The Frontstretch: Matt McLaughlin's Thinkin' Out Loud : Dickies 500 by Matt McLaughlin -- Monday November 3, 2008

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Matt McLaughlin's Thinkin' Out Loud : Dickies 500

Matt McLaughlin · Monday November 3, 2008


The Key Moment – Carl Edwards soft-pedaled 113.5 miles out of a tank of gas to cruise across the finish line first at half throttle.

In a Nutshell – Edwards day-long domination forced his competitors to use risky strategy in the pits late in the race, but Edwards and the No. 99 bunch trumped them all with the riskiest strategy of them all at the end.

Dramatic Moment – Waiting to see if the No. 99 was going to run out of gas on the final two laps. Or, waiting to see if Texas Rangers were going to arrest David Gilliland for attempted murder after he wrecked the No. 42 car.

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

Well, I sure hope they aren’t talking about stock car racing Monday and Tuesday. This year’s presidential election is a crossroads for the greatest nation in the history of the world. Few will disagree with the fact things are pretty grim right now for most working class Americans, and our futures and the futures of our children are on the line. We have two compelling candidates with markedly different visions of how to straighten this mess out; and as is the case over the last couple of decades, we have a lot of negative disinformation spewed by both sides. It’s time for voters to sort through the wheat and the chaff and make an informed decision. Seven percent of voters still haven’t made up their minds, and the future of our country rides on the shoulders of those seven percenters. Study the issues. Make an informed decision. Then get out there and vote Tuesday. Our country has seen grim times before. We survived the Great Depression, the bombing of Pearl Harbor, and the tragedy of the morning of September 11th, 2001. And we’ll survive this mess as well, because this country’s greatest asset isn’t politicians; it’s the wisdom and resolve of the American people when the chips are on the table. If you don’t vote, don’t bitch. And as our friend Mr. Gump might add, “That’s all I’m going to say about that.”

What the devil was David Gilliland thinking knocking a competitor into the wall at a track where entrants flirt with 200 MPH all day? If they need to make room for Paul Menard at Robert Yates Racing next year, I have a suggestion.

You think the NASCAR officials are going to be having a real close look at the fuel cell in the No. 99 car after the race? There’s good gas mileage, there’s great fuel mileage, and then there’s Junior Johnson fuel mileage.

Racing is a fickle business. Because it worked out, Bob Osborne’s strategy for the No. 99 team looks brilliant in retrospect. Had Edwards run out of gas and fallen back into a twenty something-th finishing spot, though, he would have looked like the biggest dope ever to walk pit road for giving away a shot at the title.

The surprise ending perked things up a bit, but there’s no denying that the first four-fifths of the Texas race was putrid and utterly lacking in any redeeming social value. That was about as bad as it gets.

Be it herein resolved — no stock car race should end after 7 PM EST unless it was planned as a night race. These late race day starts wear at even a patient man’s soul. Oh, and before the clocks are set back an hour and flocks of noisy Canada geese fly south over the multi-hued autumnal skies of the northeast, the stock car racing season should be over. We hold these truths to be self-evident.

Texas track promoter Eddie Gossage could probably sell a cup of water to a drowning man, but it was hard not to notice (once again) huge blocs of empty seats in the stands Sunday. Whether it’s the economy, the price of gas, or the lack of exciting racing, I don’t know; but clearly, Houston (and Dallas/Fort Worth), we have a problem. If this keeps up, soon Carl Edwards will be able to thank the fans who showed up at the race by name.

Even the once free-dealing, hog-wild, spend your way to success world of the NASCAR garage area isn’t immune from the current economic crisis. Unable to find adequate sponsorship for two teams next season and having lost two million dollars in each of the last two years, JR Motorsports is cutting back to a single team in the Nationwide series for 2009 with a part-time second team running select races with various drivers. In a nutshell, that means massive layoffs at the shop. Let me ask you this: if Dale Earnhardt, Jr. — the most visible and popular driver in the sport — can’t attract sponsorships for his team, how are the full-time Nationwide owners going to fare?

Speaking of Junior, he went on the record this week as saying the Cup season is too long, and that, combined with the later start times for this series of races, is diminishing fans’ interest in the sport. He also admitted the changes in the sport are motivated by greed and some folks wanting to milk every dollar they can out of NASCAR. Meanwhile, in Daytona Beach, Emperor Brian keeps right on playing his fiddle as Rome burns.

With two races left to run, Johnny Benson leads Ron Hornaday by six points in the championship standings in the Truck Series. Of course, the Truck Series uses the old points system. Under the Chase system, the Cup points race is… well, um, a little bit more spread out than that. As our buddies at FOX might say, “We report… you decide.”

Kyle Busch can be pretty contemptible at times, but we have to give credit where credit is due. On Saturday, when he tied Sam Ard’s record for wins in NASCAR’s AAA (Once Grand National, then Busch, and currently Nationwide) Series, Busch announced he was giving a hundred thousand dollars of his winnings to Sam Ard. Ard is currently battling Alzheimer’s disease and is in serious financial trouble. Newer fans might not have ever heard of Sam Ard, but in his day Ard was an almost unstoppable force in the Saturday series. He won 22 races and two championships in just three brief years on the circuit before devastating injuries in a wreck at Rockingham ended his racing career. Prior to that dehabiliating wreck, Ard had posted Top 5 finishes in 24 of 27 races, and had missed the Top 10 just once. He’d won five of the last six races in the 1983 Busch season. At his best, Ard beat them all, including a fellow by the name of Dale Earnhardt on several occasions — most notably at Charlotte in 1983. As Ard’s health has begun to fail, several other drivers have contributed to helping his needs, most notably Kevin Harvick.

If you wish to contribute any amount, no matter how small, contributions can be sent to:

Sam Ard Care Fund
Account # 68212-03
Carolina Trust Federal Credit Union
P.O. Box 780004
Myrtle Beach, SC 29578

Think about it. You can donate to a big charity that will eventually filter down through layers of management to do some good, or you can write a small check that will help put food on a man’s table this week and help pay the slab fee for his double-wide this month.

With debacles like this year’s Brickyard 400 still fresh in our minds, there have been a lot of calls to adopt taller and wider tires that might hold up better under the strains of the Car of Sorrow. NASCAR official John Darby, who apparently didn’t get the memo about the urgency of the situation, went on record as saying any such changes are at least five years down the road. I have a one word response to that: “Unacceptable.” If we are indeed stuck with this pig in a poke of a race car, we need to rapidly develop a tire that can live under the strain of those mulish pigs. Other people seem to get it. Bruton Smith, who has to sell a lot of tickets to keep his empire afloat, said simply, “We have to constantly make the sport better for the fans. If we do that, then it’s better for everybody. It’s better for me, it’s better for the sponsors, and it’s better for NASCAR. That’s what we ought to do. Make the product better, and the fans will beat a path to your door.” Don’t you wish on Tuesday, race fans could also cast their ballot deciding if Smith or current NASCAR management would lead this sport into the future?

Bobby Hamilton, Jr. finished sixteenth in Saturday’s Nationwide race at Texas. That might not sound remarkable, but what is notable is Hamilton wrote a $380,000 check out of his personal account to keep his struggling team competing in the final three Nationwide races of the season. In addition to keeping Hamilton in a ride, that keeps Team Rensi team members employed for the rest of the year. If I were a potential sponsor, I’d take a look at the fact a driver believed enough in his team to lay out his own money rather than just accepting a paycheck, and I’d think there’s a driver and a team I can count on to maximize my investment.

It was hard to miss the sarcasm in Kurt Busch’s thumbs up approval of the new Dodge power plant as his stricken car sat parked in the garage area. My guess is that Busch and Penske are going to agree by mutual consent to part ways soon.

Congratulations to Lewis Hamilton, this year’s Formula One champion. Hamilton is the youngest driver ever to claim that title, and the first black driver to win this coveted honor. How tight was the championship chase? Hamilton won the title on the final corner of the final lap of the final race of the season, and the margin was a single point. To paraphrase a line from “When Harry Met Sally,” can we have some of what they’re having?

I’ll touch on driver’s personal lives only carefully and playfully. Admittedly, though, when I heard Carl Edwards is now engaged to a former classmate and a licensed physician, my first reaction was “Days of Thunder – Part Deux.” I’m seeing a potential situation comedy here, as a former substitute teacher and NASCAR star marries a pretty physician. They and their pet duck move to their dream home in the upscale suburbs of Charlotte, only to find there’s a fly in the ointment: their next door neighbor is Kyle Busch! OK, so it’s a lame idea for a sitcom, but it has to be better than Cavemen, right?

It was kind of hard not to notice that the ticker of one of the channels owned by “The Worldwide Leader in Sports” mistakenly noted Lewis Hamilton had won the Brazilian Grand Prix all afternoon with nobody catching the error. Hamilton won the title, but Felipe Massa of Ferrari won the race.

Yep, she’s a Gordon. One-year-old Ella Gordon carefully pointed to key sponsor patches on her Daddy’s uniform during his pre-race interview. Just wait until this little charmer can talk!

The Hindenburg Award For Foul Fortune

Juan Pablo Montoya had a solid Top 10 run going (again) when Gilliland’s punkish display of bad temper ended both their days. Montoya and his team have been running better lately, but he’s failed to finish four of the last six races.

Dale Earnhardt, Jr.’s team decided to gamble on fuel mileage as well, but the gamble came up short when Junior was forced to limp into the pits out of third place and out of gas. The No. 88 car wouldn’t refire at first, and that dropped Earnhardt to a twentieth place finish in the final rundown.

With no Top 10 finishes since his surprising Talladega win, it’s no wonder Tony Stewart looks to be packing it in at this point in the Chase.

Right now, it appears the No. 20 team and Tony Stewart are just coasting out the waning weeks of their relationship.

The “Seven Come Fore Eleven” Award For Fine Fortune

I simply can’t believe Edwards made it that distance on a single tank of gas, even if RVs leaving the infield early were passing him during the final laps of the race.

After winning the pole, Jeff Gordon sank back through the field and fell a lap off the pace. But superior fuel mileage allowed Gordon to coast home second, matching his best ever effort at this track scored way back in 2002.

Jamie McMurray finally managed to put one in the bank after several weeks of strong runs with a third place finish.

David Reutimann ran even better than his eventual tenth place finish indicates.

It was a pretty good weekend for Jack Roush, with all five of his Cup drivers finishing eleventh or better at Texas.

Worth Noting

  • For the fourth year in a row, the winner at Atlanta in the Fall went on to win the Texas Cup race the following weekend.
  • Carl Edwards has matched Kyle Busch’s season high total of victories this year with eight. While it’s hard to imagine two more different drivers, they share this much in common – neither is going to win this year’s Cup title. Edwards has finished first, second, or third in six of this year’s eight Chase races.
  • Johnson’s fifteenth place finish was his worst since Bristol in August.
  • Still winless, Jeff Gordon finished second for the second time this season.
  • Jamie McMurray’s third place finish was his best of the season, and his best Cup result since he won at Daytona last July.
  • Clint Bowyer’s fourth place finish was his best result in this year’s Chase.
  • Greg Biffle (fifth) managed his first Top 5 result in the last five races.
  • David Ragan (eleventh) hasn’t finished worse than eleventh in the last six races. Boy Howdy! I remember last year when it would have been notable that Ragan finished six straight races without wrecking himself and half the field.
  • Marcos Ambrose’s 21st place finish was his best Cup result on an oval track.
  • Brad Keselowski’s nineteenth place finish easily eclipsed either run by “Sliced Bread” Logano in the Cup Series to date. Yeah, yeah, I know: Keselowski isn’t eighteen. That’s my point.

The Top 10 finishers at Texas drove four Fords, four Chevys, and a pair of Toyotas. The best finishing Dodge pilot was Sam Hornish, Jr. in 23rd. Hornish was also the top finishing Rookie of the Year candidate at Texas.

What’s the Points?

Mr. James Johnson currently leads the Cup standings by 103 over Carl Edwards, and would request the honor of your presence at his coronation as a three-time Cup champion in New York the first Friday night of December, 2008. RSVP.

All drives from eighth place Matt Kenseth on back are now mathematically excluded from this year’s title, presuming Johnson starts the next two Cup races. If Johnson finishes seventh or better in the next two Cup races, the title is his.

Greg Biffle remains third in the standings, 140 points out of the lead. Jeff Burton remains fourth, 212 points behind, meaning that even if Johnson finishes last at Phoenix and Burton wins the race after having led the most laps, he could not leave next week’s race with the points lead.

Jeff Gordon moved up a spot in the standings to fifth. Clint Bowyer moved up a spot to sixth. Kevin Harvick yielded two positions to the above drivers to find himself seventh in the standings. And in their ongoing see-saw battle, Matt Kenseth now has the advantage over Tony Stewart for eighth.

Fitting for Halloween weekend, “The Thing That Came from the Cellar” Kyle Busch advanced two spots to tenth. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. fell a spot to eleventh, which is a Nightmare on Elm Street for promoters trying to sell tickets to the next two Cup races. Denny Hamlin rounds out the Chasers in twelfth.

Further back, David Ragan now has a 263-point lead over Kasey Kahne in the battle for the less-than-coveted thirteenth finishing position in the points.

Overall Rating (On a scale of one to six beer cans, with one being a stinker and a six pack an instant classic) — I’ll give this one a single can of skunked Lone Star. Despite the bizarre finish, it’s hard to ignore the first two and a half hours of the race were a processional parade, with polite distances between the lead lap drivers circling the track just wishing the day was over if they weren’t in the seat of the No. 99 car.

Next Up – By the time I get to Phoenix, I’ll just be wishing this whole sorry excuse of a season was over; but we’ve got two more weeks before it draws to its long overdue conclusion.

Contact Matt McLaughlin

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11/03/2008 08:13 AM

Glad I wasn’t only one that felt that way. I watched the first few laps, turned race back on at 6:15 pm est. Just could not get into it. I was really surprised the mystery debris caution wasn’t thrown to tighten up the field mid-race to break up the napping of the fans.

Jr sure is making some waves lately. I’m waiting til NA$CAR tells Hendrick to muzzle him.

And for as much as I dislike him, I was happy to read that Shrub was donating $100,000 to Sam Ard. Maybe shrub is trying to show fans that he does have a heart and respect for the history of the sport.

Tommy T
11/03/2008 08:16 AM

How long before Logano goes from “Sliced Bread” to “Blogano” if he keeps finishing like that? This might be the best thing for him – at least next year no one will be expecting him to part the Red Sea right away.

11/03/2008 08:35 AM

For the second straight season, Formula 1 has been more exciting and more interesting than the Cup series (although the Craftsman Truck Series has been better than both)… This last race of the F1 season was absolutely mind-blowing, with more competitive passing than the last three Cup races (I’m exagerrating I’m sure, but it definitely felt that way)… and the championship came down to the last turn of the last lap. Anguish, heartache, celebration and triumph all in the span of a few minutes. It was amazing. And we definitely have a future star in Sebastien Vettel to watch.

5 years to come up with a new tire—are you SHITTING ME? Bridgestone and Michelin at times have developed whole new tires for indivudual RACES. DROP GOODYEAR NOW. Go back to Hoosier for god’s sake.

Bill B
11/03/2008 10:00 AM

Every time the race and possible championship repercussions got interesting NASCAR threw a debris caution.
I still think JJ has it pretty well locked up. The only thing that has changed is that now he only has to have a finish outside the top 20 vs. a finish of 40 to make the championship race very close (assuming Carl does well).
Another 1.5 mile track where whoever got out front looked like superman while those in the pack (and dirty air) looked like they were crap. This COT has really fixed the aero dependence.

Jeff G
11/03/2008 10:35 AM

like janice, i’m not a KB fan, but what he did was great.
i saw sam ard race often back in the late 60’s and early 70’s. my uncle and i saw him almost every saturday night at south boston speedway.

we met him many times in the pits. he was (is) a really nice guy.

i’m sending a check out today. i hope others will also.

11/03/2008 11:08 AM

I don’t think the gift to Sam Ard was out of character for Kyle Busch . I just don’t think the fans know very much about his real character .

I never for a moment thought there was anyone involved with auto racing that was more clueless than Brian France . But i stand corrected . John Darby is the biggest blowhard in all of racing . His statement about increased tire sizes in NASCAR should go into the history books . In actual fact , Goodyear , the wheel manufacturers , and the brake manufacturers would be able to adjust to new tire sizes in a matter of weeks . Maybe Darby has given all of us a clue as to why the sport is in a steep downhill slide . Maybe because a dim bulb like him is in charge .

11/03/2008 12:03 PM

While the idea of taller &/or wider tires sounds intriguing, is there any estimate of how many extra pounds would result? These crew guys are already speed demon monsters toting what they’ve got around the cars & then lifting & bolting them while down on their knees. How many more pounds would they be lugging? Are they going to ‘roid up the handle the extra weight while still being held to a 14 second stop expectation?

Brent S
11/03/2008 12:29 PM

It is interesting to note that under the ‘old’ points format that Edwards would be 21 points behind Johnson following the Texas race.

Kevin in SoCal
11/03/2008 12:47 PM

If Dale Jr wants to (wuss) out and say the season is too long, he can go race the Truck Series, and the Pied Piper can take his fans with him. Good Riddance!

John, it doesnt take 5 years for Goodyear to develop a bigger tire. John Darby is saying it would take 5 years for NASCAR to research it and develop the best tire size to go with the new car, along with the appropriate rim size and brake caliper size to match.

edited by Ren for language.

11/03/2008 01:17 PM

i was trying to remember how many points roush got fined this year for that oil tank issue. how ironic if that’s the amount that would have lead carl to his first championship. roush seems to have luck like that all the time.

Jow Wright
11/03/2008 01:47 PM

John Darby did have a lot of respect when he was over at the Busch garage. But seems like even the best of them get corrupted at the Cup level—corrupted or go into permanent Brain Fade [(BF) aka Brian France—take your pick.]

This season has been punctuated by great runs of Kyle Busch and Carl Edwards and the further bullet-proofing of JJ/Knaus. In that way the season has been good. But for the most part it has looked like a dog race, let the rabbit run and the greyhounds chase it (aka CoT racing).

One more season like this one (and all cards point to it by NA$CAR not tinkering with the CoT) and there will be more empty seats in 2009 than ever before. My guess is that the economy will only be slightly better by spring so most fans will just save their money instead of buying tix to lackluster races. And the TV ratings? Well most people by 2009 would rather watch paint dry or TV poker games than turn on to NA$CAR at its finest. I like to see the glass half full but I am afraid NA$CAR has seen a better day. KevinSoCal, Dale Jr. is right, greed is parly to blame for NA$CAR’s demise. They sucked the life out of this thing with the greed. I have been saying it for a long time. And by the way, why don’t you strap yourself in one of the Cup cars and think “pussies”…Betcha you would soil your pannies if you were in a car for 10 laps, much less 334 with 43 other cars. None of these guys are “pussies” in these cars. Some are racers and some are drivers and some are better than others, but no “pussies” in Cup. Doesn’t happen.

11/03/2008 02:16 PM


great. That’s complete garbage. Zero reason whatsoever for it to take more than a couple months worth of testing. Any other company would have it done in time for next season.

11/03/2008 03:39 PM

@Janice…the number of points the 99 was penalized for the oil cover issue was of little consequence since the points were re-set going into the Chase. The only thing they really lost was the 10 bonus points for the win. If they finish 2nd in the Chase by less than 10 points though…

Señor Obvious
11/03/2008 03:42 PM

Tire management? Anyone? Manage you tires?

NASCAR has always used narrower tires than a good amount of the other auto racing sanctioning bodies’ series. If your tire is wearing out too fast, slow down. That will solve it. If you want to gamble on being the blown tire that brings out the yellow then drive as hard as you want.

Don’t blame Goodyear. It’s not their fault. And don’t take Tony Stewart’s word for anything. He’s way to high strung to take seriously just after a race.

11/03/2008 03:55 PM

sojerseygirl –

that’s right. i forgot. oldtimer’s disease and a busy monday.


11/03/2008 04:04 PM

greed..yep…na$car sold the boom of the 90’s and the tracks invested money in building more and more seats and adding amenities because tracks that have multiple race dates were all but told if you don’t improve your facilities we’ll take a race from you.

i guarantee you north wilkesboro would not have any problem selling out a cup date!

i know here in georiga, the end of sept through oct you have 4 races that are within 1000 miles of atlanta, or a 2 hr plane ride. i use to go to 3 of them. none this year. i just laugh myself silly at ams for getting rid of the weaver section (cheap seats) and building more suites and “club” levels. this past fall race, they were pleading with people to buy tickets and you’d be upgraded. guess the “if you build it they will come” mentality is a thing of the past.

Kevin in SoCal
11/03/2008 04:05 PM

I didnt say Dale Jr was a (sissy) compared to me. I said he was a (sissy) compared to the other drivers.

edited by Ren for language. Kevin, don't make me pull this website over.

11/03/2008 04:05 PM

isn’t texas one of the tracks that have the psl you have to renew just to be able to purchase tickets?

11/03/2008 10:45 PM

He may be a shrub, but on this occasion he’s a Rose Busch. I’m glad that he made the announcement in Victory Lane. The plight of some of the drivers who built this sport needs to be made public. If NA$CAR won’t help, someone needs to. Ard’s story isn’t the only one.

11/03/2008 11:02 PM

“ Don’t you wish on Tuesday, race fans could also cast their ballot deciding if Smith or current NASCAR management would lead this sport into the future? “


And Jr. is right. Remember that he’s also said that some races need to be shorter.

Of course, I already shorten the season for myself… I never watch california, pocono, most 1.5 mile tracks, and I haven’t watched a single chase race this year. And I didn’t miss much did I?

Oh, and just how long was the COT in development anyway?

11/04/2008 03:17 AM

Kids, Nascar has to look at the V8 Supercars that race in Austrailia. It is stock cars with doors, lights, wipers, no rainouts, LARGE WHEELS and tires, V8 sequential shifting, air jack under the car, one large wheel nut, pit stops 4 tires and gas 8 seconds, electronic speed limiter so there is no speeding in the pits. Mr. France and Mr. Darby do not have to think. Just watch it and you have the “old” Nascar back.