Carfax 400:Winners and Losers

Patti RodischAnalyst IAugust 16, 2009

BROOKLYN, MI - AUGUST 16:  Brian Vickers, driver of the #83 Red Bull Toyota, celebrates with his crew in victory lane after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series CARFAX 400 at Michigan International Speedway on August 16, 2009 in Brooklyn, Michigan.  (Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images for NASCAR)

The big boys headed to the big track in Michigan for the second and final time in 2009. The track has changed somewhat from the early June race, it’s hot and slick.

If the race today is anything like the race on Saturday in the Nationwide series we were in for a show and that is exactly what we got.

Check out this week’s winners and losers in Michigan.

 

Winners:

 

Brian Vickers

On Saturday, Brian Vickers in post race remarks reminded us that the Nationwide series is not the Kyle Busch show, and on Sunday Vickers was the show as well. Well, at least the supporting actor to Jimmie Johnson dominating performance.

Vickers won the pole for Sunday’s race and although he lost the lead early, he never really fell out of contention.

Vickers and his team lost the handling a bit mid-race but they were able to adjust on the changing conditions and keep with the race track.

As the race went on Vickers though got better and faster and when it came time for fuel conservation Vickers was able to conserve just enough and hold off Jeff Gordon for the win.

Vickers who is only 12 points out of the chase now, put on a show this weekend, dominating in both races.

Vickers who has series leading six poles this year finally was able to close the deal and win his second career race.

Vickers was the show this weekend. Period.

Points: 13th

 

Jeff Gordon

There was lots of talk this week of Gordon’s back, whether he should even show up at Bristol or if he could even get in the car this weekend. Well Gordon not only showed up but also quieted some critics who had written off this team as not contenders for the championship, finishing second.

Gordon had an early draw in qualifying and found himself starting 21st. They quickly began moving forward and when the rain moved in and moved out Steve LeTarte called Gordon in and took just fuel and gained track position.

Gordon fought the same conditions that everyone else did. Track conditions changed sometimes lap to lap, but Gordon and his crew were not only able to gain positions on pit road but were able to pass on the track.

Gordon has run well on mile and half tracks this year, and they have said they are saving their best cars for the chase.

If this wasn’t their best car and they weren't able to move through traffic like they did, the rest of the competition might want to keep an eye on the 24 crew when the Chase starts.

I don’t think you could wipe the smile off the face of Gordon after the race, unless you asked him about his back.

Points: Second

 

Dale Earnhardt Jr.

It hasn’t been a great year for Dale Earnhardt Jr. and as well documented as it has been recently there has been signs of life with this team. Michigan has always been a good track for Earnhardt, being the track where he won his last race in June of 2008.

Earnhardt started off the race struggling back in traffic; he was having trouble with a loose race car and also with traffic. They brought the car in and worked on it, but it wasn’t making much head way.

During a green flag run, they had to bring the car on pit road because of what Earnhardt thought was a vibration, so they changed all four tires. When it all cycled out, Earnhardt remained on the lead lap and soon found himself in the lead late.

He lost the lead when he had to pit, but was able to make a furious run through the top 10 and finished third.

It was a great sign to see him able to move forward and to make positive gains on the car throughout the race.

Junior nation nearly had themselves a win, and if the race was 206 miles he might have won.

Points: 21st

 

Losers:

 

Bobby Labonte

It didn’t take long for Bobby Labonte to know that today was going to be a long day. As soon as the green flag waved, Labonte could hear engine issues and quickly dropped to the rear.

When the caution came out for the rain and then the red flag the team huddled together and made a game plan. They thought it was loose spark plugs so they intended on changing them as soon as it went back to yellow.

They stayed on pit road to give themselves enough time to change the plugs while the rest of the field prepared to make pit stops. Those changes did not work—they pulled to the garage and worked on the second cylinder and had Labonte back on the track ,though 21 laps down.

They went to the garage soon after, falling out of the race.

It hasn’t been an easy year for Labonte, he has struggled adapting to his car and the switch of manufacturers also hasn’t helped him.

He is one of the drivers who may be driving for a ride in 2010. Finishing 43rd on Sunday didn’t help.

Labonte should ask his sponsor ask.com, where is that Yates engine power?

Points: 29th

 

Kurt Busch

For Kurt Busch, he should be glad he was sitting in the top five in the standings, so an accident like this won’t end his chase hunt, but you can bet they sure didn’t need a hit like this that puts them dangerously close to the danger zone.

Busch and David Ragan and Carl Edwards were racing on a restart, Ragan got loose and came down on Kurt Busch who then slammed the inside wall hard, headed for the garage.

His team was furiously making repairs to get him back on the track with points so important, even though a win was not a possibility.

Busch had a great car today. He was struggling with an electrical issue but was able to keep his car in the top 10.

He finished 36th.  

Busch should hope this was his mulligan before the Chase begins.

Points: Sixth

 

Jimmie Johnson

Okay, so it is a bit ridiculous to put him on the loser list after leading a race-high 134 and finishing 33rd. They didn’t have mechanical issues and they didn’t have an accident but they did run out of fuel, again.

Johnson had a fast car all day long as they were up front and had the best car for most of the day. When they did get stuck in traffic Johnson was able to work it perfectly and quickly made his way into the top five.

With the race coming down to fuel mileage Johnson was in conservation mode, but the problem is he didn’t conserve.

Racing hard to take the lead on the final restart and then battling Vickers hard before he ran out of gas once again short of the checkered flag.

Now I do not doubt that Chad Knaus wasn’t telling Johnson to conserve but Johnson couldn’t conserve enough and once again lost a race with a dominating car to fuel mileage.

You’d think instead of racing so hard early in the run, Johnson would have been willing to ride along in second.

Points: Third

 

Lucky Dog: Sam Hornish Jr.

Well it’s been a tough couple weeks for Sam Hornish Jr. After a hard wreck at Watkins Glen, Hornish was looking for a solid run. Well it didn’t start out so solid, he got penalized for fueling twice on pit road.

He was held a lap, and then had to fight back getting the lucky dog on lap 116. Hornish though was able to rebound and top off for fuel and battled for a top five finish in fifth. This was a great run by this team.

While it didn’t look very good early they were able to adjust on the car.

Top five finish, check, car in one piece, check, check.

Points: 26th

 

Final lap

So many people say they should take a race away from this track. Two races in two months, seems a bit much, they question what changes between June and August. Well for one the weather, rain pounding this track changes the grip in a short amount of time.

The heat also affects this race track, and the drivers have found this the track hot and slick.

I like Michigan, it’s big and wide and the drivers can use multiple lanes. The passing happens all around the track and tires are not as important when the speeds level off only a handful of laps into a run.

What a race out there today, every driver was racing 110 percent out there for every point and every position. Some drivers risking a spot in the top 12 for a good finish others, going all out for a win not worrying about what was at stake.

Next up is the racing world’s version of the Coliseum, Bristol Motorspeedway.