Friday, June 13, 2008

Race 15: Lifelock 400 at Michigan


With a car that was never fast enough at the beginning of a run, but had great fuel mileage, #88-Dale Earnhardt, Jr. finally broke through and won first Sprint Cup points event in 76 races, dating back to the 2006 Crown Royal 400 at Richmond. The win came in dramatic fashion when the final 50 laps turned into a fuel-mileage race, Earnhardt, Jr. finding himself in the lead with 6 laps to go, but only with enough fuel to get him to lap 198. It was on that very lap when #77-Sam Hornish, Jr. spun off turn four, forcing a green-white-checkered finish. Earnhardt, Jr. was then forced to coast around the track, riding the apron and flicking his ignition on and off to save fuel. When the race finally restarted on lap 201, Earnhardt, Jr. leapt to a huge lead and received the white flag seconds before a wreck involving #10-Patrick Carpentier and #55-Michael Waltrip froze the field. Earnhardt, Jr. then needed to only glide on the apron the remaining half-lap and, as the crowd went wild, took the checkered flag under caution. Earnhardt, Jr. led 14 laps en route to the popular victory.

1) #88-Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
2) #9-Kasey Kahne Was about an eighth place car for most of the day, then struggled around 15th with handling problems in the middle stages before his crew decided to take a fuel mileage gamble, joining teammate #19-E. Sadler on pit road to top off their fuel.
3) #17-Matt Kenseth Was an early climber, riding from his 15th place starting spot to 5th on lap 25. He was up to 2nd and closing in on leader #83-Vickers before the second round of green flag stops began on lap 78. He gained the lead from #83-Vickers after the second round of green-flag stops on lap 83 as he was able to get on pit road much faster than anyone else. He was behind teammate #99-Edwards after the second caution, then slid up in front of him on lap 114. Still in the top 5 behind the gambling #48-Johnson and #77-Hornish, Jr., he pitted from the lead with 13 to go, but had a slow 9.3 second two-tire stop when one of his crewmen had trouble removing his right-front tire. He also lost time in the pits when a NASCAR official failed to get out of his way fast enough during a late two-tire stop. Led 41 laps.
4) #83-Brian Vickers Riding the momentum from his strong runner-up finish at Pocono, he rocketed toward the front in the early stages, climbing from his 18th starting position to 4th on lap 17, to 2nd on lap 25, and to the lead by passing #48-Johnson on lap 33. He lost the lead to #17-Kenseth on lap 83 after the second round of green-flag stops, but remained at or around the top 5. Retook the lead from #48-Johnson during the final stops with 18 to go, then pitted himself with 14 to go. Was frustrated after the finish of the race due to what he believed was a botched call by NASCAR after the caution came out when he was ahead of #8-Martin, but wound up restarting behind him. Led 44 laps.
5) #20-Tony Stewart Pledged his winnings to the American Red Cross to assist the victims of the flooding in the midwest. Led 1 lap.
6) #48-Jimmie Johnson Just like at Pocono, he led several laps in the early stages, this time taking it from #18-Ky. Busch, losing it to #83-Vickers, then regaining it when he and #77-Hornish, Jr. did not pit under the fourth caution brought out by #43-B. Labonte on lap 147. Still leading after the fifth caution a few laps later, he then worried that he had lost the first two gears in his transmission, but nevertheless had a good restart. What ensued in the laps following was a great battle with rookie #77-Hornish, Jr. in which #77-Hornish, Jr. edged ahead of him on the inside to lead with 37 to go. He pitted from the lead with 18 to go and, as #83-Vickers took the top spot, waited for the stops to cycle through. Led a race-high 65 laps.
7) #99-Carl Edwards Remained in the top 10 after starting 4th and, despite being the only car to take only two tires under the second caution, managed to remain in the second spot even after #17-Kenseth passed him for the lead a full 15 laps later on lap 114. Supposedly, several spotters said that he had enough fuel to make it the rest of the way in the final fuel run, but he still pitted with 12 to go in a stop that was about as slow as teammate #17-Kenseth’s. Led 21 laps.
8) #6-David Ragan Regaining the form he had attained for much of this season, he raced up into the top 10 around lap 112, but nearly wrecked three laps later when he got very loose coming off turn two. On lap 151, he sustained some minor damage to the front bumper of his car when he bumped #7-R. Gordon going down the backstretch, turning him into the outside wall and bringing out the fifth caution of the race. Regardless, he led briefly during the final fuel run, taking the lead with 12 laps to go when teammate #99-Edwards pitted and holding it until he pitted five laps later. Led 6 laps.
9) #19-Elliott Sadler The decision to top off his fuel tank along with teammate #9-Kahne during the fifth caution on lap 151 turned out to pay big dividends when the final fuel scramble shook out.
10) #26-Jamie McMurray Received the Lucky Dog under the second caution of the race (which was brought out by debris) to be the 22nd and final car on the lead lap at that time. He proceeded to capitalize on the resulting track position by running a smart fuel economy race in the final laps and found himself racing hard with #88-Earnhardt, Jr. with 6 laps to go while, at the same time, both cars were trying to run slow enough to save fuel. When the sixth caution came out with 2 laps to go, he unfortunately had to pit, but since it was under yellow, he still secured a strong finish. Led 1 lap.
11) #15-Paul Menard Forced to start in the back after changing engines, he received the Lucky Dog under the third caution of the race brought out by #2-Ku. Busch and went on to quietly score his best finish of the season.
12) #29-Kevin Harvick Struggled with his car’s handling all weekend long.
13) #18-Kyle Busch Running the extreme low line around the track, he led in the opening laps after securing the top spot due to his owner point ranking after qualifying was rained out, but was never quite able to contend for the lead once #48-Johnson passed him some laps later. Under the fifth caution, his crew failed to fill his tank completely, forcing him to pit for the final time with 16 to go. Led 5 laps.
14) #11-Denny Hamlin Stayed out an extra lap during the second caution of the race in an effort to lead a lap. Led 1 lap.
15) #31-Jeff Burton Started on the outside pole due to the owner point rankings, but tumbled back to the fringe of the top 10 soon after the start, where he remained for the remainder of the race due to handling problems.
16) #28-Travis Kvapil NO NOTES
17) #1-Martin Truex, Jr. NO NOTES
18) #24-Jeff Gordon On the first Father’s Day he was able to celebrate as a father, he had a lot of trouble with his ill-handling car, then his water gauge stopped working on lap 72. He then gambled for track position by staying out during the third caution of the race, but the decision was ill-timed and he slid from 8th to 20th in the 20 laps after the restart. When he did finally pit under the fifth caution of the race brought out by #7-R. Gordon on lap 151, he was caught speeding off pit road and was sent to the tail end of the longest line.
19) #84-A.J. Allmendinger Continuing to ride high from his own strong run at Pocono, he climbed up 20 spots from the 39th starting spot in the first 68 laps, but lost a lot of time during the third round of green-flag stops when he overshot his pit box on lap 142, forcing him to back up. The fuel scramble brought him up to the second spot with 12 to go, but he pitted from there with 7 to go and found himself much farther down the running order. Led 1 lap.
20) #16-Greg Biffle The fastest of the eleven cars who qualified on Friday before rain washed out the session, he was again a fixture in the top 10 before yet again succumbing to bad luck in the closing stages. He, like many others, had trouble with debris on his grille, but was able to cool down his engine on lap 72. His bad luck in this race came at the worst possible time when, while pitting for the final time with 15 to go, an effort to fuel his car on the jack backfired when he left too soon, snagging his air hose, which brought about a penalty that forced him to return to pit road.
21) #2-Kurt Busch For the second straight week, he spun by himself on the backstretch at a speedway when he brought out the third caution of the race on lap 102, his ill-handling Dodge looping off turn two but, fortunately, not hitting anything. Unfortunately, despite receiving the Lucky Dog under the fourth caution brought out by #43-B. Labonte, his team was unable to rally from this incident as well as they had at Pocono.
22) #77-Sam Hornish, Jr. (R) The highest-finishing rookie for the series-leading seventh time this season found himself locked in a race with #55-Waltrip for the top 35. He gained 20 spots from his 35th place starting spot to get up to the 15th spot on lap 68. He was 14th seven laps later, just two positions behind #55-Waltrip in 12th. Like #55-Waltrip, he used pit strategy to get up to the front, running up to 2nd when he stayed out with #48-Johnson during the fourth caution brought out by #43-Labonte on lap 147. After the fifth caution a few laps later, he raced #48-Johnson hard for the lead and even edged ahead to get his own five bonus points at the stripe with 37 to go. An overheating problem as well as his fuel gamble forced him to pit with 22 laps to go, making him one of the first drivers to make his final stop. He still looked like he was going to best his career-best finish in the Coca-Cola 600 until he brought out the sixth caution with 2 laps to go when he spun by himself off turn four and slid through the grass. Led 2 laps.
23) #55-Michael Waltrip After having to start at the back of the field due to an engine change, he became one of the biggest climbers through the field as he fought to get back into the top 35. As one of the handful of tail-end of the field cars who pitted under the first caution on lap 3, he stayed out a few extra laps during the first round of green flag stops to get his five bonus points before pitting on lap 42. On lap 75, he was 12th, just two positions ahead of 14th place competitor #77-Hornish, Jr. Unfortunately, like #77-Hornish, Jr., his good run went away in the final laps when, during the seventh and final caution, he spun through the frontstretch grass to avoid the wrecking #10-Carpentier. Still, he managed to race back into the top 35, bumping #66-Riggs. Led 1 lap.
24) #10-Patrick Carpentier (R) Received the Lucky Dog under the fifth caution brought out by #7-R. Gordon, but then brought out the seventh and final caution that halted the green-white-checkered finish on the final lap when a scramble back in the pack sent him spinning head-on into the outside wall near the start/finish line. Fortunately, he was okay.
25) #8-Mark Martin Silently crept up to 10th on lap 112 and started to position himself for another solid finish at one of his best tracks. He attempted a similar fuel gamble to former teammate #88-Earnhardt, Jr. in the final laps, staying out in the sixth caution to restart in 3rd, but he ran out of gas as the field entered turn one for the first time on the restart, dropping him from contention and holding up a frustrated #83-Vickers.
26) #07-Clint Bowyer NO NOTES
27) #38-David Gilliland NO NOTES
28) #78-Joe Nemechek NO NOTES
29) #45-Terry Labonte NO NOTES
30) #5-Casey Mears NO NOTES
31) #43-Bobby Labonte Signed a contract extension with Petty Enterprises to drive the 43 next season. Brought out the fourth caution of the race on lap 147 when he spun by himself off turn two and, despite spinning at a greater speed than #2-Ku. Busch, also managed to not hit anything.
32) #01-Regan Smith (R) NO NOTES
33) #66-Scott Riggs Was penalized for too fast exiting pit road around the time of the fourth caution on lap 147. This, combined with the strong runs of #55-Waltrip and #77-Hornish, Jr., knocked him back out of the top 35 in owners points.
34) #41-Reed Sorenson NO NOTES
35) #44-David Reutimann Had a hair-raising moment on lap 12 when he bounced between #77-Hornish, Jr. and #38-Gilliland during a three-wide battle off turn four, but managed to keep his car from spinning.
36) #21-Bill Elliott NO NOTES
37) #00-Michael McDowell (R) NO NOTES
38) #42-Juan Pablo Montoya NO NOTES
39) #22-Dave Blaney Brought out the first caution of the race on lap 3 when he spun by himself coming off turn two. The spin turned out to be caused by a broken left-rear axle, a problem which took more than 20 laps to repair in the garage before he got back on the track.
40) #7-Robby Gordon Despite having one of the fastest cars on Friday, the rained-out qualifying session mired him in the back of the pack to be lapped early, then wind up getting turned hard into the outside wall by #6-Ragan on the backstretch on lap 151, bringing out the race’s fifth caution just after a restart. While nursing his crippled car around the track, he then veered into the outside wall before finally being able to get to the garage area.
41) #96-J.J. Yeley Mechanical problems first sent him to the garage around lap 121, after which he returned to the track only to come in once more smoking heavily as he followed the damaged #7-R. Gordon onto pit road on lap 151. His car was undamaged, hinting that he was not involved in #7-R. Gordon’s wreck, but rather succumbed to the same mechanical problem.
42) #12-Ryan Newman Was reported to be spraying water due to debris on the grille of his car on lap 38 and, though that was attended to soon after under a the first round of green-flag stops, he then picked up a vibration and was forced to pit on lap 76 just before the next round of green-flag stops. Fearing a drive train problem, the crew lifted the hood on his car and then pushed him to the garage. He returned to the track many laps down after the fourth caution of the race on lap 147.
43) #40-Dario Franchitti Shared #7-R. Gordon’s bad luck by having one of the fastest cars on Friday only to have to start back in the pack and fall prey to bad luck. Had a short day when engine troubles forced him to make an unscheduled stop under green on lap 23. Though the crew diagnosed it as a broken valve spring, they sent him back onto the track only to return three laps later with a blown engine.

#34-Tony Raines
#70-Jason Leffler

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