The Frontstretch: Matt McLaughlin's Thinkin' Out Loud : Pocono Race Recap by Matt McLaughlin -- Sunday August 5, 2007

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Matt McLaughlin's Thinkin' Out Loud : Pocono Race Recap

Matt McLaughlin · Sunday August 5, 2007

 

The Key Moment – On lap 154, Kurt Busch assumed the lead yet again, and the rest of the field couldn't pedal fast enough to keep him in sight.

In a Nutshell - See Kurt run. Run, Kurt, run. Nap, fans, nap.

Dramatic Moment – Other teams gambled on two tires or no tires during the fifth caution period on lap 140, getting out ahead of the No. 2 team, who went with four. That dropped Busch back to ninth for the restart, and he did have to pull some hard driving to regain the lead over the next ten laps.

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

Anyone who has ever tried to get to I-81 or the PA Turnpike after a Pocono race knows the sad irony of the event being named for a movie called Rush Hour 3.

Did NASCAR put the cars on the engine dyno after Pocono? It looked like Busch's Penske Dodge engine was in a class of its own.

Who should have won at Montreal; Robby Gordon, Marcos Ambrose or Kevin Harvick? Here's how I saw it on TV: Kevin Harvick triggered the big wreck shortly after the penultimate restart. If you look at the video of that incident and keep your eyes ahead of the pig pile, at that same instant Robby Gordon was laying a bumper to the right rear corner of Ambrose's Ford. Ambrose maintained the lead, but was all crossed up. (To paraphrase Smokey Yunick, he looked like a monkey trying to hump a football in there). Sensing opportunity, Gordon took to the grass to complete the pass, even though the yellow was already flying. At that point, Ambrose retaliated and left Gordon sideways across the track unable to maintain minimum speed. According to NASCAR, that was the key factor in their decision. Oh, well; so much for all these scoring loops deciding the running order at the time of caution. Maybe they didn't have them in Canada? Anyway, a decision was made by the NASCAR powers that be; Robby Gordon had to restart the race in fourteenth place. Well, like the marching band in Don McLean's "American Pie," Robby Gordon refused to yield.

With Gordon's known temper and dastardly tactics, the race should never have been allowed to restart with the No. 55 car in second…at least on the track. Heck, the pace car should have wrecked him if it came down to it. A less dramatic solution would have been to halt the race and have Gordon removed if he would not restart in his ordered position. But the race did restart, and as expected, Gordon punted Ambrose and Harvick drove his Chevy to the levy. It was exciting to watch, but it leaves fans of the sport scratching their heads and wondering if NASCAR has plumbed to new depths in ineptitude when it comes to officiating races. I've seen better officiated Jello-wrestling matches at local bars…and some blame must be placed on ESPN, too, for failing to highlight the key moment of the supposed pass for the lead when Gordon knocked Ambrose sideways while the caution was flying just ahead of the big wreck. At least Canadian fans got a new villain worthy of Dudley Dooright's old nemesis Snidely Whiplash.

One more thing…if Robby Gordon was banned from the garage area on Sunday, why was he interviewed behind his hauler?

Kasey Kahne is going to be the next driver of the Bud car? Is it just me, or has anyone else noted this year Kahne is running like a three-legged lamb? Reports this week claim Kahne ran into well known waste of protoplasm Paris Hilton while out partying in L.A. She told him "God, you're cute" and kissed him. Hopefully, it ended right there. The last thing NASCAR needs is a tabloid romance between two folks who get a lot more attention for anything but their actual accomplishments – at least this year.

So, 124 employees and three drivers are out of work as a result of the recent DEI / Ginn Racing “merger.” Somewhere, J.D. Stacy is laughing himself hoarse. Look for the EBay auction on the Ginn blimp soon.

I thought that familiarity might lessen contempt for ESPN's ill-conceived “Draft Track.” I was wrong. But the piece on the Allison family in the pre-race show proves ESPN can still produce classics. Rusty Wallace's line of the race: “He's gone from ‘here kitty, kitty,’ to kitty litter.” The one Rusty probably regrets: "There ain't no catching Busch now."

NASCAR said that Tony Stewart called the legitimacy of the sport into question a couple of months back, saying they used "debris cautions" to orchestrate the outcome of races. Oddly enough, since Stewart made his comments, the number of debris cautions has dropped dramatically. I was expecting a late race spate of them Sunday, and it never happened. But that's just a coincidence, I'm sure…

The Hindenburg Award For Foul Fortune

Marcos Ambrose was deprived a hard earned win in Montreal when he was purposely parked by a car that had no business being in the same area code as him. The fact he was able to be so upbeat in his post-race interviews was amazing. "Marcos Ambrose”: It's how you say "Carl Edwards" in Australian. On a related note, my guess is the Ford folks were less than happy to see Robby Gordon, in a Ford, wreck another Ford on its way to a high profile win, handing victory to the Chevrolet set in the process.

There were only seven cautions all day, but Jamie McMurray found himself in the midst of three of them, finally ending his race by limping his thoroughly trashed Ford towards the garage after totaling it with 20 to go.

David Gilliland had a credible run going before getting swept up in a wreck to end his day. And here's the truly odd part: he didn't cause it.

All three MWR racing cars made the field for the first time this season, but it didn't matter much. Dale Jarrett and David Reutimann had DNFs due to fuel pump problems, and were credited with 41st and 42nd place, respectively. The illustrious leader of the organization did manage to finish the race…but Michael Waltrip wound up 38th, six laps off the pace.

The "Seven Come Fore Eleven" Award For Fine Fortune

Dale Earnhardt, Jr.'s car was clearly not to his liking for the first part of the race, and he was vocal in his displeasure on the radio – the handling got so bad Junior actually spun out on his own on lap 124. To compensate, his team gambled on changing a shock under that caution rather than taking tires. Junior went on to finish second.

After several weeks of foul fortune, Jimmie Johnson finally got another Top 5 finish to all but seal his spot in the Chase.

Clint Bowyer had to start at the rear of the field after an unapproved engine change, but he still left Pocono with an eighth place finish.

Ricky Rudd provided the struggling Yates organization with a decent finish, coming home thirteenth. Not far behind him, fellow fifty-something veteran Bill Elliott came home eighteenth.

Worth Noting

  • The Top 10 finishers drove a pair of Dodges and eight Chevys. The best finishing Ford was Ricky Rudd in thirteenth, and the best finishing Toyota was Dave Blaney in twentieth.
  • The win marked Busch's first since Bristol last March. It was also the first race win by a Dodge on an oval this year, breaking a drought that went back to Kasey Kahne’s win at Charlotte last October).
  • Seven of the ten drivers who posted Top 10 finishes at Pocono in June did so again on Sunday: Hamlin, Gordon, Stewart, Newman, Bowyer, Martin, and Mears. The new faces were Kurt Busch, Earnhardt, Jr. and Johnson. Who were the drivers to miss the cut? Kyle Busch, Matt Kenseth, and Martin Truex, Jr.
  • Dale Earnhardt, Jr. (2nd) posted his first Top 5 finish since Loudon.
  • Denny Hamlin (3rd) posted his first Top 10 finish since winning Loudon. In four Pocono Cup starts, Hamlin still hasn't finished worse than sixth.
  • Tony Stewart (6th) earned his third straight Top 10 finish.
  • Ryan Newman managed his best finish since the last Pocono race (7th).
  • Clint Bowyer (8th) now has Top 10 finishes in three of the last four races.
  • Ricky Rudd posted his best finish since Charlotte (13th), as did Tony Raines (15th).
  • Juan Pablo Montoya's sixteenth place was the best by a rookie in this race. As it appears now, there finally might be some parity at the end of the season with a Chevrolet driver taking the Cup title, a Ford driver the Busch title, a Dodge driver Rookie of The Year honors, and a Toyota driver the Truck championship.
  • Does anyone else think it's odd that NASCAR hasn't been able to announce a replacement title sponsor for what is now the Busch Series this deep into the season?

What's the Points?

Jeff Gordon is still leading the standings, though his gap narrowed infinitesimally to 366 over second place Denny Hamlin. The rest of the Top 5: Matt Kenseth, Tony Stewart, and Jeff Burton hold serve as well. Gordon now needs only to start the next five races to make the Chase, even if he finishes 43rd in each.

Behind the Top 5, only two drivers swapped positions in spots six through ten. Jimmie Johnson moved up two spots to seventh, while Kevin Harvick fell two spots to ninth.

Further back, Kurt Busch moves into the last Chase position in twelfth, knocking Dale Earnhardt, Jr. at least temporarily out of title contention. Junior now trails Busch by seven points, while fourteenth place Ryan Newman trails the driver of the No. 8 by 83 points.

Overall Rating (On a scale of one to six beer cans with one being a stinker and a six pack an instant classic) – I can only give this one two pony bottles of Pennsylvania's own Genesee Cream Ale. We used to use the stuff for "pony races" back in college, and some of those races were more exciting than Sunday's event.

Next Up - The circuit heads off to Watkins Glen – but I head off to Ocean City, New Jersey for the last annual family vacation, the end of a 36-year tradition that has been the centerpiece of my summer since I was in middle school. Mom had paid for the place prior to her death, and my sisters and I have decided to honor her by gathering the entire clan for the last time. It's likely to be a week with a lot of laughter, some tears, and the occasional dinner table arguments, with some sunburns suffered, many novels read and passed on to the next sibling, wine and beer consumed in a fashion worthy or our Irish heritage, and a final sad goodbye to beachfront accommodations. Yes, to keep my habit of annoying my sisters, I'll probably lock myself in the back bedroom to watch the race as I have done all these years; my sisters would expect nothing less of their older brother.

But I won't be writing about it. See you for Michigan.

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Bobb
08/06/2007 01:18 AM
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Who says a race without wrecks and yellows that artificially bunches the competition is a “Nap fans nap” event? I mean, other than little boys that crash their toy cars in the dirt and their adult counterparts that never matured… who wants to see a wreck?

Something tells me an event filled with lots of “kewl crashes” and everybody leading a lap is a 6-pack award winner? Hmmm… racing, or NASCAR TV entertainment…. what IS being judged?
Yeah… I think it’s kewl to see someone lay down lap after lap without fading… that is what great racedrivers do!
Something has happened here where NASCAR brainwashed everyone into believeing plate racing was real racing… and driving wasn’t.

I guess I’m being naive, silly, a purist… elitist… but in the spirit of admiring sporting performances, I find it delightful to see someone kick butt and take no names! I know David Pearson did the same thing often… he’s a 2 out of 6 beers kinda hero too?

I don’t buy into the modern era of NASCAR “racing”. I don’t have to, I know better!

Someone explain to me why They ripped 25 points away from Tony Stewart for something that had NOTHING to do with racing! Oops… it insults the spirit of NASCAR “entertainment”? I think penalties for something non-competition related are B U L L S H I T!

A lot of things went nuts in Montreal… I’ve seen crap like that before (usually on a dirt track on the edge of some place like Hoooterville), but at some point, NASCAR, as the legitimate promotor of the entertainment event has to come forward and has a lot of ‘splainin to do! And
I think Loren Wallace has become a bad influence on Robby Gordon and the two shouldn’t be allowed to play together until both lose the “chip on the shoulder” attitudes!

M. B. Voelker
08/06/2007 05:24 AM
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Yes, it was a real snoozer — and I’m a fan of Kurt’s. The only excitement to be had was my nervousness that Kurt’s recent luck would reassert itself and something weird would happen to take it all away from him.

I ended up spending more time watching the “Fox Trax” on the internet trying to figure out if Kyle Busch and Greg Biffle were getting ahead or falling behind than watching the TV.

I used to really enjoy Pocono — before they took the gears away.

@Bobb,
Its not crashes I’m after, its passes. Almost all the passes at the front were related to green flag pit stops and Kurt was never passed on track — not even once.

If I want to see a parade I’ll watch a parade. Racing is about competition. When there’s no competition its boring.

Ed
08/06/2007 06:08 AM
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If you wanted to see a race yesterday, the IRL was the place to be. A real race can really be held at Michigan. It was wheel to wheel at 220 mph the entire race. It’s too bad NASCAR won’t figure out a way to let it’s drivers really mix it up, and they have fenders to lean on. The IRL boys and girls don’t seem at all timid about the fact that there are no fenders. Of course only 8 cars finished the race because of it, but what a race!

John McCrory
08/06/2007 08:48 AM
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Pennsylvania’s own Genesee Cream Ale? The pride of Genesee NY? Wouldn’t Schaefer have been a better choice? Beer relate trivialities aside, keep up the good work.

Bobb
08/06/2007 10:24 AM
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Heya M.B.

I can relate to what you’re saying… but, let me offer this idea and tell me why I’m wrong to be excited about it.

Sometimes the lead of the race isn’t contended. Indianapolis and Pocono really seem to reward teams and drivers that lock-up a good setup.
But there’re 42 other positions yet to be established and yesterday was a great example of why to have a lap/chart timing and scoring link setup.
The stoopit networks are limited in their ability to show the “story” because a lot of times they haven’t a clue what the story is. So, they fall into the dumb concept of “follow the leader” and only briefly touch on the intense battles going on for 5th thru 10th (highly important spots right NOW in the season!). I don’t want to challenge you… but suggest that you look at the scoring summaries, or lap by lap of the last 35 laps of the race yesterday. It was down and dirty racing as passes were made everywhere on every lap because top 10’s are critical!

The networks know all this, but translating it and showing it has been the bane of TV coverage of racing forever!

So… if I suggest that the race from Pocono (and Indy) were both excellent, but the network presented a boring coverage of the great racing, would you accept some of that argument?
NASCAR should be given credit for developing a points system that requires every lap and position be fought for by every car… You’d think they’d be crawling up the network’s collective butts to be on top of the racing!

Anyone else recall seeing Kinser driving the Genesee Beer Wagon?

I’ll never forget watching him start on pole in it at the Indiana Fairgrounds and leading every corner only to be passed on the homestretch by Pancho Carter (who started dead last) for the victory! Pretty sure it was 1976… Sadly, Opperman got dinged up yet again in that event; the original outlaw!

John Kirkpatrick
08/06/2007 10:40 AM
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Another great summary Matt. I was hoping to hear your opinions on Kurt’s victory circle commercial for Lite Beer. Did you notice how many fake swigs of beer he took? (that is, the beer can was never opened).

Travis Rassat
08/06/2007 11:08 AM
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Regarding the lack of debris cautions since Tony’s statement, I want a t-shirt that simply states “Tony Stewart is right.”

William T.
08/06/2007 11:20 AM
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Bobb

I totally agree. There was a lot of Racing that is still very important to many drivers. Just becuase ESPN focused their cameras on the top 5 all day doesn’t mean that there was no action anywhere else on the track.

Furthermore, I actually kind of enjoyed seeing Kurt run away with this one. It was remeniscent of the good ole’ days….beore restrictor plates…..when the team that had the best car, best set-up, etc., walked the dog with the rest of the field

Douglas
08/06/2007 12:03 PM
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Ditto to the comments about the IRL race @ Michigan! I was there! It was awesome to watch! Talk about your death defying acts! WOW!

The purest form of actual motor racing we have in this country! NASCAR pales in comparison! Actually, there is no comparison!

Re: Robby Gordon! Go Robby! Someone has to have NASCAR read their own rule book and understand what it says!

NASCAR is getting way to high handed in blaming their mistakes on the drivers and crews!

Do a flashback to the NASCAR Indy race a week ago! Who punted who out of first and NASCAR promptly declared them a winner!

LONG LIVE BOTH THE IRL & ROBBY GORDON!

Scott
08/06/2007 12:28 PM
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Matt, Genesee is born in Rochester, NY. Unfortunately it tastes like the Kodak waste that is dumped into the Genesee River!

Lynne
08/06/2007 03:17 PM
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Ah yes Bobb, the Genesee Beer Wagon. That would have been Sheldon Kinser at the wheel. Just thought I would add that since many new race fans only think of Steve when they hear the name Kinser. Those were some good ole days of racing. To attend that race and watch Pancho come from last to first had to have been poetry in motion. Add to the fact that the race was probably Friday nite before the Indy 500. Most of the boys raced at IRP Saturday night, Salem on Memorial Day and managed to put on a good show at Indy that Sunday too. That was 3 years before the initial fall of Indy racing as we know it today.

I only mention that because Brian France and the TV networks are well on their way to cause history to repeat itself with their precious Nascar.

I agree with you that there had to be plenty of exciting racing going on back in the field. Just because Kurt Busch lined up in the front row and dominated the race didn’t dictate the finishing order of the other 42 cars. Dale Jr. came back from 26th to finish 2nd, Bowyer started at the back, Edwards lost a lap early and I’m sure had to race hard to finally earn the “Lucky Dog”. Those are just a few examples of racing that ESPN chose to not show us. Instead we saw their version of entertainment while a race was going on that they did not want us to see.

I think it is time to retire my soapbox for now. Thank you Bobb, for the trip down memory lane.

Bobb
08/06/2007 04:28 PM
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Lynne!

Yeah; Sheldon Kinser! But the event I’m talking about was an odd show. It was in July or August… and started around 2pm. They ran a pair of 33 lap qualifying heats and took the top 12 from each to make the starting 24 cars for the 34 lap “feature”. Pancho had a mechanical failure in his heat so he was either offered a car or paid to drive a car of one of the traditional backmarkers… who had made it thru to the feature. Pancho was the first to “push-off” even tho he had to line up dead last… took one hard corner and pulled right back into the pit area while the rest of the cars were push-started. They jacked like 7 rounds of wedge into the right front corner and those of us in the pits watching that thought, ‘Ain’ no way that’ll do any good! He’s so far off the setup…” Who’d have known he’d pick ‘em off one by one and snag the win in the last 100 yards!
Sadly… that was the last time I saw Opperman.

I agree about your diagnosis and post mortums. The evidence of the disease is everywhere as NASCAR grasps at straws to assure their demise!
USAC, IMSA, AAA,… sooner or later they make their own fatal flaws… usually making the racing less relatable to fans, taking their own entity as more important than the fans, and assuming they’ll go on forever having the success they had yesterday.
Racing will always be cyclical until series designate a Commissioner to represent the fans’ interests. Oh, I agree when someone says the fans are represented by buying tickets or tuning in, but…

William T.
Glad to hear that you appreciate a driver and team that get’s their act together and spanks ‘em all too! One thing tho… NASCAR entertainment rarely allows for a single driver to lead much… We used to call it a “rabbit race”. The rabbit would get out front and everyone else would chase… Therefore, modern “just showed up one day” fans rarely understand the tension, strategy, and onslaught the field has to muster to break the rabbit! One of the best “rabbit races” I ever saw was Jackie Howerton in the Hoosier Hundred with Big Al Unser chasing him the entire 100 laps… Howerton had nerves of steel while Unser threw everything at him!

Wolfman
08/07/2007 08:27 AM
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Many forget that it was Robbie Gordon who brought about the end of the “Geltlemen’s Agreement” leaving us with the “Lucky Dog”. I was there in Loudon (2004) when RG was all set to cut the stalled Dale J. car in half while racing to the yellow. The only thing that stopped him was the smart drivers in front of him who checked up to protect themselves and a driver they didn’t want to kill.

As Matt said: look at his history. What change is this going to bring? The black/red flag?

When you can get Tony Stewart AND Jeff Gordon to take a shot at you, perhaps it’s not the world that has the problem…

Bobb
08/07/2007 11:06 AM
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Re: Wolfman’s comments about the gentleman’s agreement and Robby Gordon.

I agree with you entirely. Robby Gordon has a long history of on the track antics that make it hard for me to simply think of him as a “hardnosed driver that wants to win”. I don’t care at all what the drivers do off the track… but when it’s racing, I do expect them to display some sense of sporting as drivers have for decades before!

Ya know, you bring up something that I think is absurd anyhow, but another tool that NASCAR emplys as part of their entertainment policies… now known as the “lucky dog”.
With scoring loops freezing “positions” at the time of a yellow, there is no possibility of racing to the starting line to get back on the lead lap… So… the idea of the gentleman’s agreement is no longer needed, nor the “lucky dog” rule.

I hate rules that create artificial competition… someone a lap down had to race back to the lead lap for decades… it’s time NASCAR cure their rectal cranial inversion on this whole concept. This insanity would seem more appropriate in Formula One than in American oval racing.

I still hear everyone trying to make sense of what happened in Montreal… the last few laps of competition there had problems from every regard. Drivers, scoring, NASCAR… I think either nobody talks about their role in it as a victim, or everyone does.
I know if I was Mr. Harvick, I’d have a really hard time keeping that trophy… and that’s not a slam at Kevin… just a comment that the whole thing became a flustercuck!