The Frontstretch: Matt McLaughlin's Thinkin' Out Loud: Coca-Cola 600 by Matt McLaughlin -- Monday May 26, 2008

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Matt McLaughlin's Thinkin' Out Loud: Coca-Cola 600

Matt McLaughlin · Monday May 26, 2008

 

The Key Moment – Tony Stewart cut down a tire with three laps to go, allowing Kasey Kahne to streak by him for the win.

In a Nutshell – It might sound like damning it with faint praise, but the World 600 was nowhere near as awful as last week’s All-Star race hinted it might be.

Dramatic Moment – Tony Stewart looked to be cruising to the checkers when he began slowing dramatically, handing the race to Kahne.

With the new car making passing so difficult, every restart caused an all out land rush for positions in the first five laps after the green.

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

Does anyone else think that with this new car, the World 600 ought to be run as two full, points-paying 300-mile events?

NASCAR keeps saying they’re going to crack down on the driver in the lead if he brake checks the field coming to a green flag, but they continue to swallow their whistle even when a driver does exactly that — like Stewart did Sunday.

What’s it going to take for stock car racing fans to be able to enjoy the same side-by-side coverage during commercial breaks open wheel racing fans get?

Is there anything more frightening than watching a tire / wheel combination separate from a race car and head into an area populated with fans? Once again, we dodged a bullet Sunday night.

Is anyone else hearing increased rumors Sprint would like to bail on NASCAR?

After his abrupt resignation this week, Humpy Wheeler spoke in the drivers’ meeting before his last race at the helm of Lowe’s Motor Speedway.

Farewell and thanks to Humpy Wheeler, the sports’ leading prophet and visionary, not only an extraordinary businessman but an extraordinary gentleman as well. Wheeler’s decision to leave came about awfully quickly, and there’s rumors of some sort of discord between Wheeler and his former boss, Bruton Smith. But I doubt that discord tells the whole story. Wheeler has always been blessed with a clear vision of where our sport is heading. It may just be the prophet sees what’s coming down the road and doesn’t want to ride along for the downhill slide.

Speaking of Smith, ol’ Bruton raised some eyebrows this week with the purchase of the Kentucky Speedway. Before the ink was even dry on the contract, Smith told those on hand he planned to hold a Cup race there — potentially as soon as 2009. Not so fast, NASCAR officials responded, claiming no such race is in the cards. But what Bruton Smith wants, Bruton Smith typically gets. Smith is also allegedly interested in purchasing two of the last three independent race tracks to hold Cup races — Pocono and Dover — and is said to still be interested in opening a track in the New York City area. Hmm… seems to me with all the race tracks this guy owns, he could conduct his own stock car racing series very easily and not have to go to NASCAR and the France family looking for race dates.

I’ll say this for Danica Patrick: She sure does know how to throw a major league hissy fit. Nobody is even suggesting that Tony Kanaan might switch to stock cars, but this Memorial Day weekend he gets the nod for showing class in the face of overwhelming disappointment.

Team owners and drivers have pleaded with NASCAR officials for some changes to the new car to make them handle better and improve the quality of racing. But NASCAR officials have refused to budge, stating the car “is what it is,” and it’s up to those teams to find a way to make them handle better — there weren’t going to be any rules changes. So, some teams found that messing with the rear wheel alignment made their cars faster and handle better, even if they did look a bit odd dog-trotting down the straights. So, what do NASCAR officials do? They go ahead and change the rules, like they said they wouldn’t, to limit the off-kilter rear alignment. You know, maybe a new stock car racing series isn’t such a bad idea after all.

Tony Stewart was forced to get rid of his pet monkey recently, as the animal was growing more aggressive (like owner, like pet, I guess). Hey, who knew primates made poor pets? But now, can we say Stewart finally has the monkey off his back?

Some people ask me why I keep commentating on this sport when it so clearly annoys me sometimes. My landlord and buddy showed up Sunday at the wheel of a Grumman Kurbside step van he won on eBay this weekend. Johnny, you are now officially insane (and need to get that roach coach out of my yard). Being a race fan keeps me out of trouble.

The Hindenburg Award For Foul Fortune

Dale Earnhardt, Jr. led 76 laps and was leading the race when an apparent cut tire put him hard into the wall.

Jimmie Johnson led the race with less than one hundred miles to go, but lost an engine in dramatic fashion while running second.

Brian Vickers clearly had one of the fastest cars in the first half of the race, but a broken wheel on lap 185 put him hard into the wall. David Gilliland was unable to avoid the loose wheel and wrecked as well.

Carl Edwards ran out of gas on the final lap and had to coast to a frustrating ninth place finish.

Kurt Busch led laps early in the race, but saw his chances at a win evaporate when he and the wall had a close encounter of the wrong kind.

The “Seven Come Fore Eleven” Award For Fine Fortune

With a win in the All-Star race and the World 600, it was a pretty good week for Kasey Kahne.

Kyle Busch had electrical problems, and made an unscheduled pit stop mistakenly thinking he had a flat tire — but still managed to pull off a third place finish. Apparently, Busch also had to dodge several beverage cans thrown at his car; even if you loathe the guy, that crap has got to stop.

When Dale Earnhardt, Jr. slapped the wall, it looked like his night was over — but fuel strategy in the final segment allowed him to escape Charlotte with a Top 5 finish.

Jeff Gordon’s car looked like a garbage scow once again, struggling to stay on the lead lap for much of the event — but he left Charlotte with the fourth place check in his pocket.

Worth Noting

  • The Top 10 drivers piloted two Dodges, two Toyotas, three Chevys, and three Fords.
  • Sam Hornish, Jr. in thirteenth was the best finishing ROTY candidate.
  • Kahne’s win was also his first Top 5 finish in a points race this year. The victory was his first since Charlotte in the Fall of 2006.
  • Greg Biffle’s second place finish was his best result of 2008.
  • Kyle Busch (3rd) has compiled Top 3 finishes in the last four races.
  • Jeff Gordon (4th) enjoyed his third consecutive Top 10 finish.
  • Dale Earnhardt Jr. (5th) managed his ninth Top 10 finish in this season’s twelve Cup points races.
  • Jeff Burton hasn’t finished outside the Top 12 since Daytona.
  • Elliott Sadler (8th) scored his first Top 10 finish since the Daytona 500. And as Johnny Mathis might say, that’s a long, long time.
  • David Reutimann’s tenth place finish was his best of the season, and just the third Top 10 finish any member of Michael Waltrip Racing has managed in the team’s history. Pathetic, isn’t it?
  • Bobby Labonte’s eleventh place finish matches his best of the season. Labonte also finished eleventh in this year’s Daytona 500.
  • Sam Hornish’s thirteenth place finish was his best in fourteen career Cup car starts.
  • Kevin Harvick has scored just one Top 10 finish in the last seven Cup points races.
  • Jimmie Johnson failed to finish a race for the first time since last year’s Brickyard 400.

What’s the Points?

Kyle Busch maintains his points lead, and is now 94 ahead of Jeff Burton, who remains second in the standings. Actually, the Top 5 hold serve with Earnhardt, Hamlin, and Bowyer maintaining their positions.

Jimmie Johnson’s blown engine cost him big time in the points standings; he fell three spots to ninth. Behind him, David Ragan fell out of the Top 12, dropping a spot to thirteenth behind Kasey Kahne.

Kevin Harvick advanced two spots to seventh in the standings, while Carl Edwards moved up a spot to sixth. Matt Kenseth moved up four spots to sixteenth.

Kyle Busch is now at least a full race worth of points ahead of everyone from fourth place Denny Hamlin on back. If the new points system costs Busch a title, it might just be NASCAR’s last chance to get the fans to Embrace the Chase.

Michael Waltrip really needs to step things up at Dover next week. The No. 55 team only has a three point advantage over the No. 77 outfit clinging to 35th place, which guarantees teams automatic entry into each race.

Overall Rating (On a scale of one to six beer cans, with one being a stinker and a six pack an instant classic) : Frankly, I thought this was going to be an incredibly putrid race, but it was only a minorly putrid race. A lot happened over the final ten laps, so I’ll give it four cans of icy cold Colorado Kool-Aid for exceeding expectations.

Next Up – The series heads north for a race at Dover next Sunday afternoon. Racing on Sunday afternoon! What will they think of next? Maybe Harley Davidson will develop a motorcycle with a V-twin engine?

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Beyond the Cockpit: Alexis DeJoria On The 300 mph Women of the NHRA
A Swan’s Broken Wings Equal NASCAR’s Next Concern?
Thinkin’ Out Loud – The Off Week Season Review
Pace Laps: Swan Racing’s Future, Fast Females and Dropping Out
Sprint Cup Series Facilities Can Build Upon Fan Experience by Looking to Their Roots
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Ed
05/26/2008 08:04 AM
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I’m glad I watched the last 20 laps or so. Seems like I got the best part of the race. I wonder why the FOX boys made such a big deal out of the “huge crowd” at the race? I saw a lot of empty seats along with those ticket sales ads on TV last weekend. I guess they were following NASCAR’s instructions. Also, since when do the FOX dunces keep refering to the “Sunoco” racing fuel? Why not just fuel? Is Sonoco paying them too? I laughed at Jeff Hammond talking about the “wallered” out lug holes on the tire that got away. Sounded like my old maid aunt.

Pete in FL
05/26/2008 08:15 AM
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Can somebody explain to me why NASCAR restarted the race after a caution, only to immediately throw thw Yellow again for “debris”? Why didn’t they clean the track properly the first time? I forget who the “lucky dog” was, but i’m sure he’s grateful.

Melissa
05/26/2008 08:52 AM
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The reason guys are brake checking on these restarts is because you have guys trying to roll these restarts and you have guys trying to lag back to get these nice runs going. If NASCAR stops that you wont have guys brake checking on the restarts.

Marc
05/26/2008 10:09 AM
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Jeff Hammond- wallered out

Darrell Waltrip- marred in traffic

Max Fan
05/26/2008 02:22 PM
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Okay we all get it, Matt … you hate Tony Stewart (did he steal your girlfriend in high school or something?)!

Everything that involves him is a plague on the series in your opinion. He must have brake checked the field (when it was well documented that he spun the tires; a mistake even the best race car drivers make) because he’s that kind of a jerk, right? The misfortute of losing a tire with THREE laps to go when he had a commanding lead is apparently not MISFORTUNATE enough to compare to Jr, Jimmie, KB or Brian Vickers (I agree that these drivers had bad luck, but Smoke’s misfortunate was clearly heartbreaking and he didn’t have time to recover from it like Jr or KB did). Then the cheap shot at his behaviour when he obviously realized that a local Zoo could provide better care for his cherished pet than he could (a smart and compassionate thing to do).

You’re total bias and lack of respect for one of the best drivers to grace the series is getting old and bordering on pathetic!

mkrcr
05/26/2008 02:36 PM
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I had to laugh when Mike Joy showed he belonged with the Fox yahoos at the end of the telecast.
“As we said before, if this race was broken down into four segments, each 100 miles”.
Anybody on the track not D.W.‘s “good buddy”?

MïK ("mike") Watson
05/26/2008 02:57 PM
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No matter what Max says, Tony checked the field on that restart. The truck left the track at 65 MPH; Tony dropped to 53 mph at the green flag.He accelerated exactly when Kasey tagged his back bumper, then spun his tires. He brake-checked.

On a lighter note…How, in this terrorist age, did anyone allow Humpy to amass so many pipers in one spot? A small IED could have taken out more than half of the US arsenal of bagpipes. Not that it would have, neccessarily, been a bad thing.

spencer
05/26/2008 03:36 PM
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Hey Max! Did you REALLY call the incident of Stewart’s tire going down a “Misfortune”? HAHA
I would call it “inevitable”. Ask ANYONE in the garages (except, apparently, the 20 crew) and they will tell you that trying to run 90 laps on right side tires is just asking for trouble.

Tony and his crew can blame GY all they want—-but for this one, they really need to look in the mirror.

Can’t blame them though, it was their only chance to win.

sparxmoore
05/26/2008 06:28 PM
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What na$car meant when they said no rule changes during the season was NO changes that would take away the distinct advantage toyota paid for !! Anything that relates to teams trying to cut into that advantage is fair game

Matt
05/26/2008 06:49 PM
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Well um..let’s see. When I was in high school Tonhy Stewart was four to eight years old. If he had in fact stolen my girlfriend they’d have been in jail. I pissed em away normally by insisting that they serve thier primary function of fetching beers from the rridge wole me and my buddies worked on our street racers in the garage. So no, me and the Great Pumpkin have not had a romatic dustup quite yet.

Yes, Tony’s arrogance, sense of entitlment and attacks on folks of my profession for trying to do thier job, however humble our calling is compared to his of being the next big thing that ought to be worshiped as a God, inclne me towards thinking he is an infecterd bunghole crawling with worms. But your mileage may vary, objects in the rearview mirror may be closer than they appear and please keep your hands and feet inside the car because this is a dark ride. And for the love of God keep your left foot on the brake pedal when TS leads the field to the green flag because he’s so Bush leauge he doesn’t care if he cripples you for life just as long as he has a four car length advantage going into turn one.This is the end of my rant. We now return you to your normally scheduled programming.

Joe
05/27/2008 08:35 AM
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Matt,

You act as if no other driver brake checks on a restart. So he’s an a-hole to reporters. Is that a new revelation? I don’t remember Ironhead having the best demeanor toward you guys either, (but all of you guys were afraid of Earnhardt) or AJ Foyt, Dan Gurney, hell most all of the old schoolers aside from maybe the King. Granted the media coverage borders on ridiculous now moreso than even 2001, but I digress. Bottom line, he’s a heck of a driver going through a drought by his standards. Doesn’t excuse his behavior by any stretch, hell Jeff Gordon is pretty gracious when the cameras are on and he’s slumping, but EVERYONE knows Tony’s MO. It seems as if they are sometimes baiting him to see him snap. They know all it takes is a slap or shove and they’ve got the lawyers on retainer at the ready.

As for Danica Patrick, I was hoping that she’d have wrecked into Larry Foyt in the pits and see if she was brave enough to chew out old AJ. That would have been well worth the price of admission. I’m really tired of her act.

clint
05/27/2008 10:02 AM
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I don’t think Larry Foyt raced in the Indy 500…you might want to look into that. Going to Roger Penske’s pit is bold enough.

Speedcouch
05/27/2008 11:43 AM
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Matt,

You are SO right about Stewart! I get so tired of everyone using the excuses of “that’s just Tony.” So because a person has a bad attitude and is one-way on the track, we’re just suppose to accept that? What about acting like a professional to your peers and the media?

mmack
05/27/2008 12:29 PM
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Clint,

Larry Foyt drove for A.J. Foyt racing (BIG SURPRISE!) for 3 Indy 500’s from 2004 – 2006. He was supposed to run a car this year, but he was replaced by Jeff Simmons.

Joe
05/27/2008 12:59 PM
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I meant AJ the IV. Sorry for the mix up Clint.

I do think I’d probably put money on AJ not taking crap off Danica versus Roger Penske. I guess you forgot the initial Texas IRL race where AJ jack slapped Arie Luyenduyk in victory lane after he contended that his driver I think it was Billy Boat, won the race.