The Frontstretch: Matt McLaughlin's Thinkin' Out Loud: Firecracker 400 Recap by Matt McLaughlin -- Monday July 5, 2010

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Matt McLaughlin's Thinkin' Out Loud: Firecracker 400 Recap

Matt McLaughlin · Monday July 5, 2010


The Key Moment – Kevin Harvick got just enough of a jump on the final restart that he left the rest of the field battling furiously for second.

In a Nutshell – Bread and circuses, baby.

Dramatic Moment – Anytime you have a green/white/checkered restart at a plate track, it’s fixing to get ugly.

The lap 148 wreck that decimated half the field will make the highlight reels on SportsCenter all week. After all they’re not going to be talking about Tiger’s dominant performance in Newtown Square. (My hometown)

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

Given NASCAR’s propensity for throwing unnecessary debris cautions where was the yellow flag when Clint Bowyer went spinning after the final restart?

In February it will have been ten years since Dale Earnhardt was killed in that last lap crash at the Daytona 500. Now the walls are lined with SAFER barriers and the drivers wear HANS devices but lets put the alphabet soup of safety devices aside a second. Someone could easily have died last night at Daytona. Almost ten years down the road the underlying fault of plate racing, the banking at Daytona and Talladega, hasn’t been addressed.

Did anyone else see the 42 team working on Montoya’s wounded race car under the red flag in clear violation of the rules?

As I see it there’s no need to repave the bumpy and worn out track surface at Daytona. Just have the competitors run Class 2 Baja trucks rather than Cup cars on a track that ought to be an embarrassment to the France family after nearly thirty years without a repave. They really don’t get it. NASCAR said there was no problem with the track surface apparently not realizing in this new era of phones that take video and the various social media of the internet that their late night track repairs Friday were going viral before dawn.

Related to the above, once Daytona is in fact repaved (and my guess is they’ll screw it up royally) the track is going to be a lot faster for a few years until it wears. That means NASCAR will have to issue smaller restrictor plates to keep speeds within reason. That means tighter packs of race cars, less passing opportunities, more desperate moves and bigger wrecks that will make Saturday night’s fiasco look like a Smurfs picnic. What’s the solution? I’m whistling Bobby Dylan’s “The Answer is Blowing in the Wind” as I type this. How many times must nineteen cars wreck, before plate racing is forever banned…. As Denis Leary might say, Kumbaya, baby.

One nugget gleaned from the tsunami of words NASCAR’s Brian France unleashed on the press at Daytona is that the organization is internally debating “tweaks” to the Chase points system. That’s the equivalent of treating a brain tumor with a band aid and lollipop. In related news, BP executives say they are considering tweaks to the emergency cutoff valves they use in deep sea oil drilling.

France went on to say NASCAR was concerned about the number of full-time Cup drivers competing in the Nationwide Series (and winning all the money and points.) He said changes might be forthcoming, which is the equivalent of dialing 9-1-1 to report the Great Chicago Fire in the 1960’s. The solution is simple. No driver in the top 20 in Cup points can compete in the Nationwide Series. An alternative is to allow such drivers to compete but not to award them any points or purse money.

During the summer, it rains in Daytona in the late afternoon and evening? Who knew? I mean, besides anyone with a lick of sense or anyone who has visited the Sunshine State during the summer and experienced the oppressive heat, soul-sucking humidity, and mosquitoes the size of robins firsthand. As the weather cools towards evening the atmosphere is no longer able to contain the super-saturated amount of moisture it contains and storms follow. That’s why the Firecracker 400 used to start around 11 AM and end by 2:00.

The new Nationwide car, at least in its Mustang and Challenger disguises, made its long anticipated debut at Daytona this weekend. Despite concerns that the race would be a wreck-fest after practice, the Nationwide race was relatively sedate at least by Daytona standards. Unfortunately the side-by-side racing and slingshot passes envisioned to be made possible by the new cars didn’t materialize, either. I’ll give NASCAR a pass on this one, given it was the first time the new cars ran and at least the winner didn’t label them a “piece of crap.” Aesthetically the new Mustang was a disappointment. It looks about as much like a 2011 Mustang as Granny Clampett looks like Heather Locklear. The new Challenger, at least when viewed from the front was more successful though the “cars” lacked the trademark vintage notchback Challenger roofline. You can fool some of the people some of the time, but you can’t fool all of the people all of the time.

It was bittersweet to see the 3 car back in victory lane, especially in its Wrangler livery, Friday night. But for Dale Junior fans, it must have been exciting to see Earnhardt winning anything but the most popular driver balloting for the first time in eons. Earnhardt’s win did seem to please the sparse crowd on hand for the event.

The No. 3 in Victory Lane at Daytona with Dale Earnhardt, Jr. behind the wheel made for a feel-good story for fans.

Uh-oh! Not only was Danica Patrick’s return to Nationwide racing last week at NHIS less than successful competitively (suffice to say she beat the start and parkers while remaining a rolling speed bump on track) but it didn’t boost TV ratings much. Maybe Danica-mania has gone the way of Macarena?

One of the things that benefits TNT race coverage compared to FOX is the LLL factor, as in Lots Less Larry. And when McReynolds does talk, absent his need to serve as straight man for DW he occasionally makes sense. But does anyone else think that Kyle Petty referring to his father as “the King” sounds like something out of a Southern Gothic novel?

My take on the list of nominees to make the NASCAR Hall of Fame next year? There’s not a man on that list that doesn’t deserve to be there eventually, though I stick by my picks of Bobby Allison, David Pearson, Cale Yarborough, Darrell Waltrip, and Lee Petty. Being from the northeast and having seen the man work his magic in person, I was pleased to see the late Richie Evans included on that list.

In an odd statement Dale Earnhardt, Jr. (probably tongue in cheek) credited his recent upswing in performance to growing back his fungal beard and drinking beer on Mondays. I don’t know about that. I’ve been drinking beer on Mondays since I was sixteen and I haven’t won any Cup races.

The Hindenburg Award For Foul Fortune

Clint Bowyer went from leading the race on the final restart to a seventeenth place finish after getting spun out in the final two laps.

It’s been awhile since veteran Mark Martin had to bail out of a burning car. Kudos to the 48 crew for rushing to assist Martin, but his mid-season slump has officially hit overdrive.

A.J. Allmendinger was seen post-wreck in a hollering match with de facto boss Richard Petty. That probably wasn’t a wise career move.

Ryan Newman reposted his credentials in NASCAR’s Inadvertently Airborne Corps. Fortunately this time, the car came to rest rubber side down.

Kyle Busch wasn’t real happy with Juan Pablo Montoya after his lap 104 wreck, but had to bite his tongue given his despicable performance in practice prior to the event that left a lot of bent sheet metal in his wake.

In the latest episode of “When Teammates Attack” Sam Hornish, Jr. put Kurt Busch into the wall to set off the final yellow flag session of the evening.

So much for momentum. Jimmie Johnson won the last two Cup races but wound up 31st Saturday/Sunday after catching a big piece of the big wreck.

The “Seven Come Fore Eleven” Award For Fine Fortune

Kasey Kahne’s night seemed over after the lap 148 wreck but he recovered well enough to finish second. It’s a lot easier to make up positions when half the starting field is being shoveled into dumpsters in the garage area.

Dale Earnhardt, Jr. did a nifty bit of driving to dive low during the big wreck avoiding the worst of the carnage. His fourth-place finish in Saturday’s race (which actually occurred early Sunday morning) coupled with a win Friday made this Earnhardt’s most productive weekend in eons.

Jeff Gordon was another beneficiary of tragedy nearly avoided when he skated through the big wreck with inches to spare.

Given a pit road speeding penalty and his tangle with Hornish, Kurt Busch has to be satisfied with a seventh-place finish and a pulse after the race.

If there’s one nice thing about plate racing, it’s that the carnage gives drivers like Reed Sorenson, Mike Bliss, and Scott Speed a chance to post a top 10 finish. Let me assure you, nobody won TNT’s million dollar challenge after this race.

Bobby Labonte finished sixteenth, but he completed 166 laps. He finished the race. He did not start and park his car, and hopefully no former Cup champion will ever do so again.

Steve Park’s return to Cup racing yielded a respectable 13th-place finish.

Worth Noting

  • Kevin Harvick’s last three Cup wins have occurred at plate tracks.
  • Kasey Kahne finished second for the second time in four races.
  • Jeff Gordon’s third-place finish was his best since Richmond and his fourth straight top-5 result. Eventually, he might get the hang of this Cup racing stuff.
  • Dale Earnhardt, Jr.’s fourth-place finish was his best since…well..the Daytona 500.
  • Jeff Burton (fifth) managed a top-5 result for the first time since Dover.
  • Carl Edward’s sixth-place finish was his best since Richmond.
  • Kurt Busch (seventh) has scored top-10 results in five of the last six Cup races and all five of the last five oval circuit events.
  • Team Red Bull had both their drivers (Fill-in Reed Sorenson and Scott Speed) finish in the top 10.
  • Mike Bliss (ninth) was undoubtedly blissful after posting his best career finish since Richmond in 2004.
  • Robby Gordon (twelfth) posted his best oval track result since Charlotte in May of last year.
  • Kevin Conway (fourteenth) easily bested his career best Cup finish Saturday. His previous best result was 27th at Texas.
  • After winning two consecutive races Denny Hamlin (24th) has missed the top 10 the last three times out and is averaging a 21st-place finish in those three races.
  • Mark Martin (28th) has now gone five straight Cup races without a top-10 finish.
  • The top-10 finishers drove five Chevys, two Fords, two Toyotas, and a Dodge. The four drivers who finished in the last four positions all drove Toyotas.

What’s the Points?

Kevin Harvick retains his points lead. He is now 212 points (more than a full race worth) ahead of second place Jeff Gordon, who advanced an impressive three spots to second.

Jimmie Johnson dropped a spot to third, but is just thirteen points behind Gordon.

Kurt Busch advanced two spots to fourth in the standings, while his brother Kyle fell three spots to sixth. Denny Hamlin fell a spot to fifth.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. advanced two spots, and enters the top 12 in eleventh position, 46 points to the good of 13th. Mark Martin’s fiery wreck dropped him a spot to thirteenth and out of one of those coveted top-12 positions.

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 lay the beer aside and give this one three value meal BK dollar burgers. They aren’t real good or filling, but you got what you expected and hopefully your neighbors didn’t see you consuming “the product.”

Next Up – It’s 1158 miles to Chicago-Land. We’ve got a full tank of gas, a half pack of cigarettes, it’s dark out, and we’re wearing sunglasses. Hit it!

Contact Matt Mclaughlin

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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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07/05/2010 01:46 AM

Glad to see Steve Park back at the track! Hopefully he lands that ride for the rest of the year. Very cool paint scheme too!

old gal from socal
07/05/2010 03:34 AM

Welcome back MatPatMick! I’m really curious about the Daytona repave. It sounds like the drivers are “waxing nostalgic” about the current track; at least the media would have us believe that the drivers don’t want it. In your opinion, are they (the drivers) really fearful about the chaos that will ensue when this track is repaved?

07/05/2010 06:48 AM

Kahne was running up front around 5th or 6th when the big one started.
He avoided Burton and Ku Busch. So don’t nulify his great run front 30th to 2nd

07/05/2010 08:08 AM

It was a shame the race was fairly “clean” for Daytona..until the “big one” wiped out half the field … We will never know if Stewart had a not so good car..or if he was hanging until the last 10-15 laps. Its a shame no one took the “have at it boys” approach to Kyle Busch…he pretty much “played god” during both practices..deciding who went to heaven in their primary car or who was stuck in hell driving their backup with not one lick of a lap on it. Speaking of…I really think NASCAR should “bend” the rules when it comes to crashes and no practice during practice…there is almost always time before the race for the cars who had to go to a backup car through no fault of their get on the track for 30 minutes and do some adjustments…it only seems right..and probably alot safer for those in and around the backup cars once the race begins. I like Daytona…well I think I like it…the thrill of the “big one” has worn off…I think I am leaning more towards the smaller tracks where it’s in the drivers hands….

07/05/2010 08:21 AM

AND…not to start any “black helicopter” much as it was fun to see the Wrangler #3 on the track Friday night…It didn’t quite “hit the mark” with me..and I am sorry to Junior Nation..but those last few laps with junior leading were alittle to “parade like”..I realize Joey had an unexperienced driver behind him..but Brad was there too..and neither one of them looked too keen to step out and try and pass Junior…Joey isn’t driving for points..and before the race Brad said he was going for the win…but they just sat there going round and round and round behind Junior…What was that about? Before I hear all the reasons why they couldn’t pass Junior…to me…(sorry again Junior Nation) they didn’t even try…I mean who wants to be known as “the spoiler”..who wants to be know as the driver who passed..or crashed them all…thus spoiling what the media is calling “a win the NASCAR nation needed” “a storybook ending” …. “a sign and a wink from above”…I mean..hey..what driver wants to have that stigma…Well..I will say..had it been a CUP race..or if there had been a few other CUP drivers in the race or up front…(Jeff, Tony, Jimmy, Kurt, Kyle, Kevin etc) the story probably would have ended different…and not been so much of a “fairytale”.

07/05/2010 08:44 AM

Trust me Lydia, you’re not the only one who thought that.

Matt, the only good thing about restrictor plate races is reading your commentary the next day.

Stephen HOOD
07/05/2010 09:19 AM

I don’t doubt that Joey might have sandbagged it at the end of the 250, but the ending didn’t look much different than the 400. Gordon and Kasey could have mounted a “charge” but they didn’t do it. Kasey has nothing to loose and Gordon doesn’t really either, so your argument for the ending of the 250 works for the 400 as well.

I turned to my wife after the 250 and told her that Joey gave the win to Earnhardt, but, after some reflection,I believe Earnhardt put himself in place to win with 30 to go and outran the rest of the field. If others helped him to achieve it, we don’t really know.
07/05/2010 09:58 AM

i thought it was a good race but im a harvick fan too was really upset about the coverage they gave Steve Park here was a driver who was trying to make a comeback after 9 years in a underfunded team and was running in the top ten and not a mention I think it should be a requirement that all broadcasters should have to watch old footage of Ned Jarret and Benny Parsons before they ever get in front of a camera

07/05/2010 10:07 AM

I’ve always been a Dale Sr. fan , but i have to admit that the 3 Wrangler car back on the track seemed a bit hollow . It wasn’t one of his father’s cars , it was a one time paint job and a one time number . It seemed like much more of a plan to sell souvenirs than anything else . Sure was great to see three fingers in the air again though .
Rick Hendrick will elbow his way into the over-hyped museum on this round , believe me . He won’t deserve it , but he’ll force his way in .
Is there anyone LESS qualified to drone on and on and on and on and on about racing than Larry McReynolds ? OMG . I cringe anytime theres a rain delay because i know i’m going to have to listen to Larrys’ worn out uninteresting drivel for hours . I’m sure he’s a nice guy , but he is the worst analyst on tv . Explaining what a restrictor plate was ? I’ll bet there were almost 2 people in the audience who found that entertaining . I have to wonder how he and the Waltrips force their way into these broadcasts . It certainly isn’t by popular demand .

07/05/2010 10:13 AM

By the way , i thought some of the best stories of the weekend were the performances of some of the lesser known drivers . Greg Sacks put in a very good drive on Friday night , and Ricky Stenhouse did an excellent job as well . Saturday , Steve Park and Sam Hornish were very impressive .

Ken Smith
07/05/2010 11:04 AM

Also wondering why the return or Steve Park received almost no coverage – and no mention during the broadcast – in spite of the good run he made. Also was wondering why no comment was made when the shot of them working on Montoya’s car under the red was shown.

07/05/2010 11:41 AM

So the Firecracker 400 used to start at 11 and end at 2. Was that a good thing?

I think I’d rather wait out an hour rain delay in the twilight than sit in the noonday sun in Daytona.

My solution for Cup drivers in the N’wide is to let ‘em race all they want.

Leave the last 7 slots open for the Cup guys, but just don’t let them qualify.

They can draw lots if more than 7 want to race. practice with the others and start at the rear of the field.

07/05/2010 12:17 PM

Listening to Kyle’s spotter before the crash, I didn’t hear him say “clear.” What I heard him say was that the 42 wrecked him. What he should have said was, “You stupid #^$%$%^ idiot. I didn’t say clear. You expected MONTOYA to back off and let you in? You stupid $^*(&*& moron. Don’t go saying you thought you were clear.”

Watching rolling road block Danica Friday, I think they should put Milky Donut on the car as the driver to protect her “reputation.”

07/05/2010 12:24 PM

for the record, I hate restrictor plate races. They are always a crapshoot anyway, but with the double file restarts and the green white wrecker (X3) restarts, it is even worse. I am glad that no one was hurt. It was interesting to see the cars drive on that rough surface and I was amazed to see how well they actually did — all that bouncing around with a loose race car – well, wow, they all earned their money on Sat/Sunday’s race.

07/05/2010 12:33 PM

It’s not the Firecracker 400. Don’t confuse DansMom. It was the Coke Zero 400 Powered by Pepsi.

07/05/2010 02:22 PM

One thing worse than Larry Mac is that dumb ass blond Lindsay Clueless. Her and ‘Ole DW would make a fine pair.
Now that the Nationwide COT cars have the same 110” wheelbase as the Cup cars, Kyle won’t forget which car he’s in when he chops across someone’s nose. His explanation of how the air moved his rearend did give another definition to “aero push”.
Over hyped or not, that 3 felt good in Victory Lane.

07/05/2010 04:19 PM

Did anyone really think the #3 Wrangler car wasn’t going to win fri. nite? How ironic, the owner of the GoDaddy NW car pimping a ride in a NW knock off version of a car his Daddy made famous.

Richard in N.C.
07/05/2010 04:57 PM

Anyone who really knows anything about racing knows that Larry Mc and Kyle Petty have forgotten more about racing that you will ever know.

07/05/2010 05:59 PM

Petty and Dallenbach are still the only good commentary team the Cup series has.

I was extremely angry that not only did Steve Park not get even a minor nod, finishing 13th in a piece of crap, but that they mentioned at the start of the race he was running a “tribute paint scheme” … AND THAT’S ALL. THEY DIDN’T EVEN SAY RICHIE EVANS. A guy who’s records make Jimmie Johnson look like a loser. Man that ticked me off.

07/05/2010 06:23 PM

Richard , whether or not Larry Mac has forgotten more than i’ll ever know about stock car racing ( and i’m not sure thats true ) he is a terrible tv personality . He stumbles , mumbles , murders the English language , can’t go five minutes without reminding the fans who he used to work for , and he just isn’t interesting . There is a very easy test for all of that . Listen to Andy Petree and see the exact opposite in every respect . Andy is precise , concise , and has a much better resume .

07/05/2010 06:42 PM

@doubters, If the NW race was a fix, so are JJ’s 4 championships. In Victory Lane, Richard Childress looked at us and deliberately said that Jr. has more wins to come. I believe him. He also knows Jr. has not forgotten how to drive and still has the will to win. I have given up on the wins being at HMS. 90 races down and 90 races to go until Jr.‘s term at HMS is up. :) Halfway through and I am beginning to see some light at the end of the long, dark tunnel. I was curious about Jr.‘s saying that he was not doing a burn-out because he wanted to take the engine back to have it analyzed because it was so much better…?

07/05/2010 07:26 PM

Kyle Petty has, for sure, forgotten a lot about racing. Unfortunately, he did it during his driving career.
That said, he is also one of the best in the booth.

07/05/2010 08:23 PM

Forget all the Earnhardt Sr tributes… when the hell are Neil Bonnet and Tim Richmond going to get the tribute cars?

And it’s doubtful it Nascar will ever put Richmond’s name on the Hall of Fame ballot, but he in my opinion he sure deserves it.

07/05/2010 08:24 PM

Forget all the Earnhardt Sr tributes… When the hell are Neil Bonnet and Tim Richmond going to get the tribute cars run in the Cup or Nationwide series?

And it’s doubtful it Nascar will ever put Richmond’s name on the Hall of Fame ballot, but he he sure deserves it in my opinion.

07/05/2010 08:26 PM

Why bother talking about Harvick leading the points? With this stupid Chase, if it would start today, Harvick would be third behind JJ and DH. What an F’d up way to run a Series. Goodyear needs to come up with a way to put stiching on the sides of the tires, since Brainless France is so dead set on a stick and ball format. Idiot!

07/05/2010 10:06 PM

I’m just curious, wonder if Jr. got to use the “express lane” going thru post race tech with his “special engine”?

07/05/2010 10:14 PM

Flat out shamefull that Steve Park was ignored all nite. After all he gave na$crap, DEI, and all fans the most UNDER-RATED win in na$crap history, when he won at Rockingham the week after Dale’s death.

07/06/2010 01:07 AM

I’m glad everyone feels upset about the lack of Steve Park coverage. It is a shame, and one of the main reasons why NASCAR is losing fans everyday. No loyalty at all.

danny tall
07/06/2010 01:42 AM

TNT ingored Steve Park, his car, his comeback, and every other story about anyone not with Hendricks,Roush, Childress, Penske, The King ,and of course Darell & Mikey. A total of 24 cars get shown or mentioned unless they do something wrong. They did show Mark Martin and say he was leading, while the 7 car was leading. Steve Park was the 2nd person to drive for DEI. Robby Gordon was the 1st. By default the connection with Robby means Steve doesn’t count either with Na$car. Was there any one that did not know how Tony was during the broadcast? It’s not Tony or JJ or Kyle’s fault that the booth guys do or don’t talk about them, it is Na$car’s fault that the real storys’ of the race aren’t covered or are distorted by TNT, Speed or Fox. Welcome back Steve Park. Great finish Mike Bliss. Best finish ever Kevin Conway and I think he has finished all of the races so far this year. Way to go Reed and Speed.Good job Robby – I wish the Eveready Battery Company would sponsor you. You keep going, and going, no matter how bad Na$car cheats you. This NW rule is about the 6th rule change Na$car has made to keep you from having success. All the best to all the single car team owner drivers. Shame on you Na$car and TNT.

07/06/2010 09:11 AM

What has happened to my FIRECRACKER 400 … … longing for the good ol’ days … … when the race (and it actually used to be a RACE!!) started at 10 a.m. … … ended by 12:30 p.m. … … and averaged three (only THREE!) caution periods per race!! Oh well … that was back in the days when the drivers could actually DRIVE … and NASCAR was run by people who actually cared for the sport … … …