The Frontstretch: Matt McLaughlin's Thinkin' Out Loud: Phoenix Race Recap by Matt McLaughlin -- Sunday April 11, 2010

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Matt McLaughlin's Thinkin' Out Loud: Phoenix Race Recap

Matt McLaughlin · Sunday April 11, 2010


The Key Moment: Jeff Gordon had the lead on the final restart but Ryan Newman had a little more “want-to,” stuffing his car down into the first corner WFO while Gordon spun his tires.

In a Nutshell: The race is not always to the swift or the battle to the strong. – Ecclesiastes 9:11

Dramatic Moment: When the field lined up for a green-white-checkered restart, with a mix of some drivers on four new tires and some with just new right-side tires, a race that had been merely tepid came to a slow simmer for about ten seconds.

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

A late-race caution played right into the hands of Ryan Newman, whose call for a two-tire stop in the pits put him in position to snap a 77-race winless streak at Phoenix.

Yeah, OK so sometimes two tires actually is the right call. I just can’t believe no driver running back in the high teens dared to stay out and try to gut out a win.

Phoenix is one of those tracks that traditionally only had one race date a year, which it deserved for no reason other than at least it was a unique layout and not another cookie-cutter. But because the ISC purchased the speedway, Phoenix magically got a second date each year and attendance has been down ever since. Oh boy, we get to go back to Phoenix this fall! Not surprisingly, good tickets are still available for that event. No need to hurry to get yours… they’ll still be available the afternoon of the race. I’d compare Phoenix to Jack Daniels: A little is good, but too much will make you comatose. Anyone else up for a 200-mile Cup race in the Valley of the Sun?

You think the long winless droughts that several top-name drivers (like Jeff Gordon, Matt Kenseth, Kyle Busch, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., and others) are mired in doesn’t eat away at them? Newman had been stuck in a similar such drought with no victories since the ’08 Daytona 500 back when he was still with Penske. Despite a really good season with a startup team last year, there had to be late nights Newman lay awake wondering if he’d made the right career call and if Stewart knew what he was doing. You don’t think so? Newman looked happier to win Saturday night at Phoenix than he did after winning that Daytona 500, and by his own admission, this latest victory was “the most emotional” of his career. Yeah, not winning for protracted periods of time is gut-wrenching for all these guys.

He might have finished badly (28th) but you have to guess that FOX executives are going to take Scott Riggs, who brought out that final caution, to a nice dinner this week. Were it not for that final caution, the race would have redefined the word “insipid.”

Hopefully, some of you were able to stay up to see the end of Friday’s Nationwide race, which ESPN unwisely scheduled to end in the late night hours. There was no doubt that Kyle Busch in the No. 18 car was the fastest thing on the track, but it took a nifty bit of driving to seal the win. Three quarters of the way through the race on a restart Busch, as the race leader, pulled a Busch league move, brake checking the field on a restart which triggered a massive wreck. To young Mr. Busch’s considerable and vocal chagrin, NASCAR decided that Brad Keselowski (another fan favorite), who had clearly violated the rules by beating the leader to the line, was the new race leader when the field lined up for the green flag. Master Busch, taking exception to that notion, jumped the ensuing restart by such an intolerable degree (subtlety is not a color in Busch’s Crayola Toolbox) NASCAR served him a pass-through penalty. Busch resumed the race in 19th, the last car on the lead lap, and seemed to have an all-certain victory stripped away until one last caution gave him another chance. With eight laps to go, Busch restarted tenth, but when the smoke cleared he’d won the race at a track where passing is said to be at a premium. Yeah, it was exciting as Hell to watch even if the Boy-Bitch won, but it sure does make the Nationwide Toyota team’s argument they are at a horsepower disadvantage to the real (American) cars look a bit foolish. The No. 18 car seemed to handle OK in a straight line…

If the late start time was intended to make it easier for area fans to attend that Nationwide race, the experiment didn’t pay off. To say the size of the crowd at Friday night’s race was pitiful is to be charitable. Didn’t all the historic Southern tracks that used to dominate the schedule lose their races because they couldn’t put enough butts in the seats? Welcome to the Brian France era. He’d rather play to pitiful crowds in big TV markets than respectable crowds down South. I guess Brian was having trouble copping coke in Rockingham…

FOX commented on the second most annoying pest during the Phoenix race weekend, those damned fungus gnats, but not the most annoying: the residents of the Hollywood Hotel pre-race program.

Phoenix and Scottsdale are beautiful areas. My beloved sister Maryellen recently moved there, and I can’t wait to get enough scratch and time off this merry-go-round to go visit her new home. But the area has recently been plagued by Mexican drug cartel violence and gunpoint kidnapping for ransom in the Hispanic community, a disturbing trend that perhaps culminated in the recent shooting of a rancher just out surveying his property on an ATV. I’m a passionate advocate of the Second Amendment, but given the climate of violence in the area, I think FOX would do well to cut with all this “Duel In the Desert” and “shootout” crap.

Speaking of late nights, what was Phoenix track management thinking when they decided to extend the length of their race by 63 miles in what was the first West Coast night race? Don’t they read NASCAR’s own demographic data that indicates the fan base is graying at a pretty impressive pace? Old folks like me need our sleep. Yeah, I used to routinely stay up until three and four in the morning, but I used to drive an IROC, wear a Member’s Only Jacket, listen to Duran Duran, and snort coke too.

Matt Kenseth recently commented on his tangle with Jeff Gordon at Martinsville and the implications of the incident going forward at The International Bowling Hall of Fame in an effort to sell tickets for the upcoming Fort Worth race. Honest to God, I’m not making this up; I’m just reporting it with a bemused grin.

I will rarely slam fans, and in this instance I am talking about a tiny minority of those on hand at Phoenix. But how hard is the term “A Moment of Silence” to understand? After the terrible mine disaster in West Virginia this week, the worst such incident in decades, a moment of respectful prayer for the souls lost just trying to make a living was appropriate – not a bunch of drunken howling fools trying to get themselves heard on TV. Given the demographics, some of those lost miners were fans of this sport. You might have sat beside them at Bristol or Richmond (or at Phoenix, for that matter.) Prayers go out to the surviving family members of those lost, to their co-workers and friends, that devastated community, and to the rescuers whose efforts were good-hearted, determined, but ultimately unsuccessful.

If Kyle Busch really wanted to do something nice for his fans, he didn’t have to paint his car pink. He could have just picked both of them up in a Yaris and taken them to dinner.

The Hindenburg Award For Foul Fortune

Jeff Gordon and Steve Letarte have gambled on a two-tire stop to give the No. 24 the lead during the closing laps of three of seven races this season. But to date, they’re 0-for-3 in getting that risk to turn into a trip to Victory Lane.

Kasey Kahne got one hell of an unwelcome birthday gift when Kurt Busch slid up into him on lap 15, sending the No. 9 car into the wall. Kahne was forced to the garage area and lost over a hundred laps to the field, eventually winding up 39th.

For the second straight race, Jeff Gordon managed to grab defeat out of the jaws of victory in the final two laps.

Kyle Busch had victory in hand when Riggs, who by all rights should have parked in the first few laps, hit the wall. His team’s decision to go with four tires resulted in an eighth-place finish.

Jeff Burton had a top 10 car for most of the race, but he was never able to bounce back after a penalty for pitting outside the box, slumping to 25th.

While I’m sure Tony Stewart was thrilled to see his employee/friend Ryan Newman win the race, he probably wishes his car hadn’t been tantamount to a rolling chicane most of the evening. He wound up 23rd.

Denny Hamlin gutted out the entire race less than two weeks after surgery to repair a torn ACL, but he got caught up in the first wreck of the evening and had to endure electrical issues later in the race en route to 30th place. Talk about tossing a man in the river who don’t need to be swimming…

Jon Wes Townley (and does that sound like the perfect name for a Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young roadie or what?) might have wrecked his last RCR entry for awhile. Reports are his practice wreck cost JWT his ride. RCR sources deny that’s the case. Only this time, they can’t blame Jayski for the rumor and threaten legal action. It’s ESPN that broke the news. RCR and the Internet: It’s sort of like Mother Teresa and strip clubs.

Editor’s Note: On Sunday, Frontstretch learned John Wes Townley will not race the No. 21 car at Texas. Click here for the story.

The “Seven Come Fore Eleven” Award For Fine Fortune

After a dismal start to the season, Ryan Newman has now posted two top 5 finishes in a row, scored his first race win since the 2008 Daytona 500, and moved forward six spots in the points to within striking distance of the top 12 (22nd to 16th). All in all, a pretty fair night’s work.

Mark Martin’s car was so out to lunch early in the race he could barely stay on the lead lap. But late race adjustments and that final round of pit stops left Martin with a fourth-place finish.

Robby Gordon’s 14th-place finish moved the No. 7 car into the top 35 in owner points, meaning Gordon will run at Texas next week no matter what happens in qualifying. After the race, Robby ran to thank his crew chief, but couldn’t remember who the hell it was this week.

For the second weekend in a row, Marcos Ambrose finished eleventh. And for the first weekend in a row, Ambrose didn’t wreck half the field to accomplish the feat. If he and his car owner go out this week to have a drink to celebrate the accomplishment, I’d suggest motorcyclists in the Charlotte area keep their mounts parked until after Texas.

Worth Noting

  • The top 5 finishers at Phoenix all drove Chevys. The rest of the top 10 consisted of another Chevy, two Fords, and two Toyotas, which presumably had been shorn of their floormats. The top finishing Dodge pilot was Brad Kesolowski in sixteenth.
  • Jimmie Johnson (third) hasn’t finished outside the top 12 since Daytona.
  • Mark Martin (fourth) posted his first top 10 finish since Vegas.
  • Carl Edwards (seventh) now has three consecutive top 10 finishes. More importantly, he hasn’t put anyone on their roofs in three consecutive races. Happy furry, monsters feeling happy…
  • Kyle Busch’s eighth-place result was his best of the 2010 Cup campaign.
  • Joey Logano (10th on Saturday) has combined to lead a total of three laps this season.
  • Robby Gordon’s 14th-place finish was his best since he ran third at Charlotte last May.
  • With a combined 19 races having been run in NASCAR’s top three touring series in 2010, a Ford has yet to visit Victory Lane. I don’t think the Ford “Swap Your Ride” campaign is going to get a lot of traction in the garage area. Where are those FR9 engines?
  • Greg Biffle struggled all night and missed finishing in the top 10 for the first time in this season’s seven points races. Biffle and Kenseth now each have six top-10 finishes in those seven races, more than even Jimmie Johnson, who has five. Clint Bowyer also has five top-10 results this season.
  • Kevin Conway in 33rd was the top finishing rookie of the race. Get your Conway die cast and T-shirts now!
  • How times have changed. In the first seven races of the season, just one Southern driver, Denny Hamlin, has won a race.

What’s the Points?

Do we really need to discuss points already? Spring has just sprung. I’m watching a groundhog merrily chewing the daffodils in the garden as I write this column, wondering where my .22 is to fix the problem. You realize by the time points really matter, we’ll be raking leaves and old Mr. Groundhog with the sweet tooth will have been dispatched to his eternal reward.

OK, I guess we’ll quickly go over it. Jimmie Johnson still leads the points by 36 over Matt Kenseth, who supplants teammate Greg Biffle in the second position. Biffle is 92 points out of first.

Kevin Harvick held his ground behind them in fourth. Clint Bowyer moved up three spots to sixth, and is one position behind Jeff Gordon, who advanced a spot to fifth.

Further back, Jeff Burton fell two spots to seventh. Carl Edwards was the big winner in Saturday night’s point lotto: he sprang forward six positions and into the top 12 in eighth. Tony Stewart fell a spot to ninth, while his highness Dale Earnhardt, Jr. rounds out your top 10.

Joey Logano jumped forward two spots to 11th, while Kyle Busch moved forward four spots in the points and into the top 12. Mark Martin’s late race rally propelled him forward four spots to thirteenth, just eleven points behind Busch for a Chase spot. That’s workable.

On the down side, Kurt Busch’s early race wreck cost him big in the points. He fell outside the top 12, down eight spots from sixth to fourteenth. Early season Cinderella Paul Menard also fell sharply, down four spots from eleventh to fifteenth.

Here’s an interesting statistic about the drivers ranked second through 12th in the standings right now: None of them have won a race this season.

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 two-and-a-half cans, with the extra half can added for the finish. Just another McRace at another McTrack. You want fries with that?

Next Up: Get ready for all sorts of lousy Cowboy analogies and Jeff Hammond dressed like an extra from Brokeback Mountain, because it’s off to Fort Worth for another cookie-cutter 500-miler.

Contact Matt McLaughlin

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Today on the Frontstretch:
Swan Racing Announces Restructuring, No. 26 & No. 30 ‘Sold’ Off
Tech Talk with Tony Gibson: Taking Stock Of Danica Patrick In Year Two
Vexing Vito: Three Drivers In Need of a Role Reversal
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04/12/2010 12:58 AM

I always figured when you made it a bottle instead of a can that was worth an extra 1/2 can.
On to the races.
During the Busch race I first thought Kyle had brake checked Brad but after the reply’s I believe Kyle seen Brad starting to go and just did not take off, trying to get Brad black flagged, this a course back fired. I seem to remember I believe Musgrave losing a truck championship for passing on the left, to avoid a wreck, and being black flagged. Thanks nascar for the consistant enforcement of the rules.
I want to give nascar credit for allowing Scott Riggs the chance to get into the pits before throwing the yellow, unlike at Martinsville where they threw the final yellow at the same time as the wreck was happening.

04/12/2010 01:10 AM

The top 12 in points are four Hendrick cars, three Roush, three RCR, and two Gibbs.

If Hendrick cars share “all” information, why doesn’t the 88 car use the same setup as the 48?

Marsha Brady
04/12/2010 02:16 AM

I have been wondering why Jayski quit posting stuff he hears. Someday things will be so bad, they will be begging him to post some drama. I hope Jayski then tells them to shove it.

BTW—I laughed for 2 straight minutes on the Hammond/Brokeback crack !

04/12/2010 08:24 AM

There are two ways to watch a race , tv and in person . Unless NASCAR and the tracks figure out a way to make attending a race much , much more affordable , FOX , and the other networks are going to wipe out the sport completely .
I vote for going to the racers . No insipid banter from the 3 stooges in the booth , no tight camera shots of cars that have paid big money to be the only cars talked about , and filmed . And thats the real shame . NASCAR should have stepped in and stopped the networks pandering to certain teams . I really think Bill France Jr. would have seen that , and stopped the tight camera shots of only one car , and the shilling for one or two drivers . Either Brian France hasn’t noticed the problem , or doesn’t see it as a problem , or isn’t engaged in the sport enough to know how to stop it .
I don’t know that the racing is really the problem . FOX is just so inept at showing us the race , we just assume there isn’t anything worth watching .There are networks who are better than others ( any of them are better than FOX ) , but overall the broadcasts we’re forced to endure each week will continue . So the tracks need to figure out a way for the average person to afford to go to the track , hear the engines again , watch all of the cars on the track instead of the chosen few , and remember what made them race fans in the first place . And recruiting new fans is much easier if they see a race in person instead of having FOX inflict their curious idea of race broadcasting on a poor unsuspecting newbie .

Mr Bill
04/12/2010 08:25 AM

Matt, I would like to say something about the weekend of NASCAR racing, but as usual you have said it all. I look forward to next weeks comments from you, more than I look forward to the race. Does that mean you are the best writer in the world, or does that mean NASCAR has worked so hard to bring their series into the modern world they have destroyed the very core of why they did so well in the past. What the hell is a 600 kilimeter race any way? Did the effort to convert the United States to the Metric system fell? Maybe NASCAR can single handedly bring back the Metric system push to go along with all the other great ideas they have tried to improve racing.

04/12/2010 09:00 AM

I attended the Phoenix race ONCE and once was enough.Even with FREE tickets, I would not go back. That track is the worst as far as customer convenience. No hand rails in some of the bleachers, walk miles to the entrance for handicap persons. Just a very bad experince. Kansas and Texas make Phoenix look sick.

04/12/2010 09:07 AM

going to the race is ok, but until they have a product is worth me spending my hard earned extra money i vote to keep the money in the matress. i keep getting emails from ‘dega offering me all kinds of deals for the race. thought about it, but i’ll watch from home. it’s ticket prices, high concession prices (yes i take food in, but sometimes you have to break down and get something else), waiting for restroom. right now they don’t know what plate they’ll run at ‘dega cause of speeds during testing. they’ll decide that after first practice.

i thought this weekend was going to be different as we had a strange make up in the front of the field, but alas, it didn’t take long for same song different day.

so instead of martin running as he did last season, his team is now working with jr’s and they both are running like crap.

i know saturday night, leader took off, and when johnson took the lead i changed the channel. when i flipped back and saw busch in the lead i went to bed.

you have to have product that makes fans want to part with the money and devote a weekend to the sport. it’s not like it was years ago. brian has broken the sport and he’s so stupid and blind that it won’t be fixed. his disciples just worship the ground he passes over.

what i’m looking to find out and can’t find in media, is how did hamlin’s’ knee do? i guess after the race he went straight for his pain killer prescription. sure hope all the pain and stress on surgery adn not letting his body heal is worth it. no way he can get out of car fast enough if it’s wrecked and on fire.

Stephen HOOD
04/12/2010 09:18 AM

I’m not impressed by Kyle’s Nationwide “feat.” When a car can go from 19 to 5 in six green flag laps, there is something wrong with the competition. I’ll admit Kyle is a great driver, but his Nationwide prowess is underwhelming.

04/12/2010 09:48 AM

As a Jeff Burton fan, I basicly lost interest after the penalty he incurred for pitting outside the box. Particularly after I watched Jeff Gordan do the same thing and make no attempt to move into his pitbox. This is the kind of favortism that drives me nuts. It’s hard to get into your box when someone’s in the way. Good grief! I gave this race 3 beers. But my main complaint is the baffoons in the booth. These guys have gotten so full of themselves that it’s getting harder and harder to watch. Can’t wait for TNT. Like I said, 3 beers seems about right.

04/12/2010 10:01 AM

The race isn’t always to the swift, nor the battle to the strong,….. but that’s the way to bet. Damon Runyon

04/12/2010 10:32 AM

The race was Sat night? Glad that I thought it was Sunday and looked forward to watching it, sounds like I didn’t miss anything, makes me feel better. I wish NASCAR would figure out a way to let the fans know when the race is. They promoted the times but not the days. Good Job! and you wonder why the tv ratings are falling.

04/12/2010 10:34 AM

I enjoyed Mike Joy’s comment that the race was STARTING 100km earlier then last years, how do you do this? I always enjoy the Phoenix races, but never could figure out why this race used kms instead of miles, only oval to do so.
Stephen Hood
Kyle did not go from 19 to 5 in 6 laps, he was in about 8-12 place still 18-20 seconds behind leader after approx. 40 laps when the last caution came out. He went from 10 to 1 in about 5 laps on the final restart. And yes I am a Rowdy fan.

04/12/2010 11:30 AM

I agree about the Burton penalty and no penalty on Gordon when he was essentially perpendicular to the wall with at least 1 tire outside his pit box. In other words, it wasn’t close. I said at the time that he would surely get penalized. Nope! One of Nascar’s chosen ones gets away with it again and Nascar’s inconsistentcy stays consistent.

I actually watched that race without recording it on Saturday. It was unbelievable how little of the race they actually covered. The cutaway car during green flag conditions? Are you serious?

04/12/2010 11:47 AM

There might have been a new low for the gushing , in the closet but only barely , worship of all things Hendrick by the FOX pit reporters on Saturday night . With just a few laps to go , while under caution , a male pit reporter rushes up to Gordons’ crew chief and , and in his best male bonding routine called him Stevie . Stevie ??? Oh brother .

04/12/2010 12:03 PM


the simple answer is that Junior is not as good a driver as Jimmie Johnson, so the set ups will not likely work.

Bill B
04/12/2010 12:16 PM

I saw Gordon’s pitstop where his tire was either just outside or on the line (very close) but I didn’t see Burton’s pitstop on tv. Did I miss it? If not then how can anyone make a comparison between Gordon’s and Burton’s stop?

Bad Wolf
04/12/2010 01:46 PM

I agree 100% with Michaels reply. I only watched the last 30 laps Saturday night because of Fox, and I was cringing at the booth buffoons lack of calling the actual race but instead telling stories and background info. I also noticed quit a bit of non racing shots that were actually Subway product placements.

Does DW feel like a stupid tool at the start of each race with that tired old BBB saying, or does he think he’s really got something going on with it? That alone is worth losing 10 points in the ratings.

Phil Thomspon
04/12/2010 01:47 PM

Who are you to tell Scott Riggs that he should have been parked in the first few laps? Good for him that he actually shows up to race and not collect a paycheck. Also, if Gordon’s Right Rear was out of the box, that is within the rules. Not a case of NASCAR bias, just dumb fans not knowing the rules

David O
04/12/2010 02:08 PM

Great article today! I laughed many times. I will be at Texas this weekend, and it is getting harder each year to keep my season tickets and reserved camping. Even if we do have a great time camping and visiting with people that we only see three times a year. This race will be the test of the new spoiler and we will see if it is a typical Texas parade or not. If the racing does not change much with the anti-wing that may help my decision to not renew with the track.
Keep up the great writing.

john o
04/12/2010 04:47 PM

Yes the days of 4am to bed have gone,now its 4am to work.Mike you can tell things in the sport have changed yes only one southern driver has won and most of the good old boys have gone .Why else do you think no one has shot that stupid gopher on fox.Do you need help with the groundhog?The race was pretty poor ,I would find it hard to give it 2 cans of someone else’s beer.

04/12/2010 08:52 PM

Between the computer and TV coverage, I spent 7 hours watching the Masters. I don’t regret that wasted time near as much as the wasted time I suffered through Saturday night.
I wish MRN had an affiliate close enough for me to hear so I wouldn’t have to listen to FOX.
Bad Wolf, do you really think DW may feel anything but proud? He’s one dem big time media folk, donncha ya know.
At least NA$CAR doesn’t have to worry about Terrorists. Those guys like target rich environments.

04/12/2010 11:25 PM

Phil, Gordon haters are too pathetically stupid and jealous to worry about actually knowing the rules of nascrap!

04/13/2010 08:35 AM

Back in the day, DW was always thought of as an idiot in the garage.

Nobody could stand this pompous ass.

Nothing has changed.

Of all the former drivers turned broadcasters, Ned Jarrett, Benny Parsons, Buddy Baker, Dale Jarrett, etc., DW is the absolute worst one of the whole bunch.

His act grew tiresome after the first year of Fox coverage, and I cannot believe he has made it 10 years on this team.

It is so desparately time for new blood in the Fox booth (and talent-poor hollywood hotel) that they all need to go to “Brokeback Mountain”!

Mike Joy I would keep, but even he has seen his better days.

I would love to hear Ken Squire call a race again, but no network now could ever reach the lofty standards CBS had in coverage, so that wouldn’t be right, would it?

France, I wish you could be sent to Afganistan.

04/14/2010 02:46 PM

How about knocking off the juvenile name calling. Your articles are shallow enough without adding that insult.

04/15/2010 02:23 AM

Matt, I was at the races in Phoenix, and I thought they were pretty good. Must be that the TV coverage just didn’t show all the racing going on around the track. FYI, the reason there was a lot of noise during the “moment of silence”, is that there was some sort of PA malfunction – the crowd never heard that request. I was surprised when I heard it on the radio rebroadcast of the race on the way home, as we never heard it when it actually happened.