Five things we learned at Sonoma
It's been a month filled with controversial calls in sports, from baseball's "imperfect game" to a U.S. World Cup foul that never was. Did NASCAR just join the list, costing a possible first-time winner a shot at salvaging a lost season? An in-depth look at the NASCAR rulebook leads off our agenda, one of five things we learned after NASCAR's first of two road course races in 2010:
Instead, he left the track a broken man. When the caution came out for
Worried about having fuel to withstand a green-white-checkered finish, Kerr asked his driver to violate one of racing's most sacred rules: don't stop. The theory was cutting off the motor would save them gas, but Ambrose did it on an uphill stretch where the car lost momentum in an instant. Frantic attempts to restart the engine didn't happen before the No. 47 came to a dead stop, violating the following yellow flag rule: reducing speed to a "cautious" pace while maintaining your respective track position.
That forced NASCAR to make a heartbreaking call, dropping Ambrose from first to eighth in line after seven cars were forced to pass his stalled Toyota on the track. Several critics have cried foul, especially after
At least give NASCAR's Tasmanian Devil this much: he was angelic after the checkered flag, an illustration of class after a picture-perfect day ended with a giant splotch.
"I'm just going to go home, see my wife and kids, and give 'em a hug," he said, disagreeing with his crew chief's call but refusing to throw him under the bus. "My bad. It is what it is. I should have had the motor cranked up, and it would have never been an issue.
"Terrible way to finish."
But a terrific blunder, perhaps the worst mistake since
It just should have been so much more.
Of all the frayed tempers, the normally quiet Truex was clearly the most outspoken following his tangle with Gordon. That took away a top-5 finish, leaving him in the back of the pack where a jam-up on the ensuing restart left his car spread out in pieces by the start/finish line. Ending the day in 42nd, that all but finished his now-faint chances to make a run at the Chase, making a Gordon apology over the radio completely meaningless.
"I guess Jeff figured if he couldn't catch us on the racetrack, he was going to spin us out on the restart," he said, threatening revenge before posting a reminder of how he races people clean. "How many times have I spun Jeff Gordon out? How many times have I spun anybody out?"
"[Gordon] took out Martin Truex for no reason," added Sadler, who himself was a victim of bumper cars. "The 33 [Clint Bowyer] and me were side-by-side and he got two-for-one there, so he was just kind of knocking everything out of his way."
To his credit, Gordon manned up after the race -- at least for one of the wrecks.
"There are some things that I'm not proud of that I did today; certainly with Martin," he said. "I mean, I completely messed that up and I will try to patch that up. Other things that happened out there were just really hard racing incidents."
Or were they? Everyone knows how frustrated Gordon is, going winless in a year where he should have won five times. Add in a curious incident with fuel -- where the No. 24 got the wrong Sunoco mixture in Friday practice -- and 2010 has taken on a Twilight Zone-type feel. At this point, nothing involving him surprises me.
"I don't really get that pumped up about it," he said afterwards, trying to downplay the good run. "I just get relief to be able to go home and not be pissed off. A couple holes opened up for us, and I just got lucky."
But in a Chase race where as many as 18-20 drivers have a realistic chance, that four-leaf clover proved crucial on a day no one else had it. Clint Bowyer, Joey Logano, Truex, Edwards, and
Busch and Logano had their share of ugly moments, too, both involved in caution flags that left them limping to the finish on crutches. Heck, even former JGR driver
A two-time champion, we know Stewart will bounce back quickly; can JGR do the same? On paper, no road courses in the ten-race playoff should make this weekend no big deal. But for a group that rides the emotional highs and lows more than they should, putting together a trio of top-10 runs next Sunday is crucial.
So put those "Johnson is slipping" theories to bed for good. After an awkward last month-and-a-half (three top-10 finishes, two DNFs), the No. 48 was no worse than the second-best car on speed Sunday, scoring his fourth win in sixteen races while jumping to a comfortable second in the standings. That cushion well inside the playoffs will allow this group to do what they love in the coming weeks: use the regular season as a test session to ensure they start the Chase off right. Hamlin may be a formidable challenger, but it would be foolish to doubt the reigning champ just yet.