Thursday, June 24, 2010

Roush Rewind: Toyota/Savemart 300

Coming into the weekend, the Roush Fenway Racing drivers geared up to take on the 1.99-mile long road course known as Infineon Raceway that sits deep in the heart of wine country in Sonoma, California. With 11 turns, each one just as challenging as the other, the track can be a lot to handle for drivers not used to running on road courses. It may not be a track that the Roush Fenway Racing drivers are known for being really competitive at, but the Roush drivers still enjoy the yearly trip to the track. All four are still hungry for a win, but Infineon would prove to be just a little too much to handle as only one of them finished inside the top 15, crushing any hopes the Roush drivers had for being the one to take the checkered flag.

Matt Kenseth was the 17th driver out for qualifying on Friday. After making his qualifying lap, Kenseth reported that something didn’t feel right on the car. Once he drove the No. 17 Crown Royal Black Ford back to the garage, Kenseth and his crew discovered a flat rear tire, which they attributed to the problem with the car’s handling. Kenseth started 34th on Sunday and was up to the 27th position before the first caution came out on lap 11. Kenseth reported under that caution that his car was tight in the centers of turns 7 and 11, but it was loose everywhere else. He pitted for four tires, fuel, and an air pressure adjustment and restarted 24th. He was 17th when the first cycle of green-flag stops began. The car’s handling had changed during the green-flag run. It had become loose in the right-hand turns, loose in the left-hand turns. After driving up to the 5th position, Kenseth pitted on lap 34 for four tires, fuel, and an air pressure adjustment in the front tires. Kenseth was 17th once the stops had cycled through. He radioed to crew chief Todd Parrott that the changes had helped a little, but he still needed more rear grip. Kenseth pitted under cautions and his crew continued to make adjustments to improve the car’s handling. An accordion affect on lap 67 saw a multi-car incident on the front stretch, which caused NASCAR officials to red-flag the race for a little over 20 minutes while they cleaned up debris. Kenseth was ahead of the melee and restarted 14th. Around lap 75, green-flag stops began again, and Kenseth pitted for tires, fuel, and more adjustments to the track bar and air pressures. Unfortunately, Kenseth was too fast exiting pit road and had to serve a pass-through penalty, resulting in him dropping from 12th back to 33rd. Despite the penalty, the Crown Royal crew worked diligently to make up those lost positions. Kenseth battled his way back up to around the 19th position for the final restart of the race. However, on the last lap, it seemed the team’s bad luck only got worse. Kenseth went off track in turn 8 when battling for position and crashed into the tire barrier. He was able to drive the car to the finish line, but was 30th to take the checkered flag. Kenseth dropped from 5th to 7th in the standings. For the race at New Hampshire, Kenseth will have a different crew chief calling the shots. Todd Parrott has been replaced by Jimmy Fennig. Fennig was David Ragan’s crew chief the past couple years. It will be interesting to see if Kenseth will have the same chemistry with Fennig that he had with Parrott.

Carl Edwards kicked the weekend off by winning the inaugural race at Road America on Saturday. Edwards hoped to sweep the weekend by winning at Infineon on Sunday. Edwards’s No. 99 Aflac Ford had characters from the latest Disney-Pixar movie Toy Story 3 on the hood for the race at Infineon. Edwards started 19th on Sunday, and early on he informed crew chief Bob Osborne that the car was just hard to drive and definitely needed adjustments. He pitted under the caution that came out on lap 11 for tires, fuel, and an air pressure adjustment. He restarted 23rd, but his car was still too free. He had to hang on until green-flag stops began so his crew could make adjustments. He was running 2nd as he pitted for tires, fuel, and a track bar adjustment. Once the stops cycled through, Edwards was running in the 18th position. He was 16th at the halfway mark, but his car still lacked the grip he needed to challenge for position. When the caution flag waved on lap 58, Edwards pitted so his crew could make an air pressure adjustment. He was 21st on the restart and was able to avoid the multi-car incident on the front stretch. Edwards restarted 15th after that. As the team prepared for their final pit stop, Edwards reported his car was still too loose in the right-hand turns. Edwards pitted for four tires, fuel, and an air pressure adjustment on lap 77. Once the green-flag stops cycled through, Edwards was 16th. With 10 laps remaining, Edwards was 14th and being cautious about how he was racing. A caution came out on lap 103, but Edwards remained 14th. Edwards was concerned about Jan Magnussen, in the No. 9, restarting behind him. Edwards asked his spotter Jason Hedlesky to talk to Magnussen’s spotter about being cautious on the restart. However, in the final laps, Edwards was spun by Magnussen. The caution didn’t come out, and Edwards fell back to 32nd. Edwards was able to gain a few more positions to finish 29th on Sunday. Edwards fell to 12th in the standings.

David Ragan was one of the few drivers who tested at Infineon the week prior to the race. He hoped those extra laps would help him prepare for Sunday’s race. And it seemed as if they did. Ragan was one of the fastest Ford drivers in practice on Friday. Just when it seemed Ragan and his crew was shaking off the bad luck that’s been following them all season, things once again went downhill. It was as if anything that could go wrong, did go wrong for the UPS crew. During his qualifying run, Ragan looked to have a really fast racecar, one the was possibly capable of qualifying inside the top 10. However, Ragan got loose in turn 8 and crashed into the tire barrier. The damage was too much to repair, resulting in his crew having to get the backup car out. Luckily for Ragan and his team, the backup No. 6 UPS Ford was just as good as the primary. Ragan would start 42nd due to having to go to the backup. Once the green flag waved on Sunday, Ragan picked up a few spots, but was reporting a ‘miss’ in the car. Ragan pitted under the caution on lap 11 for tires, fuel, and an air pressure adjustment to help give him more grip. Over the following green-flag run, the ‘miss’ in the No. 6 Ford continued. Plagued with handling issues, Ragan pitted for more adjustments on lap 36. The caution came out on lap 57, and crew chief Donnie Wingo opted to stay out to gain track position. Ragan would restart 6th. On the following lap, Ragan was up to 4th when Jeff Gordon got under Mattias Ekstrom, who was in the No. 83. Ekstrom slid into Ragan who then spun out. The spin didn’t cause any damage, but resulted in a major loss of track position. The caution came out on lap 64, and Ragan was in the 31st position. Ragan, with nothing to lose, pitted for four tires, fuel, and another air pressure adjustment. The team also used the stop to raise the hood and see if they could resolve the ‘miss’ Ragan had been reporting during the race. During that stop, a rear tire from the No. 56 team’s pit stall rolled into Ragan’s pit stall and tripped up Ragan’s jackman, who fell in front of the UPS Ford. Ragan slammed his brakes to avoid hitting him. Fortunately, Ragan’s jackman was not injured and completed the stop. During the mulit-car incident on the lap 67, Ragan almost avoided it, but the No. 77 of Sam Hornish Jr got into the right-rear of the No. 6. After the red flag was lifted, Ragan pitted for four tires, fuel, and to let his crew get a look at the damage. From that point on, Ragan did all he could with a damaged car with an engine that wasn’t working efficiently. Despite all the trouble he had, Ragan held on to finish 25th. He is 25th in the standings.

For Greg Biffle, the yearly trip to Infineon is one he enjoys. Biffle was 27th out for qualifying and would start 9th on Sunday in the No. 16 3M Ford. He had worked his way up to 7th when the first caution came out on lap 11. Crew chief Greg Erwin opted to not pit. Biffle made his first stop under green on lap 30 while Biffle was running 9th. Happy with the handling of his racecar, Biffle told his crew to make no changes, but bad luck struck on that stop. Biffle was too fast exiting pit road, and after serving the pass-through penalty, he fell back to the 40th position. The 3M team knew it would take luck, pit strategy, and Biffle’s own talent to make up enough positions to get a good finish. Biffle was up to 27th when the caution came out on lap 57 and opted to stay out to gain track position. He restarted 6th, but quickly lost positions to the drivers who had fresher tires. He was 23rd for the restart on lap 67 and narrowly missed the multi-car crash on the front stretch. The team would need a few more cautions laps if they were to make it on fuel, and luckily for them, the cautions fell when they needed them. Biffle continued to stay out and gain track position. He was 4th when the final caution came out, but restarted 3rd after Marcos Ambrose stalled under caution. Biffle fell back on the restart, but he was able to finish 7th. He is 9th in the standings.

After having one of the best races of his NASCAR career, Marcos Ambrose looked to be the one to bring home the win on Sunday. However, Ambrose stalled under the final caution, and per the NASCAR rules, could not reclaim the lead. Jimmie Johnson took advantage of Ambrose's costly mistake to get his first career win at a road course. Congratulations to Jimmie Johnson and the No. 48 crew!

Next up: Lenox Industrial Tools 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway

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Note: I apologize for posting the Rewind so late this week. Life got in the way. Anyway, I will be on vacation this weekend and probably won’t be able to watch the race so there will not be a Roush Rewind for New Hampshire.

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