The Frontstretch: Matt McLaughlin's Thinkin' Out Loud: Texas Spring Race Recap by Matt McLaughlin -- Monday April 6, 2009

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Matt McLaughlin's Thinkin' Out Loud: Texas Spring Race Recap

Matt McLaughlin · Monday April 6, 2009


The Key Moment: Jeff Gordon emerged from the final round of pit stops with the lead as Carl Edwards’ No. 99 team fumbled the ball badly, dropping their boy to eleventh.

In a Nutshell: Jeff Gordon won for the first time in 47 races. You knew it was coming eventually — just not at Texas.

Dramatic Moment: Jimmie Johnson did his damnedest to keep Gordon honest in the final ten laps, but came up short.

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

“Wide Open Spaces” makes for better cowboy songs than races. The gaps between even drivers in the top 10 often seemed eternal at Texas.

Does it seem like the only side-by-side, fender-banging racing we see these days is during commercial breaks? If the racing was half as good during the events themselves as it is in commercials, these drooping ratings would take care of themselves.

All cars and drivers seem to benefit from “clean air” when they’re running in the lead, but does it seem the No. 24 car is in a league all its own in that regard?

I’ve been a race fan for almost all my life, and a rabid one at times. This is what I do on Sundays from February to November. But I can’t be the only one lately who watches a beautiful Spring afternoon pass by outside my window and thinks that there’s got to be better ways to spend my time.

Does it seem like 2009 is offering up a record number of transmission and clutch failures? Maybe some of these guys need to start running C6s.

Matt Kenseth seems to be like that little girl with a curl in the nursery rhyme. When he’s good, he’s very, very good; but when he’s bad, he’s awful.

Maybe they need to put a cold bottle of beer at the end of Dale Junior’s pit road pole. There’s one thing the guy isn’t going to miss.

A record number of lead changes? And a record lack of cautions. Do the math. Green flag pit sequences shuffle the drivers at the front of the pack as the sequences play out, but it’s not the sort of passes for the lead fans get excited over. (Though to be fair, the increasingly desperate Earnhardt Nation did go nuts when a two tire stop put the No. 88 car into the lead.)

You know, sometimes these dumb SOBs just seem to be trying to shoot themselves in the foot — no pun intended. One of the coolest trophies in NASCAR racing (way behind the Martinsville grandfather clock, of course) is the Beretta guns the race and pole winners are awarded at Texas. But on a day when a psychotic went on a shooting rampage in Binghamton, New York, killing at least fourteen innocent souls, do we really need to see David Reutimann grinning like a Jack-0-Lantern as he aims a shotgun into the grandstands? Hell, I’m a “cold dead hand” gun rights constitutional amendment sort who happens to feel that enforcement of current gun laws is going to solve a whole lot more problems than new ones — but that made even me wince. You never point a weapon, even one you are certain is unloaded, in the direction of an innocent person or persons (even if it only was media members within shotgun range.) Why give the loyal opposition that much more ammo? (Again, no pun intended.) I guess when they outlaw guns for good, outlaws will beat us over the head with grandfather clocks instead.

It is rumored (to the point of fact, I’m certain) that this year’s Cup awards banquet will be moved from New York to Las Vegas. The banquet, which was originally held in Charlotte, moved to New York in 1981 to try to drum up some interest on Wall Street and attention in the mainstream media. Yeah, it’s a long flight to Vegas … but it’s perfect. Vegas is fake, showy, tacky, and crude, just like our sport has become. The odds favor the house: yesterday, today and forever. Folks arrive in Vegas hoping to get rich, but end up broke just like new team owners in NASCAR — and the house always wins. Like the founders of the Vegas strip, NASCAR is a mob unto itself, with its unholy alliance between NASCAR and the ISC that tends to rub out those who cross it. (But like the Boss used to sing, Baby, everything dies, that’s a fact, but maybe everything that dies, sometimes comes back… I’m still here.) So what we’re likely to see is a NASCAR banquet long on flashing lights, hype, and lies but with all the substance of a South Park Cheezy-Poof. An awards banquet in Vegas is the ultimate kick to the sack to a sport born in the Buckle of the Bible Belt from our friend, Brian France (Vegas does, after all, proudly dub itself “Sin City,” right?). On a brighter note, maybe Penn and Teller can stage a magic act that makes Dear Brian disappear… and not come back.

Expect an announcement this week that Richard Petty Motorsports will try to field a car for this year’s Indy 500 with John Andretti at the wheel. Yeah, with all the stellar success they are enjoying to date this season and all those race wins, a little distraction can’t hurt them any, right? How about running Kyle Petty as Andretti’s teammate at Indy? I hear he’s looking for work.

Stop the presses. Despite long odds, track owner Bruton Smith will be inducted into the Texas Motorsports Speedway Hall of Fame. I’m sure Frances Ferko will be next.

Bobby Labonte, along with Bruton Smith, was inducted into the Texas Motor Speedway Hall of Fame this week.

Bruton Smith angrily denied that his chain of Sonic new and used car dealerships was heading into bankruptcy, despite a report in the Charlotte Observer that quoted Smith’s son who runs the company. Mr. Smith says that his dealerships are making lots and lots of money — tons of money, in fact — in a sign that the troubled U.S. economy is turning around. He does admit that last year the company gave away 560 million dollars towards “good will,” however. Good will? Is my check in the mail? I figure as a U.S. citizen, I ought to be worth at least ten bucks right there — but I’ll settle for a used Challenger RT Hemi, black on black please.

Smith (and I love when he hosts race weekends because he gives me so much to write about) went on to say that NASCAR needs to skew the race purse more towards winning than a consistent finish to spice the racing back up. I agree… but I do so with my usual site-enforced decorum. In comparison, here’s what Mr. Smith had to say about drivers commenting on a good points race. “Well, I had a pretty good day. I finished fourth. That’s pretty good points.’ Well, that’s bullshit. That’s what we don’t need. We’re not in the points racing business.” Editors, break out your black magic markers and “s**t,” please.

Uh-oh. NASCAR is said to be “putting out feelers” to find a replacement title sponsor for Camping World for the Truck Series. Who’d have thunk? In this economy, with all the focus on gas mileage and environmental sensitivity, you’d think selling RVs that cost more than the homes many of us live in would be a license to print money, right?

If Earnhardt Ganassi racing does shut down the No. 8 team after this weekend’s race as rumored, Martin Truex, Jr. technically becomes a free agent. His contract and that of Bass Pro Shops with the team stipulates that the organization he drives for will run three fully-funded and sponsored competitive cars. I wonder how Truex would look in orange and white?

Oh, boy! The return of a Digger cartoon and Jeff Hammond dressed up like an extra from Brokeback Mountain! Apparently, director Artie Kempner wants to make sure that fans’ blood pressure remains unhealthily high during the off week ahead. Isn’t it odd that while Kempner was on hiatus, the damn gopher was as well?

Department of Corrections – Fictional Facts. A note to our old friend Larry McReynolds: Dale Earnhardt, Jr. did not win his first Nationwide Series race at Texas. He won his first Busch Series victory. Nor did Earnhardt win his first Sprint Cup race at Texas. He won his first Winston Cup race at TMS. Stick to mangling the English language — not the facts.

I guess the editors don’t want me to do any more political editorializing no matter how benign or bipartisan, but I feel sad that three Pittsburgh police officers were killed in the line of duty and all those poor folks lost their lives in Binghamton this week.

The Hindenburg Award For Foul Fortune

Carl Edwards lost if not race wins at least a solid shot at contending for two wins in the pits on Saturday and Sunday.

David Reutimann started from the pole and ran up front early, but a miscue in the pits ended any chances of scoring his first win. Note to all crews: When those NASCAR officials in your pits start waving their hands over their heads and getting all bright red in the face, you might want to take a second and see what those fellows’ concerns are.

Kyle Busch got annoyed with John Andretti and showed his displeasure by ramming into the side of Andretti’s car. It wasn’t a wise move, as in the end it cut down a rear tire on the No. 18 car and dropped him off the lead lap.

Marcos Ambrose had a solid run going until a terminally expired engine announced by an epic amount of smoke ended his afternoon.

I wouldn’t want to be a member of any of the Roush pit crews this Monday when the owner calls them together for a team meeting. If Charlotte is Jimmie Johnson’s House, Texas is supposed to be Roush’s tree fort.

Hopefully, the No. 29 team packed Kevin Harvick a nice picnic basket, because his Chevy was clearly out to lunch on Sunday.

It can’t be easy to be Dale Earnhardt, Jr., watching another win by one of his teammates while he slunk home 20th. Earnhardt’s cause was greatly hindered by problems in the pits. And who runs that pit crew? Oh, right, we’re supposed to back off that guy. Forget I said anything.

The “Seven Come Fore Eleven” Award For Fine Fortune

Jimmie Johnson barely avoided Sam Hornish’s spinning Dodge en route to a second place finish. And you know there’s a lot of pit crews who’d like to steal that magic wand of Chad Knaus’ that turns a hopelessly slow car early in the race into a contender late out of the No. 48 team’s toolbox.

Matt Kenseth overcame problems in the pits to rally back for a fifth place finish.

Tony Stewart’s tenure as a driver/owner could hardly be off to a better start in even his wildest fantasies.

Don’t shovel any more dirt into Juan Pablo Montoya’s grave just yet. Recently, there seems to be a pulse within the No. 42 team.

Paul Menard had a solid run in the best ride his father’s millions can afford him on Sunday.

Worth Noting

  • Homestead is now the only track that currently hosts Cup races where Jeff Gordon has yet to win an event. Gordon has now scored four consecutive top 5 finishes; in those same four weeks, Jimmie Johnson has managed top 10 results.
  • Greg Biffle’s third place finish was his best of the season, and matches his best result since Kansas last Fall.
  • Mark Martin’s sixth place finish matches his best result of 2009. Martin also finished sixth at Bristol a few weeks back.
  • Juan Pablo Montoya’s seventh place finish was his best of the season and his best Cup finish since Watkins Glen last year.
  • Paul Menard’s 13th place finish was his best since Talladega last year.
  • Joey Logano’s 30th place finish was the best by a declared Rookie of the Year candidate. Of course, Scott Speed, the only other real dog in the fight, failed to qualify for the race. (Max Papis finished 35th, but is running only a limited schedule of 20 races which makes winning the award virtually impossible).
  • The top 10 finishers at Texas drove six Chevys, three Fords, and a Dodge. David Reutimann in eleventh enjoyed the best finish of any of the Toyota drivers.

What’s the Points?

With everything going on in the world right now, if you’re truly worried about the points at this stage of the season you’re just not paying attention.

Not surprisingly, race winner Jeff Gordon remains atop the standings. If he shows up at Phoenix (and my guess is, he will) he’ll still be leading Jimmie Johnson after the race as Johnson, now second in points, is 162 off the pace.

Within the top 12, Matt Kenseth had the best points day at Texas, rebounding three spots to ninth. Tony Stewart moves up two spots to fifth in the standings, while Clint Bowyer took it in his not inconsiderable chin at Texas, dropping two spots to fourth.

Jeff Burton eased up a spot into the top 12 this week, taking over that coveted 12th place spot. Juan Pablo Montoya finds himself sitting 13th in the standings, just sixteen points behind Burton. Behind him sits Kevin Harvick, who fell four spots from 10th clear down to 14th.

Greg Biffle had a solid points day at Texas, moving up eight spots to 15th. Mark Martin was another beneficiary of a strong run, as he moved up nine spots to 18th.

On the other hand, Michael Waltrip continues his Three Stooges-like plummet down the points ladder, falling another four spots to 21st. Why, you, I oughta…

Oops. Don’t look now, but “Sliced Bread” Logano finds himself perched precariously in 35th in the standings. I’m sure he’s got talent, but right now watching this kid at the wheel of a Cup car is like watching a man drown. Only Aric Almirola has made all seven races to date this season and is lower in the points than Logano. And Almirola likely won’t be back at Phoenix…

Overall Rating (On a scale of one to six beer cans, with one being a stinker and a six pack an instant classic) — We’ll give this one three cans of somewhat chilled domestic stuff. Just another McRace at another McTrack a lot longer on hat than cattle.

Next Up: The circuit takes a weekend off as Christians worldwide celebrate their most sacred solemnity, the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, and our elder brothers in faith celebrate their Passover and liberation as a people from slavery in Egypt. Racing, or some tepid facsimile thereof, resumes at Phoenix on April 16th. Meanwhile, be sure to pay your taxes… AIG executives are counting on you.

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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Bad Wolf
04/06/2009 01:55 AM

Taped the race, wife asked if she could tell me who won, I say yes, she says Jiffy Poo and I rewind the tape and put it in the VCR to be taped over. The only thing worse than a boring race at Texas is a boring race that Jiffy or Jooooooner win.

04/06/2009 06:10 AM

I wonder how much longer Joey Slogano is gonna be in the 20.

04/06/2009 06:29 AM

If you record a race, never let somebody tell you the winner. It will ruin the whole thing for you. Anyway, I’m not a Gordon fan but he’s been in the sport long enough to where he’s earned his stripes. It was pretty cool seeing him win again.

04/06/2009 06:36 AM

I think we can all agree that there is something going on behind the scenes with Jeff Hammond . His outfit this week pretty much screamed OUT OF THE CLOSET .
The only consistent factor in the sagging tv ratings is the telecasts themselves . Different winners , different tracks , diferent race scenarios . The one constant is Kempner , and the entire group of idiots that have microphones . The Nationwide races are actually not bad , they have annoucers who aren’t concerned about constant self promotion . Speaking of idiots in the booth , who are these Indians MacReynolds keeps talking about ? Not a week goes by that he doesn’t mention “ ingine “ problems for some team .

Bill B
04/06/2009 07:21 AM

Glad everyone is in agreement regarding Jeff Hammond. Who dresses him?

Woohoo!!! The monkey is dead. Number 82 is in the books.

Casey B
04/06/2009 08:12 AM

The race might have not been the most exciting, but seeing the 24 cross that finish line first sure got me going, and the reason to which I’m hungover now at work, but it’s always worth it, I agree with you marshall, it might not be to long before Hammond takes that bold step out the closet.

Bill B
04/06/2009 08:15 AM

To the Editor – no beer can vote this week?

04/06/2009 08:55 AM

Someone still records NASCAR races? Why? You will wear out the FF button. Take it one step further…someone still watches NASCAR races, recorded or live?

04/06/2009 09:02 AM

hey matt-
take up golf on those Sunday afternoons. i’ve shaved four strokes off the ole game…thanks to brian france.

04/06/2009 09:07 AM

Junior’s crew screwed up a lugnut, but then Junior compounded it by missing his pit box coming back down pit road. And then he asked if the pole was shorter on the radio. Gee, Junior, why don’t you ask the other 42 drivers that didn’t miss their pit?

I like Junior but his head is TOTALLY out of the game this year.

Cool to see the 24 back.

04/06/2009 09:25 AM

By the way, Larry Mac is wrong. Ella Sophia Gordon has been in victory lane with her father in a points paying race…..Fall Talladega race 2 yrs ago. Now grant it, Fox wasn’t broadcasting it.

Luckily I turned on the race and Digger cartoon was over with, however the other clowns, Meyers and Hammond were going full steam ahead. Sure wished Hammond would have gone out in the windy conditions with his lovely colorful bandana and got taken away by a strong gust. I’m sorry, lead changes because of green flag pitstops….sure this is a legitimate lead change, but oh hum……What is with all these pit road issues and miscues? Trying too hard for the 12 second pit stop? Heck, I remember when a 21 second pit stops with 3 air guns was lightening fast.

Watch the first hour, turned off tv, went and checked it periodically and then watched the last 40 laps. I’m still trying to figure out why Jr came in on that last pit stop when he went a lap down from rimriding a few laps earlier. Oh well…I’m not the braintrust at Hendrick, so I guess I should just accept Hendrick’s wisdom and keep on drinking the cool aid that Jr knows what best for him and Jr (HA!)

Wonder what color Jr’s pit sign was that blended in withe everyone elses? Jr needs his head removed from his rear. Remember he said last week that Martinsville was a pain in the head and butt….Maybe he’s got butt pain from his heading being up it so far.

I figured out pit road issues….NA$CAR’s new drug testing policy! Can’t get shot up before the races. Makes one think!

04/06/2009 09:32 AM

Hammond has been playing dress up for years. One week Jeff “just got back from Sturgis” and shows up dressed as a biker, ala Village People. Then it was the rodeo and Jeffy is a cowboy. We’ve suspectd Hammond was a fancy boy for quite some time. I was lucky enough to miss the Texas race so I didn’t see his cutey suit this week.

04/06/2009 09:51 AM

RE: better ways to spend my time
Advice – Watch the first five laps and the last 50 … maybe even just the last 30. Alternative – record the race and watch from the last pit stop to the end.
Either gives me a bunch or time to be outside or with my family and fiends!
Go Jeffy!!!

L Taylor
04/06/2009 11:04 AM

I believe that if you don’t watch the race, recorded or otherwise, you forfeit the right to bitch!

Managing Editor
04/06/2009 11:19 AM

The beer poll is up for your voting pleasure … we’re happy to see fans beginning to look forward to it each week!

Thanks for reading FS and Matt’s work.

04/06/2009 11:20 AM

NASCAR should go ahead and re-name any race held on a mile and half track the Snoozefest 500. That was about as boring of a race as there has been since they put restrictor plates on at New Hampshire.

To Jr.‘s defense when he missed his pit why wasn’t his crew chief counting him down to his pits like every other crew chief does for their driver? It would have also been nice for the guy holding the sign to do so, so someone other than the guy in the blimp could actually see the numbers. That team is a mess right now.

Finally, Kyle Busch got what he deserved when he rubbed Andretti and ended up cutting down his own tire. It was a total Busch league move but not one that is unexpected from the most classless driver out there. Kyle Busch’s motto is “What is mine is mine and what is yours is also mine, so get out of my way. I am entitled.” I wish Dale Sr. was still around to teach thiis boy a few manners.

Carl D.
04/06/2009 11:20 AM

I turned on the race with about a half hour to go until the scheduled green flag. I heard the announcer say not to go away because they had a brand new Digger cartoon coming up after the commercial. So this is what it has come to… Fox is the new Cartoon Network, featuring SpongeBob Waltrip and Patrick McReynolds. And Digger. And Hopalong Hammond. Have I mentioned lately how much I miss Ned & Benny? And professionalism?

Here’s hoping the Village People go on tour soon so we can get a break from Jeff Hammond.

04/06/2009 11:25 AM

Matt your right, your not the only one who watches a beautiful Spring afternoon pass by outside your window and thinks that there’s got to be better ways to spend your time. I skipped watching yeasterday race live to snowboard in 1 to 2 feet of deep powder. And after watching the race last night, I’m glad I did head up to the mountain.

04/06/2009 12:01 PM

I just don’t understand how Hendrick can tolerate the pit stop issues that the 88 continually has. One week have a meeting and people snap into shape. Next week, back to “normal”. It’s painful to watch.

04/06/2009 12:08 PM

Matt: Really… what is up with the clutch and transmission failures? After years of almost bullet-proof reliability, they’ve become an Achilles’ heel.

Two weeks until the next race… think there’ll be extra pit practice not only at Roush? Biffle and Edwards had fast cars only to stumble getting in line for the pay window.

RCR’s poor showing shocked me. The 8 car has a decision to make this morning (if the decision isn’t made already for them), but the puzzlement at RCR this morning has got to be more troublesome; there’s another 1.5 mile track or two to run yet!

04/06/2009 12:12 PM

Oopsie; forgot to add…
I’m glad we’re away from all the metaphors and crapola that goes along with a Texas race.
I can tolerate Digger because it attracts kids to become NASCAR, but what is with the illusion that Texas is something it outgrew 100 years ago?

04/06/2009 02:58 PM

Dawg…..Too funny!

04/06/2009 03:01 PM

Awesome to see the 24 win! His happiness in Victory lane was great to see. I love when a driver shows excitment when they win. Refreshing to see that.
As for Joey Lagano. I honestly believe he was moved up to Sprint level much too fast. Yes he is talented, but he should have stayed in Busch for at least another year. He needed more experence.

04/06/2009 03:29 PM

I keep hearing how Truex will be a free agent because EGR will only be running two cars after the #8 gets parked, but I count three remaining cars on the track: #1, #34 & #42. So what gives?

04/06/2009 07:16 PM

I see you can’t resist pooping on Michael Waltrip. However, there was nary a word out of you when he moved up some 4 or 5 spots last week. Your obvious venom towards him says more about you than about him.

04/06/2009 11:01 PM

Hey Bad Wolf, you are way bhind the times. Wheres your TIVO, or your DVD? Nobody, but nobody, does VHS anymore.

04/07/2009 12:17 AM

If Matt can’t do anything but complain about practically everyone and everything, maybe he should just shut up.

His whining is getting very, very tiring.

Paul F.
04/07/2009 12:30 AM

I use VHS. I don’t have money for that other stuff, and if I did I don’t see a reason to spend it when I have a perfectly fine VCR. It works and it works well.

And by the way, I played hockey all day Sunday and had a nice time. Then I watched parts of the race at night(recorded on my antique VHS tape, haha), although admittedly most of it in fast forward due to the minimal action and even less willingness of FOX to show the action that was going on. Does anyone else get annoyed when Mike Joy says, “Tons of action midpack…” and they’re not even bothering to show it? It makes them look stupid and careless.

They just need three cameras atop the grandstands like before. Then they can’t get all giddy with the melodramatic “fly by” view and all the inarticulate in car cameras. Even the old in car cameras were better where you could see almost the entire driver. It’s still a crappy angle since you can’t see a damn thing behind the guy but seriously, wide open views are best for racing. If the best experience is to be there, shouldn’t the cameras try to reflect the live experience with wide open views?

04/07/2009 12:52 AM

jif, I think the 34 is officially listed as a “Front Row Motorsports” car still. Technically, it’s an EGR but it isn’t officially, so that technicality could mean Truex would only have Montoya as a teammate… This is similar to MWR which effectively runs the 47 of Ambrose but is actually owned by JTG, or Yates which runs the 96 of Labonte (to the point of putting Todd Parrott there), but the team is still listed as a Hall of Fame team.

04/07/2009 06:47 AM

Paul F.
I sorta agree with you. To hear a booth announcer describing something we don’t get to see is akin to saying,
“We’re not showing you ALL the story!”

TNT is known for large panoramic camera shots that mimic the view spectators get at the track. The first time I saw their production, I instantly realized they were “putting us at the race”.
TNT catches a lot of flack for their announcers, but I do appreciate their video production.