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Another wild day at the track, and more controversy. Martin crashes hard, Johnson blows an engine, and Ford's Greg Biffle pulls out victory in the Michigan 400

Another wild day at the track, and more controversy. Martin crashes hard, Johnson blows an engine, and Ford's Greg Biffle pulls out victory in the Michigan 400

Greg Biffle giving a champagne bath to the Jack Roush crew after winning Sunday's slam-bam Michigan 400




   By Mike Mulhern

   BROOKLYN, Mich.
   Mark Martin escaped uninjured Sunday  from a savage crash while leading the Michigan 400, in a frightening incident that shook up many drivers and pointed out another significant safety hole that NASCAR needs to fill. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VaEF_RgH5lU
   And that wasn't the only moment of high drama here.
   Talk about a surprise --  Jimmie Johnson blew a motor while leading easily with only six laps to go, and Greg Biffle outdueled Brad Keselowski and Kasey Kahne to win the 400, regaining the Sprint Cup point standings.
   "I know a lot of people don't expect us to win the championship, to compete for the title," Biffle said, almost defiantly. "But I don't care what they say....we will be a factor in this championship when we get down to Homestead (for the Nov. 18th season finale), I promise you that."

   Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart, also running Rick Hendrick engines like Johnson, also broke engines, in something that could become a major issue in the playoffs.
   Biffle, winner at Texas back in the spring for Jack Roush, and Ford teammates Matt Kenseth and Carl Edwards have been under pressure the past several months for a long winless streak while Johnson and the rest of Hendrick Chevy men have been dominating NASCAR play since mid-May.
    So the Roush Ford camp really needed to turn things around, with the championship playoffs less than a month away.
    However the Hendrick drivers clearly had the most speed in the field, and rivals again pointed out that Johnson was "clearly the class of the field...and it was quite a sight to see," Keselowski said.
    Whatever technological edge the Hendrick teams have had the past three months, Keselowski said they certainly still had it.

   Jack Roush said his men now had it too, and he has no qualms about whatever the trick is.

   "Jeff Gordon put a left-rear (tire) through the battery at Darlington (in May, when the Hendrick charge began), and that was a wake-up call for us," Roush said. "We wondered what they were doing. We asked NASCAR, and they said it was okay."

     Two weeks ago at Pocono Roush said he would have to figure out how to match that technology. Now apparently he and his teams have.
    "I got a ruling from NASCAR on it before I spent much time working on it," Roush said. "And NASCAR said it was okay."

   So Roush is now confident NASCAR will let that ruling stand for at least the rest of the season? "Oh, yes," Roush says.

   "It took us a while to figure out what they (Hendrick teams) were doing. But we have been working at it and have assurance from NASCAR that it is okay and within the rules...and not the reason that we were able to win today.

    "(But) it certainly is hard to win if you don’t have a competitive aero package and chassis mechanical grip package."


    Greg Biffle celebrates the victorious conclusion to a beautiful afternoon in the Irish Hills (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   Keselowski was again a very gracious, and loquacious, runner-up, as last weekend in the high-drama finish at Watkins Glen.
   And Keselowski, who drives Dodges for Roger Penske, took the occasion to make a very dramatic statement about some of his competition, quite apparently the Hendrick Chevy men:
      "There are half a dozen cars that are drastically faster than the rest of the field. That has disrupted the parity, and created a lot of side by side action...that is maybe good, maybe bad, depends on who you are.
"I think right now in this sport the cars are the most separated we've ever seen. Look at qualifying -- the pace difference between the pole and 20th was more than a second, and we haven't seen that in over 10 years in this sport.  
   "I don't think that is necessary a bad thing, but that's just an observation."
   The trick at issue?
    "There are parts and pieces on the car (chassis) that are moving, after inspection, that make the car more competitive," Keselowski said.
   "Some guys have it, some don't.
   "There is some question as to the interpretation of the rule....to which Penske Racing errs on the safe side, because we don't want to be the guys that get the big penalty.
   "There is a question as to the interpretation...but right now it is legal.  But I'm sure Roger doesn't want to be the one caught red-handed, if that's to change.
   "As a group, at Penske Racing, we have not felt comfortable enough to risk that name and reputation that Roger has, over those parts and pieces.
   "Others have, which is their prerogative, and I'm not going to slam them for it. But it's living in the gray area, and Roger doesn't do that.
   "There is certainly some performance there, that we have lost...or rather not 'lost' but haven't gained, because we chose not to do that.
   "That is something we will have to make reevaluation of,  as every week goes by that those components are permitted to be run. We have to decided internally if that is the right way to go.
    "Some people have figured out how to make it work...and some just don't feel comfortable risking the piggy bank on it.
   "It's how this sport works -- behind closed doors. We're still working our way through it, and I'm not saying I have all the answers. But this is certainly part of that (speed) discrepancy."



   Mark Martin's day ended in a savage crash, that pointed up some safety issues which need to be addressed (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

    Sunday's 400 was certainly no walk in the park for any of these guys, and they drove at times on red-lined adrenalin.

   The most serious incident occurred while Martin and Kahne were running 1-2 early and both were trying to lap Bobby Labonte and Juan Pablo Montoya. Labonte got loose coming out of turn four, and the four jammed up, Martin and Kahne careening toward the infield and pit road.

   Martin hit the butt-end of a segment of the pit wall on the driver's side, just behind the door.

   "Mark was held up a lot by those two, and he seemed to be having trouble getting by those guys, so I decided to try to get by all three of them," Kahne said. "The next thing I knew everyone was crashing. I thought it destroyed my car; but fortunately the guys popped the fender out and we finished third.

    "Mark just exploded into our stall. One of our guys got hit by a tire, and fortunately he's okay."

   Keselowski, looking at replays of the Martin crash, gasped out loud at the savage hit: "Over time we get complacent on the safety side. That could have been a lot worse. It was one of those moments that, while you think you might have safety covered, but you don't."

   Martin, who has been through a lot in his 30-plus years on the tour, brushed it off. Well, sort of: "That was a pretty freak angle that I got at that.  I’m not sure what you could do.  It could have been really bad if I would have got in that hole a little deeper where it caught me in the door instead of in the crush area back there.  

    "It’s hard to keep up with what exactly is going to be happening there.  I was hoping that I was going to miss the pit wall completely and not tear the car up, but then I saw that the angle I was going that I was going to hit the end of pit wall.  I never thought about getting on the other side of pit wall.  I think that would have been hard at the angle that I was coming, but that certainly would not have been good."

  Regan Smith was also involved in a hard lick, when he tangled with Marcos Ambrose.

  Ambrose apologized, but Smith was hot: "Marcos is just driving over his head. I don't know if it is because he won last week, he's got extra pressure or what. He's been doing it all day. He's almost wrecked four times that I've seen.

   "We've got a top-10 car and you can't help guys driving like idiots.

   Biffle, adding to the Roush-Keselowski discussion, says the entire technological project was thrown for a loop when NASCAR, "right in the middle of this (development) thing....cut an inch and a half off the right-side skirt (sidepanel closest to the track itself).

   "So we took our notebook and what we raced here even just last time and threw it away. It completely changed the way we race these cars.

   "It is all rear-suspension related. There is a lot more to it than this thing that these guys think is going on with the rear end. It is more of the entire package, and getting the car down (closer to the track in the corners for faster mid-corner speeds), and sealing the right-side down.

     "Every team is doing it. (But) there is a lot more to it I think. I have been reading some stuff about it and it isn’t any one thing that we have figured out as a team to get our cars down out of the air and sealed up on the right side and going around the corner better."




   Sunday's three major players down the stretch: Greg Biffle (16), Brad Keselowski 2), and Jimmie Johnson (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)



If Roger Penske worked in the same gray area as

If Roger Penske worked in the same gray area as Hendrick, Brad would have about 7 wins and easily win the championship. And Hornish did great AGAIN.....he saved a wrecked car twice today. And Joey wrecked a car twice today. Joey wouldn;t have saved that car like Sam did. Send Jolo to a start and park, put Sam in the 22!

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