The Frontstretch: Rating The Races : Part II by Matt McLaughlin -- Wednesday November 28, 2007

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Rating The Races : Part II

Thinkin' Out Loud · Matt McLaughlin · Wednesday November 28, 2007

 

Editor’s Note: With the 2007 Nextel Cup season complete, it’s now time to take a look back. This week, veteran writer Matt McLaughlin starts the process with his annual race review, analyzing each event of the Nextel Cup season and giving us his take on how good – or bad – they really were.

Today marks Part Two of the Four-Part series. For Part One, please click here to read. Enjoy!

Richmond

Rainy weather pushed the planned Saturday evening race off to Sunday afternoon. Rain seemed to plague a lot of races this season; and while it sucks, the weather is like Brian France being stupid: there's not much you can do about either. Brian's stupid new cars were back at Richmond, too; can you guess which team won?

Unlike Richmond races with the old cars, there wasn't a lot of side-by-side racing in this edition of the Spring classic. On a late restart, Jimmie Johnson was able to muscle his way past teammate Kyle Busch to take the win. Hendrick Motorsports was now four for four in CoT races, and had won seven of the last eight events at this juncture in the year. Rating: D+

Darlington

It pained me to see what the "New Car" did to racing at the most storied speedway on the circuit. Not that what NASCAR did to the track was any great shakes, either. I mean, everyone had to know when NASCAR moved Darlington's only remaining race date to the night before Mother's Day, eventually rain would force the race to be run on Mother's Day itself – and that's what happened this year.

Passing was at a premium at the egg-shaped oval; but in the end, a Hendrick car found itself leading late. It was Jeff Gordon taking control of the race; but this time, there was a twist. It was clear the mill under the hood of the No. 24 car was blowing up, and Gordon's mount was spewing steam in those final few laps. Denny Hamlin tried his best to run down the ailing leader, but the race ran out of laps before Gordon ran out of water. Rating: C

Casey Mears’ kissing the trophy at Lowe’s capped a stunning upset; it proved the highlight of Nextel Cup’s dull second quarter of ’07.

Charlotte

Apparently, a lot of drivers didn't get the memo this was a 600-mile race. There were a flurry of accidents early in the event that eliminated or hobbled a lot of the favorites, and because of the way cautions fell, the end of the race came down to fuel mileage. A lot of us were expecting NASCAR to throw a bogus debris caution to allow the favorites still running a chance at the win, but – perhaps stung by Tony Stewart's comments earlier in the year – they let the race finish under green.

With the best cars forced to pit, Casey Mears coasted across the line on fumes to claim his first Cup victory – and yet another trophy for Rick Hendrick. In addition to Mears, the Top 5 finishers included J.J. Yeley, Kyle Petty, Reed Sorenson, and Brian Vickers. Even Alice's White Rabbit would have found that final running order confusing. Rating: B-

(It wasn't pretty, but it was legitimate)

Dover

Rain once again interfered with the running of a Cup race; the Dover race was pushed off until Monday by the sort of storms that are part and parcel of life here in the Northeast in June.

There was some ugliness during the race after Tony Stewart and Kyle Busch once again wrecked one another. Busch was so angry he drove into the side of the No. 20 car on pit road, nearly running over a member of Stewart's team. Busch was parked for the rest of the afternoon, but not suspended by NASCAR for the infraction.

Late in the race, Martin Truex, Jr. emerged as the surprise leader with Ryan Newman and Jimmie Johnson preparing to battle with him. Instead, Newman and Johnson got too intent on battling one another as Truex drove off into the sunset. Johnson cut down a tire late and fell to fifteenth in the final running order, marking the beginning of his annual summer slump a few weeks early. For Truex, it was his first-ever Cup victory, along with the first time any non-Hendrick driver had won a CoT race. Rating: C-

Pocono

Once again, a Cup race started under threatening skies. Jeff Gordon and the No. 24 team decided not to come down pit road – betting on the rain arriving in time – while Ryan Newman and the No. 12 team decided that fresh rubber on their Dodge would allow him to overhaul the leaders before the downpour. The gamble by Newman’s team didn't miss by much; he was reeling Gordon in lap after lap, and the No. 24 car was nearly out of gas. Of course, that's when the rains arrived – ending the race shortly after the halfway point. Rating: D

Michigan

The Michigan race itself was almost lost in the tidal wave of hype after that week's announcement Dale Earnhardt, Jr. would be moving on to Hendrick Motorsports for the 2008 season. Wanting to grab back some headlines, NASCAR had also managed to make themselves look like a bunch of bumbling bullies by announcing plans to sue AT & T for $100,000,000 dollars for contesting the sanctioning body's right to tell them they couldn't run their decals on the No. 31 car.

As for the race itself, it appeared the drivers decided amongst themselves to get it over with as quickly as possible, with nothing distracting like passing for the lead to keep fans in the stands from being able to continue debating the pros and cons of Earnhardt's career decision – whether it was a good thing or a sign of the upcoming Apocalypse.

As the parade droned on, Carl Edwards won the race going away after Martin Truex, Jr. slapped the wall trying to bear down on him. Rating: D

Sonoma

Once again, the Cup scene returned to a road course for a display every bit as unseemly as trying to autocross trash trucks.

When Juan Pablo Montoya signed with the No. 42 team, you knew Chip Ganassi circled the dates of the two road course races in red, knowing his driver would be a threat to win at each of them. The Colombian did not disappoint – he took the field to school in an almost humiliating manner, as about the only drama was waiting to see if Montoya would run out of gas in the waning laps. Radio traffic between he and his pit crew seemed to indicate that was imminent; but apparently, they knew other teams were scanning their frequency, and they were simply playing possum. Rating: D

New Hampshire

Several drivers took their turns at the front of the field early at NHIS. Dave Blaney led thirty laps before Jeff Gordon took control. Then, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. dominated the middle stages of the race before fading. But as the race wound down, a late gamble by the No. 11 team to put two tires on the car when most teams took four allowed Denny Hamlin to win his first event of the 2007 season. As many wins as this team cost their driver on pit road, eventually you figured they had to hand Hamlin one, too. Rating: C

Pepsi 400

I'll be honest with you all – I missed this race. It was the first time I've missed a race in its entirety since February 18th, 1989. That day, my best friend was killed in a traffic accident; in the early morning hours before this year's Pepsi 400, my Mom passed away after a lingering illness. My family needed me to be there on that sorrowful day. Of course, by race time we were gathered back at Mom's house, and I thought briefly maybe I'd turn the race on in the background with the sound muted to see what was going on. Old habits die hard. But it was a tough day, and I decided, "Screw it," for my sisters needed me more than I needed to know who won the race. Of course, I saw the highlights afterwards – Jamie McMurray edged out Kyle Busch by .005 seconds. It looked like a great race, but I have no regrets I missed it.

It's a matter of priorities – a long overdue, painful, but necessary reminder that in the grand scheme of life, stock car racing doesn't really mean all that much. I needed that.

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

Kevin
11/28/2007 12:09 PM
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I believe that the Busch who tangled with Tony at Dover was Kurt.

Ron
11/28/2007 09:11 PM
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Great article! Wish we had more of this type of race by race analysis during the season. I agree with a lot of the points in the article as well. Pocono, Michigan, and Sonoma all stunk up the place this year.

Kevin in SoCal
11/29/2007 05:03 PM
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Your constant negativity towards the new car and also Hendrick Motorsports are a real turn-off. The new car is just like the trucks, which provide great racing, except with a wing instead of a spoiler. The wing is supposed to allow air to flow under it and onto the hood of the car behind. This provides extra downforce so the trailing car doesnt become as “aero-tight” as it does with the old car. Also, these articles might be your opinion, but your objectivity towards all teams (and all tracks) is more appreciated. Why did Pocono get a D? The last 20 laps were some of the most suspenseful all year, with nobody knowing when the rain would come and when the 24 would run out of gas. Sonoma was the same way with Montoya. It is ok to have your own opinion instead of repeating the bad stuff everyone else says.

Susie
11/29/2007 05:22 PM
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To the dude in SoCal – Oh really? Better racing? Coulda fooled me…

I looked at 15 COT races (I got bored with it by Phoenix). They’ve raced on all types of tracks – short, long, and even some with right turns. Of those races, there are a total of 75 possible Top 5 finishing positions.

Let’s see what’s happened to those 75 possible Top 5 finishes:

A Chevy has captured 56 of the possible 75 top five finishing positions. That’s nearly 75% of the available T5’s in the COT. Ford is a distant second with 11 Top 5 finishes – a measly 15%, Dodge has 7, and Toyota has a single Top 5 performance…Go Dave Blaney!

Guess where those Chevy’s came from? Big surprise. Hendrick Motorsports. HMS has dominated the COT show bringing home 23 Top 5 performances. That’s compared to other Chevy teams like Joe Gibbs Racing with 15, DEI scored 8 T5s, and RCR with 7. That’s a total of 53 T5’s for the high roller Chevy teams. The other teams did not fare as well. Roush-Fenway with Fords captured 11 and the Penske Dodge’s held on for 5. All other teams have occupied only one Top 5 finishing position in a COT to date.

Guess who drove those Chevy’s? Umm…let’s see Jeff, Jimmie, Jeff, Jimmie, eeny, meeny, miny, moe. The Hendrick duo combined for over 25% of the T5’s in 15 races.

“Yeah, but there are more Chevy’s on the road.” Indeed this is true. On the starting grid of the last Martinsville race, there were 18 Chevys, 11 Dodges, 9 Fords, and 5 Toyotas…pretty typical for a Sunday afternoon. The data are clearly biased toward Chevy. But you can’t look past the fact there are 25 other non-Chevy cars out there. And still, 42% of the cars on the track capture 75% of the best finishes.

In conclusion, it ain’t better racing.
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I really came over here to thank Matt for these summaries. I’m writing a song called “Have Yourself A Merry Little Championship.” Matt’s race recaps save me the trouble of wallowing in the 2007 NASCAR season just to pick out the Jimmie Johnson highlights. I’m a Matt Kenseth fan. I didn’t pay much attention to Jimmie this year.

THANKS MATT!!! I LOVE YOUR STUFF!!!

Susie
12/02/2007 03:16 PM
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One more thing…since I just finished reading this, I send you my condolences for your Mom.

And I have printed this, cut out the part about priorities, and stuck it in a little place deep inside my purse…where I will always be able to find it again. Thanks again, Matt.