Matt McLaughlin · Monday October 18, 2010
The Key Moment – Jamie McMurray took the lead from Kyle Busch on the final restart and drove off to an uncontested victory. It was ironic in that Busch had been stellar on restarts all night until the one that actually mattered.
In a Nutshell – Several drivers suffered near disasters early in the race, but the fans had to endure one there at the end.
Dramatic Moment – Well it looked like there were going to be some wild goings on during that final restart, with McMurray, Johnson, Busch, and Hamlin all having shown strength at various points of the race, but things fizzled out like a wet brick of Black-Cats shortly after the fuse was lit.
What They’ll Be Talking About Around the Water Cooler This Week
Could Jimmie Johnson have pushed harder in those final few laps, passing McMurray and Busch if he had to? (Like let’s say he was trailing the points leader by 272 with six races to go, as he would have been under the old championship system.) As I saw it, Johnson was content to keep Hamlin behind him and cruise after surviving a near disaster early in the race.
Well, as it turns out MLB ballgames are, in fact, shorter than stock car races. At least that was the case on Saturday night…
Isn’t it a little odd how vocal Kyle Busch was both about singing Jimmie Johnson’s praises and cursing his own team over the radio Saturday night? Few people picked up on the bitter irony in Busch’s post-race comments, saying he had “cost the team the race” by “not making the right adjustments.” Obviously, the team (and crew chief) make those adjustments during the race and Busch felt they’d let him down… again. He was more subtle in those post-race comments than he has been over the radio the last few events, but anyone who missed the intent of the statement was clearly still dazed by the RV wreck that was part of the pre-race show.
Well as I saw it – although I wasn’t in the car – Busch gave away the race. All night on restarts, he had simply driven away from the field, using clean air to his advantage in building an edge. But prior to the final green-flag run, he switched to his alternate radio channel to discuss restart strategy. On that one, as the leader, Kyle appeared to try an… ahem… Busch league move by accelerating hard, then letting off the gas to brake-check the field. McMurray timed his move perfectly, still behind Busch but accelerating hard enough as the green flag flew to take control of the race.
Can someone explain this trick to me? How does a beer can that brings out a debris caution appear on the backstretch when there’s nobody sitting in those sections of grandstands? (Which were, in fact, blocked off with advertising banners to hide their existence?) Whatever happened, it appears NASCAR has decided to throw caution to the wind (as in throw bogus debris cautions… Kyle Busch guessed over the radio that maybe a mouse had run across the track) again late in races in an attempt to pull the TV ratings out of the nosedive they’ve been in since the Chase began.
This just in. The Man Behind the Curtain, Brian France, says not to worry about declining ratings. Those ratings are due to fix themselves, he claims, because the racing on the track is “phenomenal.” Turns out France spent many years living in Los Angeles, where a rare dialect in the entertainment industry has “phenomenal” being synonymous with “preposterous.”
Blame it on their fuelish pride? Starting next year Cup cars will run on E15 fuel, a mixture of 85 percent gas and 15 percent ethanol (of the sort that is always giving me fits with my old cars and motorcycles.) Introducing corn liquor back into NASCAR racing as a fuel rather than a beverage? Count me in, though I’d advise the Cup teams to start buying marine grade Stabil by the 55 gallon barrel’s worth.
Secondly, the Cup Series will make a long overdue concession to modern reality by having fuel injection replace carbs starting next summer. I’m still a big fan of the Holley 4160… on old cars. But Detroit hasn’t used carbs on a production car since the mid-‘80s (I believe the Chevette Scooter was the last holdout) and we do, after all, call these things “stock cars.” Imagine a Cup car with a computer aboard more intelligent than what you drive to work (or 90 percent of you drive to work in this economy.) Of course, I still have some antique four function pocket calculators the size of a half loaf of bread that are more intelligent than Brian France.
The most competitive Cup Chase ever! How many times have ESPN and NASCAR beat you over the head with this non-statistic? As it turns out, according to research posted on Jayski’s Silly Season page, the 36-point margin Jimmie Johnson enjoyed after the fourth race of the “playoffs” (Fontana last week) was actually the third largest at this point of the season since the Chase Tragedy debuted in 2004.
OK, it’s time to rechristen the NASCAR Hall of Fame in Charlotte a reward for politics within the sport, not achievement. I can forgive the exclusion of Darrell Waltrip, three-time Cup champion, in the second year of balloting. He was a polarizing figure during his racing career and remains so during his broadcasting reign of terror. (I’d suggest to DW he dump that “boogity, boogity, boogity” nonsense and see if he makes the cut next year.) I have nothing but respect for Bud Moore, a true pioneer of stock car (not to mention Trans-Am) racing and a true American hero, a teenage kid who stormed ashore during the D-Day invasion in World War II. Ned Jarrett was not only a talented and championship driver in the sport’s roughest era, he was one of the most well-spoken competitors in that rough and tumble time in Cup racing. He did a ton to support the sport on and off the track and did the same during his storied broadcast career wherein most fans considered Ned, Benny, and Bob three dear friends they invited into their homes every Sunday afternoon. (Note to DW… watch some old ESPN tapes of Ned calling a race this winter while you lick your wounds and learn from them.) But the exclusion of Cale Yarborough? Right there in my mind, the Hall became invalid, a place that deserves all the financial turmoil they’re enduring even if the taxpayers and hotel guests of Charlotte don’t. I won’t say that Yarborough was the fastest, best, or most successful Cup driver ever, but he was the toughest. I’d like to see some of these skinny ass young corporate spokesmodels enjoying success in the Cup Series today try to wheel one of those old, Holly Farms number 11 Chevys for fifty laps around Darlington without power steering. Just make sure the medics are in place before they try…
Tuesday, NASCAR held a secret meeting in Charlotte with racers and owners to discuss the challenges facing the Nationwide Series and the future of that division. Next to nothing was written about what went on during the meeting. But during the post-race comments on Friday night, what was said during the closed door session became blatantly obvious. NASCAR wants people to face the ever-dwindling crowd on hand (and how about a call out to the last stalwarts watching these races on TV?) and say that the racing was really, really, really exciting, perhaps the best auto race ever held. If the fans hear it enough from the drivers, the media, and NASCAR, maybe they’re dumb enough to start believing it. All the members of the “loyal opposition” (the sort of writers who still call a spade a spade and don’t worship Brian’s bull calf) have been getting emails from players inside the garage area (usually those with minor league parts) reminding us to recall what side our bread is buttered on and that we’re all making big bucks at this game (why didn’t I get the memo?) so to cool it a bit. Well, you know what I’d have liked to have heard when they interviewed third-place Justin Allgaier? “Yeah, I finished third, best among the non-interlopers, but I don’t have a sponsor for next year because NASCAR sold their souls to a competitor for my current sponsor and I don’t have boobs like Danica does.”
OK, you have to admit sponsorship dollars are getting hard to come by when Michael McDowell’s car is listed as being backed by the “Conley for School Board” campaign. Wait a second. With Halloween coming up, how about a black and orange witch-themed paint scheme to promote “Christine O’Donnell for Senate?”
Mark your calendars and set the DV-R. The 30 for 30 film on the late Tim Richmond debuts Tuesday night at 8 on ESPN. Mr. Richmond was the most phenomenal Cup driver most newer fans have never heard of; and as this documentary will hopefully show, the France family did their best to try to make sure that was the case.
The Hindenburg Award For Foul Fortune
Kurt Busch arrived at Charlotte this weekend trying to become the first driver to win all three Cup events at the track in a single season. Those hopes ended when Busch spun himself out on the 24th lap en route to 30th place.
Jeff Gordon had a strong run going until electrical problems slowed his charge; he just could never get fully back up to speed after that. Having teammate Jimmie Johnson lap him as he tried to switch to the backup battery had to remind Gordon only one of them has a real shot left at scoring a fifth title this season. A late pit road speeding penalty was the icing on the No. 24 team’s cake, leaving him one lap down in 23rd and almost a full race’s worth of points behind his teammate.
Jeff Burton has developed an unfortunate habit of running a lot faster the first two-thirds of a race than he does in the final segment. To not only send himself spinning, but to do it off the right front fender of his teammate Clint Bowyer (who just can’t catch a break) makes a 20th-place pill even more bitter to swallow.
Tony Stewart’s problems started on the second lap when he was hit from behind trying to check up to avoid his teammate / employee’s (Ryan Newman’s) spinning car. Numerous problems getting into or leaving his pit box further bulloxed up an evening that led to a 21st-place result.
The “Seven Come Fore Eleven” Award For Fine Fortune
It seemed Jamie McMurray’s weekend was as good as over after he qualified 27th. Nobody had ever started that far back and gone on to win the Fall Charlotte event.
Jimmie Johnson made a rare unforced error on lap 34, spinning his Chevy, then survived a pit road collision (and subsequent extracurricular on-track discussion of such with Clint Bowyer) to finish third.
Kyle Busch conceded the race over the radio when his throttle began sticking. As it turned out, the only thing stuck wide open all race was his jaw.
While a blown engine last week probably kiboshed Greg Biffle’s title chances, a fifth-place finish this week had to offer some redemption. The Fords were a lot more reliable at Charlotte, but a whole lot slower as well. Does that have anything to do with the fact the top team’s engines were going to be confiscated by NASCAR and brought back for dyno testing after Saturday’s race?
- Jamie McMurray (first) has as many victories this year (three) than in his previous eight years in Cup … combined.
- Jimmie Johnson (third) has finished third or better in six of the last seven Cup races.
- Denny Hamlin’s fourth-place finish was his best since Loudon.
- Matt Kenseth (sixth) enjoyed his best finish since Michigan in August.
- Joey Logano (seventh) hasn’t led more than a single lap in any Cup event since Talladega.
- Kevin Harvick (eighth) has four top-10 finishes in the five Chase races run to date.
- David Reutimann (ninth) has back-to-back top 10 finishes in the Cup series for the first time since Dover and Charlotte in May.
- David Ragan’s tenth-place finish was his best since Talladega and his second best Cup result of the season.
- Regan Smith (thirteenth) has earned his best two Cup finishes of the season in the last two weeks.
- Dale Earnhardt, Jr. (29th) has one top-10 result in the last thirteen Cup races. He’s led a total of three laps in those thirteen events… but he crested the four million dollar mark in prize money for the season this weekend. Get the picture?
- Ryan Newman’s 36th-place finish matches his worst result of the 2010 Cup season. Newman also finished 36th at Fontana in the second race of the year.
- The top-10 finishers at Charlotte drove four Toyotas, three Chevys, and three Fords. Brad Keselowski’s 27th-place finish was the best for a Dodge driver.
What’s the Points?
Jimmie Johnson extended his points lead over Denny Hamlin to 41. Kevin Harvick remains third in the standings and is now 77 markers behind Johnson.
Most people will accept, barring a major miracle, being a full race’s worth of points out of the lead with five races left pretty much means a driver’s chances at a title are over. Jeff Gordon, fourth in the standings, is 156 points out of the lead while the maximum points swing during a race is 161. Draw your own conclusions.
In the battle of the Brothers Busch, Kyle walked away the victor Saturday. He advanced four spots to fifth in the standings, while Kurt fell three positions to ninth. Tony Stewart, in sixth, is technically tied with Kyle Busch in the standings, 177 points behind Johnson, but the first tiebreaker is race wins and Busch currently has three this year to Stewart’s two.
Carl Edwards sits seventh in points, while Greg Biffle advanced two spots to eighth. Jeff Burton now rounds out the top 10, already 239 points behind Johnson.
Jamie McMurray takes over the less than coveted thirteenth place in the standings and now leads Ryan Newman by a full 75 points in that contest. For the record, McMurray has three Cup wins this season, more than eight of twelve drivers who are in the Chase. Under the old points system, though, McMurray would be sitting eleventh.
Overall Rating (On a scale of one to six beer cans with one being a stinker and a six pack an instant classic) — I don’t expect much out of night races in the Brian France era Cup series. If they’re over before midnight, it doesn’t rain, a college football game doesn’t preempt the first twenty laps of the race, and nobody gets hurt, they earn two and a half cans. If it weren’t for the bogus debris caution at the end, it might have been three cans.
Next Up – Yahoo! It’s off to Martinsville for some approximation of real stock car racing the way it oughta be. The Martinsville event is genuinely the only one I eagerly anticipate on the 10-race Chase schedule every Fall.
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