The Frontstretch: Matt McLaughlin's Thinkin' Out Loud: Coke Zero 400 by Matt McLaughlin -- Monday July 7, 2008

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Matt McLaughlin's Thinkin' Out Loud: Coke Zero 400

Matt McLaughlin · Monday July 7, 2008


The Key Moment: Kyle Busch had Carl Edwards by a fender when half the field finally got around to wrecking behind them.

In a Nutshell: While some fans revel in the unpredictability of plate racing, it all seems all too predictable to me, with a flurry of late race cautions and a blizzard of bent sheetmetal always defining the closing laps.

Dramatic Moment: The final twenty circuits resembled a hooligan’s race at a local dirt track on ten cents a mug keg night.

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

Maybe it’s time for a little rules alteration. If the yellow flag flies on the final lap of the race, NASCAR ought to give fans one more shot at a green-white-checkered finish. Of course, as wild as things got on the final lap of this year’s Firecracker, if they’d lined them up and tried again it’s likely nobody would have finished the race.

What better way to celebrate America’s birthday than watching a foreign car pull into Victory Lane at Daytona after a Cup race for the first time? Courtesy of the red, white, and sushi, I suppose. Let’s just be glad NASCAR doesn’t race on December 7th.

Related to the above, with their stock price falling to its lowest level since the Eisenhower administration, General Motors announced this week they will not renew any of their track sponsorship contracts for next year. (Stuff like providing pace cars, signage at the track, etc.) Something tells me this is the start of a troubling trend that will eventually lead to one or more of the Big Three withdrawing from the sport of stock car racing.

It’s not perfect, but the limited commercial interruption coverage is simply a must for every NASCAR race going forward.

OK, it surely wasn’t boring there at the end if you’re the type that appreciates seeing the destruction of a few million dollars worth of equipment, but every time I watch this plate race madness, I can’t help but remember the words of the most notable victim of least common denominator racing, the late Dale Earnhardt: “This ain’t real racing, I don’t care what they say.”

Yeah, Mark Martin is nearly 50 and he wants to run a full Cup schedule next year. So what? John McCain is 71, and he wants to be the leader of the world’s greatest Democracy. Life doesn’t end at fifty anymore.

Tell us again how wonderful things are Brian. Looking at the amount of empty seats for one of the biggest races of the year, we just aren’t seeing the same things.

So Brian France thinks everything is going splendidly with NASCAR right now, and there’s no reason to correct the course. That’s the same mindset that saw Captain Edward Smith run the Titanic into an iceberg.

Look for extraordinary penalties to be issued against DEI’s No. 1 car this week. Messing with the new car is a big no-no, and messing with the aero at a plate track is another cardinal sin. Combine the two, and the penalties ought to reset the bar. Even a one hundred point penalty will likely remove Truex from Chase contention this deep into the season.

Will the last person to leave DEI kindly turn out the lights?

Apparently an old buddy of mine in the biz is ready to turn in his media credentials, notebooks, laptops, and microphones because some folks think I’m a journalist. Best of luck in your new career, whatever it is, and I hope this time you find something you’re actually good at. You’d be an instant hit in a summer stock production of Amadeus…

The Hindenburg Award For Foul Fortune

Jeff Gordon went from contending for the lead to an apparent 30th place finish on the final restart.

Jeff Burton has made a career out of being in the right place at the right time, but Saturday night, he seemed to be in all the wrong places at all the wrong times.

Michael Waltrip saw a much needed Top 10 finish go up in a cloud of tire smoke on the final lap.

Jimmie Johnson looked to be contending for a win when he got caught up in a mess not of his own making. A subsequent pit stop put Johnson in the eye of the storm when the poop hit the oscillating blades.

As much as Tony Stewart loves to race, getting out of a competitive car at a track where he traditionally runs well had to be tough for him. You have to wonder if the carbon monoxide is getting to Stewart.

At a track where his teams typically dominate, Rick Hendrick watched three of his cars post finishes outside the Top 20.

The “Seven Come Fore Eleven” Award For Fine Fortune

After wrecking in practice, Kurt Busch finished fourth in his backup car which only saw track time in qualifying.

Kyle Busch got crossed up and sideways in traffic, yet somehow made a miraculous save on the apron and got back onto the track with no real damage. He then went on to win the race.

Kurt Busch wrecked his primary car in the weekend’s only practice session and started deep in the field. Yet at the end, he emerged out of nowhere to snag a fourth place finish.

David Ragan overcame a questionable pit road penalty and several fender benders en route to another Top 5 at Daytona.

No koi were injured in Carl Edwards’ bumpy ride to a runner-up finish.

After the No. 40 team closed down this week, the only ride rookie Dario Franchitti has left is Ashley Judd. If only unemployment were as good for the rest of us…

Worth Noting

Editor’s Note : As with all restrictor plate races, keep in mind some adjustments can be made between the end of the event and the posting of the final results. The official finishing order is expected to be posted by NASCAR around noon EST on Monday.

  • Kyle Busch has now won a third of this year’s Cup events (six of 18), and has improved his average finish this season to tenth.
  • Busch was the sole Toyota pilot to post a Top 10 finish. The rest of the Top 10 finishers drove three Fords, three Dodges, and three Chevys.
  • Patrick Carpentier (14th) posted the best finish by a rookie at Daytona Saturday night. It was Carpentier’s best ever Cup finish.
  • Carl Edwards finished second for the third time this season — all three of those times have been to Kyle Busch.
  • Matt Kenseth (third) has managed Top 10 finishes in seven of the last eight Cup races.
  • Two of Kurt Busch’s (fourth) three Top 5 finishes this season were scored at Daytona.
  • Robby Gordon (sixth) enjoyed his best Cup finish since Watkins Glen last year.
  • Clint Bowyer (ninth) has Top 10 finishes in three of the last four Cup races.
  • Jeff Gordon (30th) has just one Top 10 finish in the last five races.
  • Jeff Burton (37th) endured his worst finish of the season.
  • Denny Hamlin (26th) has scored just two Top 10 finishes in the last seven races.

What’s the Points?

Kyle Busch extended his lead to 182 markers over Dale Earnhardt, Jr. who displaced Jeff Burton on the second rung of the championship standings. Carl Edwards, Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, and Denny Hamlin remained in positions fourth through seventh, respectively.

Matt Kenseth had the best points night, advancing four spots to ninth. Kasey Kahne advanced two spots to eighth, while Clint Bowyer moved up a spot to tenth.

An ailing Tony Stewart abandoned ship and fell three spots to 12th in the standings, just two points ahead of the cutoff line for the Chase. Greg Biffle also tumbled three spots to 11th after finishing dead last; now, he’s just eight points ahead of Stewart.

Kevin Harvick fell a spot to 13th, once again becoming the odd man out. For now, Martin Truex remains a distant 14th, but that will probably change later in the week.

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 cans of icy cold brew tossed over the fence at the eventual race winner. (Seriously, y’all gotta cut that stuff out.)

Next Up: It’s 106 miles from Chicago, we’ve got a full tank of gas, half a pack of cigarettes, it’s dark… and we’re wearing sunglasses. Hit it!

Contact Matt McLaughlin

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Today on the Frontstretch:
Championship Caliber? What Does That Even Mean?
Mirror Driving: Winning Vs. Points, Needing a Boost, and The Lady’s Last Dance?
Nuts for Nationwide: The Curious Case of Elliott Sadler
Happiness Is…Arrogance, Less, Next, and the Outdoors
Frontstretch Foto Funnies: It’s Not Gonna Fit…


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07/07/2008 08:04 AM

Good recap. I continue to agree with you and Earnhardt. It ain’t racin’. Of course there was the standard booth comment, “…but the fans love it.” They and naXcar continue to believe that. I don’t know any racing series that allows a race to end as this one did. What a mess! But naXcar loves it because it gives them plenty of “exciting” trailers to use for race ads. I guess they like to see the teams spend millions to repair or replace cars, not to mention the risk to the drivers and fans. More sponsor money needed. Any new gullible sponors out there?

07/07/2008 08:31 AM

why don’t y’all just give up on NASCAR and move on to the newest fad. it’s obvious you spit in the face of the sport that seems to pay your bills! biting the hand that feeds you, or just trying to get some hits to your article?! please stop the pessimism, the doom-and-gloom that everything wrong with NASCAR is France’s fault … much like the nation blames Bush. childish, yes; called for, no!

07/07/2008 09:18 AM

Oh, what an enlightening person you are Kyle!

07/07/2008 09:21 AM

“After the No. 40 team closed down this week, the only ride rookie Dario Franchitti has left is Ashley Judd. If only unemployment were as good for the rest of us…”


Save this quote and bronze it, it’s THAT good!


Travis Rassat
07/07/2008 09:31 AM

In Matt’s defense, I like the fact that he doesn’t sugarcoat everything, and it’s why I read his stuff. I like getting different perspectives, and the entire staff seems to be more in-touch with what fans are saying than any other racing-related website that I know of. The current state of NASCAR is not the best because of multiple factors, the economy is making it even harder, and Matt’s simply pointing that out. He’s not the only one. Hell, even the official has been more doom and gloom lately.

There are a few people in this sport (Brian France, et al.) that have the power to change things, and now is the time for them to step up. Will they try to ride it out, or will they take action? I hear many fans ask those questions, and Matt and the rest of the Frontstretch crew have the vehicle to speak on our behalf. Maybe somebody at the top will listen.

07/07/2008 10:19 AM

Is it possible that that the boring racing for the first 2/3 of the race is due to the “racers”, and not the race car, track, tires or whatever?

What did we have, 3 race leaders in the first half of the race on Saturday? At Daytona?

That indicates to me that these guys-Kyle Busch excluded-are just happy to ride around, protecting their top-12 status, until the real season starts in September.

Here’s a proposal: Eliminate the 5 point bonus for leading a lap under caution, unless you pit crew gets you out first. Then, give a 10 point bonus for passing under the green flag and leading a lap.

We need a reason to watch the early part of the race, and maybe this would help.

M. B. Voelker
07/07/2008 10:31 AM

Foreign car? What foreign car?

You mean the only model represented in Nascar that is actually built in the US?

07/07/2008 10:40 AM

I have to say up front that I can’t stand Tony Stewart but he is a great racer. So for him to pull out of that car he must have been sick as hell.

As for the attendance it is unfortunate that NA$CAR has the economy to blame to delude them into thinking the loss has anything to do with anything other than their changes.

As for Toyota, to be accurate Foreign decals one the race. Stuck to NA$CARs abortion.

07/07/2008 10:54 AM

Woops, Won not one.

I also forgot about the beer can throwing. It was so obvious that TNT was showing the same replay and blabbing along in a effort to hide the fact a bunch of idiots were once again throwing full beer cans.

I was hoping at least one driver in a post interview was going call these jerks for what they are.

I’d hope one decent fan next to one of these morons would punch them down the grandstands.

A full can flying through the air is a dangerous thing. Most don’t make the fence and hit people below it.

Carl D.
07/07/2008 11:06 AM

4 cans of icy cold brew of sounds about right to me. This race was much better than the last few snoozers, even if the excitement was a bit contrived. The Wide Open Coverage made watching the race at home much more enjoyable as well.

In closing, would, the last person off the spotters’ stand please wake up the narcoleptic working for the #26 team? Two weeks is long enough nap for anyone.

07/07/2008 11:07 AM

wouldn’t be a Matt McLaughlin article without a shot at Toyota.

Xenophobia is kind of sad, Matt, and you’ve been beating the dead horse for a few years now. I don’t know that Toyota is dominating the sport so much as Joe Gibbs Racing is having a stellar year. I mean if Bill Davis and Red Bull were chase threats I see your point, but give credit where it’s due. Gibbs has assembled a heck of a team this year. We’ll see how it goes next year when they likely will get someone in the 20 ride (Newman/ one of the Yates guys?) and bring up Logano for a 4th team.

Stewart hasn’t looked good for a few months. Wonder if he’s not burning the candle at both ends with trying to start his Haas/CNC team, rub his dirt tracks and drive the 20 car as well as sponsor commitments. Every time I see him on tv, which he’s not exactly what high def tv had in mind, he looks like ass.

I think this was the first Firecracker 400 I haven’t watched in 20 years. No interest at all, and from the looks of the crowd dressed up as empty seats on the Superstretch, I wasn’t the only one. Could be the first time I remember I-95 being driveable between Jacksonville and Daytona. Didn’t even have to go up A1A to avoid traffic.

Carl D.
07/07/2008 11:43 AM

Xenophobia? I’m guessing that’s… an irrational fear of Lucy Lawless? Say it ain’t so, Matt!

Just funnin’ ya, Joe. In fact, I kinda agree that it’s the JGR teams that are enjoying success more so than the Toyota teams in general, but how much more money and technical support are they getting from Toyota than Michael Waltrip and Bill Davis are? None of us can say for sure, but JGR didn’t switch to Toyota for the corporate Sushi dinners. And as bad as the Toyota advantage is in the Cup series, it’s even worse in the Nationwide series. In the past NASCAR has made adjustments to keep one manufacturer from dominating the sport. I’m not sure we’re there yet, but I am sure that if the Toyotas keep dominating, Rick Hendrick and Jack Roush will be knocking down Brian’s door for help.

07/07/2008 11:48 AM

The first of the not so big anymore 3. To pull out of NA$CAR, will only make it easier for the other 2 to follow.

You’re always quick to slam Robby, & in all fairness. I have to admit that it’s sometimes warranted.
When he takes a hard won 6th. By driving a smart race, & avoiding trouble the entire night. Finishing ahead of all of the mega $$ Hendrick cars in his unsponsored car. You’re strangely silent in your 7 come 11 picks. You don’t have to like the guy, but a simple acknowledgement would have been nice.

07/07/2008 12:01 PM

In fairness I did note Robby’s accomplishment in the worth noting section, without any snide remarks. He did have a good run. I’ll also admit Gordon made the race more exciting to watch. Everytime they mentioned he was in the top 10 I was sure he was about to trigger the big one but I was pleasantly surprised. It seems over the last couple years Robby is driving smarter. My guess is that’s because he’s got to pay for it when he wads up a car.

07/07/2008 12:15 PM

I’m not “in the know” when it comes to NASCAR, but you have to think the guys at Toyota specifically JGR have taken full advantage of the common bodies moreso than GM, Ford, and Dodge. Playing Devil’s advocate, how many wins do you think JGR would have if they were still in the GM camp compared with now? I think they’d have the same number honestly.

It’s looking like NASCAR will turn into Formula One sooner than later with only 3 to 4 superteams winning things.

From what I see this could be the first year we have fields under 43 cars in over a decade unless the Morgan Shepherd’s Carl Long’s and others get the park and ride money to enter the races and cover their transportation costs and tire bill.

Unfortunately I don’t see this weekend’s race bring that good either as the 1.5 milers are usually a restart race where the race is won and lost in pit strategy vice on the track. Our only hope is that one of those inflatable oranges falls from the grandstands and causes a competition yellow during a pivotal moment of the race. Oh well, looks like I’ll be playing softball again instead of watching the Sheetrock 500

07/07/2008 12:35 PM

I agree with Joe. If you look at last year with the Hendrick domination, the JGR cars (Hamlin in particular) were just as dominant in those races but had problems with fuel pickups or pit stop mistakes, so it’s not surprising to see them slot into the ‘dominant’ position with Hendrick regressing a little this year.

People can talk about Toyota domination and whatnot but to me the most surprising thing is how inconsistent the rest of the Toyota teams are. I think Lee White or Jim Aust was saying that even before JGR was added they were running basically at capacity, so it’s not too much of a stretch to say they’re spread out a little too thin aside from the JGR camp. That’s the only way one can explain how the 96 car misses two plate races (where the Toyota motor supposedly has a huge advantage) and how the 84/44/00 teams seem to be blowing motors every other week.

Great run for Robby. However, can someone tell him that it’s generally not a good idea to make your car number the same color as the flames? When I initially started watching the first Cup practice I couldn’t tell if that was his car or if one of the Front Row or John Carter teams had run out of the budget for paint.

07/07/2008 12:59 PM

I can’t think of one item on the Gibbs cars , or the Toyota trucks in Craftsman series that is made by Toyota . So lets get over this ridiculous “ foreign “ hatred . By the way Matt , get ready for a whole new batch of foreign hating . The new RO7 Chevrolet race engine soon to be approved for use by NASCAR , will have the engine blocks cast by a company in the UK . I’ll eagerly await your hate filled columns toward GM and their NASCAR teams .

07/07/2008 01:15 PM

To quote Matt Kenseth: “This race is maddening.” But hey, when you pull in third, how maddening can it be.

On to Jolietland…where as a night race, it can only go up from there.

07/07/2008 01:44 PM

Hey Matt, at least Joey Chestnut did his part to defeat the Japanese Empire this weekend. Let’s put him in a race car…

07/07/2008 03:54 PM

Hey, another questionable penalty against a Roush car! What are the odds?

Fine work as always, MMcL

07/07/2008 04:49 PM

To all the people who thinks toyota isn’t a foreign make think about where all the profits go

07/07/2008 05:02 PM

Phil, that may be true, but ask the fellas in Detroit where the JOBS go. Toyota employs quite a few Americans too ya know.

I think they’d take jobs over profits.

07/07/2008 05:02 PM

Apparently Stewart is so sick he will not be on his radio show on Sirius tonight.

07/07/2008 05:22 PM

“To all the people who thinks toyota isn’t a foreign make think about where all the profits go”

Well, seeing as how Toyota is a publicly owned company, their profits are either paid out as dividends to shareholders (of which there are many Americans, in fact they have an American on the board of directors), or kept as retained earnings which are put towards, among other things, opening plants in the U.S., advertising in the U.S., helping motorsports programs in the U.S., etc. Hell, they’re even considering building Prius’ at the Toyota-GM NUMMI plant in the near future.

07/07/2008 06:10 PM

Matt, apparently that “old buddy of yours” is getting to be quite bitter. It must be the aftereffects of drinking too much of the NA$CAR corporate Kool-Aid.

Thanks to my podunk cable company, I didn’t see the race, but apparently didn’t miss much. The best thing NA$CAR can do is ditch little boy brian. Bill Jr. kept the NA$CAR ship afloat through some rough economic times in the 70s. I don’t think little boy brian has what it takes.

Kevin in SoCal
07/07/2008 07:44 PM

There is one reason why Toyotas are built cheaper in the United States and GM, Ford, and Dodge are built in Canada and Mexico: Toyota doesnt have to pay inflated union salaries nor inflated union pensions. If you want to save the Detroit Three automakers, its time to bust up the unions and put those hard-working, high-quality Americans back to work on American cars instead of Toyotas and Hondas.

And if you want to eliminate plate racing, we either have to stop going to Daytona and Talledega, or knock down the banking and build them as flat tracks. Technology has caught up so fast that the only way to keep the cars under 200 MPH is to restrict them. Its obvious the new car isnt enough of an ugly brick to keep them slow.

07/07/2008 09:59 PM

Let them go over 200 mph. The racing would be better and couldn’t be any more dangerous than the Indy cars going over 200.

07/07/2008 11:09 PM

>>Let them go over 200 mph. The racing would be better and couldn’t be any more dangerous than the Indy cars going over 200.<<

Ed. Buddy.


Bobby Allison.

Ring a bell?

Indy cars are built to go over 200 m.p.h. Stock cars—even the NA$CAR thalidamyde version P.O.S., with roof flaps—are not.

One small thing that can be done at the plate tracks is for The Brian to tell Mike “Fat Bastard” Helton to cough up that whistle he swallowed the night Ironhead punted Terry LaBonte into the fence. NA$CAR yammers about restarts, but when was the last time they actually black-flagged somebody? I recall Rusty getting nailed for jumping a restart, but that must have been close to a decade ago. The Daytona Beach braintrust (feel free to snicker) needs to make it clear that if the leader jams up the field (or jumps the start at a track where that yields an advantage), or if cars behind the leader lay back for a run, there will be a yellow flag thrown and a black flag for the violator.

You know, consistent, fair enforcement of clearly explained rules. What a concept!

Mike The Insane One
07/07/2008 11:40 PM

One thing about plate racing that folks seem to forget is that the restrictor plate is only a temporary measure.

Also, if you remember the hype during the unveiling of the Car of Tedium,it was designed to be run without a restrictor plate.So why are they using restrictor plates on it? Money. If they remove the restrictor plates at Daytona and Talladega, their insurance premiums will go into orbit. It’s not for the safety of the drivers or fans. It’s for the almighty greenback. Whenever NASCAR says something, always follow the money trail.