The Frontstretch: Matt McLaughlin's Thinkin' Out Loud: Pocono-2 Race Recap by Matt McLaughlin -- Monday August 2, 2010

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Matt McLaughlin's Thinkin' Out Loud: Pocono-2 Race Recap

Matt McLaughlin · Monday August 2, 2010


The Key Moment – Greg Biffle and the No. 16 team chose to go with two tires on their final stop, made with 30 laps to go under a yellow flag. Shortly after the restart, Biffle was able to get his car into the lead – and clean air – then drove off from the pack.

In a Nutshell – What’s worse than a tedious race? A tedious race delayed and interrupted by rain.

Dramatic Moment – With passing at a premium at Pocono and, in fact, in most Cup races, drivers tended to let their knuckles drag and threw couth out the window during the restarts, scrambling to make up whatever positions they could.

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

After a great day Saturday that saw him post his first win in the Truck Series, Elliott Sadler was lucky to walk away from this wreck on Sunday at Pocono.

What I hope everyone is talking about and what needs to be discussed is safety at the racetrack. Elliott Sadler’s late-race wreck was about the worst-appearing incident since Geoff Bodine’s Truck Series crash in that series’ inaugural Daytona event. Track management at Pocono had already stated they intended to install SAFER barriers on the inside of the Long Pond straight after Kasey Kahne’s nasty wreck here in June. But the frightening and oddly laid out inside of that straightaway didn’t first come to light in June, either. Remember Steve Park and Dale Earnhardt, Jr.’s first lap wreck a few years back? I recall people calling for the grassy areas at Pocono to be paved in the wake of Davey Allison’s frightening accident here in 1992 – one that almost took out a pair of corner workers. Safety is a moving target, and it’s easy for folks to get complacent after a long lull between deaths at the track.

My Thursday column will be devoted to the revelation NASCAR has been secretly fining drivers for talking trash about our sport and the folks who run it. Here’s a preview; I don’t like the notion. I’m sure that doesn’t surprise most of you. Here’s the deal. As of late, I expect very little of NASCAR, and week after week I accept they probably won’t even meet my diminished expectations. I have a pretty fertile imagination, but every couple months, despite my low expectations and general dislike of those in charge of the sport, NASCAR still manages to plumb to depths of depravity and abject stupidity even I could never have conceived of after all these years. One of these days, NASCAR, one of these, bang, pow, zoom, straight to the moon.

I guess what bothers me most about the above is if a driver were to have addressed the dangers of the back straight at Pocono on Saturday and chose to accuse NASCAR of not being properly concerned about safety, he’d probably have earned himself a 50,000 dollar secret fine. (They’re a little touchy on that issue. Ask Ryan Newman.) There’s times you have to step up to the plate and talk real loud, and damn to Hell those who object.

I don’t even need a driver to tell me this is frightening. Want a barometer of where Cup racing is at? Tickets are available for purchase to the Bristol night race less than a month away. You used to have to inherit tickets to that race.

Wrecks like these are part of the reason Marcos Ambrose is getting jettisoned for Bobby Labonte next season at JTG-Daugherty Racing – while a capable driver, he’s now got eight DNFs in 21 starts this season on the circuit.

The latest piece of the Silly Season puzzle to fall into place is bittersweet. Bobby Labonte will be driving for the No. 47 team next season, a team that plans to actually race for wins, not start and park, as befits a driver of Labonte’s championship talent. But to make room for Labonte, JTG-Daugherty Racing had to terminate their relationship with Marcos Ambrose, one of the most personable journeyman drivers currently on the Cup roster. I’d like to think some other competitive team can find room to provide Ambrose with a seat for next season.

Saturday night’s crowd at the Iowa Nationwide event appeared to be sold out, a rarity in NASCAR racing these days. Unfortunately, Kyle Busch dominated the event and stunk up the show. Let’s see how many of those fans return next year. If they do, is it time to start discussing a Cup date in Iowa?

In the wake of last weekend’s disappointing crowd at the Brickyard 400, track management has decided to lower ticket prices for next year’s event and will promote the race more aggressively. In a related marketing note, Coca-Cola has declined to reintroduce New Coke.

Maybe it’s time to slip an Amtrak schedule in Jack Roush’s briefcase rather than having him fly destination to destination?

NASCAR has told Speedway Motorsports that they’ll allow them to move one of their race dates from a track currently on the schedule to Kentucky next year. Let the speculation begin. Which track will lose a date? New Hampshire? Atlanta? My pick would be Sonoma.

After contentedly cruising around, separated by four second gaps, the drivers finally got up on the wheel when it appeared likely that rain would bring the race to a premature end. Let me again suggest Pocono be split into two 250-mile races run the same day. Four hours is too much time for the average fan to spend waiting for a ten minute payoff.

Great moments in race telecasts: During the rain delay, an ESPN broadcaster asked a black crew member if he could tap dance. Oddly enough, I can’t recall any white crew members being asked to do so.

Due to weather delays, some wags will doubtlessly tag Sunday’s race “The 24 Hours of Pocono.” But the real 24-hour endurance race at Pocono is staged by fans trying to get back to I-81 or the Northeast Extension.

The Hindenburg Award For Foul Fortune

Jeff Gordon appeared to have a win in his grasp until a late-race pit call dropped him out of clean air up front – and right out of contention.

Jeff Gordon once again seemingly had a race victory easily in hand when a decision to go with four tires on the final stop dropped him back in the pack. Once in dirty air, the No. 24 car was a shadow of its former self and could only salvage sixth.

Had it rained just a little bit harder and longer, Sam Hornish, Jr. would have been a surprise winner at Pocono. As it was, he faded to eleventh in the final laps.

Kurt Busch had the audacity to delay four-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson’s drive back to the front. That unwise decision earned Busch a doubleheader crash, first into the outside wall then even harder into the inside wall. Elliott Sadler was also caught up in the mess, hit by A.J. Allmendinger as he attempted to check up and avoid Busch’s stricken Dodge.

Speaking of Johnson, he so thoroughly dominated the first half of the race that the deafening thunder of remote keys being used to switch channels or turn off the TV echoed coast-to-coast. In the end, though, the No. 48 team could only salvage a tenth-place finish after fading following a Lap 122 caution for debris.

Pit strategy put Dale Earnhardt, Jr. into the lead, and the crowd went wild. Not for long; minutes later, Earnhardt spun out in an unforced error and wound up 27th with engine trouble. It was another dreadful ending to what could have been a promising afternoon.

The “Seven Come Fore Eleven” Award For Fine Fortune

It’s hard to consider a driver who wrecked so hard, his engine was left laying on the backstretch fortunate, but it’s amazing after one of the worst hits I’ve ever seen Sadler was able to exit the car under his own power. Not only that, but after a short time spent regrouping and catching his breath, he walked away from the track.

Early in the race, Greg Biffle was vocally very unhappy with his car, but all’s well that ends well.

Tony Stewart started from the pole, then faded quickly when the race began. But the No. 14 Chevrolet was a top-10 car from start to finish, and rallied by the end of the event to work back to second.

Mark Martin had to survive a few close calls on pit road en route a seventh-place finish.

Worth Noting

  • Greg Biffle gave Ford their first win of the 2010 Cup season. Prior to Sunday, the last time a Ford entered Victory Lane after a Cup race was at Talladega last year.
  • Biffle’s win was also his first on the Cup circuit since Dover in the Fall of 2008, 64 races ago.
  • Tony Stewart finished second for the third time this season. (Stewart also finished second at Bristol and Loudon.) He’s got top-10 finishes in seven of the last eight Cup races.
  • Carl Edwards (third) managed his fourth consecutive top-10 finish. The result was the best of Edwards’ 2010 Cup campaign.
  • Kevin Harvick (fourth) has top-10 finishes in five of the last six races.
  • Denny Hamlin’s fifth-place finish was his best since winning at Michigan.
  • Jeff Gordon (sixth) has top-10 results in six of the last seven Cup races, with top-5 results in five of those events.
  • Mark Martin’s seventh-place finish was actually his best since Charlotte in May.
  • Jeff Burton (eighth) has strung together four consecutive top-10 finishes for the first time this season.
  • Martin Truex, Jr. (ninth) enjoyed his first top-10 result since Richmond.
  • Jimmie Johnson’s tenth-place finish was his best result since he won at Loudon.
  • Sam Hornish’s two eleventh-place finishes at Pocono this year are his best to date this season.
  • Kurt Busch endured his first DNF in a Cup car since Talladega last year.
  • The top 10 finishers at Pocono drove two Fords, six Chevys, and a pair of Toyotas. Sam Hornish in eleventh was the top finishing Dodge pilot.

What’s the Points?

Kevin Harvick remains atop the point standings, now 189 ahead of Jeff Gordon, who remains second. Denny Hamlin and Jimmie Johnson maintain third and fourth place, respectively.

Jeff Burton takes over fifth in the standings, displacing Kurt Busch, who drops down two spots to seventh. Tony Stewart and Matt Kenseth swapped eighth and ninth spots, with Stewart now having the advantage.

Mark Martin remains thirteenth, now 34 points behind twelfth-place Clint Bowyer. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. remains fourteenth, but he’s a daunting 129 points out of the Chase. Sorry DEJ fans, it’s just not going to happen this year – so decide now if you want to blame Rick Hendrick or Lance McGrew.

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 of warm funky stuff, found behind the front seat of your brother-in-law’s pickup in the pockets of his hunting overalls. There were some good battles, but only occasionally, and the race gets an extra can solely because Elliott Sadler was able to walk away.

Next Up – It’s off to Watkins Glen for the second stop on NASCAR’s abbreviated Northern Tour that was once a staple of the summer season. Like Michael Nesmith once wrote; “And the hits just keep on coming…”

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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08/02/2010 05:19 AM

I forgot about ESPN asking the black guy to dance. Wow. I wonder if ESPN will apologize for stereotyping.

08/02/2010 06:46 AM

It seems JJ causes most of the big wrecks, (except for Carl always wrecking K-lo, trying to kill him). Sure did not stop JJ from taking everyone 3 wide into 1 later in the race, you think he would learn. The odd thing is about all the big ones he has caused, he usually drives through them and continues on.

08/02/2010 07:52 AM

The real cause of that wreck was NASCAR throwing an unneccesary caution when Junior spun but didn’t hit anything.

Bill B
08/02/2010 07:53 AM

Once again the significance of the first half of the race was negated by all the wave arounds.

08/02/2010 07:59 AM

Two points about yesterday’s race at Pocono. Point one is the distance. This is the one and only track where I agree with distance shortening from the present 200 laps to 160, but no shorter! This business of catering to the short-attention span crowd is rediculous! What next, the 2.4 Hours of LeMans?

Point number two proved me wrong as a consiracy theorist, and I’m happy about that! I thought for sure that when Tony Stewart got passed Hornish for second that NASCAR would through one of their ever-so-famous debris cautions to give Stewart, an unofficial Hendrick driver (How many times have you heard Tony refer to Jeff Gordon and Jimmie-The-Sleeze as teammates? Too often!), a chance to ovetake Biffle and give The Felon another rigged win! And don’t hand me any bovine fecal matter about sympathy for Jack Roush! I’ll bet the NASCAR brass are hoping Roush’s plane crash forces the Cat-In-The-Hat to retire! NASCAR has never liked Roush, so the sympathy notion is a non-issue!

Go Greg! I hope you come back big and win the title!

Ghost of Curtis Turner
08/02/2010 08:06 AM

My favorite part of this weeks sleepfest was the talking heads from ESPN claiming, “Look at the infield not one person has left yet”…..maybe they should inform them that the people in the infield can’t leave becaue to leave you have to cross the track!!!!!
These poor people were held capitve.

Oh and my heart goes out to Elliot Sadlers wife, that was horrible crash to watch, and to see him crawl out of that car and hit the ground…I just hope he’s ok today.
And to JR sorry man but even I have to leave the JR Nation after this week.
The evil plan of RH to destroy what was DEI has been completed. Maybe you can go back to the Busch, (oops sorry) Nationwide Series and win some. Quick tell Kasey Kane not to drink the Cool Aid…

08/02/2010 08:07 AM

Rick Hendrick=convicted felon

Chad Knauss=convicted cheater

Jimmie Johnson=certified bonehead

08/02/2010 09:14 AM

Hope Elliott heals well and quickly.It is unfortunate that an organization cannot tolerate criticism. Nascraps reaction,“secret fines” is right out of “zero one’s transparency playbook”. They obviously want to kick a.. rather than address the problems. Glad I didn’t waste time watching the “show”.

08/02/2010 09:30 AM

Childress announced maybe a 4th car for next year. First step for Jr. Hint, hint. Make everybody happy. He gets a lot of HMS run offs.

08/02/2010 10:13 AM

Ken, I thought the same thing you did! I was expecting an appearance by “Ms. Terry DeBris”, as “Mad Mikie” at Laidback calls her! After all, all B.S. aside, Tony drives for Hendrick! Everybody knows this! I could see it coming! Guess Brainless Brian won’t be getting his weekly “gift” from Rick Hendrick today!

As for the race distance(s), I agree! There is nothing wrong with any race distance! I’ll bet the short-attention crowd is complaining about the length of baseball games too! Cut them back to 5-innings! It’s like the season. Too long? No! I remember the season going pretty much all year! Go and look at the site “Racing Reference”! Heck, the cut drivers went to The Glen in the mid-60’s, and that race was the conclusion of an 8-race northeastern 8-races-in-two-weeks tour! if the drivers are complaining that the season is too long, well, nobody is holding a gun to their head to race every race! Back when there were 50 races a year, only a few drivers drove almost all of them! Guys like Petty, Ned Jarrett, and David Pearson ran maybe 45 of the 50! Stars like Lorenzen maybe would run 20 races! The sport still grew!

Opps! I’m showing my age! Where is “DansMom” to tell old-school fans like me to go away!

08/02/2010 10:50 AM

“Kurt Busch had the audacity to delay four-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson’s drive back to the front. That unwise decision earned Busch a doubleheader crash…” Wow and this from a JJ supporter….Heck if Carl had done that you would be screaming for his head…..its ok for JJ and not for Carl….what a bunch of hypocrites!! He shouldn’t have been fines etc. and neither should have Carl….another just racin’ thing!! Sadler is one tough cookie, safer car or otherwise….many would NOT have been able to get out of that car on their on, crawling or otherwise!!

08/02/2010 12:28 PM

Bill B: “Once again the significance of the first half of the race was negated by all the wave arounds.”

I said the exact same thing about halfway through the race, and indeed that’s what happened. Why even bother to race hard early on if you know you can most likely get one or even two laps back? I’m pretty sure Hornish was 2 laps down at one point, and he nearly won the thing…

08/02/2010 12:48 PM

It seemed to me that they asked him to dance because they knew he could tap dance…always assuming the worse like always

08/02/2010 12:50 PM

Easiest way to fix it is all is forecast rain every race and throw a caution the minute the leader gets a 2 second advantage. Once rain threatened, the action on the track was some of the best I’ve seen in a long time for the first 5 laps. Afterwards, clean air won. 3 and 4 wide into the turns and slingshot moves out of the corners was great racing.

Kevin in SoCal
08/02/2010 01:28 PM

Yes, I’d love to see a Cup race at Iowa. Take one of Fontana’s dates, please. But alas, Iowa is not owned by ISC so it wont happen.

08/02/2010 01:35 PM

You sound as disillusioned as I am. I watched this sport grow from nothing to something to be proud of. It has started it’s descent downward and is picking up speed. Nascar has been and is being mismanaged out of existence. They could start giving tickets away and people wouldn’t come. We’re just tired of too many things to name. Just tired of it all.

08/02/2010 01:36 PM

Seeing Elliot’s car reminded me of Don MacTavish at Daytona who wasn’t so lucky.

This is what could have been the result of Jimmie going brain dead again. This is not for the faint of heart.

Bad Wolf
08/02/2010 01:48 PM

It’s been about 7 years since I quit wasting my money going to the Cup “Show”, but give a date to Iowa and I will be there. If not for having to get work out of the shop last weekend I would have went to the Busch race.

As for Bristol, they are reaping what they have sown. You don’t tug on Supermans cape, spit into the wind, pull the mask of the ‘Ol Lone Ranger and you dont mess around with a perfectly great Bristol racetrack. They tore the heart and soul out of Bristol with the reconfigure and turned it into a 1/2 mile 1 1/2 mile cookie cutter.

08/02/2010 02:00 PM

Why does The Weather Channels viewers increase when Kyle Busch or Jimmy Johnson take the lead.

Carl D.
08/02/2010 03:33 PM

The difference between Iowa and Pocono is only rivaled by the difference between O’Reilly Raceway Park and the Brickyard. Note to those in charge of inmproving the Nationwide Series… it ain’t the racetracks. While I admit ORP isn’t Cup material, Iowa is a jewel. The races there remind me of why I started watcing Nascar to begin with. To the newer fans… what you saw at Iowa when one car moved ahead of the other is what we used to call “passing” back in the glory days.

Tickets are still available to the Bristol night race? Unacceptable. Tear the place down, build a casino, and put a 2-mile tri-oval track next to it to give the gamblers something extra to wager on. Problem solved.

Don Mei
08/02/2010 03:56 PM

Couldn’t agree more Pepper. Nascar needs a complete revamping : classes, rules, management, economics and on and on and on.

08/02/2010 03:57 PM

Kentucky for Sonoma? Really? You dislike road racing that much more than cooke-cutter racing? Seems to me we’d be better off with unique tracks rather than copy-cats.

08/02/2010 04:25 PM

Leo, there are 2 tracks in California – the race move suggested is from the Cali-boring track which is an oval, not Infineon, which is the road course. I love road courses myself — unique. Glad I got to Bristol BEFORE it was ruined and I agree, Johnson is a bonehead. I hope that all the drivers take note that he gets upset when they get physical with him on the track — get inside his head during the chase and somebody else might win! Yes!

Mike B.
08/02/2010 04:30 PM

Yesterday’s race was a total hoax! Anyone who doesn’t think NASCAR let Biffle win out of sympathy has their head where it wasn’t meant to be! I’m surprized that NASCAR didn’t make it a total farce by telling Stewart to slow up to let the nimrod in the 99 take second! That was Stewart’s race! In fact, it should have been jeff Gordon’s! As for Jimmie making a slight mis-que and accidentally tagging Kurt Busch in the rear, that was just a racing accident! Calling for him to be punished like the previously mentioned nimrod in the 99 was two weeks ago is just plain stupid! Johnson has lost more class than Edwards ever had! Don’t insult everyone by comparing the two!

08/02/2010 05:06 PM

Why wasn’t Tony Stewart chosen as “the old spice guy” instead of the guy in the commercials?

Richard in N.C.
08/02/2010 06:16 PM

Depravity and stupidity – glad to see you’re going to write about something about which you have a demonstrated expertise.

08/02/2010 06:38 PM

Matt, thanks for mentioning the rain delay. Albeit rain is an uncontrollable factor, Pocono seems to be synonymous with rain delays year in and year out. NASCAR can’t seem to figure that out and schedule those races when that part of the country is not in their rainy season. They compound that ignorance by scheduling their two races 6 weeks apart.

The weather problems though pale in comparison to the safety problems that have not been addressed over the years, and on Sunday Elliot Sadler paid a price for that lack of attention. Pocono deserves to loose a date just for their lack of concern and attention to safety. They’ve known about these problems for years and have chosen to invest in solar energy rather than track safety.

In the battle of opinions sector, I’ve gotta go with Leo on the Sonoma for Kentucky trade off – Too many cookie cutters as it is, and I for one like road courses.

08/02/2010 06:57 PM

@Ghost of Curtis Turner

“My favorite part of this weeks sleepfest was the talking heads from ESPN claiming, “Look at the infield not one person has left yet”…..maybe they should inform them that the people in the infield can’t leave becaue to leave you have to cross the track!!!!!
These poor people were held capitve.”

Tunnel turn is called that because there is a tunnel underneath for traffic coming & going.

“The evil plan of RH to destroy what was DEI has been completed. Maybe you can go back to the Busch, (oops sorry) Nationwide Series and win some. ….Quick tell Kasey Kane not to drink the Cool Aid…”

Couldn’t agree more!!!
08/02/2010 06:59 PM

Jr. was driving the R&D car for the 48 & 24 again. How often has the 24 & 48 blown an engine in the past 2 1/2 years? How often has Jr.? Jr. has one mechanial problem after another. A couple of weeks back they put the rear end gear in backwards! 93 races down at HMS and only 87 to go. :) A few weeks back I read a comment that some reporter needs to investigate what is going on, but that a Nascar reporter would not dare. Maybe this is something that National Enquirer could do. They like to do articles on Jr. :)

08/02/2010 07:04 PM

How is it that Matt gets the honor of writing the race recap every week and for some reason always forgets to actually talk about the race?

FS Staff, can we please get another writer for mondays? I’ll take anyone other than matt. Heck, give a chip a keyboard… they cant do any worse.

08/02/2010 07:05 PM

*Correction, lets go ahead and give a chimp the keyboard. I’m starting to write like Matt.

08/02/2010 08:46 PM

Safety at Pocono? Absolutely unacceptable. Been along time since I’ve seen boiler plate welded at a track. NA$CAR is lucky that Sadler is (possibly) walking around today. For all their talk about safety, NA$CAR should have forced Pocono to make improvements long ago or pull the dates. But hey, at least they can be assured that Sadler won’t be vocal with his complaints.

Stephen HOOD
08/02/2010 09:37 PM

I thought the tap dancing tire changer was over the top. I’m surprised they didn’t ask him to sing or tell some jokes. Even if he is a great tap dancer some producer needs a remedial course in American media history.

08/02/2010 09:42 PM

Have another Amp with a Bud chaser MaryBeth, you’re finally partially right. Jr. WILL be driving the Hendrick R&D after 2 more races, by then JR, will have missed the chase yet again. No surprise there, right MaryBeth? Jr. won’t be driving R&D chasis though, since he doesn’t give ANY crew chief good feedback.Instead, Jr. will testing parts for the Elite HMS drivers Gordon, Johnson, and, Martin in their quest to win a Cup title. Jr. admitted after his “fixed” win at Daytona, that he was drinking again on mondays. Maybe a reporter should expose this story more, since no Na$crap reporter will. But that’s “Old News” MaryBeth, the National Enquirer exsposed this in a story in 2009! FYI, the “88 RACES WITHOUT A WIN” T-shirts will go on sale in September!

Chris in TX
08/02/2010 09:58 PM

So…the races are boring and cars spread out and action is hard to find. SMI gets approval to give Kentucky a date…and your solution is to lose Sonoma?

That’s inexplicable. If you took both races from Michigan, Both races from Fontana, both races from KC, Chicago and Miami…and put them all at Sonoma, it would improve the on-track product dramatically.

Seriously folks…Sonoma frequently produces one of the most interesting races on the schedule.

After watching Saturday’s truck race…I think that there’s just something wrong with the Cup cars. Races too long(at Pocono of course they are)? Cars are maybe too aerodynamic? Too fast? Too “on edge”? Too something for sure. The trucks were capable of running hard, side by side, back and forth, and drafting, for entire runs. The race was so short they had to actually race from lap 1 to lap 50, with no “riding”.

I like Pocono (the track)…but 500 miles? Make it 250 miles, bring tires that wear out in 20 laps, and put 8 gallon gas tanks in the cars.

08/02/2010 10:16 PM

MaryBeth… please explain to the world how it’s possible to install a 9” Ford rear end gear BACKWARDS! NOT POSSIBLE!Just more delusional JR. Nation BS!

08/03/2010 12:00 AM

They just thought they had it installed backwards. Then they discovered it was Jr. driving in reverse.

08/03/2010 12:42 AM

JerseyGirl, you are mistaken. The second Cali race is in Fontana which is quite a distance from Sonoma. Matt has a long history of despising road racing and here its even clouding his long term judgement.