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Pedley: Explaining The ‘Gift’

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Monday, February 22 2010
Jimmie Johnson celebrates his first victory of the season and the 48th of his career. (Photo by Jason Smith/Getty Images for NASCAR)

Jimmie Johnson celebrates his first victory of the season and the 48th of his career. (Photo by Jason Smith/Getty Images for NASCAR)

Monday leftovers following the NASCAR weekend in Southern California:

So there you are, charting the Auto Club 500 from the dip-stained Barcalounger and suddenly something seems amiss. Jimmie Johnson lines up for the final restart on the bumper of the pace car.

But, but, but…Jeff Burton was there a couple minutes before and Johnson was nowhere in sight. What the hey?

You reach for the remote to turn up the sound and you kind of get an answer. Something to do with luck, apparently.

If you still did not know how Johnson assumed the lead you probably had a lot of company.

Some of that company was in the media center at Auto Club Speedway.

In the post-race interview session, Johnson was asked to run through his ascent to the lead – an ascent that wound up winning him the race.

“So we were in our pit box, doing the pit stop,” Johnson explained. “The caution came out. We completed our pit stop, then left pit road. Where we were positioned on pit road, we had to beat the leader (Burton) to the scoring line at the end of the pit lane. We got there just about the same time and beat him by a car length or half a car length or something.

“I think the 18 (Kyle Busch) was in the pits, and the leader of the race passed him a few seconds before the 18 was able to get that line.  That’s why we were able to be on the lead lap still. Then everybody pitted and we were the leader.”

Replays showed that Johnson, who called the lead a “gift”, beat Burton to the scoring line by just a couple of feet.

Burton was asked if there was anything he could have done to get to the line first.

Perhaps, he said.

“I knew people were on pit road,” Burton said. “There’s a fine line between slowing down and not slowing down. I don’t know where that line is. I came around as quick as I thought I could without NASCAR getting upset at me.

“You know, I don’t know. If I’d have come around probably 2/10ths of a second quicker, we would have had him a lap down. Nonetheless, I did what I thought was right. You know, I didn’t just stop. I carried speed around. They ask you to slow down. You can’t run down there wide open or they’ll get you for that.

“You know, I don’t know. I don’t know what the right thing to do there is. I’ll go back and spend some time with them and ask them their opinion. If I could carry more speed the next time, I certainly will.”

There you kind of have it.

Empty Feeling: There was a lot of discussion in the infield over the weekend about the fate of the Auto Club 500.

Many think that the date is on the NASCAR hit list as the series works on a 2011 schedule that will almost surely award a second date to Kansas Speedway.

Those hoping that a strong showing at the gate over the weekend might keep the grim reaper away from the door for a while longer had to be disheartened come Sunday afternoon.

Several reporters guessed that the grandstands of the 92,000-seat facility were at half capacity on Sunday. On Saturday, well, Danicamania failed to pack ‘em in.

Auto Club supporters also could not have been too thrilled with what they heard from drivers who were asked about the chance that the speedway might become a one-race facility in the near future. Few if any leaped to the place’s defense.

Tony Stewart: “If it’s not here, it will be somewhere else. It doesn’t matter to us as competitors. We just want to race and we really don’t care where it’s at.”

Jeff Gordon: “One thing I’ve learned throughout the years, this is my 18th season, is that whether there’s 10 races or one race, it is not up to me. I really try not to get too opinionated when it comes to those areas. It’s a big business. I’m so thankful that I’m a part of a sport that has as many fans as we do and gets to go to these incredible race tracks that we go to.”

And Gordon is a California kid.

Reviews are in: The Matt Kenseth/Todd Parrott Show debuted over the weekend and at least the internal reviews were good. Everybody on the No. 17 Roush Fenway Racing team seemed satisfied.

Driver Kenseth: “It sounds dumb me saying that since we won the first two last year, but to get out of Daytona with all the troubles we had and finish eighth, and then to come here in Todd’s first weekend and finish seventh is pretty good. We ran a little worse than some of our teammates at times and a little better at times, and it seemed like we ran as good as most of the Fords did. I still think we’ve got some work to do to get all of our cars better as a group, but I thought overall that our team did a good job.”

Crew chief Parrott: “I was very, very happy. I would have liked to have gotten the car closer for Matt, but we just tweaked on it all day long. It wasn’t too bad. We’ve got some work to do. Those guys up front, obviously, have some really fast race cars, but I think we made some huge gains from where we were over the winter, so I think we’re heading in the right direction.”

A tale of two teammates: Red Bull Racing teammates Brian Vickers and Scott Speed finished as closely to each other as you can get – 11th and 12th respectively. But their takes on their days were not a bit close.

Speed: “Awesome weekend. I mean, I can’t say enough. I didn’t think we would run as good as we did, honestly. We legitimately ran in the top-10 for the last half of the race, once we got track position. For this being the beginning of my second year here pretty much, I’m really, really happy.”

Vickers: “It was disappointing. We had a good car. I think we had a top-five car. A couple of times – just pit strategy, two (tires) or four (tires) got us off base. The one time we stayed out because it was raining, we kept running and everybody short-pitted.

They should have thrown the caution because it was raining pretty hard, and they didn’t. And we lost a lot of ground with everybody short-pitting. They had new tires. That pretty much got us behind the rest of the day. They threw the caution out right after that and on pit road they made the wrong adjustment by accident, and we were just way, way, way too loose.”

– Jim Pedley can be reached at jpedley@racintoday.com

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Monday, February 22 2010
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