Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Roush Rewind: Aaron's 499

Credit: Getty Images for NASCAR
Following an impressive weekend sweep at Texas Motor Speedway, the Roush Fenway Racing drivers came to Talladega Superspeedway hoping to avoid the “Big One” and be there at the finish to try to make it back to back wins for the organization. Just like at Daytona, the two-car draft was a major factor in Sunday’s running of the Aaron’s 499. Unfortunately, two of the organization’s drivers saw their days end early while the other two made a valiant attempt to win but their efforts  fell short.

David Ragan: Started 7th, Finished 39th.
For David Ragan, restrictor-plate tracks have become his specialty. He came so close to winning the last restrictor-plate race and many people had their eyes on him as a contender for the win. Coming into the weekend, he had the best average finish (11.8) of any driver in the last five races at Talladega. Unfortunately for him that impressive streak came to an abrupt end resulting in a 39th place finish.

Ragan qualified seventh in the No. 6 UPS Ford and once the race started on Sunday, he paired up with the No. 27 of Paul Menard. The two quickly made their way to the front, allowing Ragan to lead twice in the opening run, before the first caution of the day came out on Lap 28. He pitted for two-tires, fuel and a wedge adjustment. The team had hoped to stay with Menard but that plan fell through.

Once the race restarted, Ragan paired up with the No. 17 of teammate Matt Kenseth. Ragan pushed Kenseth to the lead at one point then the two dropped back but continued to run inside the top-10. Ragan hit pit road with Kenseth on Lap 73 for a scheduled green-flag stop for four tires and fuel. The two continued to work together until Lap 90.

The No. 2 of Brad Keselowski spun setting off a chain reaction that sent the No. 6 Ford into the wall. Prior to the contact with Keselowski, Ragan’s car looked like it was losing an engine as flames shot out from the back of it before he even wrecked. Ragan said he had smelled the smoke and oil but his gauges were fine. The resulting damage from the crash sent Ragan to the garage - unable to finish the race. The race team finished 39th and Ragan dropped three positions to 20th in the standings.

Matt Kenseth: Started 25th, Finished 36th.
Matt Kenseth ended a 76-race winless streak at Texas and then at Talladega he found himself not even finishing the race. Kenseth knows all too well what it’s like to be collected in the “Big One” and was hoping to avoid it. Unfortunately for him, a late-race incident took him out of contention.

Kenseth started 25th in the No. 17 Crown Royal Black Ford on Sunday. Normally, a mid-pack starting position would be a hard obstacle to overcome but at Talladega a driver can go from 25th to running inside the top-10 before making it out of turn two. Kenseth’s drafting partner in the early going was the No. 31 of Jeff Burton. The first caution of the day was brought out on Lap 28 when the No. 83 of Brian Vickers spun. The No. 83 narrowly clipped the left-rear of Kenseth’s car but the damage was minimal to the No. 17.

Kenseth pitted under that caution for four tires, fuel and a wedge adjustment as the crew checked the damage. No real harm done, Kenseth restarted 6th and soon hooked up with the No. 6 of teammate David Ragan. The two worked well together until, once again, Kenseth found himself without a drafting partner when Ragan was caught up in the wreck on Lap 90. Kenseth pitted for four tires and fuel under that caution. On the restart, he was left scrambling to find a drafting partner. He eventually paired up with the No. 39 of Ryan Newman. The caution came out again on Lap 127 for debris and Kenseth made another four-tire stop.

For the restart, Kenseth was lined up behind the No. 22 of Kurt Busch. The two paired up once the green flag waved again but on Lap 140 Kenseth got hit on the right side by the No. 18 of Kyle Busch. The contact sent Kenseth spinning into the wall. Kenseth was able to drive the car to the garage but the team was forced to pack it up early. Kenseth finished 36th and dropped five positions to eighth in the standings.

Credit: Getty Images for NASCAR
Greg Biffle: Started 17th, Finished 7th.
On Sunday, Greg Biffle didn’t make too much noise throughout the race. He ran toward the front some but for much of the latter part of the race he was nowhere near the top-10. In the closing laps, he paired up with teammate Carl Edwards and became a contender for the win. The teamwork got him toward the front but it wasn’t enough for him to take home the win.

Biffle qualified 17th in the No. 16 Scotch Blue Painter’s Tape Ford but was forced to start at the rear of the field due to a radiator hose change after qualifying. Biffle paired up with the No. 21 of Trevor Bayne at the start of the race and the duo quickly made their way through the field. They were just outside the top-10 when the first caution of the day came out. Biffle pitted for four tires and fuel then immediately hooked up with Bayne again on the restart. The two continued to work together until the multi-car incident on Lap 90.

Biffle avoided the melee but Bayne got taken out after the No. 6 of David Ragan got into him. It was during that incident that the No. 99 of teammate Carl Edwards lost his drafting partner. As a result, Biffle and Edwards decided to work together. When the racing up front began to get a little dicey, they dropped back to hopefully avoid trouble. On Lap 139, another multi-car incident happened in front of them and both were able to avoid it. They continued to run mid-pack until the closing laps.

With about five laps remaining, Biffle and Edwards made their move. They charged to the front but were unable to hold off the Hendrick Motorsports and Richard Childress Racing teammates who ended up battling for the lead. Biffle finished 7th and moved up two positions to 16th in the standings.

Carl Edwards: Started 20th, Finished 6th.
Carl Edwards once again proved that sometimes dropping to the back of the field and making a late-race charge can earn a great finish for the team. He played his cards right, avoided trouble and had a shot to win the race.

The No. 99 Aflac Ford took the green flag from the 20th position and Edwards paired up with fellow Ford driver Marcos Ambrose in the No. 9. For the most part, Edwards was the one being pushed around the track. The two worked well together - unfortunately, Ambrose was caught up in the crash on Lap 90. Edwards pitted under the caution for four tires and fuel.

He found himself now without a drafting partner and so was teammate Greg Biffle - the two agreed to pair up. They decided to drop to the back of the field in order to avoid trouble. It was a plan that worked to their advantage. In the closing laps, Edwards was being pushed by Biffle and they took the lead with three laps to go. They fought to hold off the Hendrick Motorsports and Richard Childress drivers as long as they could but the momentum for both of those teams was too strong for them. Ultimately, Edwards finished sixth and he has kept the top spot in the standings.

Race winner: Jimmie Johnson
In one of the closest finishes in NASCAR history, Jimmie Johnson won the three-wide battle for the win at the conclusion of the Aaron’s 499 by .002 of a second over Clint Bowyer. Congratulations to Jimmie Johnson and the No. 48 team on their victory!

NEXT UP:
Crown Royal Presents the Matthew and Daniel Hansen 400
Richmond International Raceway
Saturday, April 30, 2011

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