Saturday, July 25, 2009

Newman Fastest in Brickyard Happy Hour: Johnson and Edwards Look Better

by M Roberts

There were originally two practice sessions scheduled Saturday for Sunday’s All-State 400 at the Brickyard, but due to a lengthy rain delay prior to qualifying, one session was cut short leaving only happy hour as a means for the drivers and teams to get their final race trims straight.

Many of the teams in Friday’s practice session utilized those two sessions keying primarily on their qualifying trim knowing they still had two sessions on Saturday to get their race set-up.

Needless to say there was a mad scramble for many of the teams to get prepared and tinker for the final time until race day, in particular to do so early on in the session because the track temperature at that time was closest to race day conditions.

Right out of the gate, Jimmie Johnson and Carl Edwards laid down the two fastest laps early in happy hour. They were the only two drivers to crack speeds of 176 until a few more much later in practice when the track was cooler and faster.

Before Saturday’s qualifying not many would have been surprised by either running so fast, but after Edwards came in with a qualifying lap time that only five others drivers were worse than, things weren’t so upbeat in the Edwards camp.

The two drivers are also linked as being the only drivers that have finished in the top-10 during the last four combined consecutive races of Pocono and Indianapolis. Because of the similarities in banking, turns, and long straight-aways, the teams that are dialed for one track are generally good on the other.

Tony Stewart falls into the Pocono-Indy category as well, however it isn’t for excellence in four straight races, it’s simply for winning the last one.

Stewart’s Pocono coupled with his great qualifying session, and 11th fastest lap in happy hour times make him one of the favorites to win Sunday. Being from Indiana and a two-time winner on the track is a small bonus as well. The last driver to win at Pocono and Indy back to back was Bill Elliott in 2002.

Pole sitter Mark Martin ran the fifth quickest lap late in the session, but more importantly had great average lap times early and throughout. Martin will be looking for his first Indy win ever in 15 career starts. His best finish has been second place.

Ryan Newman is an Indiana native just like his boss, Tony Stewart, had the fastest lap overall in happy hour.

Prior to gaining the top speed, Newman still was sitting fourth for most of practice in conditions closer to race time. Newman also fit’s the profile of having a great all around Pocono race last month in both practice and the race itself with a fifth.

Jeff Gordon is another Indiana native, depending on what race he’s running, who had a good final practice with the twelfth fastest lap and fast average lap times. The four-time Brickyard 400 winner has the look of a winner this week just like he did prior to his Brickyard wins in 2001 and 2004 when he didn’t dazzle anyone then after practices.

Kasey Kahne finished ninth fastest in practice and continued his momentum from Friday’s late practice where he was third fastest.

Kahne finished 15th at Pocono in June, but didn’t have the practice times like he has this week.

If we go back to last season, Kahne joined Edwards and Johnson as the only drivers to finish in the top-10 in all three races of Indy-Pocono. In each one of those races, each one of the three drivers captured a win. Kahne looks like he should be in that top tier category this week.

Denny Hamlin started his career out by sweeping Pocono in 2006, but hasn’t captured anymore there since despite having cars capable. This week at Indy, Hamlin had the best overall average lap times in happy hour, a huge stat for showing who will be the best equipped on long runs. He ran the second quickest lap in the final minutes of practice.

He was equally spectacular, if not better, in Pocono’s practice sessions but failed to capitalize as he fell out early.

Top 10 Happy Hour Times:
1) #39 Ryan Newman 176.706 mph—AVG 37 laps @ 172.875
2) #11 Denny Hamlin 176.678 mph—AVG 38 laps @ 173.719
3) #48 Jimmie Johnson 176.571 mph—AVG 39 laps @ 172.668
4) #99 Carl Edwards 176.571 mph—AVG 35 laps @ 172.585
5) #5 Mark Martin 176.049 mph—AVG 39 laps @ 173.056
6) #83 Brian Vickers 176.012 mph—AVG 37 laps @ 172.776
7) #20 Joey Logano 175.871 mph—AVG 43 laps @ 172.777
8) #18 Kyle Busch 175.829 mph—AVG 22 laps @ 173.467
9) #9 Kasey Kahne 175.757 mph—AVG 43 laps @ 172.829
10) #16 Greg Biffle 175.517 mph—AVG 38 laps @ 172.725

Top Rated Drivers for All-State 400 at The Brickyard following all Indy practice and qualifying sessions using a slight mix of recent history at Pocono and Indy:
1) #48 Jimmie Johnson
2) #99 Carl Edwards
3) #14 Tony Stewart
4) #11 Denny Hamlin
5) #39 Ryan Newman
6) #5 Mark Martin
7) #9 Kasey Kahne
8) #24 Jeff Gordon
9) #42 Juan Pablo Montoya
10) #18 Kyle Busch

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