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Pedley: PIR Post-Mortem

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Sunday, April 11 2010

Getting in and out of his car was a struggle for Denny Hamlin at Phoenix International Raceway over the weekend. (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)

By Jim Pedley | Senior Writer

Scalpel…Bone saw…mop:

Howard Cosell, a sportscaster back in the day when brains were required to be one, had this famous line he uttered after a particularly bad football injury one time.

“The knee,” Cosell said with sorrowful resignation. “Always the knee.”

The knee everybody had their eyes on this weekend belonged to Denny Hamlin. He had injured it playing basketball months ago but decided to have it operated upon after the race in Martinsville two weeks ago.

The thought was that two weeks would give it decent recovery time before Saturday night’s race in Phoenix.

Well, Hamlin won Martinsville so he put the surgery off a couple of more days. When he showed up at Phoenix Friday, he looked more than just a bit green.

Casey Mears was put on standby for the weekend as Hamlin and the team monitored the gnarled knee. But when the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota headed out onto the track Saturday night, it was with Hamlin behind the wheel.

Before he was loaded through the window the final time, he had the knee drained of fluids. (If they do it the same way they did it when I had mine drained after a high school baseball mishap, they stick a very large needle into the the knee in a couple of places and withdraw whatever is in there.)

I have a lot of good memories from the high school days – knee draining’s not on the list.

After the race, Hamlin, who finished 30th, talked about the knee.

Question: How are you feeling after racing the entire race today?

Hamlin: “We had a lot more issues than my leg today. We had a subpar car and we just killed ourselves trying to change – we had electrical problems. We shouldn’t have had a problem and then when we tried to fix it, we got ourselves behind on pit road and lost two laps. Just fought all day and it was just a miserable experience. To be honest with you, I would have been too embarrassed to give Casey (Mears) the car I had today. It’s not what we’re accustomed to.”

Question: Did you think you were going to finish the race when it started?

Hamlin: “I got a lot of encouragement from the team. Through thick and thin, we’re a team. I feel like they’d give their left leg for me and do everything they could do to make sure we were successful and I felt like it was my duty and my job and that’s what I’m hired to do, is to try to do the best I can and keep this team as good as we can. We had problems on the race track.”

Question: Was there a reason you stayed in the car the entire race?

Hamlin: “I was going to do all I could do. I reached a point, probably 160 laps in I looked at the score board to see how much more time I had to stay in there and that’s about the time we went about two laps down. I knew that if I got out of the car, I was going to hear all kinds of stuff from everyone else saying I gave up on the team. That’s one thing I’m not going to do is give up on these guys. It didn’t matter if I knew we weren’t going to gain one more position today and I knew it once we went two laps down. I felt like it was important for me to be in that car.”

Question: Would you have considered getting out of the car if Mike Ford (crew chief) or Joe Gibbs (team owner) suggested it?

Hamlin: “I would have considered it, but to me I can’t watch somebody else get in there.”

Quesiton: Do you feel better today than yesterday?

Hamlin: “I was on my feet a lot, even during practice (yesterday). I was on my feet for four or five hours even though I wasn’t necessarily in the race car for Friday. Today I was able to stay off of my feet until I got to the race car. That was the most important thing. I didn’t have to strain any energy until I got in that car.”

Follow the leader: Common decency would normally prevent prevent me from calling anybody a monkey. But what happened at PIR Saturday night, and utilizing the term strictly in an allegorical sense, was a case of monkey-see, monkey-do at the finish of the Subway Fresh Fit 600.

In a piece in RacinToday last week, Senior Writer Jeff Hood wrote about the emerging new trend of taking four tires late in races and sacrificing once-sacred track position to do it.

Hamlin used the strategy to win at Martinsville. Others have used it successfully and on Saturday night, several more tried. None very successfully.

In fact, the decision to take four tires while most others took two during the pit stop which preceded the race-deciding green/which/checkered restart, probably cost Kyle Busch the victory.

He took four while leading and wound up eighth.

Jimmie Johnson also took four and wound up third. He talked about the decision and how it was a result of watching others do it successfully in recent weeks.

“I made the call for four tires,” Johnson said. “It’s the first time that I can remember in a long time that I actually said what I wanted for a pit stop, with the way Martinsville played out and Bristol and last night’s race.”

Begging to differ: Tires vs. track position even got a healthy debate among those on the winning team.

“I kind of threw (crew chief Tony) Gibson under the bus because he wanted to put four on and I said just give me two, I like the track position,” winner Ryan Newman said. “I would rather block.”

Sound of silence: We won’t know how Busch felt about the decision to take two tires. He bolted after the disappointing finish. Reportedly not before giving his helmet a hearty toss.

Too bad. For his fans who wanted to know what he was thinking and for the helmet. I smell helmet auction for charity coming up!

Not happy, either: Kyle’s finish was not the worst by a Busch. Big brother Kurt finished 35th.

“Certainly not the night that we were looking for with our Miller Lite Dodge,” KuBu said. “Our night pretty much ended on lap 15 when, coming out of Turn 4, the car just shot right on me and collected the 9 car.  The contact wasn’t that bad, but I got spun around, slid down track and got clipped by the 11 which tore up the left front pretty good.”

Kind of happy: Normally, nothing but victory makes Juan Pablo Montoya happy. But after finishing fifth Saturday night, Montoya was smiling. Probably more out of relief as the finish was just his second top-five of the young season (he was third at Atlanta), but smiling he was.

“We needed this,” Montoya said. “We really needed this. I think everybody knows we can do it. I like this. It’s very important. Going to the next couple of races if we can get a couple more top fives we’ll be looking pretty good for the Chase.”

The finish marked just the third time in seven races in which Montoya has finished on the lead lap.

Proud owner: Rushing to get to Newman like a new papa to the maternity ward was team-owner Tony Stewart.

“He’s so proud of me,” Newman said. “He told me he loved me and I told him I loved him back, ’cause it’s his name, I’m representing him and a lot of people behind us. Everybody at Stewart-Haas, I thanked them for their help. I’m so gracious to be here right now. It’s the most emotional victory I think I’ve ever had in my entire career just because it’s been so long and I’m glad to do it here in Phoenix. It’s my first Cup start here; I won four poles, and now I finally get my first win.”

And finally: A huge “That Sucked” to the decision to add another 100 kilometers to the Phoenix night race. Here’s hoping track promoters do not engage in monkey-see, monkey do.

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

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Sunday, April 11 2010
One Comment

One Comment »

  • JR says:

    Got to agree that adding 100 kilometers was not a good thing. Guess PIR was worried it might not end in the dark. I will also point out that the driver who should have won the race did not. It was because of the green/white/checker…the manipulation of racing I dislike the most. Designed by NASCAR as giving the fans their moneys worth by not having to endure races ending under caution, this abomination was not needed for the first 50 years of the sport. That is because for the first 50 years, actual race fans came to the races. While NASCAR tinkered with red flags as a solution for modern fans to keep from being bored, in 2004, they adopted the green/white/checker to appease Earnhardt Jr. groupies who were dissatisfied with the outcome of a Talladega race. In recent times, they continued to manipulate the racing to attract even more non-race fans and to protect their franchise driver. Thus we have the restrictor plate, the Chase, the Lucky Dog, the wave around, speeding on pit road, double file restarts and phantom cautions, which also got used yesterday in Phoenix to keep the franchise driver from going a lap down.
    Had all these things been done from the very beginning of NASCAR, its history would be dramatically different. It would be unlikely to have 200 wins by a driver or seven time champions. NASACAR can manipulate the product you see today. Trouble is, the type of fans that got them through the first 50 years just want to see straight up racing but it’s the new whiners that NASCAR sees as their future income. To bad because they once had a really good product.