The Frontstretch: Matt McLaughlin's Thinkin' Out Loud: Bank of America 500 by Matt McLaughlin -- Monday October 13, 2008

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Matt McLaughlin's Thinkin' Out Loud: Bank of America 500

Matt McLaughlin · Monday October 13, 2008

 

The Key Moment: Jeff Burton and Jimmie Johnson waged a spirited battle for a few laps after the final restart before points leader Johnson apparently decided discretion was the better part of valor.

In a Nutshell: Wasn’t this new car supposed to end the era of cars up front with clean air on the nose running away from the field, with previously fast cars mired in traffic unable to pass anything but the time? Newsflash: It didn’t work. Film at 11.

Dramatic Moment: There was some good racing back in the pack and after every restart, with track position so key and passing so difficult. The short-lived Burton / Johnson battle probably takes top honors.

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

Maybe they ought to add some reverse light decals to the rear of the 48 car, because Jimmie Johnson seems to want to back his way into this championship.

If Carl Edwards wasn’t on the lead lap when caution froze the field on lap 54, it seems certain he was the first car a lap down. I don’t get that call. In the end, though, it didn’t much matter, did it? Could this have been a “silent” penalty for Thursday’s garage area confrontation?

Why on earth is there any wall at a race track still not protected by the SAFER barrier? Travis Kvapil took a savage hit nose first into unyielding concrete on the frontstretch Saturday. Apparently, Marcus Smith has his first challenge to fix.

Jeff Burton’s victory celebration may have been exceedingly modest, but it’s hard to hide the feelings of accomplishment behind that winning trophy.

Some folks like big burnouts and doughnuts by the winning driver after a race, but I prefer Jeff Burton’s more modest display reacting like you expected to win.

Wasn’t the rap against the “old” points system that with several races left to run, it was usually down to a two or possibly three man battle for the title? Gee, it’s a lot more exciting under the Chase system, isn’t it?

I cannot understand why some people get so excited when a couple of drivers like Kevin Harvick and Carl Edwards have a pushing and hollering match while discussing “issues”. Back in the day, drivers often settled matters with their fists, tire irons, and even an occasional drawn gun. Many still feel it was the spirited fistfight between Bobby Allison and Cale Yarborough at Daytona in 1979 that put this sport on the national map. Somehow, the equivalent of an elementary school playground shoving match just doesn’t raise my blood pressure anymore.

It did seem curious to me with dozens of photos taken of the Harvick-Edwards hissy fit some behind the scene machinations kept most of those photos from reaching the Internet and thus the media for close to 72 hours. In the brave new world of the electronic media, photos of celebrities behaving badly are usually online in minutes. I’m still searching for a photo of Harvick tossing an Ozark into Edward’s koi pond.

Well, some scribes and fans still think NASCAR made the right call at Talladega, stripping Regan Smith of his apparent win, but I find it interesting that I haven’t heard a single driver other than Michael Waltrip who felt that Smith hadn’t won the race fair and square. All agreed that Stewart forced Smith below the line, even Stewart his bad old self. So, NASCAR needs to clarify the real rule so that every driver understands it. It seems impossible to argue that Smith wasn’t forced out of bounds when paint from Stewart’s car was found on his front fender. In plain English, “On the final lap of a plate race at Talladega or Daytona, the driver with less popularity and a lower dollar sponsor shall yield position to his more famous rival.” I’ve had a week to think about, review the tapes, and YouTube footage of Dale Earnhardt, Jr.’s win at the 2003 Aaron’s 499, and my conclusions remain the same. Smith got robbed. We report. You decide. (Warning: video contains the highly annoying sound of Darrell Waltrip’s voice.)

I think it’s time to study how NASCAR sets the field when weather cancels qualifying, as was the case for the eighth time this season at Charlotte on Thursday. Rain is a random event that nobody can control and that no “meteorologist on TV” seems to be able to predict accurately even ten percent of the time. Giving the points leaders the top positions based on an unpredictable event gives them an unfair advantage to start with, so I say take the Top 43 in drivers’ (italics added for emphasis) points and have a random drawing out of a hat to determine starting position and pit stall selection. (I’m sure SPEED will televise the drawing. There’s only so many times they can show old episodes of Pinks.) Others have suggested that to make things more exciting, maybe NASCAR should use the point standings but invert the starting order. Excitement? I like excitement. Sign me up.

Aluminum panels were shedding off Paul Menard’s car. Brian Vickers slapped the wall hard and was limping around the top side of the track. But NASCAR didn’t throw a caution. Was that because Jeff Gordon had just pitted out of sequence and it would have trapped him a lap down? Certainly, we’ve seen a ton of caution flags for less severe contact with the wall and smaller bits of debris. It’s just one of those things that make you go Hmmm…

There’s talk in the trades that struggling automakers General Motors and Chrysler have reached such desperate straits they are considering a merger. (Earlier this week, GM staved off talks they were considering filing for bankruptcy, which seems to make much more sense than the merger idea.) These are strange times we live in. One can only consider the possible implications to teams’ NASCAR support after such a merger. NASCAR needs to seriously start re-thinking its exit strategy for the third major pullout of the U.S. carmakers from the sport following the debacles of 1957 and 1971. The sport survived the early ’70s withdrawal of support from the Big Three (well, I guess it was the Big Four back then though AMC hung out awhile) thanks to the divine intervention of the R.J. Reynolds Winston brand. Here’s a hint: I don’t think the next life raft is going to be tossed by a cell phone provider or cigarette company.

I don’t know if this was the first time they used them at a night race or if I just never noticed them, but those lights mounted to the underside of tire changers’ crash helmet visors were a pretty neat idea.

“Through the perilous flight? “Proof to the night?” Had Ms. Simpson ever even heard the National Anthem before prior to mangling it? Maybe she should stick to playing second banana to a puppet in pizza commercials.

The term seems to be entering the NASCAR lexicon, and I gag every time I hear it. The word “Sporty” is a noun used to affectionately describe Harley Davidson’s smallest displacement lightweight models, not an adjective.

A note to Dale Jarrett: As a male, I can say there is very little effort needed to raise “Breast Awareness” amongst my gender. Now, raising “Breast Cancer Awareness” is a very noble cause because the deadly disease has cost us too many of the women we love. I’m glad to see teams and drivers support it, even if I can’t really warm up to pink race cars.

The Hindenburg Award For Foul Fortune

Carl Edwards had more pit road problems; but in the end, it just didn’t matter. Some fluke failure of both the primary and secondary ignition boxes left him sitting in the pits for sixteen laps while repairs were made. If there’s anything more frustrating for a driver than having to cruise around in a badly damaged car making laps for points, it’s got to be running a car fast enough to challenge the leaders to a 33rd place finish. Yes, Carl Edwards could still win the title. And I could still win the Powerball and arrive at the Homestead season finale towing a Harley Crossbones behind my new Challenger en route to congratulate him… but I’m not programming the Garmin quite yet.

Dale Earnhardt, Jr. had a competitive car until he blew a tire and slapped the wall hard on lap 103, a lap before the team planned to pit. It seems this year Earnhardt has blown more tires than Britney Spears has blown… well, let’s not go there.

Brian Vickers had another strong run and led a lot of laps, but his evening ended with a hard shot to the wall.

Robby Gordon was having a better than average run when an airgun broke during his pit stop. NASCAR rules won’t allow the teams to use a third gun, so the team elected to change right side tires only. But Gordon had locked up his left front tire entering the pits, flat-spotting it, and that tire gave out before he could return to the pits for left side replacements.

Matt Kenseth got caught up in a wreck not of his own making for the second straight weekend. As far as his title hopes, put out the fire and call in the dogs…

The “Seven Come Fore Eleven” Award For Fine Fortune

Jeff Burton’s team wasn’t sure they’d gotten enough gas into the car on the final pit stop to complete the race. With the rash of right front tire failures, the decision to go with no new tires on the final stop was a high stakes gamble.

Kasey Kahne’s car went backwards from the drop of the green flag and he eventually lost a lap to the leaders, but recovered to finish a strong second.

Jeff Gordon hit the wall twice in the first five laps and he was forced to pit for repairs, losing a lap to the field. But Gordon managed to rally back to actually lead a lot of laps en route to an eighth place finish.

Typically, a late race pit road speeding penalty dooms a driver’s chances at a decent finish. However, Kyle Busch was able to fight back to fourth.

Kurt Busch survived an ill-tempered little bumping match with Juan Pablo Montoya well enough to finish third, ending plans by Dodge to have his photo placed on milk cartons as a missing person.

Worth Noting

  • Jeff Gordon has now gone one full year without a Cup victory. Who’da thunk?
  • Jeff Burton has now won multiple races in a Cup season for the first time since 2001. He’s currently second in the point standings, the highest he’s been at this point in the season since 2006. Burton’s season best points finish is third in 2000.
  • Burton continues to do his best to keep Johnson honest, with a string of Top 10 finishes that dates back to Richmond in September.
  • Kasey Kahne (second) managed his first Top 5 finish since the first Michigan race.
  • Kurt Busch (third) earned his first Top 5 finish since the Coke Zero 400.
  • Kyle Busch (fourth) enjoyed his best finish of the Chase; the previous high water mark was fifteenth last weekend at Talladega. My, how the mighty have fallen.
  • Jamie McMurray’s fifth place finish was his best of the 2008 Cup campaign.
  • Jimmie Johnson is averaging about a fifth place finish in five Chase races this season. That ought to do the trick if he can keep it up.
  • Jeff Gordon (eighth) has Top 10 finishes in three of the last four races.
  • Mark Martin (ninth) has earned Top 10 finishes in five of his last six Cup starts.
  • David Ragan (tenth) has strung together three consecutive Top 10 finishes for the first time in his Cup career. You’ve got to learn to walk before you run.
  • Clint Bowyer has finished 12th in four of the last six Cup races.
  • Kevin Harvick (13th) hasn’t managed a Top 5 finish since Labor Day weekend at Fontana.
  • Reed Sorenson’s 15th place finish was his best since the first Loudon Cup race.
  • Since announcing he was leaving Penske Racing August 13th, Ryan Newman and the No. 12 team have managed just one Top 10 finish and have led just ten laps. I feel they embody the new NASCAR ethos, “I will not give up without a press conference!”
  • The Top 10 finishers Saturday night at Charlotte drove four Chevys, three Fords, one Toyota, and a pair of Dodges.
  • Sam Hornish, Jr. in 22nd was the top finishing Rookie of the Year candidate at Charlotte. I doubt even he cares at this point, as sorry a job as this year’s crop of ROTY candidates have done. The anticipated Open Wheel Invasion into the Cup ranks has flown like the proverbial lead balloon.

What’s the Points?

Jimmie Johnson retains the points lead, and is now 69 ahead of Jeff Burton, who moved up two spots to second. Greg Biffle remains in third, now 86 points behind Johnson.

Carl Edwards dropped two spots to fourth. Edwards and the rest of the drivers in the Chase are now more than a full race worth of points behind Johnson with five races remaining in this farce.

The only other movement within the Top 12 was Kyle Busch moving up two spots to ninth, a sobering 326 points out of the lead. From here on out, JGR’s strategy at winning the title is for Jimmie Johnson to be kidnapped by space aliens before Martinsville. Matt Kenseth fell two spots to 11th.

Just outside the Chase, David Ragan maintains 13th spot and is now 86 points ahead of 14th place Kasey Kahne. Fifteenth place Ryan Newman is no longer a factor in the “Best of the Rest” class. Ragan and Kahne continue to battle for that coveted 13th place spot, which includes such valuable incentives as discounted go-kart rides at a local amusement park in Charlotte.

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 three cans of lukewarm Dixie beer. It was pretty much your typical modern day McRace. It had its moments, but dragged on relentlessly in other portions.

Next Up: Set the way back machine for nineteen fifty-something as the tour returns to the quaint magic of Martinsville. When NASCAR’s top series first visited Martinsville in 1949, the Dow Jones Industrial Average hovered around 675 points. We might be below that before next weekend.

Contact Matt McLaughlin

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Bill B
10/13/2008 07:53 AM
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Regarding the manufacturer’s involvement in NASCAR, since they went to the COT I see very little value for the manufacturers given the amount of money they spend. I think they would be just as well served by being the primary sponsor on one car and it would be a hell of a lot cheaper.

Carl D.
10/13/2008 09:35 AM
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Bill.. I agree. Besides, the old “Win on Sunday, Sell on Monday” strategy is pretty meaningless when the make of the car that wins on Sunday (or Saturday) can only be identified by the emblem on the grill.

Douglas
10/13/2008 09:46 AM
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Where is the Jr. NATION when you need them most?

Holy cow! They should be picketing outside NA$CAR
HQ by the thousands, demanding that Brian & his band of thieves do something about GOODYEAR tires!

Folks, now is the time!

Two races in a row, two EXPLODED tires, and twice hard into the wall!

C’mon all you Jr. fans! If you love your driver as much as I think you do! Then get writing and calling NA$CAR!

marshall
10/13/2008 10:12 AM
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Matt , i’m very surprised that you still have to wonder about caution flags that seem to benefit Jeff and Jimmy . Anyone whos been paying attention over the years knows for a fact that the yellows most definately fall in favor of Gordon and Johnson . In fact , NASCAR doesn’t even bother to try to hide it anymore .

Portions of race tracks still not covered by Safer Barriers ? C’mon Matt . Track owners spending money on Safer Bariers or more suites . Well thats easy .The tracks can’t charge 5 and 6 figures for VIPs to slug down free beer and food on Safer Barriers , so guess where they spend the money .

I can’t help but notice that every time you bring up the finish at Talladega , you always leave out the determining factor in the finish . I know thats the only thing that allows you to make your weak case , but you always manage to leave out the rule that states a driver cannot improve his position while below the yellow line , NO MATTER HOW HE GOT THERE . You know for a fact that NASCAR modified the rule after the Dale Jr. You Tube incident , so lets try to find a real argument to Stewart winning . And since you’re using Jr. as your argument , he also said that Tony did exactly what he , and every other driver in the garage would have done , including Smith . Its over . Let it go . Oh , thats right , you can’t can’t ever let things go . Okay , press on .

jim
10/13/2008 11:12 AM
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What did JPM say in his exit interview after hitting the wall?

don mei
10/13/2008 11:17 AM
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Its hard to let stupidity go when its repeated over and over. I do like your drawing idea..especially inverting the field. I would guess that Speed will soon give us endless replays of their latest idiotic program,Wrecked; My GOD! A fate worse than death..or the sound of a Waltrip.

Brent
10/13/2008 11:35 AM
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marshall – I disagree with your point, because the pass on Stewart did not happen until after Stewart moved over – the actual pass itself happened above the line, as far as actual change of position. It’s not like he crossed the checkered below the yellow. He moved down to keep from wrecking, they got back up in the groove, and then he passed Stewart.

budsudz
10/13/2008 12:59 PM
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Matt,

I attended the Charlotte race and watched from the infield as I have done for 30+ years.

First off, since the radio (and now TV) have the idiotic 10 second delay (why don’t they broadcast the race on a low wattage FM station so the fans can get a real time call), and since I’ve never cared to own a scanner, I watched much of the race on Sprint Vision (with no sound).
If the “at home” TV audience had the Sprint Vision feed vs. the TV broadcast, fewer fans would be leaving the sport.

The Sprint Vision director shows the entire field and any racing happening in the pack (vs. showing the leader running by his lonesome.) Even without sound, the video is entertaining and added excitement to a rather unexciting race.

The COT has killed racing for Charlotte. Sure, there have plenty of 5, 10, and 15 second leads built by dominate cars over the years in races at Charlotte. However, for both the 600 and 500, with few exceptions, those who had clean air led the race. The notable exception was Tony Stewart charging the front in the early going. However, dominant cars such as Stewart, Vickers, and Busch became so-so when they were stuck in traffic.

Burton and Kahne won the same way. They were the first car off pit road after the final pit stop. Gordon’s beat up car became a world beater in clean air.

At this point, why doesn’t the top division just switch to running the Trucks??? Sure, it would break tradition, but with common templates, that has already happen. The Truck aero package seems to work better than the COT.

Humpy and Bruton put the grind on Charlotte and the COT finished the deal.

Bruton reconfigured Bristol into a multi-lane high banked interstate and the COT finished the deal as well.

The COT can still put a good race on at Martinsville, but the cha-ching of the Casino in Kansas will cut that excitement back to one race a year.

The only improvement to racing in the past 5 years was when Homestead was reconfigured (the jury is out on Vegas, although the added banking should help.)

Thanks for giving us something to think about each week, Matt. Keep it up!

chris
10/13/2008 02:25 PM
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“Kasey Kahne’s car went backwards from the drop of the green flag and he eventually lost a lap to the leaders, but recovered to finish a strong second. “

Strong second, yes. Lap down at one point in time during the race, also yes. Backwards from the drop of the green flag? Only if starting 15th and driving up to 10-11-12 area is the new backwards.

He went a lap down mostly because they took 4 tires every pit stop except the last one. So, the 4-tire stop, when alot of folks took 2, followed by a long green run. It happens. Not really an indication of the performance of the car, more an indication of the “traffic issues”.

Overall, I thought it was a pretty good race. Kept my attention, but I may be watching it wrong or something. :)

I agree that the aero package on the Trucks is better than cup, and much better than the old car. I hope that gets remedied at some point in time. The truck races are just awesome.

Dennis
10/13/2008 02:40 PM
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If Smith is penalized for passing under the yellow then Tony must be penalized for pushing him down there.

Both are violations. It is the giving of one a penalty and not the other that is the problem.

Now the way to win at those tracks is to just nudge the faster car getting ready to pass you under the line during the final laps and then back off and hold off the 3rd place car.

I think rain outs should cause the field to be set on the finishing order of the last race.

Using points to set it when there is a drizzle allows NA$CAR to queer the field in favor of the chasers.

Maybe dudes would race every week then and not just commute to work.

janice
10/13/2008 03:27 PM
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ya know, i read today where tony romo broke a finger. dimwit simpson is his girlfriend. a big deal was made last year of her presence at cowboy games and the team loosing. i noticed sat night she was decked out in 88 gear. guess jr just wanted another dumb blond to add to the collection for the night. seems he ended up with the simpson curse.

i’d also like to know why it looks like singers today, are passing solid waste when they sing? man that anthem was horrible. i say bring on the mro kids!

i’m glad burton won. maybe he can surprise us and win the championship.

with the news of the american automakers, looks like IROC series is reborn. wonder how the nationwide iroc cars will compare to the cup cars?

Leo
10/13/2008 08:11 PM
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Hey Mike. If you’re going to get all “grammatical” on us, use a dictionary first. An adjective is used to describe something. A noun is used to name that thing.

At least this article was worthy of a few beers unlike last weeks pile.

mkrcr
10/13/2008 09:06 PM
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The only thing that held my attention in this race was the “Mayor”. Jeff Burton’s quiet rise in the standings has given the only true excitement this farce deserves. For once, I’d like to see one of the last class act racers get what they deserve. No better ambassador for the sport in these sorry times. I haven’t been a diehard Burton fan over the years, but have always admired his ability and conduct. Perhaps as Champion he could help some much needed change come about. Hey, in the fantasy world we all live in, dreaming of fair competition and unbiased NA$CAR rules, I can dream too can’t I? And maybe Martin will win next year!

jaymatt
10/14/2008 01:28 AM
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Hey, folks—

Point one: The Stewart/Smith thing is over. Will the remaining whiners please get a life and move on?

Point two: Like the word or not (personally, I don’t), “sporty” is a bonafide adjective.

Point three: Go, 31! Jeff Burton is one of the really good guys.

Kevin in SoCal
10/14/2008 03:51 PM
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Brent said “the actual pass itself happened above the line, as far as actual change of position.”

Brent, take another look at the replay. In one view, I agree with you, it looks like Smith came above the line before he passed Stewart. But in the other view, it clearly shows Smith’s bumper ahead of Stewart, and two wheels are still below the yellow line.