Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Rating the Sunoco Red Cross Pennsylvania 500: 3 Stars ***

A long day in the occasionally damp Pocono Mountains turned out to be bliss for the Biff, as a Ford finally drove into victory lane in 2010. The second race at the triangle was similar to the first with a variety of storylines, some good and some bad. Overall, it adds up to a 3 Star Rating.

It was a rather busy week for NASCAR coming into the race. Jack Roush crashed his plane once again, Marcos Ambrose came out of nowhere and announced a move to leave the #47 team, and per usual, rain delayed the start of the race before cars finally set off on a 500-mile odyssey in Long Pond, Penn., that ended with Greg Biffle scoring an emotional win as he scored his 15th career Cup victory.

In what has almost become a requirement for the first half of a race, Jimmie Johnson dominated the field and jumped out to a commanding lead before Jeff Gordon caught him on lap 120, just before the first of two debris cautions flew.

After the field reset for the final stretches of the race, rain clouds started to build over Turn 3’s shoulder and the drivers cranked the intensity level up. As the field came off of Turn 1 and down the Long Pond Straightaway on lap 165, Jimmie Johnson bump drafted Kurt Busch, who then clipped the nose of Clint Bowyer’s #33 and pounded the outside wall before coming back across the track and sliding through the grass. That hit was hard, but nothing compared to the one Elliot Sadler took in the same incident.

Several cars behind the original incident, Sadler checked up when he saw smoke but was hit from behind by his teammate A.J. Allmendinger and slid through the wet grass before he slammed the inside barrier, which juts out for no particular reason, head-on and completely ripped off almost the entire front of the race car, including the entire engine. Remarkably, Sadler was OK, as safety workers came to his aid with the engine still smoking on the apron of the track. The safety measures in the car kept him from being seriously hurt or killed. That hit was so vicious I’m not sure he would have survived if he had been driving a Nationwide car.

Now, much has already been said and written about the poor safety conditions at Pocono. This was nothing new, people were aware of these issues before the race began. What is unfortunate, however, is that nothing was done to fix these issues in the past five years or so. I’m always amazed that NASCAR doesn’t mandate every safety feature at a track. There are just certain things a sporting arena must have before a professional sport goes there. Every hockey rink needs glass a certain height off of the ice, just as every baseball field needs a screen behind home plate. If NASCAR was going to have tracks install SAFER barriers, it should have gone all the way and mandated SAFER barriers be put wherever possible. Race cars can smell an unsafe part of a track, and they will find it.

This race was actually similar to a restrictor-plate event at Daytona or Talladega. Speeds were near 200 mph, cars were bump-drafting all day, and there was a major wreck that will have people talking until the green flag drops at Watkins Glen.

People will continue to say Pocono needs to be taken off the schedule because of safety concerns, but many of them were also the ones that said the corners at Talladega needed to be flattened. The fact is Pocono Raceway has provided as much intrigue this year as any track on the schedule, both good and bad, just as Talladega has done in the past.

The series now moves from a tricky racetrack to a twisted one in Watkins Glen. Will Marcos Ambrose grab some redemption after the heartbreaking loss in Sonoma? It would be a heck of a way to say goodbye to his #47 at the end of the year. Likely, the big guns will be out in force again this coming weekend. Late in the season, the best teams tend to rise toward the top of the scoring pylon with more regularity week in and week out.


  1. Hey jmayer! I was thinking while the rain clouds approached and the drivers picked up the pace what it would take to get them to race like that all the time... Instead of debris cautions, NASCAR needs to intercept the local weather radar and replace it with heavy rain clouds quickly approaching! That oughta do it!

    Pocono's racing surface is, bar none, the worst I've seen on the circuit. The place is one of two or three that aren't owned by Bruton Smith or NASCAR itself.

    If everyone thinks Pocono is such a great place to hold NASCAR events then I think I'd issue an ultimatum, either resurface and install state of the art safety features or sell the track to someone who will like Smith or NASCAR or ??? (Trump?)... (Haddock???) lol

    Thanks man.

  2. Great recap, JM. This is the first that I've heard who actually hit E Sad from behind.

    That track's safety containments are terrible. Closely followed by the just as bad ones at the Glen.

    Win or lose... B Labonte will be replacing Marcos after the Glen.

  3. Dwindy1 - So that's what they meant by making the racing more exciting. lol.
    It's shocking that NASCAR doesn't have certain safety guidelines each track must meet, because NASCAR controls everything else, why not the tracks? Even if it doesn't own them.

    Gene - Those RPM drivers must be glad they don't have to go back to Pocono again this year. Two of them had scary wrecks this year at that track, and Allmendinger caused both, even though Sunday's wasn't intentional.

    The only way I see Ambrose leaving the #47 early is if they have some races without sponsorship. Labonte still is signed on for three races in the #71 with Taxslayer. But, if given the opportunity, I know which ride I would jump in come Michigan.