Dodge City

Wyatt Earp cleaned up Dodge City in Kansas, but Sunday it was Ryan Newman who turned Texas into Dodge City, clearing up that nasty little goose egg in the 2003 win column for the Dodge boys. Of course Newman celebrated the win with all the passion of a cloistered nun celebrating Yom Kippur. He seemed so bored there in victory lane it was almost as if he’d watched the race on FOX rather than won it. If any other race winner in this sport’s history has celebrated less the trophy must have been awarded posthumously to that winner.

A decision to take two new tires under the final caution flag seemed a high-risk gamble with 25 laps still left to run. When the race restarted Newman did in fact lose the lead to Dale Earnhardt Jr. and it looked like the 12 car would quickly fade. But Newman was able to stay ahead of Jeff Gordon and that proved to be the difference. He methodically tracked down Earnhardt and retook the lead with ten laps to go. To this point I have not heard Jack Roush accuse Newman’s team of using doctored tires.

Junior was the runner up for the second time this season but he probably wasn’t willing to push the issue too hard knowing that the circuit travels to Talladega next weekend for the semiannual Earnhardt family benefit race. Dale Junior has won the last three Cup races at Talladega. It seems the young man is buckling down and concentrating on his racing right now. Maybe he watched his performance on Fast Lane Friday night and decided against quitting his day job to run off to Hollywood and become an actor.

Jeff Gordon seemed to have the strongest car in the waning laps of the race and he quickly reeled in Newman and Earnhardt. But as has been typical the last couple years, once Gordon gets close behind another car he develops a severe aero push and can’t pass them. Earlier in the race Gordon was the topic of some debate in the control tower after passing Matt Kenseth while racing to the caution flag after Kenseth slowed down to allow two of his teammates back on the lead lap, one of those new wave gestures that signals an impending apocalypse for this sport. Perhaps had NASCAR allowed Gordon to retain the lead they would have gone a long ways towards eliminating leaders giving other drivers a lap back. And had Gordon started the race again with clean air on the nose of his Chevy likely he’d have quickly checked out on the rest of the field. For whatever reason the Hendrick Chevys seem more aerodynamically sensitive than the other Bowtie cars.

Jerry Nadeau finished fourth easily his best finish of the 2003 season. It was also his first top five result since finishing fourth at Atlanta in November of 2001. I’d guess he won’t choose to celebrate by racing go karts tonight.

Mark Martin scored his third top five finish of the season, but once again never had a car that looked capable of competing for a win. The good result did send Martin rocketing forward ten spots in the standings to the lucky 13th position.

Prior to the sixth caution flag that caught a goodly number of the leaders a lap down, Matt Kenseth had a car that appeared to be capable of winning the race. While he wasn’t able to claim a second 2003 victory Kenseth did quietly score his sixth top 10 finish of the seven race old season to hang onto the points lead for the fourth week in a row.

Jeff Green finished seventh, easily his best result to date this season and his best finish since the second Talladega race last year. Remarkably it was the first time since Daytona any of the three RCR cars finished on the lead lap in a Cup race.

Jimmie Johnson was lucky to be around at the finish. His engine began self-destructing while Johnson was running a solid fourth late in the race, but at least he made it to the end and came away with an eighth place finish. Tony Stewart and Johnny Benson were not so fortunate after suffering terminal engine meltdowns late in the race. At least Bill Elliott got the agony over with quickly losing an engine while leading in the early stages of the event.

Kurt Busch finished ninth and remains second in the points standings. The amazing fact is ninth is the worst finish Busch has had when he’s finished a race since Charlotte last fall. It seemed for much of the race Busch wasn’t as fast as most of his Roush teammates so perhaps Jack got back at Busch for complaining about engine durability by installing a relative boat anchor under the hood. Unlike Atlanta, a track similar in configuration to Texas, no Roush engines expired Sunday and in fact three of the organization’s drivers finished in the top 10.

Jamie McMurray was the top rookie finisher coming home in tenth place his second top 10 result of the 2003 season. Todd Bodine and Ward Burton scored their best finishes of the 2003 season coming home in eleventh and twelfth respectively.

Seven races deep into the 2003 Winston Cup season all four makes of cars that compete have won at least one race. NASCAR is apparently deadly serious about leveling the playing field as evidenced by their seizure of Tony Stewart’s non-conforming car on Friday prior to the first practice. What’s upsetting is they leave themselves open to charges of fixing races for entertainment value when they make bad calls like the one that went against Brian Vickers in Saturday’s Busch race and the “When is the leader not the leader?” call involving Matt Kenseth and Jeff Gordon on Sunday. Anyone can make mistakes, but when clear and compelling evidence of the mistake is shown on videotape the sanctioning body should have rescinded the penalty against Vickers rather than coming up with this “formed intent to pass” nonsense. (For the record there wasn’t enough room to pass the 19 to the outside as one NASCAR spokesperson claimed.) If that’s the case, shouldn’t any driver whose car moves forward before the catch can is removed during a pit stop be penalized for having the intent to leave his stall with a piece of pit equipment not removed from the car? Making up the rules as you go used to be called Frontier Justice in Dodge City.

Two thousand zero three,
Party’s over, and I’m a marked man,
So tonight I’m going to party
Like I’m Ryan New-man.

Related Topics:

NASCAR Sprint Cup, 2003

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