The Frontstretch: Matt McLaughlin's Thinkin' Out Loud: Sharpie 500 by Matt McLaughlin -- Monday August 25, 2008

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Matt McLaughlin's Thinkin' Out Loud: Sharpie 500

Matt McLaughlin · Monday August 25, 2008


The Key Moment: On lap 469, Carl Edwards used his bumper to nudge the 18 car aside and do something nobody else had done all night, pass Kyle Busch.

In a Nutshell: Kyle and Carl put on another clinic with Busch dominating, but the race is not always to the swift….

Dramatic Moment: Edwards “bump and run” on Busch was surgical but the two drivers saved the fireworks for the ironically named cool down lap. It wasn’t until then the massive Bristol crowd finally really got into the game.

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

Was Edwards brushing Busch aside fair? Hey, if they ban that sort of move they might as well stop the sport of stock car racing. Compared to the revered Dale Earnhardt’s pass of Terry Labonte late in the 1999 race, that was a church square dance. Were Busch’s post-race antics understandable? Hell, yeah! You lead 415 laps and get brushed aside late in the race and its natural to be angry. Edwards had no choice but to retaliate to let Busch know he wasn’t going to be pushed around especially with the duo heading into the Chase as the favorites. The altercation took place at slow speed and involved two drivers belted safely in their race cars, not on pit road with innocents at risk. If either driver is fined or penalized, I might just quit the sport. We need more of this, not less. In fact I wish the two drivers had continued knocking into each other until their cars wouldn’t move anymore and then gotten out and brawled to settle things. Even if the post-race antics were subdued by the standards of the ’79 Daytona 500, the best part is the “To Be Continued” comments expressed by both combatants post-race.

OK, let’s talk about that 600 pound gorilla sitting in the center of the living room telling dirty jokes to your granny. Even with the bump and run and post race antics, Saturday night was hardly the sort of race that has made the Bristol night race a late summer classic for many fans. There were less leaders than any Bristol race since 1978 and Kyle Busch led 415 laps seemingly at will. There was some racing back in the pack, but not the wholesale position changes and carnage that fans have come to expect. Reconfiguring the Bristol track has made for more side by side racing but these new cars just can’t pull off the passes. It’s made for less carnage and some fans miss that. As I see it, the new track promotes better racing but it’s less fun to watch and the new cars once again the expose their Achilles’ heel. It’s like watching tugboats trying to race in high seas.

A great insight into racing at Bristol and life in general from Friday night’s Nationwide race; “The error for margin is very, very small.” I love live TV.

Did someone install a magnet beneath the throttle pedal of the 18 car during the final pit stop?

Some people might be surprised but I actually disagree with just one portion of the penalties handed down to Joe Gibbs Racing this week in the messy aftermath of Dyno-gate. Absent any evidence they knew of the plans to alter the car post-race, I don’t understand why the drivers of those cars were fined points. Some folks have asked me how long an “indefinite” suspension lasts. I figure it lasts until the uproar dies down. The last indefinite suspensions handed down were in the wake of the altered fuel controversy at Daytona concerning the 55 car and we still don’t know what all happened there.

Jeff Burton was frustrated and angry after he was knocked out of the race and he had every right to be. That mess wasn’t of his making. But rather than throwing a tantrum, he instead used his post-race interview to pump his team back up and express confidence that they’d be able to overcome adversity. Compare that to Denny Hamlin’s post-race comments last week after Michigan. There’s a reason sometimes it’s better to have a seasoned driver rather than a kid a few years removed from local short tracks at the wheel during a championship drive.

Does it seem like Tony Stewart’s pit crew is phoning it in since he announced his plans to leave the 20 team? Stewart seems to be losing spots every time he pits.

The wreck wasn’t entirely or even mostly his fault though Michael Waltrip is one of those drivers who refuses to extend courtesy to the leaders even when he’s laps down in a hopelessly bad car that can’t get out of its own way. But it’s rare to hear a driver like Clint Bowyer be as blunt as to say, “Michael Waltrip is the worst race car driver in NASCAR. Period. I can’t believe NASA signed him on again.” Unfortunately it was actually NAPA that re-signed Waltrip. He won’t be leaving this planet anytime soon.

So OK, even NASCAR and the ISC have finally had to admit this whole Labor Day weekend deal at Fontana just wasn’t working out. (If I can put the journalistic professionalism that is my hallmark aside for a moment; NEENER, NEENER, NEENER, I TOLD YOU SO!) They’ve now moved the Labor Day weekend race back to Atlanta and the south for the 2009 season. Well they’re getting warmer. They only need to move the race one state north to get the Southern 500 back where it belongs.

In other schedule news, the second Talladega race will now be held late in the Chase. Having a plate race that late in the playoffs is like adding land mines on the field to spice up the Super Bowl.

You can read my articles but you can’t read my mind. Once again some folks are certain that I only got enraged about this whole magnet mess because the offending teams compete in Toyotas, that despite the fact I said pretty clearly in the article that I’d be just as angry if the team competed in another make of car. One interesting note I read said my idea that the teams be suspended from Nationwide competition for the rest of the season was unfair because it put men and women who had no part in the incident out of work. Think about this. If a team, any team, breaks the rules to gain an unfair advantage it means the hard working team members who compete within the rules don’t get race wins and competitive runs they are due. Long term that can lead to hard working people being released, drivers’ careers ended, sponsors leaving teams and teams shutting down, putting honest people out of work.

The Hindenburg Award For Foul Fortune

Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s temporary brain-freeze at the green flag cost him a drive-through penalty that knocked him a lap off the pace and he was never able to get that lap back.

Jimmie Johnson got a piece of the lap 26 wreck and had to go to the garage area for repairs, ending his chances at a decent finish early. About the only cars Johnson was able to pass for the rest of the night were the ones being hauled back to the garage area on flatbeds.

Jeff Buton got run over from behind as he tried to slow for the Mears-Waltrip wreck and was knocked out of the race.

Did Kasey Kahne’s Chase hopes go up in flames when he got caught up in Bristol’s version of the big one?

It just seems every week lately Dave Blaney has a decent race going but gets run over out there on the track.

Kasey Kahne’s chances at making the Chase were all but eliminated by a wreck not of his own making.

The “Seven Come Fore Eleven” Award For Fine Fortune

Carl Edwards is dang lucky that the volatile Kyle Busch never got back to his rear bumper after he used his front bumper to take the lead. When Busch had to scrap with teammate Denny Hamlin over second, Edwards was able to drive off to a comfortable win.

While Busch was clearly frustrated by his second place finish, he was lucky to be able to finish the race after barely missing Dave Blaney’s spinning car as the fourth caution flag flew.

Jeff Gordon desperately needed a good run and he got one even while the 48 and 88 teams suffered through another long night. Heavy contact with the 11 and 20 cars didn’t damage Gordon’s car enough to sideline his efforts though it clearly ticked him off.

It appeared the heavy contact Clint Bowyer’s 07 car suffered in the Mears-Waltrip wreck might send him to the garage but even with the front end geometry of his Chevy all askew, he was able to drive on to a seventh place finish.

David Ragan had to start the race 43rd in a backup car after wrecking in qualifying but he was able to post a Top 10 finish.

Dario Franchitti’s impressive drive and eleventh place finish in Friday’s Nationwide race might have taken his NASCAR career off of life support at least for awhile. Oddly enough he was the top finishing Scotsman with an Italian last name in the race.

Worth Noting

  • Nine of Carl Edwards’ combined 29 victories in the Cup and Nationwide/Busch series have taken place on concrete tracks.
  • Kyle Busch has now led 1580 laps in the Cup series this season, eclipsing the total number of laps he’s led in the previous four years of his career combined. (1571 laps)
  • The Top 10 finishers at Bristol drove three Fords, three Toyotas, three Chevys and a lone Dodge.
  • Regan Smith in 14th was the top finishing Rookie of the Year candidate at Bristol
  • Denny Hamlin finished third for the fourth time this season..
  • Quietly building momentum, Kevin Harvick (fourth) now has four consecutive Top 10 Cup finishes.
  • Jeff Gordon (fifth) enjoyed his best finish and led a lap in a Cup race for the first time since Indy.
  • Ryan Newman (sixth) enjoyed his best finish since Richmond this spring.
  • Matt Kenseth (ninth) has finished 12th or better in the last four Cup races.
  • Jamie McMurray (12th) is averaging an 11th place finish in the last five races.
  • Aric Almirola scored the second best finish of his 13 race Cup career.
  • Regan Smith’s 14th place finish matches the best of his Cup career. Smith also finished 14th at Martinsville.
  • Kasey Kahne (40th) has now gone nine consecutive Cup races without a Top 5 finish.
  • Dale Earnhardt Jr. (18th) is mired in a six race slump without a Top 10 result.

What’s the Points?

Kyle Busch remains the points leader. Carl Edwards trimmed Busch’s lead just a hair and is now 212 points behind Busch. More importantly at this juncture, if neither driver wins one of the next two races, when the points are reset after Richmond Edwards would start the Chase just twenty points behind Busch.

Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s lackluster 18th place finish allowed him to reclaim third spot in the standings from teammate Jimmie Johnson who now trails the 88 bunch by two whole points. And the crowd went wild.

Kasey Kahne took the hardest hit in the points, dropping three positions out of the top twelve and down to 14th in the standings, 56 points out of the Chase. Maybe he can use that accident forgiveness plan to recoup his lost points?

Clint Bowyer made applesauce out of bruised apples at Bristol to move up a spot to 12th in the standings but he’s just 12 points ahead of David Ragan who moved up a spot to 13th. Ryan Newman moved up two spots to 15th but he’s fully 181 points out of the Chase. His chances at making the Chase? You’d be better off wagering your life savings on two elderly Shriners in a two piece polka-dot horse Halloween costume carrying a blind albino midget as a jockey to win the Kentucky Derby.

Denny Hamlin moved up a spot in the standings to 11th. The rest of the drivers in the Chase held serve.

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 race four icy cold Coronas served by a buxom blonde with a Harley tattoo. We’ll give the post-race antics a six pack of Sly Fox microbrew Helles Golden Lager served out of doors so we can enjoy ‘em with a smoke.

Next Up: Well it’s Labor Day weekend. That means the Cup boys ought to be running a 500 miler at Darlington under the blazing South Carolina sun competing for the Southern 500 trophy, a victory that defines a drivers career. Instead I hear they’ll once again be holding a single file parade around some McTrack in Southern California and I want no parts of that so I’ll be out in the garage working on the ’72 454 Chevelle project that arrived this week. See you at Richmond. Fans are urged to buy a good fitting bicycle helmet before Richmond to limit injuries caused by ESPN beating them over the head about the Chase.

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…


©2000 - 2008 Matt McLaughlin and Thanks for visiting the Frontstretch!

Kevin in SoCal
08/25/2008 01:19 AM

“Compared to the revered Dale Earnhardt’s pass of Terry Labonte late in the 1998 race, that was a church square dance.”

Uhm, wasnt that 1999? NASCAR expert, indeed!

08/25/2008 06:58 AM

The 20 team certainly has lost its touch on pit road . They have always been one of the fastest and most consistant crews in the sport . But over the last few months they have cost themselves several postions on almost every pit stop they make . They also seem to be unable to make the meaningfull late race adjustments they were always so good at .
Well if you said in the aricle that you would be just as angry if the Gibbs teams were using some other brand of car then thats good enough for us . What are we readers thinking by accusing you of being anti Toyota . Where could we have gotton such a silly idea .
Your reasoning for a team being suspended for the rest of the season is to put it mildly , a stretch . There are a number of reasons for a team being forced to close its doors , but another team cheating isn’t even in the top 1000 on the list .

08/25/2008 08:21 AM

Leave it to NASCAR to have the chance to restore one of its traditional races, but just can’t bring itself to do so. What a crock! I’m a Georgian, but the Southern 500 should be in Darlington. I thought Denny Hamlin was right on! Mikey is one of the worst. I agree with you, Matt, the nudge by Edwards was mild next to some of the action we’ve seen at Bristol over the years, certainly the Labonte/Earnhardt clash comes to mind. I thought Busch kept himself under control well. A less mature Busch of a year or so ago would have wrecked himself and everybody else trying to get back to Edwards to wreck him.

08/25/2008 08:39 AM

I don’t think think the 20 team’s pit crew is doing that bad. I know on at least one stop where they lost 3 spots was because they had to fix some damage on the car. And for the most part all year they have been just fine. Bristol was just an off night for them. It happens to the best pit crews. Just look at Jeff Gordon’s pit crew last weekend.

08/25/2008 09:44 AM

Yea, Jr went ROOKIE on his fans. What kind of move was that, hell I don’t race for a living but even I know you don’t start “racing” until after you pass the start finish line at the beginning of the race. Come on June Bug, pull your head out!! you embarrassed your fans with that one.

08/25/2008 10:45 AM

if i could pay him for that, i would have. you can tell the Cat in the Hat was equally pleased with Carl’s post-race retaliation … just look at their faces after Carl emerged from the car in victory lane! that was priceless. yeah, this isn’t gonna die anytime soon. Karma is a bitch, ain’t it, Kyle?!
i’ll give KyBusch TONS of credit: the boy can drive a mean-ass car like no-one else. but, when you mess with the bull………

CARL EDWARDS: BUILT FORD TOUGH (trademarked and not to be used without expressed written consent from Ford or FordMan)

08/25/2008 11:07 AM

Matt, you are dead on on the fact that the new track and the COT have ruined Bristol.

After attending the last two night races, the new racing is still “good”, but not worth fighting the crowds to go see in person.

What’s missing:
1. Faster Race Cars-when a lapped down car (Juan Pablo) can hold the Carl Edwards up for 25 laps (15 while he was leading and another 10 after Busch took over the top spot), it demonstrates that the cars are too even.

2. No pit strategy—There was no two-tire vs. four-tire vs fuel only for track position. Everyone was on the same schedule all night

3. No changes in the positions in the pits—This is at all tracks, but unless a team makes a mistake, all of the top teams are even on their stops. Thus, there are minimal positions changing in the pits.

4. No racing in the top Five. Not only were there few lead changes, but the top 5 remained unchanged for large portions of the race. This race was similar to the 600 in that the running order off pit road, became the running order for the next 20 laps.

The bottom line is that Bristol is still more exciting than the rest of the tracks (except for maybe the restrictor tracks), however it’s just not worth a $100 ticket + other expenses.

Maybe the COT should be trashed and the Sprint Cup should adopt the Trucks. The accomplish much of what the COT is designed to do and still provide great racing.

08/25/2008 12:12 PM

MATT – As usual your article was right on the mark. The COT has ruined racing at Bristol and everywhere else. Also, I agree that Carl Edwards nudge of Kyle Busch was very tame by Bristol standards. Even so, Kyle whined like a little girl in his post race interview about being hit. Maybe Kyle should drive a pink car and wear a skirt.

Kevin in SoCal
08/25/2008 12:25 PM

Matt, since you have better things to do than watch the upcoming race and report on it, I’ll gladly step in and do it. However, since people on this site claim to not watch that bad race, maybe I’ll get lucky and nobody will read my bad analysis either!

I fully planned to go to the race this weekend, but my wife has cut the budget to plan for our move across town in October. :(

Bill B
08/25/2008 12:30 PM

Actually that start by Jr looked like a stuck throttle – at least that’s what he should tell everyone.

08/25/2008 12:31 PM

And Kyle didnt whine like a little girl??? Souns like Clownman is one sided about all of this. I do agree with you Matt, that bump & run was very tame!

08/25/2008 12:41 PM

Matt, please don’t go anywhere! i don’t ever want to read anything from Kevin in SoCrap. you tick me off, but you also tell the truth!!!

Knowlege is Power
08/25/2008 01:29 PM

I have been a NASCAR fan for 15 years, Have had season tickets to Bristol the last 10 years. I am done with the Chase, I am done with the COT, I am done with NASCAR and now I am done with Bristol. The “casual fan” can have my seats.

Kevin in SoCal
08/25/2008 04:13 PM

Fordman, there’s three sides to every story, your side, my side, and the truth.

Matt’s truth had the Earnhardt/Labonte incident in 1998 until I corrected him!

Master Braytak
08/25/2008 10:43 PM

So it looks like Kevin in SoCal is a true casual fan who will not support HIS track. A true fan would tell the wife to cut HER budget, or eat Top Raman for a month straight to save enough money to go. I hear that’s what the fans in Darlington would do.

All this big talk and bluster from Kevin in SoCal about how California deserves and needs this race for the local fans, then when the rubber meets the road Kevin in SoCal can’t make the race because his wife says no. Way to support your local Nascar track Kevin in SoCal.

08/25/2008 10:49 PM

Maybe this isn’t the correct time, or place…but I’ve been holding my tongue for a while now, and I just have to ask…
Why all the Matt bashing recently?
Before I go into a long defense of the man and his writing…let me tell a little story…many years ago, I was reading a piece Matt had written that included some apropos Springsteen lyrics…and being a Boss fan myself, decided to e-mail him, and let him know what a nice piece of writing it was…much to my surprise, an actual reply to the e-mail popped up…and what was even more surprising was where it was written from…Bristol Motor Speedway…Matt was preparing to watch a Busch race…from Bristol (the press box, I assume)…yet still took the time to respond to a rambling missive from a nobody…needless to say, a lifelong fan was born (every time Matt gets fired from a website, I haunt Jayski until I see his name pop up again…lol)
Maybe this has nothing to do with anything…but it bothers me to see the increasing negativism aimed towards his writing…( I have a suspicion some of it may be from old bosses…but the black helicopters are circling, so I should move on quickly)…and yes, some of the criticism has merit…for one thing, I never can figure out why he rails against road courses, yet thrills us with stories of Tim Richmond’s prowess on them…lol…but the fact of the matter is, he’s been right more than wrong in his prognostications…including the tepid racing brought forth by the COT and the Chase, Toyota buying its’ way to dominance (and no, I ain’t bashing Toyota, I could care less…just that it was predicted), and the decline of Nascar’s popularity under the rudderless helm of King Brian as he chased after fresh fan pickings while leaving us old timers to flounder…all coming to pass, as we can see before us… if memory serves me correctly, Matt’s been there and done that when it comes to racing…including being a spotter among other things…he obviously knows of what he speaks…so why pick an entire article apart based on the fact that 1998 was typed instead of 1999? (and before you jump Kevin, I think many of your comments have merit too…just not all ;) )…he’s paid to comment on races, and if you don’t like the commentary, then take your own advice re: watching the races, and quit reading the articles…I, for one, as a former fanatic, and now casual fan at best, would much rather read an honest opinion, rather than the sanitized crap being spewed by most writing heads…
It seemed I had a lot more to say when I started this, but I will mercifully (for those reading) stop now…in summation, I’ll just say…keep up the excellent work Matt…you may feel like you’re howling in the wilderness sometimes, but there are sympathetic ears out here

08/25/2008 11:20 PM

Nice post Confederate. I think there are a lot of valid points you made there, and I was a fanatic too, trying desperately to become more than a casual fan and I think that is the rut that Matt is in. The guy in SoCal is just a crap stirrer, more interested in pointing out errors than anything. Look man, Matt doesn’t write for ESPN or NASCAR, so many of the other sites are opinion based. He missed a year, does it really matter? 1999 Bristol was basically Earnhardt getting 1995 Bristol right. Either way 1999 Bristol night race was the first and last time I wasted a half pitcher of Bud Light against a television set at a wing bar. Best part was the owner instead of justifiably throwing me out of the place, just patted me on the shoulder and said “That’s racin.” That alone was worth the $50 tip on the 80 dollar tab.

kevin, I think you need to look at the bigger picture. Some of Matt’s stuff to me is just going through the motions and just turning in an article. I agree and disagree with many of Matt’s postings, but when long time NASCAR writers start saying they seldom watch the races anymore, that brings up a huge red flag to me. If the sport doesn’t remember where it came from how does it know where it’s going?

08/26/2008 12:23 PM

SONNY – Did you not actually read my post or are you illiterate. I stated the Kyle Busch did whine like a little girl. And my view is one sided, because I think he is the biggest jerk that ever drove in Nascar. I hope some other driver punches his lights out, just like Jimmy Spencer did to Kyle’s older brother Kurt.

Please don’t respond to any other posts until you learn to read and write.

08/26/2008 01:13 PM

“Hey, if they ban that sort of move they might as well stop the sport of stock car racing. Compared to the revered Dale Earnhardt’s pass of Terry Labonte late in the 1999 race, that was a church square dance.”
My article shows Matt stated 1999.

Kevin in SoCal
08/26/2008 02:46 PM

First of all, proofreader, your post was made a day and a half later. Matt edited his column after I pointed out the typo.

Master Braytak, are you married? Have you ever tried to tell a non-NASCAR wife that you need $250-500 to go to a race when you’re planning on moving in a month? Its just not happening.

I’m not picking on Matt at all, I was picking on Fordman who was picking on me. I only pointed out Matt’s typo in my first post in the interest of accuracy. I enjoy Matt’s columns as much as you guys do, except when he (or anyone else) bashes California Speedway for having the Labor Day date. Its not the tracks fault, its NASCARs fault. You guys need to look at the bigger picture and realize NASCAR isnt a Southern sport anymore. Yes it completely stinks that NASCAR chose Darlington to give up a date to California, but you’re barking up the wrong tree to blame California for it.

08/26/2008 09:02 PM

Sorry Clownman, I guess I really didnt read you comment too carefully then. My mistake.

Ren Jonsin
08/26/2008 09:20 PM

Hey guys, need to cut back on the personal attacks. Man can’t help what track springs up in his back yard.

Also, I did the edit to the article. Writers can’t edit once the article is submitted.

Finally Kevin, After 20 years of wedded bliss, I gotta tell you, you get to see a lot more races begging forgiveness instead of asking permission!


Unless my wife reads this, then some guy pretending to be me.

Master Braytak
08/26/2008 10:26 PM

I can’t wait to see how many other wifes would not let their husbands go next weekend by the amount of empty seats.

Kevin in SoCal, been married over 20 years and the wife would never stop me from something as important as attending a race at MY track, especially after yapping about how great it is and how it deserves the race. It’s not like you didn’t have a year in advance to plan it out and save the cash.

Kevin in SoCal
08/26/2008 11:44 PM

My wife and I have an equal partnership in our marriage, unlike the master/slave relationship it looks like you have with your wife. We need the money to move, so unfortunately my saved racing money goes into the moving budget. You can just call me whipped. LOL My wife is not a NASCAR fan and never will be. I’m happy for you that your wives are more understanding. (even if you go to the races anyway without telling her)

And I never said California deserved two races nor that its the best track on the circuit. What I have been saying is that NASCAR chose California to get another date, based on NASCAR wanting to branch out to places outside the Southeast. Los Angeles is the second biggest media market in the United States, and NASCAR wants to capitalize on that. That’s the same reason why it wanted a track in New York. You’ll also notice how Phoenix now has two dates and Texas now has two dates, yet I dont hear anybody crying and complaining about how crappy those two places are. You guys are right, that the California experiment has failed, and its time for its second date to go to another track. My preference would be to give the fall date to Las Vegas and lets see if that track can support 2 races. My other idea would be to go to Iowa. We need another short-track on the schedule.

Kevin in SoCal
08/27/2008 03:43 PM

Also, my wife is putting off finishing her tattoo until after we move, so its not like I’m the only one giving up something.

Master Braytak
08/27/2008 08:10 PM

The California experiment “Part Duex” has failed. Remember Ontario?

Kevin in SoCal
08/28/2008 02:25 AM

Remember Riverside? It was VERY successful and used to be the start of every season. It only failed because people starting moving into the cheap housing next to the track and then complaining about the noise. Ontario was just ahead of its time, too big a track and not as exciting as the road course at Riverside.