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 Ws and even the H… the Big Six.
Who… gets my shoutout of the race?
For most of the early going, it looked as though Jimmie Johnson would gain back the maximum points possible after last week’s penalty. Johnson had the fastest car on the track, moving to the lead early and dominating the first third of the day, but a pit mistake proved costly for Johnson when lugnuts were left loose on a pit stop. The caution flying in a timely manner was all that kept Johnson from losing multiple laps as the pit mistakes continued while trying to fix the issue, instead leaving Johnson at the tail of the lead lap. By the end of the race, Johnson was able to gain back all but three of the spots he lost, finishing fourth, and his performance made it clear why Johnson has finished in the top five in 11 of the last 12 races at this track.
What… was THAT?
In case you missed it, NASCAR made some safety changes this week to protect track safety workers after the jet dryer explosion at Daytona. The drivers of those trucks will wear fire-retardant suits and helmets and a pace car will follow them on track with lights to make them more visible. While Monday’s mishap was truly a fluke, it’s not necessarily a kneejerk reaction. Those guys are towing a couple hundred gallons of highly flammable jet fuel around; and it’s a little surprising that they didn’t wear firesuits before this. The trucks are presumably air-conditioned, and the drivers often do get out when they’re not on the track, so heat won’t be an issue. Other safety workers do wear appropriate safety gear. It may have been a little predictable and a little reactionary, but it was also a good move.
Where… did the polesitter wind up?
Chalk one up for the crazy old man. Not only did Mark Martin take the pole for Sunday’s race, he backed it up with a very competitive ninth-place finish, and Michael Waltrip Racing had two of its three cars in the top 10 at the end of the day, with Martin’s teammate, Martin Truex Jr. finishing seventh. Despite Clint Bowyer’s mechanical woes, it was a strong showing for Martin and MWR. Could this be the promise of better days ahead for the team?
When… will I be loved?
It’s too early in the season for tempers to be on high alert, but the race didn’t need a driver to be the villain this week as mechanical gremlins caused the worst of Sunday’s incidents. Jamie McMurray, Jeff Burton and Marcos Ambrose all suffered blown engines. A rear-end issue sent Kasey Kahne into the wall early, ending his chances at back-to-back Phoenix victories and bringing out the first yellow flag of the day. Casey Mears lost his brakes and slammed the wall at lap 110. Multiple tire issues plagued Bowyer. Tony Stewart turned his car off under caution to save fuel, and restarting with fuel injection requires a reset of the system. Stewart lost two laps trying to re-fire the car, and finished 22nd despite having one of the best cars of the weekend.
Why… schedule a West Coast swing now?
These race teams deserve a ton of credit for getting it turned around so quickly and getting to Phoenix on time after most team haulers didn’t even get back to the shop until Tuesday morning. Now, bad weather can strike during any race weekend, and it was simply bad timing that the Daytona 500 was delayed. But could a schedule change minimize the impact? Absolutely. While it is cooler on the East Coast this time of year, why not schedule Atlanta the week after Daytona? Georgia is not that much colder than Daytona, and that would allow NASCAR to do a couple of things. First, at least two of the Phoenix, Las Vegas and possibly Fontana races could all be run after the Easter off-week, guaranteeing the teams the time to prepare the cars and get the transporters on the road (most would have to run a second hauler at least partway for three weekends, though the Vegas and Fontana cars could possibly serve as each other’s backup), and move Darlington back to Labor Day weekend, all of which would be positives for the sport and the teams.
How… come a blown engine doesn’t automatically mean a caution?
There were a handful of engine issues during Sunday’s race, and despite all of them being in the racing groove, they didn’t all bring out the yellow flag. While we always want to see lots of green-flag racing, there needs to be a policy of throwing the yellow flag whenever an engine detonates on the racetrack. It’s better to slow the field down and check for possible oil on the track, finding none, than to risk a hard wreck when someone finds the oil at triple-digit mph. If NASCAR is as committed to safety as they claim to be, this one should be a complete no-brainer.