The Frontstretch: Matt McLaughlin's Thinkin' Out Loud: Fall New Hampshire Race Recap by Matt McLaughlin -- Monday September 21, 2009

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Matt McLaughlin's Thinkin' Out Loud: Fall New Hampshire Race Recap

Matt McLaughlin · Monday September 21, 2009


The Key Moment: Mark Martin chose the outside lane and managed to hold the lead on the final three restarts to assert his claims as a legitimate title contender.

In a Nutshell: It wasn’t as bad as the NHMS race where Jeff Burton led flag to flag… but it wasn’t much better, either.

Dramatic Moment: The double file restarts throughout the event featured the afternoon’s only real racing.

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

NASCAR trotted out the twelve Chase contenders for media events in New York City this week again. I scanned online coverage from major news outlets, the network sites, and major sports sites not affiliated with the sport — and found the coverage was virtually nil.

Want to know why the Hendrick cars are dominating at the same time that the Roush cars are struggling? Look at the attitude of the front tires. The Hendrick teams and their associates have apparently found a new front end geometry with the new coil-bound suspension, while the Roush cars are still dialing in huge amounts of negative camber to crutch their Fords.

Starting off the Chase at NHIS is sort of like playing the World Series in the dark. Somebody turn out the lights, I don’t want to see any more….

Is there any more question as to whether NASCAR is about sport or entertainment? When A.J. Allmendinger got spun on the final lap and was sideways on the track, the officials in the tower swallowed their whistles, refusing to throw a caution until the leaders were almost on top of Allmendinger’s stricken car. Ironically enough, it was Dale Jarrett sitting sideways in traffic at this same track that caused NASCAR to change the rules banning racing back to the yellow.

Who were those other 31 guys running out there amidst the Chasers?

Stock car racing on a Sunday afternoon? What a novel idea. I hope it catches on. And maybe, just maybe, they’ll move the starting time back to one o’clock on the dot the way God and Junior Johnson intended it to be. After all, why spot the NFL game and an hour and ten minutes to catch viewer interest before the race even starts?

I wonder what Kevin Harvick went over to discuss with his driver Ron Hornaday after Saturday’s truck race? My guess is it wasn’t the annual Employee of the Year award.

I don’t know if someone at NASCAR decided they didn’t want a guy that looked like Yoda in the Chase or if his PR guy thought it was a good idea, but Mark Martin showed up this week sporting prematurely brown hair in place of that gray buzz cut he’s had for decades.

A blown engine wasn’t quite how Kasey Kahne planned to kick off the Chase.

The Hindenburg Award For Foul Fortune

Kasey Kahne blew an engine just 66 laps into the race, the same week that 60 members of the RPM shop learned they’d be out a job next season. What a coincidence, huh?

Dale Earnhardt, Jr. was having a fine run in fourth when David Reutimann took him out. Hopefully, NASCAR was able to spirit the No. 00 driver out of New Hampshire under cover of darkness in an armored car before he was torn limb to limb.

Tony Stewart seemed to have one of the cars to beat before the axle retainer on the rear of the No. 14 car became askew. (To be honest, that’s a new one for me.) The resultant 55-second pit stop harpooned Stewart’s chances at a win.

Jeff Gordon had a far better car than his fifteenth place finish might indicate.

If Kevin Harvick was unhappy with a third place finish on Saturday, he must have really been pissed after struggling to a 32nd place finish on Sunday.

The “Seven Come Fore Eleven” Award For Fine Fortune

After suffering overheating issues following hard contact on pit road, Kurt Busch was still able to finish sixth.

Problems in the pits sent Kyle Busch back in the field, but he recovered well enough to finish fifth. Busch was also fortunate to narrowly avoid the spinning car of A.J. Allmendinger under the ninth caution period. Editor’s Note: The No. 18 car did fail post-race inspection for reportedly being too low. Expect penalties to be forthcoming sometime this week.

Brian Vickers lost a few lugnuts in the pits, but recovered from falling as far back as 30th to finish eleventh.

Worth Noting

  • Mark Martin’s fifth win of the 2009 season makes him the winningest driver of 2009.
  • Juan Pablo Montoya’s second place finish matches his best of the season. Montoya also finished second at Indy.
  • Denny Hamlin (third) has now strung together seven straight top 10 finishes.
  • Jimmie Johnson’s fourth place finish was his best since he won at Indy eons and eons ago.
  • Kyle Busch finished fifth for the second straight week in a row. Cue up the Patti Loveless, because it’s a little too late to do the right thing now.
  • Ryan Newman (sixth) has now managed four straight top 10 finishes. I’d say the first four races of this year were a pain in the neck for Newman, but he doesn’t have one.
  • Elliott Sadler’s eighth place finish was his best since the Daytona 500.
  • Brian Vickers (11th) still hasn’t finished worse than 12th since the last New Hampshire race.
  • Tony Stewart (14th) hasn’t managed a top 10 result since winning at Watkins Glen.
  • Kasey Kahne’s 38th place finish was his worst of the season.
  • The top 10 finishers at New Hampshire drove five Chevys, two Toyotas, two Dodges, and a lone Ford. (Greg Biffle in ninth.) It has now been 25 races since a Ford won a Cup event.
  • Joey Logano, who finished 21st, was the top finishing rookie of the race.

What’s the Points?

What’s the points? The points are all screwed up because of the realignment travesty after last week’s race at Richmond. Mark Martin retains his points lead by 35 points over Jimmie Johnson and Denny Hamlin, who are tied for second. Juan Pablo Montoya moves up seven spots to fourth in the standings, while Kurt Busch jumped up two spots to fifth.

Tony Stewart fell four spots to sixth in the standings, while Ryan Newman climbed two spots to seventh and Brian Vickers held serve in eighth. Greg Biffle now holds ninth outright, but is already 92 points behind Martin one race into the Chase.

Further back, Jeff Gordon also fell four spots to tenth in the standings, while Carl Edwards dropped two spots to 11th. The big loser was Kasey Kahne, who stumbled seven spots to 12th.

Kyle Busch maintains his “best of the rest” status, 13th in the points.

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 three cans of six, about average for a NHMS race. The late-race cautions spiced things up just enough to wake fans from their stupor.

Next Up: It’s off to the White Cliffs of Dover, sort of a supersized Bristol. You want fries with that?

Contact Matt McLaughlin

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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
09/21/2009 02:54 AM

If you didnt like that race, I dunno what to tell you. It wasnt an instant classic, but it certainly was no snoozer, either. And I agree with you on NASCAR’s failure to throw the caution flag soon enough after Almendinger spun at the finish line. Obviously, they were hoping he would get the car fired up and going in time so they could have a green flag finish. But they should have thrown the yellow as the cars entered turn 3, not turn 4. The racers were still going way too fast and might have hit Almendinger or other cars who were swerving to avoid him.

In other news, I purchased my Fontana tickets on Saturday. I have three friends going with me, and we’ll be sure to stop at Bed Bath and Beyond on the way to the track to stock up on pillows. LOL!

Michael T.
09/21/2009 03:19 AM

I agree with Kevin in Socal. There are some races Matt has his mind set that he will not like no matter what. It had all the things he praises Darlington for, but because of the location it’s instantly “boring.”

Have fun in Fontana next year. Don’t worry, Matt already has his review written for the race. He just has to fill in some names and dates and it’s set.

Carl D.
09/21/2009 07:50 AM

I’m with Kevin on this one as well. It wasn’t an edge-of-your-seat thriller, but there was some pretty good racing going on, just not for the lead. Watching Hamlin and Montoya duel it out for lap after lap was pretty exciting, especially when you consider the fact that neither of those drivers will hesitate to move someone out of the way.

We can scratch our first driver, Kasey Kahne, from the Chase. No big surprise there.

These mystery debris cautions are just too frequent to be legit. A shadow is not debris. However, A.J. Allmendinger’s car WAS debris, and that caution flag, as Matt pointed out, was thrown way too late.

Keep Rollin’, Mark. Old Guys Rule!

09/21/2009 08:53 AM

Hey, Matt;

Nice conspiracy theory on the shop blowing up the 9’s engine. How come they forgot to do the 19? Maybe you can expound upon that after you’re finished looking for the black helicopters.

Hey, Kevin, have a great time in Fontana. I was at NHMS yesterday (along with a totally jammed grandstand of 101,000 friends)and had the usual awesome time.

Of course Matt and the slugs that march in lockstep with his slam-the-sport viepoint haven’t been to a race in years, so they are clueless of what they are missing.

09/21/2009 09:22 AM

It’s interesting to read the responses to articles and then relate them to conversations I have with some of our much youngers car club friends. We think Robin Williams is hysterical, they don’t. They think Drew Carey is hysterical, we don’t. We like Boston Legal, they like The Office. I realize we’re in the minority because guess which one is still on the air. Just because someone doesn’t find a race you liked interesting or isn’t enthralled with a track you think is awesome doesn’t make them any more or less than you. It’s an opinion. We went to the Southern 500 at Darlington every year. It was wonderful. We loved it and we miss it. Because of that, any other track that carries a race on that weekend will suck in my book.

And Jim, I am not a slug if I agree with Matt’s point of view. I have been to races every year, so I do know what I’m missing. I miss it first-hand. I don’t understand why readers can’t comment without name calling or trashing those they disagree with. Didn’t your parents raise you better than that?

Mike In NH
09/21/2009 09:23 AM

Sorry for the crosspost, but a few points I made should go here.

I was at the race…

I wish TV would show the debris when these cautions come out so the conspiracy fans would get a grip. Though I’m sure they’d probably then say NASCAR put it there.

Having been there to see all of the cars whenever I wanted to, I can tell you there was a fair amount of exciting racing going on, though from time to time things got strung out. Nothing beats being there. TV just can’t capture it. Or at least ESPN/ABC can’t. We got plenty of updates and shout-outs about the non-Chasers too. Matt, have you ever actually BEEN to NHIS/NHMS to see a Cup race? I’m curious because what you post is generally the complete opposite of the opinions of those of us who go to races there.

As for a sellout – from what I could see, it was close, maybe they did sell or comp away all the tickets, but I saw a few empty seats. There weren’t empty patches though, the folks were spread out fairly thick with empty sets sprinkled through the crowd. I along with a few groups around me had extra tickets that we didn’t give away so we had room to spread out in the stands! :)

I can say that after the race, walking for a mile through the huge crowds of folks, I heard a lot of happy and excited people and no griping (that seems to stay on the Internet). And one of my group, a first timer, can’t wait to go again – she loved the colorful yet friendly crowd, the exciting racing, the general atmosphere. It was a beautiful day, and I had a blast too. And no amount of Internet whining can top that.

09/21/2009 10:18 AM

Sorry, Ann, but Matt’s “opinions” are preconcieved slams at NASCAR in general and all tracks that are not located within 250 miles of Charlotte in particular.

He (and his followers) trash the competition on the track ad nauseum, while failing to acknowledge that the racing today is so much closer and better than in the days gone by that he pines for…check out the “this day in NASCAR history” page in sometime, and look at the races won back in the day with one car on the lead lap…wasn’t all that long ago.

He complains bitterly about the newer tracks near population centers. He doesn’t say that if the sport was still confined to the Rockinghams, Wilkesboros and yes, Darlingtons of the world, then there would be no TV contracts. Which would mean he wouldn’t be able to see the races. Which means he wouldn’t be able to write a column every week.

Is the sport perfect? Of course not. All I ask for is a little fairness and look at each week with a fresh set of eyes instead of the preconceived notions.

I don’t think I was specifically referring to you, but I’m sorry I called you a slug. Have a nice day

Michael in SoCal
09/21/2009 10:18 AM

Mike in NH – sounds like you had a blast. I gotta say, watching it on TV, the middle part of the race was a bit boring, but the end of the race had me on the edge of my seat, much like the CWTS race on Saturday.

Kevin in SoCal – I got my Fontana tickets too. But first, this weekend, heading out to Vegas for the Truck race with my father-in-law. Going to be a fun couple of weeks!

09/21/2009 10:38 AM

Any race where Jr is running up front is a good race and yesterday was a very good race.

Bill B
09/21/2009 12:16 PM

I just can’t help but point out the error in your statement – “He complains bitterly about the newer tracks near population centers. He doesn’t say that if the sport was still confined to the Rockinghams, Wilkesboros and yes, Darlingtons of the world, then there would be no TV contracts. “

That’s not true. All the races WERE being televised (mostly on espn) while the Rockinghams, Darlingtons and North Wilkesboros were still on the schedule. I understand where you are coming from but I believe by 1990 all the races were being televised. Therefore, whatever the NASCAR racing world looked like in 1990 was the minimum requirements needed for broadcasting interest.

09/21/2009 01:18 PM

Bill B.

Sorry for hogging all the space here, I have the day off…

I like to think about what would have happened if NASCAR had stayed east of the Mississippi and between Daytona and Pocono/Watkins Glen.

I know that most of the races were televised in 1990 or so, (TNN used to do a good job, too), but look at ESPN then(no NFL, no MLB and very little NCAA)and look at them now. At best, I think the series would be televised on something like Versus at best if the geographic expansion never happened.

Nationwide/Busch would be dead, and the trucks would never have gotten off the ground.

Guys like Schrader and Elliot and Marlin would probably still be racing (not a bad thing), because they never would have been able to cash in on a big payday, but guys like Hamilin probably would not have been able to crack the series because the old timers would be hanging on.

Just my opinion, it’s fun to think about…

09/21/2009 01:25 PM

Usually, I agree with about 75% of your commentary. Not on this one. This was WAY better than any other NH race I’d ever seen. It wasn’t classic (or “epic” as my kisd like to say), but thought overall, this race was pretty darn good.
I will give you credit for one thing: at least you have something good to say once in a while. What gets old is all these old grumps who never like anything.

09/21/2009 02:20 PM

The much-maligned track up in Loudon is a fantastic track that puts on a great show from time to time. I’m glad that a lot of the fan response here has been good; although New Hampshire isn’t prone to “instant classics,” (although Nemechek beating out Stewart for the first win comes close and Hamlin holding off Gordon by a couple of feet was memorable) it’s able to put on a pretty good race more often than it gets credit for. Mike in NH, you’re lucky to get up there from time to time, as Loudon is just a nice track in a great part of the country; going up there as a kid more than ten years ago made me the fan I am today.

I usually agree with you, Matt, but you tend to be dead wrong twice a year. Maybe you think racetracks should have high banking, and if that’s the case, I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt. I think the racing is best when all the drivers are sliding around on a flat track, and seeing moves like Montoya using Burton’s car to help him turn out of 4, both cars sideways, and both guys saving the car… it doesn’t get much better than that.

Bill B
09/21/2009 03:07 PM

Good point about the added competition from other sports on espn… but I think it would have been on “The Ocho” (espn 8) instead of Versus.
Note: That “ the ocho” crack will only make sense to you if you’ve ever seen the movie “Dodgeball” LOL.

09/21/2009 03:14 PM

What race were you watching? There was plenty of action, lots of side by side and passing. I guess you think they should runonly on 1.5 mile cookie cutter tracks? And their decision on the Dinger spin was right on! I wish they would try harder to get green flag finishes.

Bubba Warbux
09/21/2009 04:52 PM

Uh, Bill B. that was Baseketball, not Dodgeball.

The race had plenty enough exciting moments to keep the casual fan (me) occupied and interested, and keeping ABC as my main channel, surfing away only to check the NFL scores.

And who can resist the story of the season – will the “old guy” git ‘er done?

Great stuff.


Bill B
09/21/2009 06:59 PM

No, it’s “Dodgeball”.

Bill B
09/21/2009 07:07 PM

ESPN in popular culture
ESPN has become a part of popular culture since its inception. Many movies with a general sports theme will include ESPN announcers and programming into their storylines (such as in Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story, which gently lampoons the channel’s multiple outlets by referencing the as-yet-nonexistent ESPN8, “The Ocho,”25 a reference to a nickname sometimes used for ESPN2, “the Deuce”).


RA Eckart
09/21/2009 07:58 PM

Going to the race and scanning 10+ drivers changes your perspective on how good the race is. You get to see and hear all the action TV misses. If Mike’s right, it’s only about the TV, because being there was great. And New England has some of the most hardcore grassroots fans anywhere!

09/21/2009 10:01 PM

In the same way some fans don’t understand or like road courses, flat track racing is a breed of it’s own. It takes as much throttle and brake control as a road course. This doesn’t always lend itself to great high speed passes but watching what the drivers are doing to control their cars, outside of a high banked punchbowl, is great racing. It’s what sets itself, like road courses, apart from all the other tracks. That’s why I love Martinsville. Two dragstrips connected by four corners with very little banking. It puts it more in the drivers hands. Unfortunately, ya gotta be there. Television will ever be able to capture the true racing.

09/21/2009 11:03 PM

The Problem with NHMS is TV. I go twice a year to the Cup races and from the stands, where you can watch what you want, it is a great place. Most of the boring in NHMS comes from the drivers themselves. Most just phone in the first half of the race. Yesterdays included. But take this past June, with the black clouds in the North East sky all day the drivers where racing every lap knowing the race would not go full term, and the racing was fantastic. So you can’t blame the track that much. Matt is just a nattering nabob of New Hampshire Negativism. He does not even know Montoya was 3rd and Hamlin 2nd. But he is the expert. I can fix TV cover in an instant, have PRN cover it and have the cameras point at whatever they are talking about because they are stellar.

don mei
09/22/2009 04:56 PM

Is Spiro Agnew in the house??? Calling Mr. Agnew!!!!