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Ingram: Biffle Drives Away, Sadler Walks Away

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, August 2 2010

Elliott Sadler was standing and talking just minutes after his horrific wreck at Pocono. (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images for NASCAR)

By Jonathan Ingram | Senior Writer

From the Monday Morning Crew Chief:

It’s not often that a 500-mile race at Pocono answers a lot of important questions about the Sprint Cup, but that’s what happened on Sunday.

Has the Roush Fenway Racing team been behind because of both horsepower and handling issues? Greg Biffle’s team answered the first question by winning with the long overdue Ford FR9 engine at a horsepower track. Crew Chief Greg Erwin, meanwhile, confirmed changes to the suspension in early July now allow the team to arrive at tracks closer to the cutting edge and then make mid-race adjustments. Biffle’s 3M Ford needed quite a few adjustments on this winning day.

The Car of Tomorrow. Elliott Sadler’s horrific crash on the back straight. There weren’t many questions remaining about whether a safer car is always a better car. The site of Sadler’s disengaged engine lying on the track, testimony to the g-forces of impact, and the driver crawling out of his Ford should answer any glimmer of question remaining about the importance of the COT.

Is any oval with grass alongside the straights and without SAFER Barriers on the inside fences unsafe? The question about grass and poor barriers was answered by Davey Allison’s horrific accident in 1992 at Pocono. Eighteen years after that incident and 10 years into the decade of hefty TV incomes and SAFER Barriers, it remains mind-boggling that the Pennsylvania track has failed to make the needed improvements over the years – and that NASCAR failed to insist on them through its sanctioning agreements.

Regarding censorship and/or fines, I promise not to put this latter comment on my Facebook page. Because anything other than happy talk regarding the conduct of the sanctioning body that is distributed via social media is subject to a hefty fine. This seems to be the gist of the rules of the invisible NASCAR universe.

Do the networks really understand how to cover motor racing yet? On this day, ESPN caught almost every piece of significant action from excellent camera angles and the commentators rarely talked over key moments on the track, rather they enhanced the “conversation.” Interviews were direct and incisive. Tim Brewer had most of the technical answers. After all these years, it’s a start.

Do races need to be shorter? It depends on the average speed. The high-speed jambalaya at Pocono on Sunday among a variety of drivers confirmed that 500 miles is a fitting test of man and machine at this track. The race also suggested more teams are getting the hang of the COT, which increases ebb and flow, cuts down on the boredom factor.

Goodyear. The company was thrashed after the Brickyard 400 in 2008, but few seem to stand up these days and thank the company for its excellent work. Using a high-tech camera and introducing an entirely new era of technology for tire development, Goodyear’s racing department resolved the problem of getting rubber to stick to track surfaces with the relatively hard outside tires on the COT. On a green track after heavy rain, the grip of the Goodyears at the often challenging Pocono Triangle was sufficient for an excellent race from the start.

Two tires or four? This debate is here to stay and also makes for good racing.

It’s another aspect of the work done by Goodyear. For the first 10 laps of any re-start, the drivers are trading on the relatively decent grip of the Goodyears – whether they went for two tires, four or fuel only. Four tires are always better for grip, but track position is always up for grabs. Although “sideways Biff” hit the wall on occasion at the exit of Turn One, the winner was able to get by on two-tire changes twice en route to victory, because Goodyear has created softer, grippier inside tires that also have more durability due to understanding the particle technology learned at Indy.

Juan Pablo Montoya said he’d forgotten about another of his Indy debacles when he arrived at Pocono. Fat chance, said the racing veterans. Four tires again proved to be the wrong choice the last time down the pit road for the Target Chevy of Earnhardt Ganassi Racing and again the driver blew up with anger. Participants have always talked about “give up” on tires, but somebody at Chip Ganassi’s team needs to put crew chief Brian Pattie together with Montoya to talk about driver give up, which has been a knock for much of his open-wheel career and now continues.

Is there a love/hate relationship with team owner Jack Roush and his teams? I’ve often thought so, because the team owner is the Enzo Ferrari of stock car racing and uses a wide variety of commentary to motivate the troops that is sometimes tough to take. (Just ask the departed Jamie McMurray or the disgrungled Matt Kenseth.) But Roush is passionate about winning and gives his drivers and crews the tools they need.

It’s a lot easier to remember these latter attributes in Roush’s absence. Biffle’s victory, the team’s first of the season for Roush Fenway Racing, was a reminder the sport would never be the same without Roush and his incisive, sometimes piercing tongue and competitive spirit. Thank goodness Jack survived another harrowing plane crash.

On the other hand, if I sent Tweets I might wonder aloud why Ford ever allowed itself to be put in a position where its entire NASCAR program is in the hands of one team owner, one who has a tendency to take big swings (and miss) with chassis development as well as crash his airplanes.

Quotes of the Week: “Yeah, I’m OK. I’m a little sore. The breath definitely got knocked out of me. It was probably the hardest hit I’ve ever had in a race car, but I’ve got to thank all my guys back at home that put these things together. It knocked the engine out of it. I know it knocked the swaybar tube and the whole swaybar out of it and the whole left-front wheel assembly, but I’m still in one piece so it did its job. The way it hit the guardrail back there was pretty tough. It’s not the run we wanted to have with U.S. Air Force car, but we’ll go get ’em next week.”

– Richard Petty Motorsports driver Elliott Sadler after walking away from one of the worst crashes in NASCAR history.

“It’s a proud day for Ford, Greg Biffle, Greg Erwin, 3M, the Pit Bulls, and all of the wonderful sponsors who have stood by us these last few months. I’m comforted in having Robbie Reiser at the helm in my absence and know that things are in good hands, but this couldn’t have happened without the support of Ford and all of their technical assistance they provide, and, of course Doug Yates and his collaboration with Ford on the new FR9 engine can’t be overstated.”

– Statement from Roush Fenway Racing team owner Jack Roush, recovering at the Mayo Clinic from his plane crash earlier in the week.

See ya! …At the races.

– Jonathan Ingram can be reached at jingram@racintoday.com

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, August 2 2010
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