The Frontstretch: Matt McLaughlin's Thinkin' Out Loud : Auto Club 500 by Matt McLaughlin -- Tuesday February 26, 2008

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Matt McLaughlin's Thinkin' Out Loud : Auto Club 500

Matt McLaughlin · Tuesday February 26, 2008


The Key Moment: Carl Edwards took the green flag third on the final restart behind Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson. He made quick work of Gordon, then set sail after Johnson, finally overtaking the No. 48 car with thirteen laps to go. From that point forward, Edwards took off into the sunset on cruise control.

In a Nutshell: Waiting that long for a race that bad isn't going to improve fans’ moods any.

Dramatic Moment: When Johnson leapt out to a big lead on that final restart, there was some question as to whether Edwards had time enough to catch him. He did.

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

Why was the race allowed to start with water still seeping up through the track, dirt all over the place, and oil dry kicking up in thick clouds? (Thanks, Michael Waltrip!) Yes, the network and fans wanted to get the race in — but safety has to be an overriding priority. Brian France said prior to this season that the post-race discussion would be about the racing, not the off-track issues. Yeah, good luck getting around that this week. Despite NASCAR's assurances (parroted by FOX) that the drivers all said the track was ready to go prior to the abortive first attempt at racing, Kevin Harvick and several others broke the party line and said they protested the track was still wet before the green flag dropped.

Honestly, I don't know who made the call to try to restart the race at 2 AM ET. But whoever it was, nobody has stubbornly ignored more disaster since Pharaoh refused to let Moses and his people go despite a plethora of plagues.

Amount of time Jimmie Johnson’s wife got to spend with Tom Cruise : Two Days. Amount of aggravation holding a rain-delayed race at California instead of Rockingham caused fans : Two Years’ Worth … at least.

For the record, the weather in Rockingham, NC Sunday (where the second race of the season used to be held) was partly cloudy, topping out at a high of 51 degrees with no precipitation. However, it's doubtful that Tom Cruise would have showed up in the Carolinas to try to convert Gordon and Johnson to Scientology.

FOX couldn't wait to announce that ratings for all the Speedweeks events at Daytona were up slightly. Well, I can't wait to see this week's ratings. My guess is half the TV sets on the East Coast that tuned in when racing resumed were triggered by restive housecats accidentally treading on the remote.

I'm not sure where all that side-by-side racing was that the FOX team claimed was taking place this weekend — unless it was the drivers in their golf carts trying to get back to the motor coach lot around 11:00 PM PST last night. To me, the racing looked fairly similar as with the “old model.” Jeff Gordon's Chevy was dominant when he led the race; but once that car got behind, the No. 24 couldn't pass hardly at all when mired in traffic. That sounds remarkably like the same old story to me; the car up front always seemed to have the advantage, while the ones behind the leader struggled with grip on the front end. The only exception would come with a dominant car like Edwards, who could drop by a ways and make a hasty pass at a track as wide as California with clean air on the nose.

Bottom line, passing was at a premium once again at this two-mile facility. When the cars were on fresh tires, there was the usual wild scrambling just after the restarts — but then the field got strung out. If this is the sort of racing we're going to see in 2008, it's going to be a long season.

Does it seem that Tony Stewart is going out of his way not to mention his car is a “Toyota” the first few weeks of this season? It's the “Home Depot Car” or “my car;” but if he's used the word Toyota yet during a TV interview after or during a race… I've missed it.

Matt’s new friend.

The whole Robby Gordon penalty issued after the Daytona 500 has me scratching my head. On one level, it does seem like an honest mistake. Gordon switched from Ford to Dodge at the last moment prior to the season, so perhaps some bumbling warehouse worker with a rush order did indeed send the team the wrong nose. Either way, since the error was caught prior to any competitive racing, I can't see any advantage gained, so perhaps a 100-point, 100,000 buck penalty is a little over the top. (In comparison, that's the same penalty the No. 55 team got last year for doctoring their fuel, which was clearly an attempt to gain a competitive advantage post-inspection). I never thought I'd be in the position of defending Robby Gordon; but hey, this time send me the petition and I'll sign it.

But here's what's really got me confused. With the new "Car of Tomorrow" bodywork, aren't all the noses on all four makes supposed to be the exact same? If that’s the case, why then would Dodge be developing a new nose for 2008 — a nose said to be submitted to NASCAR for approval? What was the issue, an unapproved set of headlight decals? I don't get it. And Robby might be playing the violin a little too loud saying that the penalty endangers the future of his team. Here’s an easy fix, Rob; go to that Gillett dude and tell him you need another few zillion bucks. In the end, he may need to, for my guess is that the appeals board will rule against Gordon; and when it does, they might recall his bizarre and violent behavior after taking out Marcos Ambrose in the Montreal Busch Series race last August.

Rain at a race track is never pleasant; but as long as races are held out of doors, there's no preventing the occasional bout of lousy weather. Over the years, NASCAR has spent a lot of time and talent trying to perfect ways to dry race tracks, if even a small window of opportunity presents itself. Unfortunately, at the race track formerly known as the California Speedway a real challenge did present itself. While track drying efforts were monumental on Friday, the track officials’ best efforts were hampered by what's known as “weepers,” cracks in the track that allow water to rise up from the ground below onto the racing surface. NASCAR could park a jet dryer aimed right at one of those weepers; but given water’s inherent ability to find the path of least resistance, their drying was all in vain. The last race track to feature such weepers was Texas way back in 1998; and after that problem became clear, an incensed Bill France told track owner Bruton Smith to fix the track or risk losing his race date. Well, considering that precedent it ought to be interesting to see what NASCAR tells the ISC to do with their own track — an order which amounts to the France family talking to themselves.

The "Car of Tomorrow" is admittedly a work in progress, but some new issues seem to arrive each time those ugly mutts of race cars are trotted out. It seems that each car must be rebodied or at least heavily tweaked after each event, because the normal flexing of the chassis during a race distorts the cars' bodies to the point they will no longer meet the stringent templates applied to them before each race. And while the less aerodynamic bodies were supposed to slow the cars down, testing at Fontana and Vegas saw several drivers able to flatfoot it around the track. That resulted in speeds peaking at or over 210 MPH Monday down the front straightaway; that’s ten miles per hour higher than the figure NASCAR has told us they’ll allow a car to go airborne in a wreck. Whoops; now, I'm having nightmares of restrictor plates being required at any track longer than a half mile in length by season's end.

You have to wonder if right about now the folks at Nationwide — the new title sponsor of NASCAR's AAA level product formerly known as the Busch Series — are wondering what they bought into. The track set to host the second race of the Nationwide Series announced this week they've sold naming rights to the joint, creating the Auto Club of Southern California Speedway. Now, those dear friends at the Auto Club would like to sell race fans on… well, um, car insurance. And for the record Allstate, another provider of auto insurance, is the "Official Insurance Company of NASCAR.” That’s not including Geico, either, who is one of the leading advertisers during FOX race broadcasts. But then again, that's the NASCAR way; take money from ‘em all, and let them sort it out later amongst themselves.

If they call Las Vegas “Glitter Gulch,” maybe they ought to call Fontana “Litter Gulch.”

Is there something peculiar to the Toyotas that makes them more susceptible to overheating than the other makes when the grilles get blocked?

You just know when it rains in California, a lot of folks are suddenly going to remember the "groovy" AM radio hit "It Never Rains in Southern California." But a bar full of my fellow imbibers was unable to recall the artist who sang that lame little ditty so I looked it up… it’s Albert Hammond. He’s got no known relationship to Jeff Hammond, in case you’re wondering — but both are equally annoying nonetheless.

Honest to God, one more word about that stupid gopher cam in the pre-race show and I was would have launched a size nine-and-a-half workboot through the TV screen!

This week's warning from Darrell Waltrip's sponsor Just For Men hair coloring: Warning: Continued use may make your head look like a Chia Pet.

The Hindenburg Award For Foul Fortune

Dale Earnhardt, Jr. was simply along for the ride when his teammate Casey Mears hit a slick spot, caromed off the wall and slammed into the side of the No. 88. Earnhardt had some rather pointed words for NASCAR after that wreck; for a moment there, he almost sounded like his old man.

Before the Junior/Mears incident, Denny Hamlin was the first driver to provide graphic documentation that cars with slick tires shouldn't race on wet race tracks.

Daytona 500 winner Ryan Newman led this race briefly and was still running second when his car lost control enough to slap the outside wall.

Michael Waltrip had an engine oil line come loose prior to the green flag on Sunday night, then backed his car into the wall on Monday as he matched the ineptitude of his “Not Ready For Prime Time Players” squad during their second season of competition.

DJ's retirement tour is going about as well as DW's.

The "Seven Come Fore Eleven" Award For Fine Fortune

Jeff Gordon had the engine in his Chevy expire just as the yellow flag flew on the final lap of the race; still able to coast it home, he finished third.

Matt Kenseth was forced to the pits early in the race with a car that was overheating due to trash on the grille. He lost a lap in the process, and with the amount of water the car spit out, it seemed unlikely the engine would survive 500 miles. But the parts and pieces endured, and Kenseth staged a furious comeback to finish fifth in the race.

After an agonizing Daytona 500, it had to feel good for Ford and Jack Roush to score a dominant win at Fontana. Roush watched all four of his five cars finish inside the Top 15.

After a frustrating 2007 season, an eleventh place finish was a second straight solid run to start 2008 for Brian Vickers and Team Red Bull.

Nobody wants to end up wrecked forty miles into a 500-mile race, but both Casey Mears and Sam Hornish, Jr. were lucky to walk away from the tail end of Mears’ violent wreck. Hornish slammed the outside wall, was unable to stop, and pushed hard into the still spinning car of Mears, causing the No. 5 car to overturn while Hornish’s engine caught fire.

Worth Noting

  • Edwards’ win was the fourth consecutive Fontana spring race triumph for Jack Roush (Greg Biffle won in 2005, followed by Matt Kenseth in 2006 and ’07).
  • The Top 10 finishers competed in two Fords, four Chevys, two Dodges, and a pair of Toyotas.
  • Regan Smith's 31st place finish was the best by a Rookie Of The Year candidate at Fontana.
  • Edwards won for the first time since Dover last Fall.
  • Jeff Gordon has Top 10 finishes in nine of the last ten Cup points races dating back to last year.
  • Kyle Busch hasn't finished outside the Top 5 in any of the six points-paying races he's completed in NASCAR's top three touring series this season. He's currently leading the Cup and Truck Series points, and he’s ten points behind teammate Tony Stewart in the Nationwide Series for that title, as well.
  • Last September at Fontana, Johnson and Edwards also finished 1-2 — but in that race, it was Johnson who took the victory.

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 cup of watery Amstel Light — which is pretty much water to begin with.

Next Up: It's off to Lost Wages, a town whose nickname seems to be a pretty good summary of what's going on with both the team owners and the New Cars these days.

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Today on the Frontstretch:
Swan Racing Announces Restructuring, No. 26 & No. 30 ‘Sold’ Off
Tech Talk with Tony Gibson: Taking Stock Of Danica Patrick In Year Two
Vexing Vito: Three Drivers In Need of a Role Reversal
Going By the Numbers: Top-10 NASCAR Variety Hard To Come By In…
Truckin’ Thursdays: Lessons Learned Just Two Races In
Fantasy Insider: Team Revelations For NASCAR’s Short Tracks



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

02/26/2008 06:53 AM

WOW! Casey Mears just has a way of screwing up Jr’s flow, huh? Last week his ill handled lane change in front of Smoke resulted in his wrecking and totally disrupting the full head of steam Jr and Smoke had on the outside once they finally hooked up. This week his car seemed to have a magnet in the nose attracted to the #88. This is worth nothing…just a JR fan with nothing better to talk about after another Car of Yesterday type race. ALSO…what is this stupid song by this horrible chick singer we are subjected to each commercial break? Is this supposed to be one of those “throwback” things getting us in touch with our roots? The only good thing was that they seem to cut it off just before she quotes DW’s “Let’s go racing, boys.” Next year on the second race weekend I am going to Rockingham and just sit in the parking lot and drink for 4 hrs. Anyone with me?

02/26/2008 07:03 AM

Looks like I didn’t miss much. I’ll watch Bristol…maybe.

02/26/2008 07:07 AM

FAVORITE DW QUOTE FROM CALIFORNIA: “I’ll tell you one thing about this rain…it’s wet.” I’ll try to include one every week. Although, sometimes the frequency of his voice is received by my ears as nothing more than audible mud so I can’t make any promises.

02/26/2008 07:50 AM

Fox should be ashamed of themselves with the gopher cam questions to the drivers. Was it me, or did the drivers seem very annoyed by the questions. Please, oh please fire all of these imbeciles.

02/26/2008 08:03 AM

Everybody complains about the TV broadcast with good reason – it’s downright insulting! Again, turn the volume down and tune into MRN. If that doesn’e work, turn the TV off and let the radio take you back to the day when races were not on TV. Of course, imagination is required – and rewarding!

Carl D.
02/26/2008 08:19 AM

Since the race was rain delayed on Sunday, I spent the afternoon doing my taxes instead. I had to work Monday and missed the rest of the race as well.

Never have I enjoyed working and paying taxes as much as the last two days.

Tinny Lund
02/26/2008 09:02 AM

Quote:“Is there something peculiar to the Toyotas that makes them more susceptible to overheating than the other makes when the grilles get blocked?”

I don’t know ask Dodge and Chevy. It’s their engine design

02/26/2008 09:43 AM

Friggin Gopher. You know once FOX has to have a name for the damn thing we’re stuck with it. Evidence: The Hollywood Hotel. Why can’t they learn that we tune in (when we bother) for the racing, and not their hokey, corn-pone hosts and skits and Q&A routines. Myers, Hammond and Waltrip need to go. Put ‘em in weeknight prime-time on some goofy reality show like all the rest I don’t watch.

02/26/2008 10:25 AM

Could the FOX NASCAR production folks PLEASE walk across the office hall to the FOX NFL production room? They cover that sport in a first rate manner with first rate articulate announcers & color guys, & they continually introduce new innovative technology without goofy fanfare or stupid names. Also, at least DJ’s farewell tour is going better than the yet-to-be-announced-but-long-overdue-retirement of one of my faves, Kyle Petty.

02/26/2008 12:37 PM

I loved Mark Martin’s response to the ridiculous gopher question. With a solidly annoyed look on his face, he came back “If I run over the thing, it’ll be the STUPID cam.”

Kevin in SoCal
02/26/2008 12:59 PM

Can anyone say something good about California for once? If NASCAR hadnt tried to start the race, you would have complained that they didnt do enough.
And it shouldnt matter if the new car is big and ugly and has a wing on it. Its larger inside the cockpit, and its safer for the drivers in an accident. Who can complain about that?

02/26/2008 01:45 PM

One good thing about California and NASCAR. They started Monday’s follow-up racing at 10:00 AM local time, 1:00 PM eastern. NASCAR should start all day races at 1:00 PM, no matter the location.

02/26/2008 01:58 PM

Should have known that Kevin was going to chime in with a complaint about us not saying anything good about California. Are you sure that you don’t work for either NASCAR or California (Auto Club) Speedway, Kevin?

Margo L
02/26/2008 02:25 PM

Fox won’t do it , so to save our sanity all of the fans need to chip in and buy out the contracts of Joy , Hammond , Waltrip , McReynolds , and Meyers . That seems to be the only way we’re going to get rid of them . What is Fox thinking by ignoring the tens of thousands of angry fans every single week who can’t stand any of the so-called talent in the booth , yet they keep them , and even encourage them to say ever more idiotic things .
By the way , couldn’t help but laugh at the abject sorrow in the voices of Joy , Waltrip , and Mac when it became obvious that Edwards was going to win instead of their dream boys .

02/26/2008 03:01 PM

Matt, if your serious about signing the petition for Robby, you can do so on-line at

02/26/2008 03:11 PM

I’m quite surprised there was no mention of the absolutely laughable attendance yesterday for the rest of the “race”. They said that Rockingham lost its races due to poor attendance? The crowd yesterday was far worse than what Busch/Nationwide races at Rockingham had!

I am sure if Bruton Smith owned the track, Fontana would either have to be fixed or would lose its dates. He fixed Las Vegas even though it sells out twice as many seats routinely.

Kevin in SoCal
02/26/2008 03:56 PM

You’re going to complain about attendance on a MONDAY after a rainout? Good god man, you guys WILL complain about anything against California. How many people were at Dover in June or Michigan in August after their rainouts? About as many, I would say. Most people have to work on Monday and just cant take the day off because of a race.
No, I do not work for the speedway or NASCAR. Actually I work for a company that supplies some of the teams with engine parts. I just dont like people bashing my home track. Its the only 1/4 mile dragstrip left in Southern California that amateurs can still use, and its the closest place for me to watch a NASCAR race. Some of you guys are way too selfish and dont want NASCAR anywhere but in the Southeast. You need to learn to share.

02/26/2008 04:23 PM

Kevin, Kevin, Kevin, take a look at how many races are actually run in the Southeast and get back to us. There are too many 1.5 to 2 mile tracks with 2 dates that are total snoozers. I say keep your race, cut it to 400 miles, start it at 10am your time and I know I’d be happier with it. The idea of high banks and restrictor plates is awesome too.

02/26/2008 06:08 PM

What was wrong with the nose of Robby’s car verses the approved nose you ask? Simply put, the new nose has a stencil, (not sure of its “Dodge” or what it is..), the approved nose does not have the stencil. While the logic could be that it was indeed an unapproved part, which I can see that side of it, at the end of the day we are talking about a nose that is the same in every sense of the word as the approved one except it has a new stencil on it which causes it to have a new stock number. Its not as if, as said we found tainted fuel in the tank, or, as far-fetched as it sounds a rear window that was altered so that it could be jacked during the race to allow for cutting through the air better. NASCAR, for their part did say when this new COT came around that they were taking a hardline stance on infractions as they did not want anyone messing with the COT and give them their credit, they are doing exactly what they said they would..pretty much a zero-tolerance policy on it. The nose that was sent to Robby is supposedly in the stages of being approved by NASCAR. As one poster pointed out, which also confuses me is why, if these are basically spec cars Dodge would be making a nose instead of say “Bob’s House of Noses”. My guess would be maybe that its due to the only thing Dodge can do is..well, stencil their name on it which I’m not sure gains you any horsepower on the track. I’ll be curious as to how his plays out but I really don’t see NASCAR backing down from this one…they rarely do and as its Robby to boot that just is one more reason that they may not back down.

02/26/2008 06:27 PM

I seem to recall last season that Atlanta and Talladega both had rain outs and the Monday races had somewhat decent attendance considering. Atlanta definitely had more fans in attendance than the Otto Klubb Speedway did on Monday.

A little more info on the nose problem is that the parts number on the Charger nose that Robbie got was the same parts number as was on the Avenger used on the whatever you want to call that wheeled thing they raced last season. Chrysler stepped up and admitted to their mistake. But even with that, Robbie will lose in the Kangaroo Court of NASCAR.

I think they should name the Gophercam “Shove It” because that’s how a lot of fans feel about the stupidity of Fox and they’re questioning of the drivers for a name for that infernal thing.

If this is great coverage as compared to ESPN, we’re in for a long race season folks.

The problems with the trash getting sucked up by the cars was blamed on the track design, not the design of the box on wheels by DW despite him saying last year that it was a problem.

02/26/2008 07:37 PM

Mike, thanks for clearing up the Robby issue..

02/26/2008 07:51 PM

I just ran across Matt’s articles after reading several years back on One of the best. I agree, about Fox. What a joke. Not so sure they do totally wonderful job with NFL though, Terry B is a little like this group. Opening camera at Hollywood Hotel Sunday had DW and pal laughing and joking from first shot, with Chris on intro, I knew we were in trouble. DW’s constant “one time I had such and such happen to me”, honestly I don’t care DW. Get a clue FOX!!

Racers Edge
02/26/2008 08:10 PM

Bring back the Rock!!!!

02/27/2008 10:01 AM

Wow, Champ Car and the IRL merge and Matt defends Robby Gordon!

What times we live in! :^)

Kevin in SoCal
02/28/2008 02:05 PM

Devo, I finally looked it up. There are four racetracks in the West. There are nine in the Southeast, not including the ones that are Nationwide/Truck only, which would add to that total. So you guys have a lot more tracks to visit than I do.