Chicago Race Recap
July 11, 2004 | 11:03 P.M. EST
In a Nutshell – A big inflatable orange made a mess out of Friday’s qualifying, and a big orange Chevy whose driver has an inflated ego made a mess out of things Sunday.
When it comes to drama does it get any more exiting that gigantic inflatable fruit rolling down the race track?
Well, maybe a full on brawl in the pits (the 9 team and 20 team got into it) is more exciting. Look for the 9 guys to get suspended and the 20 team to get a slap on the wrist. Thanks Home Depot!
What They’ll Be Talking About Around the Water Cooler This Week
Did NASCAR order Stewart not to be a burnout or doughnuts so that the fans wouldn’t have a chance to throw stuff at him? I can’t remember a race win less popular with the fans since Busch won at Bristol last summer. Will NASCAR finally do something about their problem child?
So let’s see. Jason Lefler got a one second penalty that cost him eleven spots for “unnecessary roughness” when he contributed to two cars wrecking in a single lap. Tony Stewart takes out five cars in a single lap and gets no censure.
NBC says they’ll break out of a commercial for anything important. If a restart, a wreck by the leader and a pass for the lead with 24 laps to go what do they consider important? Giant inflatable fruit blowing down the track?
Watching Sterling Marlin, Terry Labonte, Rusty Wallace and Dale Jarrett battle in the top 10 did you feel like you’d fallen into a time machine and gone back a decade?
Did that giant inflatable orange qualify for the Busch race? It didn’t look like it would fit the templates. Seriously, shouldn’t those things be tied down a little better? If one of them came loose during a race it could be a disaster.
What’s wrong with Ryan Newman in qualifying? He hasn’t scored a pole since Bristol twelve races ago. Since winning the pole at California in 2002 Newman has never gone more than eight races without a pole since. Is this related to the new shock rule?
What is Tony Stewart’s problem with John Andretti?
It was nice to see Rusty Wallace in a black car again, but what exactly is a Puddle of Mud and what does it have to do with racing? I remember when Darrell Waltrip ended up in a Puddle of Mud after trying unsuccesfully to wreck Cale Yarborough after a race. Is this the 30th anniversary of that or something?
I’ve heard about gapping spark plugs, but since when does the leader “gap” the second place driver?
The Hindenburg Award For Foul Fortune
Mark Martin had been running strong all day and was in third with three laps to go when he lost an engine.
Race leader Kasey Kahne, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jeff Burton and Dave Blaney were the latest victims of Tony Stewart’s impatience, which bought out the fifth caution.
Last year’s Joliet winner, Ryan Newman saw his day go wrong on lap 18 when he cut down a tire. Busch was collected in Newman’s subsequent spin. For two drivers in the lower tier of the top 10 in points it was especially devastating.
Robby Gordon apparently thought anything orange had carte blanche on the track this weekend and wrecked out Jeff Green late in the race.
As if Tropicana needed any more embarrassment, the race winner got out of his car and hurled their Victory Lane prop to the ground. (Stewart is a Coca Cola family member, albeit the black sheep of the family, and Tropicana is a Pepsico product.)
Sterling Marlin lost the lead when he blew a shift on a late restart. (And yet oddly enough the drivers behind him managed to avoid running him over!)
Dale Earnhardt Jr. struggled all weekend with an ill handling car and to compound his misery he missed pit road attempting a green flag stop and then got nailed for speeding on his subsequent pit stop.
The “Seven Come Fore Eleven” Award For Fine Fortune
Tony Stewart wrecked his primary car in Friday’s first practice and was forced to a backup. He also managed to survive the big wreck he caused without damaging his own car.
Jeff Gordon had a miserable run going most of the day but a timely caution flag kept him from going a lap down. When Gordon did go a lap down he got his lap back under the new caution rules. The team finally figured out that the left rear jacking bolt had worked itself loose and once the car was repaired Gordon rallied back to a fourth place finish. That’s amazing.
Dale Jarrett cut down a tire just after a pit stop and was shown as two laps down at one point, but he rallied back to a third place finish.
Fifth place Jeremy Mayfield just missed Tony’s Big Mess.
Jeff Gordon won his fourth consecutive pole Friday and did not run over any giant inflatable oranges. It’s the first time a Cup driver has won four straight poles since Bill Elliott did it back in 1985.
Kevin Harvick has now gone 58 races without a DNF eclipsing Jeff Gordon’s modern era record.
Jimmie Johnson continues to lead all drivers with thirteen top 5 finishes and fourteen top 10s. He now has top 5 finishes in ten of the last eleven points races.
The top 10 finishers drove seven Chevys, two Dodges and a Ford. The top 10 drivers in the points currently compete in six Chevrolets, three Fords and a Dodge.
The top finishing rookie was Brian Vickers in fourteenth.
Rick Hendrick had three cars finish in the top 6 on Sunday.
In the last ten races Jeff Gordon has won four times and scored six top 10 finishes.
Tony Stewart won for the first time since last year’s Fall Charlotte race.
Dale Jarrett scored his second top 5 finish of the season. He also finished third at Michigan driving the same car.
Terry Labonte’s sixth place finish was his best of 2004.
Kevin Harvick scored his first top 10 since Dover.
Kasey Kahne has missed the top 20 in the last three Cup races.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. has finished outside the top 10 in three of the last four races.
Rusty Wallace (eleventh) had his best finish since Charlotte. (Tenth)
What’s the Points?
While the top six drivers in the standings hold position Earnhardt Jr. lost substantial ground to Jimmie Johnson and now trails him by 105 points.
Inside the top 10 the big winner was Kevin Harvick who moved up two spots to eighth. Elliott Sadler also moved up a spot to seventh. The big loser was Kurt Busch who fell two spots to ninth. Newman also lost a spot and is now tenth.
The battle for that coveted tenth place spot heated up substantially. Jeremy Mayfield moved into eleventh place is now just 65 points out of the top 10. Dale Jarrett made the best progress of drivers of interest today and moved up three spots into twelfth, ninety points out of the top 10.
Kasey Kahne really took it on the chin in the points today after the wreck. He fell three spots to fourteenth and he’s now 129 points out of tenth. Mark Martin could have had a great points day but his blown engine late cost him a spot and he’s now back to fifteenth.
Overall Rating (On a scale of one to six beer cans with one being a stinker and a six pack an instant classic) We’ll give this race one and a half glasses of lukewarm milk. Maybe someday the second groove will come completely in. And maybe by that point somebody will actually still care.
Next Up – Next weekend is the last weekend off of the 2004 season. After that, cue up the Barry Manilow because the NASCAR Pack is headed off for a little Time In New England. Fans should be advised due to drought conditions in New Hampshire witch burning will be restricted to designated areas.