The Frontstretch: Matt McLaughlin's Thinkin' Out Loud: Dover Edition by Matt McLaughlin -- Sunday September 23, 2007

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Matt McLaughlin's Thinkin' Out Loud: Dover Edition

Matt McLaughlin · Sunday September 23, 2007

 

2007 Dover Two Race Recap

The Key Moment - Carl Edwards and the No. 99 team elected to stay out on worn tires during the penultimate caution period, and he was able to hold off his teammate Greg Biffle on four fresh tires.

In a Nutshell - A race that had had the excitement level of a Smurf's picnic turned into a WWF event at the end.

Dramatic Moment - As with any Car of Tomorrow race, passing is at such a premium drivers root and gouge like barbarians on every restart trying to get one or two positions. Sometimes, it goes badly awry. Ask the dozen drivers swept up in Kurt Busch's wreck.

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

The CoT concept seems to have turned Cup racing into a No Passing Zone. During extended green flag periods, the drivers get separated by intervals of several seconds, unless they were battling to get by obviously slower lapped cars. Why? The CoT was supposedly designed to eliminate the (dreaded) "aero push." (The phenomenon where a driver in a faster car can get to the bumper of the car he's trying to pass… but can't complete the pass because he loses the air off the nose of his car when directly behind the car he's trying to pass). But, if anything, it seems to have made things worse. Earlier in the race, fresh tires had proven to be .6 secs of a lap faster than old tires, but Greg Biffle still just couldn't get around the 99. Compare that to Saturday's race, where eventual winner Denny Hamlin pitted for fresh tires and restarted fifth, then quickly passed the four cars ahead of him. Clearly, the advantage still goes to the older (and prettier) cars.

People smarter than me tell me that the above challenge could be quickly fixed if NASCAR would allow the teams to run wider front fenders. (Like our friends at Pontiac used to advertise, "Wider is better…") Of course, that would negate millions of dollars of wind tunnel data collected to date, but it might improve what NASCAR likes to call “the core product,” the racing. Coming off the New Hampshire TV broadcast which drew the worst ratings in the history of the Chase, NASCAR needs to do something quick. After all, you can't count on Kurt Busch to set off a field-decimating wreck every week.

So, Carl Edwards’ car was found too low in post race inspection after the win? How many points is that going to cost him and Jack Roush. Precedent seems to say it will be 25 points and a bunch of cash. The latter is inconsequential, but the former would drop him down to seventh in the standings. And once again, fans of the sport will be forced to try to explain to non-fans and casual fans how a car that is found illegal after a race gets to keep the win and the big check. Edwards claims the rear end sheetmetal of his car was damaged when teammate Greg Biffle ran into the back of the No. 99 to offer his congratulations after the race. How ironic would it be if that damage actually earned Biffle the race win?

Speaking of Kurt Busch, has anybody else noticed he's working hard at remaining calm and reasonable even when he's frustrated? He actually showed a lot of class in his post-race interview. Hopefully, his younger brother is watching.

When are Cup drivers going to realize if you're going to hit a guy, you have to wait until he takes his helmet off. It was a rare but not unprecedented display of bad temper by Kyle Petty.

They've been promising to fix pit road at Dover for years now and it remains one of the most dangerous such places on the circuit. Hopefully a close call with one of the No. 55 team's crew members being struck by a tire today will move the renovation to the front burner. Several drivers also damaged their cars in pit road collisions. Frankly, the fact two drivers have to share a stall at the start of the race is a genuine embarrassment to the sport.

What was Tony Stewart thinking when he decided to start slamming the No. 15 car on pit road and at pit exit early in the race? It seems he damaged his own car to the point it wasn't competitive. Considering the days the drivers of the Nos. 20 and 11 cars endured, it might seem wise for Joe Gibbs racing to switch the coffee over to decaf on race mornings.

What is it about these concrete tracks that Carl Edwards has figured out? Five of his six wins in NASCAR's two top divisions have come on concrete.

Even as the University of Delaware State across the street was on lockdown after a tragic double shooting, the NASCAR nation continued to party on campus and at the track. It was a jarring disparity of cultures, to say the least. My best wishes and those of the Frontstretch staff go out to the two college students injured in the shooting.

It is widely rumored that Mars candies and its M and M brands will be the new sponsor for Kyle Busch's 18 car out of Joe Gibbs Racing next year. Talk about an opportunity for Chun King or some other mass producer of Chinese food. That's a sweet and sour pairing if I've ever heard one.

Dale Earnhardt, Jr. is probably a shoe-in for Most Popular Driver as long as he competes, but based on what I saw in Wednesday's press conference, he isn't likely to win any awards for "Best Looking Car" anytime soon. And as for the No. 9 car, I can't help but feel Budweiser and Allstate insurance are the most awkward sponsor pairing since Junior ran the Bud and Remington decals. Friends don't let friends drive drunk. They shoot ‘em.

You want to talk about ways to spice up a title drive? Look at the NHRA Funny Car championship. Funny car points leader Robert Hight failed to qualify for this weekend's event at Texas. Why? Because he didn't go fast enough, and the NHRA doesn't offer Mulligans into an event based on the point standings like NASCAR does. If the same system (the fastest 43 make the race) was used in the Cup series, Clint Bowyer would have gone home and Jeff Gordon, Jeff Burton and Tony Stewart would have been sweating bullets late in the qualifying session. Oh, but you can't have big name drivers not making the race. It disappoints their fans. Well, you know what? I have a buddy who is a Jeremy Mayfield fan, and he's pretty disappointed that he went to Dover and didn't get to see Mayfield compete.

Tragedy was narrowly avoided at that NHRA meet in Texas Sunday when Funny Car veterans John Force and Kenny Bernstein collided at the big end of the track. Force is said to have suffered two broken legs and a broken arm in what might be the worst (and final) wreck of his career. Best wishes go out to both drivers and their teams. Force's daughter Ashley was so shaken by the incident, she elected not to compete in the semifinal run she was scheduled to make. Remember, the Force team already had a driver killed this season.

If I have to endure one more Tim Brewer explanation (with graphics) of a dropped valve, I might blow one myself. My guess is that in the post-race gathering, ABC executives will ask that the term "that's the dead puppy in the litter" not be used again. Or, as Rusty Wallace might say, they will ask that that phrase not not be used not again.

The Hindenburg Award For Foul Fortune

Matt Kenseth dominated the race, leading 194 laps, but he blew an engine with 27 laps left to run.

Denny Hamlin seemed a little too wound up a little too early at Dover. An attempt to force a pass on the lapped car of Kyle Petty ended badly for both Hamlin and Petty.

Clint Bowyer was also caught up in the aftermath of Hamlin's bad decision.

Lug nuts left loose during a pit stop forced Kevin Harvick to pit under green and lose a couple of laps. A flat tire later just added insult to injury, but a pit crew can't make that sort of rookie mistake if their driver is to a championship contender.

Penske South had two cars running in the Top 10 most of the day until, on lap 485, they had two cars running into the wall. A hard luck award goes out to the dozen drivers involved in the melee.

The "Seven Come Fore Eleven" Award For Fine Fortune

Race winner Carl Edwards had to overcome a sticking throttle early in the event. Usually, a driver with a throttle stuck at Dover winds up in a Bambulance, not in Victory Circle. Edwards’ day was saved by a household can of WD40.

Defending race winner Jeff Burton's car was flat out horrible early in the race. A timely caution kept him from going a lap down. He eventually did fall off the lead lap, but another caution put him back on the lead lap. Much more competitive by then, he managed to escape the carnage and come away with a seventh place finish, one lap off the pace.

I think Mark Martin's fourth place run proves an old man can compete in the new cars.

Jamie McMurray was hit by the No. 42 car, rapped the wall and cut down a tire. He still left Dover with a Top 10 finish.

Kyle Busch slapped the wall hard and got a piece of the lap 485 wreck, but soldiered on to a Top 5 finish.

Worth Noting

  • Carl Edwards has finished first or second in three of the last five races.
  • Greg Biffle scored his best finish of the season and his first Top 5 finish since Sonoma. His second place result was his best since he won at Homestead in last year's series finale.
  • Dale Earnhardt, Jr. had his best finish since Pocono in July.
  • Mark Martin had his best finish since the Daytona 500.
  • Kyle Busch has Top 5 finishes in three of the last four races.
  • Jamie McMurray earned his first Top 10 since he won at Daytona in July.
  • Tony Stewart has Top 10 finishes in nine of the last ten Cup races.
  • Juan Pablo Montoya scored his first Top 10 finish since Indianapolis. He had the best finish among this year's crop of rookie contenders.
  • Michael Waltrip had his best finish since Michigan.
  • The Top 10 finishers drove six Chevys, three Fords, and a Dodge.

What's the Points?

Jeff Gordon remains atop the heat, but he is just two points ahead of second place Tony Stewart, three points ahead of third place Carl Edwards, and four points ahead of fourth place Jimmie Johnson. Fifth place Kyle Busch is just ten points out of the lead.

Within the Chase, there was the typical radical reshuffle the contrived points system is intended to provide. Carl Edwards moved up five spots to third. Jeff Burton moved up three spots to eighth. Tony Stewart, Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch all moved up a single spot. They are now second, ninth, and eleventh respectively.

Hamlin's bad call led to a bad fall. He falls three spots to twelfth. Jimmie Johnson also lost three spots and is now fourth. Matt Kenseth lost three positions as well and is now tenth in the standings. Clint Bowyer fell two spots to sixth while Martin Truex Jr. fell a single spot to seventh.

Outside the Chase, Greg Biffle wrestled fourteenth spot from Casey Mears and Juan Pablo Montoya took nineteenth spot from J.J. Yeley.

Under the old points system, Jeff Gordon would still be leading… but by considerably more than one point. Tony Stewart would still be second, while Jimmie Johnson would have overhauled Denny Hamlin for fourth. Carl Edwards would have taken over fifth in the points from teammate Matt Kenseth.

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 cans of lukewarm Lone Star. The race had its moments, but they were few and far between.

Next Up - Start crafting your "Wizard of Oz" puns because the series heads off to Kansas, a track that has often provided Toto-ally boring events.

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Championship Caliber? What Does That Even Mean?
Mirror Driving: Winning Vs. Points, Needing a Boost, and The Lady’s Last Dance?
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©2000 - 2008 Matt McLaughlin and Frontstetch.com. Thanks for visiting the Frontstretch!

Mary
09/24/2007 05:09 AM
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I know Delaware is a small state, but they have two universities… the one in lockdown is Delaware State University. The University of Delaware is in Newark, at the northern end of the state. The two schools have excellent, but different identities. The rest of your comments are certainly accurate. We all wish for a good resolution for the students at the Dover campus.

Ed
09/24/2007 06:53 AM
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Thanks for your column. I missed…wait, I wasn’t able to see the race yesterday. Looks like I didn’t miss much. IF NASCAR throws away the “chase,” quits guaranteeing starting spots, really penalizes infractions, and goes back to a real car, I’ll be much more interested. Who am I kidding? NASCAR never does anything that makes sense.

Annie Mack
09/24/2007 07:03 AM
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Mary, Delaware actually has 3 universities. Wilmington University has its main campus in New Castle. We’re a small, but very learned state!

Mark
09/24/2007 07:26 AM
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When a car does not pass post post race inspection , the car owner and driver should receive no points and no money. How hard is this ? No other sport that i have ever heard of knowingly lets a competitor keep a win when they have been found illegal . And every other sport disqualifies that person and moves everyone behind him up one place . In fact all other stock car series use this approach .
Along with the “ aero “ problems on the car of today , they need to have another look at the tires . They are too hard and make passing very difficult . They also seem to be blowing out at an alarming rate.
Many of the pit roads in nascar need to be redesigned , but safety always seems to take a back seat to new suite constuction and adding new stands .

Steve M.
09/24/2007 07:28 AM
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Was anyone else extremely disappointed in ABC’s post race coverage? Maybe it was only in my little neck of the woods, but I was only able to see two drivers get interviewed; Truex Jr. and Carl Edwards. Guess our local news couldn’t wait 10 more minutes. Needless to say, I’m not impressed with ABC’s coverage!

Chase
09/24/2007 07:53 AM
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“the dead puppy in the litter” was the funniest, most brutally honest, metaphorical line spoken since the FOX/NBC/TNT/ABC/ESPN/NASCAR cartel agreement was signed 7 years ago. Far more off the cuff than Rusty’s quip about snapping at someone like a rattlesnake.

Margo L
09/24/2007 08:53 AM
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I think we might have a new contender for worst tv announcer . I heard Jamie , interviewing Kenseths’ crew chief, say “ right now “ 5 times in one sentence . Why can’t they simply cut all but three or four people on these broadcasts ? The excess analysts are inventing things to talk about so they can get their share of on air time . They aren’t usually very interesting ,and in fact are often irritating . And the ones they keep need to be much more talented than most of the current group .

falcon325
09/24/2007 10:32 AM
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I was extremely disappointed in the TV coverage.

Dr. Punch—who is one of my favorite announcers—kept telling us that there were 130,000 fans at Dover. But the place seats 140,000. And it looked to me like an estimate of 130,000 was charitable, to say the least. Wouldn’t it be great to hear a group of people who know racing and have been around it for years talk frankly about why the Monster Mile didn’t sell out a race in the much-ballyhooed “Chase” on a beautiful end-of-summer day?

On lap 355, NA$CAR threw a debris caution. That was the key moment in the race. It made a shambles of the strategy that a number of teams were pursuing and set up the “cautions-breed-cautions” wreck-fest that followed. It may yet have a decisive impact on the Brian’s bogus “Chase.” ABC didn’t show the debris. ABC didn’t mention the debris. It was as if the debris didn’t exist…. Really. :o]

Fat Tony was right. NA$CAR is ‘rasslin’ on wheels.

But the “dead puppy” comment was priceless.

Fred
09/24/2007 10:48 AM
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Margo, at least Jamie is the hottest TV reporter. She was actually on the cover of FHM magazine a few years ago. I think she does a pretty decent job though. Granted, I am biased because I was friends with her in college and have watched her career progress from reporting at the X Games, Motocross, IRL, and now NASCAR. She also is into riding dirt bikes, so she does have an incite into what it is like to race vehicles.

Mary
09/24/2007 06:51 PM
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Thanks Annie! There were only two when I was there… I got that old sheepskin after spending 4 yrs as a Fighting Blue Hen and haven’t lived on the East Coast since! It is a beautiful (and learned!) state and wish I could return!

Marc
09/24/2007 08:44 PM
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Have a question here…What happens when ol’ Cousin Carl slips off the door doing his backflip and scatters his brains all over the pavement? Will NASCAR mandate that Tony Stewart wear a helmet before he climbs the fence at the flagstand? That is just the sort of knee jerk reaction that follows, not an accident trend, but peoples stupidity, ie, Dale Jarrett taking the steering wheel off his wrecked car while cars were coming by him at 200 mph

Kevin in SoCal
09/25/2007 11:14 AM
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Jeremy Mayfield still has fans? Were all three of them disappointed or just your friend?
Why wasnt Tony Stewart penalized for running into Paul Menard off pit road? That should have been a one lap penalty or start at the tail end of the pack.

Dave
09/25/2007 05:39 PM
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Actually in reference to the NHRA crash, the remains of John Forces shattered car crashed into Kenny Bernstein. After the chassis broke, Mr. Force was just strapped into a very open and vulnerable seat, no doubt praying. Ashley was shaken yes, but they didn’t want to chance another chassis failure, and she wanted to be in the hospital with her father. Some things are just more important than racing. Also the NHRA does not ALWAYS have provisionals, BUT if they only complete 1 of 4 qualifying sessions, the top 10 are seeded into the bottom of the field no matter what their time is.

Coop
09/27/2007 02:38 AM
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Matt:

Your “Hindenburg Award For Foul Fortune” section for each CoT race should be dedicated to every driver in the “race” for having to drive those blasted things…

Brian France is quickly turning me into a non-fan, and the CoT “races” are largely responsible…