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Kansas Holds Its Own In Odd Occurrences Dept.

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Wednesday, October 12 2011

Tony Stewart had several good pits stops at Kansas on Sunday, but the one bad one may have been a season killer. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Christa L Thomas)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor

Let’s see what’s in the old Mornin’ Memo today:

Tri-ovaled with medium banking and 1.5 miles around, Kansas Speedway is often cited as the cookie-cutter’s cookie-cutter race track. And that implies, of course, bland, soulless racing.

And while Sunday’s Hollywood Casino 400 did feature a heaping helping of run-and-hide racing at the front of the pack, Kansas also has generated some genuinely bizarre racing moments during its 11 NASCAR seasons.

Among them in the distant past are the crash in 2002 that injured Sterling Marlin and may have cost him a Cup championship; winner Tony Stewart circling the track on the apron on the last lap at, like, 45 mph because he was out of fuel; Carl Edwards using his video-game inspired “banzai” ricochet-of-the-Turn 4 wall on Jimmie Johnson on the final lap in 2008; the did-he-or-didn’t-he win by Greg Biffle in 2007 when, low on fuel, he was passed by Clint Bowyer under yellow at the finish line.

Sunday’s Hollywood Casino race featured a couple of more things that were kind of odd.

The first was something about as rare as a Halley’s Comet appearance: A Tony Stewart mistake. It came late in the race, it came in a car that was fast enough to win the race and it may end up costing Stewart the championship.

During a crucial pit stop, Stewart came into his stall hot. Too hot, and he slid through the box and

It's an odd sight when a Hendrick engine blows.(RacinToday/HHP photo by Harold Hinson)

stopped at an odd angle. The problem was that when Stewart went to stomp the brake, his foot also clipped the throttle. By the time the work was completed on Stewart’s car, he had slipped to the end of the lead-lap pack. He finished 15th and suddenly, the team which won the first two races of the Chase is in major trouble.

The second odd incident may have ended Jeff Gordon’s hopes for winning a fifth Cup championship this year.

Like Stewart, Gordon was looking capable of, if not winning at Kansas, then at least collecting a podium. But late in the race, his oil temperature went up, his engine started to puff smoke and then, on lap 265, the engine blew.

That’s right, a Hendrick engine blew. No word yet on why, but Hendrick engines simply to not fail all that often. Especially one being race-managed by Gordon.

Gordon is now 10th in points, 47 behind teammate and point leader, Jimmie Johnson. That is, Gordon’s Chase hopes were barbequed in Kansas City.

Kansas may not yet qualify at a Chase X-Factor event, but hosting races only since 2001, it seems to produce more than its share of oddness.

Memo to cookie-cutter haters: Things could be worse – every single event the NFL holds is on a patch of ground 100 yards long and 160 feet wide. Options are two – grass and plastic.

More Kansas

The official estimate of attendance for Sunday’s Cup race  at Kansas was 82,000. Grandstand seating is

The grandstands at Kansas Speedway were nearly full on Sunday. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Harold Hinson)

listed at 81,687 so, even considering people watching from the infield and luxury boxes, the estimate would appear to be high.

How high? From the infield, the grandstands appeared to be about 90 percent full. From the press box, about 80 percent full.

Still, promoters were happy with the attendance. And, after a disappointing crowd at the spring race, had to be a bit relieved.

Factor in a large crowd (estimated at 68,000, which makes it the sixth highest of the season) for Saturday’s Nationwide race and the thought here is that after, yes, just one year, the the decision to grand Kansas two Cup races appears to be a good one.

Memo to schedule maker: They’re building a road course at Kansas.

The jinx

Nothing else has been able to stop Jimmie Johnson from winning Chase championships the last five

The cover. (Courtesy of Sports Illustrated)

years, maybe the Sports Illustrated Cover Jinx can do the trick this year.

Johnson, the subject of the cover story of the national sports magazine this week, was asked about the jinx during a teleconference on Tuesday.

“Yeah,” he said, “I was made aware of this jinx here at a function at the Hall of Fame on that today.  That tells you how up-and-up I am on sports.  I thought it was relative to the Madden cover of the football game, not SI.

“I guess it’s out there for some other sports teams, but in my heart of hearts, there is no way that a photo on a magazine is going to change the luck of a race team.  If we lose this championship, it’s because of what happens on the track, not because of a photo in a magazine.  But I am hugely honored to be on the cover of Sports Illustrated, was fortunate to be on it back in ’08, and things turned out awfully well for me that year, too.  I don’t have any fears about this cover.”

The Jinx already may have struck. The author of the piece on Johnson – the extremely talented Lars Anderson – was involved in a car crash in Kansas City after arriving to put final touches on the story last weekend. Anderson showed up at the speedway with facial cuts.

The Jimmie SI goes on sale today.

Memo to Johnson: Being on the cover of SI never hurt Tiger Woods. Oh, that’s right.

The list

The last non-Chase driver to win a Chase race was Jamie McMurray. He did it at Charlotte Motor Speedway last year.

Here is the Memo’s top three choices to pull a McMurray this season:

1. Greg Biffle. Good driver, good team, good cars.

2. Clint Bowyer. Think he wants to leave RCR with a Chase win in tow?

3. Kasey Kahne. Almost pulled it off at Kansas.

And finally…

The hottest seat in NASCAR next year may be one in the sports bar at the Hollywood Casino at Kansas Speedway. Floor-to-sealing glass, about 100 feet of air and the catch fence in Turn 2 will be all that separates patrons from race cars going 175 mph. The casino opens next year…More casino stuff: During a tour of the still-under-construction casino Sunday, it was noted that some portions of the place would be leased out for private parties during race weekends. However, if you are thinking of booking one of the restaurants for your canasta club, better start socking away some dough right now…Hendrick Motorsports will attempt to post the organization’s 200th NASCAR Sprint Cup Series win, while Mark Martin will make his 825th series start this weekend at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

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

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Wednesday, October 12 2011
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