400: Winners and Losers

Patti RodischAnalyst IJuly 12, 2009

JOLIET, IL - JULY 11:  Mark Martin (R), driver of the #5 CARQUEST/Kellogg's Chevrolet, celebrates in Victory Lane with team members after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series 400 at Chicagoland Speedway on July 11, 2009 in Joliet, Illinois.  (Photo by Jason Smith/Getty Images for NASCAR)

Heading to the Windy City for the kick off race to the second half of the season. For some drivers they want to leave the first half behind, others are hoping to continue the momentum they have earned.

Check out the winners and losers of the Lifelock 400.


Mark Martin

Mark Martin has developed a pattern in 2009. He has two or three bad races and then comes back and wins.

Martin had a dominant car; dominant doesn’t describe it. Friday in practice they were fast they actually stopped for about 25 minutes, came back out, ran a few laps, and packed it in.

On Saturday night they came out and moved right to the front and dominated, leading the most laps at 195. Martin locked in his fourth victory and moved up into the top 12 in points.  A much needed run and finish that this team needed.

It really would be a shame if a guy with four wins misses the “playoffs” and a guy with zero wins makes it.

The “old guy” is getting it done.

Points: 11th...He is in the Chase, but barely.

Jeff Gordon

You have to give Steve LeTarte a lot of credit; on the second to last caution, he had Jeff Gordon come in and pit and take four fresh tires.

Gordon, who had been struggling back in 14th place for most of the night after a mid-race incident with Carl Edwards, needed a bold call to salvage a top 10 finish.

Quickly they moved forward, while cars in front of them were bumping and banging, Gordon weaved his way around traffic and worked up to second place.

His only real shot came after Kyle Busch's engine finally blew and he was bumper to bumper with Martin.

Gordon spun his tires on the restart and all but ended his shot at the win. It was a great rebound for this team after a disappointing finish last week. Gordon and company worked hard for another runner-up finish.

Always the bridesmaid, never the bride; wait, Indy is next; that might just change.

Points: Second…He is pretty much locked in; look for more bold calls for wins in the weeks ahead.

Marcos Ambrose

There are few guys who could take this place on the list but he deserves this place. Marcos Ambrose worked hard for this finish.

He wasn’t the best car all night long and he was a contender for the win, but they were there at the finish and came home with an 11th place result.

They struggled throughout the night with handling and keeping up with the race track, but a call at the end for tires allowed them to pick off cars at the end.

How he is racing this season is how championship contenders race; they might not be the best, but they are there when it matters. The Chase is out of the picture, but they are coming to the track with better equipment each week.

Raise your hand if you thought Ambrose would be finishing better than Kevin Harvick almost on a consistent basis? That’s what I thought.

Points: 18th...not this year, wouldn’t be surprised if next year, though.

Denny Hamlin

While his teammates struggled all night long, Denny Hamlin stayed up front and was able to keep up with the car.

Hamlin, who since Pocono hasn’t finished outside the top 15, and has slowly secured himself a spot in the Chase.

Hamlin's guys were never able to get him to the front, but they had excellent pit stops and were able to maintain track position for most of the night.

They were so close to leading the race but were unable to be there at the start finish line.

Nonetheless, it was another stellar performance for this team.

Hamlin worried that he won too young, but don’t look now, Hamlin is inching ever so closely.

Points: Fifth…he is separating himself from the mess that is sixth through 14th.

Juan Pablo Montoya

Juan Pablo Montoya is points racing at its best. You know he had a good car in practice yesterday and looked pretty good in qualifying, but when the green flag waved he struggled with a very loose race car.

They nearly went a lap down, but were able to work on it and adjust as the night went on.

He too came in on the second-to-last caution got tires and was able to pass cars and work his way up through the pack.

He only was able to get to ninth position but it was an overall great points day for this team.

Montoya is doing exactly what he needs to do, but at some point he needs to start going for wins.

Points: Ninth…Still needs a win and still needs to be very careful...he is in, but by a thread.


Kyle Busch

I think this one was the most obvious of them all. Kyle Busch was never very happy with his car tonight. He made sure that if you were listening to his radio, you knew that. They struggled all night long with the handling, never able to get it to Busch's liking.

It really all came to an end when he hit the wall on lap 63 and was never able to recover; they lost a cylinder late and then spun out on their own when the engine blew with less than 10 laps to go, finishing 33rd.

Busch went straight to the garage and probably straight to the plane after what was one his most disappointing races all year. Busch has come to a lot of race tracks as the defending race winner this season, but he doesn’t look like it.

Looking at the numbers, Busch has run better in the Nationwide series in 2009 than in the Cup series. He needs to decide what is more important: winning in the minors, or winning in the majors?

So far it’s the latter.

Points: 10th…Can’t afford any more bad races before the Chase and during the Chase; that’s if they make it.

Greg Biffle

Tonight didn’t go well for Greg Biffle; they had pit road issues and handling issues and were never able to really find the rhythm they were looking for. It cost them dearly tonight. Biffle was not very happy with the car, the handling was poor and penalties hurt them.

They needed a good run this week, they were in the Chase coming in, but were barely hanging on. For them tonight was their final mulligan and they cannot afford to make mistakes; both the driver and the crew.  They finished 31st.

Biffle has to be worried; unlike last year, the competition is much tougher and as it stands now, Biffle will be outside looking in come Loudon.

Points: 13th…They need to be flawless just to get in the Chase at this point.

Jeff Burton

Four weeks in a row, they have been caught up in someone else’s mess. Four weeks in a row, finishes outside the top 20 have them outside the top 12.

They weren’t spectacular coming in tonight. They were so-so in practice but found some speed and seemed to be moving forward early on.

Burton and crew worked on the car all night long and were in position to come home with a solid finish, when a large multi-car wreck happened in front of them and with nowhere to go, he gathered the brunt of the damage,finishing 37th.

Burton's Chase hopes really took a hit tonight, and for a guy who prides himself on consistency, he has been anything but.

Points: 17th…He hoped Chicago would turn around his Chase freefall instead it all but secured him not making it.

David Ragan

David Ragan continues to struggle in 2009. This is the biggest disappointment; we know he has the talent, but what happened?

They were never very good; they qualified poorly and ran just as poorly. They went a lap down early and never recovered and finished a dismal 25th.

Ragan's constant complaint was the handling; not able to adjust to the transition of day to night hurt them a lot.

Something needs to be done with this team. The communication is not there, nor are the results. It’s time for Jack Roush to do something as they creep closer and closer to  the danger zone of having to time their way in.

Ragan looked like he was driving the big brown truck tonight, but they just couldn’t deliver.

Points: 30th…forget the chase how about just staying in the top 35?

Start and Parks (just plugging in from last night’s)

I know the argument for both sides here, the economic times makes it difficult for teams that don’t have the funding or sponsorship to run full races. But when teams are coming out and admitting they are S&P, something needs to be done.

If you can’t run at least until half way, then don’t show up. It’s harsh but true. If you are going to put up the money for the fees and travel, and then race only enough to cover expenses, no reason to show up.

Better yet, NASCAR needs to do something to help teams like this, because the economy isn’t turning around anytime soon, and at some point it won’t be just three or four teams unable to compete; it will be more.

I'd rather see 35- or 36-car competitive fields than 43-car fields with cars quitting before lap 20.

Lucky Dog…

Paul Menard had a great night going until he cut a tire late in the race.  Menard, who is from Eau Claire, Wisc., was putting on a show for friends and family, running well within the top all night long.

It’s a shame how the night ended for this bunch, but if they can put more cars on the track like this who knows.

Points: 33rd…his Chase hopes ended early in the season, maybe next year?

Dale Earnhardt Jr. I really thought about in the winner’s category but too many other guys had better finishes, but they had a great run going.

They ran within the top 10 for most of the day and it wasn’t until the final green flag stop that they fell back a bit to 15th.

Even so, it was another good run for these guys, who are continuing to improve no matter what the standings say.

Points: 21st…no Chase in 2009, but we're seeing improvements and that’s what matters right now.

A.J. Allmendinger they barely mentioned him tonight, but he had one of his best runs tonight than he has had in the last month or so. They struggled a bit early but were able to work on the car and get better.

A 13th-place finish could be the shot in the arm they need.

Points: 27th…there were high hopes early on this season, but poor finishes all but ended his chase hopes back in April.

Final lap…

These drivers only come to Chicagoland once a year. It is so difficult to get a rhythm here. Your notes from previous years are really what you have to use each time.

That being said, in both races, old tires and clean air were the cars that won this weekend.

Hendrick Motorsports is clearly the best organization in the sport this season, like Joe Gibbs Racing in Nationwide; HMS will occupy the top three out of five positions if the Chase started next week.  It’s them against everyone else.

The racing wasn’t spectacular; once again the leader could pull away with ease after a few laps, but unlike what we saw here when the track first opened, it has aged and opened up multiple grooves, the guys in “dirty” air were able to use that to pass.

Next up, Indianapolis; fans and drivers and track officials will be waiting to see how well the tires will hold up after the tire debacle in 2008.


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