The Frontstretch: Matt McLaughlin's Thinkin' Out Loud: Texas Race Recap by Matt McLaughlin -- Tuesday April 20, 2010

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

Matt McLaughlin · Tuesday April 20, 2010


Jeff Gordon’s loss was Denny Hamlin’s gain, as a late-race wreck knocked out several contenders and paved the way for a stunning victory for Hamlin – coming just 19 days after surgery to repair a torn ACL.

The Key Moment – Denny Hamlin muscled his way past Jeff Burton on the final restart and held off a hard-charging Jimmie Johnson to claim his second win in the last three races. NASCAR officials must have had their flights booked, because they didn’t even bother to throw a debris caution on the final two laps to let Johnson win.

In a Nutshell – You know, if you only watch the final twenty minutes of these things the racing isn’t too bad this year.

Dramatic Moment – On a restart with 17 laps to go, some cars had four fresh tires and others had two. Some major scrambling ensued; Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart got to arguing over real estate, and Carl Edwards weighed in for the same acreage when Stewart got sideways. The resulting wreck decimated some very competitive cars.

It seems maybe Jeff Gordon is getting sick of getting beat by Jimmie Johnson. They had a few extracurricular moments out on the track Monday that would have had Ms. Manners’ sphincter slam shut like a steel rose.

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

After making contact with the No. 48, over his radio Jeff Gordon opined that Jimmie Johnson was just sore because he’s used to being treated differently than everyone else. Wow. I seem to recall another young multi-time champion who drove for Rick Hendrick that had the same attitude a decade ago. Mr. Dog, meet Mr. Fire Hydrant. Who’s pissing on who?

You figure with the way Denny Hamlin is running, some drivers struggling to get traction this year are going to schedule unnecessary knee surgery to see if it makes them faster, too?

It’s been awhile since I’ve seen Jeff Gordon race that aggressively, but then again, it’s been awhile since he had a car that dominant. Even the Vegas car wasn’t as good as his Texas mount. Is Gordon getting frustrated because of the quality of rides some weeks, or something else? Whatever the case, it’s now been a year since the winningest active driver won a Cup race. What’s Johnson going to do to piss Gordon off next… start dating Brooke?

The TV commentators and even some of the drivers said there was no appreciable difference at Texas despite the change from the rear wing to the rear blade spoiler. But in watching several instances of cars getting close together side-by-side, it seemed the new aero package was causing the inside car to get bad loose, particularly if the outside car was a few inches ahead. My guess is NASCAR needs to re-balance the cars to put more weight on the front tires. A spate of blown right rears seems to bear that out.

Guess what the weather forecast is for Talladega next weekend? A 60% chance of thunderstorms on Saturday and Sunday. Oh, joy!

The official party line is that Hendrick Motorsports and Stewart-Haas Racing are two separate entities. It has to be, since all team owners are limited by the rules to four cars, and any insinuation that’s not the case by the media causes all sort of ill tempers to flow. There’s just one problem with this whole arrangement: someone better tell Tony Stewart. For two years now, he’s constantly referred to Johnson, Gordon, and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. as teammates.

For the record: one hour and forty five minutes. That’s how long it took me to watch the race on the DV-R while fast forwarding through commercials, the Hollywood Hotel inane chatter, and watching the pace car lead the field around in circles. It’s like a video game: When Darrell Waltrip starts talking, you have to be fast on that FF button (and once he does, he’s usually at it awhile.) Note to self: pick up a fresh set of Duracell AAs tomorrow.

So Kasey Kahne is going to be driving the No. 5 car in 2012, but hasn’t announced his plans for 2011 beyond the fact he won’t be back with RPM. Nobody’s discussing it quite yet, but if I was Dale Earnhardt I’d shave, let someone else count the nightly receipts at the Whiskey River saloons, and start winning some damn races.

Isn’t it interesting that Kasey Kahne is already addressing his boss to be as “Mr. Hendrick” even though he calls his current titular boss “Richard.”

One possible home for Kahne being bandied about is a third seat at Stewart-Haas Racing, the de facto fifth and sixth Hendrick teams. Naturally, such a move would be contingent on Bud following Kahne to his new home (and Bud was involved with Rick Hendrick for many years) or a new sponsor signing on with the outfit. I can’t help but recall last year Richard Childress Racing struggled with four teams, and it seemed that they turned things around about the time they decided to cut back to three. Sometimes, too much is just enough, and sometimes, too much is just too much.

Less than a week after informing Richard Petty Motorsports he won’t be returning for 2011, Kasey Kahne ran a surprising fifth in a No. 9 Ford he’ll be vacating for a Hendrick-affiliated ride next season.

One final thought on Kasey Kahne prior to Thursday’s column (and for the record, it’s already written. I’m going to Carlisle this week for the semi-annual Pilgrimage to Mecca for Gearheads). Longtime readers know I am a huge fan of Jayski’s Silly Season page, and to a large extent my so-called career is owed to Jay’s choice to add links to other site’s columns. It used to be that in the ’90s, Silly Season started in the early fall, as drivers decided where they’d compete the following year. Now, we have a high profile driver announcing his plans not for 2011, but for a year hence seven races into the current season. Silly Season is now officially 365 days long, if not 730 days long. Of course, from an outsider’s view it’ll be interesting to see if GM is even still involved with our sport by 2012. I hear they lost a few bucks last year, and there’s no telling if the upcoming and highly touted Volt might not be a rolling barbecue pit when it is finally released. Remember the Vega? Or the Citation? Or the Aztek?

I guess it’s just an unintended consequence of the rule that locks the top 35 in the field in each week’s Cup race, but “crowds” for qualifying on Fridays lately have not only been a bit sparse but downright pathetic. You have to wonder if it even paid for TMS management to hire folks to collect the tickets, provide security (to chase motorcyclists away at the most unfriendly track on the planet for two-wheel types) and pickup the trash afterwards on qualifying day. If I was a track owner, I think I’d just let whoever wanted to come to qualifying in free, in hopes of getting some first-time fans to find out where the track was located, experience what it looked and sounded like live and in person, then sell a few unwanted tickets for Sunday’s event. It wasn’t all that long ago, at least not in the grand scheme of things, that I used to pay ten bucks (equivalent to five gallons of gas or two six-packs back in the day) to watch qualifying at Pocono and spend an hour in traffic trying to the leave the track after the field was set.

Eddie Gossage, TMS track promoter, and I haven’t always seen eye-to-eye, particularly when it came to the issue of fans being able to bring their own coolers to the track. Eventually, that issue blew over with the end result being coolers are still welcome at Texas (even if they do still hate two-wheelers.) That being said, it was great to see Gossage back at the track, seemingly healthy and a little lighter, after his recent unspecified health scare. Been there, done that. Growing old sucks, but it beats the alternative.

Speaking of qualifying, what’s happened to Ryan Newman on Fridays? Recall from 2002 to 2007, Newman won at least five poles a season. In 2003, he qualified first eleven times. Newman’s last pole was scored at Martinsville last fall, and this year he’s averaging a fifteenth-place qualifying spot.

It sounded like a plan in the beginning. TMS announced because of the inconvenience caused by this weekend’s crappy weather, fans holding tickets to either the Nationwide race or the Cup race could enjoy both events on Monday at no extra charge as long as they could stick around. But the press release went on to note that fans who hadn’t been planning to attend either race but wanted to come by for the “double-header” on Monday could do so … with ticket prices starting “as low as” 91 bucks. Let’s face it: if you can go to the races on Monday, very likely you are either unemployed, underemployed, or retired and likely living on a fixed income. 91 bucks is a lot of money. I remember in the old days, Pocono and Dover used to admit fans for free on Monday if bad weather forced the races to be postponed.

Is there anything better than rain at the race track leading to extended pre-race coverage? I mean, other than your HMO deciding the hospital janitor is going to perform your next colonoscopy using a lightly buttered, ’70’s era Polaroid camera duct-taped to a broom handle?

It was interesting that one of the themes of Saturday’s extended rain delay coverage was the fact that these days, rookies only have a short period to prove themselves before being released. The host(ess) of the program was Nicole Briscoe, who might have outlived her rookie status as a broadcaster. Honestly, it was painful to watch her. It was almost as if you could see the shadow of the folks writing her intelligent questions occasionally, but when she had to ad lib it was as if we were watching the Miss Illinois contest again. Her constant repetitions that the track was “a little damp” during downpours made me think that she’d have to change into a cheerleader outfit during commercial break. It’s just another example of modern TV’s notion of how to fix sagging ratings: PIAB (Plug in another blonde.)

Has it really been that long? On April 19th, fully eight years ago, Jack Roush was critically injured and almost drowned during an experimental aircraft accident during the Talladega race weekend. Though I’m sure he’s enjoyed his return to private life, let’s give another shout out to retired Marine Sergeant Larry Hicks, who saved Roush’s life at considerable risk to his own.

The Hindenburg Award For Foul Fortune

Jeff Gordon clearly had the fastest car at Texas, but got caught up in that late-race wreck. You can blame him, Stewart, or Edwards for that mess, but it’s just another sign that when in contention for wins, Gordon just isn’t sealing the deal anymore.

Jeff Burton overcame a pit road penalty (commitment cone violation) and stormed back to the front to take the lead late in the race. As Burton might say, he “put himself in position” to take home the victory … but it didn’t last. Not only did he end up surrendering the lead to Hamlin, but the No. 31 car took an unplanned trip into the outside wall, leaving RCR’s veteran 12th in the final rundown.

David Reutimann had a solid top-10 and even top-5 car before his engine expired in spectacular fiery fashion.

Tony Stewart squandered an unexpected pole and a strong run when his car became the Blue Diamond Strike Anywhere match that ignited the big wreck. (As I saw it, Gordon got into the left rear of the No. 14 car, getting it squirelly. Carl Edwards tried to dive down a lane to avoid Stewart’s suddenly slowing car, but Stewart moved down as well trying to catch his Chevy and Edwards got into the back of him.)

Dale Earnhardt, Jr. took several turns at the front Monday, leading 46 laps before fading down the stretch for a solid eighth-place run.

They might have been only 90,000 strong, half the size of the anticipated crowd at Texas due to the rain delay, but it seemed each time the No. 88 car and Junior took the lead the cheering shook the very core of the earth. Yet somehow, the No. 88 outfit once again managed to tune excellence into mediocrity with an eighth-place fade heading to the checkers.

The “Seven Come Fore Eleven” Award For Fine Fortune

I really thought that after Denny Hamlin had his knee surgery, he’d run the car to the first caution and abandon ship a couple months. Now, he’s won two of the last three races. That’s sort of comforting, considering I may be awaiting ACL surgery as well.

It was a pretty fair Monday for Kyle Busch. He finished third in the Cup race despite having a car so bad at the start he wanted to take it to the garage area. Then, he completely dominated the Nationwide race to score his fifth victory in that series at Texas.

For the second straight week, Mark Martin grabbed a competitive finish at the end of a race after having been out to lunch most of the event. At one point Monday, he was actually a lap down.

Kasey Kahne also struggled to stay on the lead lap and inside the top 20 before that field-decimating wreck allowed him to escape Texas with a top 5.

Jimmie Johnson’s bout of bad temper, deciding to run into the side of the No. 24 car, eventually cost him a cut down tire. He hit the wall late in the race gunning for a win, but still managed to hold on to second place.

Kevin Harvick snaked his way through the big wreck en route to a seventh-place finish.

Ryan Newman did a nifty bit of driving to dive below the big wreck en route to an 11th-place result. In even better news, there are unconfirmed reports the mangled corpse of Little Digger was found stuck in the No. 39 car’s rear suspension after Newman took it to the grass.

Worth Noting

  • The top 10 consisted of four Chevys, three Toyotas, two Fords, and a Dodge. A Camry may have won the race, but they needed to in order to save face: 305 of 334 laps were led by the Bowtie Brigade.
  • Denny Hamlin has just two finishes inside the top 15 this season. Both are wins.
  • Kyle Busch (3rd) picked up his first top-5 finish since Martinsville last October.
  • Who wants to ride the roller coaster? Kurt Busch (4th) now has four finishes of sixth or better to go with four of 23rd or worse.
  • Dale Earnhardt, Jr. (8th) now has five straight top-15 finishes. 46 laps led at Texas was also his highest one-race total since Phoenix last April.
  • Martin Truex, Jr. (9th) now has more top-10 finishes (three) than Michael Waltrip had in the NAPA car all of last season (two).
  • Brad Keselowski (14th) has four straight runs of 16th or better. And he’s ended every single one of those races right side up.
  • Jamie McMurray (30th) has now wrecked in four of eight races this season. Daytona 500 curse, anyone?
  • Jeff Gordon (31st) has now led more laps in 2010 than anyone other than Kurt Busch (451). He has zero wins to show for it.
  • Juan Pablo Montoya (34th) has wrecked in three of his last four Texas starts.
  • The highest-finishing (and only) rookie in the race was Kevin Conway in 27th. Somewhere, someone with Extenze is smiling … just not over Conway’s final spot in the running order.

What’s the Points?

Jimmie Johnson’s runner-up finish didn’t add any drama atop the standings. Just eight races in, he’s already leading “rival” Matt Kenseth by 108 points. Greg Biffle, Kevin Harvick, and Jeff Gordon round out the top 5, with none of their positions changing from last week.

Behind them, there was plenty of movement. Kyle Busch made quite a jump in the standings, high-stepping it from twelfth to sixth. The anointed one, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. climbed up three spots to seventh, while Jeff Burton dropped a spot to eighth. Kurt Busch followed his brother’s lead, bouncing back up to ninth from fourteenth while Mark Martin moved back inside the Chase to tenth.

Denny Hamlin made the biggest leap of anyone this week, leaping seven positions from eighteenth to eleventh in the standings. Joey Logano and Tony Stewart are tied for 12th, with Clint Bowyer just one point behind them in 14th. Carl Edwards, Ryan Newman, and Martin Truex, Jr. are also solidly in Chase contention; they’re 15th, 16th, and 17th, respectively, while all within 25 points of Logano/Stewart.

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 and a half cans, even if there’s more storm water than beer in that extra half can.

Next Up – It’s off to Talladega for the closest thing NASCAR has to human sacrifice at the altar of ratings. The Aztecs would be proud. (Here, we’re talking about the extinct Central American tribe, not the extinct, hideous Pontiac Crossover.)

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04/20/2010 08:08 AM

Talk about your alternate universes , the MRN broadcast and the tv train wreck of a broadcast couldn’t be further apart . By watching the race with the sound muted it was obvious that most of the field decided at the last minute to start and park . The only cars who decided to remain on track were Gordon and Johnson from what i saw on the screen . Imagine my surprise to learn from the MRN broadcast that there actually were other cars on the track . AND GET THIS , after listening to MRN , it turns out that there arew other car owners besides Hendrick and other crew chiefs besides Letarte and Knaus . Who knew ??

Carl D.
04/20/2010 08:16 AM

Less than a half hour…that’s how long it took me once I got home from work to fast forward to the last 20 laps, watch the big wreck, then fast-forward through the red flag period and watch the final laps of the race.

Does anyone besides me think Jeff Hammond in a cowboy hat looks more like a member of the Village People than he does the Marlboro man?

04/20/2010 08:20 AM

was flipping tv channels on monday night. saw that nascar show on espn. evernham had some interesting things to say about gordon. said he’s tired of not winning. gordon is being gordon. at least stewart took fault for the wreck.

i sure wished i would have had the surgeon that did hamlin’s knee. but then again 32 yrs ago, the guy was probably not born or still wearing pampers.

when will we hear hamlin being referred to as mr. monday?

still early with the ‘dega forecast. however early last week they were forecasting rain for texas and behold it was correct.

be interesting to see how the kahne thing shakes out. martin says he’s not retiring. i’d wager the 88 team needs some extra tums now. notice how kahne is announced as joining the fold and jr has a decent run most of the day? however, note to jr…you need to lead the field on the last lap.

i remember rainout weekends at ams and you got in free. no way i’d pay $91 to see two races when half the concessions aren’t there and the seats, restrooms and area around track are overflowing with trash. they don’t typically come and clean up on sunday when race is postponed til monday.

yee haw……i have next monday off for confederate memorial day. had to google to find out why. i tell you, these southern folks sure carry a grudge about the “war”.

Carl D.
04/20/2010 08:35 AM

Janice… you mean the “War of Northern Aggression” right? (just kidding… enjoy your day off)

04/20/2010 08:50 AM

carl….yep….but i tell you, here in GA they still carry grudge. i grew up in maryland…you’d think that was heart of yankee country.

04/20/2010 09:31 AM

Matt, your column is depressing and awful. I don’t know why anyone would read it. Isn’t it your job to be excited about the sport you cover?

I will not read a column by you again.

04/20/2010 11:55 AM

The first thing I thought when Jeffy started crying about Jimmie, was “isn’t this the pot calling the kettle black”.
Liked Eddie Gossage comment about “start and park” owners stealing the money. I agree 100%.
I thought Gordon pretty much got a pass (by the three stooges)on causing the “big one”, while they seemed to be blaming Carl.(if you saw my comments after Atlanta you know I do not like Carl, but I do not believe he caused THIS wreck.)

04/20/2010 12:06 PM

Hamlin actually jumped from 18th to 2nd in the points. Looking at “The Chase” he would be ranked #2, right behind Chad – sorry, Jimmy.

Mr Bill
04/20/2010 12:14 PM

If you can not stand the truth then don’t read Matt’s comments. There is a sitcom network, a cartoon network, and I think TV Land still shows Andy Griffin reruns. All those shows are fantacy and have happy endings.

04/20/2010 12:29 PM

The one thing that absolutely surprized me about yesterday was that, with Jimmie-the-sleeze bearing down on Denny as he was, that NASCAR didn’t throw a fake caution to force yet another green-white-checkered finish, and therefore give the race to their precious favorite driver! Bet Rick is giving Brian a good earful today! (Now look, Brian! I don’t give you all those “donations” for my guy to finish second! Next time, you better do the right thing and tighten up that field so my boy can win, or I’ll stop my “donations” to your “retirement fund”!)

Oh, am I mean, or am I mean?

04/20/2010 01:47 PM

The second sentence of this column raises a point I was thinking of before I read it. I would like to see a breakdown of the number of “debris” cautions on Monday make up races vs. regular races. I am positive there is a significant difference. Why does Nascar need a caution for brake ductwork on the track when Formula 1 races on with tons of carbon fibre shards on the track which create a far greater risk. Nascar has devolved into WWE nonsense over the last 15 years. I still watch and pay attention, but without anywhere near the intensity of 10-15 years ago.

04/20/2010 05:30 PM

Hey Mike, (First Post) The Radio production at Texas is provided by PRN, not MRN. There is a difference. Bruton Smith-owned tracks are PRN, France-owned tracks are MRN. Just FYI.

04/20/2010 08:20 PM

At least Hamlin didn’t look as gay as Johnson in that Brokeback Hat. But Hammond, boy howdy, doesn’t he realize he optimizes all the negative against FOX when he dresses like that?

Kasey should be using the proper title, Lord Hendrick.

Regardless of how much goodwill the “Free Mondays” would generate, you know they’re too addicted to the $$$$ to see the bigger picture. Repairing the damage can be done in many small steps, not big changes.

I got to listen to the race at work on PRN. I found it amusing to listen to the commentators count out the seconds between cars. Glad I didn’t waste a Sunday watching the parade.

Poor, Poor, Jimmie. Gordon has enough money, he should have just taken him out.

04/21/2010 09:21 AM

Can’t wait for TNT. Listening to the Faux bozos in the booth is pure torture. Add the unending parade of commercials and the brew is toxic. This race deserves a three beer rating. A snoozefest most of the way with a great finish. Didn’t help when my driver turned a top five car (again) into a 12th place finish. On to Talladega.

04/21/2010 12:09 PM

Good one, Rufus. I think the reason a faux caution was not thrown was the rate at which JJ was closing. I was at the race & the thought of a nitro bottle in the 48 crossed my mind. I’m certain that NA$CAR was confident that JJ would catch & pass the 11. Guess the bottle emptied too soon.

As for calling faux cautions, to be honest, the best racing came after a caution. After about 20 laps, things got rather boring, unless you could find a race within the race to follow.

04/22/2010 02:37 AM

LOL I see a Digger Fan.. to The Disgruntled Reader, VolcanoNacho (fn really?!): I rarely talk but I’ve been reading Matt for years and even own his book. Found him following a Jayski link way back before Jayski had a born-on date on his page. You probably don’t know ‘bout that. Always a highlight of my week to read Matt sum up everything I thought but make me laugh while doing it. That works by actually reading the words, in order. You should try that next time you tackle a Nascar article or op-ed piece.. by any author.

My eyes are target-locked towards our first DW-and-rodent-free race and pray I do not accidentally hurt someone until then. Thank God for Trackpass and my mute button to block DW from telling me what I should think about what I just saw. Thanks Matt, for the great read, as always.