The Frontstretch: Matt McLaughlin's Thinkin' Out Loud: Las Vegas Edition by Matt McLaughlin -- Sunday March 2, 2008

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Matt McLaughlin's Thinkin' Out Loud: Las Vegas Edition

Matt McLaughlin · Sunday March 2, 2008

 

The Key Moment: On lap 237, Carl Edwards powered around Matt Kenseth to take the lead for the final time, eventually scoring his second consecutive win.

In a Nutshell: Oh well, at least it didn't rain.

Dramatic Moment: When Jeff Gordon got into the rear quarter panel of Matt Kenseth's car at the front of the pack with four to go, a field-decimating wreck was narrowly averted.

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

Carl Edwards wins two in a row three races into the season? If nothing else, it proves the futility of pundits making preseason predictions.

During pre-race inspection, the cars of Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Jimmie Johnson and Matt Kenseth were found to have issues that the NASCAR inspectors didn't like. The teams were told to fix the problem areas, and get back into the inspection line. Yeah, there's that option; or they could have fined them a hundred grand, deducted 100 points, and suspended their crew chiefs for six weeks. Somehow, the officiating doesn't seem very even-handed these days.

How long do we have to wait before every track has SAFER barriers around the entire track inside and out? Jeff Gordon described his hit Sunday as the hardest of his career.

How weird did it have to feel for Dale Earnhardt, Jr. to be congratulating Mark Martin on Saturday in Victory Lane? Martin took the wheel of Junior's old No. 8 car at DEI after Junior moved on. He drove Junior's car to victory; but in doing so, wrecked out the JR Motorsports car of Brad Keselowski.

When did Jeff Gordon develop this speech impediment where he interjects "you know" two and three times a sentence?

Why is it only 300 miles separate Fontana and Las Vegas, yet Bruton Smith can sell more tickets for Saturday's Busch race than the ISC can peddle for the Sunday Cup race? It's called "promotion." Please don't blame the weather last week in L.A.; most race tickets are sold well in advance of the event.

Bruton Smith said this week a deal is in the works for Fontana and his Atlanta venue to swap race dates next year, with Atlanta receiving the Labor Day Weekend slot and Fontana receiving Atlanta's traditional Fall date. Like we used to say in that kid's game, "You're getting warmer." The Labor Day date would only be one state away from where it belongs in Darlington, South Carolina. If the ISC would sell Bruton the Darlington track, maybe we could get the September holiday race back where it belongs.

In another hint of next year's schedule, Smith also said he is reluctant to take a race date from the New Hampshire track he bought last year. He says he has big plans to reconfigure the track into an oversized Bristol and notes both race dates at NHIS are almost sold out. (As was Las Vegas this weekend.) Thus, he puts the onus on NASCAR to find a way to give Las Vegas a second date without penalizing fans in New England, while promising to dramatically improve racing at the currently sedate track in New Hampshire through massive investment of funds. The ball is now in NASCAR's court, but the solution seems obvious; give one of Fontana's dates to Vegas.

Talk about getting cut off at the knees by your bosses! After last week's debacle at Fontana, track president Gillian Zucker went on record saying that the ISC would spend whatever money necessary to fix the weeping track problem. Since the track was going to have to be dug up, anyway, she even threw her support behind Michael Waltrip's insane notion to increase the banking to 32 degrees and make Fontana a plate race. If necessary, she said, the track might even postpone or cancel events to allow for the massive reconstruction. The words were barely out of her mouth when her bosses denied that any such major makeover was in the cards. Their solution is apparently simpler; just hope it doesn't rain again in September. That's the cheapest option. Ms. Zucker might want to contact Bruton Smith to see if that job offer is still open.

Eddie Gossage, head honcho at Texas, said this week he will pay $15,000 dollars to any driver who throws his helmet at a fellow racer in anger prior to the Texas spring race. The offer comes with one caveat; the tossed helmet will be added to Gossage's collection. It'll be interesting to see if anyone takes Gossage up on his offer and if the fine for tossing the helmet exceeds the payoff, what with NASCAR's new "Show a Little Emotion" campaign. If Eddie gets his helmet, would somebody please throw a six pack of brew and ice inside it to remind him of his one major misstep since taking the reins at Texas — a campaign to get the politicians to allow beer sales at the track that would have cost the fans their rights to bring coolers to the facility.

Robby Gordon said this week that if he loses his appeal and isn't in contention for the Chase come May, he plans to run the double, participating in both the World 600 and the Indy 500 on the same day. With the later starting time for Indy, that's going to be a logistical nightmare worthy of running the Dakar Rally. Note to Robby Gordon fans: Start booking those hotel reservations in Indy now.

Note to Self: Action item No. 1. Cancel Allstate insurance on cars in hopes loss of income will keep the company from making any more "Kasey and the Kreepy Chicks" ads. I don't want to see where the next one is going.

Sprint/Nextel stock prices have declined precipitously lately, leading to rumors on Wall Street that the company is ripe for a hostile takeover. Among the companies said to be interested in acquiring the floundering cell phone provider is AT&T. You know somewhere, Jeff Burton is laughing.

The Hindenburg Award For Foul Fortune

Tony Stewart's dream season hit a major road bump at Vegas this weekend. He crashed hard out of both the Saturday and Sunday events, and the lick he took on Sunday in the Cup event clearly left Stewart aching. Teammate Kyle Busch also suffered through an off song weekend, wrecking hard in Saturday's race and finishing outside the Top 10 on Sunday — causing him to relinquish the points lead.

Jeff Gordon took a wicked hit late in the race after tangling with the No. 17 car while battling for second. It was Gordon's second DNF in this season's three points races.

Jimmie Johnson arrived at Las Vegas a prohibitive favorite, having won the last three Cup races at the track. The car was clearly out to lunch from the moment it was unloaded Friday, and no changes the team threw at it seemed to make it any better.

Scott Riggs ran inside the Top 10 most of the day before wrecking to bring out the sixth caution.

Brad Keselowski seemed to have a legitimate shot at winning Saturday's race until Mark Martin got into the back of Carl Edwards, eliminating both Edwards and Keselowski in the process.

The "Seven Come Fore Eleven" Award For Fine Fortune

Carl Edwards lost a lap after being penalized for a tire getting away from his crew on pit road. He fought his way back onto the lead lap, only to have another tire get away from his team. Fortunately for Edwards' sake, NASCAR judged a photographer not connected to the team had interfered with the crewman trying to retrieve that tire, and Edwards was not penalized. After restarting the race third, he made quick work of all potential challengers.

Kasey Kahne had an eventful weekend, having to start the race in his backup car, battling the flu, and going a lap down early. Still, he managed to rally back to a seventh place finish.

Greg Biffle had to overcome an early pit road speeding penalty to put himself back in contention for a win. He just barely avoided Jeff Gordon's spinning car to finish third.

Denny Hamlin rallied from a lap down by tenaciously racing the leaders to stay on the tail end of the lead lap. A well timed caution got him back the lap he needed, and Hamlin drove to a ninth place finish.

If an eighth place finish on a day when many of the big dogs faltered doesn't help the 28 Yates team land a sponsor — nothing will.

Worth Noting

  • Edwards won back-to-back races for the second time in his career. Ironically, those four wins account for almost half of his nine race victory total.
  • A Jack Roush-prepared Ford won for the sixth time in the eleven Vegas Cup races run to date.
  • Dale Earnhardt, Jr. scored his best finish since Pocono last year, when he was also second. Junior has finished second three times since his last win at Richmond in 2006.
  • Jeff Burton scored his first Top 5 since Atlanta last fall.
  • David Ragan drove to his best finish since Richmond last fall.
  • Kasey Kahne is the only driver to score Top 10 finishes in all three of this season's races.
  • Travis Kvapil scored the best finish of his Cup career since Bristol in 2005.
  • The Top 10 finishers at Vegas drove four Fords, four Chevys, one Dodge, and one Toyota.
  • It was another tough weekend for the new guys, with Dario Franchitti's 33rd place finish the best by any of the ROTY candidates.

What's the Points?

It's still too early in the season, and points standings are so volatile that there's no sense in any driver celebrating or panicking yet.

Carl Edwards assumed the points lead, and is the third different driver to lead the points this season.

Dale Earnhardt, Jr. moved up eleven spots to tenth in the standings. David Ragan and Denny Hamlin each moved up eight spots to nineteenth and twentieth in the standings.

Tony Stewart, Kurt Busch, and Jeff Gordon all fell eight spots in the standings. They are now ninth, tenth and 22nd in the standings, respectively. Jimmie Johnson fell six spots to fourteenth.

The Top 10 drivers in the points compete in five Chevys, two Fords, two Dodges, and a lone Toyota.

Given the right circumstances and finishing order, any driver from sixteenth place Bobby Labonte on up could leave Atlanta at least tied for the points lead.

While it's too early to worry about being in the Chase, with two more races to go before this year's Top 35 in owner points determine who gets a bye into races, some drivers just outside the Top 35 currently need to step it up. They include Dario Franchitti, Robby Gordon, and Sam Hornish. In the unlikely occurrence NASCAR overturns Gordon's penalty Wednesday, he would move up to 21st in the standings, safely above the cutoff. Dave Blaney, Casey Mears, and Michael Waltrip are one bad race away from falling outside the Top 35.

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 lukewarm generic stuff. Two weeks into the regular season, the new car has failed to live up to the hype.

Next Up: The stock car series returns to its spiritual home in the Southeast. Tune in for Atlanta, and pray for better weather across the Rio Grande-o.

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

Jeff Gibson
03/03/2008 10:28 AM
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Hey Matt,
I have been a fan of yours since you worked for RacingOne. (Is it true that NASCAR bought the site just to get rid of you?? LOL..)
You are able to put into words everything I feel and think about the sport. I’m from Virginia and have loved this sport since the late 60’s. I attended my first race in 1971 at Martinsville Speedway. I have not missed going to at least four races a year since then. I’m really getting frustrated with NASCAR though.
I do actually believe it has come to “make the rules as we go” with them. I feel real pain over it!

Since I’m a simple person, I need your input to help me sleep at night over all this!

How is it that Carl Edwards team broke a NASCAR rule Sunday and was not penalized?? A cameraman (NOT a Fox cameraman!!!)caused one of his tires to roll onto pit road during a pit stop, but his pit crew were not held accountable. I guess Roush Racing is not responsible for who may “wander“into their pit, and can be right on the wall during a critical pit stop??
I compare this to what they have done to Robbie Gordon. I mean, he didn’t know he had an “unapproved” part until NASCAR caught it BEFORE the race at Daytona. It had a correct part number. Are the people at Robbie Gordon Racing responsible for going back to EVERY supplier and checking all their part numbers to be sure NASCAR is not going to “get” them? Maybe there was an unknown delivery man (cameraman) that RGM didn’t know came by and messed up his car (pit stop).
Even Robin Pemberton said in reference to the
Gordon penatly, “NASCAR does not determine why a rule was broken, WE just inforce the rule”.
I’m not a Robbie Gordon fan by a long streach, but please, tell me what I’m missing here!!

Remember, I’m just a dumb old guy that keeps buying tickets, staying up way to late at night to see the finish of a race, buying way too much Bud Light, Shell gasoline, (hard to find that Sunoco stuff around here)M&M’s, and I love to go to The Home Depot, and Lowes……

Oh, well, I know YOU can help me Matt. Please make me feel like I want to use my Atlanta tickes next week.

I’m counting on you buddy!

Thanks!
Jeff

chris
03/03/2008 10:40 AM
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“Two weeks into the regular season, the new car has failed to live up to the hype.”

Really? In what way? The racing has been markedly better (weather permitting) in the New Car than the old one. It’s certainily safer (I’d have hated to see Gordon’s hit last year in the old car). And, it looks better doing it. (I know that’s the subject of much debate, but I think it’s a much better looking car)

Can’t wait for Texas :D

My only complaint so far this season is not related to how the cars perform: Robby getting the shaft, and apparently everyone else gets a free pass. Nascar has the opportunity to even fix that tomorrow.

Steven M.
03/03/2008 10:53 AM
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You have the top ten manufacturers off just a little. There are actually three Dodges and four Chevys.

3-Newman
4-Kahne
9-Sadler

-Steven

marc
03/03/2008 12:46 PM
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“Carl Edwards wins two in a row three races into the season? If nothing else, it proves the futility of pundits making preseason predictions.”

Yeah, I guess life can get a little complicated when you “predict” near total domination by Toyota based on some mythical notion of their alleged extra horsepower.

Matt
03/03/2008 01:19 PM
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In what way has the COT failed to meet expectations? Well that’s probably a column into and of itself but I’ll give it another few weeks to see if things get better as the teams get acclimated to the new cars.

But here’s my initial accessment.

The old bugaboo, the aero push was supposed to be eliminated by the new car, ugly as it is. Put aside asthetics for a second though. These cars were supposed to be able to race side to side like the “old days” Ask Jeff Gordon how these cars react racing side by side.

Just like the last couple years a car that looks unbeatable up front in clean air suddenly becomes a dog in traffic. Just like the last few years Edwards led Earnhardt to the line by several seconds and with the exeption of the sixth and seventh place battle all the cars were separated by a several second gap, more of a parade than a race.

Compare that to the waning laps of the AAA race on Saturday. With four laps left to go there was a five car, side by side battle for the lead and it was setting up to be a finish for the ages when Mark Martin made a rare mistake and triggered that wreck which ended our chances of a classic finish.

Hmmmm…new car…boring finish.

Old car….5 car battle for the lead….

Like I said I’ll wait a few more weeks but so car I’m not impressed with the CoT on the intermediate tracks.

Kal
03/03/2008 02:04 PM
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Matt –

Not only did the #17, #48, and #24 have those issues – did you hear about the winning #99 car from Cali that had some enhancement around the wheel wells? No penalty – NASCAR just told them not to do it again. Zero tolerance, huh? I didn’t agree with Robby getting that penalty, but understood that they were trying to be consistent with COT infractions. Now I call BS.

Kal
03/03/2008 02:05 PM
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Whoops – that was supposed to be #17, #48 and #88.

marc
03/03/2008 07:09 PM
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Matt – “Ask Jeff Gordon how these cars react racing side by side.”

Why don’t we ask Dale Jr? “We need more time with it,” Earnhardt said. “I think you’ll keep getting better and better the more time you have with it. They need to explore softening the left-side tire. Just a tiny bit of left-side grip would help out a bunch and keep people from complaining so much.”

Billy Delyon
03/03/2008 09:01 PM
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All the teams are complaining about having less travel in the turns… Seems to me NASCAR needs to make an adjustment somewhere with the CoT..
So far as the racing this season, I completely agree with you Matt about the parade laps. Both last week and this week, the leader stretched out the lead up to 8 to 10 second leads. With the other guys separated by 4 to 5 seconds on back.. Boring….

And I’ll answer for Matt, yep, NASCAR (never ever will they admit it) was behind Matt getting Das Boot from Racingone. Them and that jackarse Pistone… Haven’t bothered with that website since I’m proud to say..

Glad you jumped off that Ship of Fools, yes I am….

Skid Marc
03/04/2008 12:15 AM
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Right on Matt. Funny how some feel the need to be the defenders of all that is official Nascar. If the COT is all they say it is why are they so quick to jump on someone saying otherwise? If it’s all that the ratings will shoot up and the stands will be overflowing with fans eagerly anticipating the great side by side racing the COT will deliver.

Maybe they are not secure enough in their Nascarhood to let the on track action speak for itself.

Carl D.
03/04/2008 09:56 AM
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Hey, I remember Matt’s column’s from “Speedworld”… pre-RacingOne. Matt’s not afraid to speak his mind, and it ain’t always pretty, but but no one can complain that Matt’s opinions aren’t based on careful observation and his love for the sport. Keep writing, Matt, and we’ll keep reading.

My only comment about the race last Sunday is Thank the Lord for good weather. Darrell, Larry, and Jeff with extra air time to kill is just plain torture.

RAEckart
03/05/2008 12:12 AM
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“If Eddie gets his helmet, would somebody please throw a six pack of brew and ice inside it to remind him of his one major misstep since taking the reins at Texas — a campaign to get the politicians to allow beer sales at the track that would have cost the fans their rights to bring coolers to the facility.”

- Eddie quietly got this accomplished last year and fans can buy beer at Texas or bring it in. No problem. Thanks, Eddie.

marc
03/05/2008 03:06 AM
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Skid Marc “Right on Matt. Funny how some feel the need to be the defenders of all that is official Nascar. If the COT is all they say it is why are they so quick to jump on someone saying otherwise?”

Who might you be talking about? Just who is defending “of all that is official Nascar?

Pretty sad leap of logic based on one, or maybe two comment threads.

Threads I might add where there was no defending of NASCAR but countering blatant mis-statement of facts, ignorance of facts and misrepresentation of what had been said.

“If it’s all that the ratings will shoot up and the stands will be overflowing with fans eagerly anticipating the great side by side racing the COT will deliver.”

If you haven’t noticed ratings have been up with the exception of cali’s rain delay.

As for attendance figures… well a question. You’re not one of those that ascribe to the notion empty seats equate to being all NASCAR’s fault are you?

If so, you’re blind to reality.