The Frontstretch: Matt McLaughlin's Thinkin' Out Loud: Martinsville Spring Recap by Matt McLaughlin -- Monday March 30, 2009

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Matt McLaughlin's Thinkin' Out Loud: Martinsville Spring Recap

Matt McLaughlin · Monday March 30, 2009


The Key Moment: Jimmie Johnson ran down Denny Hamlin with fifteen laps to go. He then moved the No. 11 car aside, with both cars getting sideways and smoking the tires before Johnson pulled ahead to take the lead.

In a Nutshell: There’s nothing so wrong with the new NASCAR racing the sport’s oldest race track can’t fix it. Cars and drivers running side by side and nose to tail? Can I get a hallelujah, brothers and sisters?

Dramatic Moment: In addition to the key pass for the lead, mention must be made of Denny Hamlin’s kamikaze lap 455 pass on Johnson going into turn one on a restart. That was classic stuff, the likes of which we don’t see often enough in this era of points racing.

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

Some of the best racing of the day involved a four way battle for the lead around lap 350. That great run was ended when the caution was thrown once some numbskull I won’t call a fan tossed a can of Coors Light out on the track. Thanks for ruining it for the rest of us, moron.

Maybe that chat Rick Hendrick had with Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and Tony Eury, Jr. on Wednesday yielded some quick dividends? There’s a reason Hendrick has been winning races in motorsports’ toughest arena for the last 25 years while other teams have fallen by the wayside in hard times.

In just another sign of the changing times, the Wood Brothers didn’t enter a car at Martinsville for the first time since 1953, well before even Mark Martin was born. The Wood Brothers had always considered Martinsville their home track, and ran there even during those seasons with David Pearson where they focused their attention on the superspeedways. Some say change is inevitable… but nobody can tell me I have to like it.

If NASCAR is bound and determined to stick with the new cars, maybe we can change over to a season that runs all 36 races at Martinsville?

A once extinct species is apparently making an unexpected comeback in these tough economic times. Some NFL stadiums will be reintroducing the dollar hot dog this year to try to lure more fans to the stands by reducing the overall cost of attending a game. Could the dollar dog make a comeback at NASCAR tracks, venues where it hasn’t been sighted since the early eighties? If it does happen, you can bet it won’t be at an ISC track (although a Martinsville hot dog remains just two dollars). Now, if someone would reintroduce the dollar 12 ounce Cup of cold beer…

Call it a Freudian slip. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. was quoted this weekend saying that racing at Martinsville was a headache and a pain in the butt at the same time. For most of us, those two areas of discomfort are separated by at least several feet.

It was a good day for Rick Hendrick, who celebrated his team’s first win 25 years ago with another trip to Victory Lane Sunday at Martinsville. To top it all off, each of his four drivers finished in the top 10.

Exactly 25 years ago on Sunday, Rick Hendrick enjoyed his first Cup victory as a team owner when Geoff (pre-Geoffrey) Bodine won at Martinsville. Hendrick was not at the track that day, as he was attending church services, but was glad to be in attendance Sunday for career victory No. 176. Remember that while Martinsville has been the scene of numerous triumphs for Hendrick — particularly with Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon as of late — it was also the scene of his greatest tragedy. Mr. Hendrick lost his son, two nieces, a brother, and other employees / friends in a plane crash outside of Martinsville in 2004.

As a devout fan of this sport’s rich history which far too many fans know far too little about (one day, I will find a way to convince this site’s editors to let me re-run the history series I wrote back in 1998), it was nice to see Geoff Bodine back at the track and getting some recognition for his breakthrough win for the Hendrick organization — even if he was wearing a fruity hat. But it’s sad nothing was said of the veteran crew chief, Harry Hyde, who called the shots for Bodine’s historic win. Hyde was an irascible old dude who shot from the hip, the main reason why, despite their success, Hyde and Bodine never got along. It took until 1986, when Hendrick moved Hyde over to call the shots for Tim Richmond in the Folgers car, for Harry to finally get his moment in the sun. The two men were polar opposites, but they made their peace and went on to win seven races, contending for that year’s title late in the season in an era when men were men and racing was racing.

Tim Richmond is now finally getting some of the respect he deserves with the yellow journalism that labeled him a murder suspect long since debunked. This year, an ARCA event is named in his honor, and I’m told that the Pocono race track where Tim enjoyed such success has some special things in store to honor Richmond this June 7th, which would have been Tim’s birthday. That’s great, and it’s long overdue. For years, people have been debating whether Jeff Gordon (and by association, Jimmie Johnson) would ever have gotten a shot at HMS if it wasn’t for Tim Richmond. Folks can go on debating it forever, but let there be no doubt; if there was no Harry Hyde, Hendrick Motorsports would never have survived or possibly even gotten off the ground. As my Irish ancestors might say, Good on ya, Harry and Godspeed. I bet you’re sitting atop the No. 25 team’s pit box at whatever short track lays beyond those Pearly Gates.

There’s no doubt that technological excess has compromised the competition in Formula One racing, but a new rule in that series this season fascinates me. This year, the teams may use what the Grand Prix folks are calling the KERS system, which basically uses wasted energy from braking to either power up a battery system that powers an add on electric motor in the cars or a flywheel that stores the energy. We’re talking a Prius on steroids here. Packaging the battery motor (and in this case it genuinely is a motor, not an engine) is a challenge because of the additional weight of the components. All F1 cars must meet a minimum weight standard, but the weight of the batteries and motor gives the team less ability to distribute ballast weight where it can best be used to improve handling. Rules mandate that the electric engines most teams using KERS systems have adopted be limited to 80 horsepower. As with any new technology, there are safety concerns about the batteries and the electrical system, not only for the drivers strapped into the cars but for the fire and rescue crews that might have to respond to a wreck involving a KERS-equipped car.

Still, it occurs to me if the F1 folks can adopt and perfect such a system for their lightweight open wheel cars, it ought to be a piece of cake to add such a system to a vastly heavier and full-fendered Cup car. At a brake-intensive track like Martinsville, that added power would probably make for exciting new race strategies. Add in the idea of appeasing environmentalists who take a dim view of auto racing to begin with, and this looks like a win/win situation from where I sit.

Did anyone else feel seeing Jeff Hammond eat a hot dog smacked of cannibalism?

The Hindenburg Award For Foul Fortune

Denny Hamlin seems to be able to lead a lot of laps and lead races late without ever sealing the deal. Kudos to Hamlin for his classy post-race comments, though.

After starting the season hotter than the Fourth of July, Matt Kenseth just can’t seem to get out of his own way lately. A pit road penalty for a runaway tire just added to his misery.

The race might have been powered by the Home Depot (FOX’s way of ignoring race sponsor Goody’s for not buying ads during the race broadcast) but Joey Logano was pretty much deflowered by the tricky track on his first visit here in a Cup car.

Kyle Busch is hardly the humblest guy in the series, but he freely admitted entering this weekend that he can’t run worth a lick at Martinsville. Sunday’s race offered ample evidence that was the case.

Problems on pit road sent Carl Edwards back deep into the pack, where incidental contact cut down his left rear tire and ended the day for the only Ford entry that seemed competitive.

Considering how many times he went into the spin cycle at Martinsville, Robby Gordon might want to seek sponsorship from Maytag.

The “Seven Come Fore Eleven” Award For Fine Fortune

Jeff Gordon’s winless streak continues, but he did score another solid top 5 finish. To do so, he had to avoid the stricken cars of Elliott Sadler and Aric Almirola as they dove for the pits with flat tires.

Martinsville is Mark Martin’s least favorite track, and Martin was forced to start 31st Sunday after qualifying was rained out Friday. To rally back to a solid and competitive top 10 finish had to be a morale booster for a No. 5 team which has clearly been struggling this season.

Ryan Newman’s year is off to a less than stellar start, but a sixth place finish gives the No. 39 team something to build on.

Clint Bowyer’s efforts could have been done in early after contact with the No. 55 car bent up his right front fender, but he persevered to finish fifth.

In addition to a great race, NASCAR fans got to cheer the second consecutive FOX pre-race show without a Digger and Friends animated segment. Now, if they’d just get rid of the other rodents in the Hollywood Hotel, FOX might really be onto something.

It’s not NASCAR-related, but Brawn Racing became the first F1 team to sweep the top two spots at a Grand Prix in their debut race since 1954, when the incomparable Juan Manuel Fangio at the helm of the Mercedes streamliner took the win in the French Grand Prix. Of course, there’s still the possibility that the win Sunday in Australia will be overturned given some protests of the Brawn cars’ rear diffusers. I hate it when race results get decided in a courtroom rather than on a race track…

Also not NASCAR-related, but cheers to the folks of Fargo, North Dakota and surrounding towns along the Red River who took matters into their own hands under brutal conditions to erect those sandbag walls and save their own towns rather than waiting for the federal government to ride in and save the day. There’s a lesson there for the rest of us.

Worth Noting

  • Jimmie Johnson’s win was the first victory for Chevrolet in 2009. Chevys dominated the top 10 finishing positions, in fact, claiming seven of those spots to leave room for just one pilot each out of the Ford, Dodge, and Toyota camps.
  • Joey Logano was the top finishing rookie of the race way back there in 32nd, four laps off the pace.
  • Johnson has now strung together three consecutive top 10 finishes.
  • Denny Hamlin finished second for the second week in a row. He also led more than 75 laps in a Cup event for the first time since Richmond last Spring.
  • Tony Stewart’s third place finish was his first top 5 result of 2009 and his best finish since he won at Talladega last autumn.
  • Jeff Gordon (fourth) now has five consecutive top 10 finishes this season. His 13th place finish in this year’s Daytona 500 is the only anomaly on his record to date.
  • Ryan Newman’s sixth place finish matches his best result since last year’s Bristol night race.
  • Dale Earnhardt, Jr. (eighth) enjoyed his best finish of the season.
  • Michael Waltrip’s 13th place finish was his best on a non-plate track since Dover last Fall.
  • Kyle Busch’s 24th place finish was his worst since the Daytona 500.

What’s the Points?

Jeff Gordon retains the points lead and is now 89 ahead of second place Clint Bowyer, who bypassed Kurt Busch to take over the runner-up slot.

Jimmie Johnson had the best day in the points (winning races will do that for a fellow), moving up five spots to fourth in the standings. Denny Hamlin also had a good points day, moving up three spots to fifth.

Meanwhile, Carl Edwards and Kasey Kahne took it on the chin at Martinsville, falling three spots each in the standings to wind up eighth and ninth, respectively. All drivers from eighth place Edwards on back are already more than a full race’s worth of points out of the lead.

Despite winning the first two races of the season, Mart Kenseth fell two more spots to 12th in the standings. Jeff Burton finds himself knock, knock, knockin’ on Heaven’s Door and a top 12 points position after moving to 13th, just seven points behind Kenseth.

Other drivers making notable forward progress at Martinsville include Dale Earnhardt (up three spots to 16th), Michael Waltrip (back up four spots to 17th), and Ryan Newman, up a notable nine spots to 18th.

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 all six icy bottles of Corona served up by a Russian supermodel with the morals of a minx. I know some of you will take exception at this high rating, but as tepid as the racing has been this year, Martinsville stands out as a classic.

Next Up: Expect the usual stampede of clichéd western puns as the series heads west to Texas.

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…


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M.B. Voelker
03/30/2009 07:10 AM

Why all the adulation for Tim Richmond?

How does he differ, in any significant way, from Shane Hmiel — who likewise threw away a potentially brilliant career in pursuit of hedonistic pleasures?

Except, of course, that Hmiel was caught before he managed to kill himself and Richmond died from the effects of his lifestyle choice.

Bill B
03/30/2009 07:21 AM

Glad you didn’t let Bodine’s “fruity hat” slip by without a comment.

Great race at Martinsville and one of the reasons it’s one of my favorites. Is Martinsville now the new Bristol?

Steve Cloyd
03/30/2009 08:03 AM

Now THAT is what NASCAR racing should be. I was actually entertained by a NASCAR race for the first time this season. Why can’t they just build more short tracks? * sigh *

03/30/2009 08:05 AM

M.B. Voelker – You fight a loosing battle with Tim Richmond and Matt.

03/30/2009 08:12 AM

Yes!! No digger cartoon. However, they do make sure they show the trinket hauler in the paddock every week, and mention DW’s website for purchasing of digger merchandise. I wonder how their sales are going? Would you be caught dead in a digger hat and t-shirt?

What’s up with Hammond. Did he forget his bottle of “Just for Men”….saw some grey hair at his temples yesterday. I wished we could get rid of Meyers. He just is beyond annoying.

03/30/2009 08:27 AM

Jr. says that racing in Martinsville is a headache and a pain in the butt…well, the race is sponsored by Goody’s!

Also, attention editors. Let Matt run the history series. We (your readers) would love to read it.

03/30/2009 08:32 AM

Matt- i have an idea. 12 races at martinsville, 12 races at bristol and 12 races at darlington. think the france’s would listen?

don mei
03/30/2009 08:47 AM

Sex is a hedonistic pleasure? My my..wonder what else he thinks. Must be tough being perfect and passing judgement. Guess he never saw Richmond drive a race car. If he had, he would know that had he lived, Earnhart’s championship total would be a few less.

03/30/2009 09:40 AM

M. B. and if you add Rick Hendrick (a convicted felon) into the mix you will really confuse Matt. He has a hard time seeing the forest for the trees!!

03/30/2009 11:03 AM

Matt, forgot to mention that the win at Martinsville was Chevy’s first win of the season. Last week you were speculating as to when the bowtie gang would win this year. Wonder how the new, amended bailout to GM will impact those teams.

Was it me, or was too much focus being put on Michael Waltrip and then the fact that Reutemann had “franchise” on his roof?

03/30/2009 11:09 AM

“Why all the adulation for Tim Richmond?

How does he differ, in any significant way, from Shane Hmiel — who likewise threw away a potentially brilliant career in pursuit of hedonistic pleasures?

Except, of course, that Hmiel was caught before he managed to kill himself and Richmond died from the effects of his lifestyle choice.”

you are going to comapare a person who died from aids, to a person who used heroin during races?
BTW, did Shane ever win a race? (Cup?)
what beef to you have with TG?

stan schmidt
03/30/2009 11:46 AM

Jeff, you want to win a race this year? Get a pit crew. Get a pit crew that can beat other teams out of the pit. How can jj’s crew consistently beat other teams out of the pits and your crew with the number one stall can’t beat anybody.

Joe W.
03/30/2009 12:25 PM

M.B., I think this is a racing sight. Did you ever see Tim Richmond race? He was a GREAT driver, not just good. He made some very poor decisions in his personal life but he paid the untimate price for them. I do not see how you compare him with Shane Hmiel. I respect Shane’s father Steve and his accomplishments in racing but Shane was never much of a driver. You are comparing someone who won a race while suffering from a horible disease, AIDS, to someone who never won a race in cup and used drugs while racing in the Busch series? Would I want to pattern my life or more importantly would I want my son to pattern his life after either of them? No, not in thier personal lives, but I would want him to go after his personal dreams like Tim Richmond went after his on the track. I loved watching him race and still miss him along with Dale Sr. As for this Sunday’s race a Martinsville. It was really good and I know have a new found respect for Jimmie Johnson. Great win for him. Good job J.J.

03/30/2009 01:52 PM


Had the tires lasted as they are supposed to do, then the results of this race would have been different, much different!

Lets stick to the facts please!

And not think this was a “good race”, ask those that had tires explode!

“Kyle Busch’s 24th place finish was his worst since the Daytona 500”.

Some “racing”!

03/30/2009 01:59 PM

Come on now M. B. , we’ve had this discussion with you many times before . You must let an adult look at these ruminations before you make a fool of yourself by posting them .

Hendrick owes 95 % of his success to the people who raced for him over the years . The drivers , the crew chiefs , the engine builders , the marketing people , and all of the others involved . His contribution was mainly money and a kindly father routine . And of course we know where a lot of the money came from . He was convicted for it . Its about time that the fans get reminded of the people who really are responsible for Hendricks’ success .

It didn’t take much talent for Johnson to move Hamlin over , any Saturday night racer can do that . But what a driving display by Hamlin on the re-start diving in under Johnson . That was great .

The KERS system could certainly be adapted to NASCAR , and should be . The one drawback is the very real chance of fatal electrocution if a crew man or track worker touches the wrong area .

Once again , a race that wasn’t dictated by crappy tires . The blow outs were caused by brake heat , not the tires themselves . Maybe there is hope for Goodyear after all .

03/30/2009 03:04 PM

Hey Douglas,
The tire issues certainly weren’t Goodyear’s fault. Place the blame on the front splitters that cut down tires and brake issues that melted the tire beads. Do a little research next time!

Joe W.
03/30/2009 03:42 PM

So Douglas, you think a race where Kyle Busch finishes 24th is bad? I think it was a great race and I was at the track. Kyle Busch’s car was not a contender yesterday. He ran bad from the start. He is not Superman. He is just not good at Martinsville. So please no excuses for him. I think any race he is not in the top 10 is GREAT!!! Now the # 8 car, that car had tire problems, but with that many on one car I tend to think it was a set up issue. Oh and Ryan I thought Johnson’s move was great. He did it by himself without lapped trafic blocking for him like Hamlin.

03/30/2009 04:27 PM

I thought the tires were adequate. They weren’t superb, but they didn’t affect the race negatively.
I agree with the poster that referenced the reasons tires failed.

I’m not a defender of Goodyear. They could do a better job recently.

In the end, all the teams using the tires race using the same group of tires. It’s a crap shoot as to who ends up with a tire that falls apart… but that is the same for who runs over the bolt laying in the groove.

Goodyear messed up at Indy last summer; they didn’t yesterday at Martinsville.

03/30/2009 05:41 PM

Let me lead you people by the hand!

So, quote: “Hey Douglas,
The tire issues certainly weren’t Goodyear’s fault. Place the blame on the front splitters that cut down tires and brake issues that melted the tire beads. Do a little research next time”!

So, GOODYEAR supplies tires for the CoT! Right?

And the CoT is of a “fixed” design! Right?

So, knowing these “parameters”, GOODYEAR is totally responsible for supplying a tire that works on the CoT! Right?

So, does one think the GOODYEAR has a disclaimer somewhere that says “the use of brakes on the CoT may influence the life of said tires. If you want these tires to last for an entire fuel run please do not put brakes on your race car”!

Or! Better yet, a GOODYEAR disclaimer “please note that the use of these tires in close competition on a race track where the cars may make physical contact could cause these tires to fail. Please instruct all drivers to stay at least one full car length away from each other in all directions so these tires will not get cut down”!

Just an example and it is not a matter of “doing the research”, it is a simple matter of “thinking”!

Nowhere! Absolutely nowhere, have I EVER read anything published by GOODYEAR that tells NA$CRAP the CoT is a piece of sh*t and they, GOODYEAR, will no longer supply tires for this car!

So, the dilemma becomes, tires vs. CoT!

Lately the CoT has been winning this battle!

And GOODYEAR stays mum about the situation!


And with this type of thinking, then all tire problems are either, splitters, brakes, track surfaces, heat, down-force, camber, etc! Right?

But isn’t that simply racing?

I guess the INDY fiasco last year was simply bad car set-ups, at least the way this line of thinking plays out anyway!

And Bobb says: “but they didn’t affect the race negatively”!

HUH? Please go ask the multiple drivers whose tires blew throughout the course of the race where they might have finished without the tire problems. Probably a good ten cars finishing positions were negatively influenced by BLOWN TIRES!

And all they were trying to do was race!

03/30/2009 05:41 PM

Tim Richmond was the victim of a terrible disease, NOT a lifestyle choice. And he was probably the most talented driver of his era. Add to that the fact that NASCAR blackballed him, and you do have the makings of a legend. Matt is not always right, but he is right about Tim.

03/30/2009 06:14 PM

Wow, I actually sat up and watched this race. Kinda felt like old times. I’m sure those who think the old Bristol’s bumper to bumper, move ‘em out of the way style wasn’t racing, just wreckin’, won’t agree. Martinsville and the old Bristol seem to be where the Car of Sorrow is at it’s best. If you’re going to build a tank for a race car, then put them on tracks that fit.
I’ll take a race like Martinsville every week.

03/30/2009 08:34 PM

M.B.V. thumps the Good Book every chance he gets. He’d prefer the rest of us wait until 3:00 pm every Sunday for the green flag so he can listen to preachin’ and practice with the choir.
At least we got to see a decent race this week.

Bill B
03/30/2009 09:39 PM

Your statement “Better yet, a GOODYEAR disclaimer “please note that the use of these tires in close competition on a race track where the cars may make physical contact could cause these tires to fail. Please instruct all drivers to stay at least one full car length away from each other in all directions so these tires will not get cut down”!” is pretty much common sense. Contact will make tires fail and there is nothing anyone can do to change that. It’s kind of like making someone put a disclaimer on a can of motor oil “not for human consumption”, no rational person should need to read that to know not to drink it. Likewise drivers realize that if they make contact with other cars, the wall, etc, the tire will fail.
Similar logic could be used with respect to the excessive heat. “Heating bead up to 1500 degrees for extended periods of time may cause failure”. Really?

Jeff G
03/30/2009 10:46 PM

Martinsville was the best race I’ve seen in at least the past three years.

Tim Richmond was one of the best and would have won more that one championship had he lived.

I saw him race and met him several times. He was always a super nice guy.

As they say, “Only the good die young”

03/31/2009 12:55 AM

Anyone that has to ask such a stupid question about Tim Richmond reveals without any doubt their complete lack of racing knowledge.What a joke