The Frontstretch: Matt McLaughlin's Thinkin' Out Loud: LifeLock 400 by Matt McLaughlin -- Monday June 16, 2008

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Matt McLaughlin's Thinkin' Out Loud: LifeLock 400

Matt McLaughlin · Monday June 16, 2008

 

The Key Moment: Patrick Carpentier’s last lap spin and the resultant caution sealed the win for Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and the No. 88 bunch.

In a Nutshell: His fans might have preferred Junior barreling around the Nos. 18 and 48 on the outside — drag racing to the finish line with tires smoking and paint being swapped — but after 76 long races, Junior and his fans will take a win anyway they can get one.

Dramatic Moment: Waiting to see if the No. 88 car could complete that final lap, even under caution as it ran on fumes.

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

On a weekend that featured closed door machinations and serious bias allegations, can even a win by the sport’s most popular driver restore order to the universe?

What’s the typical penalty for passing the pace car under caution?

Mike Helton called a closed door meeting Friday to tell drivers and team owners it was time to shut up and race. Their complaints about the new car and the quality of racing lately might be affecting ticket sales. Here’s what I find curious: most fans have already figured out that both the new car and the racing lately sucks based on what they’ve observed, not on what Dale Earnhardt, Jr. (or Jeff Gordon or Tony Stewart or Kyle Busch or Carl Edwards) had to say on the matter. I mean, for any fan who watched the tedium at Dover a couple weeks back to its conclusion, it was fairly obvious it wasn’t a very good race. NASCAR’s contention seems to be that the new car is a work in progress, it is not fatally flawed, and eventually we’ll see some good racing again. I guess meanwhile they’ll start charging half price for tickets to races, seeing as how fans are watching a developmental series and not top-notch automobile racing. NASCAR is sick of the complaints? Hey, for 225 million, I’ll shut up and go away too. Until then, they’re fair game.

Yeah, it would be easy to point out the huge tracts of empty seats at Michigan, but given the obscene price of gas and the horrific condition of the Michigan economy, one is amazed anyone at all showed up. Here’s to the ninety thousand some odd fans who made the trip.

In an ironic twist, on the same weekend they were called on the carpet and told to always look on the bright side of life, several drivers seemed to be damning the current state of affairs in Cup racing with faint praise. Jeff Gordon and Carl Edwards pretty much admitted that while they enjoy winning races, winning is secondary to making sure that they are in the Chase come September. What that amounts to is an admission that none of the races this summer really matter to drivers who are currently in the Top 12, and they’re willing to stroke to be sure that they don’t lose hold on one of those twelve spots by throwing caution to the wind and gunning for a race win. So to sum up, NASCAR faces two major hurdles in making races more exciting; the new car and the new points system, both of which can be classified as self-inflicted injuries with Brian France’s fingerprints all over them.

Winning for the No. 24 team used to be child’s play. That hasn’t been the case so far in 2008 … are they serving some sort of timeout?

OK, it’s no longer bashing. What in heck is wrong with the No. 24 team and its driver?

Seriously, I was going to give NASCAR the benefit of the doubt on this whole sexual-racial discrimination lawsuit filed by a former Nationwide Series race official. Anytime somebody drags lawyers into a situation and starts asking for hundreds of millions of dollars, it raises red flags in my mind. But then I watched Brian France’s news conference and I changed my mind. Grant is telling the truth. Write her a big check and make this go away. What she alleges happened happened. It seems Brian France can’t open his mouth without lying, and unfortunately for him, he’s the worst liar since Richard Nixon. That “deer in the headlights of an oncoming semi” look on his face when he knows he’s lying has got to be the most awkward thing I’ve watched since Mary Tyler Moore’s performance at Chuckle the Clown’s funeral. As a side note, France says his email address is readily available to all of his employees and they can contact him at any time. I’d sure like him to publish that email address, because I know a lot of fans would like a chance to pass along their thoughts to Brian these days.

Add Kevin Harvick and Ron Hornaday to the rapidly expanding Kyle Busch non-fan club. Hornaday hinted he was so upset with the younger Busch brother, he might throw away a chance at a championship to teach Busch a lesson. As my niece might say, “Dude, that’s just harsh.”

Saturday racing phenom Joey Logano won the Nationwide series race from the pole, proving all the accolades claiming that he’s the next big thing might just be true. By winning the race, Logano became the youngest winner ever in NASCAR’s AAA series. But on a cautionary note, the previous youngest winner in the Saturday series was Casey Atwood, who was once “the next big thing” himself. The fact a lot of you are asking yourselves “Casey Who?” should serve as a warning to Logano and other young developmental drivers. Play the cards you’re dealt carefully, or risk going from shooting star to asterisk. Cue up the Bad Company. (Yeah, yeah, kids, ‘Who?‘”)

The Hindenburg Award For Foul Fortune

Matt Kenseth saw his chances at a win evaporate when a portly NASCAR official got in the way of the No. 17 car as it tried to exit the pits. You know, maybe it’s not just the drivers who need a more regimented fitness routine?

Robby Gordon took the hardest hit of the day off the bumper of David Ragan’s Ford.

Ryan Newman’s blown engine left him 42nd in the final rundown.

Jeff Gordon’s penalty for speeding on pit road just put the icing on the cake of a disastrous afternoon.

Greg Biffle watched his pit crew throw another good finish away.

The “Seven Come Fore Eleven” Award For Fine Fortune

Earnhardt had just enough fuel to coast over the start finish line.

Thanks to a last lap caution, Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s team helped push his empty tanked Chevy to Victory Lane instead of pushing him to the garage after another near miss.

He won’t generate the headlines that Kyle Busch or the Junior get, but Brian Vickers posted his second consecutive Top 5 finish. Last year, he struggled just to qualify for two consecutive races.

Jimmie Johnson thought he had a gearbox blowing up, but it held together well enough to power the No. 48 car to a sixth place finish.

Worth Noting

  • The Top 10 finishers at Michigan drove two Chevys, four Fords, two Dodges, and a pair of Toyotas. It was the third time this season all four brands had a car finish in the top four. (The other events were Texas and Charlotte)
  • Sam Hornish in 22nd was the top finishing rookie of the race, just one position ahead of fellow ROTY candidate Patrick Carpentier.
  • The “glass half empty” types will note this win was the first points paying victory for Earnhardt in over two years. The “glass half full” types will note Earnhardt has Top 10 finishes in eleven of sixteen races this year and is averaging better than an eleventh place finish in those sixteen races.
  • Kasey Kahne (second) has put together back-to-back Top 5 finishes for the first time this season. The last time Kahne scored back-to-back Top 5s was at Talladega and Charlotte in the Fall of 2006.
  • Matt Kenseth (third) posted his best finish of 2008 and his fifth consecutive Top 10 finish.
  • Brian Vickers (fourth) scored back-to-back Top 5 finishes for the first time in his Cup career.
  • Tony Stewart (fifth) managed his first Top 5 finish since Richmond.
  • Jimmie Johnson (sixth) scored his third consecutive Top 10 finish.
  • Carl Edwards (seventh) posted his sixth consecutive Top 10 finish. I don’t know, must have been the koises.
  • Elliott Sadler (ninth) scored his first Top 10 finish since Charlotte and just his second since the Daytona 500.
  • Paul Menard (eleventh) earned his best finish since Atlanta in the spring of 2006.
  • Ready to play Jeopardy? Kevin Harvick for $100. Who hasn’t managed a Top 10 finish in the last five races, Alex?
  • Jeff Burton (fifteenth) endured his worst finish of the 2008 Cup season.

What’s the Points?

Kyle Busch remains atop the points table and opened his lead over second place Jeff Burton to 32 points. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. remains third, but closed the gap to Busch down to 84 points. Carl Edwards remains fourth in the standings.

Kasey Kahne continued his climb up the ladder, advancing two more spots to seventh. He’s the only Dodge pilot currently in the Top 12. Jimmie Johnson advanced a spot to fifth, while Tony Stewart also moved up one position to 11th.

Denny Hamlin, Jeff Gordon and Greg Biffle all lost a spot in the standings Sunday. They are currently sixth, eighth and ninth, respectively. Clint Bowyer also fell a spot to 12th in points, just ten ahead of David Ragan in 13th and fourteen points ahead of Matt Kenseth in 14th.

The fortunes of Penske Racing were mixed. Ryan Newman fell three spots to 17th in the standings, a daunting 173 points out of twelfth; but Kurt Busch continues his Quixotic quest to make the chase, rising two spots in the standings to 19th.

Overall Rating (On a scale of one to six beer cans, with one being a stinker and a six pack an instant classic) – Truth be told, it wasn’t a very good race, but the result ensures it will be a very popular one. We’ll give it two cold cans of Bud, then step back and allow the Green Nation to celebrate all week long.

Next Up: The Cup series heads off to Granola-ville, California, the land of fruits, flakes, and nuts. Enjoy it, loyal readers. My distaste for taxi cab racing on road courses has risen to such a level that I’ve decided to take the weekend off to do two local car shows debuting the Bandit car. See you in two weeks for… New Hampshire? Color me thrilled… with a big damned gold screaming chicken on the hood. (Oh, and my nephew Shane is going to be fine. Thanks for your prayers and well wishes).

Contact Matt McLaughlin

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Douglas
06/16/2008 07:37 AM
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As an option to Dear old Brian’s e-mail addy, I have been sending him e-mails via “ktharp@nascar.com”!

Gee, I hope he passes them along!

And, my letter to MIS will go out today, I don’t care if your optimistic: “the stands were half full”! Or pessimistic: “the stands were half empty”!

Unfortunately, HALF IS HALF! No matter how you count it!

If we, the fans, cannot get the CoT DUMPED!! Maybe the tracks can!!

Be rest assured, something has to change! It should be the most embarrassing moment in NA$CAR history that the stands at MIS were virtually EMPTY!!!

The fans, myself included, do not need the drivers to tell us we are watching a bunch of junk cars running the tracks! Actually, my spin is that the drivers are trying to look out for their fans by stating their dis-like of the CoT because they (the drivers) know that we, the core fan, WANT TO WATCH REAL RACING!

Thanks drivers for your attempts at making things better, now, put your muzzles on!

Or Dear Brian & Company will be after you!

WHAT A SICK ORGANIZATION NA$CAR IS TODAY!

Want proof??? Just ask the fans that were absent from MIS!!

Oh, sure, some fans did not go because of the economy, but that did not keep away some 80,000 fans for sure!

But I can assure you the CoT kept the fans away!

Some 80,000 fans that did not go to MIS have spoken!! Now, lets all do our part and get your/our comments and letters going to NA$CAR!!!

We have their attention!!

Mike In NH
06/16/2008 07:52 AM
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I think the fans missing at Michigan spoke more to the really awful state of the economy out there – lots of plant closings, don’t forget, as the automakers retrench – than the CoT. I’m pretty convinced that most fans don’t see much difference in the racing, versus those of us that post here who are the big aficianados of the sport. And excuse me for being a glass half full type of guy rather than a chronic pessimist, but 90k people at a sporting event still makes it the biggest single event in the Detroit metro area each year.

They’re not gonna dump the new car, they’ll tweak it. They won’t get rid of the safety improvements in favor of better racing. As I said last week, they need to lift that splitter a couple of inches like they do on the trucks, just for starters.

mindcrime
06/16/2008 08:08 AM
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Right on Matt. The COT and Chase SUCK and are sucking the life out of the series. Brian France should move to China where the population is used to be told what the “truth” is even when a even an idiot knows differently. Stop telling us how everything is great and expecting us to believe it. Last time I checked this is the US and freedom of speech is part of the deal. The drivers should be able to speak their mind. In conclusion you suck Mr France. BF reminds me of Bush, he’s never wrong and he never admits to making mistakes. Arrogant ba$+ard.
Keep telling it like it is Matt.

Douglas
06/16/2008 08:40 AM
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MMMMM, the wonders of “numbers”!!

Oh, sure, some 90,000 attended the race! On the surface, that really looks good! When you compare it to say a High School Baseball game!

BUT! Lets compare “APPLES TO APPLES”!!

MIS has packed as many as 180,000 “FANS” into the track! Of course, that was when REAL RACING was going on!

And now all the “spin artists” are trying to say that each and every one of those missing fans simply were “no-shows” because of the economy??

You need to send your application into Brian, he is looking for people like you!

rock1911a1
06/16/2008 08:52 AM
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Isn’t it ironic that Jr. broke a 76 race losing streak today? How many wins did his old man have? 76, Go figure.

mmack
06/16/2008 09:02 AM
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“What’s the typical penalty for passing the pace car under caution?”

In a REAL racing series, it’s a one lap penalty. You could ask Jacques Villeneuve, who got a TWO lap penalty for doing it TWICE at Indianapolis in the 1995 Indy 500, but Jacques is unavaliable for comment to reporters who cover NASCAR since he didn’t have the $$$$$$$$$ for a ride.

Marshall
06/16/2008 09:54 AM
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Okay, so no one else wants to say the obvious. A cup race ends under caution and were no, not even one, (let me repeat, not any) beverage cans or coolers thrown on to the track. I guess we can now confirm whose fans are the ones who are such poor sports that they throw things on the track. But then again, I think we all already knew that!

DG
06/16/2008 10:12 AM
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Empty seats due to empty suit:

Michigan has economic issues for years and gas prices have been on the climb for months. Yes, perhaps a few of the empty seats are due to these current conditions but the number of non-occupied seats has been on the climb for the last number of years. The real reason is brian france. This phony liar is the problem and has been since he was given the family business. He is just another worthless kid from parents and grandparents who built a business and then had it destroyed by offspring. I hope napcar takes a severe hit from this phony lawsuit and uncle Jim wakes up and gives worthless brian a boot to the face.

I am sure the napcar officials (france and helton) got to the track on Sunday, saw all the empty seats and said we got to do something about this (i.e.: an earnhart victory).

HankZ
06/16/2008 11:00 AM
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The Bri-guy speaks with loin in mouth. In his press conference he said “alleged claims”. The claims are not alleged, they’re real. The crime is alleged. He is such an idiot.

Boy, if Gordo is sandbagging for the chase, that would blow. That ain’t good for competition. Maybe I’ll just sand-bag my viewership.

Toyotas have more HP, I don’t care what anyone says. The start of the race proved it. All the cars had the same amount of fuel and the same amount of tire wear (if any) and the Shrub took off like the field was standing still.

Jr finally won one. Now we don’t have to listen to the winless streak “week in and week out”. I wonder what the next mind-numbing useless story-of-the-week will be. I hate soap operas.

baker
06/16/2008 12:24 PM
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I thought that the racing this weekend was fantastic! Every lap was door to door excitement. You realize that I am referring to a local dirt track here in upstate New York and not the homogenized yet curdled product in Michigan.

mindcrime
06/16/2008 12:30 PM
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Hank Z,
I don’t think sandbagging is the correct term. Points racing is what he’s doing. It’s more important to make the Chase than to gain five positions if gaining those five positions risks a good finish. I’m sure if his car was good he’d be running for wins but as it is he, and drivers in similar positions, must run to maximize points first and race second.

Kevin in SoCal
06/16/2008 12:36 PM
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Mindcrime, “freedom of speech” and the first amendment applies only to keeping the federal, state, and local governments from silencing our speech. It does not apply to a private entity such as NASCAR.

Marshall, you hit the nail on the head.

And finally, if fans want to watch real racing, why doesnt the Craftsman truck series and the Nationwide series see as good of ratings numbers as the Cup racing still does? The truck series is growing in viewership in leaps and bounds, but the Nationwide series is stagnant or only slightly rising. Both those series have the same racecars they did last year, and arguably some of the best racing due to their shorter length and more variety in the tracks.

Rick
06/16/2008 12:48 PM
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About passing the pace car. Why did it take JR doing it 3 or 4 times before he got the warning? Anybody else would have been warned after the 1st time.

mindcrime
06/16/2008 01:10 PM
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Kevin in SoCal,
You may have a point about free speech but as a fan, I hate hearing the company line. If that’s the way NASCAR wants to make it then if I was a driver I’d say nothing positive or negative at least that way I wouldn’t be insulting the intelligence of the fans. From what I read he wasn’t just asking them not to be negative he was asking them to go out of their way to paint a happy picture. I for one hate people that attempt to manipulate me with BS.
As for the ratings of the Nationwide and Truck series, they are lower for the same reason that AAA baseball and Arena football and AHL Hockey are – they aren’t the top tier of talent.

Mike
06/16/2008 01:34 PM
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Amazing how baseball, basketball, football, and even golf players can complain about equipment, playing surfaces, and rules and none are penalized or told to shut up by their sanctioning bodies. All of these are considered to be professional sports. And yet NASCAR, which is also supposed to be a professional sport, doesn’t allow the drivers or team owners to state what is so obvious to all fans who have the ability to watch the races.

Some states do have their own version of the 1st Amendment which does prohibit employers from muzzling their employees. I’m guessing Michigan isn’t one of them. Too bad they didn’t do it at Sears Point.

As to the rules not being enforced, it’s nothing new. We’ve seen the rules bent or not enforced in the past for several drivers from big name teams just so The Big B can get his media coverage to try to cover-up the bad press from other things going on with NASCAR. It’s not the first time and it won’t be the last time.

We’ve gotten back to basics alrighty. Brian won’t stand any criticism of himself or his ill conceived car. Don’t be surprised when somebody who does say something bad about it gets some mysterious penalties during tech inspection or gets a speeding penalty on pit road.

Ricky
06/16/2008 01:36 PM
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Everyone wants to know what ‘s wrong with NASCAR — it was all right here in this race.

Golden Boy Dale Junior gets to pass the pace car at will with zero consequences, while Matt Kenseth loses valuable positions due to an official getting in the way, and that’s perfectly OK? Anyone care to speculate what a commotion would have erupted if this had happened to Junior in the pits?? They would have had the official’s head on a stick.

This is why stock car racing will never be considered a true sport. The rules are bent to line the pockets of NASCAR powers-that-be and that means making the fans happy even if the favorite son gets away with cheating.

SS Mike
06/16/2008 05:11 PM
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NA$CAR is not racing. It is entertainment. Brain Fart said this a few years back. Thank God for Saturday night short tracks. Now thats real racing.

I agree, Brain Fart is killing NA$CAR. Guess thats what happens when you play with yourself too much while watching midget porn and killing a fifth of vodka.

Matt, thank God your nephew is gonna be okay.

Ed
06/16/2008 08:34 PM
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I can’t think of a racing series that would allow someone to pass the pace car without a penalty. Of course, naXcar racing is a “show” not a real sporting event. It is like pro “wrassling” which many naXcar fans, I’m sure, think is a real sporting event. As for the fans, or lack thereof, I agree with many above. I don’t think all of the empty seats can be attributed strictly to finances. Many people are so fed up they won’t waste the money it takes to go to a race. I wouldn’t pay today’s prices to see junk like I saw Sunday. I surely am glad that I didn’t waste my time watching the entire race, to have a driver be allowed break the rules several times with no consequence in order to win. Don’t tell me naXcar isn’t capable of rigging races.

Marc
06/16/2008 09:11 PM
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So many of you presume to know the rules. Has anyone checked? No>>>>>
The rule is that you cannot pass the pace car coming on to pit road, and you must be behind it at the start/finish line. There is not a hard and fast rule about passing the pace car at any other points on the track. Been that way for about 60 years. Go check.

Peter Griffin
06/16/2008 10:07 PM
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I looked in the Nascar rulebook under section 12 paragraph 5 subsection C3 and it states the following “Dale Earnhardt Jr. shall be allowed to interprete any and all rules in this rulebook; Anything less would be detrimental to Nascar and the entertainment that is Nascar.”

Looks to me like Jr. called up Danica in desperation asking how to win a race, and she filled him in on the fuel stratagy play.

Matt, the real racing will be in Newton Iowa next Sunday.

Frank
06/16/2008 11:40 PM
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I knew some clowns would come up with a conspiriacy theory when Jr. won again. Get a life. Do you think the officials saw Kenseth as the biggest threat to Jr. and blocked his pit exit on purpose? Man, wake up. This was a typical Michigan fuel-mileage race and the team with the best strategy won. Period. End of story. Deal with it.

Kevin in SoCal
06/17/2008 12:27 PM
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Its no different than all the conspiracy theories last year (some from Jr’s fans) about how Hendrick was stinking up the show and Junior’s cars were sabotaged.