Sunday, May 27, 2012

Kasey Kahne Breaks Out

Kasey Kahne moved over to Hendrick Motorsports at the start of the 2012 season, after spending 2011 at Red Bull Racing and was hoping to have a breakout season.  Unfortunately, he did not get off to the start that he had hoped for, and found himself 16th in points coming into the Coca-Cola 600.  In his 300th career start, Kasey Kahne was able to finally break through, and win his first race with Hendrick Motorsports.

Kasey Kahne finally won with Hendrick Motorsports (Courtesy Getty Images)
Aric Almirola won the pole for the Coca-Cola 600, and led the field to the green flag.  His teammate Marcos Ambrose got around him after starting on the outside, however, and led the first lap.  On lap three, Almirola was able to get around his teammate to lead his first laps of the night.  Ambrose got back around Almirola, but then Greg Biffle got around Ambrose to take the lead on lap 9.  On lap 15, Ambrose got back around Biffle, but Biffle pulled right up to Ambrose's back bumper because he had some debris on his grille.  Biffle then got back around the No. 9 car to retake the lead. 

AJ Allmendinger hit pit road on lap 41, kicking off a round of green-flag pit stops.  By lap 48, the stops had cycled through and Greg Biffle was the leader once again, followed by Marcos Ambrose, Clint Bowyer, Kasey Kahne, and Mark Martin.  Biffle began to lap a lot of the field, including Tony Stewart, Joey Logano, and Trevor Bayne.  Green flag stops began once again on lap 88, when Kevin Harvick and Juan Pablo Montoya came in to make their stops.  Greg Biffle was able to hold onto the lead after pit stops.

On lap 111, the night's first caution flew for debris on the track, and the field came back down pit road.  Marcos Ambrose won the race off pit road, followed by Jamie McMurray, Greg Biffle, Kyle Busch, and Kasey Kahne.  The race restarted on lap 118, and Marcos Ambrose was able to clear McMurray, and Kyle Busch was able to get around McMurray for second place.  On lap 121, Kyle Busch was able to clear Ambrose to take the lead.  Biffle was able to get to Ambrose's back bumper, and was able to make the pass on lap 123.  On lap 125, Biffle was able to get around Busch to retake the lead. 

A familiar scene early in the race; Greg Biffle and Kasey Kahne racing for the lead (Courtesy Getty Images)
On lap 133, the second caution of the night came out, once again for debris.  The field came in to make pit stops, and Kyle Busch won the race off pit road.  Jeff Gordon, however, didn't pit, and inherited the lead.  Kyle Busch restarted on the outside, and blew by Gordon on the restart.  Greg Biffle and Jimmie Johnson went 3-wide and passed Gordon going down the backstretch to drop him to fourth.  On lap 149, Carl Edwards came into the pits to fix what he believed to be a loose wheel. 

Jeff Gordon, who didn't pit under caution with the rest of field, hit pit road on lap 168.  Just two laps later, on lap 170, Travis Kvapil got into the wall and brought out the third caution of the night.  The leaders came into pit road, and Kyle Busch beat Kasey Kahne off pit road.  Busch led the field to the green on lap 175, and led until the caution came out again on lap 178 for debris.  The Lucky Dog for the caution was Carl Edwards, who got his lap back after he had to pit with a loose wheel. 

The race restarted on lap 182, and Kyle Busch was able to jump out in front of Greg Biffle, who was being hounded by Kasey Kahne and Jimmie Johnson.  Kasey Kahne was able to get alongside Biffle, but could not complete the pass.  On lap 192, Biffle got a great run off Turn 4, and, heading into Turn 1, was able to take the lead away from Busch. 

On lap 217, Marcos Ambrose slowed and radioed in that he had a problem.  The team thought it was a broken track bar, and they pulled the No. 9 car behind the wall.  At the same time, Clint Bowyer and Dale Earnhardt Jr. began another round of green-flag pit stops.  Before the leaders made their pit stops, Kasey Kahne was able to get around Greg Biffle for the lead.  Following the stops, however, Biffle found himself back in the lead. 

Dale Earnhardt Jr. had a patriotic National Guard scheme this weekend (Courtesy Getty Images)
On lap 265, green-flag pit stops began again, and Tony Stewart went for a spin trying to get into his pit; he was clipped by Brad Keselowski, who was trying to get out of his pit stall.  Greg Biffle came into the pits first with a large lead over Kasey Kahne, but when they left Kahne was right on his bumper.  On lap 278, Greg Biffle got extremely loose, and two laps later Kasey Kahne was able to get around him for the lead. 

With 100 laps to go, another round of green-flag pit stops began.  Kasey Kahne was leading when pit stops began, but after coming in about a lap after Greg Biffle, Biffle found himself .5 seconds ahead of Kahne.  With 83 laps to go, Biffle and Kahne started racing side-by-side for the lead, and Biffle would not allow Kahne to get around him.  The fifth caution flag flew on lap 318 for debris.  The field came in to pit, and Denny Hamlin, who was running third, and Dale Earnhardt Jr., who was running seventh, stayed out and inherited the lead.  Biffle and Kyle Busch led the race off pit road, while Kasey Kahne was the fourth car to come off pit road. 

The restart came on lap 325, and Dale Jr. had a big run going into the first corner, but Hamlin was able to hold him off.  Kasey Kahne found a line he could run well in, and he began to pick off the drivers ahead of him, and quickly moved into second.  On lap 333, Kahne was finally able to get around Hamlin to take the lead.  On lap 338, Mark Martin, who had been hanging around the top 10 all night, took the car to the garage.  Before he lost power, Martin had told the team that the water temperature gauge was "pegged."

Mark Martin was driving a patriotic scheme this weekend (Courtesy Getty Images)
Dale Earnhardt Jr. began falling back, being passed by Jimmie Johnson and Greg Biffle to fall to fifth.  Earnhardt Jr. had some debris on his grille, and he could not get it off as his engine temperature climbed higher and higher.  With 47 laps to go, the final green-flag pit stops began, with Greg Biffle and Kyle Busch coming in to make stops.  During pit stops, Jimmie Johnson left his pit box with the fuel can still in his car, and he had to come in for a stop-and-go penalty.  Dale Jr. was able to come in for fuel and tires, and he was able to get his grille cleaned off.  When the stops cycled around, Kasey Kahne still led Denny Hamlin by about 2.5 seconds. 

With about 28 laps to go, Kasey Kahne began to complain that his car's handling was starting to go away, and Denny Hamlin was beginning to close in on him.  By lap 380, however, Kahne had started to pull back away from Hamlin, and was able to cruise to his first victory with Hendrick Motorsports by a margin of over 4 seconds.  Denny Hamlin finished second, Kyle Busch was third, Greg Biffle fourth, and Brad Keselowski was fifth.  Positions 6-10 were: Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jeff Gordon, Kevin Harvick, Carl Edwards, and Matt Kenseth.  Jimmie Johnson finished 11th after his pit miscue, while pole-sitter Aric Almirola finished 16th.  Tony Stewart had a rough night, and finished 25th.  Danica Patrick, making another start in the Sprint Cup Series, finished 30th, five laps down.  Mark Martin blew an engine with about 100 miles to go, and finished 34th. 

The Coca-Cola 600 was not as interesting as many had hoped, but there was some exciting racing for the lead throughout the race.  Kasey Kahne was finally able to break through to get his first win for Hendrick Motorsports, and I'm sure it isn't the last win this season for that team.  Next week, the Sprint Cup Series rolls into Dover International Speedway for the FedEx 400 benefiting Autism Speaks.  The race will be the final race for FOX's NASCAR coverage, and can be seen on Sunday at 12:30.

Courtesy Getty Images

Franchitti Wins Exciting Indianapolis 500

Last year, a last lap wreck by JR Hildebrand allowed the late Dan Wheldon to win his second Indianapolis 500.  Today, in the first Indianapolis 500 since Wheldon died in a horrific crash at Las Vegas, his good friend Dario Franchitti won his third 500 after Takuma Sato crashed trying to make a pass for the lead on the last lap.

Franchitti celebrates with Chip Ganassi in Victory Lane (Courtesy Getty Images)
The 96th running of the Indianapolis 500 was led to the green by Ryan Briscoe, but James Hinchcliffe shot around him out of Turn 4 to lead lap 1.  Briscoe was able to get back around Hinchcliffe to lead lap 2.  Briscoe was able to lead until lap 5, when Hinchcliffe was able to use the draft to get around him once again.  Briscoe got around him one lap later, and he was able to hold the lead until the caution came out lap 15 for a spin by Bryan Clauson.  The field came in to pit, and James Hinchcliffe beat Ryan Briscoe out of pit road for the lead.  While coming in for his stop, Dario Franchitti was spun by E.J. Viso, and Franchitti's team quickly changed the front nose and got him back out on track. 

All 33 drivers pose with the Borg Warner Trophy prior to the race (Courtesy Getty Images)
The race restarted on lap 19, and there was a big traffic jam when the green flag came out.  James Hinchcliffe lost the lead on the start and Ryan Briscoe took over once again.  Marco Andretti took the lead away from Briscoe, but on lap 22, Briscoe took over again.  On lap 24, Marco took the lead away from Briscoe once again.  Briscoe then fell to third after Hinchcliffe got around him for second place.  On lap 44, James Hinchcliffe pitted to begin the first round of green-flag pit stops.  One lap later, Marco Andretti pulled off to pit, as did Ryan Briscoe. 

Pit stops were done by lap 50, and the lead cycled back around to Marco Andretti.  For the first time in the race, the leader had a margin of victory bigger than a second.  Andretti was leading Scott Dixon by 1.4 seconds following the round of pit stops.  About 20 laps after pit stops, Tony Kanaan came back into the pits for what may have been a fuel problem.  On lap 74, Marco Andretti came into the pits to start another round of green-flag pit stops. 

On lap 79, a big crash took place between Will Power and Mike Conway.  Conway got loose due to a broken nose, and spun out.  Power had nowhere to go and made contact with Conway, and Conway got airborne against the fence before landing on all four tires.  Fortunately, both Conway and Power were not injured in the accident, due in part to the new car, designed to keep the drivers safer. 

James Hinchcliffe leads Dario Franchitti (Courtesy Getty Images)
Marco Andretti led the field to the green on lap 88, and there was another crazy restart, with the cars going three- and four-wide.  On lap 90, Ana Beatriz spun and made contact with the wall.  Under caution, Marco Andretti surrendered the lead to pit, while Scott Dixon and Dario Franchitti stayed out.  Dixon led the field to the green flag on the restart on lap 95.  With 86 laps to go, JR Hildebrand made another green-flag pit stop, kicking off another round of green-flag pit stops.  With 81 laps to go, leader Scott Dixon came in to make his green-flag stop. 

While green-flag pit stops were going on, something broke in the rear of Ryan Hunter-Reay's car, and his hopes of winning the Indianapolis 500 ended about 75 laps early.  After pit stops cycled around, the new leader was Takuma Sato.  With 56 laps to go, Marco Andretti came into the pits after complaining about what he thought was his right-rear tire running down to the chords.  After making his pit stop, the caution came out for Sebastian Saavedra, who's car stalled in the warm-up lane coming out of the pits. 

The race restarted with 48 laps to go, and once again it was a dicey restart.  Dario Franchitti was finally able to get around Takuma Sato going into Turn 3, and his Ganassi Racing teammate Scott Dixon followed him past Sato.  With 41  laps to go, Dixon was able to get around Franchitti to take over the lead; Franchitti got around him for the lead just one lap later.  On lap 164, Josef Newgarden brought out the caution when he stopped in the grass on the backstretch. 

The race restarted on lap 171, with Ganassi teammates Franchitti and Dixon leading the field to green.  Dixon got around Franchitti for the lead, and a few laps later Franchitti got back around Dixon.  The Ganassi teammates were racing for the lead, but they were worried about more than who was going to win; they were unsure of if they would have enough fuel to make it to the end of the race.  All of those worries went out the window when, with 20 laps to go, Ed Carpenter spun out coming out of Turn 1.

Dario Franchitti, right, passes teammate Scott Dixon for the lead (Courtesy Getty Images)
With 16 laps to go, Dario Franchitti led the field to the green, but Tony Kanaan, who restarted fifth, pulled out and made a four-wide pass for the lead.  Before they even completed one lap, Franchitti was able to blow right by him again for the lead.  With 13 laps to go, Kanaan got back around Franchitti for the lead.  At the same time, Kanaan's former teammate, Marco Andretti, crashed in Turn 1 to bring out another caution.

The race restarted with 6 laps to go, and Tony Kanaan led Dario Franchitti and Scott Dixon to the green.   Kanaan fell to third on the restart when Franchitti and Dixon got around him.  Dixon got around his teammate with 5 laps to go, and Takuma Sato got around Kanaan for third.  With two laps to go, Franchitti got around Dixon coming to the line, and Sato followed him under Dixon to take second place.  Going into Turn 1 on the final lap, Sato tried to make his move under Franchitti, and spun out and hit the wall hard.  The caution immediately flew, and Franchitti would lead the field to the checkered flag to win his third Indianapolis 500.

Franchitti's Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Scott Dixon followed him across the line to finish second.  Fan-favorite Tony Kanaan finished third, finishing just short of his first Indianapolis 500 win for the 11th time.  Oriol Servia finished fourth, and Ryan Briscoe was fifth.  James Hinchcliffe, Justin Wilson, Charlie Kimball, Townsend Bell, and Helio Castroneves finished 6th-10th, respectively. 

Some other notables:
  • Rookie Rubens Barrichello finished 11th.  
  • Last year's runner-up finisher JR Hildebrand finished 14th.  
  • Takuma Sato finished 17th after crashing on the last lap.   
  • Marco Andretti finished 24th after wrecking with 13 laps to go.  
  • Points leader Will Power finished 28th after being involved in the wreck with Mike Conway.  
The 96th running of the Indianapolis 500 was one of the best ones ever run.  There was a lot of excitement, form the restarts to the record number of lead changes.  There were many tributes for Dan Wheldon throughout the day, but the biggest tribute may have been Dario Franchitti's victory. 

Courtesy Getty Images

Thursday, May 24, 2012

NASCAR Hall of Fame: Class of 2013

Yesterday, the NASCAR Hall of Fame Voting Panel decided who the deserving five are who will be inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame.  The votes were cast, and the five men were announced live from the NASCAR Hall of Fame.  The 2013 Hall of Fame Class will include Buck Baker, Cotton Owens, Herb Thomas, Rusty Wallace, and Leonard Wood.

The voting panel decided who would be in the NASCAR Hall of Fame Class of 2013 (Courtesy Getty Images)
Buck Baker
Elzie Wylie Baker Sr., better known as Buck Baker, was born in Richburg, South Carolina on March 4, 1919.  He began his NASCAR career in 1949, and won his first race three years later at Columbia Speedway.  During his twenty-three year career, Baker won two championships (1956, 1957), 46 races, and 45 pole positions.  He was the first driver to win two consecutive championships in NASCAR's premier series.  Buck Baker retired from NASCAR in 1976, and opened up the Buck Baker Racing School.  The school, which is now operated by his wife Susan, is where Jeff Gordon drove his first stock car.  In 1990, Baker was inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame.  Baker died on April 14, 2002 in Charlotte, North Carolina at the age of 83.

Cotton Owens
Everett "Cotton" Owens was born on May 21, 1924 in Union, South Carolina.  In the 1950s, Owens made a name for himself in what is now known as the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour.  He was the champion of that series in 1953 and 1954, and had over 100 feature wins.  In 1950, Owens tried his hand at stock car racing, starting three races in NASCAR's premier division.  His first win came on February 17, 1957 on the Daytona Beach Road Course.  During his driving career, he had 9 wins and 10 poles over 160 race starts.  While he was a great driver, most of his success came as an owner.  Owens has a long list of legendary drivers who climbed into his racecars throughout his career, including David Pearson, Buddy Baker, Ralph Earnhardt, Junior Johnson, Benny Parsons, Fireball Roberts, Al Unser, and Mario Andretti.  A total of 25 drivers climbed behind the wheel, and he earned 38 victories and 29 pole positions in 291 races run.  In 1966, he was the Grand National Championship Car Owner when David Pearson won the championship.  He was inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame in 2008. 

Herb Thomas
Herbert Watson Thomas was born on April 6, 1923 in Olivia, North Carolina.  Herb Thomas was a driver in NASCAR's first officially-sanctioned race at Charlotte Speedway in 1949.  His first win came at Martinsville Speedway in 1950.  During his career, Thomas picked up 48 wins and 39 poles over 228 races started.  Thomas was inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame in 1994.  On August 9, 2000, Thomas suffered a heart attack and died in Sanford, North Carolina; he was 77.

Rusty Wallace meets with fans at the NASCAR Hall of Fame (Courtesy Getty Images)
Rusty Wallace
Russell William Wallace Jr. was born on August 14, 1956 in Arnold, Missouri.  His NASCAR career began in 1980, and he won his first race at Bristol in 1986.  In 1989, Wallace won the NASCAR Winston Cup Series Championship.  Two year later, in 1991, Wallace joined with Roger Penske to drive the "Blue Deuce;" Wallace would stay with Penske until his retirement in 2005.  Wallace retired with 55 wins and 39 poles over 706 starts.  Wallace designed the Iowa Speedway, and the NASCAR Nationwide Series currently races there twice a year.  Rusty Wallace retired to the ESPN booth, and is currently an analyst for ESPN's NASCAR coverage.

Leonard Wood
Leonard Wood was born on September 22, 1934 in Stuart, Virginia.  Leonard, brother of Hall of Famer Glen and Delano Wood, helped found Wood Brothers Racing and helped innovate the modern pit stop.  Wood was the chief mechanic for the team and he helped change the jacking procedure on pit stops, from using floor jacks that weighed more than 100 pounds to the lightweight jack that is used today.  Leonard went over the wall to change tires well into his 50s, and, in 1965, Wood helped lead Jim Clark to an Indianapolis 500 victory.  Wood even innovated the way to fuel the car; he created an internal device that allowed the fuel to flow more quickly.  Wood ran the team's engine shop that made engines reliable enough to stay on par with rivals Holman-Moody and Petty Enterprises.  Wood had many legends strap into his cars throughout the years; Neil Bonnett, A.J. Foyt, Dan Gurney, and Hall of Famer Cale Yarborough.  Throughout his career, Wood's team amassed 96 wins and 117 poles in over 990 starts.

Leonard Wood, left, stands with his brother and fellow Hall of Fame member Glen Wood (Courtesy Getty Images)
For the first time in voting history, there was a tie for the fifth and final spot in the Class of 2013.  Buck Baker was picked over Fireball Roberts for the final spot.  The results of the fan vote on were, in alphabetical order: Benny Parsons, Fireball Roberts, Wendell Scott, Rusty Wallace, and Leonard Wood.  The Class of 2013 will be inducted into the Hall of Fame on February 8, 2013.

The NASCAR Hall of Fame: Class of 2013 (Courtesy Getty Images)

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Jimmie Johnson: 3-Time All-Star

 Jimmie Johnson's week started with a win at Darlington for Hendrick Motorsport's 200th Victory in Sprint Cup competition.  Jimmie Johnson capped off his week with his third trip to Victory Lane in the Sprint All-Star Race. 

Jimmie Johnson celebrates his All-Star Victory (Courtesy Getty Images)
The night started with the Sprint Showdown, a last-chance race for those not already in the All-Star Race.  Pole-sitter AJ Allmendinger had to pit before the race even began with a flat tire.  That made Martin Truex Jr. the leader when the green flag fell, but Dale Earnhardt Jr. wasn't okay with his former protege leading the race, and he quickly took over the lead.  Junior led all the way until the competition caution fell on lap 20.  The teams were allowed to pit during the caution, and everyone came in except for leaders Earnhardt and Truex. 

On the restart, Earnhardt was able to hold off Martin Truex Jr., but Truex wasn't able to hold off Jamie McMurray for second.  With 12 laps to go, AJ Allmendinger came back from his flat tire, and was able to get around Truex for third.  With two to go, Allmendinger and McMurray got together a little bit in Turn 2, but going into Turn 3, Allmendinger was able to get the spot.  Dale Earnhardt Jr. was able to win, and AJ Allmendinger finished second.  Earnhardt and Allmendinger were able to race their way into the Sprint All-Star Race, while Bobby Labonte was announced as the Sprint Fan Vote Winner. 

Dale Earnhardt Jr. won the Sprint Showdown (Courtesy Getty Images)
After some (not) very funny intro videos from NASCAR fans, the Sprint All-Star Race was ready to begin.  Kyle Busch led the field to the green, and jumped out to the early lead when Ryan Newman and Denny Hamlin raced side-by-side for second.  On lap ten, Jimmie Johnson passed Ryan Newman for second place, and set his sights on Kyle Busch.  On lap 15, Jimmie Johnson was able to get around Kyle Busch for the lead.

Kevin Harvick and Paul Menard got together coming off of Turn 2, and Harvick tried to retaliate coming off of Turn 4.  Unfortunately for Harvick, his plan backfired and he slapped the wall hard.  He came in to the pits under the first competition caution, along with most of the field.  Denny Hamlin was the leader when the race restarted, after he stayed out under the caution.  On the restart, Jimmie Johnson used a plan that is used at Talladega; he dropped to the back of the field.  By winning the first segment, Johnson would come into the pits first before the final segment, regardless of where he finished at the end of segment 4.

Mark Martin and Regan Smith (Courtesy Getty Images)
On lap 26, Carl Edwards blew an engine and caught fire, causing the second caution of the night to come out.  On the restart, Denny Hamlin was under pressure from Marcos Ambrose for a lap, but he eventually faded back to fourth.  The pressure from Ambrose was replaced with pressure from Matt Kenseth.  On lap 37, Kenseth was able to get around Hamlin to take the lead.  Dale Earnhardt Jr. was able to get to Hamlin's bumper, and he was able to pass him before the field got back to the line for the competition caution.  Before the caution came out, Trevor Bayne got very loose, and made a fantastic save in Turn 3.  Matt Kenseth was able to win the second segment, ensuring that he would have good position going into the final segment.

Brad Keselowski stayed out under the caution, and he restarted first for the third segment.  Throughout the entire segment, Kasey Kahne was applying pressure to Keselowski, and Brad was able to hold him off for the entire segment.  Kahne had a huge run coming to the complete lap 60, but Keselowski was able to hold him off in a photo finish.

Kurt Busch didn't pit under the caution, and he led the field to the green flag to begin segment 4.  He only led until lap 64, when Dale Earnhardt Jr. took the lead away from Busch.  AJ Allmendinger was able to move into second.  On lap 68, Greg Biffle's Roush-Yates Engine expired, just like his teammate Carl Edwards.  Dale Earnhardt Jr. led the field to the green flag on lap 75, and jumped out into the lead.  Marcos Ambrose got a big run on the restart, and shot past Allmendinger and Kahne to take second place.  Earnhardt Jr. won the fourth segment, after winning the Sprint Showdown.

Greg Biffle's car catches fire after his engine expired. (Courtesy Getty Images)
The field was reset under caution, with Jimmie Johnson in first, Matt Kenseth second, Brad Keselowski third, and Dale Earnhardt Jr. fourth.  When they came in for their mandatory pit stop, the leaders stayed in the same order, and Johnson led the field when the race restarted for the final ten lap segment.  Johnson and Keselowski jumped out front, after Kenseth spun the tires on the restart.  Keselowski was able to hang with Johnson for a few laps, but Johnson was able to pull away from Keselowski to win his third Sprint All-Star Race.  Brad Keselowski finished second, Matt Kenseth third, Kyle Busch fourth, and Dale Earnhardt Jr. was fifth.  Kevin Harvick, Marcos Ambrose, Kurt Busch, Kasey Kahne, and Ryan Newman finished positions 6-10.  Some other notables: Jeff Gordon was 13th, Tony Stewart 17th, fan-vote winner Bobby Labonte was 19th, Denny Hamlin 20th, and Mark Martin 21st.  Teammates Greg Biffle and Carl Edwards finished 22nd and 23rd, respectively, after engine failures.

Jimmie Johnson won for the second week in a row, and next week he should be strong again.  The Sprint Cup Series returns to Charlotte Motor Speedway for the longest race in NASCAR, the Coca-Cola 600.  The race will be shown on FOX at 5:30 p.m. next Sunday.

Photo courtesy Getty Images

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Johnson, Hendrick Celebrate 200

Hendrick Motorsports has been waiting to celebrate their 200th Sprint Cup victory since Jimmie Johnson won No. 199 at Kansas last October.  The wait finally ended, with Jimmie Johnson winning Hendrick Motorsports' 200th victory at Darlington Raceway.

Hendrick Motorsports now has 200 wins (Courtesy Getty Images)
Points-leader Greg Biffle started on the pole for the second time this season, and took the early lead.  But it wasn't even ten laps before Jimmie Johnson, who started second, began catching Biffle for the lead.  Johnson couldn't get around Biffle, however, and began to back off of Biffle's back bumper.  Biffle began to lap some of the field, and on lap 29 he passed the 10 car, driven by Danica Patrick.  Patrick was making her second career Sprint Cup Series start; her first start was in the Daytona 500, where she finished 38th after getting involved in a crash on lap 2.

Greg Biffle began to be slowed by lapped cars, and Jimmie Johnson was almost able to complete the pass.  He couldn't do it, and Kasey Kahne was able to work his way around his Hendrick Motorsports teammate.  Brad Keselowski came into the pits on lap 47 to begin the first round of pit stops.  By lap 53, pit stops were over, and there was a new leader.  Kyle Busch assumed the race lead after he was one of the first to come into the pits, getting fresher tires sooner than Biffle, Kahne, and Johnson.

Kasey Kahne (5) passes David Ragan (Courtesy Getty Images)

Busch was able to hold the lead for 20 laps, but on lap 72, Greg Biffle and Jimmie Johnson charged past Busch.  On lap 98, Johnson came in to begin another round of green flag pit stops.  Pit stops were done by lap 101, and Johnson was the leader after stops cycled through.  Johnson came in before Biffle, and he was able to make up all his time due to one lap with fresher tires. 

Johnson was the leader when Greg Biffle learned from his mistakes, and became one of the first drivers to come in when more green-flag pit stops occurred on lap 144.  Unfortunately for Biffle, Johnson was able to retain the lead, even after he pitted a whole four laps after Biffle.  Johnson led all the way to lap 172, when debris was spotted in turn 2, to bring out the first caution of the race.

Jimmie Johnson led the field to the green on lap 180, and Kyle Busch was able to jump out to the lead on the restart.  Johnson started on the inside, but Busch was able to use the outside lane to his advantage.  By lap 189, Busch was under fire from Johnson and he was able to make the pass for the lead.  Jeff Gordon's season of bad luck continued, when on lap 194 he cut down his left rear tire.  The caution came out on lap 195 for debris from Gordon's tire.  Denny Hamlin stayed out when all the leaders pitted, and he led the field to the green flag on lap 200.  He restarted on the inside lane, and once again the outside prevailed; Kasey Kahne pulled away from Hamlin with the lead.

Denny Hamlin was running a retro Cale Yarborough paint scheme (Courtesy Getty Images)
On lap 205, Jeff Gordon suffered another flat left rear tire.  Gordon pulled onto pit road so that his team could find out what was wrong.  On lap 222, Jeff Gordon pulled the car behind the wall.  Denny Hamlin was starting to get worried because he was going to have to make a green flag pit stop, but the caution flew for debris on lap 230, and the leaders were able to pit once again.  Hamlin was able to beat Greg Biffle off of pit road, and he became the leader once again. 

On the restart, Biffle dove off into the first corner and almost passed Hamlin, but his car got extremely loose and he made the best save of the night.  In the process, however, he was passed by Martin Truex Jr. and Kyle Busch and dropped to fourth.  Biffle continued to fall while battling a loose race car, and he was the first to hit pit road on lap 278 to begin another round of green flag pit stops.  Following the pit stops, Martin Truex Jr. was able to get ahead of Denny Hamlin.  During pit stops, Danica Patrick hit the pit cone, and she had to come in for a pass-through penalty.

The caution came out again on lap 298 for a single-car spin by Bobby Labonte.  Following pit stops, Martin Truex Jr. was able to retain the lead after making a two-tire stop.  He led Kyle Busch, Jimmie Johnson, Joey Logano, and Denny Hamlin to the green flag on lap 303.  The race only stayed green for three laps, when Regan Smith spun trying to get to pit road.  Smith had front end damage and was trying to make it to pit road for a tire rub.  Some of the leaders pitted, but most of the front-runners stayed out and tried to save fuel.  Jimmie Johnson was shutting his engine off during the caution trying to save as much fuel as possible.

Jeff Gordon (24) and Danica Patrick both had disappointing finishes (Courtesy Getty Images)

Jimmie Johnson led the field to the green flag on lap 311, and held off Kyle Busch for one lap, before Busch was able to make the pass the lap after the restart.  Busch dove into turn 1, slid up the track, and allowed Johnson to get under him.  Johnson couldn't make the car stick, and he had to pull in behind Busch, while Greg Biffle began breathing down his neck.  On lap 316, Jamie McMurray got loose under AJ Allmendinger's car, and they both ended up in the wall, bringing out the sixth caution of the race. 

Kyle Busch picked the outside lane on the restart, and he was able to hold off Johnson to pull away with the lead.  Tony Stewart, who restarted fifth, dove under Greg Biffle for fourth on the restart, almost taking them three-wide with Denny Hamlin.  Joey Logano, who had been running up front, also slapped the wall after the restart, but he was able to continue on.  On lap 324, Jimmie Johnson was able to get around Kyle Busch to retake the lead.  The caution came out once again on lap 330 when Reed Sorenson spun.  It looked as though Jeff Gordon may have made contact with Sorenson's car to turn him around.

The restart came on lap 334, and Johnson was able to hold off Kyle Busch, but Tony Stewart blew by Busch to take second place.  Johnson and Stewart pulled away from Busch, but Stewart could not get up to the back bumper of the 48 car.  With 13 laps to go, Busch's car began to tighten up and he started to reel in the leaders.  As his brother was catching the leaders, Kurt Busch got his first Darlington stripe of the day.  Then a few laps later, his right rear tire went down, causing him to spin in front of a group of cars.  While the 51 car was spinning, Ryan Newman's car was hit, and Newman spun and slapped the inside wall.  The simultaneous spins brought out the eighth caution on lap 361. 

Kurt Busch (51) and Ryan Newman spin (Courtesy Getty Images)
Johnson led Stewart, Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin, and Matt Kenseth to the green flag, and for the second week a row, Tony Stewart had trouble getting through the gears on the restart.  Jimmie Johnson sped away from the pack and was able to win Hendrick Motorsports' 200th Cup Series win.  Denny Hamlin finished second, Tony Stewart was third, Kyle Busch fourth, and Martin Truex Jr. was fifth.  Matt Kenseth, Carl Edwards, Kasey Kahne, Marcos Ambrose, and Joey Logano rounded out the top ten.  Pole-sitter Greg Biffle finished 12th, while last week's winner Brad Keselowski finished 15th.  Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished 17th, and Mark Martin finished 20th.  Danica Patrick finished 31st in her second Sprint Cup Series race.  Jeff Gordon finished 35th after suffering mechanical problems.

Hendrick Motorsports has been waiting since last season to celebrate their 200th win, and it finally came at one of NASCAR's most historic tracks, Darlington Raceway.  Next week, the Sprint Cup Series' best drivers put it all on the line for the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race.  The festivities start at 7 PM next Saturday, and everything can be seen on SPEED.

Courtesy Getty Images

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Keselowski Tames Talladega

When Brad Keselowski won at Talladega, he played the villain when he flipped Carl Edwards into the catchfence.  That race saw Carl Edwards get out of the car and run across the start/finish line, just like Ricky Bobby in the movie "Talladega Nights."  In a race that saw Kurt Busch drive Ricky Bobby's "ME" car, Brad Keselowski returned to victory lane after out-smarting the competition.

Brad Keselowski celebrates his sixth career Sprint Cup race (Courtesy Getty Images)
After early-morning rain, the race started about 30 minutes later than scheduled.  But when the race went green, Jeff Gordon led the field from the pole.  The pole was Gordon's 71st of his career, and he has now won at least one pole in all 20 of his Sprint Cup seasons.  Gordon got a huge push from Marcos Ambrose to start the race, but Gordon quickly lost the lead.  Tony Stewart, with drafting help from Matt Kenseth, was able to lead the first lap.  Stewart was able to hold off all the cars behind him, until a caution came out on lap 16 for Regan Smith.  Smith's engine expired, and many believed that it was due to overheating in the engine.  But Smith came on the radio and said, "Zero heads-up.  No heads-up whatsoever."  The leaders came in to pit, and most cars only took fuel.  Matt Kenseth's team was able to get him out in front of Tony Stewart, and Kenseth led the field to the green flag on lap 21.

When the race went green, Matt Kenseth was able to grab the lead with a bump from teammate Greg Biffle.  Tony Stewart had other plans however, and worked his way in between the 17 and 16.  Kenseth was able to lead until lap 25, when Michael Waltrip got a huge push from Denny Hamlin to take the lead.  Waltrip was running in the 55 car, which was vacated by Mark Martin for this race.

At around lap 44, Ryan Newman began to overheat, and his Chevrolet soon began to push water out of the engine.  Newman took his car to the garage, and his crew went to work on getting him back out.  On lap 58, Denny Hamlin pulled off the track to begin a round of green flag pit stops.  By lap 62, everyone pitted and Jimmie Johnson inherited the lead.  Johnson's lead only lasted two laps, when his car began to smoke and his engine let go.  Johnson's crew chief Chad Knaus said that it was a broken belt.  Johnson's crew took the car to the garage, while Dale Earnhardt. Jr. inherited the lead from his Hendrick Motorsports teammate.

Johnson's day ended early with engine problems (Courtesy Getty Images)
On lap 72, Matt Kenseth was able to get around Dale Earnhardt Jr. for the lead, and Earnhardt's teammate Jeff Gordon left him hung out to dry and Junior fell all the way to 19th place.  Eventually, Kasey Kahne and Michael Waltrip led laps as well.  Juan Pablo Montoya was the leader when another round of green flag pit stops began on lap 99.  Following the round of pit stops, Greg Biffle found himself out front.  On lap 120, Kurt Busch got a push from former teammate Matt Kenseth to take the lead away from Biffle.  Busch was driving a Talladega Nights-inspired "ME" paint scheme, and when he took the lead I'm sure someone said, "Look Mama! I'm going fast!"

"Shake and Bake" (Courtesy Getty Images)
Just two laps later, Greg Biffle pushed Matt Kenseth around Ricky Bobby, aka Kurt Busch, to take the lead once again.  Busch regained the lead on lap 132, but then, one lap later, the Roush duo drove by Busch again.  This time, however, Kenseth couldn't keep Biffle on his bumper, and Biffle was shuffled back to eighth place while Kenseth took the lead.

With about 50 laps to go, many drivers began to run out of fuel.  This problem caused the Big One.  On lap 141, Aric Almirola got into Dave Blaney who shot across the track into Juan Pablo Montoya and Carl Edwards.  The wreck also collected Landon Cassil, Jeff Gordon, Martin Truex Jr., Terry Labonte, and Joey Logano.  Paul Menard led the field to the green flag.  Menard was on pit road when the caution came out, and he inherited the lead when everyone else pitted under the caution.

The first "Big One" (Courtesy Getty Images)
Menard couldn't hold off a hard-charging Brad Keselowski who restarted second, and he fell to third when Keselowski's Penske teammate AJ Allmendinger got around him for second.  With 25 laps to go, Clint Bowyer, Denny Hamlin, and Matt Kenseth all got their cars out front to lead at least one lap.  Kenseth was finally able to take the lead and hold onto it in front of Brad Keselowski and Hamlin with 20 laps to go.

On lap 176, Casey Mears spun around after contact from Marcos Ambrose.  As he was trying to save it, he clipped Trevor Bayne and turned him around.  The restart came with 9 laps to go, and Matt Kenseth led the field to the green flag.  On lap 181, Kurt Busch got turned by Brad Keselowski going through the trioval.  Then, in a move that had shades of Ricky Bobby, he drove up pit road the wrong way to get to his pit stall.

The restart came with four laps to go, with Kenseth and Keselowski the leaders.  The race didn't go green for long, as AJ Allmendinger tried to block Denny Hamlin and started a melee at the front of the field.  Also involved were the cars of Paul Menard, Greg Biffle, Clint Bowyer, Jeff Burton, Tony Stewart, Michael Waltrip, Kevin Harvick, Joey Logano, and Robert Richardson.  Under the caution, Denny Hamlin's left rear tire erupted and tore the rear window out of the car, as well as spreading foam and everything else inside the car all over the track.

The caution set up a green-white-checker finish, and it put some stress on Brad Keselowski, who was going to be close on fuel.  Matt Kenseth led Keselowski to the green flag with two laps to go.  When the field took the green, Matt Kenseth and Greg Biffle blew away from the field, and it may have cost them the race.  The field caught up to them and sped by, with the tandem of Brad Keselowski and Kyle Busch pulling away from everyone else.  Kyle Busch pushed Keselowski into Turn 3, and got off the back bumper of the 2 car.  It seemed like Busch was going to use the draft to slingshot around him, but he couldn't get close enough.  Keselowski was able to hold off the field to win the second Talladega race of his career.

Brad Keselowski pulls away from Kyle Busch (Courtesy Getty Images)
Kyle Busch followed Keselowski across the line to finish second.  Matt Kenseth, who led a race-high 78 laps, finished third, and Kasey Kahne had some good luck and finished fourth.  Greg Biffle finished fifth.  Clint Bowyer, David Ragan, Trevor Bayne, Dale Earnhardt Jr., and Jeff Burton rounded out the top 10.  Michael Waltrip finished 19th, and Ricky Bobby, I mean, Kurt Busch finished 20th.  Denny Hamlin, Tony Stewart, Kevin Harvick, and Joey Logano finished 23rd-26th respectively.  Martin Truex Jr. finished 28th, Carl Edwards 31st, Jeff Gordon 33rd, and Jimmie Johnson 35th.

After a month-long stretch of races without wrecks, Talladega did not disappoint, delivering two Big Ones.  Next week, the Sprint Cup Series races on Saturday night under the lights at "The Track Too Tough to Tame," Darlington Raceway.  The Bojangles' Southern 500 will be run next Saturday, and can be seen at 6:30 on FOX. 

Courtesy Getty Images