Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Roush Rewind: Sylvania 300

With what is referred to as the regular season races complete, the Chase for the 2010Cup championship has begun. The top twelve drivers came into what would be the second stop at New Hampshire Motor Speedway and the first race of the Chase. Each of the top twelve drivers were looking to either win or get a great finish to keep their championship hopes alive. For a few of the Chase drivers, the Sylvania 300 would prove to be a bigger challenge than they expected. For Clint Bowyer, it would be the opportunity for him to break his winless streak by taking the checkered flag on Sunday after leading an impressive 177 laps.

After three of the four Roush Fenway Racing driver secured their spots in the Chase, the organization came to New Hampshire hoping to get off to a strong start in the Chase. New Hampshire Motor Speedway is almost considered a home track by Roush Fenway Racing due to their association with Fenway Sports Group in Boston. Roush Fenway has two wins at New Hampshire during the Chase—Kurt Busch in 2004 and Greg Biffle in 2008—but has seven Cup wins overall at the track. Unfortunately, the Roush Fenway drivers were not really big factors in Sunday’s race. Handling issues and a late-race incident, Matt Kenseth had to settle for a 23rd place finish. Despite qualifying well, David Ragan had to fight hard to finish 22nd. A four tire stop cost Biffle valuable positions in the last part of the race, but he was able to finish 17th while Carl Edwards led the RFR drivers with an 11th place finish.

After securing his spot in the Chase at Atlanta, Matt Kenseth and his crew were hoping to build on their recent momentum. Unfortunately, the team would struggle all weekend prior to the race. Things only went from bad to worse for Kenseth on Sunday. He struggled in practice, and was no better in qualifying. Kenseth took the green flag from the 33rd position in the No. 17 Crown Royal Ford. For the first few laps of the race, he focused on working his way through the field. The first caution of the day came out on lap 25 when the No. 82 of Scott Speed spun on the front stretch. Kenseth used that caution as an opportunity to inform crew chief Jimmy Fennig that the No. 17 Ford was tight in the center of the turns. Fennig called for a two-tire stop and the Crown Royal crew made air pressure and track bar adjustments. Kenseth was 21st for the restart. The caution came out again on lap 40 for the No. 98 of Paul Menard and the No. 47 Marcos Ambrose making contact and spinning out. Once again, Kenseth headed down pit road for another two-tire stop. He restarted 21st again and remained in that position until green-flag stops began around lap 95. On lap 98, Kenseth made his green-flag stop for four tires, fuel, and even more adjustments to fix the tightness of the car. Handling issues continued to plague the No. 17 Ford. The Crown Royal crew made adjustments nearly all race. Finally, it seemed their efforts were paying off when Kenseth finally cracked the top 15. On lap 233, bad luck struck the team. After contact with the No. 12 of Brad Keselowski, Kenseth spun out and hit the wall in turn one, resulting in considerable damage to both the rear and left side of the No. 17. The team repaired the damage the best they could. Kenseth was able to remain on the lead lap, but finished 23rd. He came into the weekend sitting 11th in the standings, 60 points behind leader Denny Hamlin. When all was said and done on Sunday, he dropped to 12th and is 136 points behind Hamlin.

David Ragan was 6th fastest in the first practice session on Friday, and it looked like he would have a fast car for Sunday’s race. He went out 16th in qualifying, and ran a lap good enough to earn the 11th starting position. Once the green flag dropped on Sunday, it did not take long for Ragan to tell crew chief Donnie Wingo that the No. 6 UPS Ford was too tight. He pitted under the caution on lap 25 for two tires and fuel. Most of the field also had the same pit strategy so Ragan did not gain any positions. When the caution came out again on lap 40, Ragan stayed out in an attempt to gain track position. It would be a move that Ragan would quickly wish he hadn’t made. Once the green flag waved again, Ragan quickly realized that he should have pitted for adjustments. Fighting his tight-handling racecar, he began to drop back through the field during the following long green-flag run. Around lap 89, Ragan was lapped by the leader, and from that point on he fought to get that lap back. The caution came out five more times after Ragan went a lap down, but he was never in the Lucky Dog position nor was he in a position where he could take the wave around. The No. 20 of Joey Logano spun after contact with the No. 2 Kurt Busch, bringing out the eighth and final caution of the day with about 60 laps remaining. That allowed Ragan to get his lap by virtue of being in the Lucky Dog position. He pitted under that caution for four tires and fuel. The UPS crew also cleaned the grille of the car off. Ragan restarted 26th and was able to pick up four positions to finish 22nd. He gained one position in the points to 24th.

Greg Biffle qualified 14th in the No. 16 3M Ford, and once the green flag waved on Sunday, was able to maintain that position until the first caution came out on lap 25. Crew chief Greg Erwin called Biffle down pit road for two tires, fuel, and an air pressure adjustment. Biffle’s pit crew, the Pit Bulls, were able to help their driver gain three positions in the pits to restart 11th. Following the next caution and the resulting restart on lap 40, Biffle reported that his car was just too loose and the tires were chattering under the following green-flag run. He was 15th when green-flag stops began around lap 95. He made his stop on lap 98 for four tires, fuel, and an air pressure adjustment. Once the stops cycled through, Biffle was in the 18th position. He had gained two positions up to 16th when a multi-car incident unfolded ahead of him on lap 223. Biffle made it through unscathed, picking up five positions. Under that caution, Biffle and Erwin discussed pit strategy. They could either make a fuel-only stop or pit for two tires and fuel too. It was decided that Biffle would make a two-tire stop. Some drivers made fuel-only stops, and a few stayed out. This resulted in Biffle restarting 18th on lap 229. He had worked his way up to 13th when the final caution came out on lap 241. Again, pit strategy was debated. Eventually, Biffle decided to pit for four tires and fuel. He restarted 21st and was able to pick up four positions, taking the checkered flag in the 17th position. Biffle dropped two positions to 9th in the standings, 108 points behind leader Hamlin.

Carl Edwards finished the first practice session in 2nd and was hoping that would carry over to Sunday’s race. He qualified 10th in the No. 99 Aflac Ford and was inside the top 5 within the first 20 laps. In the early part of the race, the handling on Edwards’s car was virtually neutral. Edwards had climbed as high as 2nd by lap 63. When green flag stops began near lap 95, Edwards stayed out to lead laps 98 and 99 to gain valuable bonus point before pitting for four tires, fuel, and air pressure adjustments. Once the stops cycled through, he was still in the 2nd position. A caution for debris came out just before the halfway point of the 300-lap race. Edwards pitted for four tires and fuel, and crew chief Bob Osborne called for more air pressure adjustments to help with the slight tightness of the No. 99 Ford. Edwards lost two positions in the pits and restarted 4th on lap 151. A few laps later, Edwards claimed the 3rd position and remained there until making contact the No. 11 of Denny Hamlin on lap 214. Edwards was on the inside, but was unable to keep his car from sliding up into Hamlin. There was no damage to Edwards’s car. Hamlin was able to keep his car from hitting the wall, and the other drivers were all able to avoid hitting him. Edwards fell back to the 8th position. Edwards made his final pit stop under the caution that came out on lap 223. The two-tire stop had him restarting 15th. Edwards fought to work his way back up through the field. He was 13th with 50 to go, and it looked like he would finish in that position until Jeff Burton ran out of fuel. Race leader Tony Stewart ran out of fuel coming to the white flag. Edwards picked up two positions due to those two drivers running out of fuel. He finished 11th, and gained one position in the standings. Edwards is 9th, 95 points behind Hamlin.

Since it was the first race of the Chase, it came as no surprise that all of the top twelve drivers gave their all on Sunday. Some were caught up in crashes, others just simply couldn’t get to the front to challenge for the lead, but for one, he showed he was the class of the field, at least for that day. Clint Bowyer claimed the victory in the Sylvania 300 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in dominant fashion. Congratulations to Clint Bowyer and the No. 33 team on the win!

For Roush Fenway Racing, the race could be considered a disappointment. All four teams will have to regroup and go to Dover this coming weekend ready to show they might be down but not out. So far, only Greg Biffle has scored a Cup win for the organization. Can the Roush Fenway drivers rebound before the season ends?

The Chase continues…

Next up: AAA 400 at Dover International Raceway on Sunday Sept. 26, 2010.
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Note: I apologize for the varying days in which the Roush Rewind has been posted lately. My class schedule is getting the best of me right now. I’ve just been so busy. I’m hoping to be more consistent in posting the Rewind, which should be posted on Tuesdays from this point on. And to you readers, I just want to say a big THANK YOU for sticking with me and this column throughout the season!

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