Matt McLaughlin · Sunday June 24, 2007
The Key Moment - Waiting to see if the No. 42 car crossed the line still under power, which was in doubt right up to the very last moment.
In a Nutshell - Anyone know what the Spanish for "possum" is? I ask because Juan Montoya and the No. 42 team played it, making others think they were short of fuel before going on to win the race anyway.
Dramatic Moment - There was some good racing between Robby Gordon and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. early and Jamie McMurray and Montoya late. But there were hours long stretches of drudgery in between.
What They'll Be Talking About Around the Water Cooler This Week
Wow, the TNT folks sure seemed a lot more impressed that Juan Pablo Montoya won than the victor himself. To an extent, there's a certain class to acting like you belong in Winner's Circle, and Montoya has won at every level of racing he's competed in…but my guess is the Havoline folks would have liked to have seen a bit more emotion; what we heard instead was the Hispanic equivalent of Ryan Newman. Oh, and c'mon TNT, no postrace scroll with the finishing order? Especially with a race that difficult to follow for fans at home with all the different fuel strategies and a big shakeup in the running order on the final lap?
Fuel economy races are boring and NASCAR road course races are boring. Throw them together and you have the perfect storm, a tempest of mind-numbing tedium that's tougher to sort out than cricket rules.
You think Official NASCAR fuel supplier Sunoco was thrilled to see cars with Texaco and Shell emblems finish 1-2 in the race? NASCAR might have to file a one hundred million dollar lawsuit for them, too.
When is NASCAR going to learn how to flag a road course race? Mild single car incidents don't warrant full course cautions, just local cautions like they have in Champ Car racing and F-1. Watching caution laps unfold at a road course has got to be the most boring part of this sport.
OK, so what are the fines and points penalties going to be for Johnson and Gordon and their teams this week after they got caught with illegal cars prior to Sonoma? Is it going to be $100,000 dollars, 100 owner and driver points, and a six week crew chief suspension again? Maybe. But NASCAR had warned that that the fines and penalties were going to keep escalating until they found a way to get the drivers' and teams' attention. And lately, it seems Chad Knaus is a habitual offender.
Related to the above, I suppose the only penalty that really is going to get folks' attention is suspending a driver and team. $100,000 is chump change to most drivers, many of whom own several street cars that cost more than that. With the Chase, the loss of 100 points is almost immaterial to a driver and team running near the top of the standings. Apparently, the penalty for the No. 8 team didn't deter the No. 24 and No. 48 bunches from trying to "mine the gray areas." Also, apparently Kurt Busch's latest penalty didn't keep Ted Musgrave from slamming another driver under caution at Milwaukee on Friday. Of course, there is only one clear-headed punishment for Musgrave's infraction: Ban all Toyota teams from all three series for the rest of the season.
Is Kyle Petty's penalty for dropping the "f bomb" on TV going to rival Gordon's and Johnson's? In other news, this now officially concludes our failed test of the “In-Car Commentator” experiment. Now, can we end the bigger experiment known as TNT? They’re clearly not ready for the big leagues. They have constant audio problems (over and above Larry Mac's failing voice) and let that delightful little tidbit air during a replay. NASCAR, fine the producer…not Kyle.
Were the Hendrick cars that won the other CoT races legal or doctored? Team officials claim each of the winning cars was taken back to NASCAR's R and D lab and gone over under a microscope, with no faults or even concerns noted by Robin Pemberton…but this latest bit of ugliness is going to besmirch those previous winning efforts.
Some folks can come up with even wilder conspiracy theories than me. There's some internet buzz claiming NASCAR only called the violations on the No. 24 team and No. 48 team to light and disqualified them from Friday's activities because A) Gordon is stinking up the points battle and B) NASCAR is sending a less than subtle message they don't like the new balance of power with Hendrick ready to add yet another marquee driver, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., to his team.
Is it just me, or does there seem to more support annually for the notion of dropping the road courses from the Cup schedule? Some people who recently began championing the idea had gone on record not long ago as wanting a road race in the Chase. But if you want to see how fans feel, look at the ratings. Watkins Glen and Sonoma are the two least watched races just about every season. In fact, under the old NASCAR TV contracts, a network had to agree to show one of the road course races in order to gain rights to one of the more popular events.
Wow, it looks like Joe Gibbs is seriously considering a move from Chevy to Toyota. (Either that, or he's using the rumor to get the Bow Tie Brigade to up the ante.) If he does actually switch to Camrys, would Tony Stewart and Denny Hamlin be wise to start pursuing rides elsewhere? A switch to Toyota likely won't do good things to a driver's results, income, popularity or souvenir sales.
C'mon. They know drivers are rushing to make the start of the race from Sonoma, and Busch series officials have cars parked on the helipad? Sounds like they were sampling some of that stuff that made Milwaukee famous, and I ain't talking about Harleys. Who ultimately made the call to have Hamlin replace Almirola in the car? It wasn't popular with the fans.
I've heard of races being determined by fuel strategy, but I've never seen a driver almost miss qualifying because his pilot gambled on a short load of fuel flying him to the event. Carl Edwards had to make an extra pit stop aboard his jet to get to Milwaukee and once he finally landed, he had to sprint to make it to his car just as it was pushed to the line.
The Hindenburg Award For Foul Fortune
Nobody appeared to have a car that could handle Robby Gordon's Ford (with the possible exception of the No. 20). Well, poor pit strategy in the No. 7 pits saw to it nobody had to.
Jamie McMurray wasn't as lucky as Montoya. He ran out of gas prior to the final lap. Kyle Petty also had a strong run spoiled by running out of gas on the last lap.
How bad must it feel for Aric Almirola to get credited with his first Busch series victory after earning the pole and dominating the early stages of the race only to have to get out of the car? Denny Hamlin drove the car to victory despite losing a lap making the driver change. Something tells me we haven't heard the end of this story; in a way, it's a perfect microcosm of what's wrong with the Busch series, with a Busch regular denied a win by a top tier Cup driver.
Boris Said's chances at a win went out the window when he stalled on pit and had to be pushed by his crew to restart his car. (If having the team push the car down pit road under caution while other cars are entering and exiting the pits isn't illegal, it ought to be. That was a near catastrophe.)
Matt Kenseth looked like he's accidentally entered a demolition derby on Sunday.
The "Seven Come Fore Eleven" Award For Fine Fortune
Somehow, Montoya pitted on Lap 68 and made the final 42 laps on a tank of fuel despite the new smaller fuel tank…and a thirsty Dodge engine under the hood, no less!
After missing practice and qualifying on Friday and starting out back on Sunday, a seventh place finish was a stellar result for Jeff Gordon. Too bad he'll lose most of those points this week. Add in the fact Gordon welcomed his first child into the world earlier this week with both baby and mom doing fine, Gordon was clearly more elated than Montoya.
Jeff Burton's team found a broken suspension piece after final practice yesterday, which could have ended his day on Sunday. Instead, he went on to finish third.
An off track excursion on the first lap could have ended Tony Stewart's day, but he soldiered back to a sixth place finish and didn't even blame one of the Busch brothers for his excursion into the dirt.
It was a pretty good day for Richard Childress Racing with their drivers finishing 2-3-4 due to solid fuel mileage.
- The win was the first for a Dodge this season and only the third for a non-Chevy team. It was the first CoT race not won by a Chevy, and the first victory for Chip Ganassi's team since McMurray won at Charlotte in 2002. It was also the first win for any Dodge since Charlotte last Fall (Kasey Kahne).
- The Top 10 finishers drove a Dodge, seven Chevys, and two Fords. The top finishing Toyota pilot was P.J. Jones in twelfth.
- The top finishing road course ringer was Boris Said in ninth. The top finishing rookie was obviously Montoya.
- We've now seen first time winners in three of the last five Cup races and in both of the last two Busch races if you count Amirola's win Saturday … which is debatable.
- Kevin Harvick managed his best finish since the Daytona 500 and his third Top 5 finish of the season.
- Jeff Burton managed his first Top 5 finish since he won at Texas.
- Clint Bowyer earned his best finish since Fontana last September and the second best finish of his Cup career…on a road course, no less. Hey, Alice, what was in that tea the Mad-Hatter gave me?
- Greg Biffle's fifth place result matched his best of the season.
- Jeff Gordon scored his fourth straight Top 10 finish. He's missed the Top 10 in just two of this season's sixteen races.
- Denny Hamlin has Top 10 finishes in six of the last seven races.
- Ricky Rudd scored his second best finish of the season after ending up 11th. Rudd finished seventh at Charlotte in May.
- P.J. Jones drove to his best finish since Watkins Glen in 2002 (12th).
- Elliott Sadler had his best finish since Las Vegas (14th).
- Jimmie Johnson missed The top 10 for the fourth consecutive time (17th), so it might become Denny Hamlin's job to keep Jeff Gordon honest in the title chase. If it is, Hamlin better start winning some races.
What's the Points?
Jeff Gordon opened up his points lead over Denny Hamlin to 271. The Top 5 drivers, Gordon, Hamlin, Johnson, Kenseth, and Jeff Burton hold serve pending penalties later this week.
For the third consecutive week, Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards swapped sixth and seventh place, with Stewart now having the advantage.
Further back, Kyle Busch muscled Martin Truex, Jr. out of the Top 10. Truex is now eleventh and Busch tenth.
Notable drivers moving forward include Robby Gordon (up five spots to 24th), Ricky Rudd (up four spots to 29th), Greg Biffle (up three spots to seventeenth), and Ryan Newman (up two spots to thirteenth).
On the downward side of things, Bobby Labonte fell two spots to nineteenth, while Reed Sorenson dropped three spots to 23rd.
Overall Rating (On a scale of one to six beer cans with one being a stinker and a six pack an instant classic) – We'll give this one two glasses of screw top wine with a vinegary aftertaste. It's not real Cup racing, I don't care who says otherwise.
Next Up - NASCAR's summer doldrums hit low gear with a trip to New Hampshire International Speedway, a race best known as a good nap spoiled.
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