The Frontstretch: Matt McLaughlin's Thinkin' Out Loud: Richmond Fall Race Recap by Matt McLaughlin -- Monday September 14, 2009

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

Matt McLaughlin · Monday September 14, 2009


The Key Moment: Denny Hamlin’s crew consistently got him off pit road first, giving their boy a huge boost towards a second career short track victory.

In a Nutshell: If any racetrack has ever owed any driver a win, it could be argued that Richmond owed hometown hero Denny Hamlin the checkers. Hamlin, who has led the most laps in three of the last four Richmond Cup races, finally sealed the deal Saturday night.

Dramatic Moment: During the middle stages of the race, Hamlin and Jeff Gordon swapped the lead back and forth almost lap by lap.

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

The topic comes up every time they race here. In this age of cookie-cutter tracks, why hasn’t anyone cloned Richmond yet — almost certainly the ideal stock car racing facility? The Staten Island and Washington state tracks that had been proposed were, in fact, intended to mimic the 3/4-mile oval… but both deals fell through. In this economy, it seems that all of a sudden nobody is talking about building new race tracks anymore. But as the circuit heads off to New Hampshire, the site of some seriously somnolent racing, one can only dream Bruton Smith will finally bite the bullet and build a concrete version of Richmond with graduated banking to replace the current one-mile flat track.

I just don’t get it. This Chase thing is supposed to be a big deal. I still think it’s a boondoggle of epic proportions, but the drivers at least say that it’s a big deal to them. So with Kasey Kahne in the Chase, why would Richard Petty Motorsports announce this week they’re moving to Ford? Moving forward, what incentive does Dodge have to share any developments and improvements with Kahne’s team during the season? Even more importantly, most of the employees of RPM’s engine shop know that with the merger, next year they’ll be out of a job. (Yates will still provide Ford engines to all teams in 2010.) Under those circumstances, what incentive will they have to work hard? Might not one of them be bitter enough to “forget” to tighten down a few rod bolts when assembling an engine to torpedo Kahne’s chances?

Talk about an awkward arranged marriage. Back when Kasey Kahne left Ford to drive a Dodge for Ray Evernham, folks at Ford were incensed enough to launch a lawsuit against him. Neither side had much good to say about the other. Well, it seems expediency makes for strange bedfellows. I’m also recalling Richard Petty, his royal old self, once left Mopar because they refused to build him a Plymouth version of the Dodge Daytona. He wound up driving Fords for one less than stellar season back in 1969 before Plymouth launched the Superbird to lure the King back into the fold. To paraphrase Bob Seger, “You can come back, baby, stock car racing never forgets.”

Kasey Kahne kept an eye on his crew in the garage area at Richmond this weekend. He might want to keep up that practice the rest of the year in case some disgruntled engine builders get any crazy ideas.

It was also an odd time for Kurt Busch’s crew chief Pat Tryson to announce he was leaving Busch and Penske Racing at the end of the season. With Busch in possible championship contention, that’s an unwanted distraction for all parties involved. Normally, these sorts of splits are announced when a driver’s chances at a title are finished.

One driver won four races and missed the Chase. Four drivers failed to win a race but made the Chase. Symmetry or stupidity?

Miss Terry De’ Brie was again one of the stars of the show Saturday night.

I was sick to the stomach twice this week. The first time, it was my fault. I had a pair of Wawa snout dogs slathered in onions in place of dinner. The second time, it wasn’t my fault. Listening to drivers like Carl Edwards, Denny Hamlin, and Jeff Gordon admitting they’d throw a race under team orders to allow their teammates to make the Chase made me physically ill. There was no evidence of team orders playing a part in the outcome at Richmond… but the Chase is just getting started.

Look for a valuable public service announcement from Denny Hamlin soon, reminding fans, “When you park your 50,000 dollar car outside your mansion, don’t forget to lock the gate and pocket the keys.”

In this economy, there seems to be three career paths where there’s always room for more applicants: nursing, political heckler, and “Start and Park” drivers in the Nationwide Series.

It was odd to see Carl Edwards win Friday night’s Nationwide race and not do a backflip afterwards. If he’s looking for a new “signature move,” maybe he could toss Frisbees into the crowd after a win…

As the awkward, smoking, ill-conceived, grotesque, cootie-filled, clanking monster that is the Chase begins to struggle to cut a rug well enough to earn at least a passing glance with the NFL season underway, all NASCAR writers are required to pick their favorite for the title. I do so with a great deal of reluctance, knowing I am never right. But I’m going out on a limb and picking Mark Martin as this year’s titlist. Why? Because he’s even older than me and I’ve developed a tolerance to having my hopes and dreams crushed, driven to the ground, pissed on, and set ablaze. (I call it the Meghan Dougherty effect.) If, in fact, I had a spare sawbuck in my pockets with all these old Chevys I’m trying to restore, I’d drive to Dover and wager it on Tony Stewart to make amends for having written him off prior to the season and in hopes of earning enough coin to get a primo console for the gold Chevelle.

The Hindenburg Award For Foul Fortune

For Matt Kenseth, the season could hardly have started better with wins at the sport’s Super Bowl, the Daytona 500, and the Stupid Bowl, the season’s second race at Fontana. But Saturday night, the team gave Kenseth a car so ill-mannered he struggled to stay on the lead lap, and ultimately he lost his tenuous hold on a top 12 points position to miss the Chase.

Kyle Busch won’t have to worry about a massive meltdown in the first four races of the Chase to lose the championship this year. Despite winning four Cup races this season, Busch missed the cut for the playoffs by a total of just eight points.

A blown tire at one of his best tracks was just another indicator of how bad this season has been for Jeff Burton and the entire RCR operation.

I don’t know how much momentum really counts heading into the Chase, but a poor finish for the fourth straight week is probably going to keep Tony Stewart and his team burning the midnight oil over the next few weeks. After a Cinderella start to the season and three wins, the No. 14 car is looking decidedly Pumpkin-esque right row.

The “Seven Come Fore Eleven” Award For Fine Fortune

Two years ago, Brian Vickers failed to qualify for 13 of 36 races. Last year, he finished nineteenth in the points. This year, he made the Chase and as of late, he’s on a roll.

Mark Martin went from having to sweat making the Chase to ruling the roost atop the points heading into NHIS.

Fans have complained since the playoffs started that the networks ignore drivers who aren’t in the 12-car field. This year, this means that Kyle Busch and his irritatingly childish antics ought to be pushed to the back burner. But I’m thinking young Master Busch is well and truly pissed off right now given his sense of entitlement, and as a result he’s about to go on a tear of race wins to keep his puss plastered on the nation’s TV screens. And if Busch winds up with a bushel of victories as a non-title contender, that can only add more fuel to the fire of the debate whether the Chase is a legitimate system to decide a series champion. Even his detractors will have to appreciate that…

Worth Noting

  • Heading into the Chase, Denny Hamlin now has six straight top 10 finishes.
  • Kurt Busch (second) enjoyed his best finish since his win at Atlanta in March.
  • Jeff Gordon (third) posted his twelfth top 5 finish of the season.
  • Mark Martin (fourth) has three straight top 5 finishes.
  • Brian Vickers (seventh) has finished twelfth or better in the last nine Cup races.
  • Sam Hornish, Jr. (eighth) just gets it done at Richmond. He posted top 10 finishes here in both Cup events this season.
  • Kevin Harvick (ninth) has back-to-back top 10 finishes for the first time this season.
  • Ryan Newman (tenth) has three straight top 10 finishes.
  • Jimmie Johnson hasn’t managed a top 5 finish since his win at Indianapolis.
  • Carl Edwards is averaging a 23rd place finish over the last three Cup races.
  • The top 10 finishers at Richmond drove five Chevys, two Dodges, and three Toyotas. Greg Biffle in twelfth was the top finishing Ford pilot.
  • Joey Logano in fourteenth was the top finishing rookie.
  • Saturday night’s Richmond race lasted three hours and six minutes. That’s just about the perfect length of time.

What’s the Points?

Under the legitimate (traditional) points system, Tony Stewart would now be leading Jeff Gordon by 179 points. With Stewart fading as Gordon ascends, we’d have us an interesting little title fight between now and Thanksgiving.

But here in the real world, with four wins Mark Martin takes over the Chase lead by 10 points over Tony Stewart and Jimmie Johnson, each of whom have won three races. For those keeping score at home, that means Hendrick drivers or drivers affiliated with Hendrick Motorsports now claim the top three points positions.

Denny Hamlin and Kasey Kahne have won two races apiece, so they are tied for fourth in the standings, 20 behind Martin’s pace. Next with one race victory each, Jeff Gordon, Brian Vickers, and Kurt Busch are 30 markers back and tied for sixth.

Call it high-speed corporate welfare or what have you, but Carl Edwards, Ryan Newman, Juan Pablo Montoya, and Greg Biffle are all in championship contention without having won a single race. Is there any other sport where you can make the playoffs without winning a single event? They’ll each start the playoffs 40 points behind the leader.

Nine of this year’s 26 points-paying races have been won by drivers who failed to make the Chase. Kyle Busch (four wins) and Matt Kenseth (two) are the only multiple race winners to miss the playoffs, but even the simple expediency of a further 25-point bonus for winning a race would have landed them both solidly inside the top 12. That would have at least added some legitimacy to this farce worthy of Stagger Lee’s non-arrest on Christmas Eve in the Billy DeLions homicide.

Overall Rating (On a scale of one to six beer cans, with one being a stinker and a six pack an instant classic) — For Richmond, this one was curiously sedate. Blame it on the new cars or the new points system, but the night reached a simmer without ever actually boiling over. The race itself earns three lukewarm cans of Colorado Kool-Aid…

Next Up: The all-singing, all-dancing, Chase kicks off with a Sunday afternoon race in New Hampshire. Starting off the Chase at NHIS is sort of like staging the Super Bowl in Des Moines on Arbor Day, leading me to believe the folks in charge really are as stupid as they come across.

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Today on the Frontstretch:
Championship Caliber? What Does That Even Mean?
Mirror Driving: Winning Vs. Points, Needing a Boost, and The Lady’s Last Dance?
Nuts for Nationwide: The Curious Case of Elliott Sadler
Happiness Is…Arrogance, Less, Next, and the Outdoors
Frontstretch Foto Funnies: It’s Not Gonna Fit…


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Kevin in SoCal
09/14/2009 01:37 AM

Would it be better if NHIS was the 26th race and Richmond started the Chase?

09/14/2009 02:28 AM

Kevin I don’t think so. Both are unique tracks and someone was going to step up and someone was going to slip-up.

I guess in the whole Petty merger/buyout with Yates someone forgot to tell Mark McArdle (Head of RPM’s engine department) about the whole deal. According to reports he had verbal altercation at RIR and was seen cleaning his stuff out of Kasey Khane’s hauler. Depending on what report you read he’s either been suspended or fired already.

09/14/2009 05:21 AM

Matt, atleast the chase is putting Mark in contention whereas the old system the cup is Stewarts to lose.

And dammit im ok with Mark having a chance to win this thing

09/14/2009 06:54 AM

nascar will do everything in their power to help Martin win the cup this year. to go from approx 500 points behind to leading with the stroke of a pen is NUTS.

I too see Kyle going out and winning/gaining the most points during these 12 races

Bill B
09/14/2009 07:03 AM

For the record I hate the chase but the statement “Is there any other sport where you can make the playoffs without winning a single event?” is just stupid. Are there any other sports that have playoffs where 43 teams compete each week? Comparing NASCAR to other sports where two teams face off each week is even more stupid than the chase.

09/14/2009 07:37 AM

Matt I think Iowa was patterned after Richmond, although in 1-mile form… And everyone loves it for all the same reasons.

My man Mark is now leading the points! Can I for once set aside my hatred of The Chase and applaud it… Maybe just this once? :(

09/14/2009 08:07 AM

is there any chance that a non-hendrick owned/satellite team will win the cup? wonder how jr feels knowing he’s the only one out of the group that’s not in the chase. think it’s enough of a wake up call for him to get his mind and body in shape? just imagine the goose egg na$car will have if a miracle happens and jpm wins the cup.

09/14/2009 08:30 AM


Not that you’d notice, but NHMS has had the graduated banking for several years now.

The racing has been perferctly fine (anybody remember Kurt Busch and Jeff Gordon leaning on each other for about 20 laps before the rain came in June?)

‘Course you wouldn’t remember that becausr you took one of your countless vacations at the time, and why bother with the facts when it’s so easy to re-hash your work every week?

I’ll be at the race on Sunday, popping my first one at about 8:30, firing up the grill, watching the girls and then heading into the stands for a great day.

Hope you have a fine time watching the TV while racking your brain for more negative things that you can say about the NASCAR in general and NHMS in particular.

Have a nice day.

Dans Mom
09/14/2009 08:37 AM

No one has cloned Richmond because tracks like California and Texas can provide more (empty) seating.

[As weird as it is to say this] 3 lukewarm cans is too low of a rating. From what I heard from my friends who went, the race was dull in person – but I found the added TV commentary and chase battles very intriguing.

Throw a race under team orders? Funny, no one has a problem when Lance Armstrong wins…

Carl D.
09/14/2009 08:45 AM

I don’t know how you can plan to switch from Dodge to Ford for next year and keep it a secret for any length of time. It was going to come out, so I can’t blame RPM for making the announcement. Same thing with the Tryson deal. You know it was going to come out anyway.

Bill B… Maybe you can’t compare racing to stick and ball sports, but the underlying point is still valid. It seems that for a driver to be eligible to win the championship, he should at least have to win a race. I hate to think that we could possibly crown a winless champion.

09/14/2009 09:02 AM

wow, just realized race will be sunday afternoon. what a novel idea!

09/14/2009 09:12 AM

Jim, it’s after 9am. Shouldn’t you be on your 2nd or 3rd one by now?

09/14/2009 09:15 AM

The race was sedate watching from the stands on Saturday night. The crowd was packed tight on the front stretch but strangely quiet and unemotional. There were many empty seats visible on the backstretch and it seemed to empty quickly after about 200 laps. Worse was the tepid enthusiasm in downtown Richmond itself. At T-Miller’s Sports Bar, the all the talk at lunch on Saturday was about College Football (OSU-USC, ND-Michigan etc.) with almost nothing said about the evening race. Worse for NASCAR and their vendors, once the pit crews left the Marriott for the track around noon, there were few if any people around wearing NASCAR clothing. Many hotels were offering discounts and lotsa rooms were still available on race day. For a race that was being billed as the most exciting ever before the start of the Chase, it was three cans of Chloroform for the folks actually in town for the race.

Bill B
09/14/2009 09:18 AM

Carl D,
Once someone wins the Chase without winning a race all season we can discuss what needs to happen to fix that but I don’t see it happening.

09/14/2009 09:38 AM

“One driver won four races and missed the Chase. Four drivers failed to win a race but made the Chase. Symmetry or stupidity?”

Wanna take this a bit further?…..Kyle Busch wins more races in during the Chase than any other driver, and one of the four non-winners #99, #16, #42 or #39 wins the Championship!!………Now how would NASCAR explain that to the sports world?

Yes, it most likely won`t happen…..but just the possibility that it could makes the Chase format a joke. This is like permitting some Detroit Lions players to be on the roster of the Pittsburg Steelers during the Superbowl game.

And finally if winning the Daytona 500 is such a big big big deal, its still not a big enough event to qualify the winner to run for the championship. I wonder if Kenseth would trade that win for a chase spot.

Bill B
09/14/2009 10:18 AM

Why don’t we just forget the chase and the points – whomever wins the most races wins the championship (tie breaker will be 2nd place finishes, 3rd, 4th etc.). I mean, that’s what we are really getting at here.

As for the Detroit Lions analogy you’ve got it a bit wrong Jer. The Lions are still out there no matter who is in the Chase – they are represented by the 31 teams not in the chase but still on the track. That’s why a playoff system in NASCAR is stupid and why you can’t compare them to the playoff system in any other sport.

09/14/2009 10:58 AM

26 races to the chase. kyle busch won 4 what happened to the other 21???? winning is important as it should be but finishing in top ten is also important.

09/14/2009 11:18 AM

Matt, check out Iowa Speedway. It maybe 7/8’s but it’s close to Richmonds 3/4. Should have a cup date there.

09/14/2009 11:37 AM

Who the heck is Terry De’ Brie?

Carl D.
09/14/2009 11:50 AM

I agree with Paul that Iowa should get a Cup race. The Nationwide race there a few weeks back was one of the best races of the year.

robbiejr… it’s “Miss Terry D’Brie”… aka “mystery debris”. Sometimes I think Nascar calls a caution for shadows on the track and then spends caution lap after caution lap trying to clean them off.

09/14/2009 11:51 AM

Miss Terry De’ Brie = mystery debris caution

09/14/2009 11:54 AM

I’ll never understand the majority of the FS and other fans stand that the number of wins catapults you further into (or in altogehter) the chase than not winning at all.
Consistency trumps wins every time.

09/14/2009 12:04 PM


mystery debris caution to bunch the field when someone is running away with the race.

Here’s one way i think they could fix the chase a bit. Call it a Baker’s Dozen. 13th car gets in if they have the most wins of all drivers and do not get in. The current system does not really reward consistency when you can win 4 of 26 races and be 40 points ahead without firing the engines of the guy who led the points standings to that point. With the start and parkers and guys who have no dog in the fight, 40 points is a pretty good head start.

That (most wins) should be the only criterion, but knowing NASCAR, they’ll Winston it up and have fans vote on the 13th guy to get in at $2.00 a text. Oh but it will go to Victory Junction, so they have that going for them, which is nice.

Have you ever seen a team have the most wins but not make the playoffs? Only in NASCAR. As for the teams with no wins making it, I concur with the 42 losers comment, but if you go stick and ball analogies, many times, NBA and NHL teams get in with losing records. And the Lance Armstrong comment was right on.

Bill B
09/14/2009 12:04 PM

It seems like a lot of fans can’t make the destinction that winning and losing are only valid measurments when there is a head to head competition between two teams. When there are 43 teams and there can only be 1 winner, losing takes on a whole different meaning.

here is a question.. what if one driver A won 18 races and came in 43rd the other 18 races while driver B came in 2nd in all 36 races… who should be champion?

Kevin in SoCal
09/14/2009 12:31 PM

With Kyle Busch not making the Chase that should make a lot of people happy. But I think its gives credibility to the suggestion that NASCAR should have the top ten in points qualify for the Chase, plus the 11th and 12th spots are reserved for “wild cards,” guys who win the most races but didnt make the top ten in points.

09/14/2009 12:54 PM

Thanks…mystery debris. Got it.

Anybody else catch the comment about NASCAR telling all the drivers not in the chase, to give the chase drivers 12 feet of room so as not to interfere with them, or something like that?

I’ve been following NASCAR since the 70’s. If I heard that right, it’s another nail in the coffin for me.

Joe W.
09/14/2009 01:00 PM

Bill B I could not have said it better. You are right on point. Racing is very different than other sports. You have to look at good finishes as “wins” if you compare to other sports. I have never seen a football or baseball team play 42 other teams on any given day. Your point about 18 wins and 18 43rds compared to 36 2nds puts things in perspective. Great job Bill!

09/14/2009 01:04 PM

One tweak to the Chase: Top 12 drivers who have won a race qualify. That would give equal emphasis to both winning and consistency.

09/14/2009 01:12 PM

robbiejr, na$car does that every year about giving chase guys room. that makes me want to hurl. for the next 10 weeks all they’ll focus on during broadcast is those in the chase. the heck with the rest of the drivers. also, for the next 10 races, well hear championship talk halfway through each race. and watch out if a chaser falters…mulligan will be the word of the moment. at least espn won’t be able to use “bubble boy” comment for another year.

09/14/2009 03:18 PM

Driver B, Bill B. If championships are tallied by wins, then the point system is moot. I honestly can’t see it any other way.

Hope your question was asked to all, but I thought to give my 2 cents any way.

Here’s one: if the Patriots win all of their games, but not the championship, did they have a perfect season?

Bill B
09/14/2009 03:34 PM

Hank Z,
The question was asked to everyone not just you. That kind of was what I was getting at to a lot of these comments – if you want wins to matter then just throw the point system out. I still think the guy that finished 2nd 36 times has out-performed the guy that won 16 times and finished last 16 times, but that is just my opinion. Just throw out the points and the chase and let he who has the most wins be champion.
But if you are going to have a points based system then wins aren’t the litmus test of a good season.
To answer your Patriots question – no, in my opinion. A perfect season in football means no losses, period.

09/14/2009 11:39 PM

Stewart may want to watch his back in the same way as Kasey. Either his team has been testing new ideas the last four races or the rumors of lesser equipment from Hendrick may prove to be true. Go Mark!

Dr G
09/15/2009 06:33 PM

Funny how no one has mentioned Montoya and Vickers for the Cup. Points racin is what it’s all about, and Johnny Pinball has been doing it since he lost Indy again. Vickers had the most points scored in the last ten races. Donut count them out just yet. Do count out Joonyer and Shrub – heh heh heh