The Frontstretch: Matt McLaughlin's Thinkin' Out Loud: Dover Spring Race Recap by Bryan Davis Keith -- Monday May 16, 2011

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Matt McLaughlin's Thinkin' Out Loud: Dover Spring Race Recap

Bryan Davis Keith · Monday May 16, 2011

 

Editor’s Note: Matt is off this week, attending his niece’s graduation ceremonies. He’ll be back for the All-Star Race; for this edition, our Bryan Keith fills in.

The Key Moment – Matt Kenseth took two tires and Mark Martin stayed out while leaders Jimmie Johnson, Carl Edwards and Clint Bowyer all took four during pit stops under caution on lap 364 after Juan Pablo Montoya backed into the turn 4 wall. Hey, being on probation and unable to hit other drivers, he needed to hit something.

In a Nutshell – Mr. Five-Time and Concrete Carl traded the lead back and forth for much of the afternoon and were clearly the class of the field, but a late-race caution, everlasting tires and the importance of clean air won this race for those that opted to take two or no tires during the final cycle of pit stops.

Dramatic Moment – Nothing that could compare to the fireworks and near firefight that broke out at Darlington last weekend… though seeing apprentice Matt Kenseth past grandmaster Mark Martin for the eventual win had to be refreshing for those two fan bases.

What They’ll Be Talking About Around the Water Cooler This Week

The comparisons of Joey Logano to Casey Atwood are only going to continue to grow in frequency if weekends like this one continue to play out. It didn’t take but 20 laps before the No. 20 Toyota was spinning without assistance after Logano lost the back end exiting turn 2. Though the resulting damage to his machine was negligible, Logano was a non-factor the rest of the afternoon and was seldom seen again, sans for finding the wall, again of his own volition, during a later green flag run. His 27th place finish was his second consecutive outside the top 25, and more so was a dramatic step backward on a track that has been kind to him his whole career; Logano finished third and 10th in Cup on the track last season, won two poles in Nationwide competition, and officially became the K&N East Series champion with a runner-up finish on the Monster Mile back in 2007. Teammate Denny Hamlin’s struggles made it clear early that Joe Gibbs Racing had regressed a bit with their Cup program this year, and one can’t help but wonder if that’s catching up to the youngster. Brought up through the NASCAR ranks driving for a Cup team in the East Series and running Nationwide Series entries that, as Clint Bowyer coined it, “monkeys could win in,” Logano’s driven nothing but the best his entire career. Now, with Zippy and the No. 20 team years removed from Tony Stewart and clearly needing to find something, having a 20-year-old behind the wheel is proving to be anything but “sliced bread.”

Robby Gordon Motorsports appeared to finally die a slow death this weekend in Delaware, with its namesake nowhere to be found. Completing only 77 laps before bowing out with “brakes” issues, Scott Wimmer completed his second start-and-park of the weekend, leaving RGM’s No. 7 car only six points from losing a locked in spot in the top 35 (Andy Lally finished 33rd driving the No. 71 and picked up five owner points on the team). Though it may be a case of selective start-and-park as RGM employed last season simply to survive 36 races, all signs point to the No. 7, and the single-car team that could for so many years, being on their last leg. Earlier this season Gordon was reported as saying that the money he garnered from his Speed Energy Drink deal would only last through May, and its been no secret that his interest in off-road racing is starting to take precedence over running 30th in Cup every weekend. Besides, who can fault an owner for throwing his hands up to a sanctioning body that puts him on indefinite probation for a financial argument with Kevin Conway, while Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch wreck cars and throw punches and get only four races worth of the same punishment?

At Martinsville, drivers couldn’t stop moaning and groaning about Goodyear’s tires chunking instead of rubbering the paperclip in, despite the fact that a) there was no rash of tire failures that Sunday and b) the race still went 500 laps like any other one at the famed short-track. This weekend, it was the other way around, with drivers moaning and groaning all afternoon that the tires were rubbering in the race track too much, even after rain throughout the day Saturday and no epidemic of tire failures over 400 laps. Look, voicing concerns at Bristol when cords were showing after only 15 laps is one thing, but whining over the radio because (the horror) there’s rubber buildup on the race track? For crying out loud, they used to run 500 mile races on this oval! I’ve been a harsh critic of Goodyear and NASCAR for allowing Goodyear to be an exclusive tire provider ever since I started covering this sport, but this whining (and that’s exactly what it is, whining) about the tires not providing a perfect racing surface has got to stop. Rubber making the bottom groove slippery and difficult? Either get up on the wheel or find another groove. This is the highest level of stock car racing, it’s supposed to be hard. Otherwise, chances are most of us writing about it would tell this gig to shove off and go buy our own race cars.

The official crowd estimate for Sunday’s FedEx 400 was reported at 82,000 on NASCAR’s results page (for those keeping score, that’s 61.6% capacity at a track that features a grandstand capacity of 133,000). That’s woeful enough on its own, but it still wasn’t truly reflective of just how sparse the crowd was once the frontstretch bleachers ended. To put it in perspective, even if the reported estimates for all three national touring races this weekend were combined (82,000, 28,000 and 28,000), it still wouldn’t be enough to fill the 140,000 seats the track boasted not five years ago, before selling thousands of seats to corporate sponsors for banner space. The discussion about how to stop the bleeding continues…though between the attendance struggles of Bristol, Nashville and now Dover…maybe it’s a concrete thing?

With Matt Kenseth storming to victory in the closing laps, Darrell Waltrip could not shut up. Not about Kenseth posting his first win at Dover since 2006, or the pit strategy that got him and Mark Martin up front for good, but about his ties to the No. 17, how many races he won in the No. 17, how he only paid attention to Kenseth when he came on the scene because he was driving the No. 17, etc. Last week it was Waltrip falsifying details about winning the race immediately after his eldest daughter’s birth to make a connection to Carl Edwards’ near victory (that must run in the family, seeing as how Michael Waltrip ignored Elliott Sadler’s actual birth date to connect his win and draft partner in the Truck race at Daytona to Dale Earnhardt). This week, it’s about his ties to the winning number. Darrell, get this through your head: the only connection you still maintain to what’s going on out there on the track is that you’re being massively overpaid to fly the sport into the ground. Listening to his endless self-promotion week after weeks leaves this writer begging for impact to happen already.

Want to talk compare and contrast? Just look at the two attitudes, results and directions unfolding in the Richard Petty Motorsports camp. AJ Allmendinger has a fast practice lap turn into a top tier starting position for his No. 43 team, spends the first half of the afternoon running up front with Johnson, Edwards, all the big names, and gets absolutely nothing out of it but a blown motor and a 37th place finish. It’s amazing the emotional driver managed to keep himself as composed as he did in his post-race interview, though the frustration was still readily apparent; Dinger wants to win badly. And truthfully, the way’s he driving, he appears to have the talent to do so. Whether he has the team or car is another question. But while AJ may well be hoping for greener pastures, Marcos Ambrose is making the pundits that questioned his lateral move to RPM think twice. Though Ambrose is still a ways out of Chase contention at 20th in points, his third place finish was just the latest example of the Australian road ace proving himself competitive on an oval in 2011. His move to the No. 9 team is paying off, and its hard to imagine him looking anywhere else for the near future.

After seeing firsthand how bad behavior on the race track can make pit road a very dangerous place, race fans and competitors were reminded of that fact in an entirely different way on Saturday. A last lap crash on the frontstretch during the Nationwide Series race saw Clint Bowyer’s car come within a few feet of going airborne over the interior wall and onto pit road. Debris from that wreck caused injury; one of Bowyer’s crew men was hit in the leg with a spring and sent to the hospital as a result. Speaking to a first-time crew man on pit road prior to that same race this weekend, he couldn’t stop talking about how nervous he was, how he was about to throw up merely thinking about going over that fence as a tire carrier. There’s a reason it’s been said “if you’re not scared you’re crazy.” While seeing a race like Sunday’s decided on pit road may suck to watch, that’s no knock on the incredible and hazardous work NASCAR crews do week after week. It truly is a dangerous job, as has been seen for two weeks solid now.

The Hindenburg Award for Foul Fortune

How can anyone not feel for Allmendinger after seeing what was going to be a top 10 at worst go up in smoke after only 166 laps? Chance at a career-best finish and a first career win? Gone. Top 12 in points? Gone. And all because Ford’s greatest weapon for the 2011 season blew up. Every Ford team in the garage, from the powerhouses at Roush to the workhorses at Front Row Motorsports, have all cited the FR9 engine as the number one reason the blue oval has returned to prominence in Cup racing. And Dinger, a driver that for years has been frustrated by the limitations of his equipment, couldn’t even count on that this Sunday.

Kasey Kahne’s got to be feeling the same pains, as issues under the hood robbed him of a top 10 finish less than 70 laps from the finish.

Regan Smith started 11th one week removed from his dramatic win in the “Southern” 500, and for the second consecutive weekend ran as a legitimate top 15 car for much of the race. But 65 laps short of the finish, the underdog darlings of last weekend were back to their usual role…in the garage dealing with a mechanical issue (broken track bar) that derailed a promising run they weren’t supposed to have. Scarcely a week after a dramatic triumph on one of the world’s toughest race tracks, Furniture Row Racing was back to qualifying well, running well early, and faltering late, be it their fault or not. Success is fleeting.

The “Seven Come Fore Eleven” Award for Fine Fortune

Jimmy Fennig rolled the dice with a two tire call even as the afternoon’s stoutest entries took four, and Matt Kenseth reaped the rewards, blowing past Mark Martin (who had not pitted and was on four old tires) to score his second win of the season, valuable insurance should he need to take a “wildcard” berth into the Chase (wild card playoff berths, by God NASCAR really is ready to take the NFL’s place should the lockout continue).

As for Martin, being able to finish runner-up and hold off a hard-charging Marcos Ambrose was pretty fine fortune in it’s own regard… “the Kid” hadn’t scored a top 5 finish since Texas…last November.

Brad Keselowski fully admitted his top 5 finish last weekend was not with a top 5 car. This weekend, he ran in the top 10 for a good long while, and finished 13th in a legitimate top 15 entry. Keselowski’s two best finishes of 2011 have now come in the last two weeks. Also of note, he’s outrun his “violent torpedo of truth” teammate Kurt Busch in both of those events as well.

Worth Noting

  • Brian Vickers finished fifth in the spring Dover race, which one year ago was the first event he missed fighting blood clots in a bout that ended his 2010 season. It was his best finish of 2011…and a career-best on the Monster Mile.
  • Martin Truex Jr. finished eighth at the site of his only career Cup win, his second consecutive top 10 since “firing” his pit crew over the radio at Richmond. That’s why Michael Waltrip ran like junk in that car…he didn’t have the heart to yell at his men. How long before DW floats that theory out there?
  • Stewart-Haas Racing teammates Tony Stewart and Ryan Newman both were all but absent from Sunday’s race, the first time the two cars have finished outside the top 20 in the same race since Talladega last fall. 21st place is also Newman’s worst finish at Dover since 2007.
  • David Gilliland finished 22nd, his best finish on a non-plate track since Phoenix in a sorely needed race for Front Row Motorsports; both cars finished the race without incident (Travis Kvapil ended up 31st).
  • Mike Bliss ran 25th in his first start with FAS Lane Racing’s No. 32 team. It’s the first Cup race he’s run the distance in his last six starts in the series.
  • Paul Menard continued his descent to reality after suffering crash damage running into Juan Montoya on lap 340 and finishing 24th, the only RCR entry not to score a top 15 finish.

What’s the Points?

Positions one through five held serve after Sunday’s race, with Carl Edwards extending his lead over second place Jimmie Johnson after the duo combined to lead 324 laps while finishing seventh and ninth, respectively. Race winner Matt Kenseth moved from tenth to sixth in points. Ryan Newman fell a spot to seventh, Clint Bowyer climbed to eighth, Kurt Busch fell to ninth and Tony Stewart dropped three spots to round out the top 10.

Mark Martin currently finds himself in wildcard slot number one, moving up three positions to 11th in points with his runner-up result. Jeff Gordon holds the other slot, 14th in points but with a win back in February at Phoenix.

AJ Allmendinger proved the biggest loser, plummeting five spots from 11th to 16th with his DNF.

Overall Rating (On a scale of one to six beer cans with one being a stinker and a six pack an instant classic) – We’ll give this one three and a half cans of your standard grocery store brew chilled in the fridge. It was just another Sunday in Dover; though Carl Edwards and Jimmie Johnson did prove two of the few drivers this season able to mix stuff up at the front, the ending of Kenseth driving away from a driver on older tires while the best cars in the field sat mired in traffic was certainly not an epic follow-up to Darlington.

Next Up – The Cup circus throws points to the wind this Saturday night for the annual All-Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Anyone taking bets that that race gets decided by clean air on the nose at race’s end?

Contact Bryan Davis Keith

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Stephen HOOD
05/16/2011 07:33 AM
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I’ve noticed a pattern that a car like the 43 will come out of nowhere one weekend after having been struggling in mediocrity in prior weeks, only to have the engine explode mid race. This has happened with the Red Bull cars in the past and happened a lot to RCR the year before last. I wonder if Allmendinger’s surprising speed this weekend was a result of over aggression on the part of his engine tuner, or if AJ just ran the thing into the ground. I suggest this because none of the other Fords seemed to have engine issues including his teammate. Having his engine explode when he’s running well seems to be a pattern for AJ.

Carl D.
05/16/2011 08:11 AM
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Actually it was a pretty dull race yesterday, at least the parts I didn’t nap through. Quite a contrast from the Nationwide race on Saturday.

I certainly hope we’re done for while with stories about “Boys have at it”. Fox’s entire pre-race show was nothing more than yet another rehash of the Busch/Harvick incident from last week, with tired old clips thrown in of every on-track and off-track confrontation of the last 10 years. Enough already! This isn’t the WWE.

Country
05/16/2011 10:17 AM
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I saw a pretty boring race on tv myself. However, I had a buddy who went to the race (it was his first race as well) and he loved it. He said it was the best race he’s ever seen. I love it when new fans go to their first race, because even if it’s a dull, boring race on tv, to hear their stories of walking around on track (he had bought some kind of package where you go on track pre race and meet with Mark Martin) and how excited they were and how thrilling everything was… it reminds you of why we’re race fans in the first place. BTW… It feels cheap, but I’m so glad JJ didn’t win.

Buzz
05/16/2011 10:18 AM
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If nothing else, we actually got to see a couple competitive lead changes (as opposed to those that happen under green flag pit stops). I agree, though. These guys are whiney little girls sometimes. To them I say, “Sack up and drive or find a real driver to do it for ya.” Oh yeah, most of the real drivers have already retired.

And great wisdom you passed on to “ol DW”. Every race makes him look even more like a shameless hack than before. I never thought that would be possible. Let’s not forget, in addition to all his wins in the 17 car, he also left another mark on the sport – The Darrel Waltrip Honorary Champions Provisional. Without him and his inability to make a race the last 10 years of his career, we’d only have 42 cars in the field.

J-Dawg
05/16/2011 11:02 AM
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I don’t know what race ya’ll we’re watching. I think this is the best Dover race I’d seen in a while: a good battle between Carl and Jimmie, good races for position, a strategic gamble, and no drivers acting like morons to ruin it.
That’s racin’!

Joe
05/16/2011 11:48 AM
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At what point is NASCAR going to insert a “blackout policy” for its races?

The attendance is embarrassingly low and everyone is hurting – tracks, hotels, restaurants, etc.

CincyLady
05/16/2011 01:04 PM
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To me its quite simple. This country is still gripped by recession. Most of the middle class, who have in the past been Nascar’s most ardent fans, are hit hard by the state of our economy. Not to mention many of the baby boomers hooked on Nascar as kids or young adults are now nearing retirement ages and have neither the want or the monies to attend races, they once considered a great way to spend a weekend. I only know that the MIS races we attended for almost a decade will not see us this year at either race. We attended both the June and August races for years, then finally dropped the August race due to rising ticket prices and races that were becoming irrelevant with the Chase. MIS, an ISC owned track gave us the great ticket reduction of $5 a seat about 2 years ago, This after raising our seats $11 per, 3 years previous. You do the math. Its too expensive for stalwart fans to go any longer. We just day tripped but that ended up being a $300 day with tickets, parking and extras. Imagine people who try to weekend it. It wasn’t worth it and I know too many others who feel the same way. I am no longer willing to pay for ISC’s improvements that are merely cosmetic and unneeded. If Nascar wants to really act like they are in tune with their fans, give substantial ticket reductions across the board. See if it helps. My $.02.

ginav24
05/16/2011 02:19 PM
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well, I had tickets but thought it looked too much like rain to put in the $ for gas and parking to drive 2 and a half hours to and from Dover to watch what has become a mediocre race at best. Last year’s spring race I was so bored I wanted to find a place to lay down and take a nap until the last 50 laps. There’s more exciting driving/passing going on when I’m on the NJ tpke than there is watching a NASCAR race these days.

We’ve cut back on going to a lot of tracks for both financial reasons and lack of interest.

I used to be so excited to go and see a race. I keep trying to remember what that feels like – I hate spending my $ and wasting my vacation for the tepid drivel that NASCAR has become. I’m not looking for wrecks and mayhem — I am wishing for good racing – the kind where they can race side by side and pass for heaven’s sakes.

Parity, in a word, stinks.

Robert McIntire
05/16/2011 03:14 PM
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When are they going to take a lot of weight from the right side of these stagecoaches so these guys can drive them

Doug
05/16/2011 05:27 PM
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Does anybody understand this crummy qualification format for rainouts? I can understand when it was by points, all the go-or-go homers ended out 36-43 place positions. Now supposedly they go by average speeds in practice. McDowell had a faster average than quite a few above him and started 36th. What if he had the fastest average? With this format, he would still be at 36th! They all practiced at same time, and when they qualify normally, they get the spot they are suppose to get. So why, because of rainout should it be any different. They still are qualifying by speed. And why the average speed used, when some laps are slower because of wrong setup at the time? Any comments?

janice
05/16/2011 05:43 PM
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doug….that really confused me and several people asked me about qualifying. i told them that the true understanding of it must be buried in the na$car rule book written in funky marker.

Sharon J
05/16/2011 05:55 PM
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When Waltrip can quit talking about his history, he launches into his love affair with Bush. It seems rather stupid when an announcer has to call attention to a driver passing ONE car.

Bill B
05/16/2011 06:17 PM
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If Dover was 50% full I’d be surprised. Much like ginaV24 I know 8 others that decided not to go. So they may have sold more than 50% of the tickets, but there were less than that there. BTW… IT WAS GREAT! No crowds, no lines, no traffic.

The race was average but that’s OK, at least it was a somewhat honest race. Not a bunch of cautions with crapshoot restarts and wave arounds.

Hey Joe. I’ve heard others talk about blacking out the races. How big should that blackout area be? The east coast or national? Remember when they built Dover to hold 140,000 people those seats were being added to accomodate fans from most of the cities from NY to Virginia. Now that those people can’t afford to come anymore does that mean people that live in Dover should be penalized? Does Dover even have a big enough population to fill the stadium if everyone went? Then think about Bristol or Darlington, where does that get blacked out?

camshaft
05/16/2011 06:35 PM
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Go ahead Nascar, black the races out….nobody’s watching anymore anyway. Not old timers anyway, just corporate sheep with polos and free tix and swag.

Bette
05/16/2011 07:06 PM
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I guess we watched the same race J-Dawg did!!.Fantastic racing by Carl and Jimmie.I don’t Quote understand some of you so called NASCAR fans .All you do is complain every week. Some of us really love this sport. If you aren’t one of those nothing says you have to watch.

mkrcr
05/16/2011 11:23 PM
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Down on money? Can’t travel anymore? Craving excitement? Support your local short track. Way more bang for the buck.

old farmer
05/17/2011 01:16 AM
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Kasey Kahne “robbed” of a top-10 finish because of an issue w/ some 70 laps to go?

Are you saying the fix was in?

Nothing is certain w/ about 70 laps to go.

He was “robbed” of nothing!

GinaV24
05/17/2011 10:50 AM
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Doug – no I don’t understand the “new” qualifying system for rainouts. At least when it was based on points standing it made sense.

this is another one of Brainless’s brainstorms to make it more “exciting”. Yeah right.

Country
05/17/2011 12:55 PM
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The funky rainout situation is so that they can explain JJ being on the pole every time qualifying gets rained out. Kasey Kahne may have had the fasted lap, but JJ had the best AVERAGE speed… Jr., naturally had the 2nd best. (Disclaimer: Hypothetical Situation… I’m just saying)

Steve
05/17/2011 03:54 PM
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Good article, but I have an issue with you saying the 7 car started and parked after 77 laps. If someone was to start and park, why would they wait 77 laps to do so. Just because someone drops out early doesn’t mean they are a start and park.

I’m glad someone on FS is finally calling out DW. That was ridiculous how he went on and on about a number. Good call by Buzz too. All those champions provisionals came in the 17 car as well.

Nascar is going to price themselves out so that Rockingham and North Wilksboro will end up having large enough facilities (attendance wise) to host a Nascar race again. Maybe if they hit rock bottom, we can start over again. A clean slate might do the sport some good.

melz
05/17/2011 05:17 PM
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DW talking about himself is getting old along with most of his in race commentary. He ruins the enjoyment of watching a race with what he believes fans want him to talk about. He’s so clueless and he gets the facts wrong so often, yet sites like this allow him to stumble and bumble week after week. I think we as fans should get tough on this guy and make him change for the better.

Country
05/17/2011 07:21 PM
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Dang, I was so hoping to hang on to my theory about NASCAR doing everything they can so JJ would quarlify on the pole. Oh well, back to theories about how NASCAR has it out for Tony Stewart. No matter where he quarlifies, he runs bad lately :( I blame NASCAR.