Stewart on a Winning Streak

(Photo Credit: Chris McGrath/Getty Images for NASCAR)

At tracks like Watkins Glen International, it sometimes pays to slow down. Jeff Gordon and Carl Edwards pushed their cars beyond the speeds they could handle in the final laps of the race, giving Tony Stewart room to take the win with a 2.46 lead over his teammate Denny Hamlin.

Gordon might have led 51 of the 90 laps during the race, but with just two laps to go he watched his chance of winning slip out from under him. Gordon was going too fast into Turn 1, and his heavy breaking caused his car to wheel hop and spin. While he quickly got back on the track and recovered with a ninth place finish.

“I just overdrove the corner,” Gordon said. “I pushed, and I pushed too far. What happened is the team deserved to win and the driver didn’t get it done.”

“I saw Jeff lose it just like I lost it,” Stewart added, referring to his own Turn 1 wheel-hop and spin earlier in the race. “I had to keep fighting back. Jeff has won four championships and 79 races. He’s the last guy you expect to have a problem like that.”

After Gordon’s spin, Stewart took the lead with Edwards right on his tail. The battle continued with the two zipping through the turns like their lives depended on it. With just two turns to go on the final lap, Edwards’ car slid right on past Turn 10 and into the rock pit, instead of turning. Instead the car sinking, which is the safety purpose of the rock pit, Edwards catapulted his car back onto the track like a sling shot with a madness to score an eighth place finish.

“I just figured, ‘the heck with it, I’ve got one more braking zone before the end of this race,’ and I just went in a little deeper than I had and wheel-hopped it,” Edwards said.

Whether it was wheel-hopping alone, or he also got a little loose from debris left after a Turn 10 spin from two laps before, Edwards didn’t let loosing a chance at a win and falling back in final race position get him down.

“Lucky I practiced going through there in practice, you know-I went through that same gravel trap,” Edwards jokingly added. “I knew I wouldn’t lose too many spots if I did mess up, and we ended up eighth, which my guys deserve better than that, but still, a fun day and I just didn’t want to finish second.”

Jimmie Johnson laid down his second consecutive top five finish, coming in third, followed by Ron Fellows and Robbie Gordon. Martin Truex Jr., Kyle Busch, Carl Edward, Jeff Gordon and Greg Biffle rounded out the top ten.

Race Rundown 

At the start of the race the field began the race position shuffle, with stronger cars and smooth drivers moving to the front and the rest noting adjustments needed to stay competitive. On Lap 11 the shuffle was interrupted by the first caution when Ryan Newman and David Ragan slid into the gravel pit at Turn 10. The caution was a blessing for the teams already needing to make adjustments.

The second caution came out after Brian Vickers met the same gravely fate on Lap 22. On Lap 39 Edwards got into Kyle Busch, causing him to spin and bringing out the third caution. While it wasn’t worthy of a caution, Tony Stewart lost the race lead on Lap 45 after wheel-hopping and spinning in Turn 1.

The fourth caution flew on Lap 52 when Reed Sorenson couldn’t get his car fired after a spin, while elsewhere on the track Johnson spun after getting a tap from Juan Pablo Montoya. Ryan Newman and Clint Bowyer spun, bringing out the fifth caution on Lap 63. At the same time, Dale Earnhardt Jr. blew his engine and ending his day.

The sixth caution flew on Lap 68 with a cloud of turmoil from one end of the track to the other. Kyle Petty blew an engine, as well as flames out the sides and back of his car. Paul Menard spun in front of Matt Kenseth, with both cars receiving damage. On another part of the track Carl Edwards, Denny Hamlin and Tony Stewart were racing so hard for position that all three managed to leave the track and get into the grass in the S curves at one point or another.

No caution in this race will be rememberd like the seventh. As the front of the field was getting into Turn 1, Truex Jr. got into the back of Montoya, which sent him spinning wide and into Kevin Harvick. Unable to avoid the still-spinning car, Harvick’s teammate Jeff Burton slammed into the side of Montoya. There were no injuries, but tempers certainly flaired.

Harvick climed out of his car and quickly approaced Montoya, who was still standing at the side of his own car. As Montoya started to explain what happened, Harvick got up in Montoya’s face, prompting him to try and shove him away. The two went back and forth, grabbing one another’s helmets, shoving one another until Bowyer and some race officials split the pair up before a full-blown fight could erupt.

Because of the heavy amount of oil and debris, the race was red flagged for clean-up. After the red flag and some quick repairs in the garage, Harvick was able to return to the track, but Montoya’s and Burton’s days were over.

The dreaded Turn 10 brought out the eight and final caution whan P.J. Jones slid into the gravel pit on Lap 81. One lap later David Ragan met the same fate but was able to drive out without a caution. However, digging his way out of the pit heavily littered the turn with gravel throw from his spinning tires. Ironically, it might have contributed to his teammate Edwards sliding off the track in the same spot on the final lap.

Harvick Doubletake

(Photo Credit: John Harrelson/Getty Images for NASCAR)

Kevin Harvick scored his second straight Busch Series win, with both being at a road course. With a 3.529 second lead over his teammate Jeff Burton, for his fifth win of the season at the Zippo 200. 

“It was a really, really smart race that we ran, and we had a really fast car to go with it,” Harvick said. “We stuck to our plan and did everything we planned to do when we were close to our (pit) windows.”

With this victory, the reigning series champion drove to his 31st career Busch series win. The total brings Harvick to a tie with former racer Jack Ingrim.

“We’ve won 31 of these races,” Harvick said. “But you don’t get to race against those guys. All you have is the history.”

Pole sitter Kurt Busch came in third after failing brakes thwarted his attempted challenge to the lead in the final laps of the race.

“I felt like we had a great day in store and started out pacing the field early on,” Busch said. “When we pitted early, we took four tires and some guys took fuel only. That put us far behind. That’s what led our brakes to fade on us. Right when it was show time, the pedal bounced to the floor.”

Paul Menard came in fourth, followed by Brad Coleman in fifth.

Kvapil Closer to Another Championship

Travis Kvapil celebrates in Victory Lane at Nashville Superspeedway 

(Photo Credit: Ronda Greer/NASCAR)

Travis Kvapil soared to a 2.403 victory at Nashville Superspeedway over Ron Hornaday in the Toyota Tundra 200 on Saturday night after leading 47 of the final 48 race laps.

“We started the race and the truck was a little bit too tight, but I think that was because I was in traffic,” Kvapil said. “I told (crew chief) Mike Beam what the truck was doing and he made some air pressure adjustments that brought the truck to life.”

While Kvapil didn’t take the race lead from Skinner until he was stuck behind some lapped cars, Skinner credited Kvapil with having the truck to win regardless of traffic.

“Travis had us anyway,” Skinner said. “The balance was not consistent on our second set of tires and Travis’ truck was extremely strong.”

Davis Starr came in fourth, followed by Todd Bodine in fifth. The win moved Kvapil, the 2003 series champion to third in point standings, making a second championship currently within 236 points of his grasp.

“It will still take Mike [Skinner] and Ron [Hornaday] some bad races for us to close the gap but there are 10 races left and a lot can happen,” Kvapil said.

Kurt Busch Closer to the Chase

                                                    

(Photo Credit: Rusty Jarret/Getty Images for NASCAR)

Last Sunday at Pocono Raceway, after a long, 51 race winless streak, Kurt Busch found himself celebrating in Victory Lane. Busch led all but 25 laps during the 200 lap race, proving his team has what it takes to get the job done in style.  

“I couldn’t be happier to drive this car and it’s all due to Pat Tryson,” Busch said of his crew chief recently hired for the team. “Bringing him aboard the past for five or six races has been a pleasure. I’m gonna name this car the PT Special. I feel like a newborn kid again. We’re ready to run for this chase.”

Busch gained enough points from the race win to move to 12th in the point standings. While Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished the race in second, he fell to 13th in the point standings. After struggling a tight car earlier in the race, Earnhardt was satisfied with a second place finish.

“We had a real bad handling car at the start of the race,” Earnhardt Jr. said. “Even though we were in the top 10, the car was just wicked tight. The guys came up with a master plan,” Earnhardt Jr. said. “We put ourselves in second place and gave ourselves a shot at the win but Kurt obviously had the best car.”

Third place finisher Denny Hamlin wasn’t completely thrilled with his third-place finish but is moving forward and thinking ahead to the future races with the new car.

“The setup [of the car] just kind of slipped away from us this time around,” Hamlin said. “This is the last time with this car so when we come back it’s gonna be a whole new ballgame anyway.”

Fourth place finisher Jeff Gordon, like Earnhardt Jr., was happy after the race and very impressed with the Busch and his car after the race.

“If the 2 car (Busch) didn’t exist today, then maybe some of us had a chance at winning,” Gordon said. “He was, wow, that’s all I know how to say is, wow.”

Jimmy Johnson, who has taken quite a punch in the points standings this summer came in fifth and regained two spots in the standings, bringing him back to seventh.

“It’s been a tough summer for us,” Johnson said. “We haven’t been able to finish, but we’ve been running well. Today I just stayed focused on the right things and made sure I didn’t make any crazy mistakes on the track to get a good finish.”

Rounding out the top ten was Tony Stewart, Ryan Newman, Clint Bowyer, Mark Martin and Casey Mears.

Luck wasn’t running through the Roush-Fenway stable. The day started off bad for Jamie McMurray when he brought out the first caution on Lap 3 after spinning in Turn 1, and it only continued to get worse.

Later on Lap 21, McMurray’s teammate Carl Edwards blew the sidewall out of his tire and had to make an unscheduled stop, putting him a lap down. The early stop caught the crew off guard, resulting in a scramble to complete the job. In the scuttle no one went over the wall to insert the catch can. The mistake cost the team a pass-through penalty, putting Edwards two laps down.

Without a timely caution, green flag stops began on Lap 30, but a chance for more stops came on Lap 53 when the second caution of the day came out for debris, which appeared to turn out to be just a wad of yellow tape on the track. The caution was like an answered prayer to Earnhardt Jr. Shortly beforehand, he had expressed to his team in a near pleading voice to make drastic changes to his car that was too tight to handle.

Shortly after the race went green again the caution returned. On Lap 64, McMurray spun again, but this time he had a little bit of help from behind by David Stremme as they were coming out of turn three.

Earnhardt Jr., while still complaining of a tight car, brought out the fourth caution of the day on Lap 124. After spending a long stop on pit road, the team had made several adjustments to the car. Earnhardt Jr. came out in 26th and began rapidly climbing positions.

Greg Biffle spun in Turn 2 on Lap 138, which brought out the fifth caution of the day. In a daring gamble on pit road, Earnhardt Jr. took just two tires. The gamble paid off when he came out in fifth-21 positions ahead of where he’d been just 17 laps before. On Lap 145, for a brief nine laps, Junior took the lead.

Things began heating up towards the end of the race. On Lap 172, David Ragan brought out the sixth caution when he spun out. The biggest wreck of the day came on Lap 181 when Edwards got into the back of Reed Sorenson in the middle of Turn 3. The bump send Sorenson spinning and collecting David Gilliland, Brian Vickers and McMurray along the way.

With 15 laps to go the race went green for its final time. Busch took off like a rocket and continued to increase his lead until the checkered flag flew. When he crossed the line, Busch had plenty of breathing room with a 3.847 second lead.

Oh Canada, What a Win!

                                                      

(Photo Credit: Robert Laberge/Getty Images for NASCAR)

 NASCAR embarked on a new journey into racing in Canada last weekend, but its maiden voyage has left quite a sour taste in many mouths. Kevin Harvick won the NAPA Auto Parts 200 at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal, Quebec. Despite the fact that Harvick picked off the positions one by one after starting at the rear of the field, his victory is not what will make this inaugural race remembered throughout history.  

What race fans will remember most about this race is the way the iron fist of NASCAR fell on Robby Gordon. On Lap 71, Gordon took the lead from Marcos Ambrose, but at the same time a meley of a wreck was taking place in Turn 2. The wreck brought out the final caution of the day, but it was only the beginning of the major problems.  

Per rules of NASCAR, Gordon slowed his pace for the caution flag, but Ambrose did not. Ambrose spun Gordon out, preventing him from maintaining his position. Breaking one of the golden rules, Gordon raced back to take the second position behind Ambrose, believing the front position was rightfully his, since he was spun out after the caution flag flew. NASCAR then ordered Gordon to fall back to the 13th position.  

Completely disagreeing with NASCAR, Gordon refused to fall back and restarted in second, right behind race leader Ambrose on Lap 74. Gordon spun Ambrose shortly afterwards and crossed the finish line first, refusing to park after being blackflagged by NASCAR.  The drama continued with Gordon after the race. While NASCAR scored him in 18th position and a lap down, Gordon did a burnout of his own on the frontstretch at the same time of Harvick, who was doing his own victory burnout. Gordon was suspended from competing in Sunday’s race at Pocono, and more penalties from NASCAR will likely follow.

Another Brickyard Kiss for Stewart

                                                     

Photo Credit – Chris Graythen/Getty Images for NASCAR

Tony Stewart and his crew went out in style this weekend by planting the traditional winner’s kiss on the Brickyard after claiming Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s Allstate 400 victory.

Racing at his home track, Stewart put on quite a show leading up to taking the checkered flag. After some breathtaking beating and banging to fight for position, Stewart took the race lead from Kevin Harvick with 10 laps to go. The rest, for Stewart, was just a Sunday drive.

With Harvick falling back in the pack and Juan Pablo Montoya nudging closer, Stewart maintained a strong lead but was driving like he was alone on the track. At one point Stewart even had his hands off the wheel while he took a drink from his water bottle as if time were standing still. In the end, Stewart’s relaxed mentality paid off with his second Brickyard win and second win of the season.

“It is still like a dream,” Stewart said. “To race one of my good friends Kasey Kahne for the first one [2005 Brickyard win] and a very close friend, Kevin Harvick, for this one, I couldn’t think of two other guys I’d rather race for the win here than that.”

Montoya, who’s no stranger to this track, finished second.

“At the start, I was just happy to run in the top five,” Montoya said. “That was the idea, stay in the top five, try to make the car better every stop.”

For 2007, Montoya already has one win under his belt and three top five finishes. Those aren’t bad stats for a rookie. But Montoya isn’t just a rookie to the Nextel Cup Series, he’s a rookie to stock car racing period, making his current success even more impressive.

“It’s exciting, you know,” Montoya added. “I’ll tell you, I’m happy. This is the first actual race I get to people, and I could pass them. Normally I get to like 12th and you start try to get runs on people, and you can’t. Today, it was awesome. I could really go at it, so it felt good.”

Jeff Gordon, who finished third, admits being impressed at Montoya’s NASCAR success, but isn’t cutting him any rookie slack. If anything, Gordon’s expectations for Montoya, due to his prior success in other racing series, may even increase the challenge to perform well.

“It’s obvious of how talented he is,” Gordon said. “I mean, I think you look at everything he’s ever driven, he’s fast and he’s had success. I guess I have expectations of him being able to showcase his talent when he came here, and he has. When their team steps up and gives him the car, he steps up and shows what he can do.”

Kyle Busch came in fourth, followed by pole sitter Reid Sorenson in fifth. Rounding out the top 10 of the race were drivers Mark Martin, Kevin Harvick, Jeff Burton, Dave Blaney and Matt Kenseth.

After a rain-soaked weekend left behind a green track for racing, NASCAR ordained a mandatory 15-lap competition yellow flag to give teams a chance to check the tires for excessive wear. Heavy rains wash away layers of tire rubber from the grooves in the racetrack, making the pavement more like a cheese grater to the Goodyear tires.

The scheduled caution was a day late and a dollar short for Jeff Green. A lap before the caution was to be called, Green blew a tire and hit the wall hard, which caused race-ending damage to his car. Because the caution was out for the wreck, the competition caution was canceled.

After the caution, Stewart took over the race lead, but lost it just a lap later to Dale Earnhardt Jr. After less than a full lap, Ryan Newman brought out a caution after spinning into the wall.

The race stayed green until Lap 39 when Kasey Kahne nudged Tony Raines, a move that spun both drivers into the wall, causing heavy damage. Just eight laps later, Jamie McMurray got loose, causing an accident involving six others–Scott Riggs, Jimmie Johnson, Bill Elliott, Ricky Rudd, J.J. Yeley and Robby Gordon. Carl Edwards also spun but miraculously did not receive any damage.

After less than two full laps of green flag racing, right after Stewart took the lead from Earnhardt, Jr., Casey Mears spun and collected Elliot Sadler, Kyle Petty and Johnny Sauter. Racing went green again on Lap 60, but after just one lap, Johnson’s ailing car cut the left front tire, causing him to slam into the wall where it caught fire and choked out it’s final breath.

Kyle Busch, one of the few who didn’t pit during the caution, took the race lead. About 20 laps later, Stewart reclaimed the race lead when Busch went to pit road during a Lap 77 debris caution. After another debris caution on Lap 91, Greg Biffle took the race lead.

Like a game of leap frog, the lead changed again on Lap 104 with Harvick leading the field, only t have it taken away on Lap 112 by Stewart. On Lap 128 Busch took over the lead after Stewart hit pit road, only to have Stewart take it back on Lap 130.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. blew an engine and spewed the track with oil, bringing out the final caution on Lap 136. While it ended his day, the caution was a relief for others, because it meant not having to make a final pit stop under green.

Johnson, Gordon: Do They Deserve an ESPY?

                            

NASCAR drivers Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon and Kevin Harvick have all been nominated for Excellence in Sports Performance (ESPY) Awards. Also nominated for an ESPY award is the movie Talladega Nights. Such awards could gain NASCAR more acceptance by other sports fans, but are the nominees the right ones to represent the sport?

Jimmie Johnson has been nominated for two (ESPY) Awards–Best Championship Performance and Best Driver.

The Best Championship Performance award goes to an individual who showed the best performance overall in his or her sport. With all the championship athletes in sports, to be nominated for such an award is quite an honor.

Other nominees for the Best Championship Performance award are Peyton Manning, Quarterback for the Indianapolis Colts Superbowl champs; LeBron James, who was plucked right out of high school to play for the Cleveland Cavaliers and Serena Williams, tennis superstar and most recent winner of the Australian Open.

Drivers nominated for the Best Driver are Johnson, Jeff Gordon, Kevin Harvick, Dario Franchitti (Indy 500 winner) Tony Schumacher (NHRA champion) and Sam Hornish Jr. (2006 Indy Series champion).

The wild, final few seconds between Kevin Harvick and Mark Martin at the 2007 Daytona 500 was nominated for the Best Finish award. Competing for the award is the finish between the Dodgers/Padres, with the Dodgers gaining four home runs in the ninth inning, tying the game, and two in the tenth to win.

Also nominated was the game finish where Anthony Atkinson made the winning shot that broke Winona State’s 56-game win streak. And the final nominee for Best Finish is racehorse Curlin, for winning the Preakness Stakes by just a head against Kentucky Derby winner Street Sense.

Talladega Nights was nominated for Best Sports Movie. Its running against the sports movies Invincible, Pride and We Are Marshall.

To think of a NASCAR driver being in the same category of sports “superheroes” like Peyton Manning, Lebron James and Serena Williams speaks wonders for how far the sport has come. It may very well be starting to shed its image held by stick and ball sports fans, who normally viewed NASCAR as a bunch rednecks driving in circles.

But are all of the nominees the right choice to represent the sport as a whole? Maybe not.

Jimmie Johnson’s team has been caught cheating twice already this year. Last year, in his profound championship year that scored him this nomination, his team was caught cheating after qualifying at the very first race of the season.

Then there’s also Jeff Gordon, nominated as Best Driver, who’s team was recently caught cheating.

Cheating is cheating, but these two were caught blatantly ignoring the don’t touch the damn car rule and now they are representing the NASCAR amongst all other types of sports. It doesn’t exactly present the best image for NASCAR to put them up on a pedestal right now.

Cheating in NASCAR is basically the same thing as athletes doping in other sports. While doping has been around since the Ancient Greeks started the original Olympics, it is not accepted. Athletes who are caught doping are shunned by their sport and its fans. The same can be said for NASCAR. Teams caught cheating are penalized by NASCAR and they lose the trust of fans across the board.

The awards are chosen through an online fan vote (http://espn.go.com/espy2007/index.html), so Johnson and Gordon both have a shot at the Best Driver award. But to think Johnson has a shot at beating out Manning, James and Williams after repeatedly committing NASCAR’s version of doping is laughable at best.

That’s not to say he isn’t a champion-worthy driver, because he certainly is, but the controversy surrounding him as of late is enough to leave a heavy stench in the air. Johnson’s current status doesn’t project a very good image of NASCAR as a whole to be represented amongst the best of the best in all of sports.