For all the talk of anti-climactic races this season, NASCAR was fortunate to have an exciting finish this weekend. Sure, there were long green-flag runs throughout the race, and clean air provided such an advantage that Dale Earnhardt Jr. couldn’t compete without it — but there were several moments that made this finish interesting.
Let’s take a look:
- To pit or not to pit: With a caution inside of 10 laps left, teams were forced to decide between two tires, four tires, or staying on the track.
- A late-race pass for the win: Sure, Ryan Newman inherited the lead by staying on track as the leaders pitted; but nonetheless, Mark Martin had to make a winning pass when clean air was at a premium.
- Popular win: Not one fan left Phoenix or turned off the TV disappointed with the outcome.
- Temper tantrums: Casey Mears and Junior set off some post-race fireworks with a contact on the cool-down lap and pit road.
As you can see, that’s plenty to talk about heading into Monday morning this week — far more than we’ve had to work with for most of the past two months.
How cool was it to see the procession of drivers come through Victory Lane and congratulate Martin following his first win in nearly four years? The 50-year-old vet was joined by current teammates, former teammates, his former owner Jack Roush, and other past champions. This was as popular of a win as we’ve seen in quite a while, and it really goes to show what respect can do for a driver. There is not one person in the garage who does not respect Martin… something younger drivers of today need to learn to earn.
The century mark
It’s only fitting that on the same weekend Martin breaks his Cup Series winless streak, the car owner he won so many Cup and Nationwide races for earned his 100th career Nationwide race win. Greg Biffle held off Jason Leffler on a green-white-checkered finish to earn his 15th career win for Roush, but it was Martin who earned the “Cat In The Hat” 40 of those wins in the famed No. 60 car in the 1990s.
It’s great to see two of NASCAR’s most prestigious individuals who have been so closely tied together share historic moments in the same weekend. When anybody thinks of Jack Roush, they think of Martin — and vice versa. Because of each other, when both move on from the sport (hopefully not anytime soon), their legacies will always remain.
Signed, sealed, delivered
Richard Petty Motorsports signed AJ Allmendinger through the 2010 season while confirming Kasey Kahne‘s contract doesn’t expire until next year, keeping the team’s two highest-profile drivers signed for at least another season. It was a great move for Allmendinger to sign the extension; but with that said, RPM needs to step up its program. Kahne openly said if he doesn’t get better equipment by the end of 2010, he may look elsewhere, while Allmendinger has caught the eye of, among others, Joe Gibbs Racing and Formula 1.
If either driver wants a chance to win multiple races, they may have to move elsewhere over time. Kahne may be top 10 in points, but he has just two top-10 finishes in eight starts this season and hasn’t necessarily been an eye-popping championship contender. If the 20-something driver hits free agency, he will have no problem landing with a solid team because of his marketability… and the same goes for Allmendinger.
Live blog responses
Each week, I will further expand on some of the more interesting fan comments from our weekly Frontstretch live blog. These caught my eye from Saturday night’s chat:
I was so tired of hearing about Carl Edwards who was off the track and Kyle Busch who was lapped, and nothing about the NW drivers unless they wrecked. It’s April, for crying out loud… not November. – Newracefan on Friday night’s Nationwide TV coverage
I know Phil Allaway will tackle this in much greater detail in his Tuesday TV critique, but it does seem WAY too soon for ESPN to be so wrapped up in the championship picture two months into the season. How about some more coverage on guys like Michael McDowell and Brendan Gaughan, both Nationwide-only drivers who have really stepped up as of late? I don’t know, maybe they were just shocked that both Busch and Edwards had problems in the same race. How often will that happen this year?
Casey should get 100 points for bumping on pit road… scratch that, he should be fired for being a crappy driver. — Lightnin’ McDoodlebug on Mears’s contact with Earnhardt Jr.
Give Mears another two months, and if he continues to struggle to finish in the top 20 while his teammates are both in the Chase, then it may be time for the pink slip. Everybody makes mistakes — hell, Junior’s made his share this season — but Mears has yet to really leave a mark on the series with the exception of one lone win on fuel mileage. I’m not sure if the No. 07 ride will be open this year, but I expect another driver to be in that car in 2010… and for the future, remember the name Austin Dillon. Richard’s grandson is expected to run a full Nationwide Series schedule under the RCR banner next year, with a move to Cup expected as soon as 2011.
P.S.: Don’t forget, our live blog pops up again this weekend! Check out the coverage beginning Sunday afternoon at Talladega.
Notes to ponder
- Helio Castroneves free: It may not be NASCAR, but all race fans have to feel relieved to see the former IndyCar champion and IROC driver on the track rather than behind bars.
- Logano safe: JD Gibbs gave Joey Logano a vote of confidence this week, although the rookie driver has struggled in the No. 20 Cup car. Good move for JGR; he’s never driven anything like a CoT, and it takes some time to get used to. Now, if Logano’s still struggling at the end of next year… that seat may get a little warm.
- Rockingham misfortune: Ken Schrader almost won another one for the old guys in the ARCA race at Rockingham Sunday afternoon, but ran out of gas three laps from the finish, handing the victory to young Sean Caisse.
- Remember JJ Yeley? Ya, the name kinda sounds familiar to me, too. He’ll be in a truck next week at Kansas for newly re-formed Tagsby Racing.
- ’Dega week: I can’t stress how excited I am for next weekend… in addition to three highly entertaining stock car races at Talladega and a Truck race at Kansas, there’s also the NFL Draft and NBA and NHL playoffs. If you’re a racing fan AND a fan of sports in general, it doesn’t get much better than that!