Sunday, April 17, 2011

Sprint Cup 2011: Race 7 -- Great Race/Unbelievable Finish

.002 Second Finish Wins the Race for Jimmie Johnson

For race fans wondering what a great Talladega race could be, perhaps today’s Aaron’s 499 was the answer. First, while there was lots of competitive, close racing, it would be hard to describe any of the wrecks as “the big one.” While numerous drivers led laps, there was no clear winner until the last nanosecond. The chase for the finish line was four wide until it broke down to Dale Earnhardt Jr. pushing teammate, Jimmie Johnson to the win while right beside him in the photo finish Clint Bowyer zipped along pushed by his teammate, Kevin Harvick, between them, sped Jeff Gordon just a short link behind. Twenty five drivers led at least one lap in the 188 lap event with Bowyer leading the most laps. Roush dancing partners were just behind, Carl Edwards and Greg Biffle while Mark Martin finished 8th getting separated from his job, pushing Jeff Gordon to the lead. All eight of these cars were pushing for the win in the final laps. David Gilliland finished 9th giving Front Row racing a much needed boost for the marginally funded team. Finishing 10th finally cracking the top 10 provided Joey Logano a much needed pick up for a very tough season.

David Ragan who raced so well last week and Daytona 500 winner, Trevor Bayne encouraged by a strong qualifying effort wrecked completing 89 laps. Their destruction was brought on by Roger Penske’s worst nightmare, his two cars, #2 driven by brad Keselowski and #22 with Kurt Busch having a Talladega get together. Last week’s winner fared little better in a mishap with Kasey Kahne. Kenseth finished a miserable 36th reversing his surge in the points standing last week while Kahne continues to not get his season in gear. Tony Stewart’s operation continues its frustration with Stewart only managing a 17th finish while Ryan Newman who dodged some near catastrophes came in 29th.

Thankfully for Bill Elliot’s reputation, the ride he started did stay in the race to finish 26th with J.J. Yeley hopping in to finish the race. Had a past champion pulled off the track as Bobby Labonte was forced to do last year, the shame would have been overwhelming. There were only three freeloading slugs in the Aaron’s 499, two owned by Joe Nemechek whose mercenary slug, Kevin Conway, only completed one lap. Steve Park has now etched his name in NASCAR’s “Hall of Shame” pulling off after four laps for Tommy Baldwin’s operation. Joe Nemechek, hot off of his superb finish in the Nationwide series a day earlier put in five laps before heading in for his paycheck. How pathetic it is to see Kevin Conway be rewarded last year’s “rookie of the year” honor when several of those appearances were quitters. Now he is nothing more than second hand Joe when Nemechek enters a second chunk of needless clutter in the field. Conway will surely have to slide back to the Truck series, the regional series, or ARCA to reestablish any hopes he might have of being a true NASCAR regular.

Top Finishes:
1- Jimmie Johnson, #48, Chevrolet
2- Clint Bowyer, #33, Chevrolet
3- Jeff Gordon, #24, Chevrolet
4- Dale Earnhardt Jr., #88, Chevrolet
5- Kevin Harvick, #29, Chevrolet
6- Carl Edwards, #88, Ford
7- Greg Biffle, #16, Ford
8- Mark Martin, #5, Chevrolet
9- David Gilliland, #34, Ford
10- Joey Logano, #20, Toyota
11- A.J. Allmendinger, #43, Ford
12- Paul Menard, #27, Chevrolet
13- Martin Truex Jr., #56, Toyota
14- David Reutimann, #00, Toyota
15- Regan Smith, #78, Chevrolet

Standings (Top 15)
1 – Carl Edwards, Ford
2 – Jimmy Johnson, Chevrolet (-5) +2
3 – Dale Earnhardt Jr., Chevrolet (-19) +3
4 – Kevin Harvick, Chevrolet (-27) +5
5 – Kurt Busch, Dodge (-28)
6 – Kyle Busch, Toyota (-38) -4
7 – Ryan Newman, Chevrolet (-42)
8 – Matt Kenseth, Ford (-43) -5
9 = Juan Montoya, Chevrolet (-49) -1
10 – Clint Bowyer, Chevrolet (-50) +2
11 – Paul Menard, Chevrolet (-53)
12 – Tony Stewart, Chevrolet (58) -2
13 – Jeff Gordon, Chevrolet (-61) +1
14 – Mark Martin, Chevrolet (-69) +1
15 – A.J. Allmendinger, Ford (-69) -2

Kevin Harvick was the big winner in the points chase gaining five positions while Joey Logano added four positions, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Denny Hamlin and Jeff Burton gained three spots. Matt Kenseth and Brad Keselowski slipped the furthest falling five positions. Kyle Busch fell four spots.

Surely one of the story lines for 2011 is the state of Joe Gibbs racing almost one quarter of the way through the season. While Hamlin and Logano gained in the standings, only Kyle Busch is in the top ten. How sad it is that they can breathe a sigh of relief having a second weekend with no blown engines, but still their drivers have seldom been in competition for top spots in competition. Kyle Busch has 4 top fives and 5 top tens, but also has some terrible races such as today finishing 35th taking a hit in the points. More significantly, Denny Hamlin who was in competition for the championship on the last day of competition in 2010 like teammate Joey Logano has only one top ten finish not reaching the top five.

It seems like every year one of the major teams is a little off digging itself a huge hole early in the season. This year it’s Joe Gibbs Racing where last year it was Roush-Fenway and Richard Childress racing the year before. Clearly for Roush last year, the problem was integrating the FR-9 engines. Again this year, much of the trouble for the Gibbs team is engine related.

The Sprint Cup series takes next week off in honor of Easter. They’ll race 12 points races plus the Charlotte All-Star race next month before their next break the weekend of July 24th between Loudin and Indianapolis. After that the series goes from race 20 in Indy to race 36 in Homestead without interruption. The pressure is on for any readjustment, reorganizing, and fine tuning with so little down time to prepare. With the upcoming week off one race short of the season’s first quarter being completed, can we look at the standings and feel we have a pretty good look at the field for The Chase?

Stay tuned. We’ll update the freeloader scab report once the race purse is announced. Let’s keep the ground swell going to end the “start and park” nonsense which Darrell Waltrip once again plugged as a good thing during today’s telecast.


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