Pedley: Big Leads Lead To Small Drama at Vegas
By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor
Odds and ends from a Sunday at Las Vegas:
In this edition – Big leads; New faces; Fueling problems; Air gun woes.
After starting off the season with two very good, very entertaining races, the Sprint Cup Series event in Las Vegas was a dog. And for the next several weeks – until the series returns to a 1.5-mile track – many will wonder if Vegas was an aberration or will be pro forma for intermediate tracks with this generation of car.
Sunday’s Kobalt 400 marked a return to run away and hide. That is, the car which best survived on restarts would pull away and leave the rest of the field far behind – 2-, 3- and 4-seconds behind – and fans hoping for cautions.
It appeared to be the old clean air thing. The thing that is good for beer vendors at the track and getting yard work done by those who stay home to watch, but not so good for keeping fans glued to the action.
We probably won’t get a lot of help from teams and drivers when it comes to analysis of the problem. Drivers, especially, tend to get quite defensive when the subject of boring races comes up and they tend to be quite predicable with their responses to questions about it.
When it was suggested to Tony Stewart – who was one of those drivers who jumped out to multi-second leads – that there was not much close racing, the answer was: “I don’t know what race you were watching. Juan and I raced pretty close at the end.”
True, but they were barely within sight of leader and eventual winner, Carl Edwards, when they were
Stewart’s answer was very reminiscent of a rather unfortunate comment made by Dale Jarrett after a particularly dull, droning Daytona 500 a decade ago. Jarrett said something along the lines of: I don’t know what you’re talking about. The race was pretty exciting from where I was sitting.
Of course Jarrett, showing insensitivity to the paying customers, didn’t have to de-pocket $100 for a ticket.
Montoya may have given the better, if not more satisfying answer, when he was asked about it.
“I don’t know, the cleaner the air – but that’s normal; that’s not new, is it?” Montoya, who finished third, said. “Every time you’re in traffic, you suck; every time you’re in clean air, you look hike a hero. That’s normal.”
And Edwards added a rather dire, “I felt like the cars were still very aero dependent.”
Here’s hoping that the rest of the season offers abnormal racing.
The good news about Sunday’s race in terms of competition was the large number of teams and drivers who at least had cars good enough to make the show behind the leader quite good.
For the third race in a row, unlikely names populated the top 20 on the final box score. Marcos Ambrose of Richard Petty Motorsports finished fourth. Martin Truex Jr. of Michael Waltrip Racing was sixth. Red Bull’s Brian Vickers was 10th and teammate Kasey Kahne was 14th.
Trevor Bayne, the lovably young winner of the Daytona 500 for the Wood Brothers, was 20th.
In all, I counted almost 30 cars which were competitive on Sunday. That is up by about 10 from last year.
If the running and hiding we saw at LVMS is an aberration, if the changes to noses and tires do translate to better competition at the front of the field, 2011 could be fun to watch.
Speaking of changes, the new fueling system had better come together and pronto.
In Vegas, it cost Greg Biffle a shot at challenging for a victory. Problems with the new self-venting
can bit him a couple times. The can failed fully dump its contents into the fuel cell. As a result, Biffle ran out of gas on the track.
He had some very unflattering things to say about his crew but whether it was a human error or not, is not clear.
Team owner Jack Roush was asked about it after the race.
“I didn’t hear what Greg said,” Roush said. “We’ll have plenty of time to talk about it. He was frustrated with the fact that they apparently didn’t get it full of gas. But there’s a big challenge for the teams. This new fuel system is really a problem. It doesn’t fill consistently from the bottom of the tank – or of the can to the top. We can get the first gallon or two of fuel out of the cans, two gallons in a second, and I’m not sure, but it’s probably twice that long to get the last two gallons out.
“And so for the gas man, for the crew chief, for the jack man, for everybody that’s got to have a finger in this thing there is a learning curve that’s not perfect. You need to know what your fuel mileage is before you have a reason to understand what it is. You need to be able to guess correctly about it, and my guess is that we didn’t get the 16 car’s gas tank full, and either it had something to do with the exchange on the cans or maybe the jack man let the car down too early. But either way we had some kind of a disconnect there that jeopardized Greg’s result.”
Roush said the winning team of Carl Edwards and crew chief Bob Osborne also had some minor problems with system.
“Early in the race the 99 was obviously a good Ford, but early in the race the 16 looked like it was every bit the measure of it,” he said. “Greg was really frustrated. But we’ll get all that calmed down and we’ll look at what happened there and look at the things going right with Carl’s program, and we’ll try to put it all together.
“But as Bob said, it takes us longer to exchange the cans, and we weren’t as slick as we should have been with our fueling operation even though we had a good result today.”
Another problem in the pits – Tony Stewart’s pits – also played a major role in the outcome.
Stewart, when he was dominating the race, left the pits with an air gun still attached to his car. As he
sped away, the yellow air hose trailed menacingly behind. (A couple pounds of steel and a plastic whip traveling at 50 mph; what possibly could go wrong there?)
The team was penalized and that pretty much killed Stewart’s chances.
Stewart said little about the incident in post-race.
“I don’t know what happened on the pit stop there,” Stewart said, “but we had a miscue and had a penalty and had to go to the back, and unfortunately it kind of dealt our cards for us.”
– Jim Pedley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org Comments