Thank God it's over... The "Race to The Chase" (for the Nextel Cup) that is. If the week itself wasn't stressful enough for teams and fans alike, Saturday night's Chevy Rock 'n Roll 400 at Richmond International Raceway was almost too much to take.
It was a fun race to watch, from a racing standpoint. Richmond usually is - as are most short-track races. It being at night makes it even better. And for the several-minute commercial breaks that occur every ten laps of racing or so, at least there was the OSU-UT football game to switch over to. I'll give TNT credit. They actually pre-empted a commercial (albeit a NASCAR one) to come back for a caution when Tony Stewart punted Sterling Marlin (before punting himself right out of The Chase... better luck next year, Tony). NASCAR's Poster-Boy For Patience (Stewart) deserved to get slapped around for spinning Marlin. Smoke had crashed his primary car in practice Friday, and qualified 40th in his backup. He was about to go a lap down when he gave Marlin the heave-ho, but Marlin kept his cool.I just wish Marlin had gotten him back.
Speaking of paybacks - at least Marlin had a gripe. Jeff Green got parked after spinning Jimmie Johnson in retribution for an earlier incident between the 48 and 66 cars. Johnson was behind Green in the high line going through turns one and two when Robbie "Crash" Gordon slipped up out of the low line and in front of Green's #66 Best Buy Chevy. Green checked up, and Johnson got into him enough to spin the 66 into the outside wall. That was a racing deal, pure and simple. Just like when Carl Edwards was running side-by-side with JJ later into one, got loose, and the two pirouetted like they were trying out for "Dancing With The Stars". Neither car was seriously damaged in the spin, and it was pretty cool looking, as far as spins go.
Later, the 41 of Reed Sorenson bumped Johnson, sending him for a twirl in turn four. Again, JJ kept the Lowe's Chevy off the wall, righted the ship, and continued. Then Green showed up and wrecked Johnson under the caution, earning the 66 a Game Misconduct penalty and having to park for the duration. NASCAR is cracking down on the payback stuff, and it's too bad they didn't hit Stewart for aggressive driving for what he did to Marlin. Oh well... Stewart's out of The Chase, and that puts a smile on my face. (I there there might be a country song there, if I were so inclined.)
So for the third week in a row... Yes, a pattern has formed here... The same driver won the Busch and Cup races for the weekend sweep. First it was Matt Kenseth turning the double at Bristol, then middle-age woman heartthrob Kasey Kahne pulled it off last week at Fontana, California, and now Kevin Harvick has pulled out the broom at Richmond. He's only six or seven-hundred points ahead of Carl Edwards in the Busch points, so that deal is pretty much a given. But he's third in Cup, and now only 10 points behind Matt Kenseth going into The Chase. Helluva run for Happy Harvick. He may pull it off this year. I'm impressed with how he's matured this season, and with how RCR has gotten it's stuff together to have two cars in The Chase (Harvick and teammate Jeff Burton) and have the number two rookie in Clint Bowyer, who may well win a race before the year is out, but should finish a respectable 15th or so in points.
So the aforementioned Kasey Kahne drove his ass off again tonight, to lead a lap and finish third behind Harvick and Shrub (Kyle Busch). Kahne is impressive in that car. Not to mention he's got chicks of all ages dying for him to airbrush their toenails or take them for a ride... in his car. (Yeah, right... insert comment here.) I liked Ray Evernham as Jeff Gordon's Crew Chief, and I like him as an owner. He knows how to develop talent, and in case no one noticed it, Scott Riggs finished 10th tonight. So after having first, 13th and 16th last week, Evernham cars were third, 10th, and 16th this week. A good sign for what has become the premier Dodge team, as Penske's cars have fallen off this season.
Now for the nitty-gritty. My man Jeff Gordon made The Chase. Praise God! I wasn't too thrilled with how the DuPont Chevy was running in practice Friday, and certainly not feeling too jiggy with his tenuous hold on fourth in the points - being Virginia is for lovers, but Richmond ain't so kind to JG of late (though Martinsville has been a strong suit of not only the 24 but the 48 as well). He drew the number two qualifying spot... Oh, joy. Not so good I thought, until his time held up against all but two comers, and so he would start third, and get a primo pit stall. (Important so you don't get blocked in and lose time).
Then the race started and things went to Hell in a handbasket real soon. The DuPont car was going fast... backwards real fast in the standings. All Jeff had to do was finish 25th or better, and he was set. No real problem, since his career average finish at RIR is 15th. But NOOOOOOOOOOO! The car, the track, the racing gods were not going to cooperate tonight, and Jeff would go one, then two laps down to teammate Shrub. TNT was good to keep us actively informed of who was where in the standings regarding The Chase. Luckily Jeff would make it in due to Tony Stewart's poor performance, and would probably have been ok with how Junior was falling back as well.
I'm just glad that's over, and we can get on to The Chase now. I think the 24 team will settle down, and start cranking out some really impressive runs down the stretch. I don't know if they'll win the Cup, but they have gotten their mid-track program together - and that covers Kansas and Miami, possibly Phoenix as well. Their cars are good at Atlanta and Charlotte, but can be flaky here at Texas. Talladega and Martinsville are definite possibilities for wins, as long as he avoids trouble - especially at 'dega. New Hampshire is a place he normally runs good, but didn't earlier this year. Hopefully that was an abberration.
So who wins the Nextel Cup this year? I can't say for sure. But it's a good field and will be fun to watch. I hope Gordon pulls off his fifth one. Jimmie Johnson and Kyle Busch could finish second and third, with Kahne fourth, but I don't think Matt Kenseth and Kevin Harvick are going to be on board with that plan.
But that's what makes it so much fun to watch. At least I can thumb my nose at Stewart fans for the duration...
Go Jeff Gordon, GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!