The Frontstretch: Matt McLaughlin's Thinkin' Out Loud: 2009 Bristol Night Race Recap by Matt McLaughlin -- Monday August 24, 2009

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The Key Moment: Kyle Busch prevailed in a spirited side by side duel over the final two laps.

In a Nutshell: While there’s side by side racing and technically better racing, fans just aren’t warming up to Bristol Lite. Fans don’t seem to like the new track, the new cars and less carnage. Maybe Bristol should modify Miller’s slogan, “Race great, less feuding”

Dramatic Moment: Business really picked up in the final 100 laps after a thoroughly mundane start to the event.

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

Remember those old WWJD bracelets? Want to improve the quality of stock car racing? Start handing the drivers WWED (What would Earnhardt Do?) bracelets.

Want anymore proof the Chase is ruining racing? If Mark Martin didn’t have to worry about a last lap wreck costing him a top 12 points position, might he have been more aggressive in the last couple laps? If Greg Biffle didn’t have the same concern, might he have stuck a nose in there and made it a three horse battle? Of the top four finishers, only Marcos Ambrose, long since eliminated from Chase contention, seemed to giving it all he had.

I’ll be the first to admit I love the spice that the double-file restarts in Cup racing have added to the seriously bland fare served up earlier this season. At most tracks the new rule is great. But I have my doubts about the rule at tracks like Bristol. The leader gets to pick the preferred line and he deserves to. He is after all leading the race and controls the restart. But the advantage given to the third place driver over the second place driver and so on through the field was hard to ignore. Late in the race it seemed Martin would have been wise to drop from second to third anytime a caution flag was imminent or leaving pit road.

Few things in racing irritate me more than watching a driver slow to allow a teammate to pass him for the lead so that teammate can get five points for leading a lap. With Johnson locked solidly in the Chase and the points to be reset after two more races, Johnson didn’t even need those five points. And as it turned out he later passed Martin for the lead legitimately. Imagine this nightmarish scenario. At Richmond in two weeks Martin experiences early race problems. Owner Rick Hendrick orders Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon (who are locked in the Chase) and Dale Earnhardt Jr. (who is locked out of it) to park their cars for the evening so Martin can return to the track and make up a few more positions and points in hope of making the Chase. It’s not that it ain’t happened, it just ain’t happened yet.

Count me among the vast majority who were incredibly relieved that at least we got to see the race end under the green flag rather than having the rain shower during the second red flag period decide the outcome of the race.

Should Martin have put a bumper to Busch to win the race? Given the level of respect Martin has earned over all these years for racing other drivers clean, I don’t think so. I suppose if he’d just nudged the 18 car aside the way Jeff Gordon once did to pass Rusty Wallace for a Bristol win, that would have been fine, but not if he’d just rammed Busch into the wall the way it happened in the ’99 night race between Earnhardt and Labonte back in the day.

So Brad Kesolowski found himself a Cup ride for next year as the driver of the 12 car at Penske South. That’s the same team that nurtured the careers of David Stremme and Jeremy May-Fail, I mean Mayfield. I think this is one of those “be careful what you wish for because you just might get it” moments. This is a performance centered business and Roger Penske has little time for excuses. Go out and win or get out and wonder what might have been if you were a little more patient at Hendrick Motorsports. Meanwhile would somebody buy that boy a razor? Mennonites don’t race.

What are the odds? Somehow Kyle Busch and Brian Vickers, who traded some rather barbed comments after last weekend’s Michigan Nationwide race, ended up touring the track in the back of the same pickup during Bristol’s pre-race festivities. In this instance neither driver attempted to push the other out of the truck at speed though the driver must have had to use his defrosters as frosty as things were in the back of that truck.

NASCAR is said to be studying the notion of using fuel injection in some of the top touring divisions. In related news the Flat Earth Society is beginning to entertain the notion the earth might actually be round. What’s next? Brian France adopting a heliocentric notion towards the universe where the sun doesn’t revolve around Daytona Beach?

There’s always a danger in using analogies to compare NASCAR racing to other sports. A thoroughly irritated Brian Vickers stated he wasn’t sure if Kyle Busch had one or two strikes against him in his relationship with Vickers but he was “out of strikes.” That had to have baseball fans scratching their pointy little heads.

After being wrecked while in the lead Friday night, one would have expected another classic Kyle Busch rant. Instead did we see the debut of the new kinder, gentler Kyle Busch?

What have they done to Kyle Busch? After Chase Austin’s boneheaded move took Busch out of Friday night’s race, Busch emerged to comment (notable enough in and of itself) and sounded like they’d given him a month’s dose of Prozac intravenously. Our friend Kyle sounded reasonable and even forgiving of the rookie’s unforced error and even failed to label Austin an “idiot.” The new and improved Kyle Busch? Here’s hoping. My fear is Austin got a bye because he’s the only African-American currently competing in NASCAR’s top three touring divisions. That doesn’t wash. Austin is a rookie. Rookies sometimes do some dumb things. It’s OK to say they did something dumb or regrettable no matter what color they are. Wrecking out the leader of the race and the points leader by taking a hard left in front of the race leaders is one of those “DOH!” moments that is hopefully indelibly printed in a rookie’s memory banks so they don’t do it again. I don’t care if you have a flat and a suspension failure, you steer it into the outside wall if you have to until there’s a hole to get down low. To blame Austin’s mistake on his race would not be acceptable. To say he made a terrible decision is just the unalterable truth.

Yeah, this one is going to be a long strange trip. NASCAR’s key witness who claims she saw Jeremy Mayfield routinely snort meth, his stepmother, showed up at Mayfield’s home and began drunkenly banging on the front door demanding to speak to him. When told Mayfield wasn’t home by staff members on the estate she allegedly assaulted them leading to her arrest. There’s one lady who is going to need an extreme makeover and a crash course in manners to work her way up to Trailer Trash status.

Was that Phil Parsons at this week’s gala NASCAR White House event bending Barrack Obama’s ear trying to convince the President to allow Parson’s fleet of start and park cars to qualify for the Cash for Clunkers program?

An exciting new benefit to Citizen Corps members was revealed this week. We’re all eligible for used company cars at huge discounts. I looked at a used Lexus this week in NASCAR’s headquarters parking lot but decided not to buy it after the Carfax revealed it had only been wrapped around a palm tree once.

A note to a recent advertiser during NASCAR broadcasts that is really beginning to irritate a lot of fans I hear from with the frequency of their repeated same ads. Ten bucks is still a lot of money to spend for what amounts to steak flavored chewing gum. Problem! Head down to your local Cheeseburger in Paradise outlet instead if you want a good meal on the cheap. It’s now the official restaurant of the Citizen Journalist Corps thanks to a charming young lady by the name of Sarah who helped me ring in my 50th birthday in a tsunami of Corona and onion sticks.

The Hindenburg Award For Foul Fortune

At one point the race seemed to be Jimmie Johnson’s to lose. A botched pit stop dropped him from the lead to 21st spot. While he raced his way back to an eighth place finish it had to be frustrating to lose a race in the pits. In fairness the 48 crew has handed their driver a lot more wins than they have cost him.

Tony Stewart had what might have been the most miserable weekend of his short career as an owner/driver. Early radio issues, a bad handling race car and electrical issues late consigned the points leader to a 33rd place finish.

Carl Edwards won the last two Bristol night races but Saturday night he went from Concrete Carl to Contrite Carl.

Juan Pablo Montoya seemed en route to a top 5 finish until an equalized tire (and there were a lot of tire failures Saturday night) ruined his evening. What’s confusing is why the team chose not to have the 42 car pit when Montoya reported he had a flat under caution. That’s the thing about flat tires. They don’t tend to fix themselves.

Anytime the series races at Bristol Jeff Gordon is always among the favorites. He ran well early in the race but contact with Denny Hamlin ruined Gordon’s evening, though to be fair it appeared he already seemed to be fading when the incident occurred.

Clint Bowyer got hit on more than a drunken cheerleader at a Holiday Inn lounge all night long. His chances of making the Chase went up in smoke as Bowyer tangled with the stricken car of Michael Waltrip late in the event. RCR’s nightmare season seemed to climax at Bristol.

The “Seven Come Fore Eleven” Award For Fine Fortune

It was a pretty fair weekend for Kyle Busch, winning the truck and Cup races, completing the Bristol season sweep, and powering his way back into serious Chase contention.

Mark Martin made some hard and protracted contact with Ryan Newman’s car on a late race restart. A flat tire could have easily dropped Martin out of the race and out of title contention.

Denny Hamlin spun in qualifying and thus started near the tail end of the field. When he cut a tire down early and lost a lap it looked like another lost weekend for the 11 team. But Hamlin soldiered his way back to a fifth place finish.

I’m not sure which category to list Kurt Busch under. The elder Busch brother ran in the top 5 most of the night until he got spun to bring out the night’s eighth caution. Somehow Busch fought his way back to a seventh place finish.

Worth Noting

  • Not only was the Cup victory Kyle Busch’s first since Richmond, it was only his second top 5 result in that fourteen race stretch. No wonder he’s been acting like the poster child for PMS.
  • Mark Martin’s second place finish was his 23rd top 10 at Bristol in 42 Cup starts here. Over those 42 starts Martin is averaging about a 12th place finish.
  • Marcos Ambrose’s third place finish was his best ever on an oval.
  • Greg Biffle (fourth) earned his third top 5 finish in the last five races.
  • Denny Hamlin (fifth) has strung together four straight top 10 finishes.
  • Ryan Newman’s sixth place finish was his first top 10 result since Joliet.
  • Kurt Busch (seventh) has top 10 finishes in three of the last four Cup races as the circuit returns to Atlanta where he won earlier this year.
  • Jimmie Johnson’s eighth place finish was his first top 10 since he won at the Brickyard last month.
  • Dale Earnhardt Jr. (ninth) has posted back to back top 10 finishes for the first time this season.
  • Matt Kenseth (tenth) hasn’t enjoyed a top 5 result since Dover, seemingly eons ago.
  • Jamie McMurray (11th) flirted with his first top 10 result since Martinsville.
  • Brian Vickers (12th) hasn’t finished outside the top 12 in seven races.
  • Scott Speed in 15th posted the best result by a rookie at Bristol.
  • Tony Stewart’s 33rd place finish was his worst of the season.
  • The top 10 finishers at Bristol drove four Chevys, three Toyotas, two Fords and Kurt Busch’s lone Fiat…er, Dodge.

What’s the Points?

Tony Stewart maintains the points lead. He is now 220 points ahead of Jimmie Johnson who wrested runner-up status in the points from Jeff Gordon.

Haven’t we seen this Looney-Tune before? Denny Hamlin and Carl Edwards once again swapped fourth and fifth place in the standings with Hamlin now having the advantage.

Ryan Newman, Greg Biffle and Mark Martin all had good points nights. All advanced two spots in the standings and they are now seventh, eighth and tenth in the standings respectively. More importantly for Martin, he now has a 60 point advantage over 13th place Kyle Busch.

That flat tire proved costly for Juan Pablo Montoya who dropped two spots to ninth in the standings.

Kasey Kahne’s issues dropped him three spots to 11th in the standings.

Matt Kenseth’s tenth place finish wasn’t good enough to keep him out of the basement in the Chase. Sitting 12th in the standings, he’s 34 points ahead of Kyle Busch in 13th and 39 points ahead of 14th place Brian Vickers. Whatever intrigue is left to this “Race to the Chase” nonsense now seems centered on which two of four drivers; Kenseth, Kahne, Busch and Vickers will make the cut and which won’t.

Therein lies the rub with this whole Chase points system which seems like it could have been conceived by Rube Goldberg and Dr. Seuss after a long night of washing down acid tabs with cheap tequila in a fleabag motel overrun with nickel hookers. There are currently four drivers who haven’t won a single race who are qualified for a title Chase. Meanwhile one of the two drivers who have won four events is on the outside looking in. Currently if Kyle Busch were to make the Chase he’d start the Chase tied for the lead with Mark Martin. If he fails to do so he can finish no better than thirteenth in the standings. Three other drivers who have won points races are also going to miss the Chase. Matt Kenseth, who won the race that NASCAR terms “Our Super Bowl,” is in danger of missing playoff contention. Whatever the outcome of this year’s title fight, the Chase is a dog that just won’t hunt. It needs to be taken behind the woodshed and have a bullet put in its head. A new points system that awards 100 point bonuses for winning races and drops a drivers worst three or four finishes needs to be adapted. I’d be happy to help my old buds at NASCAR out by designing a better points system as seems my duty as a member of the NASCAR Citizen’s Journalist Corps. It would take about fifteen minutes but they’re going to have to wait until riding season is over and pay for the six pack.

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 four cans of Colorado Kool-Aid. It wasn’t a classic Bristol race by old school standards but things heated up nicely there at the end.

Next Up: The Cup circuit takes a rare weekend off next week. Enjoy it, because this is the last one until Thanksgiving. Racing or some reasonable facsimile thereof returns at Atlanta on September 6th, the Sunday night of Labor Day weekend. (Summer’s done come and gone, my oh-my) While I guess we’re making progress with the Labor Day weekend race returning to the Southeast, always and forever that race belongs on the Sunday afternoon of the weekend at Darlington and should be run in the brutal unforgiving heat of the afternoon. It might be a 500 mile race down South but it ain’t the Southern 500 at Atlanta. Yes, I’m slightly more obsessed with returning the Labor Day date to Darlington than Tim Bayliss was with solving the Adeena Watson murder case but like Todd Rundgren once wrote, “A dream goes on forever…”

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Today on the Frontstretch:
Did You Notice? … A Return To Richmond, Post-Spingate And Quick Hits
NASCAR Mailbox: A ‘Normal’ Saturday And A Valuable Lesson
Beyond the Cockpit: Tony ‘The Sarge’ Schumacher
Open Wheel Wednesday: Controversial Moves, Long Beach Crowds, and Being a Fuddy Duddy
The Frontstretch Five: Pleasant Surprises of 2014 So Far
IndyCar Driver Profile: Takuma Sato
Beyond the Cockpit: Tommy Baldwin on Owning His Team, Hall of Fame and the Number Seven


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Carl D.
08/24/2009 08:29 AM

More intriguing than Brad Keselowski signing with Roger Penske is Rick Hendrick’s cryptic comment that “(Brad will) always be close enough for me to bring him back.”. What the heck does that mean? I don’t see Penske signing Brad for only one year, so is Hendrick being arrogant enough to say that he’s going to buy out Brad’s contract with Penske after 2010 when Martin Martin retires? If money is no object for Hendrick, why didn’t he just subsidize JR Motorsports to bring Keselowski’s team up to the Cup level? I may be wrong, but don’t think Rick Hendrick’s comment is just an off-the-cuff blurb to a reporter.

After watching both the Nationwide and Cup races at Bristol on TV this weekend, one thing that’s been seared into my brain is that at most restaurants, if you try to order the grilled fish and the juicy steak for around ten dollars, it’s going to be a very loud problem. That commercial is just about the most annoying one in history, and it must have aired at least 50 times between both races. Enough already!

Carl D.
08/24/2009 08:50 AM

One more Hindenburg award… Bobby Labonte was running 15th, which had to feel like he’d lapped the field considering how bad the 96 team runs. Then Denny Hamlin id what Denny Hamlin does.. wrecks people. To add insult to injury, Hamlin got the lucky dog pass while Bobby had to take his car to the garage. On a related note, today is the last day of the Cash for Clunkers program. Note to Yates/HOF Racing: The federal government will pay you up to $4500 for those clunkers you call race cars. Take the money.

08/24/2009 09:02 AM

i seriously doubt that shrub is the “new and improved”…i’m sure he was told to hold off on his comments about the nationwide wreck. you know how pc na$car is. busch did try to win over a fan or two by giving the checkered flag to fan in the stands on saturday night.

i have never imagined martin to be a driver to boot someone out of the way even if for a win. maybe in his youth, but not in recent years.

hey, dale jr was in atlanta last week to inject some excitement for the labor day race at ams. on the track’s website, there’s streaming video of him and he referred to sprint cup as winston cup. maybe he was remembering his day in winston cup when he ran well and was winning?! he also referred to nationwide as busch series. but then maybe he had just ingested too many amp lites instead of full-strength amps. what i saw of jr, he just doesn’t have any enthusiasm.

i sure wished the tag line for ams race would change….they keep saying “first race run under lights”…i’ve been to cup races in past when they were ran under lights cause of rain delays. one delay was 12 hrs long, and gordon won the race. oh yeah, that’s when ams was last race of the season. also went to irl race at ams at night years ago. so i guess symantic wise, this is the first “scheduled” race at ams to be a night race. but i do enjoy splitting hairs. last i checked, good seats still available!

08/24/2009 09:27 AM

An exciting new benefit to Citizen Corps members was revealed this week. We’re all eligible for used company cars at huge discounts. I looked at a used Lexus this week in NASCAR’s headquarters parking lot but decided not to buy it after the Carfax revealed it had only been wrapped around a palm tree once.

I don’t get this reference. Could you clarify? : )

08/24/2009 10:29 AM

Joe – this should explain it for you.

08/24/2009 10:53 AM


I was being fecetious. At least France was going back to the roots of the sport as NASCAR was built on alcohol.

Bill B
08/24/2009 12:09 PM

Let’s be honest the double file restarts, while being entertaining to the fans, have the same effect as calling debris cautions to bunch up the field. It’s basically a tool that guarantees close racing by manipulating the race. I’m not saying they should change it, I just want everyone to see it for what it is.

Don Mei
08/24/2009 12:29 PM

Whats manipulative about lining cars up for a restart in the order they were running? Every serious racing organization on the planet does that. Doing it any other way is manipulative!!

08/24/2009 01:11 PM

Should Martin have put a bumper to Busch to win the race?

Yes, he should have and only partly because of who it was. Hate to sound like a jerk but here goes. He didn’t and that’s why he’ll never win a championship. Nice guys with tons of talent might earn respect but they don’t finish on top in this sport.

Bill B
08/24/2009 01:13 PM

It’s manipulative because it was done mainly to shut fans up and increase ratings. I’ve only been a NASCAR fan for the last 15 years, are you saying at one time there were double file restarts in NASCAR? If not then ask yourself, why change now.

Bill B
08/24/2009 01:21 PM

I’ll also add in that it was a way to “fix” the lack of racing that the POS COT produced without addressing the real issues with the car. And it also gave NASCAR a way to “show” that they really do listen to fans (what a joke) without having to admit they made errors with many of the crappy changes they have put in since BF took over.

08/24/2009 01:44 PM

Speaking of green-flag finish. Did anyone see the strange ending to the Busch race? Debris caution with 13 laps (piece of plastic trim)…Nascar officials ran the yellow flag laps all the way down to lap 2. It certainly didn’t take 11 laps to get the piece of plastic and a few laps were used to sort the field, but the last 5~6 laps were just parade laps.

08/24/2009 01:56 PM

People hate Kyle so much that they won’t care if he doesn’t make the chase.

I’m waiting for when Kyle starts doing things the nascar PC way….and I’ll sit back and watch the fans and media bash him for not being himself.

Carl D.
08/24/2009 04:23 PM


I too was wondering why it took them so many laps to clean up a piece of plastic. I’ve come to the decision that it was so they could air the “Problem!” commercial a couple more times.

08/24/2009 05:17 PM


And to quote you: “and Dale Earnhardt Jr. (who is locked out of it) “!

HEY! You need corrected! (LOL)

ESPN had Jr. as STILL IN THE HUNT for the chase! His name was scrolled in yellow because “mathematically” he could still make it!

You have to just love ESPN’s math! 8 cars ahead of Jr. would ALL have to finish 43rd for Jr. to “mathematically” make the chase!

But last I looked, there is only one single 43rd place in each race, and only three races to the chase! (well, you figure it out if you don’t trust my math).

BUT! Imagine the fans that would turn off the TV if Jr. was shown as “eliminated”!

So, just more NA$CRAP/ESPN “make it what it ain’t”!

08/24/2009 06:39 PM

Suprised no one commented on Dave Blaney who qualified 4th parking after only 11 laps, it took him that long to get to the back of the pack and into the pits.
Bristol had a great driver intro, with each driver picking his favorite song.

08/24/2009 07:28 PM

I thought Reeds choice of Michael Jackson was amusing. Matt, it should be four cans of BF Kool-Aid.

Carl D.
08/24/2009 10:33 PM


They also showed Jamie McMurray’s name in yellow to show he’s not yet eliminated. Jamie doesn’t even have a ride next year. I think they were just trying to keep the chase “buzz” going.

Kevin in SoCal
08/25/2009 01:40 AM

I’d rather the media be talking about which of the bottom four drivers are going to make the Chase, instead of talking about how Tony Stewart is running away with the points battle this year. I’ll take the Chase over watching a driver run away with it any day.

08/25/2009 08:08 AM

Nice reference to the Dead’s “U.S. Blues”, Dawg.

08/25/2009 10:23 AM

I agree with babyd. Martin will never win a championship and the reason he never did is he doesn’t have what it takes. I’m not saying he had to wreck Kyle Busch but at least a “nudge” to see if he could get by him. He had a faster car shown by the fact he could get beside him. And he is in the early stages of dimensia if he really thinks Kyle Busch wouldn’t have hit him. Kyle Busch #1 priority is winning and given an opportunity he will do what it takes to win an apologize later. He’s “nudged” people in to get a spot in the back of the pack and Martin really thinks he wouldn’t do it for a win..

Don Mei
08/25/2009 11:59 AM

Ive been a Nascar fan for 40 years and Ill repeat that its illogical to line up for a restart in any way other than the running order that existed before the incident. I do agree with you completely about the COT (POS) but its not relevant.