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NASCAR News - Sports News | Archive October 27, 2009

 

Fryer’s Five: Hamlin plays second fiddle

By Jenna Fryer
October 27, 2009


Denny Hamlin won at Martinsville Speedway for the second time.

There ya go, Denny. There’s your top billing.

In the midst of yet another championship year for Jimmie Johnson, everybody else is feeling a bit ignored. It’s Johnson this and Johnson that as the three-time defending Sprint Cup champion marches toward a record fourth title, and his dominance has left little room in the spotlight for anybody else.

So after Hamlin beat Johnson on Sunday at Martinsville for his career-best third victory of the season, Hamlin challenged the media to give his win some attention.

“I’m sure on the Web sites tomorrow there will be … 12 stories, and there will be one about how much this guy lost to Jimmie, how much this guy lost to Jimmie, how much Jimmie gained,” Hamlin said. “Stretched his point lead will be about three or four stories, and then mine will be in that little column, ‘Denny Hamlin wins at Martinsville for the second time.’…”

He sure did, holding on over several late restarts next to Johnson to grab the victory he could have had in the spring. Hamlin was leading late in the March race when Johnson knocked him out of his way to grab his fifth win in six races at Martinsville.

Hamlin was deeply disappointed by that defeat, but turned it into a learning experience and vowed to himself that he would not let Johnson do that to him again. And, if given the chance, he’d return the favor.

But NASCAR had yet to establish the double-file restart rule when Johnson beat Hamlin in March, so the circumstances were different on Sunday. Johnson had restarted in the spring on Hamlin’s back bumper, making it easier to nudge him out of the way.

The double-file restarts had them lined up side-by-side on Sunday, and it gave Hamlin the peace of mind he needed to hold off the champion.

“You actually feel a little bit better with him being on the outside of you than you do right behind you on a restart,” he said. “If I can clear him, then he’s going to have to deal with the guy running third, and it looked like they kind of were mixing it up a little bit, so that helped me stretch it out a little bit.”

Hamlin’s victory moved him up two spots in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship standings to ninth, but still a whopping 352 points behind Johnson. It doesn’t at all indicate how strong Hamlin has been in this Chase, leading at least one lap in five of the six races so far, but failing to secure the finishes he needed to stay in contention.

One, the wreck while leading late at California, was his fault. But the mechanical failure at Charlotte two races ago was out of his control, and it officially sunk his title chances.

Had Hamlin’s engine made it to the end at Charlotte, maybe it would have been him celebrating in victory lane after the race instead of Johnson. And then maybe he still moves on to Martinsville and Sunday’s result is the same.

Then all of a sudden he’s perhaps back in the title hunt, sharing some of Johnson’s spotlight.

But that’s not the way it worked out, and the facts remain the same: Johnson has not made mistakes and has not suffered any bad luck. He’s won three of the six Chase races and has commanding control of the title hunt.

There’s not a lot anyone can do, Hamlin included, to change the facts.


But, there are non-Johnson stories out there. Here are five of them:

1.        Mark Martin isn’t ready to wave the white flag: The sentimental favorite to win the championship this season has seen his shot at his first Cup title slip away the past two weeks.

Martin’s 90-point deficit stretched to 118 points after Martinsville, where he finished eighth to lose more ground on his Hendrick Motorsports teammate.

Talladega, though, remains the wild card, and Martin has refused to count himself out of contention until after this weekend’s race. Martin has made no secret over the years of his dislike for the Alabama race track, where he has two career victories, five DNFs due to accidents and 11 finishes of 30th or worse.

The good news? He finished last there in April, and odds are pretty good he’ll have a better finish this weekend.

“Somehow or another I just feel lucky about this one,” Martin said recently. “If you can wreck on lap five of the last one there, something tells me I ought to be able to miss it this time. That’s about as bad of luck as you can have.”

Martin is still second in the points, and for as much as he wants to give crew chief Alan Gustafson and the No. 5 team a title, he’s never made this year about winning a championship. A four-time runner-up for the Cup championship, he long ago learned heartache is not the end result of a five-win season.

“I don’t want having an incredible year to cause us to be disappointed by not scoring more points than everybody in the thing,” Martin explained. “We will win it if it’s meant to be. But if it’s not, we won’t. We’re giving it everything we’ve got.”

2.        Thank goodness Juan Pablo Montoya has a sense of humor: The Colombian driver brushed off the offensive “joke” made by ESPN college football commentator Bob Griese over the weekend, and it wasn’t about taking the high road.

Montoya has never let his nationality define him during his racing career, proven several times this season when he was asked about the significance of potentially becoming the first foreign-born champion in NASCAR. He consistently dismissed the relevance, and has chosen not to make being a Colombian – as opposed to, say, being a Californian – an issue.

So he didn’t get worked up about Griese, who when asked Saturday where Montoya was in an ESPN promo for Sunday’s race responded that the driver “was out having a taco.” Griese has apologized twice on-air since making the remark.

Montoya said he only heard about it in passing.

“Somebody mentioned it to me,” he said. “I don’t really care to tell you the truth. Yeah, I don’t. I could say I spent the last three hours eating tacos, but I was actually driving a car.”

Johnson, who had just taken his seat next to Montoya on the podium, then jumped in.

“Can you save some tacos for me?” he asked Montoya. “I love tacos.”

Everyone was laughing in the end, but I still wonder if the remark had been made about a star in one of the four major sports, would anyone have found it funny?

3.        Kyle Busch showed signs of life at Martinsville: His fourth-place finish was the highest for Busch since he missed the Chase six weeks ago, and that’s not at all how anyone expected Busch to respond to his adversity.

When he failed to make the 10-driver field, the belief was that Busch would roll off a string of dominating runs to make his presence known during the Chase. Instead, he’s flown so far under the radar that his crummy finishes at Dover, Kansas and Fontana went mostly unnoticed.

Granted, he battled a bout of pneumonia during that time and David Gilliland actually finished the race for him at Fontana, where Busch was credited with a 24th-place finish.

So it was good to see him snap back on Sunday, when he charged through the field from the 41st-starting spot to grab his best finish since his win at Bristol in August. He has four more weeks to salvage this season, but larger issues remain with his Joe Gibbs Racing team.

Namely, will Busch be back with crew chief Steve Addington next season?

What seemed to be a non-issue just six weeks ago has suddenly gathered steam as JGR officials continue to ponder how to get Busch to the next level.

Team president J.D. Gibbs believes much of Busch’s issues right now are confidence-related – when he’s winning, he’s unstoppable, but when Busch is in a slump it seriously messes with his mind.

But that doesn’t mean his crew is immune from changes.

“As far as the Addington crew piece, from our standpoint, we just want to make sure we have the right tools, the right people in the right place at JGR,” Gibbs said. “We think we do. We think we have a great group of crew chiefs to engineers to guys on the shop floor, across the whole board.”

What’s happened to Busch this season is not Addington’s fault. And remember, Addington is the guy who helped Busch rocket out of the gate following his firing from Hendrick Motorsports.

Together, they’ve won 12 races over the past two seasons, including four this season, and had it not been for several fluke incidents Busch would have made the Chase.

If JGR plans to replace Addington, and the logical choice would be with Nationwide Series crew chief Dave Rogers, one would think the team would do it sooner than later. Why not get a head start on 2010 if the plan is to make a change?

Then again, maybe getting ready for next season has nothing to do with Addington at all.

4.        There’s some hard racing going on behind Johnson: Namely between Montoya and Jeff Gordon, who traded a little, uh, paint on Sunday.

The two bumped each other a bit at Martinsville, and Montoya’s aggression led Gordon to wonder if he’d done something to make Montoya mad.

“I didn’t understand why he was just driving into me for no reason,” Gordon said. “But hey, that is Martinsville. That’s kind of the way he drives. And I just tried not to make him mad anymore and race him as clean as I could. I hope it’s not something that transfers over because I don’t know really what I did, if I did do something.”

Truth is, Montoya has been frustrated with Gordon for some time, and it boiled over two races ago at Charlotte. Although Montoya’s race was ruined on a restart when he drove into the back of Clint Bowyer, and Martin drove into the back of Montoya to cause damage to both ends of the No. 42, Montoya immediately placed blame for the incident on Gordon.

Over his radio he complained to his crew that the traffic stack-up would not have happened if not for the way Gordon, the leader at the time, restarted the race. Montoya also griped that Gordon had mastered his technique on restarts in a way that messed with the cars behind him.

So, yeah, Montoya had a short fuse Sunday. But once off the race track, he said “we’re OK,” after speaking with Gordon.

“It’s just every time we’ve been around him racing against him, he runs the hell out of me,” Montoya said. “He moved me out of the way before, and he was starting to do the same here. You know, I was running the outside of him and every time, he was just getting wider and wider.

“It’s OK. I never really had a big problem with him, but he’s always so hard to race against. But he probably says the same thing against me.”

5.        There have been few updates on the status of the merger between Richard Petty Motorsports and Yates Racing: But one would believe the deal is still on track based on word that Elliott Sadler will drive a Yates Ford this weekend at Talladega.

It appears that might open the door for AJ Allmendinger to get into a Ford before the end of the season, as well.

George Gillett, majority owner of RPM, has said the team will be in Fords next season regardless of whether the deal goes through or not. But the fact that Yates is providing RPM a car at least signals that the deal is still alive.

There’s probably still a ton of issues looming – remember, Gillett wasn’t sure where the engines will come from, which shop the new team will use, who will drive for RPM next season, and how many cars the new team will field – but getting a Ford on the track now is the first step to making sure they are ready for 2010.

The rest will apparently be sorted out as we go.

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Andretti believes NASCAR was right to make late caution call at Martinsville

By The Canadian Press (CP)
October 27, 2009


John Andretti defended NASCAR's decision not to throw a caution when he couldn't move his disabled car from the finish line at Martinsville Speedway on Sunday.

Andretti crashed on the frontstretch during the next to lap of the race, and NASCAR apparently believed he could move his car out of the way in time for the field to race its way across the finish line. Because he couldn't, the caution wasn't called until the cars were coming out of the final turn and quickly closing in on Andretti.

"It wasn't a bad call," Andretti said in a statement on Monday. "To me, I wasn't in a great position, but I wasn't in an overly dangerous position. NASCAR focuses on the race itself, and they want to see the winner come across the finish line.

"It's probably the call I would've made. I would've gotten out of the way if I could've. But I had a couple of issues. The car was too damaged."

It's second time since the start of the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship that NASCAR waited until the last moment to call a caution for an accident near the start/finish line. A similar incident occurred last month in the Chase opener at New Hampshire.

Three-time defending champion Jimmie Johnson, who finished second, said NASCAR was consistent with its effort of waiting as long as possible to throw the caution in an effort to not spoil an exciting finish.

But, "it makes me a little nervous as I'm charging into the start/finish line and there's a car sitting there," he said. "I wish it would be thrown a little bit earlier for safety reasons. Might as well be on the safe side."

Race-winner Denny Hamlin said he thought Andretti's car did not pose a threat to the other competitors and NASCAR made the right call.

"I think they're at least doing a good job of not letting it affect the top five finishing positions," he said. "They're doing all they can. They don't know what's going on inside that race car, if that guy has given up on starting it or is he continuing to try to get it going. I think as long as they let it play out, it's fine."

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Time to give Johnson credit he deserves

By Ricky Craven
October 27, 2009


Jimmie Johnson’s historic run in the Sprint Cup Series has been an extreme display of talent, determination and professionalism. Anyone critical of this is completely “out to lunch.”

Here is my argument why:

He’s a professional: Johnson has had three and a half years of near perfection in the Chase, having won over 30 percent of all Chase races. What is missed, perhaps, are the details in how he has won them. Johnson has won simply on speed and ability, and his most recent win is an example of that.

He ran under Jeff Gordon in the final few laps of the Charlotte race, which doesn’t seem difficult, but it is. I understand that most of you have never experienced a side-by-side battle at 180 mph, so let me try and put it into perspective.

Anytime you run under another driver you are immediately penalized with having the track become narrower. Remember that to pass you need to be faster than the driver you are alongside, and in order to do that you either drive with more throttle deeper in the corner, return to the throttle sooner exiting the corner, or both. Either creates speed which in turn creates more lateral force through and exiting the turns. That effect, along with the fact you cannot drift to the wall because of the car to your outside, typically results in the driver on the inside surrendering. That, or both cars are wrecked.

All of this is magnified the faster the track, and Charlotte’s smooth surface, combined with nighttime temperatures, made the speeds extreme.

Also, with so many of his competitors having trouble or running poorly, it would have seemed reasonable, even logical, for Johnson to be content with second place. Without any risk, he could have secured the fabulous points night and continued his march toward a fourth straight title.

Instead, Johnson ran qualifying-type laps underneath his teammate, in conditions ripe for disaster. When Johnson lost the rear of his car through Turns 3 and 4, he showed all of his ability, which is exceptional. When he dropped back to regain his composure just long enough to make another charge and finish what he started, his refusal to settle for “a good points day” reflected how he’s operated throughout this consecutive title runs.

It’s special.

Focus on the facts: Some suggest Jimmie Johnson has an advantage because he is a Hendrick Motorsports driver. I say Hendrick Motorsports has the advantage because Jimmie Johnson is driving their cars and Chad Knaus is tuning them.

Johnson has competed in seven full seasons beginning in 2002, never finishing outside the top five in the standings. Some of his Hendrick teammates have been the best in the business, but none at Hendrick Motorsports other than Johnson have won a title since he joined them. That’s convincing enough to quit suggesting that Hendrick Motorsports’ engines and chassis are a powerful asset toward winning a title, but certainly not a guarantee.

Don’t blame Johnson. Blame the competition: Johnson has not inherited the Sprint Cup Series title. He took it from the competition in 2006, the same way Tony Stewart demanded it before him and Jeff Gordon before Stewart.

During my career, whenever a shift of dominance has taken place, it has been the result of someone coming along who wants it more than whomever currently retains it. Whoever that dominating driver is, I’ve seen similarities in that they have a complete disdain for losing. They recognize no barriers, seldom make excuses and eventually prevail. Jeff Gordon needed that type of attitude and approach to wrestle the title from Dale Earnhardt in 1995.

For more than two and a half years, I’ve suggested Johnson keeps his title because I have not seen (to date) any driver more determined, more focused or more committed.

Johnson is in the “sweet spot” of his career. He is married, but he has no children, which allows him to give more focus toward his career. (Anyone with children understands the mental tug of war that can exist from being away from your family.)

I contend that two young drivers with the potential of challenging Jimmie Johnson are missing this key point: You cannot be exceptional at more than one thing, period.
Both Carl Edwards and Kyle Busch have the talent to compete with Johnson. The question is, do they have the focus?

As long as they are full-timers in the Nationwide Series, I can’t foresee either driver challenging Johnson. You cannot give your crew chief, engineers and pit crew the time and information they need when you’re climbing from one type of car, delivering a few quick words to describe how it feels, and then climbing into a Nationwide car for an hour of practice.

This new car is just too unique for drivers to benefit from splitting their attention. Just look at the top six drivers in the standings. Each one’s primary focus is on the Sprint Cup Series. That speaks volumes to me.

So is it over? I say it is over as long as the final five races for Johnson are not affected mechanically or by those things he cannot control. I say Jimmie Johnson and the 48 team are just too good, too often to be beat right now.

You cannot ignore the talent of drivers like Mark Martin, Jeff Gordon or Tony Stewart or the surprising strength Juan Pablo Montoya. They all have a chance. But they’ve all also acknowledged Jimmie Johnson as being a great champion.

Nobody knows drivers better than drivers. In light of this, perhaps everyone else needs to give Jimmie Johnson the same credit.

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Bodine looking for third straight win at Talladega

By Sports Network
October 27, 2009

Todd Bodine is hoping no trick will interfere with his attempt at a fifth straight superspeedway victory. Bodine has won the last two races at both Daytona and Talladega. He finished fourth the first time the series competed at Talladega in 2006.

"You have to be smart when you race at Talladega," Bodine said. "If you get too anxious or rambunctious, you end up getting in trouble."

In the '06 race, Bodine was penalized for dipping below the yellow line while battling Mark Martin for the victory in the final laps. Martin went on to win the race.

Ron Hornaday Jr. comes to Talladega with a comfortable 224-point lead. Hornaday padded his lead over Matt Crafton with a fourth-place finish at Martinsville. Timothy Peters picked up his first series win in last Saturday's race.

Hornaday has finished 10th or better in the first three races at Talladega. He finished second there last year. With four races remaining, Hornaday is looking to become the first driver in series history to win four championships.

Talladega will be a treat for one of NASCAR's most famous families. For the first time in NASCAR, a father and daughter will compete in a national touring series race. Mike Wallace and his 21-year-old daughter, Chrissy, will race against each other.

"As we have for many years, the Wallace tradition is very long-tied to NASCAR as far as my brothers -- Rusty and Kenny and myself," Mike Wallace said. "Chrissy and Steven are making a living now, and I'm just really excited about the opportunity to show up there and be part of NASCAR history."

Mike Wallace has competed in the series since its inception in 1995, while Chrissy Wallace made her truck debut in March at Martinsville.

"Racing against my dad, it's something that we've always wanted to do," Chrissy Wallace said. "It's something that means a lot to me, and I think it's a good thing for me and him both. Hopefully I'll wind up beating him."

Thirty-eight teams are on the preliminary entry list for the Mountain Dew 250.

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