Editor’s Note: With Matt McLaughlin taking the holiday weekend off to recharge his batteries, Mike Lovecchio steps in to give you his take on Sunday’s race at California Speedway. Look for Matt back in his regular slot next week.
The Key Moment - With 100 laps remaining Jimmie Johnson's crew chief, Chad Knaus, guaranteed a victory and Johnson pulled through in fine fashion, picking up his fifth win of the season.
In a Nutshell - As the sun went down, the No. 48 car pulled away from the field, propelling Johnson to a victory at his home track.
Dramatic Moment - Dale Earnhardt. Jr. drove like a man on a mission and went toe-to-toe with Kyle Busch and Jimmie Johnson for the lead several times on the night.
What They'll Be Talking About Around the Water Cooler This Week:
It's Labor Day weekend. Where's Darlington?
Saturday night's Busch crash involving Brad Keselowski is another testament to NASCAR's safety advances. Keselowski was turned head on into the Turn 1 wall approaching 190 mph when the car whipped around, got airborne and burst into flames. Rusty Wallace called the crash the hardest Turn 1 impact he has ever seen. Keselowski was airlifted to Loma Linda University Medical Center where he was examined and released. He will receive further evaluation when he returns to North Carolina.
While we are on the topic of scary crashes, Michael Waltrip's fiery incident was nothing short of frightening. The fire started when a blown left front tire cut an oil line. It took a few extra moments for the 6’ 5” Waltrip to make it out of his car, but he emerged unscathed, hair in tact and ready to plug his sponsors after a trip to the infield care center.
Jimmie Johnson's win gives him at least a share of the top seed when the Chase starts at New Hampshire in two weeks. Suddenly, despite a mini slump, Johnson appears to be a favorite for the Chase.
Ricky Rudd joins Richard Petty as the second driver to reach 900 starts. Rudd's Cup Series debut came back in March of 1975 at Rockingham.
The historic day did not end the way the way Rudd wanted to. After a multi-car incident on lap 180, Rudd was seen holding his wrist and was later transported to a local hospital by ambulance.
Will Joe Gibbs Racing going to Toyota affect the team's performance this season? You'd have to think that Chevrolet is upset with the departure, but a Championship is certainly more important. Is the addition of one of NASCAR's "super teams" enough to put Toyota over the edge?
Gibbs won't be the only team switching to Toyota. Expect Hall of Fame Racing to continue its close alliance with Gibbs despite new ownership next season.
There's been rumors circulating that it may be Kenny Wallace in the No. 88 next season, not J.J. Yeley. According to Wallace, Yates asked him to test the No. 88 at Talladega in the near future. That doesn’t bode too well for Yeley’s chances.
Does anybody not think Junior will drive the No. 81 next season?
Just how hot was it in Califonia? Dale Jr.'s face was just as red as his driver suit in his post-race interview.
The Hindenburg Award For Foul Fortune
- In the midst of a career run, David Reutimann was involved in a multi-car incident on lap 180 and received heavy damage.
- Engine problems put an end to Ryan Newman's day on lap 203. The DNF eliminates Newman from the Chase.
- Similar problems ended Dave Blaney's night one lap earlier on lap 202. Blaney is currently in a tight battle for the 35th and final guaranteed spot in car owner points. The DNF drops him four points behind the No. 21 team and current driver Bill Elliott.
The "Seven Come Fore Eleven" Award For Fine Fortune
- Carl Edwards was involved in an early pit road incident with Juan Pablo Montoya, but rebounded to finish an impressive second.
- Despite a sub-par season, Kasey Kahne has run strong of late, picking up his second consecutive top ten.
- Kevin Harvick’s slump continues as he has not finished in the Top 10 in five races. Harvick's 14th place finish Sunday night is his best finish in that span.
- Harvick has dropped five spots in the standings over the last five races.
- David Ragan's 12th place finish is his best finish of the year at any track other than Daytona.
- Sunday night's eleven cautions tied the track record for California.
- Johnson's win was his first since May at Richmond.
- Brian Vickers has a Top 10 finish in each of his last two starts.
What's the Points?
Dale Earnhardt Jr. is now the lone driver on the outside of the Top 12 that mathematically has a chance to make the Chase, but he is still a whopping 128 points behind Harvick. Jeff Gordon carries a 317 point lead into Richmond, but as the series heads north to New Hampshire for the Chase in two weeks it will be Johnson - with five wins - who will have at least a share of the top seed.
Overall Rating (On a scale of one to six beer cans, with one being a stinker and a six pack an instant classic) I'll give this one three cans of ice cold, just out of the cooler…ahem…A&W root beer. I would have preferred the traditional Southern 500 at Darlington, but what we got was the typical California race with multiple grooves of racing and exciting restarts. Unfortunately, with California also comes long, boring green flag runs. Despite tying the track record with eleven cautions the final 63 laps ran under green resulting in an anticlimactic finish.
Next Up - Richmond – the final race before the Chase. Expect your typical exciting short track event with the added bonus of the final Chase spot at stake. Those of you who aren't fans of Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s media hype may not want to tune in as there will be a camera on the No. 8 car at all times. Junior started seventh and finished 13th in the series' previous stop at Richmond this season.
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