The Frontstretch: Matt McLaughlin's Thinkin' Out Loud: UAW-Ford 500 by Matt McLaughlin -- Sunday October 7, 2007

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Matt McLaughlin's Thinkin' Out Loud: UAW-Ford 500

Matt McLaughlin · Sunday October 7, 2007


The Key Moment - A shove from the No. 22 car of Dave Blaney gave Jeff Gordon enough momentum to pass his teammate on the last lap. Tony Stewart appeared to inadvertently seal the deal for Gordon, running into the back of him and forcing Jimmie Johnson to settle for 2nd.

In a Nutshell - Hours of mind-numbing tedium punctuated by a few moments of sheer terror.

Dramatic Moment - Bobby Labonte's Dodge inexplicably got loose and set off "The Big One."

Twelve drivers threw caution to the wind on that final lap to decide the race.

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

I think in the future, I'll just watch the last fifteen laps of restrictor plate races. Drivers either form a single-file parade or drop to the back to avoid trouble until those final fifteen laps.

Does it seem that team orders and strategizing by drivers in the same make of car is getting a little out of hand in the Cup Series? Indeed, our sport looks a little more like Formula One each week.

The Car of Tomorrow still needs plates at the big tracks…even though the original goal of the designers of the car was to eliminate plates. As a result, Sunday's event featured the typical violence of a plate race, with everyone reduced to the least common denominator. When it comes to the CoT, I say, the Hell with these things…

What on earth happened to Bobby Labonte and the No. 43 car? It didn't appear a tire was down, but the Labonte’s car still suddenly snapped sideways.

The late Dale Earnhardt used to say that they should clear out the first ten rows, dump the plates, and go back to real racing. Well, we're halfway there. There were a lot of empty seats at Talladega, particularly in the lower section.

For all that talk about the advantage the Dodge and Toyota engines have with the current aero package, it was the usual suspects in a pair of Chevys up front again.

Think there's going to be some pink slips and "Help Wanted" signs at the RCR / DEI engine shop tomorrow?

With the Busch Series off this weekend, what did Cup drivers do to keep from getting bored on Saturday?

What with all the time zones and such, the Chinese Grand Prix took the green flag at 1:30 AM ET. The way FOX is heading, Cup races might be in that territory soon.

Isn't it ironic the Truck Series has a barnburner of a title chase going on without the artificial machinations of the Chase system? (Ron Hornaday leads Mike Skinner by fourteen points with five races to go). The Talladega Truck race featured the expected carnage, however; I really think it's time that NASCAR makes the trucks run snowplows on the front end at Talladega.

Dale Jarrett is set to announce he'll be racing part-time next year. Hmm…isn't that what he's been doing this year?

Nationwide Insurance signed on this week to be the title sponsor of what is currently the Busch Series next season. Parties close to the negotiations say the insurer got title sponsorship at what amounted to fire sale prices. In a related note, Mike Wallace's Busch series sponsor, GEICO Insurance, was told they had two years to pack their bags and get out of the new series, as it would seem NASCAR wants to avoid a repeat of the AT&T / Nextel fiasco. So, once again NASCAR benefits while a race team suffers. This might be grounds for yet another lawsuit. I can see it now…the GEICO gecko giving Brian France the finger while a lawyer tells the jury NASCAR's decision was so blatantly unfair even a caveman could see it. By the way, my BSC (Big Stupid Car…the low miles ’87 Lincoln Town Car) is insured by GEICO. They are cheap!

The Hindenburg Award For Foul Fortune

You have to feel bad for A.J. Allmendinger, Boris Said, and Scott Riggs. They posted the ninth, tenth, and eleventh fastest times in Saturday's bizarre qualifying session, but missed the race. Just another example of how this corporate welfare nonsense – locking the Top 35 into each race – has got to go. Go fast or go home, I say; and it's not like qualifying at Talladega wasn't already the most boring session of the season.

It might have been a matter of karma equaling out after Kansas, but every time there was a wreck Sunday, it seemed that Greg Biffle was in the midst of it.

Dale Earnhardt, Jr. had a car that might have contended for a win at long last had the engine stayed together. Jeff Burton and Martin Truex, Jr. were also eliminated from the race (and from title contention) by "blowed up" bowtie engines. Kevin Harvick finished the race running on seven cylinders…in fact, Clint Bowyer was the only DEI/RCR driver to finish with an engine running at full song.

Kyle Busch just doesn't seem to have much luck at Talladega.

Juan Pablo Montoya seemed to have a Top 5 run in hand until the final two laps of the race. It seems the big dogs still don't want to draft with a rookie.

The "Seven Come Fore Eleven" Award For Fine Fortune

Jeff Gordon overcame a penalty for a pit road equipment violation to win the race. Of course, his strategy was to stay out back until late in the race, so it wasn't too big a blow.

Clint Bowyer not only managed to keep his engine in one piece, he did a nifty bit of driving to avoid Michael Waltrip's spinning car. His eleventh place finish leaves him in contention for the title.

The right rear corner of *Denny Hamlin*'s car looked like it had been used as a chew toy for a pack of pit bulls after a wreck. The team was forced to make extensive tape repairs during a lengthy pit stop, but Hamlin still went on to finish fourth.

Perhaps stung by criticism that he was a hazard making his first Cup start at Talladega, Jacques Villeneuve relinquished his sixth place starting spot to start the race at the rear of the field. He finished 21st, but he did finish – and in the process, earned some respect from the other drivers.

Kyle Petty was uninjured in a savage wreck, during which he hit the wall driver's side first.

Worth Noting

  • Toyotas claimed five of the top six starting spots in the race on Saturday (presumably because in their desperation to make a race, they ran their cars in qualifying trim despite it being an impound race). The top six qualifiers all had to make the race on speed.
  • Some folks claimed Michael Waltrip turned the corner with his pole at Talladega. My pre-race calculations indicated that if Waltrip won the seven remaining races (including Talladega) and led the most laps in each, he might have been able to wind up 34th in points.
  • The win was Jeff Gordon's twelfth plate race victory. Dale Earnhardt has thirteen combined wins at Daytona and Talladega, but two of his victories at Talladega were earned in the pre-plate era. Gordon is also the first driver to sweep both Talladega races in a season since Dale Earnhardt, Jr. did so in 2002. The late Dale Earnhardt, Sr. won both Talladega events in 1999 and 1990…Chevys have won seventeen of the last eighteen plate races.
  • Gordon hasn't finished worse than 11th in the last five races. He is the only driver to post a Top 10 finish in all four of this season's plate races.
  • Jimmie Johnson has finished first, second, or third in four of the last six races.
  • Dave Blaney (3rd) scored his first Top 5 of the season and his first such finish since Richmond last Fall.
  • Denny Hamlin managed his best finish since Watkins Glen (4th).
  • Ryan Newman enjoyed his best finish since the first Pocono race in June (5th).
  • Casey Mears scored his fourth consecutive Top 10 finish (6th).
  • Kurt Busch drove to his first Top 10 finish since Richmond (7th).
  • Tony Stewart (8th) has Top 10 finishes in four of the last five races.
  • Tony Raines (9th) scored his first Top 10 finish of the season and the third such finish of his career. It's the mirrors.
  • Reed Sorenson (10th) has back-to-back Top 10 finishes for the first time in his career.
  • Dale Earnhardt, Jr. suffered his sixth blown engine of the season.
  • The Top 10 finishers drove six Chevys, three Dodges, and a Toyota. The top finishing Ford driver was Carl Edwards in fourteenth.
  • Juan Pablo Montoya was the top finishing rookie in fifteenth.

What's the Points?

Jeff Gordon leaves Talladega back in the points lead, nine ahead of his teammate Jimmie Johnson. Clint Bowyer remains third and is still in contact with the leaders, albeit now 63 behind Gordon. Fourth place Stewart is 154 back; all others drivers involved in the Chase are more than a full race worth of points behind Gordon, and their chances at a title are dim.

Towards the back of those standings, there was some movement; Denny Hamlin moved up three spots to ninth, Carl Edwards advanced two spots to fifth, and Kurt Busch advanced two spots to seventh.

Kyle Busch, Martin Truex, Jr. and Jeff Burton surrendered two spots in the standings Sunday. They are now eighth, tenth, and twelfth, respectively, while Kevin Harvick fell a spot to sixth.

Four races into the Chase, we don't know who will win the title yet but we know who will not: Jeff Burton, Matt Kenseth and Martin Truex, Jr.

Dale Earnhardt, Jr. maintains the "best of the rest" spot in thirteenth despite his blown engine. He is now 111 points ahead of Casey Mears, who takes over the fourteenth spot from Greg Biffle. Biffle is two points behind Mears, and Ryan Newman is two points behind Biffle in 16th.

Meanwhile, the No. 21 team will have to make next week's race on time or go home, as the No. 22 team is guaranteed a starting spot at Charlotte after Dave Blaney’s third place finish.

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 bottles of Maalox. All of the drivers left Talladega under their own power, and that counts for something. Those final few laps were exciting, but portions of the race were so sedate that Junior seemed half relieved to fall out of the event.

Next Up - The series returns to its spiritual home, Charlotte, for the Bobby Weir Invitational One More Saturday Night race for 2007. Unless, of course, Bruton Smith has gone and torn the place down by then to protest the city council denying him rights to build a drag strip. You never know with Smith.

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Today on the Frontstretch:
Championship Caliber? What Does That Even Mean?
Mirror Driving: Winning Vs. Points, Needing a Boost, and The Lady’s Last Dance?
Nuts for Nationwide: The Curious Case of Elliott Sadler
Happiness Is…Arrogance, Less, Next, and the Outdoors
Frontstretch Foto Funnies: It’s Not Gonna Fit…


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

10/08/2007 12:11 AM

Thanks for the recap, Matt! My work schedule means I don’t get to watch Sunday races anymore, and your coverage is the best substitute I have found over the last few years.

As for the plate issue, if NASCAR is concerned about speeds at plate tracks, why not just change the engine templates to reduce overall horsepower or make it so teams can’t push the RPM envelope like they have been the last few years? And, in the interest of saving money for the lesser-funded teams, make it an across-the-board change.

A lower-power motor won’t make that much difference on short and intermediate (aero) tracks, and might even make those races more interesting. Plus, it might solve the “dangerous” speed problem at plate tracks…

10/08/2007 12:46 AM

Like Kevin Harvick attested to a year or so ago the Childress engines suck.Dale Earnhardt sr. would be appaled!

Travis Rassat
10/08/2007 05:04 AM

I don’t know if anybody else will think this, but I think this weekend’s race is another example of why the top 35 rule needs to be reevaluated, especially when combined with the impound rule. You’ve got the go-or-go-homers desperate enough to make the race that they’ll pass on their race setup and practice in race trim in order to concentrate on qualifying for the race. This left us with 8 cars sitting at the front of the pack that didn’t spend any time at all trying out this new car in race trim. I don’t know what all the differences between a qualifying setup and a race setup are, but this seems to me that it ended up creating a potentially dangerous situation. In hindsight, it seems that it worked out OK this time, but it could’ve been disastrous.

I think the solution for this is to put everybody on a level playing field by eliminating the top 35 rule and also to eliminate the impound format – stick to a standard practice for qualifying/practice/practice for racing/race type of format and keep it consistent. That’s just my uninformed opinion, but I think it would be safer.

M. B. Voelker
10/08/2007 06:12 AM

The COT didn’t have anything to do with the boredom yesterday. It was just the same as it was in the aero-monstrosity — drivers riding in line, playing it safe, and trying to survive.

The difference was that instead of riding around in 2-3 lines they rode around in 1 line. They did just what they always do, it was just more obvious.

As for the truck series points, I’d hardly call a 2-man race a “barnburner”. If you’re not a fan of Skinner or Hornaday you stopped caring weeks ago.

I happen to be one of Grandpa’s fans so I do care, but its not like there were 4-5 drivers going to take the green at Homestead with a shot at the title.

@Travis Rassat,

I agree about dumping the impound the Top 35 lock-in. The qualifying situation this week was truly INSANE.

10/08/2007 08:45 AM

What is with the bs moving DJ to the back of the field when he qualified at the front? I heard the explanation but to moe a car that qualified that well to start 43rd?! Come on!!!

10/08/2007 09:04 AM

The smaller engine sould be here in 2010 @ Coop. Somewhere around the 300 cubic inch size with certain parts being interchangeable between the various makes of engines.

Plenty of empty seats all around the track. You could see a lot of them from the blimp shots.

The Top 35 is nothing more than a welfare program and needs to be dumped. It’s sad when we have to see the same cars go home each week even though they qualify in the Top 10-15. We’re not getting what we paid for in having the best and fastest 43 cars race each weekend.

10/08/2007 09:37 AM

Is that normal—all the empty seats for the fall race? I don’t remember seeing that before.

Kurt Smith
10/08/2007 09:42 AM

Matt, not only do I agree with just about everything you said, you are among the best at saying it. Someday I hope to be as good at this as you.

10/08/2007 11:14 AM

I don’t think it matters what kinda car they race at the restricker plate tracks the drivers will race like they did yesterday till near the end. The way I see it, the only way to get the drivers racing for the lead would be to give out points for EVERY lap led forcing the drivers to head for the front or loose points.

10/08/2007 07:13 PM

Well now we have Bristodega with the crash of tommorrow. This “wreckfest show” ( don’t dignify it by calling it a race), has got to be the most expensive demolition derby ever run every year.

Kevin in SoCal
10/08/2007 07:19 PM

Pauline, that happens every race, but usually the last go-or-go-home car qualifies somewhere in the back so its not as obvious. There are seven spots open for the non-35th cars. The 43rd starting spot is for a past champion, and if its not used for that, then it goes to the 8th fastest go-or-go-home car. Since the first seven starting spots were used by go-or-go-home cars, the 8th fastest time ends up in the 43rd starting spot.

10/08/2007 08:13 PM

I went to a real race on Saturday. The 10 hour Petit Lemans at Road Atlanta. When a driver had unnecessary contact, whether it was Roger Penske’s, Michael Andretti’s or Bobby Rahal’s, they went to the penalty box and served time, sometimes as much as 80 seconds. If they broke a rule, they were penalized right then and there, no questions or appeals. That’s because, although Don Panoz owns the series, IMSA sanctions it. They hand out the penalties, regardless of sponsor or owner. Furthermore there were 100,000 people there. We could walk through the garage area, talk to drivers, and dodge cars. We went out on the starting grid with such greats as Ron Fellows, Tony Kaanan, Allan McNish, Adrian Fernandez, and Johnny O’Connnell. Kind of makes NASCAR look really, really sick.

10/09/2007 10:48 AM

Six blown engines for Junior this year? Do the four Hendrick teams combined even have six blown engines? Why are folks still confused about why he’s abandoning the sinking ship his stepmother’s lackeys call a race team?

10/09/2007 11:54 AM

I understand the rule, I just think it’s ridiculous that some who qualified in front of 35 drivers has to start 43rd.