By admin | August 31, 2008
By Richard Allen
The domination of the Pepsi 500 at the Auto Club Speedway began on Friday. Jimmie Johnson clocked a tremendous qualifying lap to take the pole and he was never seriously challenged from that point on.
Johnson led 227 of the 250 laps. The only time any other drivers led were by staying out under caution to make points or when the #48 team got beat off pit road on a couple of occasions.
This was one of the more dominating performances of the season. Perhaps it was this same car in Indianapolis that was the next most dominate performance of the year.
This particular Hendrick Motorsports team made a point of warning others in the garage area that they do not intend to give up their championship crown without a fight.
As good as the Chad Knaus led team was, the rest of Hendrick Motorsports was not up to par.
The #5 of Casey Mears was never a factor. Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. ran in the 11th -15th range just about all race long.
So, it would not be accurate to say this win made the point that the HMS organization is superior to the competition. Instead, it was one individual team that was dominate.
The Auto Club Speedway made a point of being a bit difficult for everyone to get a handle on, except for the #48 team.
Typically, in races that start during the daylight hours and end at night, there are comers and goers. Cars that run well early in the race often fade later, and vice versa. For the most part that was not true in this race.
However, most teams seemed to battle loose race cars all race. Virtually every driver was calling out over his scanner that his car was too loose, which is a major change for the normally pushy CoT.
The term “debris caution” took on an all new meaning at one point in the Pepsi 500.
The race’s second caution was brought out when the turn 1 caution light fell onto the track. Later, the replacement light had a piece to fall off which resulted in another yellow flag, but perhaps not a yellow light.
Last week, a big deal was made of Clint Bowyer’s comments regarding Michael Waltrip. Those comments are commonplace. Scanner chatter throughout just about any race will reveal what drivers really think of one another…or at least what they think about one another in the heat of battle.
It just so happened that last week’s comments were made during a red flag situation in which ESPN had some air time to fill.
Team Red Bull was very impressive early on, running in the Top 5 for much of the first half of the race. And, they were able to land solid finishes with both the #83 of Brian Vickers and the #84 of A.J. Allmendinger.
Vickers finished 12th while Allmendinger wound up 14th.
Toyota was unable to win this season on the American automobile manufacturers’ home track in Michigan, and they were also unable to win on the Toyota Racing Development home track. TRD is headquartered in Costa Mesa, California.
Kurt Busch made a point of being very critical of his crew after he cut a left rear tire and spun on lap 43 of the race after contact with the #1 car of Martin Truex.
“Tell the #1 car we’re sorry but we have no idea what we’re doing at Penske Racing,” he said to his spotter, leaving little doubt who he blamed for the incident.
Later, when reminded that he would be pitting the second time around under caution with the lapped cars Busch responded, “I’m used to that.”
Matt Kenseth made five extra points by stretching a green flag run just long enough to lead one lap. Being on the Chase bubble, the #17 team needs every point it can get going into the last race before the cutoff.
Not to be outdone, the #6 team of David Ragan stayed out an extra lap under caution to also make five extra points. Unlike Kenseth’s team, they are not trying to pad a cushion but rather they are trying to get into the Top 12.
Kyle Busch passed Kasey Kahne coming off the last turn to take 7th place. That cost Kahne four points. It remains to be seen if that will cost Kahne much more after the Richmond race.
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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