The Frontstretch: Matt McLaughlin's Thinkin' Out Loud: Richmond Spring Race Recap by Matt McLaughlin -- Monday May 4, 2009

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The Key Moment: Kyle Busch battled his way past Jeff Gordon on the fourteenth restart. After a couple tense laps battling the No. 24 and lapped cars, he drove off from the field to score his 15th career win in the Cup Series.

In a Nutshell: Happy Birthday to Boos.

Dramatic Moment: There were about three and a half hours worth of them. The racing after each restart late in the race was particularly intense.

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

See, it is possible to have an exciting race without huge packs of cars, putting a car into the catchfence, and sending fans to the hospital.

You gotta believe somewhere up in Heaven, neighbors were calling the cops asking them to quiet down David Poole’s hooting and hollering watching this one.

I don’t know if the Charlotte Observer is taking nominations for a beat writer to take David Poole’s place, but my pick would be Mike Mulhern.

If you liked the sort of racing you saw tonight, head out to your local short track soon. This is what it’s all about.

I’m sorry, if the race isn’t held in the afternoon heat during Labor Day weekend, it just ain’t the Southern 500.

It’s nice to see that the mere fact fans were injured won’t keep FOX from using footage of Carl Edwards’ wreck to promote upcoming races.

You get a feeling that one of the two Stewart-Haas cars is going to win a race soon. I’ll admit it: color me surprised.

Yeah, they all ran pretty strong most of the night… but did it seem that the Penske cars caused an inordinate amount of Saturday night’s caution flags? Maybe those boys are just pissed off about Chrysler having to file for bankruptcy earlier this week?

I won’t say it was perfect — not by a longshot — but credit has to be given where it is due. Saturday night, FOX did a lot better job showing the racing behind the leaders and some drivers who rarely get shown during race broadcasts. The network’s obsession with their Big Four — Kyle Busch, Jeff Gordon, Carl Edwards and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. — remains annoyingly obvious, though they did in fact miss Edwards’ march backwards through the pack at the end of the race.

It’s got to break Jeff Gordon’s heart to hear Darrell Waltrip reading love sonnets to Kyle Busch rather than him lately.

DW’s latest man crush sure gave the former champ up in the booth lots to crow about Saturday night once he pulled off the weekend sweep at Richmond.

I’ll also give FOX credit for having a contingency plan in place in the event any of the ballgames that preceded the race ran long. (All three of them did, particularly the Atlanta game.) Fans were able to keep up with the action over on SPEED until their local games ended.

When the field was running single file at the start of the race under the green and yellow flags to help dry the track, it looked a whole lot like racing at Fontana, didn’t it?

How much longer can Rick Hendrick be patient with the No. 88 team before making changes? Junior’s chances at making the Chase are rapidly eroding from Slim to None, and None’s getting ready to buy a ticket on that coast city bus.

I’ve asked before, but it seems so obvious to me … why hasn’t anyone built a Richmond clone yet? This is about the perfect track configuration for stock car racing, and as an added bonus, the fans watch the race in an intimate setting that allows them to see the whole track.

Something, anything? At long last, maybe the increasingly tepid stock car scene is developing a bit of a rivalry? Kyle Busch hasn’t been shy about saying that he prefers winning races to mass popularity and the T-Shirt sales that come with it, an obvious aside to Dale Earnhardt, Jr.‘s place in the sport. At a track where Junior and Busch scuffled in both races last year, Earnhardt admitted that it seems to him Busch has some ill feelings about having been bumped from his Rick Hendrick ride to make room for Junior. In fact, Earnhardt claims, radio transmissions (probably too profane for TV to even sample) indicate the younger Busch brother doesn’t care much for any of the four Hendrick entries and the men who drive them. Are we seeing the stirrings of a feud between the sport’s Most Popular Driver and one of its most successful if controversial pilots? Mind you, I’m not espousing a WWE-style rivalry with scripted threats of blood vengeance, but it could only be good for the sport if Busch and Earnhardt continue to get on each other’s nerves. A rivalry like those between Richard Petty and Bobby Allison or Darrell Waltrip and Cale Yarborough back in the day could only add some spice to otherwise bland fare.

Am I sensing a pattern here? While admitting the California race earlier this Spring was less than stirring stuff, ISC officials immediately disavowed any notion the track’s layout might have to be altered to improve the quality of racing at Fontana. And after last week’s near disaster at Talladega, ISC and NASCAR officials noted some changes might need to be made to slow the speeds and separate the packs of cars, but said that reconfiguring the track wasn’t even on the radar screen. In other words, the costs of changing competition at those two tracks will continue to be paid by the team owners — not by NASCAR itself.

Three years ago, if anyone suggested that Chrysler might be forced into bankruptcy, they’d have been considered a lunatic. But this week, that sad eventuality came to pass only hours after the President of these United States said he felt and hoped Chrysler could avoid Chapter 11. Many people are debating what this development portends for Dodge’s continued participation in stock car racing. I haven’t a clue. First off, I’d like to say I’m more concerned with the well-being of Chrysler’s blue collars and their families during the impending and unanticipated 60-day layoffs. Then, I’d like to add I feel a great deal of anger at these hedge fund types who rejected the offers made to them that forced Chrysler into bankruptcy, the only players in the game with no real interest in seeing a viable U.S. auto industry continuing to employ Americans into the future. Even while union members, taxpayers, and suppliers accepted painful concessions to keep Chrysler afloat, the speculators would not accept they’d have to share the pain. Here’s an idea: let those hedge fund managers wear sandwich board signs that read, “I voted to put more Americans out of work” at Darlington next weekend, have them try to run from the catchfence to the corporate suites, and give them an increased payout for each row of the grandstands they make it past before being beaten to their knees.

It seems that Brad Keselowski is the most recent graduate of Joey Logano’s University of Humility. He feels that his win at Talladega means he’s ready now to compete full-time on the Cup circuit, and it’s almost an outrage nobody offered him a top notch Cup ride for Richmond. I guess it’s worth noting that the fickle nature of plate racing is that sometimes, it offers up a fluke win — as evidenced by five other drivers who won at Talladega but never scored another Cup victory.

Yeah, I’ll jump on the bandwagon. That Burger King ad is not only creepy, but completely inappropriate for advertising a product intended for children — really fat kids in this instance.

The Hindenburg Award For Foul Fortune

Once again, Denny Hamlin dominated at Richmond only to have problems end his chances at the win. This time, it started with a disastrous pit stop that caused Hamlin to lick all the red off his candy trying to get back to the front.

Jimmie Johnson might have won three of the previous five Richmond Cup races, but Saturday was an unending litany of disasters for him. First, he got nailed speeding on pit road; then, his brakes failed; and finally, he spun out in traffic. The No. 48 team was forced to take their mount to the garage and Johnson wound up 36th.

Kasey Kahne was so frustrated with his ill-handling Dodge, he threw about everything out the window except the steering wheel. If Edwards is sponsored by Claritin and Burton by Prilosec, maybe Kahne could run a Prozac-sponsored entry?

The “Seven Come Fore Eleven” Award For Fine Fortune

You’d have to say it was a pretty fine weekend for Kyle Busch, who won on Thursday night (in a Denny Hamlin-sponsored charity late model event), in Friday night’s Nationwide race, and again on Saturday night. It was a pretty fair way to spend his 24th birthday, that’s for sure…

Jeff Burton took a ride up into the wall off the front bumper of the No. 88 car, but gathered himself back up well enough to finish third.

Mark Martin got spun out by Ryan Newman and slapped the wall before getting hit by the No. 1 car while running in the top 10. But Martin rallied back to finish fifth at the finish; ironically enough, that was one spot behind the No. 39 and Newman.

Given the forecast going into the weekend, it’s amazing that fans got to see both NASCAR events run without rain delays or interruptions.

Marcos Ambrose gave another good accounting of himself Saturday night, running towards the front most of the night. His chances at a decent finish seemed to evaporate when Sam Hornish put him into the wall, but Ambrose recovered well enough to finish eleventh.

Jamie McMurray has really needed a good finish for awhile now. It seemed he was in for another long night when he got collected with the No. 99 car off the front bumper of David Stremme’s entry — but McMurray used pit strategy and strong driving late in the race to soldier on to a seventh place finish.

Worth Noting

  • Kyle Busch scored his third Cup victory this season (which leads all drivers).
  • Tony Stewart has finished second in two of the last three races.
  • Jeff Burton’s third place finish matches his best Cup result of 2009. Burton also finished third at Las Vegas earlier this year.
  • Ryan Newman (fourth) has put together back-to-back top 5 finishes for the first time since Texas and Phoenix late in the 2007 season.
  • Mark Martin (fifth) has top 10 finishes in five of the last six Cup races.
  • Sam Hornish, Jr.’s only two top 10 career Cup finishes have been scored in the last three races. My guess is Kevin Harvick didn’t rush over to congratulate him on the feat.
  • Jamie McMurray finished seventh at Richmond, but still hasn’t led a lap in Cup competition this year.
  • Jeff Gordon (eighth) now has top 10 results in seven of this year’s ten points-paying Cup events.
  • Casey Mears (ninth) scored his first top 10 result of 2009.
  • Kurt Busch (12th) missed the top 10 for the first time since Martinsville.
  • Matt Kenseth (13th) has just one top 10 result in the last seven Cup races.
  • Joey Logano’s 18th place finish was the best for the rookie crop of 2009.
  • The top 10 finishers at Richmond drove seven Chevys, a Toyota, a Ford, and a Dodge.

What’s the Points?

Jeff Gordon displaced Kurt Busch to reassume the lead atop the standings. Busch trails Gordon by a mere 10 points ten races into the Cup Series season.

Tony Stewart moved up a spot to third, 39 points behind Gordon, while former teammates Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch each moved up a spot to fourth and fifth in the standings, respectively. Unlike Stewart, though, the JGR cars are losing sight of the leaders — Busch is 127 points out of first place despite having already won three races.

Further back, Jimmie Johnson dropped a full three spots to sixth in the standings. I doubt there is any panic in the No. 48 camp, though, whose real goal is to keep their boy in the top 12 and prepare for that final ten race run.

Ryan Newman had the best night in the points. He enters the top 12 in tenth spot, a full three places ahead of last week’s standings.

It was a rough night for the Roush entries. Carl Edwards fell two spots to ninth in the standings, while Greg Biffle relinquished one spot and finds himself 11th. Matt Kenseth continues clinging to 12th in points, his two wins that opened the season now fading in the rear-view mirror.

The Cinderella start to David Reutimann’s season has taken on a pumpkin-esque hue as he falls out of the top 12, down two spots to 13th. Behind him, Juan Pablo Montoya and Mark Martin had good results that put them back in position to move into the Chase. Montoya is up two spots to 14th, while Martin is up three spots to 15th.

Finally, Kasey Kahne and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. took it on the chin at Richmond. They are now 16th and 17th in the standings and struggling to find traction as the pack pulls away.

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 five icy cold bottles of Corona. The first half of the race featured a lot of classic battles, with drivers running down the leader and passing him cleanly. The second half of the race was a bit messy and more chaotic, typical short track racing. Only the final twenty laps cost the race a sixth can.

Next Up: The circuit heads off to its spiritual birthplace and the cradle of legends, Darlington, for a race at NASCAR’s best track scheduled on its worst race date of the year.

Contact Matt McLaughlin

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Bad Wolf
05/04/2009 01:01 AM
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The perfect new track has been built, and it is in Iowa, and owned by Rusty Wallace. All we need is to take a date from California and give it to Iowa Speedway. Won’t happen though, as it is not a 1.5 mile cookie cutter and is not owned by ISC.

I used to hang out on the “Thats’ Racin” message boards back in the day, and David Poole would post from the track and answer questions from the fans there. Pretty class act to take the time to talk with the regular Joes on the net and keep us up to date on the happenings at the track. I also had the pleasure to see David in person on “Pit Bulls” at Kansas Speedway. He will be missed.

Jimmy Mac
05/04/2009 01:17 AM
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I raise one ‘o’ those cold Corona’s and salute you! Your assessment was spot on.
NASCAR needs another Richmond. Race coverage was pretty good, and Mother Nature smiled on us.

Kevin in SoCal
05/04/2009 01:52 AM
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What’s with the additional hate for Fontana out of left field? That was two months ago, and we wont race there for another 5 months. Stick to the current race and stop going for the easy shots. Ironically, you complain about FOX going for the easy shots when they mention Gordon, Edwards, Busch, and Earnhardt.

Speaking of Earnhardt, I dont want to hear any more complaining about Busch spinning out Earnhardt last year after Dale dumped Jeff Burton in the exact same way in this years race.

My birthday is May 2nd too, but I’m no Kyle Busch fan. I just respect his driving ability in the Sprint Cup series, but wish he would leave the Truck series and Nationwide series alone.

Graceann
05/04/2009 06:51 AM
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If Kahne’s fit is a sign that he is fed up, then all I can say is IT“S ABOUT TIME!

Michael
05/04/2009 06:59 AM
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The FOX cameras showing any car that isn’t on their fab 4 list was purely accidental, and the camera men responsible have been sacked .
The surprise story of the season has been Stewart Haas . There isn’t the usual gushing about them like there is Hendrick because FOX doesn’t like Tony . Remember the constant shots of Chad and Steve during races , how many of those shots have we seen of Darrien Grubb ?
Those hedge fund boys have some stones don’t they ? WOW . They’ll happily take your bailout money to correct the mess they themselves caused , but they will not bend an inch if it means they might have to give anything up , or even be inconvenienced . You’re suggestions for how to deal with these scum is right on .
I think you must be mistaken about Nascar wanting the reductions in speed to come out of the race teams’ pockets .
Forcing others to foot their bills doesn’t sound like Nascar .
I don’t think its a question of Hendrick losing patience with the 88 . They sell huge amounts of t-shirts and tv ads . I think that was the main thing Hendrick signed Jr. for in the first place .

Janice
05/04/2009 07:45 AM
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If they make prozac over-the-counter, then I can see it as a sponsor of a few race cars. Prilosec and Claritin are otc drugs now. Maybe the entire 88 team is in the fog that sometimes is a side affect of prozac. Wonder if this week in pre-race banter if the talking heads will expand points in the race to the case to 20th to make sure Jr gets mentioned. I noticed how last week they cut it off at 15th place, cause Jr was 15th prior to Richmond mess.

Douglas
05/04/2009 07:59 AM
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RE: HEDGE FUND Managers! Now boy’s? What do you expect “investment” firms to do? GIVE Chrysler their BILLIONS of $$$$ as a GIFT?

All the HEDGE FUNDS wanted was a better deal for their money, not simply give it away as the Obama administration is doing!

And CEREBUS that bought Chrysler not that long ago has ALL the money to keep Chrysler afloat, but they were “playing the game” of trying to use OTHER PEOPLES MONEY rather than invest their own in their own company!

So you need to look deeper then the HEDGE FUNDS for placing the blame on Chrysler’s demise!

Just look at the owners, the TRUE owners of Chrysler for the cause!

NOT The HEDGE FUNDS!

Jim
05/04/2009 08:34 AM
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BW;

Iowa may be a great track, but, c’mon. You think the Cup guys are going to stop to race in front of 25,000 fans, assuming the place is banged out? Wouldn’t be a lot happy faces in the garage with a winner’s share in the mid-5 figures.

Kevin, Fontana will be getting a break soon…Matt’s harrangue on Loudon will be starting soon, and is scheduled to run thru mid-July.

Bill B
05/04/2009 08:39 AM
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That was a very good race and it had nothing to do with spectacular wrecks and cars flying into the stands. Although it did set a record for cautions so one has to wonder if they would feel the same way if there were only a handful of cautions.

Joe
05/04/2009 09:04 AM
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Is it just me or does it seem that you can knock the walls down now and still finish respectably but if your set up is a fraction off, you’re done?

Don’t know if I like this CoT, I think it appeals more to the “Fast and the Furious” fans, especially with this ridiculous wing contraption.

I liked my racing where you smack the wall, you’re race is for the most part over. In a nutshell put the race back in the driver’s hands and skills, not the engineering team.

Carl D.
05/04/2009 09:40 AM
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I actually thought the BK commercial was kind of funny until I realized it was for a kid’s meal. Maybe it is a bit much.

Speaking of commercials, I never knew that a Camshaft Tensioner Hydraulic Assembly looked like a lower case letter “q”. That’s a pretty funny commercial the first time you see it, but for the next seven hundred viewings after that it’s just Michael Waltrip prepping for his shameless “Sham-Wow” post-racing career.

Frank
05/04/2009 11:23 AM
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You may want to thank the hedge funds someday for preserving some semblance of capitalism….keeping week companies artifically afloat weakens the strong ones. Some jobs may have been sacrificed today for the good of jobs tommorow if you think they are dependent on capital and investment.

Ed
05/04/2009 11:36 AM
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I had never thought about it, but caution laps at Richmond, Martinsville, Bristol, N. Wilksboro, or Rockingham all look like racing at Fontana, or Loudon, particularly Fontana.

JplusW
05/04/2009 11:43 AM
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Good comment Douglas. You are spot on. It typical of people to blame the people that create the jobs and invest in the companies that are worth investing in. Chrysler should fail if its not profitable and no bailouts. Same with every other company.
The Richmond race was great. Why aren’t there more tracks like Richmond? Seems like the racing is so much better than a lot of other 1.5m tracks.

Ken
05/04/2009 12:37 PM
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You can’t have a rivalry if only one guy is winning. Right now Kyle has 11 Cup wins since going to JGR and Jr. has one fuel mileage win since replacing Kyle at HMS. Jr. will have to start winning some races before it can become a rivalry and the way it’s looking, that’s not going to happen.

Dr G
05/04/2009 01:06 PM
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I was at Southside for the charity event Thursday and watched Shrub dominate – particularly the restarts. They rolled 175 laps and I think he led about 160. Then he repeats Friday night in the 250 lapper – smokin ‘em on every restart. 400 more laps on Saturday – you just knew he was gone on that last restart.
Talented kid to run those different types of cars to the same result
800+ laps over 3 nights.
The kid has talent

Joe
05/04/2009 01:25 PM
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I’m beginning to think one of a few things are going on with Junior. 1) He’s all hype
2) There’s a 5000 lb elephant in the room when Rick Hendrick meets with Junior’s crew, or as I like to call them, “The Flying Asses”
I don’t think Hendrick necessarily wanted Junior’s crew namely Eury Junior coming along but you have to wonder if it was a potential deal breaker for Hendrick to handpick Junior’s crew chief.
3) you have to wonder if Junior has the “want to” to be a champion. Only 2 people seem to have brought out the best in Junior and kept his head in the game: his dad and Eury Sr. I have yet to see the killer instinct from him that I see in other drivers. That’s probably why guys like him, Mark Martin, Jeff Burton, Kasey Kahne, and Bowyer will never win Cups.

mike
05/04/2009 01:30 PM
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Great article. AWESOME race!

Richmond blows away ‘dega everytime. Saturday night under the lights at a short track is what we need more of.

Last year Jr. Nation said Kyle “took out” Jr. So did Jr. “take out” Burton this year? His wheels CLEARLY turned to the right. (I’m just sayin’….LOL)

I think Kyle’s made his point to Hendrick loud and clear.

As for Jr….sigh….would you REALLY want to be his crew chief? Think about it.

The Old Guy
05/04/2009 02:00 PM
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Ken, you said it best…

“You can’t have a rivalry if only on guy is winning.”

If I were Kyle, and had been dumped for the T-Shirt salesman, I rub their nose in it every chance I could.

Yeah, I like Kyle. I like his brother and I liked Tony Stewart when very few others did.

Keep kicking Butt Kyle. Let Rick Hendrick know every chance you get that he swapped you for a loser.

nascrud1
05/04/2009 03:15 PM
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One great example of the style of David Poole read “Fast Life and Remarkable Times of Nascar’s Top Gun.” Good stuff…RIP “Poole”

Carl in the PA
05/04/2009 06:42 PM
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Here’s an idea, Have those hedge fund managers put on sandwich boards that read “I mismanaged my clients money and took a much lower offer than I could get in bankruptcy court just so the socialist president would look good and columnists who should stick to writing about what they know could find something worthwhile to display their self-righteous indignation about.”

OK, so that would take either a very tall manager or several shorter managers standing in the correct order.

Seriously though, does fiduciary duty mean a thing to you?

Matt
05/04/2009 06:56 PM
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Well I do know what duty is, though I think you’re mis-spelling it. It’s actually, “doodie” and that’s what my mom taught me to call bullshit in polite company.

big donkey
05/04/2009 07:55 PM
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Matt, you’re picking on the retards again!

Dave
05/05/2009 08:45 AM
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Matt,

I don’t read your column that much anymore, it has become very repetitive. Is there a checklist that you follow?

Trash the new car – check
Trash someone named France- check
Trash Fox- check

I get it, it is what it is. When I’m in the mood for bitter nonsense, I look for your column.

But you should stay out of politics. You have no clue what you are talking about. You are just repeating something that you heard a reporter say.

A hedge fund manager has a legal obligation to his clients. If he thinks that he can do better than 30 cents on the dollar for his investment than he has to reject that offer. You are the DW of political commentary. I remember some nonsense about cell phones while driving in a previous column.