Sunday, March 1, 2009

Vegas the Pits for Hendrick Motorsports

In the words of Shooter Jennings "If life's a bowl of cherries, why is mine the pits?"

And that well may be what the folks at Hendrick Motorsports are wondering after the checkered flag waved at the Shelby 427.

It wasn't supposed to be this way. All five HMS teams ran impressively in practice, pulling some of the fastest times of the weekend. In pre-race interviews Jeff Gordon was confident. Mark Martin was pleased. Junior was optimistic. Brad Keselowsi was just happy to be there. And when the green flag dropped, the Lowe's car was an early lap leader, quickly outpacing the field.

The good vibes didn't last long.

It all started on lap two when Brad Keselowski slid up the track and into the wall. Chalk that up to a rookie mistake.

Then Mark Martin, a favorite to win the whole shebang, blew an engine for the second race in a row. Night over. Unfortunately, there's not much ol' Mark could have done differently there.

But the real fun started when Jimmie Johnson, the hands-down car to beat, overshot his pit stall and had to be rolled back into the box under the green flag. At almost the same moment---as if the planets were cruelly aligned for their mutual destruction---his teammate Jeff Gordon missed the entrance to pit road completely. And as Gordon's car spun in a cloud of haze and dust, the caution came out and bad news along with it.

Johnson lost several positions. But guess who else happened to be on pit road with him? Yup, Dale Junior--who had worked his way from back in the field up to eighth place. Junebug sure does seem to have an extraordinary talent for being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Then it went from bad to worse for Jimmie J. As the race wound down, Johnson got loose and had a close encounter with a safer barrier, thus ending his shot at the top five. Gordon somehow managed to limp into sixth spot with his taped-up car. And, thanks to an Edwards' engine failure, Junior eked out his first top 10 of the season.

If you're a fan of HMS, the night's chain of events often left you shouting at the television in frustrated disbelief. But take heart Hendrick Nation. Racing is a lot like life. And sometimes, as Greg Biffle could tell you, pits happen.

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