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Monday, June 30, 2008

You can't win if you don't gamble

First things first … Kurt Busch had a terrible car and had no business winning Sunday’s race at Loudon.

But guess what … that doesn’t matter. He was the one in Victory Lane holding the trophy, and the day’s dominant drivers only have themselves to blame for their disappointing finishes.

Often, you must take chances to win, and the drivers who stayed out figured the rain was coming quickly, and it wasn’t worth pitting. They turned out to be right and were rewarded with strong finishes. The ones who pitted didn’t want to risk running out of gas, and they hurt themselves in the process.

The worst offender was Stewart. I understand that if you’re on empty, you must stop for gas. But for some strange reason, despite knowing that weather was coming, either Stewart of his crew chief decided to take tires when he pitted, moving him from the top spot to the teens in the running order. His teammate Denny Hamlin was a little smarter, and ended up eighth after a gas-only stop.

These rain-decided finishes always make me chuckle, as the top five is just so ridiculous. Michael Waltrip, an afterthought all year, finished second for his first (and possibly last) top-10 all season. Afterward, he said he could have beaten Kurt Busch had the race restarted. Third place went to J.J. Yeley, who has been even worse than Waltrip all year, so don’t expect to see him get another top 5 anytime soon. And Martin Truex Jr., whose car turned to junk about halfway through the race, used strategy to grab the fourth position.

I kind of wish the race would have restarted. Watching Michael Waltrip and J.J. Yeley battle for a race win would be like entering the Twilight Zone.

The best moment of the race for me, and millions of others I’m sure, was when Juan Pablo Montoya put the chrome horn to Kyle Busch under caution to show his displeasure with how Busch had been racing him the last couple laps. I know it was unsportsmanlike behavior and could have wrecked innocent drivers‘ cars, but considering how disrespectful Busch has been to many of his competitors in all three series this season, I saw it as poetic justice. The best part of it all was that Montoya didn’t even try to hide it, freely admitting he did it on purpose. That kind of honesty is why I like Montoya.

I expected a typically boring Loudon race, but the on-track skirmishes, weather drama and crazy finishing order made it almost tolerable to watch.

It was fun to see Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon damn near wreck each other fighting for position, then Jimmie called Jeff a “spoiled brat“ over this radio. That’s pretty gutsy of Jimmie, considering Jeff is part owner of his team.

The points were jumbled once again. Kevin Harvick jumped back into the Chase, while Matt Kenseth is now 15 points out. Martin Truex’s strong finish put him only 71 points out of the Chase, and Ryan Newman and Brian Vickers are still lurking just over 100 points back. With the always looming “Big One” possible at Daytona this Saturday, don’t be surprised if there’s some pretty severe jumbling next week, too.

Even before his on-track incident, Kyle Busch showed the world his team is not indestructible, as his car was no better than mid-pack and never contended. If a few more races go like this for the 18 team, maybe we won’t have a runaway champion after all.

The Ganassi cars looked great all weekend, but mostly fizzled on race day. Montoya led both Saturday practices, but the car was pretty terrible all day Sunday. Franchitti, also great in practice, ended up laps down after wrecking. Only Reed Sorenson was able to get a decent finish for the struggling Ganassi team.


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