Sunday, August 3, 2008

Race 21: Sunoco Red Cross Pennsylvania 500 at Pocono



On a very long race day with a forty-minute delay for rain just past the halfway mark and an array of baffling fuel strategies, #99-Carl Edwards came out on top by winning his fourth race of the season, his first since Texas in the spring and his first at Pocono since his first full season in 2005. Edwards, his car consistently very loose off turn one, first gained the lead by gaining five spots during his pit stop under the fourth caution on lap 65 and became the strongest car from there on out. Anticipating the incoming rain showers, he chased down #48-Johnson to take the lead with 90 to go with the rain 15 minutes away, but, with his pilot’s experience with weather, gambled on the rain moving away. Edwards pitted under green with 82 to go, regained the lead as the stops cycled through, then pitted again when the rain brought out the sixth caution with 73 to go and a red flag with 69 to go while 19 others stayed out. When the rain did, indeed, stop, and the track was dried, Edwards found himself with the fastest car and the winning fuel strategy. He pitted with the rest of the leaders with 35 to go, narrowly avoiding contact with #12-Ryan Newman, retook the lead for the final time with 13 laps to go as #8-Mark Martin made his final stop from the lead, and despite concerns over fuel shortage, made it the rest of the way. Led 53 laps.

1) #99-Carl Edwards THE WINNER!
2) #20-Tony Stewart Began a sustained march to the front in the first part of the race, climbing from his 20th starting spot to 12th in the first 12 laps. After a few pit cycles, he was again back in the pack, but between the fourth caution on lap 65 and lap 83, he’d gained 11 spots and made his way back to 14th. Constantly rallying through the field, one time within sight of leader #48-Johnson on lap 87, he barely scuffed the wall coming off turn one while racing #43-B. Labonte for 15th with 50 to go. Fuel strategy was on his side and, with 26 to go, he was back up in the 6th position.
3) #48-Jimmie Johnson For the second race in a row, he had the dominant car leading up to the race, leading the only practice on Friday and qualifying for his second consecutive pole, joined once again by #8-Martin in 2nd. Despite such promise, #8-Martin disposed of him soon after the start and led for much of the early going. An attempt at holding off #8-Martin with 2 tires only gave him an advantage for a few laps in the early going as #8-Martin re-passed him for the lead on lap 36. He would lead off pit road again under the fifth caution on lap 87 and successfully held off #24-J. Gordon and #20-Stewart on the restart before #99-Edwards started to catch him. Close on fuel in the final run after pitting with 34 to go, he started to slow coming off the final turn, but successfully defended his third-place finish as he ran slightly faster than #24-J. Gordon and #88-Earnhardt, Jr. Led 34 laps.
4) #29-Kevin Harvick Was involved in the first caution of the day on the first lap when, while racing mid-pack into turn two, #78-Nemechek tried to move beneath him and clipped his left-rear quarter panel, sending him into a spin. Miraculously, despite nearly clipping #42-Montoya during his spin, neither he nor #78-Nemechek made contact with the wall or the other cars, but concerns arose that he may have damaged the engine by holding it at full throttle during the spin. Though climbing his way back up through the pack, he did get increasingly concerned about his engine going flat by lap 87, but fortunately, the problem seemed to resolve itself, perhaps during the fifth caution that came out that same lap. Having pitted before the rains came, he was 23rd with 50 to go and eagerly awaited the stops to cycle through. The wait paid off, and with 11 to go, he was in 7th and confident he could make it the rest of the way on fuel.
5) #6-David Ragan Remained in the top 15 for much of the day and led a lap with 34 to go as green-flag stops continued to cycle through. Led 1 lap.
6) #07-Clint Bowyer Was loose everywhere early in the race when he feared he had a tire going down after #45-McCumbee slid up into him in turn two and made contact with his left-rear tire. Fortunately, he was able to get the tires checked under the timely second caution on lap 7.
7) #9-Kasey Kahne Brought the same car with which he won from the pole at Pocono in June, then qualified 7th after scuffing the outside wall off turn two during his qualifying lap. Though out-classed first by #8-Martin and then by #99-Edwards, he hoped to win the race on strategy by staying out and leading 18 other cars who did as well when a rain-forced red flag looked like it was going to shorten the race with 69 laps to go. Unfortunately, the rain let up and his fuel strategy prevented him from getting on the same sequence as #99-Edwards. Led 41 laps.
8) #8-Mark Martin After a disappointing run at Indianapolis, he made up for it with one of his best runs since Richmond. He qualified on the outside-pole for the third time since the July Daytona event and quickly passed polesitter #48-Johnson, then retook the lead from #48-Johnson after he resolved a tight race on lap 36 when his 4 fresh tires got the best of #48-Johnson’s 2. Despite dusting the field in that first quarter of the race, he still requested several adjustments on his car under green on lap 47. Therein lay the one weakness of his day: a series of slow pit stops. The first dropped him from the lead to 13th under the fourth caution on lap 65, taking him until lap 83 to get back as far as 6th. Things weren’t any better when he stopped under the fifth caution on lap 87, problems with the right-front tire change dropping him back to 17th. The rain looked to vindicate his run when he found himself 5th after staying out when the red flag flew with 69 to go, but, like for the 18 others who stayed out, he was forced to pit again outside of his window, taking his stop with 46 to go. With #99-Edwards on his way, he and #9-Kahne stayed out for as long as they could, both hoping for a caution. He ran 2nd behind #9-Kahne in that time until #9-Kahne pitted with 16 to go, giving him the lead. He then surrendered the lead with 14 to go, allowing #99-Edwards to make the winning pass. Led a race-high 55 laps.
9) #26-Jamie McMurray Led a couple laps when he stayed out until 28 to go during the final round of green-flag stops and earned his second consecutive top 10 finish. Led 2 laps.
10) #24-Jeff Gordon Qualified a strong 4th as his team continued to refine its qualifying program, but slipped back after the first round of green-flag stops near the one-quarter mark before, fortunately, the fourth caution came out for debris in turn two on lap 65. Pit strategy then became his focus, namely a similar strategy to teammates #48-Johnson and #88-Earnhardt, Jr. Unfortunately, this put him in the top 5 only to lose several spots coming off the final corner as he, along with #88-Earnhardt, Jr., slowed dramatically and crept across the finish line in a slow side-by-side battle. Teammate #5-Mears pushed him back around the track after crossing the line.
11) #17-Matt Kenseth Was hoping for the rain to stay with 69 laps to go as staying out had secured him the 2nd spot, but unfortunately, it was not the winning strategy. He pitted just outside his fuel window with 37 to go, but did not run in conservation mode, fearing he would lose too much time on the track to the leaders. This forced him to pit from the 4th position with 19 to go, taking on two tires and some last-minute adjustments. Led 3 laps.
12) #88-Dale Earnhardt, Jr. Gradually moved into the top 10 after starting 12th, but by the late stages was complaining about his car’s handling and found himself having to stretch his fuel along with teammates #48-Johnson and #24-J. Gordon. Off the final corner, he ran out of gas at the same time as #24-J. Gordon while the two were running in the top 5, the two creeping across the finish line and losing a few spots in the process. Led 1 lap.
13) #16-Greg Biffle Qualified a solid 9th and remained around the top 15 for much of the day, then stayed out when the rains came with 73 to go and found himself in 4th. The strategy allowed him to lead a couple laps when #9-Kahne finally pitted with 46 to go, then pitted for the final time with 22 to go. Led 2 laps.
14) #12-Ryan Newman Looked very quick after qualifying 6th and making a daring four-wide move coming into turn one that got him back into the top 10 on lap 73. Unfortunately, when the race resumed after the rain-forced red flag with 66 laps to go, he smacked the outside wall coming off turn three, which messed-up his car’s handling. Nearly collided with #99-Edwards as he came into his pit stall during the final crucial stops with 35 to go.
15) #1-Martin Truex, Jr. NO NOTES
16) #28-Travis Kvapil NO NOTES
17) #45-Chad McCumbee (R) Making his first points race of the season, he made contact with #07-Bowyer in the first 7 laps when he broke loose and slid up into the left-rear tire of #07-Bowyer. He lost a lap during one of the following green-flag runs, but got it back as the Lucky Dog when rain on the back half of the track brought out the sixth caution on lap 73.
18) #70-Tony Raines The team scored its second consecutive strong qualifying run by starting 18th and, despite missing his pit stall under the fourth caution, succeeded in finishing where he started with a very respectable run.
19) #84-A.J. Allmendinger Though noticeably absent from the lead pack after his strong runs here in June and at Indianapolis the previous week, he still secured another top 20 finish.
20) #21-Bill Elliott Respectable finish for the five-time Pocono winner in his final start at the track. Led 1 lap.
21) #31-Jeff Burton Received a pit road penalty for an “uncontrolled tire” with 34 to go, dropping him out of contention.
22) #5-Casey Mears Pushed teammate #24-J. Gordon back around the track after #24-J. Gordon ran out of gas coming to the finish line.
23) #11-Denny Hamlin His 100th Cup start seemed to come at an auspicious time as he had always been a threat for the win at this track, but luck did not quite go his way. At the start, he moved up from the 14th starting spot to become a fixture in the top 10. By staying out, he moved up to 3rd when the rain-forced red flag flew with 69 to go. When the race restarted, he pitted with 46 to go, knowing he would have to make another stop, which he made with 26 to go, dropping him further back.
24) #00-Michael McDowell (R) The top-finishing rookie of the race for the fourth time this season (as #45-McCumbee is not competing for 2008 Rookie-of-the-Year honors), he went down a lap early, but received the Lucky Dog under the fourth caution of the day on lap 65 when debris was spotted in turn two.
25) #01-Regan Smith (R) Went down a lap early, but received the Lucky Dog under the fifth caution when debris was spotted in turn 3 on lap 87.
26) #77-Sam Hornish, Jr. (R) Was sitting in 8th when the rains brought out the red flag with 69 to go and, after stalling on pit road when the cars refired to resume the race, was able to get his car going and lined back up in the 8th spot. Like teammate #12-Newman, he slapped the wall with the right-rear of his car with 55 laps to go and dropped back, eventually making his final stop with 19 to go.
27) #19-Elliott Sadler NO NOTES
28) #83-Brian Vickers His 8th-place qualifying run looked to be hinting at a repeat of his strong runner-up finish in June, but he slipped from the top 10 early and, as one of the cars who stayed out when the red flag flew for rain with 69 to go, could only hold onto 9th if the rain persisted.
29) #66-Scott Riggs Despite qualifying 40th and having to start at the very back of the pack after an engine change, he was still enjoying an excellent run that rivaled his performance in June, this time remaining in the top 10 for longer periods of time by gambling on fuel. With weather on its way with 97 to go, he was running 18th, but still holding on to defend his 35th place owner’s points ranking. He was 10th during the red flag with 69 to go as one of the cars that stayed out. He climbed up to 3rd with 41 to go as the other cars on his sequence were pitting before he himself pitted with 39 to go, then tried to stretch it the rest of the way, moving up to 7th with 26 to go. Unfortunately, the gamble did not pay off and his car was seen stopped on the apron in turn three after the checkered flag, necessitating a push from a wrecker. Led 1 lap.
30) #44-David Reutimann Was running around the top 20 in the early going and was far enough up in the field to be 7th when the rain forced the red flag with 69 to go. He was chased up the track by #99-Edwards as #99-Edwards was flying back up through the pack with 51 to go and, fortunately, did not make contact with the wall. Like #66-Riggs, his decent run was undermined when he ran out of fuel on the final lap, his car seen being pushed by a wrecker down the Long Pond straight after the checkered flag.
31) #22-Dave Blaney NO NOTES
32) #10-Terry Labonte Filling in for #10-Carpentier, who was competing in the rain-soaked Nationwide race in Montreal, he scuffed the car off the turn three wall in qualifying, but qualified a respectable 25th, avoiding having to use a past champion’s provisional.
33) #43-Bobby Labonte NO NOTES
34) #38-David Gilliland Was the biggest surprise in qualifying when he turned in his season-best qualifying run of 3rd and was very competitive for much of the race, passing #24-J. Gordon to re-take his 3rd spot on lap 12. Running 5th on lap 36, he reported an intermittent vibration, but was still able to remain near the front. Trying to reach his fuel window in the final 50 laps, however, he ran out of gas coming off turn two and coasted onto pit road.
35) #41-Reed Sorenson Ran out of fuel coming into turn one with 37 to go and had to coast around the track, fortunately making it onto pit road and not bringing out a caution.
36) #18-Kyle Busch Determined to avenge his last-place finish in the June event, he raced up very hard from his 27th place starting spot, so hard that his car often trailed black brake dust going into turn one, so hard, in fact, that he got very loose driving deep into turn one on lap 28 and made a miraculous save to keep from tagging the wall. He made his way up to 11th by lap 40. Unfortunately, he lost time pitting under green on lap 52 when he slid through his pit stall and had to back up. Just before the seventh caution with 63 to go, he also slapped the outside wall coming off turn one. Running 5th with just 2 laps to go, he abruptly dove onto pit road for fuel, then stalled the car and sped off pit road, forcing a pass-through penalty that became moot as the race was practically over.
37) #7-Robby Gordon The right side of his car was visibly damaged from an undisclosed encounter with the outside wall when he started to come off pit road when the track was dried following the sixth caution of the day. Went down a lap earlier, likely from repairing the damage from hitting the wall, and got the Lucky Dog under the seventh caution with 63 to go.
38) #2-Kurt Busch Scrubbed the wall coming off turn three during his qualifying lap, but stayed in the gas and qualified 10th. Problems found him early in the race, however, when, while racing #24-J. Gordon for 3rd, he broke loose after getting his left-side tires off the pavement strip in turn three and spun down the track, fortunately not hitting anything in the process. He stayed out when the red flag flew with 69 to go and was 6th sitting on pit road at the time. With 41 to go, he found himself leading as the other cars who stayed out pitted entering the final 50 laps, but his car was extremely loose and he ran out of gas coming off turn 2 with 39 to go. Led 5 laps.
39) #96-J.J. Yeley His car slowed off turn three with a possible engine failure with just 4 laps remaining. The race turned out to be his final start with Hall of Fame Racing as, the following Wednesday, Nationwide Series driver Brad Coleman was tabbed to take over after road racer P.J. Jones was going to drive the car at Watkins Glen.
40) #42-Juan Pablo Montoya After narrowly avoiding involvement in the first caution on lap 1 when #29-Harvick almost spun up into him on the outside off turn two, he lost a lap under the caution when he pitted for a plugwire problem. Fortunately, he got his lap back as the Lucky Dog when the second caution came out for #2-Ku. Busch’s spin on lap 7. In the 21 laps following the competition caution on lap 21, he gained 12 spots up to the 23rd position and looked to be getting back into contention. Unfortunately, bad luck found him again when his engine blew with 55 laps to go right after the race was restarted following the seventh caution of the race. Oil from his car was visible at the very bottom of the track, but NASCAR did not throw the caution as it was outside the racing groove.
41) #78-Joe Nemechek Brought out the first caution of the day when, on the very first lap, he dove under #29-Harvick coming into turn two and clipped #29-Harvick’s left-rear quarter panel, causing the two to spin off the corner in the middle of the field. Miraculously, neither he nor #29-Harvick hit the wall or any cars, but he did break a few splitter struts during the spin that had to be replaced. He was also levied a pass-through penalty for a pit infraction under green on lap 55. With 63 to go, he brought out the seventh caution exactly the same way as he brought out the first, this time getting his nose under #15-Menard in turn two, only this time the two plowed the outside wall, his car pinching #15-Menard’s against the fence.
42) #15-Paul Menard Was taken out in the seventh caution of the day with 63 to go when #78-Nemechek clipped him in the right-rear and spun him into the fence, the front of #78-Nemechek’s car crumpling the left-front fender of his Chevrolet.
43) #55-Michael Waltrip For the second week in a row, terrible luck early in the race resulted in a last-place finish. This time, the problem was mechanical, a failing engine dropping him 5 mph off the pace on lap 18. Working to make the most of a bad situation, he held on until the third caution on lap 21, a competition caution in lieu of Saturday’s rained-out practice session, and led a lap by staying out an extra circuit with smoke puffing from his exhaust pipes. He surrendered the lead soon after and went behind the wall. Led 1 lap.

#34-Chad Chaffin

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