Heres To You Mrs Robinson


Las Vegas is a city built on a foundation of falsehood and illusion. There's the fake neon noon of the strip, a replica New York City skyline and Sphinx, gamblers clinging to that false hope they can beat the house and a bevy of Elvis impersonators. (Which I think the Nevada legislature ought to make illegal. Haven't they seen 3000 Miles to Graceland, a sequel to which should also be illegal?) And out on the edges of town there's a fake Winston Cup racetrack with not enough banking to hold a Cup race. The track was designed with such shallow banking to allow the CART and IRL series to run there as well. But of course neither series currently has a race scheduled at the track, and the IRL has since proven they can run on banking at Texas and put on a whale of a show.

Today Tony Stewart had checked out on the field and it looked like another one of those monotonous races Vegas is best known for when Shawna Robinson saved the day. No she wasn't running up front. She never cracked the top 10. In fact she was consistently one of the last cars in the running order. But her scrape with the wall brought out the fifth caution flag which changed the entire complexion of the race and added some much needed excitement to the end of the race.

Until that caution flew there was some question if some teams had enough gas to go the distance, but the timeliness of the yellow flag eliminated that factor. The teams either gambled on two tires or played it conservatively with four scrambling the order at the front of the pack and setting up a scenario where faster cars were trying to get around slower cars as the laps wound down. Further scrambling the mix was a sixth caution flag which sent some teams down in the running order, but still on the lead lap, scrambling to the pits for a final set of fresh tires while the leaders stayed on the track. It was interesting to watch the various strategies play out, even if the race will make few people's list of all time classics.

Sterling Marlin has claimed, with some justification, he could have won the first two races this season were it not for judgment calls on the part of the sanctioning body late in the race. (Well his decision to hop out of the car and work on his fender wasn't too bright either.) At least today he got some measure of satisfaction not only with a win but with a call that went his way when NASCAR admitted they made an error and decided not to enforce a pit road speeding penalty on the 40 car. That's Marlin's third win since Chip Ganassi took the reins from Felix Sabates, whose teams were once the joke of the garage area. However you feel about the flag calls in the last two races, Marlin clearly was in position to win both, and Jimmy Spencer in another Ganassi car also had a top 10 finish today. It's almost frightening this is only Ganassi's second season on the circuit, and he's got a lot on his plate with full time teams in CART and the IRL in addition to Winston Cup. Imagine how strong this outfit could be once they get a little experience and focus on the task at hand.

Ray Evernham made one of his patented late race gambles deciding only to put two tires on Jeremy Mayfield's car. In the end Marlin with four tires made quick work of Mayfield, but all that track position the gamble made up for the 19 car allowed Mayfield to finish 2nd after being a non-issue most of the afternoon. For Mayfield it was his best finish since coming home second at Homestead late in the 2000 season.

It seemed in the first two races of the season Kurt Busch got the better end of the deal that sent Mark Martin's former crew chief Jimmy Fennig to the 97 team during the off season. While Busch had another strong run today (foiled by late race motor problems) it appears maybe the switch actually benefited both teams. It's difficult to believe but today's third place finish was Martin's first top 5 in a Winston Cup race since Pocono last June.

Rookie Ryan Newman had a fine weekend, qualifying on the outside pole and finishing fourth after having led portions of today's race. More importantly he drove a clean, smart race today, something he occasionally had problems doing last year. All in all it appears this kid is destined for the big time.

Tony Stewart may not appreciate Mrs. Robinson's noble gesture to add a lick of excitement to the end of the race. Prior to that caution flag, Stewart had been in the Express Checkout lane, scribbling his victory lane speech on a cocktail napkin and rereading his anger management text while pulling away from the field. Once again a set of tires that didn't suit him late in the race turned out to be Stewart's downfall. After the race Tony's crew chief Greg Zipadelli was livid at the disadvantage he feels the Pontiacs labor under (though Stewart led the most laps today) and car owner Joe Gibbs was livid at NASCAR's "no call" on Marlin's pit road speeding infraction. If Stewart was livid he did so out of sight.

Jimmie Johnson has shown he's able to run up front despite his rookie status. What is even more astounding is his ability to catch an out of control car that seems headed for the wall. He made a great save at Daytona and yet another today at Vegas. But it does seem Johnson and Robby Gordon have some issues to work through.

Of the drivers and teams that chose to pit under the sixth caution period, Dale Jarrett fared the best coming home 7th after a spirited battle to the line with fellow veteran Bill Elliott. Yeah, the pups are running up front right now, but there's still a lot of fight left in the old dogs judging by the performances of Marlin, Martin, Jarrett and Elliott today.

Jeff Burton (like Jarrett) had to rebound from a provisional starting spot earned Friday to earn a top 10 finish today. Combined with a win in Saturday's Busch race it was a pretty nice weekend for the younger of the Burton brothers. It was an even better one for Jack Roush who currently has all four of his teams in the top ten in Winston Cup points. It's hard to believe they've bounced back so quickly from last year's debacle.

Jimmy Spencer finished 10th in another Chip Ganassi car. As opposed to last year with Jason Lefler piloting the second Ganassi effort though he clearly wasn't ready for Winston Cup, this year Sterling Marlin finds himself paired with a teammate that might be a benefit rather than a hindrance to his title chase.

Early season struggles continue for many drivers, most notably Dale Earnhardt Junior and Kevin Harvick. In fact with Chevrolets rarely appearing competitive today there's sure to be a crescendo of demands that the aerodynamic rules get tweaked again.

Sadly, this might have been the last race for the two Travis Carter teams and Brett Bodine Racing, all of which might not be making the trip to Atlanta. And one had to notice that Ms. Robinson's car was in a plain white wrapper as well. One can only hope that she'll find backing prior to other races which might need a little spicing up like New Hampshire and Michigan. If she doesn't, fret not. We still have Robby Gordon (who has been involved in late race caution incidents in all three races this year) for the foreseeable future.

Related Topics:

NASCAR Sprint Cup, 2002

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