The Frontstretch: MPM2Nite: 12 Band Wagons, Seats Open On All, No Waiting by Matt McLaughlin -- Thursday September 23, 2010

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MPM2Nite: 12 Band Wagons, Seats Open On All, No Waiting

Matt McLaughlin · Thursday September 23, 2010

 

As we discussed last week by the Rising Tide, there’s not much to talk about in NASCAR right now. We could really use a crew chief masterminding a botched bankjob or a driver missing a race because he was on a booze-fueled lost weekend with Lindsay Lohan. Hell, we could use a story on who is going to sponsor the No. 24 team. I’d settle for anything with a hint of validity worth discussing right now.

Which leaves us with the Chase. But I’m not allowed to discuss the Chase. So instead, I will discuss others discussing the Chase.

As most of you know the NASCAR media has lost a lot of experienced writers with more talent than I as of late. Even Southern papers don’t have beat writers anymore, by and large. These guys and gals were seasoned professionals who knew better than to follow the whim of the moment, trumpeting their stories with headlines like “Stewart Surges to Favorite Status in Chase.”

Yeah, it was pretty amazing. Tony Stewart won at Atlanta and all of a sudden he was the favorite for the Chase after a lackluster season to date with that one race win at Atlanta and six other top 5 finishes in the 25-race run to that point. After all, Tony Stewart has amassed more points than anyone else over the last sixteen races! That’s in, call in the dogs, put out the fire and put Stewart’s name on the trophy. It’s over. It’s not like that sixteen week stretch didn’t include some of Stewart’s best tracks, including the two road courses. There are no road courses in the Chase. Maybe Stewart accumulated the most points in those races because he had to. He left the first Richmond race fifteenth in the points. Stewart had to scramble to make the Chase while other drivers with their Chase hopes almost solidified played it conservative to maintain their status in the pecking order? Maybe their teams were playing with new packages, testing for the final ten-race run that really mattered? It sure did look like a whole lot of drivers were playing with their packages for those sixteen weeks.

As Matt McLaughlin explains, the media has had a revolving door of Chase favorites for weeks now.

So when Stewart became the favorite for the title, where did that leave Denny Hamlin? Poor Hamlin left Atlanta dead last with a blown mill. The same media pundits, great and small, anointing Stewart the favorite were writing off Hamlin. The team was already cracking under the pressure of a potential title fight. They’d never build an engine that lasted the distance again! Denny was angry and petulant after the DNF. He didn’t have the backbone to win a title, whiny little bastard that he was. Recall at that point in the season Hamlin, had one less race win than Stewart had top 5s.

But it didn’t take long for that tune to change. Hamlin won at Richmond and the headlines were screaming “Hamlin Favorite Going into Chase!” After all, he had six wins, more than anyone else. You short-timers might not recall Bill Elliott dominating on the big tracks in 1985 with his fleet Ford. After his Million Dollar winning Southern 500 win that September, Elliott left Darlington with a 208-point lead over short track ace Darrell Waltrip — and I prefer to think of the three-time champion and hugely talented legendary driver as “Darrell Waltrip,” not the hugely annoying, inane broadcaster he became as “DW.” There were only eight races left to run, not ten for the title. There was no resetting the points. Under that terrible old Latford point system, it was going to be a boring stretch of eight races before Elliott took the crown – except after the penultimate race of the season, Atlanta, Darrell Waltrip took a twenty-point lead over Elliott into the season finale at Riverside.

Waltrip was a very good road racer. But Elliott had scored his first career Cup win at Riverside. Now, folks, that’s entertainment. Elliott versus Waltrip. Ford versus Chevy. Coors versus Bud. Vocal fans on both sides worked up into a rabid frenzy. In the end, it was a bit of a letdown in that Elliott’s shifter linkage failed (parts made in Waltrip’s hometown of Franklin, TN by chance) and Elliott lost the title by 101 points despite having 11 wins to Waltrip’s 3… so winning the most races isn’t and never has been the litmus test of a champion. As a diehard Elliott fan in that era, I was crushed and started thinking for the first time race wins ought to be worth more points. Of course, I was discussing the idea while drinking a Coors Light leaning on the fender of my Mustang. My brother-in-law Kenny drinking a Bud on the hood of his 67 ‘Chevelle, that never lost a street race while we ran it felt a bit differently.

Sunday at New Hampshire, Clint Bowyer won the race. And the headlines trumpeted suddenly Bowyer was a darkhorse contender for the title. Well Hell, there’s a lot of darkhorse contenders for the title, but Bowyer had won in an unprecedented upset win! Mr. Peabody, cue up the Wayback Machine to 2007. Bowyer arrived at New Hampshire winless to date and having just eked his way into the Chase at Richmond. He went on to win that race at NHMS. Despite two more second-place finishes in the Chase, Bowyer finished third in the standings, a full 346 points behind champion Jimmie Johnson.

So let’s talk about Johnson. The ESPN analysts still say that the road to the championship goes through Johnson. And they’ve got to be right, Marvin, after all they’re up there on the TV screen. They must be the smartest fellows in the whole wide world. But there were some long faces on the TV after Johnson finished 25th Sunday. Mr. Peabody, if you would, dial in the Wayback Machine for 2006. Johnson blows up and finishes 39th. Everybody, including ironically at that moment Johnson himself, says final rites over his title hopes. Nope; that year yielded the first of Johnson’s record breaking four consecutive titles.

The slide rule in the pocket protector element of the media has suddenly focused on Carl Edwards as a big-time title contender. He has, after all, scored more points in the last ten races than any other driver. Gosh and golly, I am so gul-durn happy I could not take a swing at Matt Kenseth right now. If those ten races were the Chase races, he’d have been champion. Wait a second, are we talking the same driver who hasn’t won a race since Homestead at the conclusion of the 2008 season? Are we looking at a season where Ford pilots have won just one race? Could Carl Edwards take off on a blue flame streak like Bubba saw when he held the welding torch too close to the rear of his Levis after drinking a six pack of Bud 40s? Anything can happen. Am I betting the rent money on a Carl Edwards title? I think not.

So, OK, some say, this is all too confusing. Tony Stewart was the favorite a few weeks ago and Denny Hamlin was the favorite two weeks ago. What if neither of them win the Chase? Who will? Let us wrap ourselves up in the warm and fuzzy blanket of statistics. Here’s two stats that are being bandied around like pickup lines at a truckers’ bar at closing time. Only one person has ever won the Chase who started outside the top three going into those final ten races. Only one driver, (as noted, Johnson in 2006) went on to win the title after finishing outside the top 6 at New Hampshire to kick off the Chase. So, let’s see, going into the Chase we had four drivers in the top 3 (yes, it sounds like an oxymoron, but Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick were tied for third). Of those four, only Hamlin and Harvick managed top 6 finishes.

Hooray! We’re down to a two-man battle, right?

Recall what Disraeli said about statistics; “There are three types of lies; lies, damned lies and statistics.” Statistically speaking, a pedestrian gets run over every five minutes in New York. That is one unlucky son of a bitch. You’d think he’d move.

Then we have the “season to date” stats that clearly state Kevin Harvick will be champion, because over the course of 27 races he’s scored more actual (not “Chase”) points than any other driver. Far and away, as a matter of fact. I can’t discount Harvick as a title contender, but as those investment ads always read in the fine print, “Past performance is no guarantee of future results.” Quite frankly, if I had to wager a week’s pay on this year’s champion, I’d go with Harvick, but I’m not ready to put that fact in blaring headlines followed by breathless prose. That’s just my gut, a gut soured by way too many cups of crappy track coffee and snout-dogs over the years.

Come a little closer, friends. Pull down the blinds. Make sure there’s nobody here without their secret MPM decoder rings. I’m going to tell you, gentle readers, who I know will be 2010 Cup champion. You can take this to the bank. I am absolutely, positively, and spit on my mother’s grave if I’m wrong know this to be a fact, who will win the title. And ya’ll are the first to hear it. The driver who wins this year’s championship will be the fellow who has amassed the most points after the Homestead race. I’d stake my life, my Trans Am, and my Harley on it. And I hold the latter two more dear than the former.

But some commentators are going to be bleating they were right all along because they chose a new favorite every weekend based on the outcome of the race. Best I can recall, deceased Charlotte Observer beat writer and perhaps the greatest motorsports writer ever Joe Whitlock never wrote a column predicting a champion. Back then, it was just too much fun watching each race, and who cared about the title anyway? Were that it was still the same…

Contact Matt McLaughlin

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DansMom
09/23/2010 07:33 AM
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Nothing to write about? What about the ilegal 33 car?

babydufus
09/23/2010 08:40 AM
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i still think it’s a two man race.
i have jj the robot over harpy harvick.
knaus knows how to be the better points racer when it matters.

RandyGoldman
09/23/2010 09:42 AM
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Seriously? Does matt even try anymore? Oh wait, he has a sore tooth. That completely justifies not having to write anything pertinent about nascar. Glad to see FS keeps paying him to write crap.

Gordon82Wins
09/23/2010 10:18 AM
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“Maybe their teams were playing with new packages testing for the final ten race run that really mattered? It sure did look like a whole lot of drivers were playing with their packages for those sixteen weeks.”

LMAO!

DoninAjax
09/23/2010 10:38 AM
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The first 26 races don’t matter and nobody cares about the last 10.

Carl D.
09/23/2010 10:39 AM
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Great column, Matt. I remember the Waltrip-Elliott duel as well. As a Ford guy and a DW hater, it was like watching a plane crash in slow motion over those last couple of months.

Okay, I have to say this… The people who complain your columns week in and week out are getting tiresome to those of us who enjoy your columns. I can’t for the life of me figure out what could make people so miserable that they repeatedly come here to complain about something they could so easily avoid. Maybe they can’t keep a husband, maybe their kids have left home and never call, maybe they just need to berate other to justify their own failings. In any event, they really ought to get a life.

I’d avoid the comments section altogether but there are some people whose comments I enjoy reading.

Michael
09/23/2010 11:11 AM
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I would imagine that Tony Stewart is talked about as the favorite because he’s the best all around driver in the sport . Kyle Busch isn’t far behind in the talented drivers list . Harvick would be third , Gordon fourth , Edwards fifth , Johnson sixth , Hamlin seventh . Statistics have nothing to do with outcomes in stock car races . Nor who wins championships . It’s driver ability , car , and having less bad luck than everyone else .

29racefan
09/23/2010 12:05 PM
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The only thing predictable are the whining comments of RandyGoldman. If you hate reading this column, then why are you always here????

Vince
09/23/2010 12:33 PM
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Ahh, Joe Whitlock. Now there’s a name from the past. I looked forward to his articles in the weekly Winston Cup Scene newspaper years ago. He was a great writer. Thanks Matt.

DoninAjax
09/23/2010 02:13 PM
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If the people who bash this column would stop reading it there would be nothing to comment on and they would not be missed.

gopapa
09/23/2010 02:50 PM
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Any article that conjures up memories of Awesome Bill in his heyday and Riverside International is a good article to me. No complaints here.

Makes me wanna go crack open a cold Coors Light.

Bad Wolf
09/23/2010 03:22 PM
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Once again a good read Matt.

Bad Wolf
09/23/2010 03:27 PM
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“Seriously? Does matt even try anymore? Oh wait, he has a sore tooth. That completely justifies not having to write anything pertinent about nascar. Glad to see FS keeps paying him to write crap.”

It’s really simple; Love him or hate him Matt brings people to Frontstretch, and you are doing your best to keep the clicks coming by commenting with inane responses that keep the casual reader coming back to see what kind of retort Goldmom has this week.

MSW
09/23/2010 03:46 PM
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I like how RandyGoldman always whines about Matt’s coulumn. Yet he is always one of the first to make a comment.
If it bothers you so bad, why do you bother read it? If I don’t like something, I just ignore it.

Buzz
09/23/2010 11:40 PM
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And in between the weekly favorite PR stories something far more disturbing is happening. Na$car reporters writing stories that beg for answers to Na$car’s problems to pass them on to Na$car. At least they could try to have a little credibility and not make it totally obvious that they are in bed with Na$car.

Brooks
09/24/2010 12:40 PM
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Don’t listen to all those negative people, Matt. This is a great article because it is true. All anyone was talking about after the richmond race was Denny Hamlin only because he won the race. Oh wait, Clint Bowyer wins at New Hampshire, oh wait he’s gonna win it all. The whole week after Richmond the media talked and talked about Hamlin like he was the next coming of Moses. Meanwhile, he was trailing Harvick by 200 points before this race, but the media completely ignored Harvick all week long. But yes some of the media just needs to get a grip. And to Carl D, i couldn’t agree with your comments more.

Mike
09/25/2010 02:33 PM
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Randy Goldman is a moron. So is Dansmom. You people dislike Matt so much yet you read his stuff.