This weekend's racing makes it easy to find the negatives. The crash of Elliott Sadler. The continuing dispute between Kurt Busch and Jimmie Johnson. The safety issues of Pocono. The horrible TV coverage ranging from a 45-minute delay for Tennis during the Nationwide Race to the lack of camera coverage during the Sprint Cup race. The finger pointing over the fines. The discouraging and continuing decline of the 88 team. All would be easy to pull out and discuss.
Then I thought about it. After consulting folks with vast race and mechanical knowledge and actually working the piece to its completion, I decided it was time to take a different approach. Everyone wants to talk about what went wrong and what didn't work. Let's talk about the things that went right and did work.
Let's start with the beginning of the weekend. The opening of the solar power plant by the track was impressive. The plant will serve its community as well as the track with an alternate energy source that is both clean and renewable. The track showed itself to be Earth responsible as well as competitive with its advancement.
Also announcing coming safety changes to the track itself, Pocono and the Mattoli family showed their dedication to the sport and its loyalty and concern for its drivers in all series. Kudos for being an advocate of the planet and some of the heroes we have on it.
The short and sweet races for the trucks and ARCA were both refreshing and exciting. The racing was good and close. It was physical at times but for the most part it was good clean racing. 100 laps was plenty. It didn't get stale or boring, and it kept drivers and teams on their toes.
The Craftsman Trucks tried a new qualifying procedure, staggering three trucks at a time on the track for two laps. Although the procedure is fairly new to NASCAR, it has been utilized successfully in other racing series around the world. It worked well for the trucks cutting the time of qualifying in half. Although most fans will require more education as to how the procedure works, it was a bright spot to the weekend to see it work so efficiently and well.
We saw a familiar truck team up front this week in KHI, but this time with a crowd favorite behind the wheel. Elliott Sadler's patience and skill was so evident as he wheeled the Number 2 GT Vodka Chevy to a victory. It was a hard fought one even though he started on the pole.
Elliott's win was a popular one after seeing the struggles that the young man has gone through in recent years. His passion and dedication showed through the near tears in victory lane. Many thanks on behalf of the fans to Elliott for still carrying that passion and to Kevin and Delana Harvick for believing and giving him a chance to show it.
ARCA was also a short but sweet action packed race, with a first time winner in Robb Brent. The very talented young man drove a race punctuated with great car control and poise. He showed he is a name and face to be remembered, holding his own against the wily veterans and other winners on the ARCA circuit.
The Nationwide race was tainted by poor planning and coverage on ESPN's part but showed itself to be worthy of the wait. Although dominated by the series champion Kyle Busch, the racing was intense and scattered throughout the field.
Marred by two scary looking wrecks, all drivers walked away and were unhurt. Having been denied in the inaugural running last year by Brad Keselowski, Kyle Busch was not to be denied this year. In a car that was obviously the dominant horse throughout the evening, Kyle won the show easily, taking home the gas pump trophy from the Rusty Wallace designed Iowa Speedway.
The Sprint Cup race was again the least exciting of the weekend of racing. It was marred by a delayed start due to rain and then drug on past the point of entertainment throughout the afternoon. Most of the fans who watched in its entirety did so out of discipline and dedication. The racing was a follow the leader display that we have seen way too often at the too long Penn 400.
In the late going the race was marred by one of the most scary wrecks we have seen in competition this year or in many years. Jimmie Johnson turned Kurt Busch in an attempt to bump draft, causing Kurt to spin up the track and impact the outside retaining wall hard. The Miller Dodge lost a wheel and severely further damaged the car with impact to the inside guard rail as well. Lost in the initial coverage was perhaps the scariest part of the crash. In fact, ESPN, the leader in sports coverage had no view to show at all.
Attempting to slow his car in traffic, Elliott Sadler was hit from behind by AJ Allmendinger. The impact sent Elliott on a wild slide through the grass and into a 90 degree corner of the retaining bank and guard rail, flush head on.
Slinging the engine of the number 19 Ford and most of its front end across the infield grass as the car came to a stop in the middle of the track, Sadler climbed from the car in obvious pain and laid down on the track for several minutes before being tended to by safety crew people. He was treated and released from the infield care center and had the following to say:
“I’m fine. I’m okay. I’m a little sore, I think, from where the belts grabbed me. It knocked the breath out of me pretty good, but it’s definitely the hardest hit I’ve ever had in a race car. These new cars are built to be safer and if I can get out of that and walk through that, I think it did its job. I’m not sure what happened. I know some guys got spun out or moved around up in front of us, and I saw some smoke. Everybody started checking up and I checked up, but whoever was behind did not and ran in the back of us and knocked me down through the grass. It’s not the day we wanted to have with the U.S. Air Force Ford. It’s just a tough day.”
After a red flag for clean up that was followed by four laps of yellow and then another red flag for rain, the race restarted with 20 laps to go. Greg Biffle took the lead from Tony Stewart five laps later and never looked back. Mired in traffic the Dupont Chevy, which was arguably the best car all day, could never mount a return charge to the front and finished a disappointing sixth.
The victory for Biffle was made more special by the fact that Car Owner Jack Roush, who was injured in a plane crash late last week, was still hospitalized at the Mayo Clinic following two surgeries. The win was the first for Biffle in 64 races. Roush released a statement from his hospital bed on Sunday, calling it, "a proud day for the entire organization."
The new car proved its worth despite its lack of raceability sometimes. Its safety design combined with the Hans device very obviously saved Elliott Sadler's life on Sunday. Although we often tend to be critical of the COT because of its shortcomings, safety is definitely not one of them. In the last three years NASCAR drivers have seen no less than nine serious and life threatening crashes. All walked away with minimal, if any, injuries. That is an incredible record amongst the twisted and sheared sheet metal, a record that all NASCAR fans should be thankful for.
Congratulations to Elliott Sadler and KHI on their win in the Craftsman Truck Series and to Robb Brent and Allgaier Motorsports on their ARCA win in Pocono. Congratulations to Kyle Busch and JGR on their Nationwide Victory at Iowa, and congratulations of course to Greg Biffle and Roush Fenway Racing for their victory in the American Red Cross/Pennsylvania 400. Get well Jack Roush; you are missed. Your contributions to the safety of the drivers of this sport once again showed their worth and importance.
That said, to all the competitors in all the series thanks for giving us everything you have to give. You are our heroes. Most importantly though, thanks to all the families who share their loved ones with us each and every week so that we can cheer our favorite drivers and teams. You are the true heroes of the sport, and we are forever in your debt.