By admin | August 17, 2008
By Richard Allen
Once again, second guessers will have an opportunity to scrutinize Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and his Hendrick Motorsports crew.
Just like last week in Watkins Glen, Junior had a strong car early in the race. He got out front early in the 3M Performance 400 and looked like he had a chance for a repeat victory at the track on which he won in June.
During a late race caution period some teams opted to pit and some did not. The #88 team decided not to pit. After the restart, those who had pitted charged to the front and in the mad rush Junior’s car was forced high and into the wall. The resulting damage left Earnhardt with what must have been a bitter 23rd place finish.
This time, however, the decision to stay out may not meet with the same controversy as last week’s decision to continue on the road course track long after cars were inside the needed window to make their last stop. There was not nearly as much second guessing from the booth as there was last week.
Earnhardt was not the only Hendrick Motorsports superstar to have issues on pit road. Jeff Gordon’s team also found difficulty on the pit lane.
After their first stop of the day the #24 team was admonished by their driver. “That was a sorry stop,” he said. “I know you can do better. You’re the best out there.”
However, Gordon did not make an effort to sound so positive when interviewed later. “We finally had an awesome car but had awful pit stops,” he said while in the garage. “We didn’t have the total package today.”
Gordon was in the garage because he had fallen back in the pack as a result of one of those pit stops. While racing four wide the cars of Gordon, Tony Stewart and Jimmie Johnson made contact. That contact forced Johnson to pit road for repairs. Gordon later blew a tire and slammed the wall as a result.
Gordon wound up in 42nd place.
There was to be no Cinderella story for the second week in a row for Australian Marcos Ambrose.
After starting 43rd he worked his way a up to a 3rd place finish in Watkins Glen. Unfortunately for the Wood Brothers Racing team, an early blown engine left them 43rd on Sunday.
Again, there were empty seats at the Michigan International Speedway but it did not seem as though there were as many as there were in June.
Perhaps it was the ‘Junior Effect’?
On his way to victory Carl Edwards wasted little time showing how strong his #99 Ford was going to be.
Even though he started 27th he made a pass for the lead by lap 74.
Unlike in June, this race did not come down to a fuel mileage run.
The race ran under the green flag from lap 100 to lap 164. With only 32 laps to go when the restart occurred there was no concern over fuel. Later cautions would further assure that there would be no reason for concern over fuel.
Roush Fenway Racing and Ford continued their domination on this track. Four of the top five finishers, including the winner, were RFR Fords.
Toyota once again came up just short by finishing second on the track located very near the headquarters of the ‘Big Three’ American auto manufacturers.
Thanks in part to a warning from his crew, Carl Edwards was able to keep Kyle Busch from doing to him what he did to Jimmie Johnson on a previous late race restart.
In Chicago, Busch started second behind Johnson with just a few laps remaining and essentially bulldozed Johnson out of the way. Edwards got off to such a good start on the race’s final green flag that Busch was unable to repeat his Chicago performance.
Richard Allen is a member of the National Motorsports Press Association. His weekly column appears in The Mountain Press every Wednesday.
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