Matt McLaughlin · Sunday July 29, 2007
The Key Moment: With ten laps to go, Tony Stewart muscled his way under Kevin Harvick. The two skirmished for a lap, but Stewart quickly emerged ahead and drove off to an uncontested win.
In a Nutshell: All of the sizzle and none of the steak for the world's most overhyped sporting event.
Dramatic Moment: There was some good racing with the Top 5 over the final fifteen laps as a clearly irritated Harvick slid backwards.
What They'll Be Talking About Around the Water Cooler This Week
Fortunately, the Brickyard 400 still pays fairly well, because a profanity uttered live on ESPN's first Cup broadcast of the season ought to set Stewart back about $50,000 later this week.
OK, was Harvick mad at Stewart after the race or just horsing around? My guess is the latter, and Harvick's actions don't merit any penalty. The rub against the No. 20 car left a tire mark, but no major damage, and it did not occur on pit road. If that’s the case…let’s just say I hate seeing all the emotion taken out of stock car racing.
OK, it was ESPN's first stab at a Cup race in a long while, so no final judgments can be made. What was excellent was the return of Dr. Jerry Punch to the broadcast, Neil Goldberg's production work, the camera work, and the post-race show, though missing Kevin Harvick's thoughts was disappointing. Rusty Wallace put in a solid performance calling his first Cup race, and the respectful interchanges between the boys in the booth and in the production center were impressive, even though Andy Petree seemed to have fallen out of the picture by the end of the race. The broadcast also lacked any of the tortured and failed attempts at comedy FOX is known for attempting poorly. What could use some improvement? About everything else. What needs to go? The Draft Track.
How about what ESPN can fix before next week? For starters, the scroll showing the running order belongs on the bottom of the screen. That was an ESPN trademark in the golden era. Also, as silly as it seems, I really missed the familiar old ESPN music used to introduce their NASCAR broadcasts, and that welcomed fans back from commercials. The sound of that song used to bring everyone running from the porch to the couch…please bring it back.
Kyle Petty started his 800th race in NASCAR's top division, an amazing milestone in a long and storied career. Each year, it seems like there are fewer and fewer fans left who recall when Petty was a legitimate contender for both race wins and championships driving the Mello Yello Pontiac for Felix Sabates Racing (Now Chip Ganassi Racing.) As one of the most forthright and erudite interviews in the garage, this week Petty was asked his take on the recent wave of mergers between Cup teams and what it meant for the sport. Replied Petty, “What it says about the sport is ‘You’re missing the point. It’s not a sport any more; it’s a business.’ It's moving closer and closer and closer to becoming a total business.” Ouch. Well, you can't blame Petty for admitting that's the case, but I for one just wish it wasn't so.
The relationship between the media and the real stars of the show, the drivers, has never been a rose garden picnic, but some drivers seem about fed up with the scribes. This week, Tony Stewart not only pointedly refused to answer some questions, he let the askers know their questions were incredibly dumb. After finishing second in Saturday's Busch race, Greg Biffle fulfilled his TV and radio obligations, but decided against visiting the press box as required after the race. Hey, finishing second is frustrating; as the late Dale Earnhardt used to say, that means you're "first loser." Hey, I can understand not wanting to verbally dissect what went wrong in detail with a bunch of folks…most of whom have never driven a race car in anger. But NASCAR thinks differently, hinting that there will be penalties for Biffle for his non-compliance. I really don't think that's necessary. When a driver cooperates, nice things are written about him and his sponsor’s name gets lots of ink. When a driver doesn't cooperate, writers point out he can be a bit of a jerk and doesn't give his sponsor any mentions. That, in turn, upsets the sponsor, who then tells that driver to go and play nice. It's a self-healing wound that needs no NASCAR intervention.
This is the story, of a man named Bobby, who started four race teams of his own, all of them in financial difficulty, the youngest one shut down. This is the story of a woman named Teresa, absentee mother of three teams of her own, the most noted of her drivers already having found a shocking new home. Until one day this man met this lady and they decided in and of their own, that the two must somehow merge their race teams, and that's how they becameâ€¦
Apparently, UPS's new slogan is “Everyday is race dayâ€¦.except Sunday.”
Let it be noted this weekend that Toyota won their first Busch Series race…and the second Angel of the Apocalypse has blown his trumpet. Woe to those on earth for what soon must follow.
Looking at qualifying results from Saturday and seeing the Chip Ganassi and Penske teams vying for the title made it seem more like May than July. Of course, the newly found Newman/Haas/Yates consortium didn't match their open wheel results, needing a pair of provisionals just to make the field.
The Hindenburg Award For Foul Fortune
It's bad enough for the defending champion of the race to wreck twice, but Jimmie Johnson had to bail out of a burning car as well after the second incident. His slump continues.
Dale Earnhardt, Jr. looked to have a solid lock on a much needed Top 5 finish when his engine expired late in the race.
Once again, Denny Hamlin lost a potential win in the pits. His crew seemed flustered and unsure what to do next when the car ran out of gas and stalled on pit road, as no attempt was made to push it. Stop by the shop one day this week, guys, and I'll give you a case of starting fluid.
Ray Evernham saw all three of his cars reduced to scrap during the race. None of them turned enough laps to validate whether the new front end sheetmetal on the Dodges has been his Achilles' Heel this season; the team was running 2006 versions of the car at Indy.
The "Seven Come Fore Eleven" Award For Fine Fortune
A pit road collision could easily have ended Kurt Busch's day, but he wound up eleventh instead.
Martin Truex, Jr. was running up front prior to a pit road speeding penalty, but still managed a reasonable twelfth place finish.
With the team's future in question, a very credible fourteenth place finish by Ward Burton helps hope remain alive.
Mark Martin drove to a sixth place finish…without second gear. Hardly anyone noticed.
His Brickyard victory, coupled with his win at Joliet before the off week, marks the seventh time Stewart has posted back-to-back wins in his career.
The Top 10 finishers drove six Chevys, two Dodges, a Toyota (Dave Blaney in ninth), and a Ford (Matt Kenseth in tenth).
Obviously, Juan Pablo Montoya was top rookie of the race, as he scored his best Cup finish on an oval. It was also his first Top 5 on an oval track since Atlanta.
Jeff Gordon scored his eighth consecutive Top 10 finish. He now has Top 10 finishes in fifteen of the last sixteen races, with four wins in those sixteen events.
Kyle Busch has Top 10 finishes in five of the last seven races. That will look good on his resume…
Reed Sorenson scored his best finish since the World 600, the third Top 5 result of his short Cup career.
Mark Martin had his best finish since Las Vegas.
Dave Blaney scored his first Top 10 finish of 2007 and his first such finish since Loudon last Fall.
After a bit of a slump of his own, Jeff Burton now has Top 10 finishes in four of the last five races, as does his teammate Kevin Harvick.
Matt Kenseth scored his fourteenth Top 10 finish in nineteen races this season. Only Jeff Gordon has more Top 10s this year.
Jimmie Johnson, Ryan Newman, and Kasey Kahne all endured their fourth DNFs of 2007.
What's the Points?
Once again, Jeff Gordon remains atop the standings, opening his gap over second place Denny Hamlin to 371; that’s nearly two full races worth of points. In the meantime, Hamlin's pit stop from hell dropped him to within six points of third place Matt Kenseth, running 377 behind the top two.
Off the podium, Jeff Burton remains a solid fourth. Behind him, Tony Stewart’s win moves him up a spot to fifth in the standings, dropping Carl Edwards back to sixth. Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch advance a spot to seventh and eighth, respectively, while Johnson's slump drops him two more positions to ninth.
Despite his blown engine, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. remains twelfth in the standings. But Kurt Busch is now just thirteen points out of the Chase in thirteenth place, and NASCAR and ESPN executives are reaching for jumbo-sized containers of Maalox, considering a scenario with Busch in the Chase and Earnhardt on the outside looking in. Ryan Newman is also closing in on a berth, 59 points behind Earnhardt.
Back behind the Chasers, rookie Juan Pablo Montoya moved up two spots to eighteenth, while Casey Mears fell two spots to nineteenth after getting collected in a wreck.
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 two cans of lukewarm Stroh’s. Racing stock cars at Indy is praying at somebody else's church; it's a one groove parade.
Next Up: It's back off to Pocono for Poco-Two. And it's a good feeling to knowâ€¦
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