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Sunday, November 2, 2008

Daring fuel gamble by Edwards brings championship battle back to life

Things were looking pretty grim for Carl Edwards as the laps were winding down at Texas. Sure he’d led hundreds of laps and Jimmie Johnson was a lap down, but after several drivers took two tires to knock him back several spots in the running order, he looked to once again gain very little on Johnson despite a solid performance.

Then, his crew chief told him something that he never thought he’d here -- You’re good to go on fuel. Running an amazing 69 laps on fuel, Edwards was (probably) able to last until the end. He took the chance, and in the process creating the odd sight of the winner being passed by half the field in the final few laps of the race. Jeff Gordon also gambled on fuel, and came home in second place -- tying his best finish of the year.

So who’s the big winner today, beside Carl Edwards?

NASCAR fans, who will actually have some excitement to look forward to in the next couple weeks. If Johnson had gained points today, the title would have been his for sure. But with this points loss, he’s going to have to earn it, as he’s only 106 points ahead of Edwards -- who officially has the momentum and has been on a rampage lately. Barring that ignition problem a few weeks ago, he would be neck and neck with Johnson right now.

Things could have been even tighter after Texas. Initially, when he got trapped a lap down due to the rare occasion of an ill-handling #48 car, he was running around 30th position. By day’s end, as the #48 team always seems to do when they struggle, he had improved dramatically, finishing 15th. If Johnson ends up winning the title by a close margin, these past two weeks where he battle back after going a lap down early will have been the reason he is the champ.

As a side note, I found it hilarious to hear the normally calm Knaus cuss as Johnson almost got into a pit road incident. I also found it strange that ABC chose to replay the exchange, even though they knew he had sworn. It’s not that I was offended, as I’ve heard and said much worse, but the networks usually police themselves much better, and drivers have been penalized by NASCAR for swearing during interviews.

Other drivers who put on solid performances at Texas were David Reutimann and David Ragan, who are the two most improved drivers this year and should each get at least one win in 2009. Also, Jamie McMurray’s team has escaped the doldrums it was in all year and has run well in the past month, culminating in a third-place finish today. Look for him to be more competitive next year in what will likely be his final season at Roush.

Great debut for Keselowski
Driving a fifth Hendrick car, Rochester Hills native Brad Keselowski finally made his Cup debut and did a fantastic job, finishing 19th, two laps down. He had some trouble early, scraping the wall, and could have tanked after that. But he fought back and stayed competitive all day in his first race in the COT, which is much different than the Nationwide car he drives each week.

A start like that is a sign of great things to come, and you can count on Keselowski to do great things when he makes the leap to Cup full-time, which will likely come in 2010 for Hendrick.

Kyle Busch shows heart
I’ve said many things about Kyle Busch this year that are not positive, but no one with a heart can have anything but praise for Busch this week, as he announced he will donate $100,000 to help the ailing Sam Ard, a two-time Busch Series champion who is suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease and struggling financially.

After winning his 10th Nationwide race of the season to tie Ard’s record from 1983, Busch made the announcement in Victory Lane. Regardless of how they feel about Kyle on the racetrack, everyone should tip their cap to him for this generous donation, which is proof not only has heart, but also cares about the history of the sport and its past heroes.

Logano struggling
What’s up with Joey Logano?

I believe things will improve when he takes over the #20 car next year, but Logano was garbage at Texas in the #02 car.

I stand by my prediction that Logano will do great things, win races and win titles during a long Cup career, but it appears the transition to the top series may not be as smooth as Logano might like. The talent is obviously there if you watch him in Nationwide races, now let’s see how long it takes for him to sync with his Cup team and get up to snuff.


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