Monday, August 10, 2009

Victorious Tony Stewart feeling Heluva Good! At The Glen

Literally raining on the parade for stock car drivers, teams, and fans when the planned Sunday August 9th start of the Heluva Good! At The Glen NASCAR Sprint Cup event was pushed to Monday. As many of us are forced with busying ourselves with earning a hard day's pay, the Sprint Cup teams took to earning Sunday money. As Jimmie Johnson #48 Lowes Chevrolet led the field to the start of the 90 lap affair, Kurt Busch overpowered Johnson for the top spot and held on for 19 laps. Road race professional and Sprint Cup rookie took the helm of the race Marcus Ambrose by staying out when the majority of cars received tires and fuel. At this point, Ambrose's team were establishing themselves for a long first run which wouldn't see the #47 Toyota on pit lane until lap 43.

Early mayhem resulted as the #12 Penske Dodge of David Stremme made a dive into Watkins Glen famous busstop chicane and lost control through the grass within the corner. Creating the second caution for the race, Stremme's spinning car honed in on Jeff Gordon's Dupont machine which escaped maliciously with only light contact from the black #12 Dodge. This luck did not hold for Gordon as the #29 Shell/Pennzoil Chevrolet Impala of Kevin Harvick could not avoid the out of shape Dupont Chevrolet resulting in heavy right front contact for Harvick and a serious blow on Jeff Gordon's passenger side. While Stremme and Gordon were able to soldier on from the accident, Harvick's car spent a multitude of laps behind the wall.

For the legions of Dale Earnhardt Jr fans awaiting for the resurgence #88, the Watkins Glen race further paints the tapestry illustrating a season of misfortune. Before the race even started the season of the AMP/National Guard car has been plagued by a 2009 season with few highlights. Last year, Earnhardt and the #88 Hendrick Chevrolet came into Watkins Glen 4th in Sprint Cup points. For the 2009 season championship, Dale Earnhardt Jr entered the race weekend 23rd on the points sheet.

Once the green flag fell, the #88 Chevrolet Impala diced from its 38th place starting position, passing 13 cars in only 12 laps around the Watkins Glen race circuit. However, in course with this season's trend of good race runs materializing into poor finishes, Earnhardt Jr's car began to experience brake problems after 1/3 distance in the race. By Lap 41, Dale Earnhardt Jr's car lost braking power in turn 10 and was left heading into the back of #43 Dodge of Reed Sorenson. Without sufficient brakes, Earnhardt Jr could only turn his #88 Chevrolet into the sod along the corner of the track but was unable to avoid contact with Sorenson. This collision resulted in both cars becoming buried in the gravel runoff area where the incident attracted the third caution.

At the lap 45 restart, Kyle Busch ceased the lead for only the restart as Tony Stewart bypassed the #18 M&Ms Toyota. The younger Busch brother was never happy about the handling of his Toyota throughout the race but his pit crew would become invaluable in keeping the #18 in the upper part of the scoring board through to the checkered flag. Holding on for 11 laps, Tony Stewart's #14 Old Spice Chevrolet ran faultlessly until him and 6th place Juan Pablo Montoya made four tire pit stops. Kurt Busch and the wounded Dodge of David Stremme took turns leading the event until former Formula 1 driver Scott Speed took the spot for the first time on a road course during a Sprint Cup series event.

At lap 62, the biggest accident of the today was commenced when Kasey Kahne #9 Budweiser Dodge and Sam Hornish Jr #77 Mobil Dodge were battling through turn 9. Turn 9 at Watkins Glen had been already been a epicenter of chaos through the NASCAR Nationwide series as Jason Leffler and Joey Logano both had dramatic crashes into the retaining barriers. In Monday's Heluva Good! At The Glen, Kahne's Dodge delivered an unintentional side-by-side rub to Hornish sending the #77 Dodge off track and into the outer wall's tire barriers. Instead of drawing the car to a stop with the impact, the Sprint Cup Dodge slid sideways allowing the #77 to bounce off the tires and spun back up to the track surface. With a group of race cars rushing past, one of those cars was Jeff Gordon's Dupont Impala which was violently hammered by the #77 Dodge's rear end. The impact drove Gordon hard into the inner Armco guard rail completely compacting the #24's front. Hornish's car would also collect Jeff Burton as the vehicles' front ends collide. In spite of the severely mangled sheetmetal of those cars as well as a few cars which escaped with only slight damage, all drivers escaped this without serious injury. However, the incident's effect on Jeff Gordon's preexisting back problems were, and are likely to continue to be, a matter of concern.

Following a 20 minute red flag to clean up the scattered debris, Scott Speed enters the pits relinquishing the lead to Kyle Busch with Tony Stewart, Marcus Ambrose, Greg Biffle, and Juan Pablo Montoya rounding out the top five with when the green flag would drop again at lap 66. The next lap, Tony Stewart and his #14 Old Spice Chevy took on Busch's #18 Toyota in turn two, allowing his Hendrick engine to propel him by for the lead. This move proved to be the last lead change of the race as he led the final 27 laps to win the 2009 race at Watkins Glen. With some drama developing from fears that many of the leaders, including Stewart, would not go the distance on fuel economy, all the lead cars made the checkered flag. The #14 Chevy even had enough fuel for celebratory burnouts.

Having grabbed the pole for the 2008 Cup race and winner of the Watkins Glen Nationwide race for the last two years, Marcus Ambrose lived up to expectations by finishing second place. Rounding out the top six in order is Carl Edwards who ran a quiet yet productive race, Kyle Busch, Greg Biffle, and Juan Pablo Montoya. With Ambrose and Montoya full time NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers, hired gun road course racers found it hard in this event at Watkins Glen. Finishing best amongst the group of limited schedule runners was Max Papis in 8th place (though him and Germain Racing have included numerous ovals this season in commitment to run much of the 2009 NASCAR Sprint Cup schedule). Andy Lally traded his typical Grand Am sports car Porsche GT class car for The Racer's Group's (TRG) Chevrolet Impala coming home 27th, on the lead lap. Apparently, Lally was the only road course regular not to be bitten by mechanical gremlins or by the competition. Second place finisher for the 1999 At the Glen race Ron Fellows was left out of contention for a strong finish early with a faulty starter in his #09 Chevrolet. Another freelance road racer failing to score a worthy result due to mechanical issues was fan favourite Boris Said. His #08 Ford's engine was struck with overheating problems which caused him to park the car at lap 76. Concluding the road ringer bunch were PJ Jones and Tony Ave who dropped our early by a listed transmission and overheating problem. Finally, Patrick Carpentier day consisted of having his #55 NAPA Toyota used as a pinball by David Stremme and later Elliot Sadler through contact with the French-Canadian driver. Carpentier was listed running at the end, 12 laps down from the leader.

The third points win for Tony Stewart this season, the two-time Cup series champion is well in reach of clinching his birth in NASCAR's Chase for the Sprint Cup for 2009. After missing the top 12 just one year ago with Joe Gibbs Racing, Stewart's current 698 point lead over 12th place in points Matt Kenseth could secure a position by the next race at Michigan International Speedway this Sunday.

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