Saturday, July 26, 2008

Race 20: The 15th Allstate 400 at the Brickyard


Troubling concerns throughout the weekend about accelerated tire wear on NASCAR’s new car turned the prestigious race into a series of ten lap sprints separated with regularly-scheduled competition cautions. In each sprint, polesitter #48-Jimmie Johnson, who reached 207 mph going into turn one on his 181.763 mph lap, had both the best car and pit stops, leading a race-high 71 laps and, having always taken four fresh tires, often retook the top spot the few times he did not lead the field out of the pits. After #11-Denny Hamlin managed to get away from a suddenly-loose Johnson with less than 40 laps to go, Johnson bided his time, took four tires with 22 to go, blocked a charging #99-Carl Edwards with 18 to go, beat everyone off pit road with his only 2-tire stop with 10 to go and ran away from #99-Edwards in the final seven laps to notch his second Allstate 400 victory in three years. Appropriately, Johnson blew a right-rear tire doing his victory burnouts just like #29-Kevin Harvick had when he also won the event from the pole and as at least five contenders in the race had as well.

1) #48-Jimmie Johnson THE WINNER!
2) #99-Carl Edwards Nearly spun himself out just 2 laps into the race when, while closing fast on #2-Ku. Busch on the backstretch, he cut to the left and, not knowing #88-Earnhardt, Jr. was there, shoved the left-rear corner of his car into the right-front of #88-Earnhardt, Jr. Fortunately, he remained in control and the pucker in the corner of his bumper did not slow his progress. While running 2nd on lap 47, he slowed suddenly with a tire problem, but was ironically saved by teammate #17-Kenseth’s misfortune that brought the fourth caution out some seconds sooner than anticipated. He would retake the lead with 73 laps to go until the Hendrick duo of #48-Johnson and #24-J. Gordon passed him the next lap. His car really came alive in the last 40 laps when he charged up into the third position and with 39 to go took 2nd from #24-J. Gordon just before the ninth caution came out for another competition yellow. After losing 2nd to #48-Johnson on pit road, he got the spot back before the tenth caution with 22 to go and was again locked in a battle with the dominant #48-Johnson. With 18 to go, he was the one chased to the lower groove when #48-Johnson pulled a dramatic block on him coming off of turn four. Led 4 laps.
3) #11-Denny Hamlin Determined to avenge his disastrous 2007 race, he ran in the top 10 all day and made his move during the ninth caution with 39 to go, taking two chrome right-side tires freed-up from one of the Michael Waltrip cars and restarting out front of the dominant #48-Johnson and the rest of the leaders. For the first time in the race, #48-Johnson was unable to pass him and even looked to be losing ground. He remained in the lead with a lightning-quick 2-tire stop under the tenth caution and looked to stay there despite an aluminum can lodged on his grille as #19-E. Sadler and #31-J. Burton battled for second. Unfortunately, in the eleventh and final caution, #48-Johnson’s crew pulled off an even-faster 2-tire change and made the winning pass on pit road. One of his crewmen injured his hand during that final stop when he tried to catch a tire knocked loose by the entering #41-Sorenson. Led 26 laps.
4) #19-Elliott Sadler Like #84-Allmendinger and #31-J. Burton, he remained in contention with a series of two-tire stops and was further aided by the pit position offered by his outstanding sixth-place qualifying run. He led the field off pit road under the seventh caution with 63 to go , but lost the lead to #31-J. Burton as the field entered turn one on the restart with 55 to go. In the final 16 laps, he made his own move toward the front by running up in 3rd, then moving past #31-J. Burton for 2nd after racing him hard for a half-lap with 13 to go. He was trying to reel in #11-Hamlin just before the eleventh and final caution was thrown with 10 to go and lost a couple spots on pit road. Led 5 laps.
5) #24-Jeff Gordon Was firmly a fixture in the top 5 all race long, often running with but unable to pass teammate #48-Johnson. Under the third caution on lap 29, #48-Johnson told him that his tires were visibly coming apart. This particular tire problem may have been due to the fact that his car was visibly smoking its brakes all day long, much as it had in a few previous races this season. Fortunately, his tires did not fail before pitting, and he was able to take the lead from #18-Ky. Busch on lap 35 just before #48-Johnson passed him as well. He ran second leading into the ninth competition caution with 39 to go, but narrowly lost the spot to #99-Edwards when the yellow was thrown. After the final pit scramble, he passed #26-McMurray for 5th on the final lap. Led 7 laps.
6) #26-Jamie McMurray Entered the picture by running third after the sixth caution of the day on lap 82 and, from that point, was solidly in the top 10. He was running 5th in the final run to the checkers, but was passed by #24-J. Gordon on the final lap.
7) #9-Kasey Kahne Ran in the top 5 very early on from the 4th place qualifying spot he earned on Saturday, but slipped back gradually starting around lap 22 when he reported his car was sounding funny due to a cracked header.
8) #16-Greg Biffle Ran up in the top 5 early on, but strangely did not get a lot of television coverage through the race. It was reported, however, that this top 10 finish was the product of an impressive rally after yet another problem on pit road in the race’s second half.
9) #31-Jeff Burton After another marginal qualifying run forced him to start 32nd, he rocketed up through the pack with a combination of strategy and skillful driving, moving him up to 6th on lap 38. The strong run almost seemed like it was going to end when, under the fourth caution on lap 47, he reported that his battery was only pulling 12 volts. The problem went away after he shut off his fans and the crew largely went on the same two-tire strategy as #19-E. Sadler and #84-Allmendinger. He took the lead from #19-E. Sadler with 55 laps to go with a pass on the inside of turn one, hitting one of two birds sitting on the track with the top driver’s side corner of his windshield when the bird could not take off in time. The caution came out a few seconds later when #83-Vickers blew an engine coming into turn one. After the restart, it only took #48-Johnson four more laps to retake the lead from him. Led 10 laps.
10) #84-A.J. Allmendinger Scored his best-career finish after gaining valuable track position by taking two tires under the fourth caution on lap 47 and restarting second behind #18-Ky. Busch, remaining there, then even leading off pit road under the fifth caution on lap 65 and leading under green before #48-Johnson took the lead from him on lap 72. His battle with #48-Johnson did not end there, however, as the two raced hard for 2nd place with 49 to go, exchanging the position three times during that lap. Led 4 laps.
11) #8-Mark Martin Was uncharacteristically oozing with confidence coming into the race, predicting he would win his first Allstate 400 even before he qualified on the outside-pole for the second time in July. Knowing the tire problem would play a significant factor in the race, he drove conservatively, letting some of the leaders by and racing back in 9th by lap 22. Before NASCAR began closing the pits before the competition cautions, he used this to his advantage, pitting on lap 29 just before the competition caution on lap 30 which was moved up to lap 29 when #42-Montoya cut a tire. He did this again on lap 46 before the lap 47 competition caution that was again pre-empted by an on-track incident, this one involving #17-Kenseth.
12) #88-Dale Earnhardt, Jr. Nearly wrecked out of 6th just 2 laps into the race when #99-Edwards ran up too fast on #2-Ku. Busch and merged on top of him, forcing him to clip the left-rear corner of #99-Edwards. After the crew did not find any damage to his fender while pitting under the first caution on lap 4, he decided to stay out with #70-Leffler under the first competition caution ten laps later. The gamble backfired on lap 25, however, as he suddenly dropped off the pace from the lead with a left-rear tire going down, forcing him to pit a few laps before the third caution on lap 29 and dropping him a lap down with #70-Leffler. After getting the Lucky Dog during one of the many scheduled cautions, he was back up in 13th with 64 laps to go. Led 8 laps.
13) #12-Ryan Newman Announced he would not be returning to Penske on July 14 and is rumored to be the second driver for #20-Stewart’s new part-owner-driver operation in 2009. Had an excellent qualifying run and remained there in the very early stages before slipping barely outside the top 10 for a respectable finish.
14) #6-David Ragan Another silent solid top 10 kind of run fell just shy of the mark in the final scramble to the checkers.
15) #18-Kyle Busch Dominated that Nationwide race at nearby O’Reilly Raceway Park, leading 197 of the 200 laps despite NASCAR’s reducing of the Toyota teams’ horsepower, but had a harder time of it at the Brickyard. After narrowly avoiding involvement in both the second and third cautions of the race by following #2-Ku. Busch and #42-Montoya, he found himself in the lead after the third caution before #24-J. Gordon took it on lap 36. A 2-tire stop under the fourth caution gave him the lead back for the lap 54 restart, but sometime after #48-Johnson regained the lead, he fell 5 mph off the pace with a right-rear tire going down on lap 64. Fortunately, the competition caution, the fifth yellow of the day, saved him exactly one lap later. Led 14 laps.
16) #43-Bobby Labonte Ran as high as 8th at one point and seemed to be firmly in contention for a top 10 finish, but was snagged for a pit road violation when he attempted the strategy of #8-Martin and #1-Truex, Jr. by pitting one lap before the seventh caution, a competition yellow, with 63 to go. At that point, NASCAR had closed pit road and, combined with the right-front tire problem he had and his subsequent speeding out of the pits, lost a lot of track position. He did, however, manage to get most of it back in the remaining laps.
17) #41-Reed Sorenson Clipped the tire taken off of #11-Hamlin in the final round of pit stops, a tire which one of #11-Hamlin’s crewmen tried to catch and injured his hand.
18) #10-Patrick Carpentier (R) The highest-finishing rookie for the fourth time this season and for the third time in the last four races, he was also the highest-qualifying rookie by starting 15th.
19) #07-Clint Bowyer After nearly wrecking in qualifying from driving an extremely-loose race car, forcing him to start 40th, he soldiered his way up to 15th in the race’s first 45 laps and looked to be a contender for the win. Unfortunately, he was unable to move much higher through the pack.
20) #38-David Gilliland NO NOTES
21) #77-Sam Hornish, Jr. (R) Narrowly avoided involvement in the first caution on lap 4 when #55-Waltrip broke loose beneath him in turn two.
22) #47-Marcos Ambrose (R) In his first Cup race since his sterling series debut at Infineon a month before, he locked JTG-Daugherty Racing, his 2009 team, solidly into its first attempted race of the season by securing the 24th spot. Although he was forced to start in the rear due to an engine change during the weekend, he ran a smart and effective race en route to the new best finish of his Cup career.
23) #20-Tony Stewart Formally announced his switch to #14 in 2009 with sponsors Office Depot and Old Spice on his new Stewart-Haas Chevrolets. Ran quietly during the race in a very loose car which, though he did run as high as 5th with 74 to go and had comparably-admirable tire wear to the rest of the field.
24) #1-Martin Truex, Jr. Mimicked the strategy of teammate #8-Martin by pitting from 8th on lap 81 just before the sixth caution, another competition caution on lap 82, allowing him to restart as the leader momentarily before #99-Edwards moved by him for the top spot. Led 3 laps.
25) #66-Scott Riggs Led 1 lap.
26) #5-Casey Mears NO NOTES
27) #45-Terry Labonte NO NOTES
28) #96-J.J. Yeley Barely missed involvement in the first caution of the day on lap 4 when he clipped the grass off turn two to avoid colliding with #55-Waltrip.
29) #78-Joe Nemechek NO NOTES
30) #44-David Reutimann Slapped the outside wall coming off turn one on lap 12.
31) #01-Regan Smith (R) Was forced to a backup car after slapping the turn one wall in qualifying much harder than #28-Kvapil, ultimately failing to complete that lap. Led 1 lap.
32) #70-Jason Leffler Qualified a very respectable 21st and even ran as high as 2nd in the race when he was the only car to stay out with #88-Earnhardt, Jr. after the second caution on lap 14. Unlike #88-Earnhardt, Jr., however, he dropped back quickly after the restart.
33) #7-Robby Gordon NO NOTES
34) #00-Michael McDowell (R) Led 1 lap.
35) #22-Dave Blaney Led 1 lap.
36) #28-Travis Kvapil Smacked the outside wall in turn one during qualifying, but managed to hang on and notch the 28th fastest qualifying speed. His crew successfully repaired his car for Sunday’s race. Led 3 laps.
37) #29-Kevin Harvick Suffered significant damage to the right side of his car when he was involved in the second caution of the race on lap 14 when #2-Ku. Busch broke loose off turn one and hit him in the right-front tire, sending him into the outside wall in a can opener angle that pinched #2-Ku. Busch into the fence as well.
38) #17-Matt Kenseth Brought out the fourth caution of the race on lap 47 when, just before the next competition caution, his right-rear tire exploded on the backstretch, ripping apart the sheetmetal around and including his right-rear window to the point that it left a gaping hole, his car spinning through the grass soon after.
39) #42-Juan Pablo Montoya Raced his way up to 9th from the 13th starting position after 18 laps, but was unfortunately the cause of the third caution on lap 29 just seconds before the competition caution was to be thrown on lap 30 when his right-rear tire shredded coming onto the backstretch, the tire whipping bits of debris out from under his fender. Though the damage did not seem externally significant, it nevertheless dropped him out of contention.
40) #2-Kurt Busch Brought out the second caution of the day on lap 14 just before the first competition caution was going to be thrown when he broke loose off turn one and hit #29-Harvick in #29-Harvick’s right-front tire, causing him to spin into the outside wall in turn two right behind #29-Harvick, who did the same.
41) #15-Paul Menard Suffered significant damage to the right-front and right side of his car when he collided with the spinning #55-Waltrip while running the low groove through turn two on lap 4. The contact caused him to slap the outside wall off turn two and he limped back to the pits for extensive repairs.
42) #83-Brian Vickers After running back in the pack, he made an unscheduled stop on lap 74 when he reported his engine was not pulling enough rpms, forcing repairs which put him behind the wall for several laps. He came back out on the track three competition cautions later only to bring out the eighth caution when the engine let go completely, blowing oil and smoke through turn one right after a restart with 55 laps to go. Led 1 lap.
43) #55-Michael Waltrip Brought out the first caution of the day on lap 4 when, while racing under #77-Hornish, Jr. in turn two, his back end broke loose and started to spin the front of his car into the racing groove. After #96-Yeley barely missed contact by driving through the grass, the car behind #96-Yeley, #15-Menard, plowed into the left-front of his car, sending him hard into the outside wall.

#21-Bill Elliott
#34-Tony Raines
#50-Stanton Barrett
#08-Johnny Sauter

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