The Frontstretch: Matt McLaughlin's Thinkin' Out Loud: TUMS Quik Pak 500 by Matt McLaughlin -- Monday October 20, 2008

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Matt McLaughlin's Thinkin' Out Loud: TUMS Quik Pak 500

Matt McLaughlin · Monday October 20, 2008

 

The Key Moment: Jimmie Johnson got an excellent jump on that final Green-White-Checker restart and kept Dale Earnhardt, Jr. off his rear bumper.

In a Nutshell: Stock cars running belly to the ground, bumper-to-bumper into the fading sunlight of an autumn afternoon. It just doesn’t get any better.

Dramatic Moment: Well, it’s not the Chase, is it?

Dale Earnhardt, Jr. seemed to have Johnson’s number late in the race, but a series of cautions ended his chances.

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

What has Jimmie Johnson figured out about Martinsville nobody else can pick up on? For that matter, what has the entire Hendrick organization figured out about Martinsville?

When recalling the triumphs the Hendrick team has enjoyed at Martinsville, one also has to remember perhaps the darkest day in the organization’s history four years ago. A team plane crashed traveling to this race killing Hendrick’s son, brother, two nieces, and the flight crew, among others.

Is Jeff Gordon ever going to win a race again?

Dale Earnhardt finally just came out and admitted it. Late in the race, NASCAR will find a way to throw an unnecessary caution to bunch up the field and make for a better finish. If this comes as a surprise to you, you want to avoid trying to climb out the window Pollyanna.

Why can’t NASCAR find a way to put more short track dates on the schedule?

Long term readers know I am a huge fan of this sport’s colorful history. Thus, it’s not often I hear a story from back in the day I haven’t heard before — but I missed this one. Just in case I did, I’ll pass this one along from Ed Hinton of ESPN. Back in 1969, Bill France decided to take a race date away from Martinsville to move it to his new track at Talladega. Martinsville founder and owner Clay Earles didn’t take too kindly to that idea. According to Hinton, Earles flew to Daytona Beach packing a .38 pistol. After barging into Big Bill’s office, Earles pointed the loaded weapon at France and told him if it was all the same with Bill he’d like Martinsville to keep two race dates. France apparently quickly agreed that was a fine idea and thus avoided grievous personal injury. I don’t know if Brian France ever heard that story. I hope he has now. Among the core values of this sport is the fact Martinsville will have two race dates a year, just as it has from the beginning. Failure to heed that tradition could be hazardous to your health.

Martinsville owner Clay Earles found an unique way to ensure his track kept its two dates; will those threats hold now that the track is owned by ISC, or are Martinsville’s days of two races numbered?

Hmmm. First, ESPN tells us Jeff Burton grew up 53 miles from Martinsville. Then, they tell us Jeff Burton grew up “a half hour” from Martinsville. I guess Burton grew up a half hour away from Martinsville if you drive 106 miles per hour on public roadways.

I’ve been getting a ton of email asking me about the future of some teams (most notably DEI and RYR) in this troubled economy. The obvious concern is that in this screwed up economy there won’t be enough sponsors to go around. Let me try to refocus the issue. I love stock car racing. This is what I do. This is what I’ve done for a long time. I love this sport.

But I love this country as well. Everyone needs to take a deep breath and look at the big picture right now, not how some team is going to fare. As America heads for its most crucial election in six decades, you need to focus on your precious and inalienable right to vote paid for over these centuries with the sacred blood of our soldiers. You need to put aside past party affiliations and study long and hard what the two candidates for the presidency and their running mates have to say, so you can make an informed choice in what is shaping up to be a tight election. You need to look beyond the candidates’ age, the color of their skin, and their gender to make an informed choice. And you need to get out there that Tuesday and cast your vote. If America prospers as a nation, NASCAR will prosper as a sport. End of sermon…

Related to the above: It was hard not to notice that the race winning truck of new series points leader Johnny Benson ran at Martinsville minus sponsorship decals on the bed. And as the season winds down, it’s also troubling that no new series sponsor has been announced to replace Sears’ Craftsman brand of hand tools which has been with the Truck Series since its inception. Again, my concern is focused on the survival of American business from the big three automakers down to the corner hardware store I hang out at on Saturday mornings sipping Folgers with friends. But you might look at the Truck Series as the canary in the coal mine with future implications for the Cup Series. And that canary is looking a little punky right now…

A lot has been written (I know, I’ve written a lot of it) about how NASCAR is following down the same path as the Formula One series into mediocrity after its glory days. Both forms of the sport have seen the cost to compete rise exponentially, and both have seen the well-funded super teams dominate. Both forms of motorsport have also seen less side-by-side racing and passes for the lead. Fans of both forms of racing are growing impatient waiting for a return to better racing. But there is a key difference. Going into the season finale, the F-1 folks actually have a decent points battle going and the winner, might be the first black world champion in history.

You think the folks at ESPN/ABC are getting a bit panicky wondering how they can introduce a little artificial excitement into the “Race for the Chase” coverage with Johnson’s next title all but a foregone conclusion with four to go? Once again, Brian France’s brainstorm of an idea on how to crown a champion is exposed as congenital idiocy at its finest.

Some might feel that the current points standings mean a boring end to the season. I feel otherwise. Typically in our sport the best racing late in the season comes about after the championship is all but a done deal and the other drivers are just out there racing for pride with no worries about the points. These guys do know how to drive. That’s how they got to this level, and that’s how they keep their jobs. Now, the battle is to claim a little of the spotlight by winning races, with no quarter given and none asked. He might have been snakebit for the last month, but keep your eye on Kyle Busch, who has more than a little pride and a habit of letting the rough side drag. I bet he ignites some fireworks.

In one of the oddest sponsorship arrangements I can recall, the FCC sponsored David Gilliand at Martinsville. The FCC wants to remind folks that come February, TVs that only get over the air (rabbit ears) reception will go blank, and those fans who currently get over the air TV will need converter boxes to watch races…or even the evening news. In the current economy, I’m not sure that spending $350,000 dollars of taxpayer money is wise. I guess what NASCAR and the FCC really need to do is convince folks maybe next year Cup racing will be worth watching. For the record, Yates Racing gave the FCC a $100,000 dollar discount on the sponsorship. Considering most of us paid less than a hundred grand in federal taxes in the last five years, color me relieved. That leaves more of my hard-earned and hard-taxed dollars to pay for luxury junkets for top bank CEOs.

The Hindenburg Award For Foul Fortune

Jeff Burton’s chances at a good finish (and probably any shot at the title) evaporated on pit road. Burton missed his pit stall and the team pitted the car outside of the box, earning Burton a one lap penalty. But before anyone starts the latest conspiracy theory, no, I don’t think Jeff Gordon did it on purpose to help out teammate Jimmie Johnson.

Jamie McMurray had a solid Top 10 run going when he lost the rear gear in his Ford.

Kyle Busch’s floundering postseason kept right on coming. He blew numerous right front tires and, to add insult to injury, he was penalized two laps for stopping on the track to draw a caution. Am I missing something? Three cars blew front tires all but simultaneously, so the caution was going to fly, anyway.

It was yet another long, trying day for the Roger Penske organization this weekend.

The “Seven Come Fore Eleven” Award For Fine Fortune

Jimmie Johnson’s collision with the No. 21 car could easily have cut down his right front tire and dropped him laps off the pace.

Speaking of Bill Elliott and the Wood Brothers, did anyone else take note the lightly regarded outfit that the announcers all but wrote off before the race finished 16th? Making the run that much more astounding is that Elliott was always more of a threat on the big tracks than the bullrings, and the Woods used to skip the short track events in their glory days of campaigning with David Pearson (with Martinsville being the noticeable exception).

David Ragan had to start the race at the tail end of the field after an engine change prior to the race. With just three laps left in regulation, he was then spun (by his teammate, no less) but clawed his way back to a 13th place finish.

Matt Kenseth lost a lap early in the race and was forced to resort to risky pit strategy to get back towards the front. Despite an ill-handling car, though, he managed to hold onto a seventh place finish.

Given Carl Edwards’ record at Martinsville, a third place finish was almost as good as a win.

Dale Earnhardt, Jr.‘s day took a blow early in the race when he was penalized for speeding on pit road, dropping the No. 88 to 41st place on the track. To come back and finish second was a good day’s work.

Worth Noting

  • Johnson’s win was the 17th for Hendrick Motorsports at Martinsville. The organization’s first Cup win was also at this track with Geoff(rey) Bodine at the wheel.
  • Johnson has won four of the last eight Cup races, and finished in the Top 10 in all of them.
  • Dale Earnhardt, Jr.’s second place finish was his best since his win at Michigan way back when.
  • Prior to Sunday’s race, Carl Edwards’ average Cup finish at Martinsville was 19th. No wonder he was so pumped to finish third.
  • Jeff Gordon’s fourth place finish was just his second Top 5 result in the last eight Cup races.
  • Denny Hamlin (fifth) managed his first Top 5 finish of the Chase.
  • Casey Mears’ sixth place finish was his best since Sonoma and his second best of the season. It was also his first Top 10 result since the first Loudon race.
  • Matt Kenseth (eighth) finished a race for the first time in three weeks.
  • Martin Truex, Jr. (tenth) earned his first Top 10 finish since Loudon.
  • Brian Vickers’ 11th place finish was his best result since Michigan in August.
  • The Top 10 finishers at Martinsville Sunday drove seven Chevys, two Fords, and a Toyota. Juan Pablo Montoya in 14th was the top finishing Dodge pilot.
  • Sam Hornish, Jr. in 34th has the best finish of any of this year’s hapless crop of Rookie of the Year Candidates.

What’s the Points?

Jimmie Johnson retains the points lead. Greg Biffle took over second place in the standings (up from third) but he is now 149 points behind Johnson. In other words, Johnson could finish 38th in next week’s race and he’d still be leading the points.

Jeff Burton fell to third in the standings, 152 points behind Johnson. Carl Edwards, Clint Bowyer, and Kevin Harvick remain fourth, fifth, and sixth respectively.

Jeff Gordon wrested seventh in the standings from Tony Stewart, who is now eighth. Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Matt Kenseth, and Denny Hamlin each moved up a spot to ninth, tenth, and eleventh in the standings, respectively. After his right front tire problems, Kyle Busch fell three spots into the cellar of the Chase. This is the guy who won eight races this year, right?

David Ragan now leads Kasey Kahne by 146 points in the battle for the “Best of the Rest” category, 13th in the standings.

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 four cans of ice cold Colorado Kool-Aid. With the Chase all but decided, the best in the business can spend the rest of the season running for pride, which could make for some good racing.

Next Up: The series remains in the cradle of its birth, the Deep South, for a visit to Atlanta, the last track left in the Chase that dates back to the era of Richard Petty battling for titles. Atlanta has a long history of exciting races, including the 1992 season finale, the greatest race ever. Here’s hoping the Car of Sorrow doesn’t screw that up next Sunday.

Contact Matt McLaughlin

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marshall
10/20/2008 06:42 AM
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Ya gotta love those fake cautions . What a great way to manipulate a race .
Regarding the constant tire problems we’ve seen , the problems are always blamed on the weight of the cars and the narrow tire . And when wider tires are mentioned as the cure , the cars weight is used as the reason wider tires can’t be used .
Well then use a lighter car . NASCAR has the most overweight race cars in all of auto racing . Instead of the obscene weight they currently carry , why not a thousand pounds less , which would put them right in line with other full bodied race cars . Less weight means better fuel mileage ( another area NASCAR routinely ignores ) much better tire wear and far less heat related problems , and much easier to drive , making for better competition .

Douglas
10/20/2008 07:57 AM
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Quote from another article: “Sunday’s event will likely be best remembered for the multiple flat tires caused by melted beads. This, fortunately for Goodyear, has nothing to do with tire construction — but all to do with heat generated by brake rotors. At least half dozen drivers had flat right front tires because of melted beads on Sunday. Three drivers (Kyle Busch, Kurt Busch, and Tony Raines) had multiple flat tires because of this problem.”

AND I SHOUT! IT HAS EVERYTHING TO DO WITH THE SICK, VERY SICK, CoT!

But once again, if GOODYEAR cannot make a tire for the CoT, which it clearly cannot, then STOP SUPPLYING TIRES!

Then, and only then, will Brian and his band of phonies finally fess up that the CoT is not a proven race car, is not a good design, and is a travesty on the race track!

And, you fans are paying to help NA$CAR run a developmental series!

When will you learn?

john
10/20/2008 08:37 AM
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Sounds like decent racing overshadowed by the usual BS, I see. Glad I didn’t bother to watch.

I DID watch the Truck race though, and as usual it was the best race of the weekend and had the most twists and turns and shocking moments.

It angers me so much that Dodge and Ford are both pulling out of this series next year, and maybe no title sponsor—it’s THIS close to becoming the Toyota Tundra Series, as mentioned elsewhere. Since the late 90s it’s been the best stockcar racing in the country and consistently is more fun to watch than Cup. If it goes tits up there’s gonna be no good stockcar racing left to watch on TV except ARCA.

janice
10/20/2008 08:38 AM
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oh man…you missed the best part….besides jr finally outting the na$car fake cautions…i thought it was priceless when kurt busch was whining after the 3rd or 4th blown tire. he wanted to park the thing. his crew chief came on radio and said it’s your job, drive it. i loved that!!!!

don mei
10/20/2008 09:34 AM
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Its not that “the Chase” is so totally boring; no indeed! Its just that “Bowling for Dollars” is just so gosh darn exciting!!!

stan schmidt
10/20/2008 12:44 PM
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When will jeff gordon win another race? When he stops believing that his crew is doing a great job.

Mike
10/20/2008 12:49 PM
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“Dale Earnhardt finally just came out and admitted it..

Now we’ll see who’s d!@k is bigger – NASCAR’s or Jr’s. It took Tony Stewart a day to retract his comments about Good Year on his Sirius show. Wonder how long it will be before Jr retracts his statement!

Doug Scholl
10/20/2008 01:47 PM
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NASCAR always likes to say it doesn’t need any drivers, the drivers need them. I’d like to see them prove it and park JR and watch the fallout. And I’m a JR fan.

Señor Obvious
10/20/2008 02:09 PM
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Thank you for not calling the Englishman Hamilton an “African-American” as I’ve seen others trying to be oh-so-very-PC, which points to yet another problem with motorsports and some of its covering writers these days, do.

Woody
10/20/2008 03:24 PM
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Baby E shouldn’t talk about cautions.

He threw himself one last year.

john
10/20/2008 04:09 PM
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Señor Obvious:

lol african-american.

dawg
10/20/2008 06:46 PM
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If someone were to manage to pull a gun on this spoiled little rich twerp. He’s probably wet his pants.

yankeegranny
10/21/2008 09:06 AM
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I saw my first live martinsville race this weekend. The racing was fantastic. The parkeng and the facility were awful You could not give me tickets to such a non-fan-friendly place. I have been to Darlington, Charlotte and Richmond this year and can’t wait to go back.We’ll see all the races at these next year and replace Martinsville with Bristol.We need handicapped facilities and the parking on Sat was a sea of ankle-deep mud. On Sunday it was an uncut grass field on the side of a hill. I felt bad for myself trying to walk through that mess until I saw two people trying to walk down the hill pushing one of their children in a wheelchair. It was horrible. The only thing I can figure is the owners really want to take races away from the track. What a WONDERFUL idea. I don’t care how great the track is; if they don’t take care of their fans, they do not deserve the dates. Give another date to DARLINGTON, or give one to Rockingham, or Ky or Jr’s new track. I’ll watch Martinsville on TV, but I would never go back.Oh by the way, it took way over two hours to start moving cars out to the handicapped parking, take a right turn down around to track, past the participant parking and out to rt 220 in less than 10 minutes thanks to the sherriff’s deputies who seemed to be the only ones doing anything. Yes I was a really unhappy race fan.

Kevin in SoCal
10/21/2008 11:24 AM
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Marshall, you are familiar with physics, right? If the cars are lighter, then they will be faster. If the cars are faster, then NASCAR will have to use restrictor plates or tapered spacers at most of the Speedways to keep the speeds under 200 MPH. I dont think anyone wants that.

But, I think NASCAR was dumb to increase the weight of the new car from 3400 to 3450, AND to make the teams put that weight on the right side.

Patrick
10/21/2008 01:59 PM
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“Johnson has won four of the last eight Cup races, and finished in the Top 10 in all of them.”

Once again they didn’t qualify. Why not just cancel the rest of the races and hand Johnson the trophy. This year the “Chase” has been even more of a farce than usual. Johnson is Nascar’s poster boy. They don’t mind letting him start first and get the first pit stall.

jeff
10/22/2008 05:03 PM
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lol on the “african-american” comment … reminds me of an article i read once which said that nelson mandela was the first african-american president of south africa …