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Martinsville Victory Lane! March 30, 2010

Posted by claireblang in 2010 Season.
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Rear View Mirror: The Goody’s Fast Pain Relief 500!

After going LIVE from Victory Lane I stepped into the broadcast studio in the Media Center, put the headset on, flipped on the microphone and the phone lines lit up after the running of the Good’s Fast Pain Relief 500. Callers from Arizona to Oklahoma and from Canada to Texas wanted to talk about the short track racing that we saw at Martinsville Speedway. The fans had a lot to talk about, from caution calling to fender bumping, but the one common element was how refreshing short track racing is, jam packed with action. Martinsville, after a brief pause for rain, delivered.

Jeff Gordon Almost Wins Again!
Feels he got a cheap shot – wanted to see the replay.

Jeff Gordon ( Finished 3rd -#24 DuPont Chevrolet) fans were upset that, once again, he was close but didn’t get the trophy. Here’s a portion of one of the many listener emails that I got after the race:

” My observation: how convenient of Kyle to cause a caution just when Jeff comes to take the white so his teammate can win. Besides, it’s the sympathy win, since poor Denny has to have surgery.”

As always, you’ll have conspiracy theorists – heck it’s part of the DNA of NASCAR racing to argue about conspiracies. It’s every man for himself at the end of this race though – and that’s what we saw. Of course. those who were not Gordon fans said he should not have complained about being hit when everyone was hit by someone at Martinsville.

Jeff Gordon was a little upset himself but didn’t erupt in anger, just said he was disappointed, not totally unhappy with a third place finish, and wanted to wait until he saw the replay. It’s amazing to me the restraint Jeff shows when he’s upset – never walks away from a media question, and even tried to say initially that “someone” hit him from the back – even though he knew it was Matt Kenseth and eventually did use his name, but even after that, one more time said he wanted to see the replay.

“I got an okay restart. Spun the tires a little bit, got going. I looked at my mirror, 17 was pretty far behind me. Made sure I didn’t drive in too deep. Next thing I know, I got nailed. I don’t know who got into me. I thought it was the 17. If it wasn’t, I apologize to him. I made sure he didn’t win the race down the straightaway,” Gordon said. Interesting, he didn’t want to name him before seeing the replay but he “made sure he didn’t win the race down the straightaway.” Yep Gordon Knew it was him, I just don’t think he wanted to call him out.

“The way he raced me today I didn’t think was the way I would have raced him. But we’ve had our ups and our downs. But I feel like we’ve been past that. I certainly didn’t feel like we had any issues. If somebody hits me, I’m going to hit them. If he hit me, I’m glad I did what I did on the back straightaway,” Gordon said. ” If a guy gives you a cheap shot like that, he doesn’t deserve to win the race, in my opinion. If that didn’t happen, and I have not seen the video, then, again, I’ll be the first one to call him this week and apologize.”

In the media center, after the race, it was interesting what Jeff Gordon said about whether he and his crew chief Steve Letart were able to improve his car during the race. This is a topic that I get a lot of calls about on air. Jeff said, “I did feel like we got off a little bit there towards the middle part of the race and made gains to get back up there. Yeah, I felt like we made gains. Today was all about where you restarted. If you restarted on the outside lane, you were done. I lost like five or six spots one time just being on the outside lane. I made two of them up. Caution came out. Went back to the outside lane, lost two or three more. To me, I almost wanted to like let off and let a car pass me on pit road or something just so I could come out odd to start on the inside lane. When I started on the inside lane, we drove right up there,” Gordon said. ” When we lost those positions, we lost track position and the car wasn’t the same. When we were out front, our car was just so awesome. We never really got a chance to see what it was like towards the front there at the end. So that was a little disappointing. I felt like we made gains to get up to third or fourth before the second to the last caution.”

Matt Kenseth’s Take:
I got into Jeff a little bit – really not that hard!

Matt Kenseth (Finished 18th -#17 Crown Royal Ford) was disappointed himself that Gordon that Gordon retaliated so strongly when he thought that the hit he gave him was not all that hard. “I guess it looked like it was my fault,” Matt said. ” I did go in there and I did get into Jeff a little bit, really not that hard, and I got under him and everything was fine and he just took a left as hard as he could take one and ran me down all the way into the marbles. I’ve got all the marbles on my rear tires and I slowed up to try to get in the corner real slow and I kind of got hit from behind and I got hit in the side and started wheel-hopping. I couldn’t hang onto it when I got to three. It’s nothing Jeff wouldn’t have done or hasn’t done to me, expect he’s wrecked me all the way out, so it was just an aggressive race for the end. We were gonna be side-by-side going into three and four, and the outside lane has actually been an advantage anyway, so it wasn’t gonna be that big of a deal, but, instead, he decided to run me down as low as he could because he knew I’d wreck when I got to the corner. That’s the way it turned out. It was a dumb move on my part. I should have just finished third and collected some points and got one of our best finishes at Martinsville, but I figured I’d go for the win, which, I guess in hindsight, was probably a mistake.”

Matt is a veteran of short track racing, and he knows how the game is played. He’s not one to complain he’ll usually say what he has to say behind the wheel and on the race track.

Jeff Gordon thought that the past short-track frustration history between he and Kenseth was over. Now he’s wondering. That’s what makes short track racing so much fun for the fans.

Carl and Clint Post Race Talk:
Edwards was the meat in the sandwich!

Did you see Clint Bowyer (Finished 7th, BB&T Chevy) and Carl Edwards (Finished 8th -Aflac Ford) talking after the race? So what were they talking about? “I had a guy pushing me and I was pushing him and almost got both of us,” Carl said. ” I just wanted him to know that I was the meat in the sandwich there. It’s good though and he was cool with it. We had a good laugh about the whole thing.”

Victory Lane!
Denny Hamlin remembers the race fans!

I’m LIVE in Victory Lane when the race is over, so I’m in the happiest place on earth every weekend. This weekend though, I watched a demonstration by the race winner as to how to celebrate a race WITH the race fans. As I’m standing in Victory Lane, with (#11 FedEx) crew chief Mike Ford, I look over to the #11 car. He totally blew the tires off that car with the burnout and the team was trying to lift the car (which was banged up like a demolition derby entry at the state fair) and get it up so they could get tires on it and get it off of the front stretch. After some red-faced lift attempts by the entire team, a NASCAR official jacked the car and the guys got it rolling and back to the garage.

Mike Ford told me that when he told Denny about taking four tires, Denny said “10-4″ indicating they were in it together on the decision. Ford told me that some drivers will give a vague answer so that the crew chief is the hero or the zero on a call like this -but in this case Denny gave his crew chief his total support, something that Ford appreciated.

After doing the hat dance, Denny bolted across the track to the race fans to spray champagne on them and the fans loved every single, champagne soaking moment. To do that Denny had to leave Victory Lane and cross the track go through the fence, up some stairs and to where the fans were pushing up against the fence in excitement.

I’m standing by ready to interview Denny LIVE on SIRIUS NASCAR Radio after he returned to Victory Lane for more photos, when Denny indicated I should come with him, and since I was just going LIVE and introducing him on air, I followed him as he returned across the track, back up the stairs, and to the fence where the fans were. He took a whole stack of Victory Lane caps and was signing them and handing them out to the race fans.

This is a Denny Hamlin that fans will get to know better over the years and a guy who knows how important these fans are. He’s good about giving tickets away during the week to race fans – but to remember them in the charged-up, everyone-wanting-something, crazy and frenetic excitement of Victory Lane is really something special.

I salute Denny Hamlin for what he did during his moments of celebration. I was standing there LIVE with him at the fence across the track as the fans screamed and shouted his name and, no matter which driver they follow, I’m sure they will never forget the moment. That was way cool of Denny, and we wish him good luck on Wednesday’s knee surgery.

Did Denny Hamlin bully his way to a win?
Come on people – it’s short track racing!

Some of the callers who were fans of other drivers asked about how fiercely Denny Hamlin battled it from his pit stop for fresh tires to win the race. Leaving the media center, I heard one reporter say, ” NASCAR the fans love ‘have at it’ unless someone is having at their driver – then it’s not so much fun.” That makes sense, it’s understandable. It’s called being a loyal fan. But short track racing has always been gouging your way to a win.

When a reporter noted to Jeff Gordon that Hamlin “bullied his way up there,” and asked how he defined a “cheap shot” as it related to his reference to the encounter with the #17, Gordon replied, “Denny had four tires. That’s different. He had a car that would stick and turn around, go underneath guys. He could out brake guys. Hey, he won the race. So it doesn’t matter. That’s the bottom line. You know, a cheap shot to me is when you don’t really have a shot at it, you just go and rub into the back of a guy. That’s what I think is a cheap shot.”

You’ll have that in short track racing!

Finally —–The Caution
A strike ball call by NASCAR

So let’s talk about the caution at the end of the race that took the Good’s Fast Pain Relief 500 into a green white checkered situation. Gordon cruised under green and Hamlin drove three-wide into Turn 1, battling his way to fourth on fresh tires. Then, another caution was thrown, this time it was for Kyle Busch’s spin in Turn 3 with just over a lap remaining.

Jeff Gordon’s fans and some who favored teams whose result was affected negatively by the caution were frustrated. “It was pretty obvious to me NASCAR wanted to do a green-white-checkered finish,” Gordon said. He was within reach of the finish line at the time. “There were cars blowing tires, hitting the wall [and] they weren’t throwing the caution. One spins out, and they threw the caution in the blink of an eye. I think it was pretty obvious what they wanted.”

NASCAR makes no bones about the fact that they want the race to finish under green and multiple green white checkered flags will be used to ensure that.

Ok, so at the end of the race cautions might not be called as quickly when NASCAR thinks the race will still end under green – and we can debate that all day long. As the race is nearer to conclusion – it does seem that the cautions are called more quickly if there’s a chance the race will end under yellow without the caution. The object is to end under yellow. Sometimes the late race caution will bite your team, sometimes it will favor your team.

While I won’t begin to argue constency when it comes to cautions, since it’s a judgement call, it’s about the finish under green in my mind, and not which driver might win, or not win the race as a result.

If Kyle Busch had not had wrecked Jeff Gordon probably would have won the race and without double file restarts Denny would not have had a chance anyway-as he came from fourth place to win in two laps. That’s to say nothing of the #11 team choice to pit for four tires, and the chance that Denny could have lost the race because of that call.

I love short track racing!

It’s a beautiful day in Charlotte, North Carolina – enjoy the day!

I’ll be in touch.

Happy Easter!

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Sloshing Around Martinsville! March 29, 2010

Posted by claireblang in 2010 Season.
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We’re racing today here at Martinsville. The weather has lifted and, if we’re lucky, we might actually get this race completed in its entirety today!

Stay tuned for the race broadcast (starting at noon on FOX TV and MRN Radio carried by Sirius Satellite Radio). I’ll be on after the race in Victory Lane LIVE and until 7:00 p.m. EST will break the race down on Sirius NASCAR radio.

Some questions to answer :

What happened during the practice session between Travis Kvapil and Tony Stewart.

From Tony Stewart’s (Driver #14 Old Spice/ Office Depot Chefy) Perspective:

LOOKS LIKE YOU AND TRAVIS KVAPIL GOT TOGETHER AT THE END OF PRACTICE, WHAT HAPPENED, WE ONLY SAW THE END OF IT? “That is a really good question, I wish I knew the answer to that. That is all I saw was the end of it too when he checked up in front of us. Not sure why that happened.”
From Travis Kvapil’s (Driver #34 A#W All American Food Ford) Perspective:

CAN YOU EXPLAIN WHAT HAPPENED IN PRACTICE YESTERDAY WITH YOU AND TONY STEWART? “Yeah, I don’t really think it’s a big deal. To me, it was just Martinsville. I was on new tires trying to get a qualifying run at the end of practice and the track was really crowded. On new tires it takes a lap or two until they get going and I was still slipping and sliding and trying to get my tires to hook up. Tony was on his last lap, I guess, and had a lot of speed. To cut to the chase, I was in his way. My plan was to get down the backstretch and move over to let him go, but I never got good enough traction off the corner to get going and get out of his way. I am sure he is upset and our guys are upset that the race car got beat up a little bit. To me, it isn’t a big deal, its just a product of things that happen when you go short-track racing.”

Look Out for Rubber In The Track:

Juan Pablo Montoya (Driver #42 Target Chevy): “The rubber in the corners. You start getting rubber on the green, you get lines of rubber. You really have to find a way to drive around that. You get there and it doesn’t turn. It moves the car or it steps out. It depends on which tire hits it. It is a challenge but it is exciting.”

Jeff Burton (Driver #31 Caterpiller Chevy) : “The rubber builds up on the exit of both corners. It starts to build up just past the center of the corner and through to the exit. You have three options—run all the below it with the right side tires, which means that your left tires are right up next to the curb, straddle it, or run with all four tires above it. You adjust your car to run whichever way you think is the best at that time, and then a caution comes out and the rubber goes away, and then you run for 40-50 laps with no rubber on the track. So then you have your car set up to run in a certain area that your car doesn’t want to run in anymore. It’s a constant balance between where the rubber builds up and where it doesn’t. It is important to understand where that rubber is and I see a lot of people in practice that forget that and practice with the right tires exactly where the rubber is going to be. So and when they have that setup starting the race, they can’t run anymore. The knowledge of that and how it changes your car is very important because it affects how you practice your car and how you set up your car.”

Denny Hamlin’s Surgery:

Denny Hamlin (driver #11 Fed Ex) will undergo surgery to repair the ACL in his left knee. The surgery will be performed by Dr. Patrick Connor with OrthoCarolina. Hamlin injured the knee in January prior to the start of the 2010 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season.

The surgery was scheduled for today (Monday) but it has been moved until tonight or Wednesday due to the rain delayed running of the Goody’s Fast Pain Relief 500 today. If Denny is able to get back to Charlotte early enough it may be tonight, but I am told it is more likely to take place Wednesday.

Is there any chance you get out of the car at Martinsville?
Denny Hamlin (Driver of the #11 Fed Ex Freight Toyota) “No, I don’t think so. I really didn’t feel much pain, a little bit, at the end of Bristol. Not much until afterwards when we got out and went home. There’s no chance this weekend.”

Crew Chief’s Corner. Penske Dodge Crew Chiefs perspective on today’s race:

The Penske Racing crew chiefs for the three Dodge teams offer insight on the “Keys for Success” at Martinsville Speedway.

STEVE ADDINGTON (Crew Chief, No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge Charger)
WHAT ARE THE KEYS FOR SUCCESS AT MARTINSVILLE SPEEDWAY?
“Keep the brakes on the car, stay out of trouble and stay calm all day long. That’s it.”

TRAVIS GEISLER (Crew Chief, No. 77 Mobil 1 Dodge Charger)
WHAT ARE THE KEYS FOR SUSCCESS AT MARTINSVILLE SPEEDWAY?
“First of all is patience. This place can really frustrate you. When you have a better car than the guy in front of you and you want to get past him and another guy is beating your bumper off from behind, you’ve got to be patient and not use up your equipment.

“Second is track position. It’s got to cycle through and you have to pit at the right time. During the race, some guys will pit this time while some will pit at the next caution. You hope that when the last one comes, you cycle through in the right spot. You will see a lot of two-tire stops. It’s pretty much the craziest pit cycles you have anywhere we go. Track position becomes so important, people do things that don’t really make sense, but they know they’re never going to pass the 20 cars if they come in and get four tires and get behind them. So, you just stay out and hope your driver can hang on and protect what you have. Track position is important.

“The third is drive off. That’s what everyone will be working on today. You tend to be so loose on exit here on throttle. That will be our focus in practice today, trying to give him (Sam Hornish Jr.) the ability to come to throttle hard (off the turns) so he can get underneath people and make passes.”

JAY GUY (Crew Chief, No. 12 Dodge Motorsports Dodge Charger)
WHAT ARE THE KEYS FOR SUCCESS AT MARTINSVILLE SPEEDWAY?
“If we can get good track position early in the race and be able to maintain that track position, that is very key to running well here at Martinsville. You have to have good pit strategy and have brakes at the end of the race. Those are biggest things you have to do to be successful here. I think with Brad’s (Keselowski) driving style, we can obviously do that.

“There will probably be a little bit of pit strategy involved, depending on how everything takes off at the beginning of the race. I can see maybe pulling a no-tire or two-tire stop early in the race just to see how it goes because you never know, you might need it for the end of the race if you are competing for the win. You just need to get a feel for how it’s going to play out. I’m looking forward to tomorrow.

“We’re disappointed qualifying was rained out. Brad hasn’t been here in quite a while, but we have a lot of information coming in from the 77 and 2 and all the folks at Dodge. We felt like we could do well, qualifying solidly in the teens or maybe a little better than that. Brad learned a lot in practice yesterday. We got the car a little better for him. We were disappointed for sure not being able to qualify and having to start 30th.”

Getting into a competitors head – or not!!
Jeff Gordon (Driver of the #24 DuPont Chevrolet) “I think that if you focus on that, you’re the one that can get messed with the easiest when things aren’t going your way. That’s not a way I’ve ever approached it. If you just go out there and win and do your job and just keep focusing on doing that, then I think that’s going to win your respect as well as keeping you focused on the important things with your team. There’s no doubt that when someone has been as dominant as they’ve (Jimmie Johnson and No. 48 team) been, you sit there and scratch your head and say man, what do they have? What are they doing? What do we need to do differently? And they’re just that good of a race team. If I ever question anything, it’s just how do we make small little changes to our team and our race cars to be that good. I see all the data. I see everything. And those guys know how to put themselves in position and capitalize on it when it counts the most. And they’ve just built confidence. There’s no doubt that they have a lot of confidence in their program and what they’re doing. Jimmie does in his driving and Chad (Knaus) does in his ability to be a crew chief. But nobody is invincible out here.

When you were the guy everyone else was gunning for:

“To me, it just made us work that much harder to try to stay on top of it. Those were the easiest weekends I ever had in this sport. When you have things going your way like that, you just go to the race track and it doesn’t matter where you’re at on the board. You feel like you’ve got a shot at winning the race. And you just focus on that and the cars are driving so good. It seems like the decisions that are made are always the right ones. At the end of the day, you’re driving into victory lane going, ‘Wow, we won another race!’ And you win the races that you shouldn’t be winning and you’re winning the ones that you should be winning. And it’s an awesome feeling. But I’ve never focused on how that affects the competition. I just really focus on how do we maintain that.”

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I’m headed out to pit road and ready for race time! I’ll get back with all of you after the race is run. Enjoy the race!

Claire B. Lang