LONG POND, Pa. – Thoughts, questions and observations following the Pennsylvania 500 at Pocono Raceway.
No, not every Nextel Cup race can be a Bristol, Darlington or Daytona on the excitement meter, but Sunday's race was a major yawner. No offense to race winner Kurt Busch or to the other 42 drivers, but trying to stay awake during this race was a real challenge.
Blame it on the aerodynamic rules that don't allow for much passing, or blame it on the absence of shifting, which facilitated passing at this track in the past. Either way, it was like watching cars driving by on the interstate for most of the afternoon.
When asked to comment on the level of excitement of Sunday's race, third-place finisher Mark Martin said, "I will say that no matter what, you're gonna have races that are barnburners and you're gonna have races that are yawners, and you can't panic when you have a yawner. If that's what you're calling this one today, Rusty [Wallace] and I think it was a great race."
It's usually Formula One where the leader of a race can be 15 or 20 seconds ahead of the second-place car, but that's almost what happened Sunday in Nextel Cup. At one point during the race, Busch had more than a 10-second lead over the second-place driver. That's pretty remarkable.
Robby Gordon blew up another engine. He did the same thing in the June race here, as well. We said in June it was because he was still shifting, though reports published afterward said he was not shifting. After Sunday's engine failure, Gordon admitted, "It's hard on them [engines] when you have to shift, but that's the only way we can make our cars go." Hmmm, so he has been shifting!
Kasey Kahne wins the Hard Luck of the Race award. Kahne was well on his way to having a real good day until Carl Edwards spoiled his party during the last lap of the race by running into the back of Kahne's No. 9 Dodge. Kahne was a lap down at one point, but he drove hard and came back into the top five. Edwards did apologize for the incident after the race – on national television, no less.
"As great a day as it was, it's pretty much ruined by what happened there with Kasey," Edwards said. "I screwed up and hit him and he ended up wrecking. That's not good. That was an accident."
Carl Edwards, you are one hell of a class act.
The weather at Pocono usually is measured by extremes. It's either brutally hot and humid or cold and damp, but not this time around. For the first time in recent memory, Mother Nature blessed us with beautiful weather the entire weekend, as temperatures in the low 80s and very low humidity made for comfortable conditions for both fans and race teams.
Speaking of Pocono and its fans, there was another packed house of more than 100,000 for this race, just six weeks after the June date. For the foreseeable future, forget all that talk about only one Nextel Cup race per year here.
How lucky can you get? Ask Tony Stewart, whose crew found that the left rear tire on Stewart's Chevrolet was going flat (due to a faulty valve) while it was still sitting on the grid before the race. His team was allowed to replace the tire without having Stewart go to the back of the field for the start because NASCAR considered it a safety issue. Good call, NASCAR.
Elliott Sadler continued his slump. His 16th-place finish keeps him ninth in the standings, though we think his recent slide is a temporary condition. Is there any reason why there can't be two Yates cars (Sadler and Dale Jarrett) in the top 10?
By the way, ever notice that on Sadler's pit board, one of the M&M's characters is holding a copy of a book titled "Engine Repairs 101"?
The Roush cars continue to have brake problems. Greg Biffle had a problem in the June race, and Sunday, teammates Martin, Busch and Matt Kenseth did, too. Team owner Jack Roush said it is an issue that his engineers will be addressing immediately. But Roush added that with the gear rule change, especially at big tracks like Pocono and Indianapolis, a taller gear would help slow the cars down, thus putting less stress on the brakes.
So here's your classic Catch-22 situation. NASCAR changes the rules to allow for less stress on the engines as a cost-saving measure, but the change forces an increase in the cost of brake development.
Speaking of Roush, his cars had never in 34 previous attempts won at Pocono Raceway until Carl Edwards found victory lane here in June in his first visit to the track. Now, Roush cars have won two straight. Impressive.
Sunday's dominant performance by Busch must have erased all those bad memories of the forgettable finishes at the Coca-Cola 600 (43rd) and the Pepsi 400 (37th) this year. You can believe he meant it when he said, "This is sweet" in the postrace press conference. Next weekend, Busch will attend the Hungarian Grand Prix as the guest of F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone.
Some guys have all the luck. First, Jimmie Johnson crashes his primary car in the first practice on Friday. Then, during the race, he went from having a good car for the first 20 laps to getting caught in the pits during a caution that sent him back in the field. A Lucky Dog pass on lap 140 put him back up with the race leaders, and crew chief extraordinaire Chad Knaus made some good decisions to help Johnson come away with a 12th-place finish – and retain the points lead.
Although Tony Stewart didn't get a chance to climb the fence at Pocono, his seventh-place finish did move Smoke into second in points. Maybe we'll get the opportunity to see who climbs the fence at Indy better, Stewart or Helio Castroneves.
Gourmet chef Mario Batali, who is a huge NASCAR fan, was the honorary starter for the Pennsylvania 500 and cooked a special meal for the drivers on Saturday night. We assume it was a pasta dish.
You can put Pocono Raceway at or near the top of Greg Biffle's list of tracks he doesn't like. In six appearances at Pocono, Biffle has only one top-10 and an average finish of 18.2 – not exactly the stuff memories are made of. This year alone, his average finish is 28.5. His 17th-place finish Sunday, which came after losing a tire and then hitting Michael Waltrip, dropped him to third in the points.
Brian Vickers, who finished second here in June, had what could best be described as a disappointing weekend. After starting eighth and running in the top 10 for more than 100 laps, he faded from contention during the final 30 laps.
Ladies and gentlemen, the magic number is now six. That's how many races are left until the start of the Chase.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. was called into the NASCAR trailer after the race to be reprimanded for exceeding the pit road speed on lap 53 when he raced out of the pits in an attempt to stay on the lead lap. He was penalized with a drive-through. His pit road exit speed was clocked at 143 mph. The pit road speed limit was 55 mph. Junior was told by NASCAR officials that they understood his desire to remain on the lead lap, but that they wouldn't tolerate his methods.
Enjoy the weekend off. No excuses now for not tackling that "Honey do" list. And spend some time with the kids.