The Frontstretch: Matt McLaughlin's Thinkin' Out Loud: Checker Auto Parts 500K by Matt McLaughlin -- Monday November 12, 2007

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Matt McLaughlin's Thinkin' Out Loud: Checker Auto Parts 500K

Matt McLaughlin · Monday November 12, 2007

 

The Key Moment - With 24 laps to go – how ironic – Jimmie Johnson on new tires muscled his way past Martin Truex, Jr. on worn tires and drove off into the sunset at Phoenix – putting himself in perfect position for a second straight title.

In a Nutshell - Lately, races have started off slow, then gotten exciting at the end. Sunday's race started slow and then petered out all together. It's Jimmie Johnson's world … we just live here.

Dramatic Moment - The restart after the tenth caution period featured the only real racing of the event, with Johnson and Matt Kenseth battling to get by Truex to take the race lead.

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

Of shoes and ships and sealing wax, of cabbages and kings. Or just about almost anything but the pending Chase finale. This year’s version has failed to grab the attention of the general population like few things other than that TV show Cavemen. Few people bother to acknowledge its existence, and those chosen few who have been exposed to it don't much care for it … with the exception of some zealots you wouldn't want dating your daughter.

Mathematically, it isn't over; but the Fat Lady has laid aside her Cornish Hen feast and is starting to warm up at the opera. It's Johnson's title to lose now.

Chase architect Brian France said this week he sees proof that the Chase format is working. He notes how hard Jimmie Johnson worked to win the race at Texas to lay claim to five extra bonus points. In fact, France says he was so impressed with Johnson's effort, he called him this week to congratulate him. Which leads me to believe Jimmy Johnson, former coach of the Dallas Cowboys, is still confused about who that babbling idiot that called him in the middle of the night was.

Richard Petty raised a few eyebrows this week saying that the Jeff Gordon / Jimmie Johnson points battle wasn't good for the sport. As per the King, having two drivers from one team race for the title just isn’t good; he went a bit further, claiming that Johnson and Gordon are so similar that they are "the same person with a different name." Unfortunate, since nobody could ever make that claim back in the era when the King and Bobby Allison seemed to be scrapping over the title at the end of each season.

Did Jeff Gordon's own frustration doom his title chances? His car seemed slower after the bumping match with Kevin Harvick. The bump Gordon gave Harvick seemed to take the 24's front end out of alignment.

Should they put Kasey Kahne on suicide watch tonight? His frank interview after his wreck sure did make it sound like he was giving up.

Phoenix (and some other tracks) needs to look at adding the SAFER barriers to the inside walls. Andy Lally took a savage hit in Friday's Truck Series race. The impact was so hard that the pit wall was actually cracked. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. spun out in Sunday's race and made hard contact with the inside wall.

Looks like the Truck Series title has come down to a two man battle, with Mike Skinner having a 29 point lead over Ron Hornaday going into the series finale. And oddly enough, this tight points battle has occurred without monkeying with the points with ten races left to go in the CTS season.

Home electronics big box retailer Best Buy has announced they are changing their sponsorship from Haas CNC Racing to a Gillett Evernham team. Based on this year's results, that's a bold leap from the frying pan into the fire.

Here's an odd statistic. According to SPEED TV, Mike Bliss led 54 laps at Phoenix in Friday's CTS race. Those were the first laps led by a Dodge driver this season. For the record, prior to this year Dodge drivers had won two of the last three Truck Series titles. So far this season, Toyota drivers have won 11 races, Chevrolet pilots have scored eight wins and Ford drivers have won five times.

In the Busch series, Chevrolet has claimed 21 wins to Ford's seven, Dodge's four and Toyota's two victories.

Maybe it's just been a long frustrating season for some of them, but it surely does seem that drivers a lap or more down aren't showing the leaders much courtesy these days.

Was Jacques Villenueve trying to send a less than subtle message to someone? He chose the middle finger of his left hand to scratch his eye while being interviewed after his wreck, with his other four fingers drawn into the palm.

When it comes to playing hardball, Bruton Smith could teach Curt Schilling a thing or two. When Cabarrus County voted to block construction of the new drag strip at the Charlotte Motor Speedway complex, it seemed a no brainer. Local citizens were upset by the noise a drag strip would cause. Across the nation, even existing drag strips are constantly under fire by folks who moved into new developments near the track and many are being shut down or seeing their use severely restricted. (At which point, with no drag strip to race at, kids start racing in the streets, causing a whole new level of havoc.) But in Smith's case, he told those politicos if he wasn't welcome he'd just move his entire race track complex elsewhere, costing the area over one hundred million dollars in lost tourism revenue. The whispered cost of a tax incentive program to calm Smith and make him stay in Concord is now said to be approaching 75 million dollars in taxpayer funds.

The Hindenburg Award For Foul Fortune

Carl Edwards started from the pole and dominated the race, leading the first 86 laps. He was dogging Martin Truex, Jr. for the lead again when his engine expired.

It seems like old times. All three of the Michael Waltrip Toyota entries failed to earn starting berths for Phoenix.

If Dale Earnhardt Jr. is going to win a race this year to keep his six season winning streak alive, he's got one more race to do so. At Phoenix, Earnhardt lost control and hit the wall hard … but hey, at least he wrecked before the engine blew up!

Tony Stewart might have had a car strong enough to make a run on Johnson, but his efforts were hampered by uncharacteristically sloppy work on pit road by his team.

The "Seven Come Fore Eleven" Award For Fine Fortune

Kyle Busch had a career weekend with wins in Friday's Truck race and Saturday's Busch Series event, coupled with a Top 10 finish on Sunday.

Despite the bumping match with Jeff Gordon that could have put them both into the wall, Kevin Harvick came away with a sixth place finish at Phoenix.

Considering how hard he hit that wall, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. was lucky to walk away frustrated but on is own two feet.

Worth Noting

  • The win was Johnson's fourth in a row and his tenth of the season. (Prior to this season, the most events Johnson had won in a year was eight in 2004.) Johnson and Gordon have combined to win the last six Cup races on the circuit.
  • Greg Biffle (2nd) had his best finish since his alleged and irregular victory at Kansas. Kevin Harvick (6th) also scored best finish since Kansas.
  • Matt Kenseth (3rd) enjoyed his fourth straight Top 5 finish.
  • Tony Stewart (4th) had his best finish since Loudon at the beginning of the Chase.
  • Ryan Newman (5th) has Top 5 finishes in three of the last four races.
  • Kyle Busch (8th) has Top 10 finishes in four of the last five races.
  • Jeff Burton (9th) has three consecutive Top 10 finishes for the first time since Bristol, Martinsville, and Texas early this spring.
  • Jeff Gordon (7th) has now tied the modern era (post ’72) record for Top 10 finishes in a season with 29.
  • Dale Earnhardt, Jr. (43rd) finished dead last for the first time since Pocono last July. This was his ninth DNF of the season; for comparison's sake, he has just seven top 5 finishes in 2007.
  • The Top 10 finishers drove seven Chevys, two Fords and a Dodge. Brian Vickers in 21st was the top finishing Toyota pilot. The top 5 drivers in the points all wheel Chevys, too.
  • Juan Pablo Montoya in 17th enjoyed the best finish earned by a rookie.

What's the Points?

Johnson continues to lead the points, and needs only finish 18th next week to clinch the title. Jeff Gordon remains second, and is the only driver with a mathematical chance to catch Johnson. Clint Bowyer remains third but is mathematically eliminated; Kyle Busch remains fourth, but is 147 points behind Bowyer.

Matt Kenseth had the best day in the points, moving up four spots to sixth. Carl Edwards had the worst points day, falling four spots to ninth.

Tony Stewart moved up a spot to fifth in the standings. Kurt Busch fell a spot to tenth.

Kevin Harvick took over seventh in the points from Jeff Burton.

Denny Hamlin displaced Martin Truex to take over the bottom spot in the Chase, buoying Truex up to eleventh.

Ryan Newman took over the "Best of the Rest" spot (13th) from Dale Earnhardt, Jr., who falls a spot to 14th. Junior trails Newman by 58 points heading into Homestead.

Greg Biffle's second place finish moves him to 15th place in the standings while Casey Mears drops to 16th.

Kasey Kahne fell two spots to 19th, allowing Jamie McMurray (17th) and Bobby Labonte (18th) each to move up a spot.

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 flat generic stuff that leaves a bad taste in your mouth.

Next Up - The great lumbering ungainly beast that is this year's Cup tour staggers into Homestead listing badly to port, spewing smoke, and dented beyond recognition of its once former glory. While Homestead still isn't one of the greatest tracks on the circuit, it wins Most Improved honors after the latest recreation with variable banking and it might provide for a nice sendoff for a badly wounded sport. One way or another, after next week it's over. And the huddled masses let out a jubilant "Hosanna!"

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Travis Rassat
11/12/2007 06:19 AM
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Remember the 100 point penalties that the 24 and 48 teams received earlier this year? The fact that they are the only two teams mathematically able to win the championship because of the points reset at the beginning of the chase is yet another example of why the system really needs to be tweaked, regardless of what Brian France thinks. I have nothing against those two teams, but if their 100 point penalties had been applied at the start of the chase instead of negated by the point reset, at least Clint Bowyer would still have a shot. Maybe that would at least make things a little bit more interesting…

Also, Hendrick cars have now won 18 of the 35 races so far, so they’re going to be at or possibly above .500 for the season. That’s pretty amazing, good or bad.

Knit Picker
11/12/2007 08:45 AM
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The only reason Jeff and Jimmy win is because N.A.S.C.A.R. is done wrong.

HankZ
11/12/2007 09:23 AM
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Richard Petty needs to stick a golf ball in his blow-hole and concentrate on improving his own teams.

Mark
11/12/2007 10:26 AM
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I don’t always agree with Richard Petty , but he got this one right !
All tracks , ALL TRACKS , should be forced in whatever way is needed , to install Safer barriers . Why are we still having to talk about safety issues that should have been addressed years ago ?

Jonathan
11/12/2007 10:37 AM
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The comments by Richard Petty reflect the feelings of the majority of nascar fans . Why Gordon and Johnson receive 80 percent of the coverage , while only 30 percent of fans care about them is a mystery .

Kevin in SoCal
11/12/2007 11:00 AM
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The coverage focuses on the winners. If you want your driver to be talked about, he needs to run well. (or run like crap and be named Jr.)

itsborken
11/12/2007 12:02 PM
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30% of fans with 46 available teams to choose from end up picking Hendrick says something doesn’t it?

Jonathan
11/12/2007 12:26 PM
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Yes , 30 percent for Hendrick does say something . It says that 70 percent don’t like the Hendrick drivers , so stop forcing them on the fans . Judging from the fan reaction at the track , i would say that at least twice that many are fans of JR. That DOES say something .

Matt
11/12/2007 05:54 PM
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And therein lays the quandry.

How will fans who passionately support Earnhardt but passionately dislike Hendrick Motorsports react next season when Junior joins the Dark Empire? How are Johnson and Gordon (who will soon have six titles between them) react to playing second fiddle ihn the court of public opinion and affection to a guy who hasn’t even won a race in over a year much less four of them in a row? If Junior doesn’t win at Hendrick allegations will follow he isn’t being given the good stuff the 24 and 48 get. If he does win at Hendrick, alleagations might surface that Rick is putting all his eggs in the 88 basket and leaving his current dynamic duo with second class stuff for marketing reasons. (Dale Earnhardt brings in marketing money like Jeff and Jimmie have never been able to.)

Like Pogo once said “We have met the enemy and they is us.”

True Fan
11/12/2007 07:03 PM
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Great response Matt! Great!

babydufus
11/13/2007 08:00 AM
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hmmm what does it mean when the best racing this season done by cup drivers was in tony’s chase to the dream…?

and when you can watch a cup race and not miss a thing on DVR in about 30 minutes?

i choose my local short tracks.

Bill W
11/13/2007 11:11 AM
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If fans were split equally among 46 teams each team would have 2.17% of the total fans. for the 24 and 48 teams to have 15% of the fan base each is big, for them to be teammates and hold 30% of the fans is huge. I think this is the point being made.