Labonte (No. 47 Kingsford Toyota): After getting caught in a pit road dustup before the first pace lap, radiator problems popped up for Labonte, who never completed a single lap as a result. The No. 47 headed to the garage with a dead engine and Labonte, who will once again be replaced in the seat next week by AJ Allmendinger, lost a chance to show the team that the driver isn’t the problem here.
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