The Frontstretch: Matt McLaughlin's Thinkin' Out Loud: Atlanta Fall Race Recap by Matt McLaughlin -- Monday September 7, 2009

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Matt McLaughlin's Thinkin' Out Loud: Atlanta Fall Race Recap

Matt McLaughlin · Monday September 7, 2009


The Key Moment – Kevin Harvick seemed poised to run away with an upset win until a late caution (caused ironically enough by Harvick’s teammate, Clint Bowyer) reshuffled the deck and handed Kasey Kahne the winning hand.

In a Nutshell – On Labor Day weekend within a sport where fans have labored to believe that we’d ever see a good race again, just for one day we all enjoyed a moderately exciting old school race.

Dramatic Moment – When the field took the green flag with eleven laps to go, there were at least a half-dozen drivers who could have won the race; and oddly enough, it wasn’t the Usual Suspects.

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

How great was it seeing drivers have to manhandle loose race cars and actually drive them again? Kudos to the much-maligned Goodyear rubber company for finally bringing a safe and competitive tire to the track.

Remember that little kiddies’ game where someone hid an object and others searched for it, the player would give hints by saying “you’re getting colder” or “you’re getting hotter” to direct the searchers? Well, NASCAR is getting at least warmer rescheduling the Labor Day weekend race to Atlanta in the Southeast and away from California, where it was an annual disaster and embarrassment. But they still haven’t found the hidden thimble. Always and forever, the Labor Day race weekend deserves to be at Darlington as it had been for over five decades. It deserves to be at Darlington the way Christmas deserves to be observed on December 25th annually rather than moved to the last weekend in May to ensure Snowbelt shoppers better weather and a chance to cash their tax rebate checks to spur shopping. Frasier Crane, once a bit character on the wildly popular Cheers TV program held on to TV superstardom for another decade with his tagline “Hello, Seattle, I’m listening.” The embattled current management team at NASCAR corporate headquarters could send no clearer message they are finally willing to listen to race fans than to move the Southern 500 back to the Sunday afternoon in Darlington where it belongs. This concludes my annual diatribe about the Southern 500, and we now return you to your regularly scheduled programming.

Fans planning to watch next weekend’s Richmond race on TV might consider wearing crash helmets on the couch because ESPN is apparently going to try to beat ya’ll senseless with the “Race to the Chase” sledgehammer. Better yet, head out to the race live. It promises to be a real good race and a real bad broadcast.

A quick note to Kurt Busch: the term “bummer” left the lexicon about the time the dope smoke cleared at Woodstock.

Somehow, some way, Matt Kenseth battled back to keep himself in the Chase after a disastrous meeting with the outside wall early in Sunday’s race.

The careers of Matt Kenseth and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. are permanently entwined after their battles for Busch Series titles and Cup Rookie of the Year honors. But there’s a big difference between the 17 team and the 88 outfit (and Earnhardt’s former 8 team.) The 17 team can start a race with a car that’s junk and adjust it to become competitive at the end of the race. The 88 bunch has a habit of taking a competitive car and adjusting it into an also ran. A big part of that is how the two drivers communicate what they need over the radio.

Looks like Doug Yates harvesters are having a little trouble sorting the wheat from the Darnell.

Denny Hamlin’s personal car, a Lexus LS, was stolen from his Lake Norman garage earlier this week. Man, times have changed. I remember a day when a rich, successful, single, young man wouldn’t be caught dead in a four door car that looked like he’d borrowed it from his aging chiropractor.

Race car drivers tend to live on the edge of the envelope. Otherwise, they’re just taking up space or driving the 55 car. (Which might sound a bit redundant.) Occasionally, they might engage in such high risk behaviors as playing Frisbee, which is what Carl Edwards was doing when he busted his foot this week. Tongue in cheek, Edwards even noted what a dangerous sport Frisbee can be and added that his car owner, Jack Roush, told him, “You just can’t go a day without showing everybody how dumb you are, can you?” (I guess it beats Kyle Busch breaking his foot and blaming the manufacturer of Frisbees for his injury.) I’m going to write this one off to karma. Edwards noted he rode a “motorcycle” to the playground where his injury occurred. Usually when one notes that they rode a “motorcycle” that means the two wheeler in question was not a Harley Davidson. After all you have “bikes” and you have “Harley Davidsons.” The latter are produced to stir a good man’s soul to near ecstasy on a perfect late summer’s afternoon while the former are produced to put young people into pine boxes at an early age.

Somebody send Bobby Labonte a can of sterno: I hear it gets cold in the evenings on the scrapheap of history. Anyone else recall that old hippie ballad about staying too long at the fair? Yeah, I’d love to see B-Lab win a race in the 71 car. I’d also like to buy a winning Powerball ticket, I’m just not planning my retirement on either event. (For the record Labonte finished 18th and Eric “Who?” Darnell finished 30th in Labonte’s former Yates ride. David Gilliland who vacated the seat in the 71 car to make room for Labonte finished 19th.)

It would appear that IRL racer Danica Patrick’s “people” are finally talking seriously about their girl dabbling in stock car racing, but the conditions seem to include that she’d only run some events in the Nationwide, truck and possibly ARCA series prior to and after the IRL schedule and she‘d be incredibly well compensated for her hobbyist approach to NASCAR racing. Note to Ms. Patrick. That’s not going to work. This isn’t a little pond like the IRL. This is a great big lake. You can’t dip your toes in here. You either dive in head first and learn to swim or you stay on the porch. Or the Porsche as the case might be.

Yeah, summertime sure has come and gone, my oh, my. This weekend, the jolly fat man in a red suit with a beard made an appearance at Atlanta. Oh, wait a second, that was points leader Tony Stewart promoting artery clogging Whoppers. Santa doesn’t wear sunglasses.

The Hindenburg Award For Foul Fortune

Jimmie Johnson typically hits his stride in the last couple events leading into the Chase but problems with an axle and his differential proved to be a pain in the rearend for the 48 team Sunday night.

One set of tires clearly didn’t agree with the 18 car and its driver later in the event. It didn’t help any that Busch did the usual when confronted with a challenge and became his typical whiny, boy-bitch self on the radio. As hard as his pit crew worked all night they deserved a bit more gumption from their man-child driver. This is Radio Nowhere. Is there anybody alive out there?

First he breaks his foot during the week. Then debris punches a hole through his engine oil cooler. This just wasn’t Carl Edwards’ week.

Kevin Harvick aside, it was another frustrating night for the other three RCR teams.

The “Seven Come Fore Eleven” Award For Fine Fortune

Early in the event, it didn’t look like Matt Kenseth could keep his evil-handling car confined to a 50 acre briar patch. Contact with the wall tore part of the bumper of the 17 car clean off. But the team and driver kept battling and adjusting until they got Kenseth back up into the top 10 though he ultimately backslid to twelfth. At this point he’s still in a points position that will allow him to battle for the title though in an underdog role.

Tony Stewart seemed en-route to another lackluster finish after a dropped lugnut in the pits sent him to the rear of the field. He battled back to a respectable eleventh place finish.

It was a pretty fair weekend for Harvick, with his Nationwide win and a competitive second place finish in the Cup race, especially since the team seemed to indicate that his car was overheating and might not finish Sunday’s race.

Brian Vickers’ chances at making the Chase seemed doomed when he broke an axle exiting pit road. Somehow his team was able to replace the axle without losing a lap and Vickers went on to finish seventh keeping his fleeting title aspirations afloat for one more week.

Worth Noting

  • Kahne’s win was his second the season but his first on an oval since Pocono last June.
  • Two of Kevin Harvick’s (second) three top 5 Cup finishes this season were scored at Atlanta.
  • Juan Pablo Montoya (third) scored a top 10 finish after missing that mark the last three times out.
  • David Reutimann (fourth) scored his first top 5 result since New Hampshire.
  • Since winning at Pocono, Denny Hamlin (seventh) has managed to string together five straight top 10 finishes.
  • Jeff Gordon (eighth) led multiple laps in an event for the first time Loudon. You’ve gotta wonder if he hurt his back playing Frisbee.
  • Ryan Newman (ninth) hasn’t enjoyed a top 5 finish since Pocono in June.
  • Greg Biffle (tenth) has top 10 results in four of the last six Cup races.
  • Nobody on the No. 14 team is panicking, but Tony Stewart has finished outside the top 10 in the last three races.
  • Matt Kenseth (twelfth) has finished somewhere between tenth and fourteenth in his last six Cup races. That’ll probably get him into the Chase but like the bulldog that finally catches the dump truck, now what?
  • Robby Gordon’s sixteenth place finish was his best since Charlotte in May.
  • Bobby Labonte’s eighteenth place finish with the new team was actually his best Cup result since Charlotte.
  • Jimmie Johnson’s 36th place finish matches his worst result of 2009. Johnson also finished 36th at Richmond this spring.
  • Carl Edwards’ 37th place finish was his worst of the season. Kurt Busch (38th) also endured his worst 2009 Cup finish and crashed out of a race for the second time in three events. I don’t know if momentum going into the Chase actually means anything but I’d rather be surfing a wave like Denny Hamlin right now rather than treading water like Edwards or Busch.
  • Joey Logano’s 22nd place finish was the best by a rookie.
  • The top 10 finishers at Atlanta drove five Chevys, three Toyotas, and a single Dodge and Ford.
  • Ford has managed just two Cup victories this season, both of them scored by Matt Kenseth and both of those victories were in the first two races of the season.

What’s the Points?

Tony Stewart remains the points leader heading into the regular season finale. Jimmie Johnson’s driveline woes allowed Jeff Gordon to bypass him to take over second in the standings.

Further back, the win propelled Kasey Kahne forward five spots to sixth in the standings and barring an early lap meltdown of Chernobyl proportions by the No. 9 team next week, safely into the Chase.

Greg Biffle tumbled three spots in the standings down to eleventh, 68 points ahead of the cutoff mark. Ryan Newman fell two spots to ninth in the standings.

Juan Pablo Montoya bought himself a little more breathing room, moving up a spot to eighth.

Matt Kenseth continues to be the Chase Cellar Dweller. Call him the Atlantic City Gambling Commission, because he’s hanging on by the skin of his teeth. He’s got a twenty point lead over Brian Vickers, who advanced a spot to thirteenth in the standings and a 37 point lead over Kyle Busch, who fell a spot to fourteenth.

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 five cans of union produced Peachtree Lager. The last few laps were a bit of an anti-climax but this was arguably the most entertaining Cup race of the summer stretch.

Next Up – The Cup series heads off to Richmond for what used to be one of the finest races on the schedule on what is arguably NASCAR’s best track, the perfect combination of a short track and speedway with three lanes to pass. My fear is that we’ll be listening to the reverse lights of some of the sport’s brightest stars trying to back their way into playoff contention rather than racing for a win and that the blatant corporate bleating on ESPN about the All Singing, All Dancing Chase might ruin an otherwise fine race for the folks at home next Saturday night.

Contact Matt McLaughlin

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Mirror Driving: Winning Vs. Points, Needing a Boost, and The Lady’s Last Dance?
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09/07/2009 11:49 AM


It was Denny Hamlin’s car that was stolen.

09/07/2009 11:54 AM


last i checked unions weren’t welcomed here in the south.

i think my tv received a different signal. i though the race seemed eternally long. oh well….maybe my attention span is shortening with each passing day. wonder how many of the fans are just waking up at ams. they better hurry up or they’ll be caught in the return home from long weekend traffic that will be hading up i-75 north in a few hours.

matt, i’m so surprised you didn’t mention your heartbreak since your “favorite driver” won’t be at richmond. i know you’re secretly crying cause robby won’t be there.

09/07/2009 01:21 PM

I definitely think that was a great race, and September is a better fit for Atlanta – the weather was good and the crowd was definitely there and upbeat. But Darlington should definitely still be Labor Day weekend (even if only one race a year there). IMO, this race should go where New Hampshire is now (or Richmond, backing it up a week), and if NHMS deserves two races (attendance-wise it definitely does), the second race could go where Kansas is now and Kansas takes Darlington’s spot in the spring.

I do think an earlier start time – like 7 pm – should be considered for next time though.

09/07/2009 01:27 PM

As for California, we will find out in October if it deserves 1 race or 0 races. I’d give one of them to Iowa Speedway, and the other I’d send up to Canada (a new track? an Rockingham-like oval in eastern Ontario would be best IMO) after their excellent crowd for the Nationwide race last week.

09/07/2009 01:53 PM

You ramble too much. Your column looks more like a gossip column for a small town newspaper, than an editorial for Frontstretch. Stay to the point.

09/07/2009 02:27 PM

The point is Matt’s ‘Thinkin’ Out Loud’. I’d say he stayed to the point perfectly.

09/07/2009 02:39 PM

Tony’s team isn’t panicking because they’ve been in the typical pre Chase R&D mode since he’s clinched.
Vicker’s crew deserves that steak dinner.
Hamlin’s car is registered to Toyota. Just another perk.
Your “Next Up” comments are dead on. Such the way it is in King Brian’s circus. One positive note is that the NFL kicks off this weekend. With everyone already po’d about the race coverage, it’ll be interesting to how France’s grand plan to compete against the NFL stacks up this year. Go Hawk’s

09/07/2009 03:13 PM

Your Next Up comments reminded me of a quote that I read a while ago.

“Ultimately, the Chase for the Sprint Cup has been successful,” NASCAR spokesman Ramsey Poston said. “We had three different winners in five years and it’s fair to say the best team has won each year.
“The Chase puts more emphasis on winning, and just being consistent is no longer a winning formula. If Jimmie Johnson does win a third consecutive championship, then he should be celebrated for making history and beating the best stock car drivers in the world.”

King Brian had this to say.
“I’d love for all 11 drivers to be within 25 points of (the leader) myself,” France said. “The reality of it is, that’s sports. There are World Series that are not as exciting as others, that’s just the nature of a dominant performance quite frankly.”
Now tell me again why there is “the chase?”

Politician-to-be? Jeff Burton had this quote.
Jeff Burton, fourth in the Chase and virtually out of contention, noted that it’s simply human nature for people to want to make changes when the current rules don’t work for them.
“I just think we have to be careful,” he said. “Every time we have a point championship that’s not as compelling as one of the greatest, I think we have to caution against making changes.
“This (year’s) World Series was just won in five games. .. Not every championship is going to be a five-point swing or a five-point difference, it’s just not.”
Now tell me again why there is “the chase?”

Here’s a story from a newspaper up here for the DW fan.

Waltrip Threatens To Sue

WOODSTOCK, N.B.—A New Brunswick businessman and long-time fan has been forced to change the name of his tiny memorabilia shop under the threat of a lawsuit by NASCAR legend Darrell Waltrip.

Randy Nicholson, who’s sold NASCAR merchandise since 2001, has been accused of infringing on a trademark that wasn’t registered until 2005.

Borrowing from a catchphrase issued by the Fox Sports commentator at the start of every race, Nicholson called his business Boogity Boogity Racing, then later changed Sportswear.

“I used to like Darrell Waltrip, but I think if I had him hee now, I”d tear out his windpipe,” he said yesterday.

“I’d love for all 11 drivers to be within 25 points of (the leader) myself,” France said. “The reality of it is, that’s sports. There are World Series that are not as exciting as others, that’s just the nature of a dominant performance quite frankly.”
I think he’s made a BOOgityBOO.

09/07/2009 05:33 PM

I was so glad to see Bobby Labonte finish way ahead of that no-talent idiot Darnell! Once again, Roush screws over someone (Labonte) by forcing Yates to pull Bobby in favour of a driver that has no business being on the track, and come’s off looking like the total moron he is! When will “The jerk In The Hat” realise that every fan of NASCAR hate’s his guts and want’s him and all his stupid, no-talent drivers gone from the sport! I hope Edwards finnishes last at Richmond and, along with Kenseth and Biffle, misses the Chase! No Roush drivers in the Chase will be perfect! Only Hendrick drivers or a certain Gibbs Driver deserves to win the Championship anyway!

Robert Eastman
09/07/2009 05:40 PM

You heard it here first (I think). How’s this for a prediction? HOF racing will align with TRG for the 2010 season. Bobby Labonte looked pretty impressive (relatively speaking) in the 71. It seems that the “new upstart team” TRG has a better program “going-on” than the “used-to-be greats” over at Yates! Since TRG are real pro’s at sports car racing, they can probably “deliver the goods” in Cup, given the right funding. HOF would probably “get the best of everything” from TRG, instead of the “left-overs” like they have gotten at JGR and Yates! If I were TG, I would give it a lot of consideration!

09/07/2009 06:57 PM


Heck, your just supplying information, not writing a mystery novel!

Came in from outside, turned on the TV, located the “race” (if one calls it that anyway), a series of ads were on, they went on and on, I then checked the channel once again to make sure I had it right, it was, more ads, THEN they went to a “side by side”, WITH MORE ADS, NOTHING ABOUT THE ON-TRACKACTION” (a stretch, but all know what I mean), so after watching this channel for what seemed hours, I simply turned it OFF! And waited until this morning to find out the results!

I mean it was so bad, the commercials were so long (under green flag run), that I ACTUALLY THOUGHT I HAD THE WRONG CHANNEL!

Now what’s wrong with this picture?


And as far as Danica, I just love the fact she is in the IRL, adds some spice to the series, and running what, 5th in points, not to shabby.

BUT! If she joins the “vanilla boys” in NA$CRAP, I see her at about the same talent level, and results level as Jr. (what a backhanded slap at Jr.), around a 20th, or worse driver in the CoT!

Of course, if you could sign a multi-million dollar contract you would jump also! (aren’t there names for people that do things for money?)

Me thinks!

And as we all know, it is not about the results, it is how good you look getting into and out of the race car!

(that’s a take off on an old joke)!


laidback racing
09/07/2009 07:56 PM

Just got home from Atlanta…sorry to those of you that had to watch it at home…GREAT RACE. loads of side by side racing and actually green flag passes for the lead. The track acted like Darlington, chewing up tires…all along turns 1 & 2 was a “Darlington Stripe” In my opinion the best race of the season and the best race since they rolled out the spec car on a 1.5 tri oval…and while it wasn’t Darlington it will do…

09/07/2009 08:29 PM

Yaknow, in Junior’s defense early in the race he ran..ok.. he was up to something like 20th or 17th at one point then back down in the weeds when they made the changes to the toe(i missed something, did he hit the wall?)

After the changes the car was awesome. Lance and Junior discussed very minor changes on the car(HotPass FTW!) and a minor change made a HUGE difference. last change just didnt work

09/07/2009 10:07 PM

Hey Mike, your the idiot. What is your problem with a kid who just got his first cup ride? what he should of told Jack, I’m not worthy of taking over for Bobby Labonte. Erik Darnell is a hell of a good racer and he should of had all of David Ragan’s rides. He beat Ragan in his first race when Ragan has had 75 of them.
Matt same to you with the acting like your clueless about who Erik is. I like your column but if you really dont know who he is, you shouldnt get paid to write about Nascar.

09/08/2009 08:51 AM

Mike is always so quick to point out when other people make mistakes, but yet his recaps are always filled with mistakes. Denny finished 6th not 7th. Do you even watch the races anymore Mike?

don mei
09/08/2009 01:20 PM
permalink mean all these years I’ve been riding my BMW on a “perfect late summers afternoon” Ive been missing out on achieving ecstasy by not riding a hog. What a fool ive been!!! Mea culpa!

09/08/2009 11:12 PM

Bobby hasn’t looked impressive in years.When it’s time to go it’s time to go.His time has come and passed. What’s really sad is to many great drivers hang around way to long and tarnish what was a great career.And none of them seem to learn from even recent examples right before their eyes.