The Frontstretch: Matt McLaughlin's Thinkin' Out Loud: 3M Performance 400 by Matt McLaughlin -- Monday August 18, 2008

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Matt McLaughlin's Thinkin' Out Loud: 3M Performance 400

Matt McLaughlin · Monday August 18, 2008


The Key Moment: Once Carl Edwards’ pit crew returned him to the track with the lead after the final pit stop, it was his race to lose.

In a Nutshell: Carl Edwards and Ford score one for the home team just outside the Motor City — a place that could use some good news right about now.

Dramatic Moment: I don’t care how talented a driver is or how good his car is, this year you just don’t want Kyle Busch running second behind you with a handful of laps to go; just ask Jimmie Johnson. A flurry of late race cautions gave Busch several chances to overtake Edwards.

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

I think what we saw Sunday is a foreshadowing of this year’s title run with Busch and Edwards, the winningest pair of drivers this year, competing for the honors right up until the end of the season.

Was Sunday’s event actually a good race, or are we all just lowering our standards after so many putrid events?

He’s got this racing stuff down pretty well, but Carl Edwards needs to work on landings during his post-race backflips.

Lucy, someone has some “splainin’” to do. After Saturday’s Michigan Nationwide race, NASCAR elected to put the top finishing entries from each manufacturer on the chassis dyno to see where they were at as far as parity. During the process, NASCAR officials discovered that the two Joe Gibbs entries had been monkeyed with. Under the driver’s seat, magnets had been added to the gas pedal in each car to keep the throttle from completely opening in an attempt to significantly lower the amount of horsepower the tests might reveal.

I’m sorry, but the penalties for this infraction have to be medieval (to borrow a term from Pulp Fiction). There’s no way to write this one off as an honest mistake or an inadvertent oversight. This was clearly a deliberate attempt to circumvent the rules, and since it occurred with two cars — not just one — it is clearly an organizational ploy and not one of a single individual. There’s no sense in deducting points; instead, neither entry should be allowed to compete for the Nationwide title. Monetary penalties mean nothing considering the bottomless financial resources of JGR, so the only penalty that can send a clear message to them (and the other race teams) is to suspend both their cars for the rest of the Nationwide season. That would mean Joe Gibbs would have to have some unpleasant conversations with his sponsors as to why their rolling billboards are on the sideline. You’ll note I’ve refrained from mentioning what make of car the JGR guys compete in, but my outrage and disgust would be equally livid if this infraction was found on a Dodge, Chevy, or Ford.

He was clearly frustrated, but Denny Hamlin really threw his team under the bus in his post-race interview.

Just like this damage he suffered at Dover, Sunday’s blown engine at Michigan has dealt a major blow to Denny Hamlin’s Chase hopes.

OK, Edwards won the race, so he was going to sound upbeat. He even sounds upbeat when he finishes last. But teammate and fifth place finisher Matt Kenseth sounded ready to throw in the towel for the rest of the season. Compare and contrast those two reactions… how does a driver’s mental attitude affect his team and his chances at winning? Discuss.

There are currently five drivers who would make the Chase right now who have yet to win a single race this season. (The fact Kyle Busch and Carl Edwards have combined to win thirteen of 23 events might have something to do with that). But once again, race fans are looking at the potential of a driver winning a title without having won a single event, a possibility without parallel in the pantheon of sports. You have to wonder if a winless championship would finally force Brian France to admit he well and truly screwed the pooch with this dog of a points system of his. I mean, just imagine trying to explain to stick and ball fans how a sport crowns a winless champion. In a way, it might be bitterly fitting if Jeff Gordon were to manage to win this year’s title without scoring a victory. After all, he’s scored the most combined points under the traditional system twice since the Chase was implemented — but come up dry as far as titles.

So not only has Ryan Newman given up on his team, the No. 12 team has given up on Newman. Isn’t this the same outfit that won this year’s Daytona 500?

No koi were injured in the filming of this race.

One more thing you never thought you’d see during a Cup telecast: a commercial for Saabs.

The Hindenburg Award For Foul Fortune

Rick Hendrick couldn’t have enjoyed Sunday’s race. His three marquee stars all saw decent races go bad with deflated tires, hard contact with the wall, and a last lap spin. The fact Johnson and Gordon collided (with a little help from Tony Stewart) made the pill that much more bitter to swallow.

Marcos Ambrose came off a career defining weekend at the Glen with a blown engine and a dead last place finish at Michigan.

Someone at Joe Gibbs Racing ought to put Denny Hamlin on suicide watch.

Clint Bowyer just couldn’t get out of his own way for much of Sunday’s race. He needs some extra base hits in the next three races to make the Chase.

Jeff Gordon hasn’t run this badly in a very long time. Still winless this season, even if Gordon does make the Chase he’s not going to be a contender the way the No. 24 car is running. Is it just bad karma or bad cars? We all know Gordon can drive.

The “Seven Come Fore Eleven” Award For Fine Fortune

Edwards was just barely able to avoid the spinning No. 22 car by diving to the apron en route to victory.

Jack Roush had to enjoy seeing his teams collect four of the Top 5 finishing spots at his home track.

David Ragan was a weapon most of last season, but he’s matured and strung together a record of some good finishes this season.

Brian Vickers has apparently read Kyle Busch’s book, “There is Life After Rick Hendrick Racing.”

Worth Noting

  • Carl Edwards’ five Cup wins this season eclipse his personal best of four Cup victories scored back in 2005. Edwards is currently second in the Cup and Nationwide series standings, so it’s not just Kyle Busch who is having a dream season.
  • Kyle Busch has finished first or second in four of the last six Cup races. My guess is there are no magnets on the throttle pedal of his JGR car.
  • David Ragan’s third place finish is his best of the season, and matches his career best in the Cup Series — scored at Richmond in the Fall of last year.
  • Greg Biffle (fourth) scored his first Top 5 result since Chicagoland.
  • Matt Kenseth (fifth) scored his first Top 5 finish since Daytona in July. No wonder he sounded so elated.
  • Kevin Harvick (eighth) has three consecutive Top 10 finishes in Cup races for the first time since Bristol this Spring.
  • It’s hard to believe, but 23 races deep into the season Jeff Gordon, Matt Kenseth, and Kevin Harvick don’t have a single Cup victory between them.
  • Jamie McMurray (tenth) enjoyed his third Top 10 finish in the last four Cup races.
  • It has now been nine races since Jeff Burton (eleventh) has managed a Top 5 finish.
  • Scott Riggs’ 15th place finish was his best this season.
  • Jeff Gordon endured his fourth DNF of the season, but the first since Fort Worth in April.
  • Denny Hamlin endured just the fourth DNF of his Cup career. The No. 11 team hadn’t had an engine let go since Bristol last August.
  • Dale Earnhardt, Jr. (23rd) hasn’t managed a Top 5 finish in the eight races since he won at Michigan earlier this year.
  • Sam Hornish (22nd) was the top finishing ROTY candidate at Michigan.
  • The Top 10 finishers at Michigan drove five Fords, two Toyotas, two Chevys, and a Dodge. So, to all my blue collar brethren struggling to get by in Detroit: “Man, the dope is there’s still hope.”

What’s the Points?

Kyle Busch still leads the standings, and would make the Chase even if he decided to take the next three weeks off. Behind him, Carl Edwards took a nibble out of Busch’s lead and is now 222 points out of first. That lead is pointless, so to speak, with just three races remaining before the Chase. Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and Jeff Burton held serve in positions three, four, and five, respectively.

Greg Biffle advances three spots to seventh in the standings, giving him a modicum of breathing room inside the Chase. Kevin Harvick also advanced three spots to eighth, appearing relatively safe as well with Bristol and Richmond still on the docket. Matt Kenseth might have sounded like he’d backed over his own dog after the race, but he did in fact advance two spots in the standings to 10th, 74 points ahead of the cutoff for the Chase.

On the flip side, Jeff Gordon dropped three positions to ninth, and he’s clearly getting flustered. Kasey Kahne also dropped three spots and is now 11th in the standings. But it was Denny Hamlin’s blown engine that really delivered a sucker punch to his season; it dropped him three positions to 12th, just 26 points above the cut line for the Chase.

On the outside looking in, Clint Bowyer and David Ragan are technically tied for 13th right now; they are the aforementioned 26 points behind making the Chase.

Further down the list, Ryan Newman dropped two more spots to 17th and Kurt Busch fell a spot to 19th. These aren’t happy times for Roger Penske — at least on the NASCAR side of the empire.

Overall Rating (On a scale of one to six beer cans with one being a stinker and a six pack an instant classic) — I feel kind of like Charlie Brown picking a Christmas tree because I know others will disagree… but it wasn’t such a bad little race. I’ll give it four cans of almost chilly generic stuff.

Next Up: After three months of an endless bummer, a nation turns its lonely eyes towards Bristol next Saturday night. All we can hope is that we get a repeat of the 1998 Night Race and not a placid return of last year’s Bristol Lite.

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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08/18/2008 01:45 AM

“Neither JGR entry is competing for the Nationwide title”
LOL, the #20 currently leads the owner standings…

Bill B
08/18/2008 07:01 AM

“It’s hard to believe, but 23 races deep into the season Jeff Gordon, Matt Kenseth and Kevin Harvick don’t have a single Cup victory between them”

That statement would have carried even more weight had you not forgot to include Stewart in that bunch.

Mike In NH
08/18/2008 08:15 AM

Not sure parking the cars for the rest of the season and jeopardizing JGR’s sponsor relationships, not to mention putting people not involved in this out of work, for what will turn out to be one or two people’s bad judgement is the way to go, especially with the 20 leading the owners points. What will be interesting is if it was JGR’s golden boy NW crew chiefs are responsible – do you fire a couple of guys that Cup teams are itching to grab? Or even fining or suspending them so they go elsewhere? Though I do believe that even if NASCAR doesn’t do it, the crew chiefs and car chiefs need to take some sort of hit for this – they’re responsible for making sure the cars get to the tests without someone screwing with them, after all. And 300 owner points from each team too.

Looks like Kyle Busch chose wisely letting Logano into the 20 or someone would be blaming him for this or accusing him of cheating, like they do every week! :)

Don’t be surprised if (true or not) some lower level guy(s) get the blame, and the pink slip for this incident. But to be fair, JGR usually runs a pretty clean shop (they may push the envelope a bit from time to time, but all teams do that).

08/18/2008 08:41 AM

Matt , you think any team that got caught in the same infraction as the Gibbs guys should be suspended for the rest of the season , or is it more likely that you think any Toyota team should be . Your rants are pretty transparent .
Why would it be fitting for Gordon to garner the championship with no wins instead of any of the other 35 drivers who don’t have wins either ? Its time to move forward Matt . That silly pre Chase points argument concerning Gordon is long over . Only a handfull of fans , and apparently a writer , ever misunderstood the format for the points going into the chase .

It's Me!
08/18/2008 09:31 AM

I don’t agree with what JGR did; trying to skirt the inspection process is most definitely wrong. However, it is truly worth such a HUGE penalty? NASCAR has already said that the JGR teams were LEGAL in the race; they WERE NOT running ILLEGAL ENGINES OR PARTS.

In my opinion, I think the Toyota guys were just frustrated because NASCAR took away all the hard work they did during the off-season (with the “Toyota Rule”)getting their engines up to speed and when the team work their butts off again to re-gain the speed in their cars, NASCAR was going to do it again. They just didn’t want them knowing what they had for fear that they would be be “penalized” again.

We lock up our valuables and keep them hidden so people can’t steal them. The JGR guys were just doing the same thing.

Like I said….it was wrong, but I kinda understand where their coming from.

08/18/2008 10:29 AM

Jeff Gordon reminds me of Junior, last year, each time a mistake was made on pit road, the result being was to fire/ replace a pit crew member. Now Jeff Gordon decides to chastise his pit crew as they being not only responsible for a bad pit stop but ultimately being responsible for a bad race…but, hey, lets not forget there was enough blame to go around as he also laid sufficient blame on his spotter. The only person who has not received blame this year has been the “infamous” Jeff Gordon. When the Hendricks team was “on a roll” last year, all was well with the world and the rightful team was implanted into its rightful place…at the top of the NASCAR world. Now, one year later, with Carl Edwards and (former Hendricks castoff) Kyle Busch dominating the racing scene, the supposed Hendricks “dream team” is not winning every race as was presumed in the pre-season…all is now NOT well in the world of NASCAR. How dare a Hendricks cast-off and a (heaven forbid) FORD dominate the CUP series. I remember in the past few seasons, listening to Mark Martin on the radio after a “less than stellar” pit stop saying to his crew, “hey guys, don’t worry, we’ll get it back, heavens knows I have run into the wall enought to cost us races and points.” You don’t hear that “team” concept over the radio at Hendricks…only blame, and usually in one direction. It will be intriguing to see just “who” is to blame should the “infamous” 24 not make the chase.

Jeff G
08/18/2008 10:52 AM

In reference to JGR.

Remember that joke that went somenthing like this…

Question: “What do you have when you have two tiny green balls in your hand”??

Answer: “Kermit’s undivided attention”!!

Let’s change that to..

“What do you have when a NASCAR team’s sponsor has his car parked for a few weeks”??

08/18/2008 11:26 AM

you know it says a lot about how uninterested i am in sport if i turned down chance to go to bristol this weekend, and sunday i cleaned gutters on my house and didn’t worry about missing any part of the race. i don’t know, maybe i watch a different race than most people. only excitement i saw was pit stops and then the top 3 hendrick teams falling to the rear and surprise, casey mears finished ahead of the 3. what i saw of the nationwide race on saturday looked similar to what i saw of the cup race on sunday. jr always runs the high line and 90% of the time will end up smacking the wall when the car gets so loose it can’t be controlled. kyle busch runs all over the track, and regardless of where he starts, 95% of the time he’s at the front before it’s over. unless something major happens it’s ususally the same bunch in the top 10 positions through most of the time. someone asked me today if i was going to renew tickets for ams. don’t think so. cheaper to nap at home by then might have some leaves to rake. i also swear i heard someone refer to brian vickers as casey mears at the beginning of the race. maybe i was in a fog.

08/18/2008 11:34 AM

Hamlin is a whining idiot. Can’t stand him anymore,…. for having such a naive personality coming into the sport, my how he has changed. Kenseth misses Robbie, plain and simple. If you really can’t compete, then just stay home guys. Does Kleenex need a driver?

08/18/2008 11:42 AM

I wonder Matt, were you making these same comments back when Richard Petty had the cheater engine at the World 600 the one year?

08/18/2008 12:32 PM

“Is it just bad karma or bad cars? We all know Gordon can drive.”

Dear Jeff Gordon,

Welcome to the side of Hendrick motorsports that Terry Labonte and every driver of the old 25 car has experienced after the mid 90s, so you (and Jimmie), could have the run of the place! Karma is a, well, you know, ain’t it?

08/18/2008 12:39 PM

Matt has referenced the King cheating in many a column. Sometimes readng this it sounds like some of you come on just to criticize Matt. If you don’t like his columns, quit reading them! Anyone else out there want the HP tested on the Cup cars?

08/18/2008 12:46 PM

Conspiracy Theory: Certain roushkateers snuck over to the JGR Nationwide cars, post race, and planted the magnets. It worked so well they put them on the 18 & 20 cup cars before the race, then took the magnets back out before anybody thought to look after the race. Question – do the rules state the cars must turned over to nascar for dyno testing exactly as they are at the checkered flag? the two teams could have been prepping the cars for the ride back to the shop. Mechanics are well noted for doing burnouts with the cars after the races and this could have been a preventative measure taken by the teams to prevent the throttle from going wide open.

08/18/2008 12:55 PM

I don’t know jack about dyno testing but to me if the testers don’t disconnect the accelerator linkage from the carb and hook the dyno directly to the linkage at the carb to hold it wide open for the test, they are wasting time anyway. Too may variables with worn linkage on cars after 500 miles or whatever of racing.

08/18/2008 01:55 PM

Here is another theory: Ford has always posted the lowest hp on dynos. What if they were using the magnets first to get nascar to lower the hp on the other three manufacturers. When toyota found out, they tried it too. Ford found out that Toyota was using them so Ford stopped using their magnets and told nascar what to look for.

08/18/2008 03:59 PM

Cheating is like water for Toyota…ask CART teams, ask Honda, ask Cosworth.

L Taylor
08/18/2008 06:28 PM

I wonder just how similar the Toyota N’wide and Cup motors are? As far as using a chassis dyno does anyone know if they sit in the car while the test is run?

08/18/2008 06:31 PM

I would like to know why NA$CAR is not testing the Cup cars.

I have to add Hamlin is such a little punk. Surprised he has not had his butt kicked.

08/18/2008 07:48 PM

Brian, that’s very true that he has mentioned the King cheating. HOWEVER, does Matt say the King has 200* victories? If you cannot see his blatant xenophobic views in regards to Toyota entering Cup, then you’re naive.

On another note you’ve got a picture of the whitest man in America with his cap turned cockeyed, pouring some Brut out for his “homeys” WTF?

I wish a David Pearson or Dale Earnhardt was around to jackslap Edwards for that crap.

08/18/2008 08:24 PM

But once again, race fans are looking at the potential of a driver winning a title without having won a single event, a possibility without parallel in the pantheon of sports. You have to wonder if a winless championship would finally force Brian France to admit he well and truly screwed the pooch with this dog of a points system of his.


It’s a little premature to start worrying too much about this scenario.

I went back a few years after each Summer Michigan race.

In 2000 and 2005, five drivers in the top twelve were winless.

There were four winless drives in 2004 and 1999 at the same stage.

And, proving that I need a life, there were 6 winless drivers in 1980 after the 2nd Michigan race.

None of those winless drivers won the championship in those years, and while I know that it is a little easier in the present format, none of the winless drivers will win this year, either.