The 48 suffered serious damage when Juan Pablo Montoya elected to put him into the wall. (Jason Smith/Getty Images)
Bristol Motor Speedway put on another fun show last night with lots of on-track action. Some of that action tore up some of my pre-race favorites, unfortunately. Here’s a quick run down of what happened to my top six:
Jimmie Johnson: Johnson had a fantastic car and led many laps, but just as he and Kyle Busch were poised to engage in a thrilling duel at the front of the field, Juan Pablo Montoya inexplicably hooked Johnson and sent him on a bash-up ride into the wall. Johnson had to go behind the wall to make repairs; he finished 35th many laps down.
Juan Pablo Montoya: Montoya had at least a top 10-ish car, and after he eliminated one of the top cars in Johnson’s 48, it appeared he was in good position to challenge for the win. He ultimately wasn’t as fast as Busch and several other drivers, however. He finished 7th. Continue reading
Kevin Harvick passes Tony Stewart during a restart while the field runs five-wide behind them. (Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
My picks didn’t fare too well at Michigan on Sunday:
- Jimmie Johnson: The 48 was good early but began slipping back a little as the race progressed. Then, at least two slow pit stops put Johnson way back in the field, and he had a hard time recovering. And once again, the 48 team seemed to have trouble improving the car throughout the race. Johnson finished 12th.
- Greg Biffle: The 16 was very good most of the race and contended for the win. At the end, however, Biffle was just a bit too loose to take the checkered flag. He finished 4th.
- Jeff Burton: The 31 was pretty good much of the day, though more like a top-8 car than a contender to win. Alas, when Jeff Gordon suffered a flat tire late in the race, Burton blasted him from behind and seriously damaged his own car. He finished 24th.
- Kasey Kahne: The 9 was above average, but far slower than I expected. After the race, even Kahne said, “Something went wrong today.” He finished 14th.
- Kurt Busch: The Duece blew an engine at lap 30 and finished 40th.
- Tony Stewart: I thought the 14 would be strong, and he was. He was a contender for the win late, but at the end he didn’t quite have enough to run down the leaders.
Note: Pit tactics came into play Sunday during a late caution. Some teams took four tires, some took two and Denny Hamlin didn’t pit at all. He turned that track position into a 2nd place finish.
Greg Biffle and Sam Hornish Jr. prepare to duel for the win on the final restart. (Al Bello/Getty Images)
Red flags, rain and pit tactics provided viewers with an exciting finish to Sunday’s race at Pocono. With 40-ish laps to go, Jeff Gordon seemingly had the race in the bag, but a caution flag for rain prompted numerous cars to scramble for track position on pit road. Gordon took four tires, but a number of cars took two, some took none and Sam Hornish Jr. didn’t even pit! Greg Biffle eventually got around Hornish with his two new tires for the win.
My picks were pretty strong but fared so-so:
- Jimmie Johnson: He led the most laps when the track was hot, but when it cooled down, his car tailed off, and for the second week in a row, the 48 team had trouble improving the car. He finished 10th.
- Jeff Burton: At his best, Burton seemed to have roughly the #3 car, but he never seemed to be a threat to win. He finished 8th. Continue reading
During a late caution, Jamie McMurray and Kevin Harvick opted for two tires. The leader, Juan Pablo Montoya, took four and lost the lead.
The Brickyard 400 is in the books, so it’s time for a quick follow-up on how my top five fared:
- Jimme Johnson: The 48 seemed strong at the very beginning (though not as strong as the 42), but he quickly began slipping backward. Atypically, the 48 team then seemed unable to improve the car no matter what they tried on pit road. Johnson lost time in the pits as they tinkered with the setup, and even went a lap down when they changed the shocks (to no avail—the car still sucked). He finished 22nd.
- Juan Pablo Montoya: The 42 had probably the best car of the day, all day, but during a late caution, Montoya lost his lead when the 42 took four tires and several other cars took two. He then proceeded to overdrive his car attempting to move back to the front, and he eventually crashed out of the race.
- Mark Martin: Martin had a really good car through the early and middle portions of the race, but the 5 seemed to tail off a bit in the race’s latter stages. He finished 11th.
- Jeff Burton: Burton had a good car all day but could never improve it enough to run up front. He brought it home 6th. Continue reading
Jimmie Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus shoot the bull prior to the race. (Photo Rusty Jarrett/Getty Images for NASCAR)
The New Hampshire race unfolded pretty much as expected, with one major exception.
Jimmie Johnson: My pre-race #1 pick took the checkered flag. He led early, but then lost track position in the pits. He slowly climbed back up throughout the race, then took the lead after a late caution. Another caution allowed Kurt Busch to bump him out of the way and take the lead, but Johnson reeled him back in and performed his own bump and run.
Jeff Gordon: My #2 pick had a good car, but not quite the top car. He brought it home fourth.
Juan Pablo Montoya: My 3# pick also seemed to have a good-but-not-great car, but the Colombian bull did too much beating and banging late, damaging his car in the process. He was eventually punted into the wall.
Kurt Busch: My #4 pick was there at the end and would’ve won if the race were just a few laps shorter. He finished third.
Kyle Busch: My #5 pick had a really good car, but Jeff Burton accidentally spun him late. He managed to finish 11th.
I didn’t foresee Tony Stewart having a great day, but he moved forward throughout and was a factor at the end. He finished second. It appears it’s time to keep an eye on Stewart on the short-flat tracks.
Off to Daytona!
Jimmie Johnson celebrates his win with one of the Infineon girls. (Photo Chris Graythen/Getty Images for NASCAR)
Despite lots of on-track carnage and pit-road tactics, yesterday’s race on the road course at Sonoma, Calif., unfolded pretty much as expected, with one glaring exception.
Marcos Ambrose: In my race preview update, I tabbed the Aussie the favorite to win, and he was well on his way to victory when he committed a colossal error under caution with less than 10 laps remaining. He shut down his engine to preserve fuel, and when he had trouble refiring it, he slipped from first back to seventh.
Jimmie Johnson: My #2 pick was well on his way to finish second, and then Ambrose handed him the win. Continue reading
Denny Hamlin receives the champagne following his win. (Photo Geoff Burke/Getty Images for NASCAR)
Fuel mileage did not come into play at Michigan yesterday, and the results were pretty consistent with my top four picks, with a few relatively minor surprises:
Jimmie Johnson: I rated Johnson #1 going in, but he seemed to be a tick slower that the leaders for much of the day. Surprisingly, the 48 wasn’t able to improve the car enough to get it to the front; typically that’s something that team excels at. He finished sixth.
Kurt Busch: My #2 pick had a really good car, but he was a shade slower than Denny Hamlin and Kasey Kahne. He finished third.
Denny Hamlin: Hamlin had a great car, and when he got it out into clean air, he was long gone. Score another win for the 11. Continue reading
The 11 nailed down another victory on Sunday at Pocono. (Photo Geoff Burke/Getty Images for NASCAR)
After an initial rain delay, the Pocono race got underway and went the distance with no further interference from the sky. Various shenanigans at the end—i.e., pit-road tactics, multiple double-file restarts, and a big crash—shook up the finishing order a bit, but on the whole there were few surprises yesterday.
Jimmie Johnson: Johnson had a very strong car but was compromised by a terrible starting position. He climbed through the field throughout the race but never quite got to the front. He finished fifth.
Denny Hamlin: As expected, Hamlin also had a terrific car, and he took the trophy.
Juan Pablo Montoya: The 42 was fast, but not quite as fast as expected. He had a chance to take the lead in the closing laps (thanks primarily to pit tactics), but he couldn’t get there. He slipped back to eighth for the finish.
Clint Bowyer: Bowyer was the class of the field in the first half, but he lost the lead on pit road, and he wasn’t quite as good after that stop. He then slapped the wall and seemed to get a little slower. He managed to bring ‘er home ninth, however.
Kyle Busch: The 18 was terrific, but not quite as fast as Hamlin. He nabbed second place.
Off to Michigan, another big-flat track. Stay tuned for my race preview.
The 48 comes down into the 11, damaging both cars. (Photo Geoff Burke/Getty Images for NASCAR)
I was hot and cold with my Charlotte picks last week:
- Jimmie Johnson: My #1 pick was indeed strong, but a brush with the wall led to full-blown crash later on that gave the 48 a terrible finish.
- Kasey Kahne: The 9 wasn’t nearly as fast as I thought he’d be. He was off during the sunny portion of the race, and seemed to improve only a little in the twilight and dark portions.
- Kurt Busch: Much like the All Star race, Busch’s car came alive as the track cooled, and he powered away for the win.
- Denny Hamlin: Hamlin seemed fairly strong, but his car suffered some damage in a collision with the 48 and he wasn’t much of a threat after that.
- Clint Bowyer: The 33 was very strong, running up front most of the race.
- Martin Truex Jr.: Like Kahne, I thought Truex would be faster than he was. He didn’t show much during any portion of the race.
The big surprise: Jamie McMurray. I did not foresee the 1 running so well. His car was faster than Busch’s on long runs, and he likely would’ve won if he’d had a few more laps to work with.
This made Kyle Busch very angry... (Photo Streeter Lecka/Getty Images for NASCAR)
My top picks again were about as fast as I thought they’d be, with one surprise:
1. Jimmie Johnson: Johnson had a terrific car, and if it weren’t for a spin in the closing laps, he probably would’ve finished second, and maybe first.
2. Kyle Busch: Busch also was very fast and likely would’ve contended for the win if not for a late-race brush with the wall, and then a full-blown crash in the closing laps.
3. Jeff Gordon: Gordon got into the wall hard on the very first lap, so we never got to see how fast he was.
The surprise: In the final segment, Kurt Busch’s car really came on. When he got to the lead, Jimmie Johnson couldn’t catch him, and it appeared to be due to more than just the clean-air factor.