Monday, May 31, 2010

Roush Rewind: Coca-Cola 600

Following the excitement of the previous weekend’s All-Star Race, the drivers returned to Charlotte Motor Speedway for the longest race of the season, the Coca-Cola 600, on Memorial Day weekend. On Sunday, the Roush Fenway Racing drivers strapped themselves in for the 600-mile, 400 lap race hoping to finally give Roush the showing that team desperately needs.

For Greg Biffle, it looked like it was going to be a long race on Sunday. The No. 16 3M Nexcare Ford didn’t seem very fast in the practice sessions. His qualifying effort was less than stellar and left him starting Sunday’s race in the 40th position. He began to gain positions. By lap 50, Biffle had gained 20 positions. Green flag stops began a lap later, and Biffle was 18th once the stops cycled through. The caution came out on lap 63 for Juan Pablo Montoya getting loose and spinning. Biffle pitted under that caution for fuel only and restarted 14th on lap 67. Lap 100 found Biffle in the 10th position, but just 24 laps later he had dropped back to 14th. Around lap 146, Biffle made a green-flag stop. Ten laps later Biffle was up to 8th and moving toward the front. Biffle had powered his way to 4th by lap 190. Around lap 213, the caution came out for debris and Biffle pitted. He remained inside the top 5 for a few more laps, even running as high as 2nd at one point, but was back to 9th by lap 235. Biffle made a green flag stop on lap 267, and a few laps later the caution came out for Jimmie Johnson spinning. On lap 285, Biffle was 10th. With 94 laps remaining, Biffle brought out the caution after hitting the wall. Unable to overcome the damage to his racecar, Biffle had to settle for a 32nd place finish. Biffle dropped to 9th in the standings.

For David Ragan and his crew, there was never a dull moment at the track. During practice on Thursday, Ragan reported to his team that he had hit a bird. The might have been small, but it still put a crack in the front bumper of the No. 6 UPS Ford. Later that evening was qualifying. As Ragan came off turn four, his car got loose and spun. He kept it off the wall, and slid through the grass a bit. Since he hadn’t taken the green flag for his run, he went back to pit road for new tires. Some of Elliott Sadler’s crew and Paul Menard’s crew helped the UPS crew get Ragan back out on track. Even after those fresh tires, Ragan qualified 35th. Once the green flag dropped on Sunday, Ragan began to make his way through the field. He was up to 25th on lap 52. Loose-handling conditions plagued Ragan throughout the early going. Green-flag stops began on lap 50. Ragan pitted for four tires, fuel, and track bar and air pressure adjustments. The adjustments were a major help, but the car was still free in the center of the turns. Ragan pitted under the caution on lap 63 for two tires and another trackbar adjustment. While the free-handling issue continued, Ragan held on and focused on moving through the field. Halfway through the race, Ragan was inside the top 10 with a lot of help from pit strategy. Handling issues continues to be a problem. The car became tight in the middle of the turns, loose off. Ragan hung around 18th to 20th position after the handling changed, but with 25 laps remaining, Ragan radioed to his crew that there was a problem with the car. He thought the engine was going to blow. Ragan’s crew could see smoke coming out from under the hood, but with so few laps remaining, there wasn’t much they could do. The team assumed the engine had dropped a valve spring. Ragan had to hold on and do all he could to get a decent finish. Ultimately, he was 24th to cross the line. He is tied with A.J. Allmendinger for 23rd in the standings.

Carl Edwards started the weekend off in the worst way possible. A cut tire sent the No. 99 Scott’s GrubEx Ford into the wall during practice on Thursday. The damage was too much to repair, resulting in Edwards going to a backup. Edwards had very little time to get the backup ready for qualifying later Thursday evening and ended up with a 31st starting position for Sunday. Edwards fought an ill-handling racecar much of the race, but gained 12 positions in the first 25 laps. Edwards had worked his way up to 11th when the second caution of the night came out due to Marcos Ambrose spinning. On the previous pit stop, Edwards’ crew had made an air pressure adjustment and so on the pit stop under the second caution they did the same. Only this time it didn’t help. Edwards soon dropped back to 24th by lap 144. Edwards had only moved up to 21st by lap 200. He reported the car was tight in the center, free off. Edwards pitted on lap 214 under the caution for debris. His crew made an adjustment to the shocks, and Edwards restarted 23rd. Edwards was up to 16th about 30 laps later. With 125 to go, Edwards was 13th. It seemed as though Edwards would get a top 10 finish until trouble on a green-flag pit stop caused Edwards to lose track positions. A lug nut fell off the right-front and the extra time on pit road had Edwards restarting 23rd with 40 laps to go. Edwards and his team refused to give up and gave it all they had. When the final caution came out on lap 378, Edwards pitted for four tires and restarted 17th. He gained just one more position to finish 16th. Edwards dropped one position in the standings to 11th.

For Sunday’s race, Matt Kenseth had a new sponsor on the No. 17 Ford—Jeremiah Weed Southern Style Sweet Tea Vodka. Kenseth was the 5th driver out for qualifying and was able to get the 16th starting position for Sunday. Just like his teammates, Kenseth found himself battling handling issues. He was up to 14th in the early going, but told his crew he needed more rear grip. The car was loose on and off the turns, but it was tight in the center. Kenseth had to fight his racecar every lap. Kenseth made a green-flag stop on lap 49 for fuel, four tires, and air pressure adjustments. The changes only seemed to make things worse for Kenseth. He reported on lap 58 that the car was getting so loose that it was tough to hang on to it. As luck would have it, the caution came out on lap 63 when Montoya spun. Kenseth pitted for two tires and his crew made air pressure and track bar adjustments. Kenseth restarted 16th, but a lack of grip had him dropping back to 29th roughly 100 laps later. On lap 169, Kenseth pitted under caution for two tires and his team made more adjustments. A four tire stop on lap 268 had Kenseth claiming the lead when the caution came out a few laps later. Kenseth led 7 laps before he began to drift back. The car continued to be loose, and the No. 17 Ford continued to get looser the last 100 laps of the race. Kenseth’s final pit stop came on lap 379 under the caution brought out by Ambrose crashing. Kenseth pitted for two tires and fuel. He restarted 5th on lap 382, but was 10th when the checkered flag waved. He remained 3rd in the standings.

After winning last weekend’s All-Star Race, Kurt Busch was able to stay ahead of Jamie McMurray to become one of the few drivers who have won the All-Star Race and Coca-Cola 600 in the same year. Congratulations to Kurt Busch and the No. 2 team on their victory!

Next up: Gillette Fusion ProGlide 500 presented by Target at Pocono Raceway

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