The Frontstretch: Matt McLaughlin's Thinkin' Out Loud: Talladega-2 Race Recap by Matt McLaughlin -- Monday November 1, 2010

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

Matt McLaughlin · Monday November 1, 2010

 

The Key Moment – Juan Pablo Montoya pushed Clint Bowyer past Kevin Harvick just as the caution lights illuminated, freezing the field on the last lap of the race.

Talladega featured the usual three and more wide, white-knuckle racing, but seemed poised to avoid the big wrecks this time around – until the final lap.

In a Nutshell – All the excitement NASCAR and plate racing can contrive with half the carnage. Call it Talladega Lite.

Dramatic Moment – When Jeff Burton got sideways in the pack, it looked like the wreck might decimate the field.

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

So why are TV ratings down? Well, let’s see. The race ended unexpectedly under caution on the final lap due to a wreck that put A.J. Allmendinger on his lid. For the next five minutes, ESPN announcers seemed thunderstruck, admitting they didn’t know who won. They showed side-by-side photos of Bowyer and Harvick in their cars while asking that same question. Then … instead of trying to answer it, they showed Bowyer doing a burnout. Wait a second! Aren’t these the guys with all the cameras scattered around the track? Why didn’t the producer rewind some footage to show the exact moment the caution lights came on and who was ahead at the time? If such footage was missing (and they eventually found it), why not show the last lap wreck and how it started?

If I were Clint Bowyer, I reckon I might have just backed my car into the fence doing my burnouts to make sure it didn’t end up at the NASCAR R&D center again.

Did Jeff Gordon’s engine actually lay down for a bit, or was Gordon just looking for a chance to break off as Jimmie Johnson’s wingman to go out and get the win for himself?

I leave today’s race with two great hopes; first, that I live long enough to see restrictor plate racing ended, and second, that all the drivers do as well. It’s got to be tough for Ricky Craven to do Sportscenter and analyze a Talladega race. After all, it was a wreck at Talladega that basically started the sequence of events which eventually cost Craven a promising Cup career.

Kyle Busch’s daring move to win the Truck race capped off one of the most exciting endings in recent NASCAR history. But was it legal?

The finish to Saturday’s Truck Series race was about as exciting as any race in any series I can recall in the last decade, and was said to be the closest finish in any of the three top NASCAR touring divisions since high speed electronics started keeping track of them. But to my jaded eye, Kyle Busch sure did look like he advanced his position from second to first with two wheels below the yellow line that marks “out-of-bounds.” Even Busch admitted it was “a judgment call” although I doubt Regan Smith would be as charitable. If I recall, the rule states a driver can go below that yellow line and advance his position if he is “forced below the yellow line” (again…I don’t think Smith would agree) but in this case, Busch drove up the track, hit the leader (who incidentally pushed him to victory in last year’s Truck race here) and got himself all catawampus in the process. Yes, Busch was out of control (a theme that seems to follow his entire racing career) but no, he wasn’t forced out of bounds. If nothing else, this controversy will only add fuel to the fire of the classic “Dale Earnhardt, Jr. out of bounds win” theory. Let’s settle this one once and for all. On the final lap of a restrictor plate race, drive through the infield care center if you have to. There is no out of bounds on the last lap, the true definition of “boys, have at it” (once we get done doubling the strength of the catchfence.) It sure beats an implied result that states, “If you’re Tony Stewart, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. or Kyle Busch, there’s one rule. If you’re Aric Almirola or Regan Smith, well, we do have some lovely parting gifts for you.”

Maybe time will prove me wrong, but this whole new sponsorship deal with the No. 24 team and the AARP program to help stamp out hunger amongst the elderly strikes me as desperate. Wal-Mart and 7-Eleven left the table (no pun intended) so this agreement is what we’re left with. I do applaud the goals of the charity, though. During my mom’s last years of life, I’d frequently have to drive her to the drug store to pick up one of her few zillion prescriptions and all too often, I heard the lady or gentleman in line in front of us decline to pay for their prescription drugs and walk away because “I either get my meds or I buy food this week, and I’m hungry.” It really does happen even in relatively wealthy Delaware County, PA, so I can’t imagine what things are like in West Philly or Appalachia.

In yet another sign of the NASCAR times, DuPont will only sponsor Jeff Gordon’s team for 14 races next season, with 22 events being sold to a “cause-related” sponsorship to help wipe out hunger being coordinated by the AARP.

The comment I’ve heard most often from fans and non-fans alike following the surprisingly subdued and little-covered media event to announce Gordon’s new deal is, “So if the problem is so bad, why isn’t the AARP spending their money to stock food banks rather than sponsor a stock car?” The contrary argument is this partnership is like using a little water to prime a well pump to produce greater quantities of water. We’ll see. In a tough economy with even kindhearted Americans having to scale back their charitable contributions, it’s sad to watch all these organizations they once supported fight to make their cause the latest “glamour” one in the public’s eye. Something has gone bad wrong here when, in the greatest nation on earth where GM, Chrysler, and Wall Street got billion dollar bailouts, any man, woman or child – no matter their age – goes to bed hungry at night. Vote on Tuesday for a candidate of either party you truly feel will help fix this mess.

After the No. 46 Whitney Motorsports team got caught with two front A-arms full of buckshot this weekend, I am expecting penalties to be announced Tuesday that are going to rock a lot of people clear out of their snakeskin booties. In this case, there’s no doubt the infraction was both intentional and severe. And for whatever reason, NASCAR really seems to enjoy hitting the little teams with huge penalties to drive them out of the sport. Whatever the consequences are, remember Darrell Waltrip’s team used to fill his frame rails with buckshot, where DW himself would pull a cable to release it onto the track during the pace laps. And Mr. Waltrip wonders what the delay is in getting him into the Hall of Fame before it goes Chapter 11? (Well, his brother’s appearance dressed as a woman Saturday ought to delay that eventuality another couple years.)

So what’s really going on at Richard Petty Motorsports? Have the creditors seized control? Is Budweiser refusing to make their final payment to the team because the contract specified Kasey Kahne would be in the car? How much of that ski resort did George Gillett own, and what did he earn from the recent fire sale? Hell, nobody who works there knows what’s going on, so how should the media? Pity poor Marcos Ambrose. It’s tough to hitchhike to Tasmania when your contract falls apart.

God save us from well-intended souls that think we tune into race coverage to be entertained rather than letting the racing entertain us. The less said about the SPEED team’s hour-long farce of a pre-race show before Saturday’s Truck race, the better. Apparently, last year’s Batman-themed debacle didn’t “learn them nothing.” This year, the pre-race “show” featured alleged professionals posing as characters from Gilligan’s Island. As an added bonus, they were a bit short of female characters, so we got to see Michael Waltrip dressed as an elderly woman (Mrs. Howell), complete with a dress and lipstick. Well, there’s one Weight Watchers ought to patent because I doubt I’ll eat this week. Somehow, they suckered truck driver Jennifer Jo Cobb into taking the role of Ginger (apparently, Waltrip nixed the idea of undergoing breast transplants) though she wasn’t allowed to speak a single word while in costume because she doesn’t have an actors’ guild card. The “theme” of the whole debacle was that the “characters” were trying to get off the “island” of landlocked Talladega. (Perhaps they should have studied the empty seats for the race. Apparently, emigration from the island isn’t that hard.) I found my own exit strategy, that little red button on the top right hand corner of the remote, after about five minutes of that mess. Last year, I was loudly castigated by the folks over on the Daly Planet for not getting into the spirit of the fun of Halloween. Stupid me. Here, we have a Truck Series where few fans recognize the names of three quarters of the participants and an increasing number of the trucks feature blank quarter panels. Maybe a little more time spent introducing the competitors and a little less time spent showing Waltrip in drag would have been in order? Note to Patti Wheeler: any non-lethal method of ending this stupidity before next year would greatly enhance SPEED’s credibility as a racing network and not an open mike (no pun intended) audition for the next generation of Hee-Haw.

With virtually every car running side-by-side at the time of the final caution flag, setting the running order is proving a mess for NASCAR officials using scoring loops and video replay to find the answers.

OK, let’s get something out of the way before I go any further. As I write this column (draft three), the finishing order from Talladega has been shuffled once again… significantly. Typically, race results are not posted until Monday, but this ending is a worst case scenario, a final-lap caution flag at a plate track where timing and scoring loops are used to sort out who finished where combined with video if those answers are inconclusive. Eventually, I have to submit a column so I can have dinner, go to bed, and so that the editors can do their magic and post it. If the final results are shuffled again overnight, some of the comments below might be incorrect. I’m using the latest updated data I have available to me at this point. Editor’s Note: Final running order positions are up-to-date as of the information we had at 12:30 AM EST. Official results are released Monday afternoon and should be closely monitored, in particular the eighth-place position between Jeff Gordon and Denny Hamlin which could change hands once again.

How confusing are the results posted as of right now? The initial ones I had showed Allmendinger as finishing 32nd, the first car one lap down. He’d been on the lead lap prior to the wreck, and what was left of his car clearly was across the start/finish line. How’s that work? Why is that important? Because if Allmendinger wrecked on lap 187, there would have been a green/white/checkered finish. NASCAR’s decision to throw the caution on the final lap stands in sharp contrast to the call they made to let Martin and Harvick race back to the end of the 2007 Daytona 500 while carnage ensued on the frontstretch.

The Hindenburg Award For Foul Fortune

Jeff Burton had taken several turns at the front either pushing or being pushed in the lead pack. But an awkward bump from Dale Earnhardt, Jr. sent Burton for a wild ride that ended his race and left the third RCR car with a 41st-place DNF by his name – not a winner’s trophy.

Earnhardt led a race for the second straight week, a statistical oddity this year, and clearly had a strong car before getting collected in the wreck he initiated with Burton. The No. 88 did make it back on track, but settled for a disappointing 39th.

Lately, Jamie McMurray has proven to be a threat on the plate tracks, but he was the third car involved in the Earnhardt-Burton incident and limped to the line 36th.

Tony Stewart rallied back from two laps down after cutting a tire but got caught up in the last-lap wreck. He finished 31st.

The “Seven Come Fore Eleven” Award For Fine Fortune

Kevin Harvick’s former pit crew had to feel a sense of vindication helping Bowyer not only win, but beat their former boss. Just two weeks earlier, Harvick insisted his crew be swapped with Bowyer’s because he felt his own team was far too slow and had cost him too many race wins. As it turns out, the former No. 29 pit crew was fast enough today while Harvick, well – he found new stuff to moan about on the radio once again.

This wreck could have left Kevin Harvick and his RealTree Chevrolet down for the count. Instead, the crew worked overtime, piecing the car back together enough for him to rally all the way up to second at the finish.

Maybe Harvick’s mood improved a little after the race. When the No. 29 car slid into the side of Marcos Ambrose’s stricken Toyota, it appeared not only were his chances of a win eliminated, so were any remaining title hopes. The team still wound up second, though, Harvick posting the best finish of any of the three remaining title contenders in an impressive comeback. Richard Childress is a pragmatist, but I bet he has to be wondering why he’s spending all those millions on wind tunnel time when a car with its nose restyled with duct tape’s handier younger cousin can still finish second at Talladega.

There’s laying back to avoid trouble ahead, then there’s laying back to your own hurt. Denny Hamlin lost the draft not only of the lead pack but of the second pack as well and found himself a sitting duck, running three seconds a lap slower than the leaders as they put him a lap down. It took until late in the race for the No. 11 to finally get back onto the lead lap, although he made the most of it with a finish somewhere in the top 10 (ninth as of this writing).

Jeff Gordon felt he had an engine letting go when he smelled oil smoke, but the mill held together well enough to drive him to a finish somewhere around eighth.

Worth Noting

  • Clint Bowyer’s win was also his seventeenth top-10 finish of this season, matching his previous career best in that statistic. He’s also the lone multi-race winner in this Chase despite sitting twelfth in the standings.
  • Kevin Harvick (second) now has five consecutive top-10 finishes.
  • Juan Pablo Montoya’s third-place result was his best since he won at the Glen.
  • David Reutimann (fourth) enjoyed his best finish since Bristol in August.
  • Joey Logano (fifth) has strung together three consecutive top-10 finishes for the first time in his fledgling Cup career.
  • Martin Truex, Jr.’s sixth-place finish was his best since Martinsville this spring.
  • Is he cracking under pressure or just backing into a title? Jimmie Johnson’s seventh-place finish was his worst since Loudon in September.
  • Jeff Gordon (eighth) has led the last five Cup races.
  • Denny Hamlin’s (ninth) average finish over the last four Cup races is 4.5.
  • Brad Keselowski finished tenth for the second week in a row. Those are his best two results of the 2010 Cup season.
  • Regan Smith’s twelfth-place run matches his best of the 2010 Cup season. Smith also finished twelfth at Kansas.
  • Dale Earnhardt, Jr. (39th) led the most laps in a race for the first time since May 2008 at Charlotte.
  • The top-10 finishers at Talladega drove five Chevys, four Toyotas, and a Dodge. Paul Menard’s thirteenth-place finish was the best by a Ford.

What’s the Points?

Who the hell knows? They keep changing the finishing order. Here’s what we do know for certain: Jimmie Johnson still leads the points. Denny Hamlin remains in second, somewhere between two and (more likely) 14 points behind. Kevin Harvick should wind up 38 points behind Johnson in third.

Barring a Texas tornado, those three are the sole remaining title contenders. Jeff Gordon takes over fourth spot in the standings, relegating Kyle Busch to fifth, but neither of them have a sno-cone’s chance in hell of being this year’s champion.

Carl Edwards and Tony Stewart remain sixth and seventh. Jeff Burton’s wreck dropped him two spots in the standings to tenth, with Matt Kenseth taking over that eighth-place points position Burton abdicated. Kurt Busch held serve in ninth, while Greg Biffle and Clint Bowyer round out your top-12 playoff participants.

Further back, Jamie McMurray’s misfortune leaves Mark Martin just 39 markers behind him for 13th.

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 shots of Maalox. Honestly, I get sick to the stomach watching plate races.

Next Up – Expect a veritable tsunami of Cowboy metaphors next week as the circuit heads off to Dallas/Fort Worth, the southern-most precinct of New York City. What are the chances of a great race there? How do you like the Cowboys’ chances of making the Super Bowl?

Contact Matt McLaughlin

Monday on the Frontstretch:
FREE NEWSLETTER! BREAKING NEWS ON JEREMY MAYFIELD AND BRIAN FRANCE! CLICK HERE TO SIGN UP
The Cool-Down Lap: Is Clint Bowyer the Next Jamie McMurray?
Fact or Fiction: Should Plates Be In The Chase – And Who’s The New Title Favorite?
Bubble Breakdown: RGM and TRG Break Away From FRM’s No. 38 At Talladega
Running Their Mouth: AMP Energy Juice 500
Tracking the Trucks: Mountain Dew 250 Fueled by Fred’s

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Joe
11/01/2010 06:00 AM
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Looked to me in the truck race that Kyle Busch had already advanced his position before he went below the yellow line.
http://img829.imageshack.us/img829/2757/image2bn.jpg

Jacob
11/01/2010 07:03 AM
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Matt, I also thought about Kyle going below the line being a penalty when I saw the picture. After watching the replay, it was keeping his truck from wrecking that put him on the trajectory of going below the yellow line. It has always been a rule that if a driver is avoiding a wreck, all bets are off when it comes to the yellow line. Apparently that also applies when the driver in question is avoiding wrecking himself, all by himself.

A couple of interesting notes on the Cup race. na$car.com offered a ‘FREE‘ live feed of ESPN’s coverage of the race, I decided to check it out. They pulled the plug at the race’s halfway point. Who wants to bet that they were mad about the better ratings on the net, than the ones from cable?
After the live feed was interrupted, I just turned on na$car’s live leaderboard at the same site. There must have been a problem with the timing and scoring because (according to their own leaderboard), they ran lap 186, threw the white flag on lap 186, and the race finished on lap 186. Even if you allow for the melee to have occured on lap 186 and na$car stopped the scoring system, a green-white-checker finish was should have been run.
Finally, the last lap melee is yet another example of why, if na$car wants to freeze the field at the moment of caution in the name of safety, they should revert to the running order as of the last lap completed. It would remove all arbitrary speculation from the method used now. But, hey, we all know that na$car isn’t interested in doing anything that might lend and ounce of credibility to their sham of a sport.

Gordon82Wins
11/01/2010 07:59 AM
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As much as I hate plate racing, it usually provides some sort of excitement. Yesterday’s race was flat boring.

Carl D.
11/01/2010 08:31 AM
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Jacob…

Good point about Kyle Busch going below the yellow line to keep from wrecking himself in the truck race. I’m guessing, like so many of Nascar’s “rules”, this one is a judgement call, meaning some Nascar honcho at the track calls a scotch-soaked Brian France and asks him how to rule.

Matt…

I have a feeling Jeff Gordon is getting tired of being Jimmie Johnson’s push man.

Both RPM cars got torn up. Seems a fitting end to their week.

Big Donkey
11/01/2010 08:38 AM
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Matt, I hear Robby Gordon is still looking for his truck.

Craig
11/01/2010 09:57 AM
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I know the purists hate them, but I love plate racing. They’re a welcome break from 1.5/2 mile strung out races and the most unique form of racing NASCAR has. I think ‘Dega has too much impact on the Chase. Nice to see everyone survive this one.

On Gordon, I’m tired of hearing the hate on the AARP deal. Apparently, Hendrick had another sponsor “in his back pocket” (I assume 7-11), but they chose to do something different. AARP is going to make out great on this because not only will they get donations, but they will get a nice cut of all souvenir sales. Nice to see this in NASCAR. I’d like to see more of this considering the sport spent 30+ years endorsing a product that KILLED/KILLS PEOPLE, Winston Cigarettes. They might have been good marketing the sport, but Winston should have been kicked to the curb in 1990s. At that point the writing was on the wall about tobacco advertising, and NASCAR would have had the clout to go to a new title sponsor with boom years forward to establish them.

Carl D.
11/01/2010 10:35 AM
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I’m not really sure it matters what the rest of us think about the sponsorship deal for Jeff Gordon; what matters is if Rick Hendrick has enough financial support to run the team for the full season. Did anyone really think the #24 team was ever in jeopardy of becoming a S&P team? As to what this says about the issue involving smaller teams struggling to find sponsors, the writing has been on the wall there for a couple of years now. Besides, Nascar is intent on running those teams out of the sport anyway.

Casey
11/01/2010 10:37 AM
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Jimmie was pushing Gordon when Gordon made the comment that they were “blowing up” so I am not so sure how the comments hold up the Gordon is tired of pushing Jimmie.

Michael Pittenger
11/01/2010 10:51 AM
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I watched women’s tennis when this race was on.

DoninAjax
11/01/2010 11:07 AM
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The LPGA was on! But Caroline isn’t too bad to look at.

Jayski’s results from yesterday are the same as the “official” results.

Chris
11/01/2010 11:28 AM
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Regan Smith went below the yellow line to avoid causing a huge wreck a couple of years ago at Talladega and the win was awarded to Tony Stewart.

Whatever Busch’s excuse was it was no better than Smith’s was.

NASCAR really needs to be clearer about the yellow line rule. I guess you might as well risk going below there for the win as there is a 50-50 chance NASCAR won’t call you on it as Busch got away with it in the truck race.

Dennis
11/01/2010 11:37 AM
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What would the points look like if Boyer did not have his NH spanking?

jg
11/01/2010 11:41 AM
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It is just really ironic that Gordon will end up pocketing millions from a charity sponsorship.

I could not agree more that the coverage at the end was horrible. If not showing clips to determine who won, (instead of the burnout), then at least show clips of how the wreck started, who started it, etc. What a joke.

janice
11/01/2010 11:53 AM
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Dennis,

I was thinking the same thing.

I loved the booth’s comment about gordon being 50. not even close.

Unfortunately cigarettes cause the cancer that’s killing folks. Latest victim, Jim Hunter. All those winstons. Pay attention Matt!!!

cobb salad
11/01/2010 12:00 PM
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Jennifer Jo was a natural Ginger. Save the rack.

Kevin in SoCal
11/01/2010 12:16 PM
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Craig said: AARP is going to make out great on this because not only will they get donations, but they will get a nice cut of all souvenir sales.”

So they spend $20 million to get $5 million in t-shirt and die-cast sales. Sounds like something our government would do, like “Cash for Clunkers.”

Cigarettes, cigars, and smoking of any kind are the worst. I hate them.

Carl D.
11/01/2010 12:45 PM
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Kevin…

I agree… there’s something fundamentally wrong with a charitable organization spending millions of dollars to ask for my money.

Jim
11/01/2010 01:30 PM
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Matt loves to compare the NFL to NASCAR, about how the NFL does everything right and NASCAR can’t do anything right.

Well, they called the race correctly in less time than it generally takes to get the ref out from under his replay hood, so I didn’t mind waiting the minute or so.

Also, I’ve never been a TV director, but I think it must be a little hard dechiphering the exact second NASCAR calls the winner when there is live action on the track, countless replays to review, and so on.

At least it’s harder than writing a totally predictble column with the aid of TiVo hours after the fact.

Cheryl
11/01/2010 03:09 PM
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Matt, you summed it up correctly about the stupid yellow line rule and the ending of the truck race. What a bogus non-call by NA$CAR after what happened with Regan Smith two years ago! I was so disgusted on Saturday! I know there have always been calls favoring the stars, but this issue just so blatantly favors the big names and not the little guy. How much more fun would it have been to see Smith and Armirola celebrate in Victory Lane as the “little guy?”

Craig
11/01/2010 03:39 PM
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That yellow line rule is one of those duh moments for NASCAR. The rule causes more problems than it solves on the last straight of a plate race, controversial calls and wrecks (Dega Oct. 2008, April 2009, Daytona July 2009). Mark a spot either on the exit of turn 4 or at Dega in the tri-oval. Once you pass that line going to the checkers, no yellow line rule. It’s more dangerous at that point to put the drivers in a box, than let them use all available track to go for the win.

Marybeth
11/01/2010 05:52 PM
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Jeff said to Jr. in the medical center, “Man you did nothing wrong. We were just racin’.” After seeing the video of how off-center Jeff bumped Jamie & knocked him totally sideways, & Jamie saved it, there wasn’t much else Jeff could say. :)

Marybeth
11/01/2010 06:03 PM
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After AARP sold us out to Obama care for billions last year, I sent my card back & have not & will not renew it.

Carl D.
11/01/2010 06:29 PM
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Marybeth…

We didn’t renew with AARP either. We sent the renewal notice back with a note telling them why.

VolcanoNacho
11/01/2010 06:45 PM
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Along the same limes, I decided to not renew my subscription to “Midget Tossing Quarterly.” It just didn’t seem right in these uncertain economic times.

Overa88ted
11/01/2010 10:09 PM
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I was wondering what lame excuse Marybeth, the apparently senile alien from planet AMP was going to come up with for her weekly BS excuse for Dale Jr. Once again it’s not Jr. fault because he ran out of talent and Stupidly bump drafted Burton in the corner.In 2011 it’ll be seven, that’s 7 years Marybeth, since 2 average at best drivers Dale JR and Mikey Waltrip have won a points paying Cup restrictor plate race. Something neither one can’t seem to do without the DEI HP/AERO advantage they had 10 years ago. And you think they have talent?

MargaritaChicken
11/03/2010 01:29 PM
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Does this mean that Jeff Gordon’s sponsorship apparences will have him serving soup at the local soup kitchens?