The Frontstretch: Matt McLaughlin's Thinkin' Out Loud: Sunoco Red Cross Pennsylvania 500 by Matt McLaughlin -- Monday August 4, 2008

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The Key Moment: Carl Edwards came out of the third corner on the final lap with the engine running on fumes, but made it across the Start / Finish line to take the win at Pocono.

In a Nutshell: Mother Nature stages a high-stakes, big dollar game of musical chairs for the Cup drivers and teams.

Dramatic Moment: When racing resumed after the red flag period, there were a lot of fast cars on fresh tires piloted by drivers determined to get back to the front.

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

You don’t have to have followed this sport long to realize that in July and August, pop-up showers frequently occur during late afternoon in the Poconos. So why not start the race at one o’clock local time rather than two?

Next time a NASCAR official claims they throw caution flags for small bits of debris because they always “err on the side of caution,” remember they chose not to throw a caution Sunday after Juan Pablo Montoya’s expired engine oiled down the track.

While some want to say the use of rain tires in a Nationwide Series race at Montreal was “historical,” I found it more hysterical. At least it was funny until drivers were so blinded by rain and spray that they were effectively blind, and began running into each other under caution. Drivers had been relaying messages to NASCAR officials it was no longer safe to run out there for several minutes before the carnage began. What really concerned me was safety crews having to go out on the track to help Joey Logano under those same zero visibility conditions. That move had “tragedy” written all over it.

It seems for all intents and purposes that Ryan Newman has given up on his current team. That’s why team owners like Ray Evernham and Cale Yarborough used to release drivers who announced plans to leave their teams immediately.

When was the last time the announcers at a college football game discussed current happenings in NASCAR? So, why do race fans have to listen to the booth crew discussing the upcoming college football season during green flag racing?

Wow, Bill Elliott was driving a car with Cosmic Brownies sponsorship? Talk about a flashback. Back in the era when Elliott was dominating the circuit, that sort of brownie was a staple of our race weekends in the Pocono infield… but I doubt Little Debbie is pushing the sort we used to cook up.

Does it seem lately Joe Nemechek has become a bit of a weapon? He’s gone from “Front Row Joe” to “Uh-Oh Joe.”

I had an interesting conversation with a tire engineer this week, one who works for a company that doesn’t own blimps. In his analysis, the reasons the tire produced all that dust rather than rubbering up the track as usual at Indy was Goodyear was trying some new tricks to reduce the costly petroleum used in producing tires. Competitor Yokohama is slated to release a new street tire soon that uses 80% less petroleum in production. You know that old saying about racing improving the breed, right?

Has anyone ever seen a picture of presidential candidate Barack Obama and F1 star Lewis Hamilton taken together? Talk about twins separated at birth.

Did anyone else wince watching Jimmie Johnson, his wife, and some crew members riding out onto the track sitting unrestrained on the rear of the Corvette pace car after Indy? Doesn’t anyone else remember the track worker accident at Martinsville a few years back?

After this week’s ESPN pre-race show, it became obvious there are two things that analyst Brad Daugherty shouldn’t attempt: singing and speaking.

The Hindenburg Award For Foul Fortune

Not only did Kyle Busch run out of gas with two laps left to run, the car wouldn’t re-fire, and he received a pit road speeding penalty as icing on the cake. Busch dropped from fourth to 36th as a result.

It wasn’t a great day for the other Busch brother, either. Kurt Busch spun on his own (again) on Lap 8, but soldiered his way to the lead before running out of gas. His car was also slow to re-fire, and Busch’s day was effectively over.

Last year in Montreal, it was a spin on the track that was Marcos Ambrose’s undoing. This year, a spin on pit road took him out of contention after dominating early on.

Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. both ran out of gas on the final lap and had to coast across the finish line, losing several positions as they drifted. Given prices at the pump this year, it was sadly ironic.

For the second consecutive year, Marcos Ambrose had a dominant car at Montreal, but left without the trophy.

The “Seven Come Fore Eleven” Award For Fine Fortune

Kevin Harvick qualified poorly and got spun on the first lap of the race, but stormed back to a fourth place finish.

I don’t know how much gas Carl Edwards had left in his tank at the end of the race, but I’d bet if he poured it in the koi pond it wouldn’t have hurt those fishies none.

Mark Martin might have had the fastest car on the track, but his pit crew blew two vital stops, dropping Martin well back in the pack and forcing the team to gamble on staying out when the rains came.

Worth Noting

  • Edwards’ last win was at Texas in what was the seventh race of the season, but he’s finished runner-up four times since then. Including Sunday’s race at Pocono, Edwards has finished first or second in three of the last four races.
  • Next weekend’s race at Watkins Glen will mark a year’s passage since Tony Stewart’s last Cup win. He has finished second three times in the last twelve months — including Sunday’s race — as well as third twice. Stewart’s best previous finish this season in the Cup series was second at Atlanta.
  • Jimmie Johnson (third) has finished first, second, and third in the last three Cup races.
  • Kevin Harvick (fourth) has just two Top 10 finishes in the last eleven Cup races.
  • Don’t look now, but David Ragan (fifth) has Top 10 finishes in three of the last four races.
  • Clint Bowyer’s sixth place finish was his best on an oval course since he won at Richmond.
  • Jamie McMurray (ninth) has managed to post back-to-back Top 10 finishes for the first time since Martinsville and Bristol early last season.
  • Two of Kyle Busch’s three worst Cup finishes this year were scored at Pocono.
  • Dale Earnhardt, Jr. (12th) has now gone three races without a Top 10 finish. But to paraphrase our old buddy Kenny Mayne, he “remains popular.”
  • The Top 10 finishers at Pocono drove three Fords, five Chevys, a Toyota, and a Dodge.
  • In yet another tough day for the rookies, Michael McDowell’s 24th place finish was the best by a ROTY contender.

What’s the Points?

Kurt Busch’s lead over second place Dale Earnhardt, Jr. is down to a still formidable 176 points. Carl Edwards moved up two spots to claim third in the standings, just nine points behind Earnhardt. More importantly, if neither Busch or Edwards wins one of the next five races (which is somewhat unlikely), Edwards would start the Chase just forty points behind Busch (remember, he loses ten points for that oil cover penalty at Las Vegas).

Back towards the Chase bubble, Kasey Kahne moved up two spots to seventh in the standings. Kevin Harvick re-enters the Top 12, moving ahead two spots to 11th. Tony Stewart moved up a spot to ninth, while Clint Bowyer did the same, slipping back into the Chase in 12th.

On the flip side, Matt Kenseth had the worst day in the points, falling two positions to 13th. He’s currently eleven points out of the Top 12. Jeff Burton fell two spots to fifth, and Denny Hamlin also dropped two places to tenth. Greg Biffle fell a spot to eighth.

A solid Top 5 finish leaves David Ragan 46 points out of the Chase and in 14th place in the standings. With Ryan Newman now 15th but 173 points out of 12th, realistically it’s a battle between Kenseth, Ragan, Stewart, Hamlin, Bowyer, and Harvick to see who grabs the last two spots in the playoffs.

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 and a half cans of Genny Cream Ale. No, it wasn’t a great race, but at least they were able to run longer than ten laps on a set of tires.

Next Up: Cue up the Beatles, because we’re off to the long and winding road that is Watkins Glen. Color me underwhelmed.

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?
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08/04/2008 07:21 AM

In reference to Montreal if the real road racing series can run successfully in the rain, why can’t NASCAR learn something from them? Answer, Brian France and his crew know everything. They invent the wheel themselves. No reason to learn from anyone else.

08/04/2008 07:57 AM

pocono was interesting race. i don’t know why the teams were surprised by the shower. when they started the race, i noticed the dark clouds in the sky.

i do have one comment…i’m growing tired of hearing dale jr complain. lately whenever they have him and tony jr speaking, all you hear is jr complaining. i know jr is a chronic complainer, he’s done this for years, but for some reason i found it extra annoying sunday.

08/04/2008 08:05 AM

And another positive, nobody bowed down and looked like prayer time in Riyadh to kiss the pavement.

08/04/2008 10:38 AM

Too bad you don’t look closer at the results. Michael McDowell, (a rookie in case you forgot)finished 24th

Mike In NH
08/04/2008 11:05 AM

Regarding “Whats The Points” – Kurt only wishes it was his lead over Junior rather than Kyle. But mixing up those two is understandable.. :)

08/04/2008 11:36 AM

7-4-11 award also goes out to Vickers. He went from 14th-ish to 28th on the last lap. Of course, I had to look it up online after the race because the network had to split.

08/04/2008 11:38 AM

Whoops! I meant the Hindenburg Award for Vickers. So many damn awards these days.

Ford Fan
08/04/2008 01:41 PM

I totally agree about Newman. He has nothing good to say about his team or Penske. Maybe there is more than a kernel of truth in what Rusty said. The Captain should cut him lose before the season ends.

Glad you mentioned the victory lap with Jimmie Johnson. That looked very dangerous. Especially with his history of falling out(off)of vehicles.

Love Front Row Joe, but he sure seems to be around quite a few of wrecks lately.

I bet that would have been a big time smack down with Carl Edwards and Bob Osborne if he had run out of gas. Did you hear the surprise in Carl’s voice when Osborne told him to conserve fuel at the end?

08/04/2008 02:31 PM

Looks like NA$CAR really fixed the problem with some teams tweaking their cars.

They all were going sideways down the straightaways.

Does COT stand for Crab of tomorrow. It is ugly looking watching a car move like a cat in heat.