The Frontstretch: Matt McLaughlin's Thinkin' Out Loud: Richmond Race Recap by Matt McLaughlin -- Sunday September 9, 2007

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

Matt McLaughlin · Sunday September 9, 2007


The Key Moment: Jimmie Johnson left the pits in the lead during the final caution period and was never headed.

In a Nutshell: Another race where a few drivers dominated portions of the event – but there was, in fact, some great racing behind them. I just hope Frontstretch’s own Jeff Meyer and Mr. David Poole can agree to disagree on this one.

Dramatic Moment: The three-way battle between Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., and Tony Stewart was outstanding…it's just too bad they were scrapping for second.

As far as the much ballyhooed, all singing, all dancing, must-see-TV Chase, Kurt Busch got hit hard during the Ryan Newman / Matt Kenseth incident. Kevin Harvick had to take to the grass to avoid the mess, and his car began overheating badly. That incident had the potential to eliminate them both and put Junior into the Chase. During the ensuing red flag, the crowd went wild – but both drivers recovered with solid finishes.

Author’s Note: Of course, Junior still would have blown an engine and missed the Chase anyway, at which point the DEI engine department would had to have been put into the Federal Witness Protection Program.

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

So, Joe Gibbs Racing is now officially joining the Toyota ranks in 2008? That would seem to make it very important for next year's Gibbs drivers – Tony Stewart, Kyle Busch, and Denny Hamlin – to win the Chase this year, because starting next year it seems extremely unlikely they'll be winning races, much less championships. And will the last person out the door at Michael Waltrip Racing please shut off the lights? I'd say it's a pretty safe bet they are no longer Toyota's flagship operation.

When Clint Bowyer got into the side of leader Denny Hamlin on lap 200, the No. 11 car got out of shape…but it seemed the yellow caution lights were already on when Gordon passed Hamlin to take over the lead. Why wasn't the field frozen at the moment of caution? I don't think that Hamlin was "below minimum speed." He may have looked like a monkey trying to hump a football behind the wheel (to paraphrase Smokey Yunick), but he kept his boot in it with a nifty bit of driving expertise.

People have told me that given a few more races to get used to them, I'd no longer even notice the Car of Tomorrow design. Nope, sorry – it's still "Starving Mongrel-Pork Chop" ugly.

The lawyers, AT&T, Nextel, NASCAR et al finally struck a compromise on the logos of the No. 31 car. AT&T can run their logos for the rest of this year and all of next season, but must leave the sport at the end of 2008. So, who won? The lawyers who pocketed all those fees, naturally. The other big winners were the networks that carry Cup racing. In addition to providing sponsorship for the No. 31 team, AT&T spends big bucks buying ad minutes during race broadcasts. The company was threatening to pull those ad buys if they weren't allowed to appear on the No. 31…any more questions as to why this matter was settled? Right now, the networks are optimistic they can turn Cup racing from a venture that loses them a large fortune to one that loses them a smaller fortune.

It's kind of sad so many newer fans have no idea how successful Robert Yates and his teams were in their prime, especially during those magic years Davey Allison drove the No. 28 Texaco car. Yates kept the home fires for Ford burning for many years, culminating in a championship with Dale Jarrett at the end of the 1999 season. Good luck on your retirement, Mr. Yates; you’ll be missed.

There have been three major fires after wrecks in NASCAR's top series in two weeks; I thought the cable-operated fuel pumps were supposed to eliminate that. To make matters worse, it sure looked like the door foam ignited in the No. 42 car Saturday night.

You know, if those folks out in California had decided to clone Richmond rather than Michigan, they might be able to sell the place out. One more time…bring back the Southern 500! More folks attended the Darlington race weekend on Mother's Day than showed up at California over the Labor Day weekend. Oh, and as far as complaints about the heat in Darlington…

Nielsen ratings for last week's California race were 3.7, down from a 5.0 last year, so apparently the viewers at home haven't embraced this alleged race, either.

The driver who now heads the points has had his crew chief suspended twice in the last two seasons for cheating. Yeah, that has to improve the credibility of our sport in the eyes of the stick-and-ball sport types. Of course, when the penalties for bad-mouthing the sanctioning body are as bad as those for deliberate rules infractions, maybe the sport doesn't have enough legitimacy to be damaged. It's like questioning Paris Hilton's virtue.

Richmond is a great track, but if any team of track workers is slower to clean up the track after a wreck, they must be working at a quarter-mile dirt track in Afghanistan.

I think I'm beginning to sense the root of some of the problems the No. 8 team is having. Junior spends too much time complaining about the car and not enough time explaining what changes he needs to make it better. By the time they get him calmed down enough to figure out how to fix things, the race is half over.

The newest drinking game for NASCAR parties – Everyone has to chug a beer when the phrase "That was a great explanation, Tim" is used. Plan on having cabs on hand to get guests home safely.

Maybe I'm looking at the past through rose tinted glasses, but I don't recall ESPN in the good ol’ days ever missing a restart.

Dario Franchitti is coming to NASCAR? I hope he leaves Ashley Judd with the IRL. Just wait until the Bubs down in Bama get a load of a guy with an Italian name and a Scottish accent. (For the record, he can drive the wheels off a car, but he's shown an unfortunate tendency to flip them over at high speed this season. So I'd guess in his eyes, the big, boxy, monster that is the Car of Horror looks pretty sweet compared to a petite open wheel doodlebug).

I know track's ad departments need to show the marquis drivers who will put butts in the seats. But the latest Martinsville ad is out of hand. It features four drivers: Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Tony Stewart and Jimmie Johnson, all of whom drive Chevys. When Fords are shown in the ad, they are inevitably wrecking. But no Toyotas are highlighted, so I guess the Martinsville PR folks do know what they're doing, after all.

The Hindenburg Award For Foul Fortune

Carl Edwards took the lead of the race nearing the halfway point, but he knew his engine was terminally ill; it erupted in smoke fifteen laps later. But you have to like this guy’s attitude. "Damn, that was fun…" Blowing an engine was fun? You've really got to try root canal, Carl. You'll have a hoot.

Maybe Dale Earnhardt, Jr. needs to go talk to Edwards. He didn't seem to think blowing an engine was any fun. Of course, he's had a lot of chances to get to accept it this season. Even Junior’s biggest detractors won't be able to say he didn't go down with both guns blazing trying to make the Chase.

Denny Hamlin had a strong car and a shot at the win until his hand brushed the kill switch while he reached for a bottle of water during a pit stop. He lost twenty positions and could only fight his way back to sixth. Hamlin has won one race this season, but he’s “almost won” another half dozen more.

Jamie McMurray had a Top 10 run going when he got swept up in the big wreck of the night.

The "Seven Come Fore Eleven" Award For Fine Fortune

Jimmie Johnson's team cost him the lead on one pit stop, but made it up to the driver at crunch time.

Jeff Gordon felt he had damaged the clutch on his car leaving pit road after the first stop, but still went on to finish fourth.

Kevin Harvick had to dodge several wrecks directly in his path, and when his car was overheating on pit road, it looked terminal. Still, he held on to finish the race in seventh place, clinching his chances at a title.

Juan Pablo Montoya emerged from a fiery wreck both unscathed and seemingly amused.

David Ragan finished third. I wasn't sure he was ever going to finish a race the way he ran earlier this season.

Normally, finishing 23rd and 24th isn't considered great fortune, but for Team Red Bull to get both cars in the race, have them both finish the race, and finish in the Top 25 is notable…and for the second straight week, no less. They'll probably be mixing their Red Bull with Dom Perignon tomorrow.

Maybe it's best for NASCAR that Kevin Harvick did make the Chase. If not, we'd all be talking about all the points he lost when the right side door foam caught fire in his car earlier this season and forced him to bail out.

Worth Noting

  • Jimmie Johnson won both Richmond races this year. Prior to this season, he'd had just one Top 10 finish at Richmond in nine starts.
  • The Top 10 finishers drove seven Chevys, a pair of Dodges and a lone Ford. David Reuitimann in 13th was the top finishing Toyota.
  • The twelve drivers who made the Chase will compete in nine Chevys, two Fords (Kenseth and Edwards) and a Dodge (Kurt Busch).
  • Johnson won back-to-back races for the second time this season. Two other drivers have won back-to-back races, Jeff Gordon (Phoenix and Talladega) and Tony Stewart (Chicago and Indianapolis). Two teams, Hendrick and Gibbs, have combined to win sixteen of 26 races this season.
  • Tony Stewart has Top 10 finishes in seven of the last eight races, winning three of those events.
  • David Ragan enjoyed the best finish of his Cup career. Other drivers enjoyed not being run into by David Ragan.
  • Jeff Gordon posted his first Top 10 finish in four races.
  • Johnny Sauter posted the first Top 5 finish of his 56-event Cup career.
  • Kevin Harvick posted his first Top 10 finish since Indianapolis.
  • Kasey Kahne has scored three consecutive Top 10 finishes.
  • Kurt Busch hasn't finished worse than eleventh in the last nine Cup races.
  • J.J. Yeley scored his second Top 10 finish of the season, as he keeps the seat in the No. 18 car warm for Kyle Busch.
  • David Reutimann posted the best finish of his Cup career.
  • Dale Earnhardt, Jr. suffered his sixth DNF of 2007, the fifth such result caused by a blown engine.
  • With ten races still left to run, Chevrolet has already locked up this year's Manufacturer's title. If you're surprised, you haven't been paying attention.

What's the Points?

Wow, if NASCAR had just left the Chase format at 10 drivers, there'd have been some excitement. Kurt Busch and Martin Truex, Jr. would have ended the regular season tied in points, and both would have made the Chase (that’s the rules). Behind them, Kevin Harvick would have missed the Chase by five points. Gee, looks like NASCAR's expanding the field to twelve drivers trying to make sure Junior, Stewart and Gordon all made it backfired big time.

Under the old points system, Jeff Gordon would be first in points, 410 markers ahead of fourth place Jimmie Johnson. That's under the points system the way God and Dale Earnhardt ordained it. But with the advent of the Chase, Gordon moves down to second, twenty points behind Johnson. Twelfth place Kevin Harvick is given a mere 664 point Mulligan, and is now thirty points behind Gordon. Hey, I'm not going to be out lighting off fireworks to celebrate Jeff Gordon's fifth title, but the man clearly earned it this year, no matter who wins it.

But on to reality. Heading to New Hampshire, Johnson now leads the points, Gordon is second, and Tony Stewart is third. Carl Edwards and Kurt Busch share fourth, while six drivers are tied for fifth and Clint Bowyer is twelfth. What an abomination that is. I really hate this Chase Deal.

Overall Rating (On a scale of one to six beer cans with one being a stinker and a six pack an instant classic) I give this one three bottles of cold Corona served by a comely lass. If you just ignored the fact that the No. 48 car was on cruise control for the win ahead of them, the battling inside the Top 10 behind him was outstanding for the final forty laps.

Next Up: The Chase hype kicks off in earnest at New Hampshire, a track unlikely to provide any semblance of real racing, but one that could be the perfect recipe for a pleasant Fall afternoon's nap. Repeat after me… “This is not your father's NASCAR.”

_Now that the Chase is here, get geared by playing’s newest fantasy game – the Chase Challenge 2007. Put your NASCAR skills to the test by picking which of the twelve playoff drivers will perform the best at the ten tracks remaining on the schedule. Do it for the glory, do it for the bragging rights … or do it for the cash! But whatever you do… don’t miss out! Sign up today by clicking here

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Today on the Frontstretch:
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


©2000 - 2008 Matt McLaughlin and Thanks for visiting the Frontstretch!

09/10/2007 06:26 AM

I didn’t bother with the race Sat. night, because I didn’t want to be continually updated on Jr.‘s position in the “chase.” In reference to Franchiti, I wonder how long NASCAR will last after Montoya, Franchiti, Villaneuve, Carpentier, and who know’s else gets there. Funny, people made fun of Bill’s and Sterling’s accents. If the Yankee press couldn’t understand them, what will they do with these guys? At least they can spell Elliott and Marlin.

09/10/2007 06:53 AM

Sauter and Ragan each had a career finish Saturday. But did ESPN recognize them? Nope. Instead, they go find Cousin Carl still in his firesuit even tho he finished 42nd & had already been interviewed. Regressive TV coverage, more IRL’ers on their way, COT hell, and possible Petty/Gillette merger. Yep, my days of being interested are indeed waning.

09/10/2007 07:55 AM

An awful lot of the horrible tv production values and unwatchable race coverage can be laid at the feet of the directors. They decide what camera shots we see ( and all the shots we don’t get to see ) , which drivers get interviewed and when, etc. If you are tired of constantly seeing only a handfull of the cars in the race, you can thank the producers and directors of these terrible broadcasts.

09/10/2007 08:28 AM

The Chase Points system is an absolute crock. Not a “24” fan, and not against awarding for wins, but the fact that Carl Edwards put his car into the lead before blowing up was irrelevent. The 5 points for leading the race did not matter because all Chase participants get the same points regardless of wins. Also, 10 points per win is really no award as well. Johnson won six races and is only 60 points ahead of Bowyer.
That’s two positions per race that Bowyer has to make up. Not a big emphasis if you ask me.

If you are going to have a Chase, take it back to 10 drivers, separate each regular season position by 25 points and award 25 points for each win.

May need some tweaking, but Gordon would have a 25 pt lead on Johnson, 50 pt lead on Stewart, 125 on Hamlin, and 175 on Kenseth and Edwards
Truex and Bowyer would be last (no Harvick) 300 points out.

No reason Bowyer should be your champ, regardless of what he does the last 10 races unless he can make up 300 points on the field

09/10/2007 10:07 AM

Actually Matt, without the Chase, this would be JG’s 6th Cup. He won the “old points rules” the year Busch won the Chase.

Lorraine Corson
09/10/2007 11:46 AM

You are right. The chase is a joke. Used to be prestigious to get into the top ten and the whole field got a shot at a top ten. If they keep this stupid chase, Maybe run 34 races and then those who have a legitimate shot at a championship duke it out for the last two and may the best car win. At least that way the guy at the of the pre chase who is 300 & points back pulls off a championship not really earned.

09/10/2007 12:48 PM

I hope Poole and Meyer still don’t see eye to eye. My computer has enough memory for both of their opinions.

Great observation on the potential foam door panel burn. I wonder if any reporters can follow up on this?

This wasn’t a great race, but not a bad one either. The ESPN Producer/Director doesn’t seem like he has seen a race before. Hopefully he(or she) will improve. My wish would be for ESPN to watch Speed channels coverage of the ARCA race at Chicagoland. This harkened back to the days of how ESPN use to cover the race. Great job by Phil Parsons. And Rick Allen reminds me alot of Bob Jenkins in his knowledge and professionalism and yet still shows exitement. Great Job!

09/10/2007 02:22 PM

Have to say that watching the race and hearing about Earnhardt Jr. every other sentence got pretty old, pretty quick. I understand that there was a longshot that he would’ve made the chase if Harvick and Newman ran into trouble and Jr. won the race..heck, I think we_all understood that after the prerace show and the first 1/4 of the lap. The final straw though was at the red flag when Harvick went through the grass…after that listening to the booth guys was tough. Harvick wasn’t in any danger of having the engine blow as the car sat there…not running nor was Newman in any danger of a DNF due to the sheetmetal damage to the rear of his car. If anyone in the booth should know it would’ve been Rusty but man, even after the pit reporters gave their reports with the crew chiefs they guys in the booth were still the voice of doom. The racing was good though..maybe next time I’ll just turn the sound down.

09/10/2007 02:25 PM

Unfortunately, we’re in for 10 weeks of “If Jr. had made the chase, he’d be in ____ position now.”

Not a Jeff Gordon fan, but….. Jeff should be busy working on his sixth title this year.

Request to Jeff Gordon…. Jeff, if you and your wife ever have a son.. Don’t name him Jr. and don’t hire him to driver your race car.

ESPN/ABC coverage, well, you know. Not good.

09/10/2007 07:50 PM

OK, for the record, don’t blame the producer. ESPN’s producer is Neil Goldberg. This is the same Neil Goldberg who produced all the classic ESPN broadcasts of the 80s and 90s before the network got kicked to the curb. I do not believe for a moment that he has lost his talent. He and I have communicated back and forth (not recently) sometimes when we were happy with the other’s work, and sometimes when we were unhappy but he has always been cordial and professional when we’ve chatted via email. And for fellow Tim Richmond fans it was Neil who produced the short piece on Tim during their final Watkins Glen broadcast of the “old era”, a tribute to a man he knew as a friend, and a move that probably made NASCAR brass unhappy.

I have no idea what constraints Neil is operating under these days. TV broadcasts are no longer pure. When a sponsor buys ad minutes they also apparently get some air time for thier driver which explains why Dale Jarrett is constantly being shown despite the fact he’s running like a man with his scrotum tethered to a fire hydrant. And I can see ESPN brass sitting down at the Monday morning meetings saying “according to our demographics we need to show more Dale Gordon and Jeff Earnhardt…”

Don’t question Neil Goldberg. He is the besti in the biz…bar none…and if you turn off the audio and watch the pictures he’s still the best. He’s just playing by a whole new set of rules…and that sucks.

09/11/2007 06:54 AM

Neil Goldberg has been around for years and has done some great shows. But no one could think that his current productions are worthy of praise. The constaints he is under by sponsors ( yes sponsors pay extra to have their drivers and cars on camera , hence we only see a handfull of cars on each broadcast )do not account for the horrible choices in on air talent and constant lap dog obediance to the NASCAR corporate line, no matter how ridiculous it might be.

09/11/2007 06:09 PM

The battle between JR, Gordon & Stewart was some great racing, best all year , at least that we have seen.
The restarts though 5 missed, come on. How does that happen, especially after a Red Flag?
Keep it up Matt!

09/11/2007 06:58 PM

Neil Goldberg is operating under the same “lemming” mentality as the other networks. They did it so we have to. Not one network has lived up to ESPN’s early coverage of NASCAR that helped push the sport forward.
When ESPN regained their rights to broadcast NASCAR, I was excited. I thought they would show all those “newbees” how to do it. But alas, just another network walking towards the cliff. Hey, maybe the World Poker Tour will save them.
As for me… I’m going Grand Am racing. Laugh? Check it out. Someone’s actually doing it right in series management and Speed knows how to cover it.

09/12/2007 10:26 PM

“I think I’m beginning to sense the root of some of the problems the No. 8 team is having. Junior spends too much time complaining about the car and not enough time explaining what changes he needs to make it better. By the time they get him calmed down enough to figure out how to fix things, the race is half over”

Matt, I can remember Jr. doing this during a bush race when he first started, and Dale Sr. got on the radio and told him “Stop complaining, tell us how to fix it, or just drive it!!!!! I guess he didn’t pay attention then either.