The Frontstretch: Matt McLaughlin's Thinkin' Out Loud: Shelby 427 by Matt McLaughlin -- Monday March 2, 2009

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Matt McLaughlin's Thinkin' Out Loud: Shelby 427

Matt McLaughlin · Monday March 2, 2009


The Key Moment: On lap 269, Kyle Busch nudged aside Clint Bowyer to take the lead. Busch, who had won the pole for the race, was forced to start out back after blowing an engine in practice — so the accomplishment is much more impressive than it will appear in the record books.

In a Nutshell: NASCAR wraps up its early season visit to the Mild, Mild West with another less than compelling race.

Dramatic Moment: Saturday’s Nationwide race might have been the most unpredictable event in recent NASCAR history. Sunday’s race? Well, at least it wasn’t as bad as Fontana last week… and more people were on hand to catch the mediocrity.

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

With the two tracks located so nearby geographically, why can Las Vegas draw more people for the Nationwide race than Fontana could for the Cup race and the Nationwide-Truck races combined? We’ll chat about this later in the week, gentle readers.

It can’t just be a coincidence. One of the chief charms of stock car racing is the unpredictability of the sport. What Sunday’s Cup race lacked in drama, the Nationwide race served up in spades, with cars in the lead pack spinning out on their own, missing pit road, running into each other, getting penalized on pit road for speeding… and missing lug nuts and more simple twists of fate than a year’s worth of Bob Dylan concerts. Can it be a coincidence that the Nationwide cars still mimic the pre-CoT entries in the Cup series? I don’t think so. Given that the Nationwide cars can now run the energy-absorbing door foam and the anti-intrusion panels that were the two biggest safety innovations NASCAR tried to sell as the reason for the CoT in the bigs, I’m more confused than ever as to why the Winged Blunders are competing on Sundays…

A couple more notes from Saturday’s bizarre Nationwide event: (click here for full analysis)
A) Greg Biffle’s team ran him out of gas late in the race, and Biffle fell almost two laps off the pace before rallying to win the event. It was just that sort of day.
B) Late race contact with the wall deprived him of a chance to contend for the win, but apparently we need to keep an eye on this Justin Allgaier kid. Roger Penske has found another diamond in the rough…
C) Want any more evidence that Sunday’s Cup winner spent the winter in extensive charm school training? Not only did he not tee off on Junior after the wreck at Daytona on Saturday, he accepted full responsibility for the wreck in the Nationwide race that sidelined him early in the event. That’s not the Kyle Busch that NASCAR fans love to loathe…

OK, color me confused. Why would a Cup race start with speedy dry all over the track in the entrance to pit road? That’s just sloppy.

Las Vegas might not have entered the list of NASCAR’s most cherished tracks yet, but give them this much; it’s been a long time since any race has had a cooler pace car than this weekend’s events. I know most consumers are in an uproar about fuel mileage and emissions — which has Ford in trouble — so in the interests of helping out the home team, I hereby offer a week’s paycheck for either one of those Shelby Super Snake Mustang pace cars. This is, after all, the first time I can remember when the pace car had more horsepower than the cars it paced.

With each passing day, it seems more likely General Motors might be forced into some sort of controlled bankruptcy. Company officials are fighting the idea, claiming such a move would cost GM a huge amount of its reputation, prestige, and pride. Well, here’s a news flash: a company that once produced the Pontiac Aztek and hump-backed diesel-powered Caddy Sevilles of the ’80s doesn’t have a whole lot of reputation, pride, and prestige left.

Last year, DuPont brought a total of 17,000 guests to hospitality events it hosted at every major Cup event all year long. This year, the company will host just 2,000 guests at six Cup events, a further sign of the belt-tightening in corporate America as the recession drags on. Do you figure the bloom is off the NASCAR rose? Gather ye rosebuds while you may, Old time is still a flyin’, And this same flower that smiles today, tomorrow will be dying…

I don’t want to be left out of the annual writer’s contest to see who can come up with the most tortured NASCAR gambling analogy when the circuit visits Las Vegas… so, here’s my take. With the Car of Horror and the Chase, Brian France stepped up to the roulette wheel to wager the entire France family fortune. He bet the bouncing ball would land on a purple number…

Has anyone else ever noticed that when Mike Bliss is upset, he talks and sounds like he’s reciting a Bob Dylan song? Listen to his interview after getting wrecked out of the Vegas Nationwide race. It’s positively eerie.

Count another American legend as a victim of this recession. Crane Cams, long a fixture and cherished provider to the hot rodding community, has apparently closed its doors, leaving 200 skilled employees out of work. I bought a Crane Cam for my first car, a ’70 Cobra Jet Mustang, and have bought about a dozen bump sticks from them over the years. The Crane Cams decal on my toolbox will always remain proudly in place.

The Hindenburg Award For Foul Fortune

The hype all this week concerned Matt Kenseth going for three straight wins to start the 2009 Cup season. But his race lasted two laps before the engine expired in the No. 17 car — leaving him dead last in the field.

If only Dale Jr. could convince Mike Helton to throw out his stopwatch whenever his car dives down pit road …

Dale Earnhardt’s pit road follies continued Sunday with a pit road speeding penalty. Earnhardt Nation is longing for the good old days when NASCAR would never dare penalize an Earnhardt for a rules infraction.

Pit road penalties and a late race wreck left Jimmie Johnson, who once had a dominant car, mired midpack — but what other driver would have been allowed to return to the track with the rear bumper supports dragging on the asphalt?

Tony Stewart’s Cinderella 2009 season hit a pumpkin moment, with Stewart finishing 26th and Ryan Newman 25th. That’s not going to help them find full-time sponsorship for Newman’s car.

Carl Edwards was running in the top 5 when his engine started laying down in the final laps of the race. He wound up 17th in the final rundown.

The “Seven Come Fore Eleven” Award For Fine Fortune

You have to figure that Kyle Busch was that pencil-necked geek in high school that was treated to regular scuba diving sessions in the toilet by bullies and turned down for more dates than the average guy — but he still won a race in his hometown despite that Ichabod Crane persona. It must be nice to tell every bully that ever victimized him and every girl that rejected his awkward advances, “Hey, I’m back and I’m a millionaire with a really hot girlfriend, even if she has the fashion sense of Charo. How do you like me now?” (With all due apologies to Toby Keith)

Jeff Gordon locked up his brakes and blew a tire coming onto pit road late in the race (while apparently trying to avoid his teammate Jimmie Johnson’s out of control car). The flat tire tore up the No. 24’s left front fender, but Gordon soldiered on to a sixth place finish that leaves him first in this year’s points standings.

Jeff Burton had to pit early, thinking he had a tire going flat… but he led a lot of the race en route to a third place finish. For RCR, which has had to play Vernon Dent to the Three Stooges (Roush, Gibbs, and Hendrick) this season, there has to be a sense of redemption — especially with Burton and Clint Bowyer running so well at times during the race.

Yates Racing wasn’t sure they were going to meet the answering bell this season, and Bobby Labonte was without a ride as late as January. For the team and driver to post a solid top 5 finish at Vegas after leading some laps is the sort of storyline usually reserved for Mickey Rooney movies. Sure, they have Roush-Yates engines in Labonte’s car; but that didn’t help Kenseth and David Ragan much, did it?

Worth Noting

  • No driver has managed to post top 10 finishes in all of this year’s three points-paying Cup events.
  • The top 10 finishers at Vegas drove four Chevys, three Fords, and three Toyotas. The top finishing Dodge pilot was Kasey Kahne in 11th.
  • Joey Logano’s 13th place finish was the best by a rookie at Las Vegas. The finish easily eclipsed Logano’s previous best Cup result of 26th last week. Sweet.
  • David Reutimann’s fourth place finish easily eclipsed his previous best Cup finishes of ninth at Fontana and Richmond last year.
  • It might seem Kyle Busch won everything but the Powerball lottery in 2008; but, in fact, Sunday’s victory was his first Cup triumph since Watkins Glen last August. On a brighter note, Busch has already won one race in each of this year’s top three touring series just three weeks into the season.
  • Clint Bowyer’s second place finish was his best since he won at Richmond almost a year ago.
  • Bobby Labonte’s fifth place finish was his best result since his fourth place run at Martinsville in the Fall of 2006.

What’s the Points?

Jeff Gordon leads the standings for the first time since the Atlanta Fall race in 2007. Gordon is ahead of second place Clint Bowyer by 18 points. Previous leader Matt Kenseth endured his 43rd place finish at Vegas to remain third overall, 40 points behind Gordon and tied statistically with Roush teammate Greg Biffle.

Several drivers overcame early season misfortunes to enter the top 12 this week. Kyle Busch rode his race victory to gain twelve spots in the standings, and is now bumped up to sixth. Bobby Labonte also gained twelve spots, and is now tenth in the points. David Reutimann gained seven spots to take over the fifth rung of the ladder, while Kevin Harvick gained five spots to enter the top 12 in 11th position.

On the flip side, Kurt Busch and Tony Stewart each lost four spots in the standings Sunday, and now find themselves seventh and eighth, respectively. Michael Waltrip clings to the 12th spot in the points, five positions down from last week and just eight points ahead of Kasey Kahne. Nah, nah, nah, nah, nah, nah, nah, nah, hey, hey, good-bye…

Three races into the season, if you’re sweating the points already, you must have been toilet trained in your first month of life. Repeat that classic bit of Bill Murray wisdom from “Meatballs” with me… “It just doesn’t matter!”

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 two cans of the generic stuff, served lukewarm by a bartender who looks like her face belongs on the Ten Most Wanted List at the Post Office.

Next Up: The circuit returns to its spiritual cradle, the Southeast, for a race in Atlanta. And here’s the novel part: the race will actually start in the earlier hours of a Sunday afternoon. What a concept! NASCAR and FOX might be on to something here.

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!

Doug in Washington (State)
03/02/2009 02:44 AM

Only a 2-can? Eastern Bias. If that race had been teleported to Charlotte it’d be a 4-can (OK, maybe 3). Plenty of passing. Comparatively. Of course that’s probably due to the record number of cautions bunching up the field. Like any other “intermediate” track when the runs got long the cars got strung out.

Carl D.
03/02/2009 06:34 AM

I’ll see your two cans of generic and raise you an ice cold Heineken just because I got to see Bobby Labonte get a top five. All in all, I didn’t think it was that bad a race. There was some side by side racing on occasion and few lead changes once Jimmy Johnson’s dominate ride got shuffled back and ultimately into the wall (The look on Chad Knaus’ face after JJ wrecked was priceless). And did I mention that Bobby Labonte finished fifth?

Bill B
03/02/2009 08:01 AM

Not sure about that 2 can rating, I gave it 4 just because a lot of stuff happened to make it interesting and the racing was pretty good compared to what we are used to.

03/02/2009 08:46 AM

wow, guess i saw a different race. i didn’t see much passing. i need to have a talk with dish as my service returned just at 3:30 pm (est) after being out all day due to heavy snow where i live (west of atlanta). i saw beginning of race, went and dealt with snow and then watched end of race. turned on periodically during the race was was unimpressed. does jr not pay attention when they’re running at pit road speed before the the race begins? i know he wasn’t only one busted for speeding, but he’s consistent. he’d 3 or 3 so far this year.

i still don’t get this starting time time…they say 3:30, race went green at 4:47. this coming week they say 1:30 pm…does that mean 2:30pm?

we’ve got some wacky weather planned for atlanta this week. still got snow on ground teen wind chills right now and spring warmth forecasted for end of the week. tickets are still available for the race, lots of advertising on tv yesterday.

Mike In NH
03/02/2009 08:55 AM

I thought it was a really good race. But did anyone expect Matt to give it a good score? C’mon.

Besides, folks, you don’t need to have someone else tell you whether a race is good enough, and you don’t need your opinion validated, either. You’re entitled to your own. That’s what makes America great! :)

03/02/2009 09:13 AM

For a modern race it was OK. If you want to compare it to the older races at Darlington/Rockingham/N Wilkesboro, it was a snoozer. Yeah, one can’t live in the past but lets not call this real racing either.

03/02/2009 09:39 AM

You can bash Waltrip all you want, but the fact is that he ran as well as Reutimann all day until his spin half way through the race. He still managed to finish within a few spots of our reigning champ and just behind Tony Stewart. Atlanta should bring another top 12 finish for both MWR cars. Bash away now because every week Michael remains in the top 12 the tougher it is going to be for you to discredit him.

03/02/2009 09:42 AM

Tony was running top 10 and top 5 all day long and Ryan was running in the top 15 for most of the day. Had they not had loose wheels they would have been just fine.

03/02/2009 09:48 AM

itsborken; Las Vegas is starting to remind me of Rockingham because… watching the lap times online, I noticed that every lap was slower than the previous as tires degraded (slower by a second within 20 laps), cars that didn’t have setups right bit the wall, odd components like transmissions and brakes were issues, and cars went down a lap easily on green flag runs; all attributes Rockingham was known for.

I thought the race was tremendous; gobs and gobs of passing although Fox failed to show the huge majority of the racing (they went to gopher cam and “speed shots” on restarts when most of the dicing was intense). I’ve learned to see what is really happening in Fox telecasted races, gotta open up the scoring link!

I see Matt’s being negative again although I’d like for him to show some evidence… i.e., direct comparisions to prior races to show dnf’s, yellows, passes, cars on the lead lap at the finish, and other meaningful, objective data rather than presenting the subjective, “I’m a grumpy ol’ timer” attitude. It takes no skill to write “it sucked” without comparing the race to a statistical standard. I remember reading Matt from years and years ago… back then, he could really write a race review!

I liked the race… better’n sitting in an unemployment line or studying my 401k statement!

Three distinct things seem to be different this year from last year, in my mind. A) The number of changed motors before the race and blown motors during the race has jumped tremendously! B) The number of pit infractions also has increased significantly, C) and last year, it seemed nearly impossible to spin the COT car out while this year, it’s biting rookies and veterans alike!

03/02/2009 10:09 AM

Once again , the value of having a radio next to the tv is priceless . Watching and listening to FOX will get you lots of inside jokes that no one cares about , Pre-school word usage and pronunciation , and the rather uncomfortable amount of breathless hero worship ( i fully expect a couple of FOX announcers to come out of the closet during one of these broadcasts ) aimed at a couple of drivers and a car owner .
Sadly we don’t have any choice when it comes to watching the races , but by muting the tv and listening to the MRN or PRN radio broadcasts , the races actually become interesting and informative again .

03/02/2009 10:17 AM

You can put lipstick on a pig, but it’s still a pig. I fell asleep during he pre-race, (thank God), watched the first 100 laps and fell asleep again. When I woke up I changed the channel. Just like Jr., I am 3 for 3 when it comes to falling asleep during the race. But I did get to see Waltrip get up into the marbles and wreck. That was the highlight of my day.

Matt is generous giving this race 2 cans.

03/02/2009 10:31 AM

Ya, it was a half-decent race, I had it on in the background while I did stuff. Just having some guys you don’t always see in the top 10 makes for an interesting race, and watching Rowdy cut through the field was cool.

Mark Martin blowing yet another engine was not cool though. I see he brought his luck with him to Hendrick. :(

03/02/2009 12:01 PM

I’m with ya, Janice. I tuned in at 4:30, no racing. I forgot about the race until about 9 p.m., when I tuned back over to FOX. It was over, but it sounds like I didn’t miss much. About like I expected for a cookie cutter track. Bobb, if it was only better than the unemployment line, it must have been pretty bad.

Kevin in SoCal
03/02/2009 12:55 PM

Matt said: “This is, after all, the first time I can remember when the pace car had more horsepower than the cars it paced.

Try Daytona, only a few years ago, when a new 505HP Corvette paced the field. However, that was a restricted-power race, so it probably doesnt count.

And as far as Las Vegas outselling Fontana, well duh. There’s nothing to do in Fontana but watch the race. In Las Vegas you go for the atmosphere and catch a race while you’re there. But you’ll never get ISC to give up a race date at ACS to SMI in Las Vegas. There would be a better chance of you giving a race west of the Mississsippi river a 5 can rating.

Bill B
03/02/2009 02:24 PM

Kevin in SoCal,
“There’s nothing to do in Fontana but watch the race.”

I disagree, there is no better place in the world to watch a gang fight or a good drive-by. Just kidding…LOL.

03/02/2009 04:45 PM

Im not a big Kyle Busch fan, but I had picked him to win the race in my pool, so that was pretty cool. As far as the race itself is concerned, I think it was probably the best and most competitive, I’ve seen LATELY.Lots of passing mid pack, but the cars in clean air tend to set sail. Hey, one good way to catch the race and only the race, find out when the green flag drops, and if you don’t want to watch the pre-race show, then don’t. I don’t usually, but I have the flu and it was either that or Hours on Hours of the Waltons that my wife recently purchased. LOL

03/02/2009 04:59 PM

Did anyone else notice, or did it seem like Darrell Waltrip was about to ask Kyle Busch on a hand holding date to the movies? Darrell again proves that bias has no place in reporting, he was blatant about Kyle and about little brother Mikey, who, by the way, is about to see his last minutes in the top 12, the top 25, and probably the top 35. Like a rock.

Master Braytak
03/02/2009 07:42 PM

I guess paying $400 a gallon for Chroma Base, $50 gallon for basemaker and $200 a gallon for clear is not enough to keep DuPont in the black anymore. I bet I can look forward to another price jump on refinish products from them. WhooHooo.

03/02/2009 11:47 PM

Who the hell is bob dylan? Also contrary to popular belief, the points are just as valuable now as they are in july/august.

Michael T.
03/03/2009 04:49 AM

Why do people come to these articles to brag that they DIDN’T watch the race? If you don’t like NASCAR racing anymore, stop going to NASCAR oriented websites. I couldn’t care less about baseball, but you don’t see me hitting up the forums talking about how boring the games are and that I watched a fraction of the game. Just watch ESPN Classic if you want to relive your glory days.

M. B. Voelker
03/03/2009 07:43 AM

I caught the ending of one of those classic races yesterday.

Talk about excitement! There were 2 cars on the lead lap at the finish and its possible that second place might have been able to see Big E as he took the checkers.

I’ve got to wonder what alternate reality the gripers and moaners were living in when the classic races I’ve seen were being run — with their 50% car attrition and winners by multiple laps.


Michael T.
03/03/2009 10:32 AM

I think it’s like high school. The more time passes, the more fun it was and the more popular you were.

Robert Eastman
03/03/2009 10:55 AM

Evidence suggests that NASCAR’s annual trek to Sin City is more about late-night parties and having fun, than it is about the job of racing. Neither drivers nor crews were immune from making bumbling, nonsensical-amateur hour mistakes. These highly skilled/highly paid professionals seemed to be tripping all over themselves. Was everyone hung-over, or just half asleep? Watching overpaid, pampered multi-millionare athletes screwing-up makes for great entertainment! (I think that maybe I’m just jealous!)

03/07/2009 03:29 PM

What, no mention of Jamie McMurray’s incredible save after being hit by Lagano? That was one of the finest bits of driving I’ve seen in a long time.