Hamlin, Stewart and Kahne should be pleased
Denny Hamlin's victory in the Pocono 500 was very surprising to me.
Rookie Hamlin surprises at Pocono
He'd never been to Pocono before, and he practiced by playing a video game of the track, but he has seen all the races there and has talked with his teammates.
Hamlin had a handle on his car and won the pole. Then in the race, he blew a tire, spun out but didn't hit anything and got to the back of the field and was able to -- through pit stops and pit strategy -- get himself back up to the front.
You have to have a fast race car to do that, and on that last restart with Kurt Busch behind him, Hamlin just drove off into the sunset.
Tony Stewart was another driver who had a good day -- finishing third -- and it looks like he'll be able to put that shoulder injury behind him now.
There wasn't a whole lot of problem with the G-forces at Pocono and it won't be much worse at Michigan. There's not much G-force at Michigan. It's real light on your body and has real smooth corners, so that probably will be one of the easiest tracks for him. I don't expect him to have any trouble there.
And it was also a good race for Kasey Kahne, who scored another top-10. Kahne really seems to have it together right now. Why is he performing so well?
Kahne and his crew chief have a great rapport in terms of what he needs in his car to make it handle the way he wants it to, and it's been handling well almost everywhere I have seen him go. That just proves to me that their aerodynamics program is real good and his rapport with his crew chief is strong.
I like the way Kahne drives -- he's always working the high line of the track to get more momentum. If his car isn't handling right, he searches all over the racetrack for answers. His teammate Scott Riggs has shown some real bursts of speed the last three or four weeks as well.
While the G-forces at Pocono aren't that bad, it is still a treacherous track, as Jeff Gordon's wreck pointed out.
Gordon went down into Turn 1 and it was obvious that he stepped on the brake pedal and it went to the floor. He likely immediately said to himself, "There's no way I have enough racetrack to hold on to this."
So he dove down through the grass and into the mud to get his car slowed down and have more track to slide and get his car slowed down. That's the reason you saw him get down in the grass.
Pocono is a track that I always feared something like that happening because you are going so fast -- about 220 mph down the front straightaway. When you go into Turn 1, if you have any type of brake problem, you are in trouble.
In the past that would have been a hard one to get out of and avoid injury. Jeff has a solid carbon-fiber seat that has an incredible head and neck restraint system that not too many other guys can drive and feel comfortable in. Gordon always is cocooned in that seat with not much room to move around, but he feels comfortable in it. I would feel claustrophobic if I had to drive in a seat like that.
But that seat and the soft wall probably saved his rear end. The other thing that saved him was when he hit the wall his left rear hit first, then it slung the front end around.
He'll tell you he has no idea how he walked away from that crash without getting hurt except that he has the safest seat available and he hit a soft wall.
Another thing to talk about is how early the Silly Season has cranked up. Drivers seem to be looking around for next year already.
I see Toyota really shaking things up. Toyota is looking for drivers and I see drivers getting real nervous, hearing about big money and jumping ship. It's beyond me why Brian Vickers would leave Hendrick unless Rick Hendrick didn't want him any longer.
With him possibly moving over to Toyota and Casey Mears now going to Hendrick, it's just starting this big shakeup and it's being generated through Toyota -- mostly because they are looking for new drivers.
One driver already changing teams next season is struggling lately, but Dale Jarrett can do some things to salvage this season.
I would keep my team pumped up and happy. I'd be driving the best I could. I wouldn't be giving up the ghost only a quarter of the way into the season.
Former Cup champion Rusty Wallace will provide coverage for ESPN and ABC during this year's IndyCar Series and selected Nextel Cup races. You can check out all things Rusty at his constantly updated and upgraded Web site at rustywallace.com.
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