Some NASCAR fans may be grumbling, but politicians certainly still love NASCAR: Cindy McCain, wife of Republican presidential candidate U.S. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), and NASCAR president Mike Helton look over Denny Hamlin’s Toyota at Pocono Raceway (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
By Mike Mulhern
It’s been a ragged summer for NASCAR, and the weekend’s stops in Montreal – for a scheduled 200-mile Nationwide race on the Formula One road course in the heart of town – and in Pocono, Pa. – for another endless, five-hour 500-mile Cup event – were, well, not quite the bounce the sport needed after last week’s ill-fated stop in Indianapolis.
Yes, NASCAR’s top-three in Montreal were internationalists – Ron Fellows, Patrick Carpentier, and Marcos Ambrose. But the rainy circumstances
didn’t make for a very satisfying finish.
Then down in Pocono it turned into a rain-delayed gas mileage race, with Carl Edwards pulling off a tense victory as many fellow drivers ran out of gas in the final miles.
If NASCAR racing ever becomes an Olympic sport, Carl Edwards has the dismount down pat (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
Fellows won Montreal, but the race was called early, after NASCAR had teams run for a while on grooved rain tires. NASCAR never runs in the rain, so this was a first, with rain and fog making for difficult driving conditions, to say the least.
Greg Biffle, one of the few Cup drivers making the Montreal race: “I was looking forward to this because I’ve never raced in the rain…but I don’t think I will be from now on.
“It was a lot of fun. It got a little hairy there when it started raining so hard. The car would hydroplane bad down the frontstretch, and I mean a 140 or 150 miles an hour hydroplane is not very safe.
“It made it hard to see at the end, it was raining so hard and everything was getting so wet. The guys said there was an inch of water in the right side of the car, laying on the floorboard, so we were going to start having electrical problems.”
Jeff Burton sports the Olympic spirit, with Winston-Salem team owner Richard Childress’ Chevy. (Photo: Rusty Jarrett/Getty Images for NASCAR)
Ambrose, one of this year’s promising newcomers, from Australia, felt the win should have been his in Montreal, except for pit road mistake he made.
And the conditions? “It was treacherous, it was tricky,” Ambrose said. “They couldn’t keep the race going, it was too wet. I commend NASCAR for making the call to stop that race because it was getting dangerous out there.
“I learned I don’t want to race in the rain in a NASCAR again. It’s really tricky.
“Maybe if there is inclement weather again down the road, NASCAR won’t be so frightened to put us out there on wets because we got a race in. Everyone was safe, and it was a decent show, I guess. The tires held up, and the cars held up.
“I thought for sure we were going to have electrical problems with all the water that was coming in the car, but all that got wet was me.
“I think all the drivers kept on the track for the most part, and we got a race in, which is important. I think, to NASCAR’s credit, for not running rain races very often, they did a pretty good job.”
That judgment, though, is still hanging in the air.
Now if only every day was just like this Pocono Sunday morning on the NASCAR tour….(Photo: Jason Smith/Getty Images for NASCAR)
Boris Said, a veteran road racer making his move into NASCAR, said “All in all, I’m surprised how well everyone did and how few accidents there were. In the end people were wrecking under caution because you just couldn’t see. The cars were hydroplaning.”
The Montreal race was Jacques Villeneuve’s NASCAR comeback: “It was raceable, as long as you could see where you were going.
“The driving is okay as long as you can get the water off your windshield. If you have a wiper you’re all right.
“When it started raining hard again I had some oil on the window and just couldn’t get rid of it. The only thing I could use to drive was the edge of the track. I couldn’t see a thing. When everybody stopped, I just ran into the back of them.”
If Jeff Gordon doesn’t watch it, Carl Edwards may spin him out of that Regis and Kelly gig (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
Montreal certainly was a learning experience for Joey Logano, the 18-year-old wonder kid: “Pit stops in the rain, that’s something no one’s ever even done in their life around here. It’s something I know I’ve never even thought about.”
Logano said NASCAR should have called the race much sooner than it did. “I just don’t understand why we go past halfway in the rain. I think if you’re halfway, you’ve got to stop it. And we went until there were 26 laps to go. It’s pouring rain and we’re racing.
“I hit a lapped car with no brake lights. I have no idea who it was. I couldn’t see five feet in front of me down the straightaway, under caution. Somebody stopped; I locked up all four, and Boom!”
Dave Rogers, Logano’s crew chief and the winningest crew chief on the Nationwide tour this season, said NASCAR officials should have handled the rain differently.
“The priority in this sport has to be our drivers…and you had a number of drivers on the radio saying they can’t see and are hydroplaning under caution,” Rogers complained. “I don’t think as a series we did a good job of listening to those.
“I have to be honest—I had a lot of fun, this is pretty cool, the first points race in the rain. But when drivers are saying enough is enough, we need to heed that caution, and we did not.”
Carl Edward celebrates win number four this season on the Sprint Cup tour….and may be the only man who can keep Toyota’s Kyle Busch under control (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
THE NASCAR NOTEBOOK
Carl Edwards, who finished sixth in Montreal and then won Pocono, took the weekend’s trials and tribulations all in stride: “The deal is some weeks it might be the tires, and some weeks it might be the weather or fuel mileage. Everyone is in the same boat.
“Last week was something nobody wanted to have to deal with, but we did.
“This week it was a whole new different type of stresses. But that’s just racing.”
The stresses at Pocono – to pit or not to pit, and when to pit down the stretch – led a brief shouting match between Edwards and crew chief Bob Osborne during one lengthy rain delay.
“It was a little stressful at moments,” the normally taciturn Osborne said of the flare-up. “The rain comes, and we’re not sure what we wanted to do.
“We talked about what we would do if the rain were to clear up and they got the track dried—and that’s what we ended up doing. And then it started raining harder, and Carl is on the pit box with me and we’re arguing at that point about why we did what we did.
“It was a stressful day. But it worked out for us.”
Nice show, Carl: Jack Roush’s number one driver wins number four, at Pocono. (Photo by Jason Smith/Getty Images for NASCAR)
Edwards said “the argument came when it started raining real hard, and we were trying to blame one another for the idea of coming in to pit.
“He said it was my idea, and I really felt like it was his idea. I had to leave the pit box because I was worried Bob was going to punch me in the neck or something,” Edwards said a bit tongue-in-cheek. “I had to walk away.
“But we have a really good relationship. We can be brutally honest with one another, and that’s really valuable.”
Car owner Jack Roush said “I wasn’t aware about the shouting match. But the crew chief is empowered in our world to make the final decision. He’s the captain of the ship.
“The driver knows more about what’s going on right in front of him, as it relates to who has gone down pit road and who didn’t go. But Bob made a courageous call.
“The thing I probably would have done, if I’d have made the call—and what I think most of our other crew chiefs would have done—is to protect what they had: Carl had a fast car, and he was out front. Why would you give that up and go back in the field and take a chance on getting collected with somebody that you didn’t need to be racing with?
“But Bob made a decision. He thought he wasn’t going to win it the way he was.
“There were a number of people went with him (down pit road for gas and tires), but he was the first one, he was at the head of that line. And it proved to be the right decision.
“You have to have a little bit of good luck going for you to win these. And unless he had the courage to do the thing he thought was right, he wouldn’t have won. And I congratulate him for that. He did the right thing.
“The next time it may not work out as well. But he still needs to make that decision. That’s his job.”
Tony Stewart, still winless this season, was on winner Carl Edwards’ tail down the stretch at Pocono Sunday (Photo by Drew Hallowell/Getty Images for NASCAR)
The guy who finished right behind Edwards at Pocono – Tony Stewart, who is still winless this season. In fact Stewart hasn’t won on the tour since a year ago at Watkins Glen…which happens to be this week’s stop.
Stewart – who fared better than teammates Kyle Busch (36th) and Denny Hamlin (23rd) – managed to outrun Jimmie Johnson down the stretch. On a day that Johnson appears the man to beat.
“The hard part was to run fast enough to stay in front of Jimmie and slow enough to save fuel,” Stewart said. “You just have to lift early, 100 or 200 yards earlier in each corner than you’re used to.
“It was a challenge, but considering what our luck has been this year, this is as good as a win.”
The second was his best finish since Atlanta in March. “I can’t complain,” Stewart said. “It came to us finally. We were on the same strategy as a lot of other guys. We didn’t get second because of some trick.
“We ran out of fuel on the cool-down lap, so it was perfect timing.”
Like father, like son: Jeff Byrd’s son Christian, will be the executive director and general manager of Bruton Smith’s new NHRA dragway in Concord.
The elder Byrd runs Bristol Motor Speedway for Smith.
The move was announced by Smith’s son Marcus, the new president and general manager of Lowe’s Motor Speedway.
The Smiths are billing their new facility “the Bellagio of drag strips,” and it opens for business next month.
Christian Byrd, a 2001 graduate of East Tennessee State, worked at the Bristol track for several years and the past two years he has been working in Charlotte with NASCAR’s marketing program.
Brian Vickers keeps getting closer to that breakthrough win (Photo: Jason Smith/Getty Images for NASCAR)
Among Sunday’s travails at Pocono:
Kevin Harvick spun and nearly crashed on the first lap but recovered to take fourth, with some key pit calls by crew chief Todd Berrier.
Kurt Busch spun out by himself, and he wound up 38th.
Michael Waltrip blew another engine and finished 43rd.
Juan Pablo Montoya also lost an engine, in a fiery finish; he came home 40th.
Matt Kenseth fell to 13th in the standings, with five races to cut before the playoff cutoff.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. ran out of gas on the last lap and dropped from fifth to 12th.
Tour leader Kyle Busch ran out of gas with two to go, stalled on pit road, and fell from fourth to 35th .
Great comeback for Kevin Harvick, with crew chief Todd Berrier’s good call late at Pocono (Photo: Jason Smith/Getty Images for NASCAR)
Goodyear is working on resolving the Indianapolis tire problems that plagued last week’s Brickyard 400.
Stu Grant, the Goodyear racing boss: “We have a proud history in racing with 54 continuous years of NASCAR involvement, and have enjoyed worldwide success in all forms of racing. But all should be assured that no one was more disappointed than we were with the events in Indianapolis.
“We are the first to admit that we missed the mark with the combination for this race. There are many reasons, but they are only important today from the perspective that we learn from those issues and move forward successfully.”
Grant said the company is completing an extensive analysis, including “all internal aspects of tire design and manufacturing,” and he said the company is talking with NASCAR officials, team owners, drivers and crew chiefs to get as much insight as possible.
Grant also said Goodyear was using the Sandia National Labs for engineering studies.
A track test at Indy is slated for this fall.
And Grant says a larger tire, as Goodyear had once proposed for NASCAR to consider for this car-of-tomorrow, is back under consideration.
NASCAR stockers have long been considered ‘over-horsepowered and under-tired,’ with more engine than the 12-inch-wide tires can use.
“The knowledgeable people in our business understand the solution to this issue involves all elements of the equation,” Grant said. “We are
committed to working to bring those elements together in a manner that will produce consistent great racing.
“Our responsibility is to provide a tire that works with all of the variables, and we take that responsibility very seriously.
“We have been performance partners with NASCAR for more than 50 years, and we are absolutely committed to remain in that role for another 50
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NASCAR on the rebound: Cindy McCain (R), wife of Republican presidential candidate U.S. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), is given a tour of the Pocono garage area by NASCAR president Mike Helton (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)