NASCAR or Nastycar is an irregular publication that tries to answer the questions, solve the conundrums and extricate the quagmires occurring on race day.
While I try to cover all the strange strategies, weird moves by drivers or crew, and sometimes strange decisions by NASCAR, there are times where one event might take up the main focus of the article. This weekend at Michigan is one of those events.
Once again the demons of Michigan haunted Jimmie Johnson, and once again he lost the gas mileage gamble and saw a win slip away.
Johnson had the car to beat at Michigan. Pitting with the rest of the field on lap 159 would have given Johnson a full tank of fuel, fresh tires and track position inside the top 20. With 41 laps to go, there would have been plenty of time to chase down the leaders, or at least assure you’re self of a top 10, or better, finish.
Chad Knaus’ monumental mistake dropped Johnson to third in the points; cost him the race and over $50,000 in prize money. All was not lost though, Johnson’s 33rd place finish still paid better prize money than 25 of the 27 drivers who finished ahead of him.
Alan Gustafson, making the same mistake as Knaus, cost Mark Martin over $41,000 in prize money, but more importantly, Martin slid to 12th in the standings, only 12 points from being on the outside looking in. Speaking of prize money, Jeff Gordon earned more for second place at Michigan than Brian Vickers did for winning the race.
It’s said that Dale Earnhardt Jr. is NASCAR’s golden boy. Sunday it was clearly Jimmie Johnson with NASCAR’s gold.
In two separate incidents Johnson jumped the restart and crossed the start/finish line before the leader, including the final restart where he was a full fender ahead of Brian Vickers at the line, a clear violation of NASCAR rules.
Sam Hornish Jr. was black flagged for taking on gas twice during a caution. Johnson received no disciplinary action for his multiple rules violation.
On the final restart there were 40 laps to go. Johnson started on the inside of row one, Earnhardt Jr. on the outside of row nine, and Gordon on the outside of row four.
With 30 to go Jr. is up to 10th, five seconds behind the leader, Gordon up to third.
When Johnson finally runs out of gas, 38 laps after the restart, Jr. is up to fourth, but still three seconds behind.
During his post race interview Johnson said he was trying to conserve fuel by running only half throttle through the last 20 laps of the race.
Jr. made up more time and positions before Johnson said he started running at half throttle. Jr. had a full tank of gas, which does help the car bite more, and four fresh tires.
This creates a question that begs to be answered: Is Johnson, or his equipment, that much better than Jr.?
Or are Jr. and his equipment that bad?
For the second week in a row Kasey Kahne causes another chase driver some grief. Sliding to the right this time, Kahne hits Juan Pablo Montoya. The splitter on Kahne’s car would cause Montoya to lose his right rear tire, almost crashing JPM and costing him valuable track position. Last week Kahne slid left, this week he slid right.
Kasey must be playing a pirated version of Fins by Jimmy Buffet on his in-car IPod.
“Cars to the left, Cars to the right, you’re not the only car on the track.”
Maybe next week Kasey can keep it straight and let the chase drivers chart their own destiny.
Photo Credit: David Yeazell