The Frontstretch: Matt McLaughlin's Thinkin' Out Loud: Pennsylvania 500 Race Recap by Matt McLaughlin -- Tuesday August 4, 2009

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Matt McLaughlin's Thinkin' Out Loud: Pennsylvania 500 Race Recap

Matt McLaughlin · Tuesday August 4, 2009


The Key Moment – With 20 laps to go, Denny Hamlin restarted 14th with fresh tires. With 10 to go, he drove past Clint Bowyer to take the lead and was never headed.

In a Nutshell – Better late than never. In this case very late, but very much better than the last few Pocono races.

Dramatic Moment – The final 20 laps of the race were among the best of this season’s Cup races.

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

Wow, talk about the perfect visualization of an exercise in futility. I was laughing my guts out watching those poor track officials trying to dry a 2.5-mile race track with leaf blowers on Sunday. (Yes, I know they had jet driers out there too… but it was still hilarious.)

Umm… Drs. Mattioli, might it not be time to fix those bumps down low in Turn 1?

Do you think Kyle Busch is beginning to realize his chances at making the Chase are heading down the hopper? He drove himself into the wall overdriving his car and wound up 16th. I wouldn’t want to be ahead of Busch next week at the Glen. Heck, I wouldn’t even want to be on the same track, because I think the Mother of All Hissy Fits is about to go nuclear.

Why on earth did NASCAR throw a caution flag when David Ragan just barely kissed the wall and continued on at full speed?

Crowd estimates for Monday’s race at Pocono were about 80,000. Yeah, there were lots of empty seats, but that’s still more fans than some tracks have been able to attract for their regularly scheduled Sunday afternoon or Saturday night dates lately.

A note to Robby Gordon: It’s usually best not to announce your intentions to wreck another car over the radio. As for wrecking out the No. 12 car, how’d that work out for you? I guess there’s a reason the No. 7 was sporting black quarterpanels at Pocono.

Related to the above… Robby Gordon had announced his intentions to wreck Stremme. A few laps later, he rapped on the No. 12 car’s rear bumper a few times. Stremme pulled over, let Gordon get alongside him, then wrecked him. Yet ESPN didn’t have a camera on the duo after the caution flew to document what Gordon did to earn him a five-lap penalty? How the hell could they have missed that?

On a brighter note, the ESPN’s rain delay coverage was more entertaining than some races this year. The broadcast crew finally got around to admitting maybe this year’s Brickyard 400 was less than entertaining, that maybe these new cars are at fault, and NASCAR ought to let the teams tweak on them a bit to make for better racing. Some of the stories of the early days of ESPN and racing were also entertaining (or alternatively terrifying) as well. The footage of old Junior Johnson taking out a NASCAR official at the knees with the jack was hilarious.

Kyle Busch’s nine consecutive top 2 finishes in the Nationwide Series is nothing short of impressive, but the “I didn’t win” act is getting old.

Kyle Busch tied a pretty incredible record after this weekend’s Nationwide race. He matched a mark set by legendary Grand National driver Jack Ingram, finishing first or second in nine consecutive races after a runner-up finish at Iowa. As one has come to expect, though, Busch was petulant after having finished second for the seventh time in those nine races, throwing a girlish hissy fit in his post-race comments. That act is getting old, to the point that even ESPN’s Randy LaJoie noted that it was likely the crowd didn’t cheer Brad Keselowski’s win as much as they did Busch’s loss. An old saw in racing states to finish first, first you have to finish. Another states, “Second place is the first loser.” To extrapolate, to be first loser seven times, first you have to be a loser. Let’s just call this streak of bad luck Busch is enduring Sam Bass’s Curse…

Speaking of Iowa, the new facility managed to pack in a capacity crowd for what turned out to be a fine race on a multi-groove track that had the crowd stamping their feet and cheering most of the afternoon. I have to agree this track deserves a Cup date a lot more than some of the other tracks currently on the schedule with two of them.

The Start and Park situation in both the Nationwide and Truck series is seriously out of hand. You have to wonder if the plethora of Start and Parkers is going to turn fans at home into Sit and Surfers looking for some more palatable fare. You also have to wonder if MSRP’s No. 90 and No. 91 team cars would qualify for Cash for Clunkers. After all, they can’t seem to run for more than eight miles without brake or overheating problems. Maybe Fiat is actually already funding NASCAR teams after all?

This week, Ford unveiled a prototype of its new Mustang Nationwide Series Car of Tomorrow that will debut next year. Color me underwhelmed. I’m a Mustang guy; my first car was a ’70 Mustang Mach One 428 Cobra Jet, replete with slats, shakers, and spoilers. (For which I laid out 1600 bucks in 1975…sigh.) My first new car out of college was a 1982 Mustang GT, which gave way to a near-annual upgrade to a new Fox body Mustang through the ’80’s. Along the way, I’ve had a bunch of other Mustangs, including two Boss 302s and even a Shelby back when such rides were affordable to mere mortals. I had high hopes for the new NASCAR Mustang… but the prototype looks like a Ford Fusion CoT with different decals for the headlights and driving lights. Chevy is also balking at marketing their new Camaro in the same series, saying the design engineers don’t feel the potential race car could look enough like its street counterpart to justify the marketing expense. I have my own doubts on why Chevy won’t campaign Camaros, though. In the infamous words of Eddie Murphy’s SNL character Velvet Jones, “The bitch ugly.” This new Camaro looks about as much like a 1969 model as your granny looks like Heather Locklear.

While the topic is fading in the rear-view mirror, the issue of pit road speeding penalties is still a hot topic after Montoya’s disaster at Indy. Several team members and drivers said they would like to have the same data NASCAR gets in the booth to figure out if their driver (or most likely other teams’ drivers) were speeding. That seems a reasonable request. It would be nice for the media and especially the fans to have access to that data, too. I seem to recall during one pit sequence at Indy, Jeff Gordon was traveling down pit road, presumably at the required speed, and the No. 48 car came storming up from ten car lengths back to get right on Gordon’s rear bumper. So, either Gordon was going too slow or Johnson was going too fast… and I find it unlikely Gordon was going too slow. This ain’t his first rodeo, cowgirl.

Gordon pointed out that in other forms of auto racing like F-1 and the IRL, cars are outfitted with a button on the steering wheel a driver hits as he enters pit road that limits the car to the maximum speed allowed. Why can’t NASCAR implement the same technology? It makes sense to me. I don’t guess there’s many fans who want to see a race decided by pit road speeding penalties like the Brickyard presumably was. The problem (for NASCAR, at least) is that such systems usually involve a wheel speed sensor, and if the sport were to allow such a device, teams could conceivably use that same sensor to provide data for some sort of traction control system on the track. But it seems to me with the relatively inexpensive GPS systems now available to us all, stuff that would have been Science Fiction a decade ago, a speed limiting system using GPS ought to be fairly easy to develop. Lacking that, how about a GPS system that triggered wiggle-waggle lighting systems on the front and rear of a car that exceeds pit road speed limits? When the car begins blinking like a Christmas tree Jeremy Mayfield watered, we’d all know that driver was speeding, and it would add some cool visuals to night races.

And finally, on the topic of speeding, I enjoy watching the YouTube videos veteran NASCAR beat writer Mike Mulhern posts on his site to air his thoughts on race weekend live. Mulhern typically films his videos while driving to or from the track using an in-car camera while he’s at the wheel. Now, I know the Poconos pretty well; in addition to attending countless races there, I have friends who own vacation homes in the region, and we’re up there all the time riding dirt bikes, hunting, fishing, and hanging out. So every time I watched Mulhern (who was driving at a pretty good clip given the roads I also know well) take his eyes off the road to look into the camera, I wanted to scream “Eyes forward, look out for deer!” You see, white-tail deer have become so abundant in the Poconos we refer to them as rats with antlers. In some communities, they’ve become so domesticated you can hand-feed them doughnuts. Car/motorcycle collisions with deer are an everyday occurrence as a result … especially at dawn and dusk. In fact, I am convinced that our Creator never produced any mammal dumber than a white-tail deer outside the one that drives the No. 18 car. So if you’re going to the Poconos for a race or a vacation, you must learn to constantly scan the roadside for white-tail deer (or drunks wearing number No. 88 T-shirts on muddy old quads trying to cross the road unexpectedly).

I’m a curious sort, so I just had to check it out. David Gilliland’s car, which appeared briefly at Pocono as a start and parker, was sponsored by the National Leiomyosarcoma Foundation. So, what is Leiomyosarcoma? It’s rare sort of cancer Wikipedia describes as “a type of malignant sarcoma, which is a neoplasm of smooth muscle.” Cancer is no laughing matter, and I hope a cure is found for this disease. But how the Hell did they find room to fit the name of the foundation on the car?

The Hindenburg Award For Foul Fortune

Marcos Ambrose seemed to be in position to finish in the top 10 until an ill-advised move by Denny Hamlin took out David Reutimann, with Ambrose suffering collateral damage.

The No. 88 team once again found a way to adjust on a potential top 10 car and turn it into an also-ran.

You’ve got to feel for all those race fans who had (not inexpensive) race tickets to Sunday race but couldn’t come back on Monday. The weather in these parts Sunday was beyond atrocious. I’ve always wanted to live on a lakefront property; I just never expected my garage to be in the middle of it. After the race was called, I went kayaking… in my basement. Even a major interstate outside of Philly had to be shut down because the road flooded so deep it was up to cars’ windshields. Rain on a Pocono weekend is nothing new… but this was positively Biblical.

The “Seven Come Fore Eleven” Award For Fine Fortune

It just didn’t look like it was going to be Jimmie Johnson’s day. He began losing power, and believed his engine was about to blow. But the team changed a carb, plug wires, and plugs to get the car roaring back to life. Though at one point he was three laps down, Johnson rallied back to a 13th place finish. That’s how you win titles.

Likewise, Tony Stewart’s weekend didn’t start off on a great note. He crashed a car in practice and had to drop from the pole starting position to the rear of the field. Early in the race, his car was so evil-handling that Stewart had to pit even before the lap 20 competition caution. The team didn’t give up on their car or driver, though, and Stewart rallied back to finish 10th.

It was another great weekend for Ron Hornaday, who won his fifth straight Truck Series event at the age of 51. In NASCAR’s top three touring divisions, only Richard Petty (twice) and Bobby Allison have won five straight events previously.

Given the team’s recent performance, having two cars finish in the top 12 was a shot in the arm for the RCR organization.

Maybe Sam Hornish, Jr. is getting the hang of driving these taxicabs after all?

Worth Noting

  • His race win Monday was Denny Hamlin’s first in the last fifty races. Three of his five career Cup wins have occurred at Pocono.
  • Juan Pablo Montoya’s second place finish was by far his best finish of the 2009 season, and his first top 5 result since Watkins Glen just about exactly a year ago.
  • Clint Bowyer’s third place finish was his best since Las Vegas early this year.
  • Sam Hornish’s fourth place finish was the best of his Cup career.
  • Kasey Kahne (fifth) has top 10 results in five of the last six Cup races.
  • Brian Vickers (sixth) now has four straight top 10 Cup finishes.
  • Jeff Gordon (eighth) has top 10 finishes in seven of the last eight races.
  • The last time Tony Stewart (tenth) finished outside the top 10 in a Cup race was at Charlotte in May.
  • Jimmie Johnson’s thirteenth place finish was his worst since Michigan. It was fixin’ to be a whole lot worse than that earlier in the race.
  • The top 10 finishers drove five Chevys, three Dodges, and two Toyotas. The top finishing Ford pilot was Matt Kenseth in eleventh.
  • Scott Speed’s 23rd place finish was the best by a Rookie of the Year Candidate at Pocono.

What’s the Points?

Despite a rough start to his day, Tony Stewart managed to increase his points gap over second place Jimmie Johnson to 197 points. Third place Jeff Gordon now trails Johnson by just two, while fourth place Kurt Busch is a staggering 238 points behind Gordon (however, the top four have all but secured a spot in the top 12 at this point).

Denny Hamlin and Carl Edwards swapped fifth and sixth spots yet again this week, with Hamlin now obviously holding the advantage. Juan Pablo Montoya moved up two spots to eighth, while Ryan Newman fell two spots to ninth. Mark Martin fell a spot to round out the top 10.

Finishing off the current crop of Chasers, Matt Kenseth took over eleventh in the standings from Greg Biffle. Kyle Busch moved up a spot to thirteenth, but he’s 101 points out of the top 12 with five races until the Chase. Brian Vickers trails Busch by three points, while fifteenth place Clint Bowyer is 14 points behind Kyle.

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 four bottles of Genny Cream Ale. It took awhile to heat things up to a simmer; but once they got cooking, it was a pretty savory dish.

Next Up – It’s onto Chicago… or Detroit … I dunno, they do so many of these shows in a row, and these towns all look the same. But my long overdue vacation’s going to start right here. I’ll be off the next couple weekends, but my recaps return for the Bristol Night race. Till then, campers, keep ‘em greasy side down and let me share with you the one thing of worth I have learned in fifty years upon this planet. When you’re lost in the funhouse, look down and follow the heaviest wear patterns in the carpet. That’ll get you outta there.

Contact Matt McLaughlin

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Fantasy Insider: Team Revelations For NASCAR’s Short Tracks



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Bruce Florman
08/04/2009 01:51 AM

NASCAR make the pit-road timing data public? You gotta be joking. If they did that, then they’d have to enforce the penalties consistently.

08/04/2009 07:31 AM

While I admire the #48 being able to figure out what their gremlins were during the race, giving a car back 3 laps just for bein the first/only car a lap (or more) down isn’t really ‘earning’ your way back on the lead lap. I think it’s time Nascar limits the number of free passes a car can get in a race. How much more exciting would it have been watching JJ try to get up to the leader and have to pass him on the track to get his laps back?

08/04/2009 07:41 AM

Enjoy your vacation, Matt. I liked the Jackson Browne reference. Set ‘em up and tear ‘em down! I also liked the funhouse tip, but by far the best thing you wrote was the reference to the one mammal dumber than the whitetail. Classic!

08/04/2009 07:47 AM

Concerning Jimmy Johnson, if any other top driver had a tenth the luck of that team, the top ten race would be a lot closer. Change a carb on pit road? The only car 1 lap down and debris cautions one right after another. Yeah, he’s good, but the force is with him.

MJR in Springfield VA
08/04/2009 07:48 AM

Start and Parkers…. (SAPs). That’s what you should call them SAPs…

Published speed data….are you stoned man???? If that was ever done you would see half the field being penalized at least once across the race…but then again it would be consistent (note: that is NOT a word in the NA$CAR dictionary or rule book).

The Sam Bass Curse…I like that…and hope it follows Mr. Busch for a long time given what he did to that beautiful trophy…jacka$$.

08/04/2009 08:49 AM

“Dramatic Moment – The final 20 laps of the race”

This is what the cup series has become.

ORP blows away Indy and Iowa blows away Pocono.

Hello? Nascar?

Bill B
08/04/2009 08:57 AM

As long as we have the double file restarts with the lapped cars starting in the back, it is pretty much impossible to race your way back onto the lead lap. I’m not disagreeing with you, I’m just pointing out why it can no longer work that way.

Carl D.
08/04/2009 08:58 AM

Since I had to work yesterday, the only race I got to see this weekend was the Nationwide Race at Iowa. Now THAT’S a race track. I gotta go with Matt… the place deserves a Cup date. Take a California date. Please.

Don’t count Kyle Busch out just yet. Don’t get me wrong, I really hope the spoiled little brat misses the Chase, but there’s still five races to go and it’s certainly not out of the realm of possibility for the 18 team to reel off a couple of victories in a row.

08/04/2009 11:13 AM

you must learn to constantly scan the roadside for white-tail deer (or drunks wearing number No. 88 T-shirts on muddy old quads trying to cross the road unexpectedly).

That added nothing to your column yet insulted millions of Dale Jr fans. When will the media learn they are a big part of tearing Nascar apart?

08/04/2009 12:12 PM

I have to agree with one of the previous posters regarding the “lucky dog” rule. Nothing against Stewart or Johnson personally, but both regained laps when they had no competitive ability to be in the position. I dislike rewarding drivers when they have miscues or car issues which force them to pit. I think it hurts competition and is a main reason why we have the usual 5~6 drivers always winning.

Laidback Racing
08/04/2009 01:00 PM

NASCAR has always and will always use the “speeding on pit road” penalty as a way to punish/control drivers…a perfect example is Rusty Wallace. There is NO way they are gonna let anyone see their “data”

08/04/2009 02:19 PM

I’d rather see a driver pissed off at finishing 2nd than hear the usual “we had a great points day”.

Too many damn drivers just ride around. We need MORE like Kyle.

08/04/2009 04:39 PM

How about Johnson passing people like they are standing still. Traction control? Time for a complete car teardown if you ask me.

08/04/2009 06:36 PM

Interesting info from Jayski’s penalty listing. #64, Mike Wallace, lap 11, black flag, safety violation………… freaking pit crew. Where in the h*ll were his brothers, aunts and uncles, eh? Winnings, $64,592. No pit crew, WTF? Why in the Sam Hill actually race? Start and park? Should be Start and Profit. What a joke.
If any of you NASCAR folks have ever been to a World of Outlaws sprint session, you will see what a joke NASCAR has become.

08/04/2009 06:51 PM

Pocono on a monday rain date draws 80,000 fans. Probably 30,000 MORE fans than the 50,000 that may have shown up for a sat. nite race at Chicagoland.

The Old Guy
08/04/2009 07:15 PM

So if you’re going to the Poconos for a race or a vacation, you must learn to constantly scan the roadside for white-tail deer (or drunks wearing number No. 88 T-shirts on muddy old quads trying to cross the road unexpectedly).

That’s the funniest thing I’ve ever seen you write. Probably more close to the truth than most would believe.

08/05/2009 11:19 AM

“In fact, I am convinced that our Creator never produced any mammal dumber than a white-tail deer outside the one that drives the No. 18 car.”

Your best line of the year!

don mei
08/05/2009 01:03 PM

We call them “bambi-rats” here in CT.

08/05/2009 03:31 PM

I agree completely with the “too many Lucky Dogs and well timed debris cautions”. I have a bigger issue with the #48 being allowed on the track without the entire air cleaner assembly. The crew obviously felt there was a carb/fuel problem since they changed it. The air filter acts as a flame arrestor, so this should have been an automatic safety violation, especially since NASCAR’s #1 priority issupposed to be safety. A loose fuel line or faulty carb could have proven disasterous. A loose oil tank lid costs the #99 points and $, but wait, I forgot, we’re talking about JJ and HMS. Just my opinion, but I was really surprised warching the race that there was no penalty.