Sunday, July 29, 2012

Johnson Dominates at Indianapolis

Coming into the Brickyard 400, Jimmie Johnson was a 3-time Brickyard 400 winner.  But after a dominating performance where he led 99 of 160 laps, Johnson kissed the bricks for the fourth time in his career, joining an elite list of drivers who are four-time winners at Indianapolis, a list that includes Jeff Gordon, AJ Foyt, Al Unser, and Rick Mears.

Jimmie Johnson celebrates with his crew (Courtesy Getty Images)
Denny Hamlin won the pole for the Brickyard 400, and led Carl Edwards and the rest of the field to the green flag. Edwards was able to stay along Hamlin for the first three turns, but Hamlin was able to clear the 99 going into Turn 4 to take the lead.  On lap 4, Jimmie Johnson moved around Carl Edwards for second place, when he powered around Edwards coming off of Turn 2. 

On lap 13, Carl Edwards began to lose power, and he had to come in to the pits to see what was wrong under the hood.  The team believed that they had maybe lost a cylinder, but they instead tried to reset the car, in hopes that it was a computer problem.  When they did that, Edwards thought the car was running a little better.  When Edwards came back out on track, he was scored 41st, 2 laps down.  After running a few laps, he wasn't sure if they had fixed the problem.  The team wanted Edwards to bring the car in so they could put new plug wires on, but Edwards wanted to try and wait until a caution.

While Edwards was having his problems, Jamie McMurray came in for a scheduled pit stop.  His team was trying to short pit, in hopes of making it on five stops.  Around lap 20, with pit stops for some drivers looming, Jimmie Johnson began to cut into Denny Hamlin's lead.

Jimmie Johnson leads Carl Edwards and Greg Biffle (Courtesy Getty Images)
Brad Keselowski pitted on lap 25, and many others began to come in to make their stops, including Joey Logano, Mark Martin, and Greg Biffle..  On lap 28, the leaders came in to make their pit stops.  Hamlin beat Johnson off pit road, but Johnson was able to win a drag race around the exit road coming out of the pits.  It made the difference when stops cycled around on lap 29, when Johnson was scored the leader over Hamlin.

Travis Kvapil hit the wall on lap 40 to bring out the first caution of the day.  Kvapil's right front tire blew and he pounded the outside wall.  The leaders pitted under the caution, and there was a lot of strategy at play under the caution, with many of the leaders taking two tires and fuel.  When Kyle Busch left his pit box, his car lost power when his car sputtered black smoke, which happens when the car gets flooded with fuel.  Busch crossed the pit exit line in third, but by the time he got his car up to speed, he was scored 13th.

Brad Keselowski didn't pit, and led Denny Hamlin and Jimmie Johnson to the green flag.  Keselowski cleared Hamlin, and Johnson was able to get second.  Going through Turn 1, Hamlin got up and out of the groove, and fell back to 15th.  At the same time, Johnson was able to get around Keselowski for the lead.  The caution came out again on lap 48, when Clint Bowyer got damage on the left-rear and was spun into the grass by Juan Pablo Montoya.  Bowyer, who was running 27th at the time, was able to continue. 

Keselowski leads Johnson (Courtesy Getty Images)
On lap 52, Jimmie Johnson led the field back to the green flag.  Johnson pulled away from Keselowski to clear him heading into Turn 1.  On lap 61, Brad Keselowski gave up a Top 5 spot to make another pit stop.  On lap 69, Kurt Busch came in for a green flag pit stop, and he was penalized for a missing lug nut.  Busch's stop began a long round of green flag pit stops, which didn't end until lap 75.  Brad Keselowski was the leader when the stops cycled around, but by lap 86, Jimmie Johnson was closing in on the Blue Deuce.

On lap 91, Keselowski gave up the lead to make another pit stop.  Keselowski's crew was on a different pit strategy than the rest of the field, and he had to pit about 10 laps sooner than Johnson.  The third caution of the day came out when Casey Mears hit the wall on lap 93.  The field came in to make pit stops, and Regan Smith beat everyone off pit road by just taking fuel, and picked up 12 spots.  Brad Keselowski stayed out and inherited the lead. 
Keselowski led Smith and Johnson to the green flag on lap 101.  In Turn 2, Smith held Keselowski down on the outside, and the 2 car got extremely loose and dropped back in the pack.  Johnson was able to get around Smith for the lead.  Johnson was pulling away from Jeff Gordon when Jeff Burton's left front tire went down to bring out the day's fourth caution on lap 124.  The field came in for what was to be their final stop of the day.  Greg Biffle took two tires and won the race off pit road.

Mark Martin was back behind the wheel in Indy (Courtesy Getty Images)
Biffle led Johnson and Kyle Busch to the green flag on lap 129, and Biffle was able to get the lead when Johnson had a slow start.  Busch and Johnson had some close contact coming out of Turn 2 and that allowed Biffle to get away.  On lap 131, Johnson was able to drive around Biffle for the lead, and he began pulling away.  On lap 133, Joey Logano got loose, and spun down into Bobby Labonte.  The contact with Labonte sent him up into Matt Kenseth, who's car caught fire as it came to a stop. 

The race restarted on lap 140, and Jimmie Johnson was able to speed away from Greg Biffle on the restart.  Biffle and Busch fought side-by-side for second, which allowed Johnson to pull away with the lead.  Busch was able to get second place away from Biffle.  Johnson was able to continue to pull away from Kyle Busch to win his fourth Brickyard 400. 

Kyle Busch was never able to catch Johnson and had to settle for a second place finish.  Greg Biffle finished third.  Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished fourth, and became the Sprint Cup Series Points Leader.  It is the first time Earnhardt has led the points since September 2004.  Jeff Gordon finished fifth, and was followed by Denny Hamlin, Ryan Newman, and Martin Truex Jr.  Brad Keselowski couldn't overcome the bad restart he had, and finished ninth.  Tony Stewart rounded out the Top 10.  Mark Martin returned to the No. 55 Aaron's Dream Machine, and finished 11th.  2011 winner Paul Menard finished 14th.  Sam Hornish Jr. finished 16th while filling in for the suspended AJ Allmendinger.  Carl Edwards finished 29th, four laps down, following his problems early in the race.  Matt Kenseth finished 35th and also lost the points lead.

The 2012 Brickyard 400 is in the books, and it has ended the way three previous Brickyards have ended: with Jimmie Johnson kissing the bricks.  Next week, the Sprint Cup Series rolls through the Pocono Mountains for the Pennsylvania 400 at Pocono Raceway.  I'll be there for all the action, so make sure you follow me on Twitter - @mmarkaholic55 - for live updates all weekend. If you can't be there, you can see it live on ESPN at 12 p.m. next Sunday.

Courtesy Sunoco Racing Facebook Page

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Kahne Steals Hamlin's Victory

Denny Hamlin led half of the Lenox Industrial Tools 301, but a late-race pit road miscommunication sent him back in the pack, and he was never able to overcome it.  Kasey Kahne held off a late charge by the 11 car and fought some lapped traffic to win his second race of the season.

Kasey Kahne celebrates his win (Courtesy Getty Images)
Kyle Busch won the pole for the race, and he led the field to the green flag at New Hampshire.  Busch was able to get in front of Kasey Kahne heading into Turn 1 and he led lap one.  On lap nine, Denny Hamlin was able to get around Kahne for second place, and began working on Kyle Busch's back bumper.  On lap 28, Kasey was able to get back around Hamlin for second place.  While Kahne moved to second place, his teammates Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, and Dale Earnhardt Jr. were able to work their way through the Top 10 and get spots 4-6. 

On lap 64, Brad Keselowski hit pit road to begin the first round of green-flag pit stops.  Kyle Busch was the leader when he came in to make his pit stop, but after a horrendous stop he came out 21st.  Busch's pit crew had two lug nuts hang on the right-rear tire, and he also had a speeding penalty during his stop.  When the stops cycled around, Busch's teammate Denny Hamlin was the leader.  Hendrick Motorsports rounded out the top 5 following the pit stops.

Jimmie Johnson and Hendrick Teammates Jeff Gordon and Kasey Kahne (Courtesy Getty Images)
The first caution came out on lap 89 for debris in Turn 3.  Jeff Gordon stayed out while the rest of the field pitted, and he was the leader when the race went back green on lap 94.  Gordon restarted on the outside, but Hamlin was able to get around him on the inside to retake the lead.  On lap 101, Kyle Busch began working on Martin Truex Jr. for ninth place, and he had overcome his pit road penalty. 

On lap 145, Jeff Gordon pitted before anyone else.  He had not pitted under the caution and had to come in for fuel.  Martin Truex Jr. also came in because his team did not fill the car up with fuel.  Clint Bowyer and Kurt Busch pitted on lap 148, and the leader came in on lap 155 to begin another round of green-flag pit stops.  When the stops cycled around, Jeff Gordon was following Denny Hamlin once again, but Kahne was able to get around the 24 car.  On lap 169, Johnson was able to get around his teammate for third. 

On lap 181, Brad Keselowski began to show just how good his car really was, when he drove around Earnhardt Jr. for fifth when Earnhardt's car got loose heading into Turn 1.  Just five laps later, Keselowski was able to get around Gordon for fourth place. 

Denny Hamlin leads Kasey Kahne and Clint Bowyer (Courtesy Getty Images)
On lap 189, the day's second caution came out for debris.  Kyle Busch moved to the lead when the rest of the leaders pitted for fuel and tires.  The race restarted on lap 197, and Busch chose to restart on the inside of Denny Hamlin.  Hamlin and Busch raced side-by-side for the lead for the first lap, but Hamlin was able to prevail and regain the lead. 

On lap 231, Kyle Busch hit pit road to make his stop, and he once again made a mistake.  He slid through his pit stall, costing himself precious seconds.  While Busch was on pit road, the caution came out for David Reutimann, who's engine let go and put oil down on the track.  The field pitted for what was to be their final pit stops of the day.  Hamlin's team had some miscommunication under the stop; they gave him four tires instead of two, and Hamlin went from leading the race to being 13th.

Kasey Kahne led his teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. on the restart on lap 240.  Kahne was able to get ahead of Earnhardt, and so was Clint Bowyer, who shot down in front of Junior for second place.  By lap 272, Denny Hamlin was able to get around Earnhardt for third place on the track with 30 laps to go.  On lap 277, Hamlin got around Bowyer for second place, and set his sights on Kasey Kahne.  With 10 laps to go, Kahne began to run into some lapped traffic.  Hamlin was able to eat into Kahne's lead, but he ran out of time and could not catch him.  Coming to the White Flag, Hamlin charged hard into Turn 3, and his car went up the racetrack.  Kahne won his second race of the year, and all but locked himself into the Chase.

Kasey Kahne leads Clint Bowyer on the final restart (Courtesy Getty Images)
Denny Hamlin finished second after a dominating performance where he led 151 laps.  Clint Bowyer finished third, Dale Earnhardt Jr. was fourth, and Brad Keselowski finished fifth.  Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson finished sixth and seventh, respectively.  Kevin Harvick, Greg Biffle, and Ryan Newman rounded out the Top 10.  Martin Truex Jr. ran in the Top 10 most of the day, and he finished 11th.  Tony Stewart finished 12th after holding off Matt Kenseth for the final ten laps.  Brian Vickers, stepping into the No. 55 car this week, finished 15th.  Kyle Busch could not overcome his last pit road mistake, and he finished 16th.  Carl Edwards finished 18th, after another uneventful day. 

The Lenox Industrial Tools 301 was an uneventful race, and it was only stopped three times by cautions.  Once again, a race this season was finished in under three hours.  Kasey Kahne unofficially locked himself into the Chase by winning his second race of the season; two wins will most likely win him a wild card spot if he cannot make the Top 10 by Richmond.  Next week, the Sprint Cup Series has its last off-week of the season, and they will be back at the famed Indianapolis Motor Speedway.  The race can be seen on July 29th at 12 p.m., only on ESPN. 

Courtesy Getty Images

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Stewart Smokes the Field

Tony Stewart last won the Coke Zero 400 back in 2009, and he has always been strong at the restrictor-plate  track.  This weekend, Stewart was able to overcome strong Roush-Fenway Racing cars to win his fourth Daytona race.

Stewart takes the checkered flag ahead of Jeff Burton (Courtesy Getty Images)
The race didn't begin without a little controversy.  Before the race even began, the NASCAR community was stunned with the sudden suspension of AJ Allmendinger.  Allmendinger had a positive drug test, and violated NASCAR's substance abuse policy.  Sam Hornish Jr. was able to fly in and step into the No. 22 car for Allmendinger and Roger Penske.

When the race finally started, Matt Kenseth led the field to the green flag after winning the pole for the Coke Zero 400.  He and his Roush-Fenway teammate Greg Biffle, who started fourth, were quickly able to get hooked up at the front.  No one was able to pass the Roush-Fenway duo, and they led until lap 40, when drivers began coming in for green-flag pit stops.

The last cars came in on lap 43, and when the stops cycled around, Martin Truex Jr. and Kasey Kahne found themselves the top two cars.  On lap 49, Kenseth pushed Biffle around on the outside to take the lead.  While they were pushing, Kenseth's car began to push water, but they were able to get to the front and Kenseth was able to get air to the engine to cool the car down. 

On lap 80, Richard Childress Racing teammates Kevin Harvick, Jeff Burton, and Paul Menard came in to make their second round of green-flag pit stops.  On lap 81, the night's first caution came out for Sam Hornish Jr., who had a left-rear tire go down.  When the tire came apart, it ripped the side of his car off.  The field came in to make pit stops, and the stops were not without incident.  While Ryan Newman pulled out of his pit, he was clipped by Jeff Gordon, which sent Newman's car across Kasey Kahne's nose, and into Brad Keselowski's car.  No pit crew members or NASCAR officials were hurt.

Ryan Newman sits backwards after getting spun on pit road (Courtesy Getty Images)
The green flag came back out on lap 86, and Roush-Fenway teammates Kenseth, Biffle, and Carl Edwards led the field.  They led until lap 91, when the night's second caution came out for a wreck with Kurt Busch, Trevor Bayne, and Bobby Labonte.  The wreck started when Kurt Busch tried to wedge his car in between Bayne and Newman, and his car made contact with Bayne's.

The race restarted on lap 96, and Kenseth led Jeff Gordon, Kyle Busch, Biffle, and Edwards.  After some slight contact down the backstretch, Kenseth and Biffle once again found themselves in the first two spots.  On lap 125, a wreck erupted in the middle of the pack.  The wreck destroyed the car of Jimmie Johnson, and also included Jeff Gordon, Regan Smith, Joey Logano, Michael Waltrip, and Bill Elliott.

Johnson's car makes hard contact with the inside wall (Courtesy Getty Images)
The race restarted on lap 131, and Kyle Busch led, and was followed by Tony Stewart, Brad Keselowski, Denny Hamlin and Marcos Ambrose.  Stewart was able to get the lead on the restart, and began to protect his position.  On lap 144, the caution came back out again, for a spin by Brad Keselowski.  When he turned left coming out of Turn 2, his car just went around on him.

Tony Stewart led the field back to the green flag on lap 148.  With 9 laps to go, Biffle and Kenseth powered up to Stewart and passed him for the lead.  Heading into Turn 1, the "Big One" struck.  Hamlin tried to power around the 16, but he didn't have enough room, and he spun in front of the field.  The wreck collected Hamlin, Jeff Gordon, Kyle Busch, Bayne, David Gilliland, Juan Pablo Montoya, Ambrose, Dave Blaney, Clint Bowyer, Martin Truex Jr., Casey Mears, Paul Menard, David Reutimann, and David Ragan.

The carnage of the "Big One" (Courtesy Getty Images)
The race restarted with two laps to go, and Kenseth led Stewart and Biffle to the green flag.  On the restart, Kasey Kahne gave Stewart a huge push to push them beside the Roush-Fenway duo of Kenseth and Biffle.  Stewart was able to get ahead of Biffle and Kenseth after some drivers made contact.  Coming through Turn 4, Biffle's car was clipped by Harvick and spun in front of the entire field, collecting most of the remaining cars.  The wreck allowed Stewart to pull away for his third win of the season.

Biffle and Harvick make contact, which started the massive pile-up at the end (Courtesy Getty Images)
Jeff Burton finished second, and Matt Kenseth was able to come home third.  Joey Logano, Ryan Newman, and Carl Edwards were able to avoid the wreck and finished fourth-sixth, respectively.  Kasey Kahne, Brad Keselowski, Michael Waltrip, and Bobby Labonte rounded out the Top 10.  Jeff Gordon finished 12th.  Dale Earnhardt Jr. was involved in the last-lap wreck and finished 15th.  Greg Biffle, who ran up front all night, finished 21st after starting the final wreck.  Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch finished 23rd and 24th, respectively.  Jimmie Johnson finished 36th; it was Johnson's third DNF out of the season's three restrictor-plate races. 

Next week, the Sprint Cup Series returns to racing on a Sunday afternoon, when the cars hit the track at New Hampshire Motor Speedway for the LENOX Industrial Tools 301.  The race will be TNT's final race of the season, and can be seen at 12 noon.

Courtesy Getty Images

Allmendinger Fails Drug Test, Suspended

AJ Allmendinger, driver of the No. 22 Dodge for Roger Penske, was suspended temporarily before the Coke Zero 400 on Saturday for failing NASCAR's drug test.  Allmendinger took the random drug test last weekend at Kentucky.  Steve O'Donnell, NASCAR's senior vice president for racing operations, said Allmendinger's 'A' sample from the test was positive.

Photo Courtesy Getty Images
Allmendinger now has 72 hours hours to request that his 'B' sample be tested.  According to NASCAR's rule book, if he declines to have that sample tested, or the test is positive, his suspension will become indefinite.

Penske Racing was notified of Allmendinger's suspension by NASCAR on Saturday afternoon.  Penske said in a team statement, "NASCAR has a strict drug testing program that Penske Racing fully supports.  Penske Racing will work with NASCAR through this process and its next steps.  Sam Hornish Jr. will drive the No. 22 car in tonight's Coke Zero 400."

Hornish, who had returned to Charlotte, NC after Friday's Nationwide race at Daytona, was rushed back to the track for the race.  He landed in Daytona, and was escorted to the track by police, and made it in enough time to get in the car.

Allmendinger is the first high-profile driver to fail a drug test since Jeremy Mayfield failed a drug test in 2009.  Instead of doing NASCAR's path to reinstatement, however, Mayfield brought a suit against the sanctioning body, beginning a long, drawn-out legal battle that ended when the case was dismissed earlier this year. 

Allmendinger is in his first year at Penske Racing, and was 23rd in points going into the Coke Zero 400.  He took over for Kurt Busch, who was let go at the end of last season after a major blowup with Dr. Jerry Punch from ESPN.  Hornish had a rocky Sprint Cup career before he moved to the Nationwide series.  He is currently fourth in the standings.