The Frontstretch: Matt McLaughlin's Thinkin' Out Loud: Daytona 500 by Matt McLaughlin -- Monday February 18, 2008

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Matt McLaughlin's Thinkin' Out Loud: Daytona 500

Matt McLaughlin · Monday February 18, 2008


The Key Moment: Kurt Busch stuck to Ryan Newman's rear bumper on the final lap as the Dodge boys repelled the Toyota invasion.

In a Nutshell: Tony Stewart might have landed a cheap shot on Kurt Busch in the trailer, but Busch got the last laugh, pushing Newman to a win over the clearly faster car of Stewart.

Dramatic Moment: You sort of knew those last ten laps were going to get ugly… and they were all of that.

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

All week, it seemed that the battle was between the Joe Gibbs Toyotas and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. in his new ride at Hendrick Motorsports. Earnhardt took the Shootout and his 150, while the Gibbs drivers took the other 150 and the Busch … er, Nationwide race. The media, myself included, thought one team or the other was sure to take the big prize. Well, I guess that's why they run races on the track — and not in the newspapers or on the Internet. Congrats to Newman, Busch, and the whole Penske organization on the “surprise” win.

For anyone who might have forgotten, tomorrow is the seventh anniversary of the death of Dale Earnhardt on the last lap of the 2001 Daytona 500. And in case you've forgotten, it wasn't Bill Simpson or Sterling Marlin that killed him. These SAFER barriers and HANS devices have worked out pretty well, despite NASCAR's original contention they were unworkable and the cure was worse than the disease. I'm glad they were adopted — even if it was a decade too late to spare many innocent lives.

Based on the last two years here, maybe this race should be shortened to the Daytona 25… since it seems few drivers actually start racing for the win until the final ten laps, anyway.

So, why wasn't the field decimating "Big One" a part of this year's Daytona 500? To give credit where credit is due, when these new cars with the big wings on the back get out of shape — ugly as they are — they are a lot easier to gather back up than the old cars.

What in blazes happened to the left rear quarter panel of Denny Hamlin's car? You'd think with seventy cameras, FOX might have had some video evidence to show the incident.

Editor’s Note : After the race, Hamlin admitted he got the damage through pit road contact with the No. 43 car of Bobby Labonte.

The “gopher camera,” huh? If I recall, the last time such a device was used, it wound up through the radiator of a Craftsman Truck competitor named Kevin Harvick, who'd been leading the race that night.

I mean, damn, Tony Stewart can be one sarcastic SOB in his post-race interviews when things don't go his way. FOX and Krista Voda made sure his comments were brief, and didn't include any sponsor plugs.

Has NASCAR given Toyota the keys to the candy store in order to avenge their humiliation last year? Dyno tests after the 150s indicate the Joe Gibbs Toyotas had fifteen more horsepower than Hendrick Chevrolet engines, the previous horsepower benchmark.

With the open wheel wars apparently over — and the IRL the winner — can Tony George and Company make open wheel racing a legitimate contender to the NASCAR juggernaut once again? My guess is no. Too much damage has been done during the insane feud between the two open wheel organizations, and too many bankable stars have already left the open wheel ranks to run stock cars.

As Chris Myers noted, "There's plenty of good seats left" for next week's California race. Gee, I wonder why?

Isn't an hour and forty minutes a little excessive for a pre-race show? No. It's very excessive. Say the prayer, sing the Anthem, fire ‘em up, and drop the green.

NASCAR proved they weren't afraid to throw a caution for debris nobody else could see when the field got too strung out.

A record number of lead changes, huh? Has anyone else noted during races with long green flag periods where teams have to pit under green, there might be six or seven lead changes as the pit sequence cycles through — but it's not like there's any actual passing for the lead. Don't drink the Kool-Aid.

The Hindenburg Award For Foul Fortune

Wow, Jacques Villeneuve didn't get much of a chance to establish himself as a Cup driver, did he? Shortly after he crashed out of the second qualifying race and missed the Daytona 500, owner Bill Davis announced Mike Skinner will replace Villeneuve starting at Fontana next week. Jolly Jacques only chance of getting the seat back now is if he can bring a sponsor to the team.

Dale Earnhardt, Jr. was a prohibitive prerace favorite after his wins in the Shootout and his 150. But questionable pit strategy (haven't I heard this tune before?) and the loss of his key wingmen, Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson (who got turned), cost him a shot at a victory.

Jeff Gordon seemed to have the strongest Chevy, but he bent a control arm late in the race and was forced to the garage. Who knew that driving a race car with the front end coil-bound over a bumpy track at high speed for 500 miles might damage suspension components?

Matt Kenseth usually lays back and waits for the end of the race to make his run towards the front; he was doing so again when the out of control car of his teammate David Ragan put him hard into the wall. Judging by the post-wreck radio transmissions, Kenseth wasn't too pleased with the incident.

The "Seven Come Fore Eleven" Award For Fine Fortune

Kurt Busch had an eventful Speedweeks and an eventful Sunday. He started shotgun on the field, got run into the grass, penalized for speeding exiting the pits, and missed his pit box. He had to charge through the field several times; but in the end, he managed an unselfish second.

Kyle Busch wasn't happy after the 500, but he had a great Speedweeks, finishing second in the Truck Series and the Nationwide race and fourth in the Daytona 500 after leading the most laps on Sunday.

Elliott Sadler had a tough Speedweeks with several trips into the wall, and he slapped the SAFER barrier again during the race — but he came away with a sixth place finish when all was said and done.

Bobby Labonte fights through tight traffic early in the race at Daytona; the 2000 Cup champion would run in and around the Top 10 all day long for Petty Enterprises, eventually coming up with the team’s best finish in the 500 in years.

With all the talk about the history of the Daytona 500 this week, it sure was nice to see Bobby Labonte in the King's number 43 car finish eleventh.

With all the preseason hype directed towards his foreign-born, former open wheel star teammates, it was Reed Sorenson who had the best finish of any of the Ganassi Dodges by a wide margin, finishing 5th.

P.J. Jones was fortunate to walk away unscathed from a fiery wreck in Friday Night's Truck Series race. That was just plain frightening to watch… and I’m guessing the view from inside the truck was even more intense.

Worth Noting

  • Ryan Newman had not won a race since Loudon in the Fall of 2005 (81 races). If you're going to break out of a slump, the Daytona 500 is a nice place to do so; besides, it pays good.
  • Kurt Busch finished second in last year's season finale at Homestead, and again in this year's season opener.
  • Reed Sorenson enjoyed his best finish (5th) since Atlanta last fall.
  • Elliott Sadler scored his best finish (6th) since last year's Daytona 500.
  • Robby Gordon (8th) scored his first Top 10 finish since Watkins Glen last year.
  • Sam Hornish's fifteenth place finish was the best by a rookie on Sunday.
  • The Top 10 finishers drove six Dodges, two Toyotas, a Chevy (Earnhardt – 9th), and a Ford (Greg Biffle – 10th). It's been a long time since Chevy suffered this sort of indignity at Daytona.
  • Despite all his success with Rusty Wallace, Newman, and Busch, Roger Penske had never won a points-paying plate race — much less a Daytona 500 — before Sunday.
  • No driver who finished in the Top 5 in the 2007 Daytona 500 repeated the feat in 2008; in fact, only Elliott Sadler and Kasey Kahne (7th) scored Top 10 finishes in both races.
  • Despite fears of major engine problems for all the teams, only Kenny Wallace is listed as falling out of the 500 with an engine failure — and even he drove to the garage area. (By the way, Wallace's race winnings are listed at over a quarter of a million dollars for finishing last; did I mention that the Daytona 500 pays well?)

What's the Points?

Oddly enough, the points pretty closely resemble the finishing order of the race.

There is one slight difference; because he led some laps, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. is listed in eighth in the standings, one position ahead of Robby Gordon — even though their finishes were the direct opposite of that on Sunday.

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 four cars of Miller Lite. There was a last lap pass for the lead, a Toyota didn't win, and nobody got hurt. That counts for a lot.

Next Up: It's off to the left coast to see if any fans show up for next week's “race” at Fontana.

The Frontstretch Newsletter, back in 2014 gives you more of the daily news, commentary, and racing features from your favorite writers you know and love. Don’t waste another minute – click here to sign up now. We’re here to make sure you stay informed … so make sure you jump on for the ride!

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!

02/18/2008 07:47 AM

New owner, same blunders. Tony Eury, Jr will most likely have a sit down with Rick this week. Jr has to be frustrated. All those great minds on the pit box and the result is staying out? Unbelievable. Toyota’s 15 more hp? WTF?

02/18/2008 08:58 AM

Now, as a casual fan, I casually changed channels at 3 pm eastern, to see how the race was going. It hadn’t started yet? At 3:30 p.m., I casually checked again. It still hadn’t started? I didn’t bother to check again. Phil Mickelson was on his way to a win in California, and I didn’t have to listen to that rag tag bunch of announcers on FOX.

Carl D.
02/18/2008 09:09 AM

Pretty decent finish to a relatively ho-hum race. Can’t say much for the race coverage, though; it was downright terrible. At least twice, when some dicey side-by-side racing was going on, FOX went to the bumper cam to show us… a bumper. We were never told the reason for the first caution. The only two good things I can say for the coverage is that 1) the sound kept cutting out, sparing us a few Jaws-isms, and 2) the commercials put me on the fast track to buying a DVR or a Tivo. Nice to see Buck, Cale, and the Allison brothers get some pre-race airtime, too.

Carl D.
02/18/2008 09:12 AM

I meant Buddy, not Buck. And I even previewed… Geez.

Ron Ustoria
02/18/2008 11:22 AM

Must have been a very uncomfortable final four laps for the Sprint brass up in the corporate skybox coming out of that last caution —-the #31 AT&T car leading the race and the #12 Alltel car ending up in Victory Circle. Time to send in the lawyers once again? Can you hear me NOW???

02/18/2008 12:35 PM

15 horsepower….Chevy used to be the golden child with crapcar and now they will get to feel like Ford and Dodge did . crapcar has a NEW golden kidnamed toyota. look at Fri. night’s truck race….1-4 toyota.Yep, no debris caution flags, sold out to toyota…oh yea crapcar has REALLY changed!!

Kevin in SoCal
02/18/2008 12:38 PM

I still blame Sterling Marlin. I’ll be overjoyed when he finally realizes he’s lost it and retires.
I’ll be going to the Truck and Nationwide race at California on Saturday. Two tickets to two races for the price of one ticket on Sunday. That’s an easy choice.

02/18/2008 12:45 PM

May I echo everyone’s sentiments, especially how bad the FOX broadcast team is. One time yesterday, I actually heard them say, “Kyle Bush is the only driver out there who can go three wide by himself.” I guess it must be either cloning or some sort of multiple personality thing.

02/18/2008 01:05 PM

I did not know that “Daytona is a 2.5 mile race” until one of the announcers said such. Sure took them a long time to run 2.5 miles.

02/18/2008 01:29 PM

The race coverage was pathetic at best. I was saying the same thing about the debris caution when it came out. The car definitely seems to help the drivers keep from losing it. McReynolds needs to go back to grammar school. I can’t believe that they allow someone with such poor speaking skills to do television.

C in VA
02/18/2008 01:49 PM

“…a Toyota didn’t win…”
Why is there so much hate for Toyota? Because they make a better product and don’t allow themselves to be owned by the unions? Guess I’m not ‘merican enough to hate them. Could someone explain this to me?

02/18/2008 01:56 PM

“Questionalbe pit strategy?” Yes, we have heard that one before.

New week, it will be “we had a bad car”, after that, “I got no help from my teammates.”

The Jr. nation has said for years “A trained monkey can win races in an HMS car.”

Wonder how long it will take Jr. to become a trained Monkey?

02/18/2008 02:08 PM

NASCAR… Not Another Stupid Commercial All Ready!!!

I hate Fox
02/18/2008 02:11 PM

Could someone tell Jaws to put down the COT Pom Poms? How many times did he state that the cars would not spin out because of the wings, and how many times do we have to hear just how great the CON (Car of Now) is? Why can’t they just call the race and let us see for ourselves. I was getting so irritated by the announcing that I was changing the channel to see what else was going on. I saw real racing in the background behind the chosen few shown on the screen, and instead of calling the action we are treated to diatribes about how great the COT is and inane blathering from the Booth Bafoons that does not pertain to the actual action on the track.

Also gotta love the new marketing approach by Fox to seperate the dollars from the sponsors with the “In Car by -Insert Sponsor Here” graphics to go along with the in car shots. No longer are the in cars dictated by action on the track, but by how many times they can get the sponsor graphics on the screen. It reminds me of the movie “The Getaway” where they had the worst product placement ever in a film when the Cop put his Tab can on the dash of the car while the shot was from the front of the car. The can looked about 3 feet tall on the screen and stayed there for what seemed like 5 minutes.

02/18/2008 03:45 PM

Maybe it’s just me, but I can’t wait for the day when HIGH DEFINITION (‘scuse me while I bow to the Holy Grail) is just the standard broadcast format. How many more cool, and let’s not forget awesome, angles do I have to endure before I can just watch racing in HI-DEF? Is there some Oscar for the most ludicrous way to use a camera for the “COOLEST HI-DEF SHOT OF THE YEAR”? Gopher CAM? Give me a break! At least you can’t see sponsor logos in the shots. Maybe that will help it go away. Lord knows it won’t be because it ruins a competitor’s race.

02/18/2008 04:21 PM

The front page today should have read Ryan “no-neck” Newman finishes head and shoulders above the competition.Just kidding , Way to go Dodge CITY!

Kevin in SoCal
02/18/2008 05:40 PM

Marshall, “Kyle Busch going three wide by himself” is a phrase called exaggeration. It means the man can drive a car and block so well it looks like he’s taking up all three lanes at once.

02/18/2008 05:57 PM

Sooooo sick of Waldrip and now am soooo sick of Gopher Cam. What a freakin stoopid shot! UGH! The season is gonna be a long one.

02/18/2008 08:45 PM

Sorry to say , Waltrip will be in the booth as long as he wants , Fox thinks he does a great job . And compared with some of the idiots they have working with him , Fox is correct .
Actually , the benchmark for horespower usually has been Mark Cronquist . Whenever cars have been dynoed in the past , Mark is always at or near the top .
Speaking for myself , i don’t really care how good an interview Tony gives . I don’t follow NASCAR because of a drivers manners . Driving ability is what counts . Lets all move on from the” Tony is an SOB“foolishness .Because we all know he is anything but an SOB .

02/19/2008 08:29 AM

Sick & tired of DW & company? Turn down the TV volume and tune into MRN. If that doesn’t work turn the TV off and use your imagination with the radio. Spare yourself the aqony while the season is young.

02/19/2008 10:24 AM

If the 88 crew had not been jawing on the radio so much, Jr. could have come in for tires on the last stop. it was clear that old tires left him in 9th and fading instead of with the win. I was listening to Jr’s radio. lets keep the chatter down, boys!

02/19/2008 10:56 AM

Yeah, Scott you’re right. I was listening, too. But remember, that was the second chance for Eury to bring him in. If you remember, after Eury pointed out to Jr that he would have brought him in if they hadn’t been chattering Jr fired back with “That’s what you get for waiting so late.” This was a direct reference to Eury not bringing him in the caution before. This is certainly an issue. I was worried from day 1 when it was decided Eury would come over. I truly think that Eury is the only thing that could potentially, and I repeat potentially, hinder Jr from having the Gordon and Johnson levels of success at Hendrick.

02/19/2008 03:11 PM

I gotta figure out how these bump stops are used with the coil bind?!?!

Apparently, the 6 had the same problem as the 24 when he took a hard right into my boy. I’m not convinced it wasn’t for lack of skill.

(Pssst…it’s a left turn, idiot.)

02/19/2008 04:44 PM

In regards to the coverage I was just beyond jerked…with all the dopey graphics, useless banter in the booth exactly how many laps need to be run_before they actually start to show the running order. Basic concept the race, let the viewers know where the cars actually are running. Instead I watched lap after lap, a bunch of commercials, back to lap after lap of watching the front few guys (because as we all know there are indeed only 5 cars in the race, the other 38 apprently leave the track after the first lap..sigh). It should be a requirement that any network that is going to broadcast a race should look at a race from say 10 years ago and take a few notes. Instead we get too much fluff and the basic coverage is tossed out the window. Oh, also, can “Boogiety,Boogiety, Boggiety” be stricken from the english langauge..actually just send most of the booth guys home..get the guys from MRN that actually have to cover the race and create a visual for the listener to show up. At least they realize that there are 43 cars out there and that they need to explain why a car left the track, pit stops, and cautions. Best part..they don’t keep explaining “loose” and “tight” to you..

02/19/2008 08:22 PM

My God! You all had to listen to that drivel coming from Ken Squire’s pie hole last week and you still say that DW and the rest of the crew sucks? I mean, do we have to trot Eli Gold out so that you realize that the team we have now isn’t near as bad as some of the crap we had to listen to courtesy of ESPN. CBS and TNN back in the 90’s?

I’ll take any of the commentators today over Gold and Squire. And that unprofessional Ned Jarrett with his “It’s the Dale and Dale show” rooting for his kid to win.

You all don’t know when you have it good!

And by the way, they’ve been explaining loose and tight since they started telecasting races so get used to it. Better yet, go watch drag racing. I guarantee you’ll get to see all the cars run, the fastest cars will qualify and you won’t have to hear about loose and tight ever again.

02/20/2008 03:43 PM

You tell em Chandra!!

02/20/2008 07:27 PM

I can say, having tapes of some of those broadcasts that they were better than what we are seeing now. Of course that is my opinion, others may vary. Now that you mention it it would be nice if NASCAR learned a thing or two from drag racing like that only the fastest qualifiers run and that you recognize that the fans actually know and understand the sport so the incessant explanations of racing terms is not necessary. I would think also that while the terms “loose” and “tight” have been mentioned by broadcasters for years I’m sure if research was done it would be shown a dramatic increase of broadcasters explaining those terms in the last 6-7 years.