In A Nutshell: Once again it came down to a fuel mileage race at California Speedway. Kasey Kahne came in to top off the fuel tank with 51 laps to go, which left him close, but with a possibility of making it to the end while everyone else would have to stop one more time. He gave up a lot of track position to do it, but knew it would come back when everyone else stopped. Only one other driver, Paul Menard, chose the same strategy, and it came down to a furious battle in the closing laps between the two while the rest of the field faded into the distance after the final round of green flag stops. Menard briefly took the lead but Kahne wasn't worried. His team assured him he could make it while Menard knew he was likely short of the distance. Kahne was back in front and went on to score the win when Menard's car sputtered and stalled on the backstretch on the final lap. Kevin Harvick took second followed by Mark Martin and Paul Menard, who still coasted across the line with a solid fourth place result. Ashton Lewis, Jr. rounded out the top five.
Who Should Have Won: Mark Martin. The strategy employed by Kasey Kahne and his team was perfect so they certainly deserved to win for outplaying the other teams, but honestly, if it simply came down to the best car and fuel were not a factor, this was Martin's race. He clearly had the superior machine all night and had the last caution fallen just a few laps later, everyone would have been able to make it to the end without stopping again and it would have just been a matter of who had the best car. This race proved once again that it is not always the best car that gets the win, but who has the best team and the best strategy for staying at the front.
Three Questions You Should Be Asking After the Race Weekend
1) Why didn't more people gamble?
It's surprising that only Kahne and Menard's teams felt like it was worth a try to stretch the distance out of the gas tank. Everyone was so certain they wouldn't make it that they dismissed the fuel mileage gamble. And here's the real thing I'm curious about. Even Kahne's team felt like they might run a lap or two short if it stayed green, but wouldn't it have been almost certain that they'd make it with a few laps of caution in there? No, they didn't get those caution laps, but there was no reason to think they wouldn't up to that point in the race. I would have thought taking the chance would have seemed attractive to more people, especially with a number of drivers not running for points out there.
2) Can the Busch Series still stand alone once the Buschwhackers step away?
Only 44 cars tried to make the field on this one. Out of those, 17 were piloted by full time Cup drivers. So far, only one Cup driver is talking about running the full Busch schedule next season and with the COT coming, it's possible we'll see fewer running even in companion races. Car counts have been better on the east coast, meaning it's probably as much a case of owners not wanting to waste the money hauling cross country to get sent home by Cup teams, but it still seems like a tall order to come up with viable replacements for 17 drivers which actually represents a mid-range total for the number of Buschwhackers in a race.
3) Is NASCAR ready for Paul Tracy?
If you're me, you view Paul Tracy as one of the most entertaining personalities in racing. If you work in the NASCAR trailer, you may have been watching Tracy's recent adventures with a less enthusiastic response. And yet, to be fair, Tracy has been on perfect behavior every time he has shown up in the Busch Series this season. That's really too badâ€¦Seriously though, Paul Tracy may represent one solution to the problem posed in the last question. It seems Tracy is just one of a number of open-wheel stars itching to make the jump to cars with fenders. Seems NASCAR is where the real money is to be made. Seats opening up as Cup drivers depart next season may be filled by Tracy as well as drivers like Sam Hornish or Patrick Carpentier.
Worth Noting/Points Shuffle:
Paul Menard is the highest finisher among Busch regulars this week as he coasted across the finish line out of fuel in fourth spot. California was good to the Busch regulars as Ashton Lewis Jr. also scored a top five while Jon Wood and Jay Sauter finished in the top ten.
Burney Lamar is the Raybestos Rookie of the Race in what would be the home track of the California native.
Nothing can stop Kevin Harvick. Harvick suffered most of the race in mid-pack with an ill handling car but used pit strategy to score second place on the night. That finish once again expands the points lead to 567 over second place Carl Edwards. Denny Hamlin remains third, 619 points behind the leader. Clint Bowyer, J.J. Yeley, Paul Menard, Kyle Busch, Greg Biffle, and Johnny Sauter still hold fourth through ninth. The only position change this week comes as Jason Leffler moves back into the top ten in the tenth spot while Kenny Wallace drops out in 11th.
Buschwhackers in this race: 17
Starting spots taken by Buschwhackers YTD: 383 of 1169
Buschwhackers finishing in Top 10: 6
Buschwhackers finishing in Top 10 YTD: 195 of 270
Races won by Buschwhackers YTD: 25 of 27
Buschwhackers ranked in Top 10 in Busch Series points standings: 7
"We pitted, because we were somewhat running in the back, and we knew that if we pitted with one to go under the last caution that we wouldn't have to come back in for fuel again. I'm sure it's pretty close because we ran two laps under caution and we knew that if we came back in and topped it off then we'd be good." Burney Lamar
"We just got bit there that last pit stop, I guess. We couldn't make it to the end and we knew it. We decided to stay out as I think a lot of the other Roush cars did, too. Some of those guys were getting pretty good gas mileage, I guess, and just stayed out." Todd Kluever
Next Up: Ask most of the drivers and they'll tell you one of their favorite tracks in Richmond International Raceway. The Busch Series stops in for a Friday night visit this week. Coverage of the Emerson Radio 250 starts at 7:30 PM ET on TNT.
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