The Frontstretch: Matt McLaughlin's Thinkin' Out Loud: Centurion Boats at the Glen by Matt McLaughlin -- Monday August 11, 2008

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Matt McLaughlin's Thinkin' Out Loud: Centurion Boats at the Glen

Matt McLaughlin · Monday August 11, 2008


The Key Moment: Dale Earnhardt, Jr. pitted under caution on lap 66, handing the lead to Kyle Busch — who would never come close to relinquishing it.

In a Nutshell: Kyle Busch once again spanks the field handily, offering fans a chance for a nice late summer nap.

Dramatic Moment: Unfortunately, the only high drama Sunday was as a result of Michael McDowell sending David Gilliland spinning out of turn 11, triggering one of the nastiest wrecks of the season.

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

Over the weekend, Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson tried playing some head games with points leader Kyle Busch, downplaying his chances at a title given his recent “slump.” My guess is they’ll be a bit more circumspect on that topic this week. It would seem like his JGR teammate, Tony Stewart, Busch tends to drive faster when he’s angry or annoyed. It’s easy to use the media to send a message to another driver in the garage area, but it’s a lot harder to make your statement out on the race track.

Gordon in particular ought to be more worried about his own chances in the Chase. At a track where he normally shines, Gordon struggled mightily on his way to a less than impressive 29th place finish.

How many more weeks is it until the Bristol Night Race? When the Beach Boys penned the term “Endless Summer,” it was actually supposed to denote a good thing — but that’s not the case in the Cup series this year. It just feels endless. At least we can always look forward to the Southern 500 at Darlington on Labor Day weekend… oh, yeah, right. Strike that.

Are we seeing a new, calmer Tony Stewart… or is the fact that he didn’t make a more aggressive charge on his teammate late in the race a result of the Chase format?

You can’t help but wonder that if it weren’t for the Chase format, Tony Stewart might have run a little harder trying to pass Kyle Busch in the closing laps. On the bubble of making the Chase, Stewart was probably advised a conservative second place finish beat a risky move at taking a win. Right now, Kyle Busch can run as hard as he wants, but those drivers towards the bottom of the Top 12 have to run more conservatively. Wasn’t the Chase supposed to make racing more exciting — not less?

Michael McDowell’s Cup career highlight is his savage wreck at Texas. Maybe Michael Waltrip told him he wasn’t getting much TV time lately and the sponsors were upset, so he should go out and do something monumentally stupid during the Watkins Glen race to get back on the highlight reels?

What on earth was Tony Eury, Jr. thinking leaving his driver Earnhardt, Jr. out there so long? Almost inevitably, a caution flag pit stop sent the No. 88 to the rear of the field and ended Earnhardt’s chances at a decent finish. If Eury was in charge of military strategy planning the invasion of Grenada, we would have lost the war.

No one can dispute Kyle Busch is having a career year like few drivers will ever enjoy. But how much of it is the driver and how much of it is the car? Maybe it’s time NASCAR rounds up a bunch of Cup engines and takes them back to the R and D center for dyno testing like they did in the Nationwide series after the Joliet race.

While Joe Nemechek finished 38th, one of his crew guys deserves an award for enthusiastic effort in the face of extreme adversity for his efforts in trying to repair the hood of the No. 78 car. That’s really throwing yourself into your work, young man!

I guess Tony Stewart insisted changes be made to his shift lever after having one break at a road course previously. That bat of a shifter in the No. 20 car looked positively Neanderthal.

What’s wrong with the Cup series these days? For all the talk of Martinsville losing one or both race dates, nobody with the power to change things seems to ever discuss dropping Watkins Glen or Sonoma from the schedule.

Lest we forget, Monday, August 11th, will mark the sixteenth anniversary of the tragic passing of J.D. McDuffie at Watkins Glen. McDuffie’s death and serious injuries suffered by Tommy Kendall in the same corner caused the track to add that chicane at the end of the back straight. R.I.P., J.D.

This week will mark two sad anniversaries in NASCAR; the tragic death of J.D. McDuffie and the untimely death of Tim Richmond.

While we’re recalling sad anniversaries, this Wednesday, August 13th, marks nineteen years since the tragic death of NASCAR’s forgotten legend, Tim Richmond. Richmond won the first Cup race staged at Watkins Glen in the modern era. For all the talk of the road course success of Tony Stewart and Jeff Gordon, in this writer’s humble opinion, Richmond remains the greatest NASCAR driver ever to turn a wheel on a road course. Many newer fans never saw Tim race, and some perhaps have never even heard his name. Trust me, Tim Richmond died in his prime — and were it not for his death, the record books would look substantially different. No less an authority than the late Dale Earnhardt once opined that if Tim Richmond had lived, he (Earnhardt) would never have been able to claim those seven titles.

In the interest of historical accuracy, Ron Fellows’ win in rainy Montreal last weekend was not the first time cars in one of NASCAR’s top divisions ran in the rain. On August 12th, 1956, Tim Flock wheeled a Bill Stroppe-prepared Mercury to victory at Road America in the rain. That race was part of the season’s Grand National schedule… the equivalent of today’s Cup series.

The Hindenburg Award For Foul Fortune

Bobby Labonte took a savage hit in the lap 83 wreck that sent him to the hospital through no fault of his own. David Gilliland suffered a number of hard knocks as well. The other eight drivers involved in that travesty ought to be allowed to invite Mr. McDowell to a blanket party behind the transporters next week.

You win as a team and you lose as a team, but the number of times Dale Earnhardt, Jr. has seen his chances at a win in a competitive car evaporate due to strategy or pit stops is troubling.

The “Seven Come Fore Eleven” Award For Fine Fortune

With his eighth win of the Cup season, a Cup Series road course sweep, and a second place result in the Nationwide race, Kyle Busch had a pretty good weekend.

If any driver left Watkins Glen happier than Busch, it might have been Marcos Ambrose. He won his first Nationwide Series race on Saturday, and then — despite starting 41st in Sunday’s Cup event — he drove to a stellar third place finish by the end of the untidy proceedings. Good on ya, mate.

You have to believe the Wood Brothers team was dancing in the streets after the race, having proven they can still field a competitive car in an era where their continued existence hangs in the balance.

Carl Edwards just missed Ryan Newman’s car — which was sitting stalled at the exit of a blind corner right in the racing line — en route to a ninth place finish.

Jimmie Johnson also just barely avoided the No. 12 car after Newman’s spin. Later, he cut down a tire and dropped to the rear of the field, but a timely caution put the No. 48 back up front, and Johnson was able to drive on to a seventh place finish.

Yeah, it might seem odd to say a driver who spun and couldn’t re-fire his car enjoyed any sort of good luck. But for any driver sitting at the exit of a blind corner — driver side out in a stalled car — watching the rest of the field barrel right at him and miss is one of those moments that puckers up one’s nether-regions like a steel rose bud. Anytime you leave on your own two feet rather than in a helicopter after that sort of mess, you have to feel lucky.

With the forecast as grim as it was on Sunday morning, NASCAR officials must have burnt live animal holocausts to whatever demon Gods they worship to be able to get the race in.

Worth Noting

  • The Top 10 finishers at Watkins Glen drove three Toyotas (all from JGR), three Chevys, two Fords, and two Dodges. Busch’s Toyota victory was the first at the Glen for any non-GM make since Geoffrey Bodine won here in a Ford back in 1996.
  • Patrick Carpentier’s 20th place finish was the best by any officially declared Rookie of the Year candidate; though of course, Ambrose could be considered a rookie as well.
  • Despite his supposed slump, Kyle Busch has won three of the last five Cup races.
  • Tony Stewart finished second for the second consecutive week and for the third time in this Cup season.
  • Marcos Ambrose’s third place finish was the first Top 5 scored by the Wood Brothers team since Ricky Rudd finished fourth at Bristol in the summer of 2005. It was the 336th Top 5 result the storied team has posted.
  • Juan Pablo Montoya (fourth) drove to his second Top 5 finish of 2008.
  • Martin Truex, Jr. (fifth) managed just his third Top 5 finish of the year. Any more questions as to whether contract negotiations are distractions to drivers and teams?
  • After a midseason slump, Kevin Harvick (sixth) has enjoyed Top 10 finishes in three of the last four Cup events.
  • Denny Hamlin (eighth) has managed just two Top 10 results in the last seven Cup races.
  • Kurt Busch (tenth) posted his first Top 10 result since Daytona four races ago.
  • A.J. Allmendinger (11th) has posted his best two career finishes in the last three races. Those two good finishes have propelled the No. 84 team into 35th place in the standings; so at least for next week, they are guaranteed a spot in the race.
  • For all the talk of Jeff Gordon’s prowess at Watkins Glen, upon further review he’s managed just one Top 10 and no Top 5 finishes there since he last won at the track in 2001.

What’s the Points?

Not unexpectedly, Kyle Busch is still leading the points. His lead is up to 242 over Carl Edwards, who moved up a spot to take over second place honors. Jimmie Johnson also jumped up one spot to third, trailing Edwards by just two points.

On the heels of poor pit strategy, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. dropped two spots to fourth in the standings. As a result, Tony Eury, Jr. should probably wear dark sunglasses, a low slung ballcap, and bring bodyguards if he’s shopping at the Kannapolis Piggly Wiggly this week.

In the Battle of the Basement, Matt Kenseth rose a spot to re-enter the Chase in 12th. Clint Bowyer fell a spot to 13th, and now trails Kenseth by 22 points with four “regular” season races remaining.

Tony Stewart advanced two spots to seventh in the standings, and is 138 points ahead of the cut for the Chase. Denny Hamlin moved up a spot to ninth in the standings. Greg Biffle fell two spots to 10th, and objects in the rear-view mirror may be bigger than they appear after a lackluster 21st place finish. Kasey Kahne also dropped a spot to eighth.

Five drivers currently in Chase contention haven’t even won a race this year, leaving open the nightmarish scenario of NASCAR crowning a champion who didn’t win a single event — a possibility unheard of in any major sport. Maybe winning a points race should automatically qualify a driver for this Chase mess? If Ryan Newman did, in fact, win the sport’s “Super Bowl” back at Daytona in February, how can he not contend for a championship? This is the danger of mixing sport metaphors.

Meanwhile, Sam Hornish, Jr. is 33rd in the points, but is this season’s top ranked rookie in the standings to date. You know, I think this whole concept of importing open-wheel stars into stock car racing might need some rethinking.

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 cups of Mogan-David 20-20 Mad Dog served in dirty Styrofoam cups. Most fans don’t expect much when it comes to road course racing, and that’s what they got — not much.

Next Up: The Cup series returns to the Irish Hills. Michigan? Not this again.

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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Michael T.
08/11/2008 03:53 AM

Wow, you almost got every one of your go-to mentions in one article. Let’s see, you covered, “Tim Richmond is great,” “road racing should be taken off the schedule,” “Darlington should be on Labor Day,” “Toyotas have an unfair advantage,” and “the race was boring.” The only ones you left out were, “California Speedway sucks,” “The COT sucks,” and “Robby Gordon sucks.”

Do you actually write anymore or just copy and paste your tired rants on the same subjects week after week? Don’t get me wrong, I used to enjoy your articles, but lately you seem to be stuck in a rut spewing out the same lines every week. We know you think Tim Richmond walked on water and you haven’t seen a decent race since 1984. We know you resist change of any kind and you hate Cup cars on road courses. Regardless of whatever stats you always seem to pull up about the popularity of road courses on the Cup schedule, they are obviously here to stay. They’ve been on the schedule since the beginning. Drivers like them and fans like them. Wish all you want, they aren’t going to race at Darlington 36 times a year.

08/11/2008 05:14 AM

You said you didnt know what Tony Jr, was thinking, well duh!, Dale Jr, was the one behind the wheel, he was the one to decide to put on the brakes, he was the one to turn the wheel toward pit road, he had complete control of what decision to make, if it was his(Dale Jr.)to stay out, then he was the one that shot himself in the foot! However, I still remain his fan and supporter!!

08/11/2008 07:57 AM

Always Tim Richmond, Matt. I love your columns, but give me a break! What about J.D. Mcduffie? He died at Watkins Glen. Remember?

08/11/2008 08:00 AM

You might of missed it but I did add a rememberance of JD in the column. Hard to believe it’s been 17 years.

08/11/2008 08:15 AM

As a relatively new fan of Nascar (used to watch in the ‘Golden Days’ but the last few years have seen me much more into it) I have to disagree about your opinion of road racing. Yesterdays race was fun to watch with plenty of excellent racing (as well as bone headed moves – McDowell). Maybe had there been more wrecks like the big one you would have enjoyed the race more.

I give it 4 beers – Killians to be exact. It would have been 5 but Smoke just couldn’t seem to catch the 18.

08/11/2008 08:21 AM

Matt, I was at WGI yesterday and saw a pretty decent race. There was good side by side racing from my turn one perch. Actually, this was pretty close to where I saw Tim Richmond’s win from…it’s a nice track Matt with its own merrits. You give a visual of someone pacing and wringing their hands in frustration and anger! Let it go Matt! The trees seem to be in your line of vision.

08/11/2008 08:37 AM

Road racing has indeed been part of NASCAR from the beginning . At one point Riverside was one of the most important races of the year . In fact the season opened and closed at Riverside.
The best part of road racing stock cars is being able to watch some great car control .
Speaking of car control , Brian should really consider bringing back another long time staple of NASCAR , dirt track racing . Dirt tracks figured heavily in NASCAR for several decades .The Springfield mile , Syracuse , they even layed dirt on top of Bristol a few years ago for the WOO Sprints . Why not Cup cars at these tracks ? C’mon Bruton , build a couple of new one mile dirt tracks . That would liven up the Cup racing .
Your stats on Jeff Gordons’ true road course record is further evidence of constant bought and paid for hype of shills posing as race announcers .

Annie Mack
08/11/2008 08:52 AM

I actually like the road courses thrown into the mix. It’s the cookie cutter tracks that put me to sleep. I read The Frontstretch to find out what when on during the races because I can’t stand watching them anymore. Seems like I missed a good one yesterday, even though the ending was predictable and boring. I hate the COTs, too, Matt. And so do most of the drivers, from what I read.

08/11/2008 09:16 AM

Rather than putting the blame on the crew or the car as Dale Jr always does too , lets look at the role of the driver in this seasons races . Is he simply not as talented as we have been led to believe ? I know one thing for certain . All of the hype over the years telling us what a smart team owner Rick Hendrick is was clearly wrong . Just look at the huge turnover in drivers and crew the Hendrick organization has had . But the true telling point was the dumping of Kyle Busch to hire Dale Jr. Who got the better part of that deal , Gibbs or Hendrick ? Hendrick is the smatest car owner in the sport ? Yeah right .

08/11/2008 09:42 AM

More road courses, not less, please. 3 would be ok, 4 would be better.

I think that qualifying rainouts should start the field in reverse order by owner points :)

08/11/2008 10:22 AM

Agreed, more road courses—they’re more interesting than the awful 1.5 mile cookie cutters. Keep the Glen and Sears Point… drop Kansas, Chicago, one Texas race, and Las Vegas (and Michigan, why not)… replace them with Road America, Laguna Seca, Montreal and Mid-Ohio.

08/11/2008 11:06 AM

I agree with Michael T. Matt, you’re a talented writer, but every week you sound more and more like a disgruntled old man who still thinks it’s 1985. You complain weekly about how boring the races are, yet back in “the good old days” races were often decided by several LAPS, not seconds. Oh man, that must have been exciting.

And seriously, it’s fine if you don’t like Toyota, but your xenophobic attitude towards anything that’s not American is pretty short-sighted.

08/11/2008 11:30 AM

I think it’s time to come up with a new name for the #88 crew and crew chief. I recommend the following:

A) The “Don’t” Crew

or in honor of Dale Sr.‘s crew in the salad days,

B) The Flying Asses.

Tony Jr. was pathetic yesterday with his “cup of dirt” comment. Admit it was your fault you played a flawed strategy and got beat and take the butt chewing from your driver and Rick Hendrick. I think it’s time for Tony Jr. to go.

Also, if I hear Jerry Punch say “Cousin Carl” one more time the 99 car pits or does something, I’m throwing up my hot wings and Bud Light. Between that and his love affair with Ambrose, dang it man. You’re a doctor and an emergency room doctor at that. You have to know how to think on your feet and outside the box. Bring back Bob Jenkins or Eli Gold.

08/11/2008 11:59 AM

Good one, Joe…I haven’t thought about Eli since soon after CMT stopped the broadcasts.

I have no problem with the road courses. Didn’t the whole NASCAR mystique begin with bootleggers in the hills of Georgia and the Carolinas? I don’t think that they were hauling ass and evading the cops on mile-and-a half ovals.

At this point, I don’t know what is more boring…reading Matt’s gloom and doom column every week, or our comments about how the column is so predictable.

08/11/2008 12:42 PM

Well looking at this I have to add (my comments in parentheses):
Wow, you almost got every one of your go-to mentions in one article. Let’s see, you covered, “Tim Richmond is great,”(HE WAS) “road racing should be taken off the schedule,”(it should, along with the cookie cutters) “Darlington should be on Labor Day,” “Toyotas have an unfair advantage,” (maybe, maybe not)and “the race was boring.”( most cup races are now, more strategy than racing) The only ones you left out were, “California Speedway sucks,”(it does) “The COT sucks,”(it does) and “Robby Gordon sucks.”(I actually like Robbie, he can be refreshing in this age of politically correct crap)

For the most part, I think you’re right on with your comments…keep up the great work!!!

08/11/2008 12:49 PM

I guess the bottom line is we keep on reading them and that keeps him churning them out. This is the definition of insanity. Reading the same thing over and over again and hoping for a different end product.

I personally think Matt has been kinda going through the motions since February 2001.

Here’s an idea for you Matt. There’s a book out there, not sure who the author is, but his contention is that the Hooters 500 in 1992 was the watershed race for NASCAR, and there are books out there that contend the Daytona 500 of 1979 was that event. Why not do a book that claims that the Daytona 500 of 2001 was the beginning of the end of the NASCAR you (and many others) knew. Doesn’t even have to be accurate as David Poole’s book about your boy Tim Richmond would attest. I think you’ve been a hamster on the wheel for quite a few years now content-wise.

Personally the NASCAR rocks event where Kyle Petty was dancing with Chaka Khan or whoever was the beginning of the end for me, but there’s not enough content for a book. Maybe a pamphlet.

Matt, I guess in a way we are all similar. We liked your old work better than your new stuff. Perhaps it wasn’t all that great, but we obviously remember it. Maybe a Japanese writer needs to step in.

08/11/2008 01:30 PM

Once again, a bonehead play by Tony Jr. causes a poor finish by the 88 car. staying out that long after the rest of the field has pitted is just asking for trouble! if not the caution for gravel, something else could have happened. Jr. should have pitted much sooner. the cars that got new tires were gaining on him, and he was a sitting duck. Thanks for blowing it, ya dope ya!

08/11/2008 03:28 PM

also, the “D’oh!” crew would fit as well with all of the miscues.

08/11/2008 04:56 PM

I’ll take a road course race over the parade laps at California, Loudon, etc. any day. There was not much going on at the front yesterday but some good action throughout the field.