The Frontstretch: Matt McLaughlin's Thinkin’ Out Loud: Sonoma Race Recap by Jeff Meyer -- Monday June 21, 2010

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Editor’s Note: Matt’s on vacation for the next two weeks. For this edition, good buddy and our Voices From The Heartland writer Jeff Meyer fills in, with Tom Bowles adding in a few odds ‘n’ ends to round things out.

The Key Moment: Marcos Ambrose slipped out of the pits on lap 80 just ahead of Jimmie Johnson – who pitted one lap earlier – giving him the track position edge on the No. 48 and setting the stage for an absolutely crazy and heartbreaking finish.

In a Nutshell: A surprisingly refreshing, right-hand turn change of pace from last week’s ultra-snoozefest.

Dramatic Moment: Marcos Ambrose pulling aside and stopping as he followed the pace car, slipping from P1 to P8 for failing to maintain speed during a caution with seven laps to go.

What They’ll Be Talking About Around the Water Cooler This Week – Jeff M.

Marcos Ambrose’s ill-fated attempt to save fuel when he didn’t need to probably cost him the race… and gave a huge gift to Jimmie Johnson.

Other than the fact that Jeff Gordon looked as if had gone insane behind the wheel on numerous occasions, most people will be wondering what possessed Marcos Ambrose to shut off his car in an attempt to save fuel during a late-race caution. Ambrose claims he was “told to do it.” Now, I’ll be the first to admit, I like Marcos, but I don’t buy that routine. Maybe there was a communication problem, maybe Aussie ears hear things in a different way over the radio… but there was simply no reason for him to have to worry about saving fuel! Last pitting with 30 to go, he had more than enough to make it to the end. If anyone has a plausible explanation for his actions, please let us know here at my main office. I’m not saying that Marcos is lying, but geez… maybe the radio message said, “You don’t have to worry about fuel,” and he missed those first two words!

“If you want to find Marcos Ambrose right now, he’s standing on the Golden Gate Bridge…” was perhaps the tackiest thing an announcer has said all year. Not saying it probably wasn’t far from the truth, Wally Dallenbach, but a bit crude nonetheless.

What the hell was up with Jeff Gordon today? He certainly wasn’t making any new friends out there. In fact, he may have made several enemies that may serve up a dish of payback at an inopportune time in the future. At least he owned up to his actions in the end, but I would still love to be there as he tries to convince Martin Truex, Jr. that he “didn’t mean to do it.” Too bad Jeff was never able to work his way up to his teammate Jimmie Johnson!

“Juablo” was another one out there that looked like a mean-spirited bully yesterday. While that is not totally unexpected, a visit from Tom Logano may be in the crazy Colombian’s future…

Hats off to Robby Gordon for his fine second-place finish. My only wish, as was his, was that those Goodyear tires had been just a little fresher. Maybe then, we’d have seen a finish with much different results.

Two races in a row now that I have not been nauseated by “Kyle Busch this” and “Kyle Busch that”! I could get used to this new routine!

What They’ll Be Talking About Around the Water Cooler This Week – Tom B.

There’s controversy popping up all over the ‘net about NASCAR’s call to put Marcos Ambrose back to eighth. Just don’t get all bent out of shape along with them: officials made the right call. Many have claimed there’s inconsistency here, because Greg Biffle was allowed to keep a win at Kansas after crossing the finish line third, slowing down while running out of gas. But there’s a difference between fifteen miles an hour and zero, which is what Ambrose was running for several seconds in violating NASCAR’s rules to “maintain a cautious speed.” If anything, the sport made a big mistake in letting Biffle keep the win back then; would you like them to do it again, setting precedent while lighting the rulebook on fire along the way? Prejudice against Jimmie Johnson can cloud some viewpoints, I know, but to me this is like the World Cup “foul” against the U.S. – I just have a hard time believing the other side even has a leg to stand on.

Carl Edwards won at Road America Saturday, meaning the Nationwide Series ended their standalone portion of the schedule with all Sprint Cup drivers in Victory Lane. Brad Keselowski also continues to lead the championship standings by well over 200 points, while Paul Menard acted like a giant wrecking ball in bouncing off a handful of Nationwide-only cars late. Now, the return of Danica Patrick is matched by about ten more Sprint Cup regulars at Loudon. How many times will they lap her? Two? Five? That may be the only guessing game left in a “AAA” series that’s slowly inching towards life support.

You have to laugh over Michael Waltrip’s “sponsafier” car failing to make the starting lineup. That might have been the worst follow through on a marketing idea I have ever seen.

The “Seven Come Fore Eleven” Award For Fine Fortune

This week’s award undoubtedly goes to Jimmie Johnson. As the announcers were so adamant to point out, no one has had a race handed to them in that fashion since Mark Martin pulled into the pits on the last lap at Bristol! Seems that horseshoe has been found after all.

Jeff Gordon gets a nod, just for the fact that the race ended before anyone got fed up and gave him a dose of his own medicine!

Boris Said for, well … just being Boris! Always good to see Boris end up with a top 10!

Greg Biffle got penalized for speeding on pit road early in the race. But timely cautions and exceptional gas mileage got him back to seventh by the finish.

Dale Earnhardt, Jr. had a car that was out to lunch for much of the race’s first half, so much so he was nearly lapped. But after keeping his nose clean and staying out of trouble, when the smoke cleared from that wild ending the No. 88 Chevy was sitting 11th.

The Hindenburg Award For Foul Fortune – Jeff M.

You mean, besides poor old Ambrose? Anyone who Kyle Petty said anything good about! Was it just me, or did anyone else notice that as soon as Kyle would go on about how good a particular driver was doing, moments later that person was spinning wildly. Please, Kyle, if I’m ever a contestant in anything you are announcing for, forget that I exist!

The Hindenburg Award For Foul Fortune – Tom B.

It was bad enough Martin Truex, Jr. got spun out in a banzai move by Jeff Gordon. But that put him at the wrong place at the wrong time, sitting in the back of the pack when a chain reaction wreck broke out in front of him. Five minutes later, he was sitting in the garage, out of the race in 42nd.

Besides Truex, Kurt Busch, Clint Bowyer, David Ragan, and Elliott Sadler will spend their Mondays returning all the baby gifts they got Jeff and Ingrid. The No. 24 Chevrolet turned a potential top-10 finish for each into a nice little trip through the spin cycle.

Bobby Labonte got nabbed for pit road speeding not once, but twice, wasting an eighth-place qualifying effort with a No. 71 Chevy that spends half its time starting and parking. He wound up 23rd.

Denny Hamlin said it best, tweeting after the race he hit everything but the lottery. At one point, the hood on his No. 11 Toyota flew up in the air on-track, necessitating a green-flag pit stop that dropped him seven laps off the pace and slumping to 34th.

Worth Noting – Tom B.

  • The top-10 finishers at Infineon drove five Chevrolets, three Fords, and two Toyotas. The top finishing Dodge was J.J. Yeley (yikes!) in 26th place.
  • Jimmie Johnson’s win was his first on a road course in a nine-year Cup Series career. It was also his 51st overall, breaking a tie with Ned Jarrett and Junior Johnson for 10th on the all-time list.
  • Robby Gordon (second) had his first top-5 finish since a third at Charlotte in May 2009.
  • Kasey Kahne (fourth) has back-to-back top-5 finishes for the first time all season.
  • Despite the disappointing ending, Marcos Ambrose (sixth) had his best finish this season. He also led laps for the first time all year.
  • Boris Said (eighth) had his first top-10 finish since this race back in 2007.
  • Dale Earnhardt, Jr. (eleventh) now has back-to-back top-11 runs for the first time since Michigan and Bristol last August.
  • How bad has Elliott Sadler’s year been? Even after getting punted by Gordon, 17th is still his best run since Talladega last October.
  • Swede Mattias Ekstrom has now led more laps (seven) than Carl Edwards (two) in Sprint Cup this season. Ja.
  • Kevin Conway was not only rookie of the race, but scored his best ever finish (28th), running every lap for the first time in his short Cup career.
  • Both Penske Racing and Joe Gibbs Racing had all three of their entries finish outside the top 30. For Gibbs, it was their worst day on paper since the team expanded to three cars before the start of the 2005 season; Joey Logano, Hamlin, and Kyle Busch ran 33rd, 34th, and 39th, respectively.
  • Martin Truex, Jr. (42nd) hasn’t had a top-10 finish since Richmond.

What’s The Points?

Kevin Harvick still stands at the top of the heap, with a lot of shuffling beneath him. Jimmie Johnson jumps up to second, 140 points back after the win. Kyle Busch drops a spot to third, with Denny Hamlin slipping to fourth. Jeff Gordon moves up two spots to round out the top 5.

Further back, Kurt Busch and Matt Kenseth drop two positions to sixth and seventh, respectively. Jeff Burton and Greg Biffle remain eighth and ninth, while Tony Stewart crawls inside the top 10 for the first time since Phoenix in April.

Mark Martin jumps up a spot to take 11th, while Carl Edwards clings on to 12th, dropping like a rock after a late-race spin left him 29th. Just behind Edwards in this top 12 battle is …hold on to your hats… Dale Earnhardt, Jr.! He’s just 57 points out of the Chase, with Clint Bowyer and Ryan Newman rounding out the top 15.

Overall Rating (On a scale of one to six beer cans, with one being a stinker and a six pack an instant classic) — I’m no Matt, and I may not judge as harshly, but I’d give this one a 40 ouncer of Busch Light. Hey, what can I say? I rarely buy my beer by the can!

Next week, we are off to New Hampshire. Matt will be back the week after that to “remind you all of the inherent evil of plate racing,” and I can go back to drinking during the race! We appreciate your patience!

Contact Jeff Meyer

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NASCAR Easter Eggs: A Few Off-Week Nuggets to Chew On
Five Points To Ponder: NASCAR’s Take-A-Breath Moment
Truckin’ Thursdays: Top Five All-Time Truck Series Drivers
Going By the Numbers: A Week Without Racing Can Bring Relief But Kill Momentum


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06/21/2010 07:31 AM

Awesome race, as most road course races turn out to be. Had it not been ruined by fuel mileage, we would’ve had an epic dual on our hands between the 47 and 48. Sure, Ambrose made the mistake—but if we had fuel cells that let the drivers go an entire race on fuel, or maybe just one stop, this sort of BS wouldn’t happen in the first place. I feel awful for Ambrose.

Carl D.
06/21/2010 07:50 AM

Stock car racing purists can complain about the road races on Nascars’s schedule, but I’ll take Sonoma & Watkins Glen over Fontana, Chicagoland and Michigan any day.

Although a lot of fans, myself included, hate seeing Chad Knaus win so often, he certainly had one of the two best cars yesterday. Had the 48 car been leading the race and stopped on the track during the caution, and if had Nascar let him keep the lead, we’d be screaming that the rules weren’t followed and Chad was given a win he didn’t deserve. The 47 team blew a golden opportunity to get their first win, and it’s their own fault.

06/21/2010 07:56 AM

when isn’t jr’s car out to lunch? i was shocked to see him finish where he did. guess the team is focused on the daytona car.

sure wished robby’s tires would have been fresher.

06/21/2010 08:32 AM

Hey, Jeff. You forgot to add Brad Keselowski in with Jeffie and Juan.

The #12 was a weapon the last half of the race…lol.

Also, I am not sure who ruined Jeff Burton’s day, but he has to be PO’d, too, at somebody…

Stephen HOOD
06/21/2010 08:32 AM

Once the caution came out, didn’t Jimmy have as good a chance of winning the race as Ambrose? The fact that Ambrose made a mistake, doesn’t negate Jimmy’s win. Lot’s of races are lost because of mistakes, although maybe not as blatant as the one by Ambrose. I like that Jimmy is working toward achieving new goals like winning at a road course. I also hope this is a sign that Hendrick has got the balance back in their cars with all four Hendrick Chevy’s in the top fifteen.

I was listening to Junior (and Stewart) through much of the race, and it seemed to me that Lance McGrew actually called a great race. They both knew that Junior wouldn’t compete for a win, so they hung in the back, kept the car in decent shape, and used pit strategy to pass. The fact that he almost got lapped was due to pit strategy, not a poorly running race car. Logano was using a similar strategy, but he got in Montoya’s way at the end. If you noticed, Junior just pulled over and let him go by. Too bad for Joey.

I do like the road courses although I never understand what is going on with the pit strategy. Other than the top two or three cars running up front, a carefully executed strategy can really pay dividends, especially for driver’s that are not particularly fond of road racing. I sometimes go to Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham to watch sports car racing, and I’m always fascinated by the various strategies. Speed is important, but so is fuel mileage and strategic planning.

06/21/2010 08:37 AM

Matt’s article is at it’s best when he doesn’t write it. How ironic is that?

06/21/2010 09:01 AM

For once… Noel and I agree on something. Its amazing! Maybe she isnt so bad after all.

06/21/2010 09:04 AM

I think Nascar made the best decision as far as its best interests are concerned. The sport looks much better when a champion like Jimmy wins races. If they had let Ambrose win they wouldnt have had the story line of Jimmy adding another racetrack to his already stellar record.

Kudos to Nascar for their decision.

06/21/2010 11:28 AM

Jeff Gordon sure had an interesting race . The moves he made ( including the many moves that the tv cameras missed ) were totally uncalled for . Must have been the mystery Sunoco fuel he got earlier in the weekend . I can’t believe Snoko is still the official fuel supplier after the numerous screwups they’ve had since coming into the sport .
Speaking of fuel , Ambrose wasn’t trying to save fuel for the fun of it . He was following orders from his pit . And the fact that that boob McReynolds didn’t see any reason for the fuel saving tactic doesn’t mean a thing . He’s no longer a crew chief for a reason .
I’m overwhelmed by the opportunity we get to actually see all of the cars in the race , not just the leaders . Co TNT .

06/21/2010 11:33 AM

I agree sweets, it was nice to have a champion back in victory lane. It would have been a shame if they had bent the rules to get a first time winner in Victory Lane.

Don’t look now folks, but NASCAR is primed for a hot streak. Jimmie Johnson in victory lane, and Danica poised for a return in 5 days!!!!

06/21/2010 11:34 AM

As much as I like Ambrose, this is the 2nd time in a little over a year that he gaffed his way out of a win. He is starting to remind me of fellow Aussie Greg Norman.

06/21/2010 11:44 AM

Waltrip “sponsifier” or Digger… which was worse?

06/21/2010 12:20 PM

I miss digger and his hot girlfriend.

06/21/2010 12:21 PM

If anyone did any digging on who told Ambrose to conserve fuel the way he did, I would bet his owner, the great Michal Waltrip, played more than a trivial role.

06/21/2010 12:26 PM

That was a race, looked more like a demo derby to me. Pathetic display of driving. Want to pass a quy, well just bash him out of the way. Compared to watkins glen this road course is mickey mouse and makes for bad racing. Put these cars on road america and you might have a real race.

06/21/2010 12:37 PM

DansMom and i_dont_eat_sweets are both on drugs! That race was so contrived! As soon as the articles started to show up about Sleezeball Racing not winning on a road course, you knew who NASCAR had chosen to win! I wish I could be the one to inspect that car of Cheater Chad! I’ll find enough to permanently disqualify them! Jimmie winning yesterday distroyed any integrity NASCAR had left! I said it before, and I’ll say it again, if Jimmie wins the championship again this year, NASCAR might as well cancel the 2011 season! NASCAR will be dead! And the phony fifth title (that naturally matches the other four phony titles Johnson has) will be the final nails in NASCAR’s coffin!

06/21/2010 12:43 PM

If Danica “races” in Nationwide like she “raced” at Iowa, she’d better trade in her racing shoes for dancing shoes and join “Dancing With The Over-Hyped.”
And she owes a Canadian a big thank-you for keeping the 7 car up in owner points so she doesn’t have to qualify on speed.

Don Mei
06/21/2010 12:49 PM

Don’t forget to send Brian a card DansMom! Its his birthday in only forty two days!!!

06/21/2010 01:11 PM

How about those mixed up results. Not only did Penske and Gibbs have all three cars finish outside of the top 30, but Front Row had all three cars finish inside the top 30. Yes, even the much maligned Kevin Conway!

06/21/2010 01:25 PM

What are the other tracks that 5-time champion Jimmy Johnson hasn’t won at? I am looking forward to Nascar doing the right thing and ensuring that he gets those final few wins that he needs. I think it would be a great story line for Jimmy to be the first driver to ever win at all of the tracks on the circuit.

06/21/2010 01:45 PM

Jimmies win reflects the work that he and his team have done on road courses over the past few years. Winning at a road course has been a goal of his for 3 years now. Also, winning at Bristol – he won his first race there this year.

Denny Hamlin chose to focus on “the chase” rather than road courses… how did his day turn out?

Kevin from PA
06/21/2010 02:05 PM

One track JJ never won at was Rockingham – good luck getting that notch in the belt.

06/21/2010 02:38 PM

He also never beat Richard Petty head to head in a race. Or Manute Bol one on one in basketball, or outcoached John Wooden, or acted alongside Dennis Hopper “Pop-quiz hotshot!”

Carl D.
06/21/2010 03:05 PM

It doesn’t really do the 47 team any good to play the blame game in the press. They are a team. They cannot win unless they compete as a team, and they can only lose competing as individuals. Need proof? How many Super Bowl rings has Terrell Owens won?

Jeff Meyer-FS staff
06/21/2010 03:16 PM

So thats what T.O. stands for???!!! I always thought it stood for ‘Terribly Overrated’!!!

06/21/2010 03:56 PM

Toronto Ontario

06/21/2010 04:10 PM

It’s bad enough that Ambrose gift wrapped a win for Johnson. In the process he took out Burton, who had worked hard to get into the top ten twice. Nice job of giving him no respect again, Meyer.

The Mad Man
06/21/2010 04:34 PM

Who gets the best actor award for this show? Johnson for looking surprised at his win or Ambrose for looking so dejected for giving Johnson the show? Maybe Ambrose gets the best supporting actor for giving the show to Johsnon. Remember folks, it’s show business, not racing.

06/21/2010 04:49 PM

Overheard from the NASCAR inspectors after the race “ Yes , we checked the 48 car for traction control after the race , and we were told by the tower that we didn’t find any “ .

06/21/2010 04:56 PM

That’s like saying “I’m a happily married man, and I have my wife’s permission to say so.”

Should the Houston women’s soccer team be called the Cougars?

Kevin from PA
06/21/2010 05:41 PM

DansMom – The Richard Petty comparison isn’t valid when you consider the JJ actually DID race at Rockingham. Not my fault NASCAR took it off the schedule.

06/21/2010 06:18 PM

Then why does it matter if he hasn’t won at Rockingham… no one else is winning at it either.

06/21/2010 09:37 PM

Somebody forgot to tell Marcos about the “Dale Jr. rule”, instead of cutting your engine while following the pace car, you PASS the pace car, then coast while the pace car and field catch up. A driver is allowed by Na$crap to do this up to 3 times without penalty, ala Dale Jr.‘s last career win at Michigan OVER 2 years ago.


Contact Jeff Meyer

Recent articles from Jeff Meyer:

Voices From The Cheap Seats: The Tale Of Two Tires
BSNews! Bruton’s Plans Extend Beyond Bristol’s Track
Top Ten Reasons Fans Failed To Show Up At Bristol Sunday
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