The Frontstretch: Matt McLaughlin's Thinkin' Out Loud: Las Vegas Race Recap by Matt McLaughlin -- Monday March 7, 2011

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Matt McLaughlin's Thinkin' Out Loud: Las Vegas Race Recap

Matt McLaughlin · Monday March 7, 2011


The Key Moment – On the final pit stop, Carl Edwards was able to take two tires and the lead heading into the homestretch. Tony Stewart, who took two on his previous stop to make up track position lost after a penalty in the pits, was forced to take four and could never make up the gap.

A two-tire gamble had Carl Edwards doing victory backflips in Las Vegas.

In a Nutshell – It’s back! (Let’s hope it’s for a limited time only.) We’ve got McRacing, at a mile-and-a-half McTrack courtesy the “dreaded” aero push…

Dramatic Moment – When Kurt Busch went spinning on lap 102 near the front of the field, we could have seen a huge wreck that would have made Phoenix’s Big One look like a Smurf’s picnic.

If you ignored the No. 99 car Juan Pablo Montoya, Stewart, and Marcos Ambrose did have a fairly engaging little scrap right after the final stop for second place.

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

Daytona is a plate track. Phoenix was a mile track. But a huge percentage of races this season will be run on mile-and-a-half ovals. Uh-oh. The problem on these tracks is a driver in a faster car can run down the driver ahead of him, but once he gets four or five car lengths behind that other car, he loses air off the nose and his car stops handling. Apparently, the new noses on Cup cars won’t address this issue though they are, in fact a whole lot better looking than last year’s cowcatchers.

We’ve traveled this road together before, but here’s this year’s first Matt’s “real passes” report. You will read this week there were fourteen passes for the lead between seven different drivers. But I discount passes made for the lead on pit road, along with passes made as the leader peels off the track to pit during the normal green flag sequence of stops. What I call a “pass for the lead” is one driver jockeying his way past the leader under green flag conditions. That’s what we all come to see. So how many passes for the lead were there at Vegas? As best I can count them, and even I can count this high, there was one. On lap thirteen, Tony Stewart passed Jeff Gordon. Stewart had fresh tires while Gordon didn’t pit and was on worn rubber. If you blinked, you missed it…

As part of the promotion for this weekend’s Vegas Cup date, Carl Edwards did a freefall, tether jumping for a distance of 800 feet not once but twice. To me, that doesn’t sound like an adventure. It sounds like the opening shot of a new episode of CSI. Catherine: Well, the lab boys are going to be using vacuums to clean up what used to be this guy’s internal organs. Brass: One of my guys says the victim was goaded into the jump by his friend… one Brad Keselowski. The two of them have had issues in the past, but the victim was sure the bad blood was over. Gil: Looks like he decided on the wrong time to make a leap of faith.

How many angels can dance on the head of a pin? I don’t know. But it sure is unseemly to watch eight broadcasters trying to dance around an obvious issue with right front tires without putting any blame on Goodyear.

After a wreck like this one, costing him a victory will Brad Keselowski ever forget until he gets even with Carl Edwards where it hurts the most: on the track?

Was Brad Keselowski purposely trying to block Edwards for the last few laps as Stewart reeled in the No. 99 car?

Darrell Waltrip is just never going to admit that Bobby Allison had one more Cup victory than him, is he?

Mr. Stewart, as always I’m here to help. How did you lose that race? You had a real fast car in the clean air at the front of the pack most of the day. Then you left pit road with an airgun still attached to your left rear wheel, at which point you fell back in the pack after your “Drive-Thru” penalty. On the next stop, your crew chief made an enlightened gamble to go with two tires which put you back out front. Once again, with clean air on the nose you were untouchable even while you had only two new tires and the rest of the pack had four. But that two-tire call forced your hand on a long green-flag run, making four tires a necessity for your final stop. That dropped you to fourth, without the clean air your car craved meaning a surge back to second was a pretty fair accomplishment – certainly nothing to pout about. Anything else I can help you with?

Wow, Robby Gordon is really getting impatient. He couldn’t even wait to get out on the track before hitting something this weekend.

We’d been told the new FR9 Ford engine was going to help even the tables of parity this year, particularly because of its efficient cooling traits. When Sunday’s weather was a bit cooler than predicted, the No. 99 team was able to add more tape to the grille and gain their driver some speed and front downforce.

As the battle lines between the electronic (internet) media and the old school (“journalism majors”) media covering NASCAR heated up this week, my favorite quote by a local (Philly market) trained professional and in this case a journalism professor for three decades was… “I suspect many of those cheering and clapping for Bayne are reporters and bloggers who’ve had none or little training in journalism.” None? Really. I’d have gone with “little to no” but then I’m just a fan of the English language, Bill. Oh, and by the way I read the column on a website that has little to none name recognition. My second favorite moment was someone who works for FOX trying to teach us punks anything about a lack of bias.

The Hindenburg Award For Foul Fortune

It was a miserable weekend for Las Vegas native Kyle Busch. On Saturday, he had a quick car but after a pit stop problem made an unwise move on a restart, diving from the top groove of the track to the apron with nary a glance in the rear-view mirror. Afterwards, Busch actually admitted he drove into the grass and wrecked himself. On Sunday, he suffered a cut down right front tire (hardly an exclusive club) and hit the wall. The car was able to continue, albeit at reduced speed before suffering terminal engine meltdown in spectacular fiery fashion shortly thereafter. En route to a DNF, landing 38th in the final running order it was hard not to notice the fans were cheering as Busch drove the No. 18 to the garage. I’d say it’s official; Busch has inherited the mantle of the black hat from Jeff Gordon, who was cheered wildly last week at Phoenix. Gordon had inherited it from Earnhardt, who in turn was handed the hat by Darrell Waltrip back in the mid-1980s.

Speaking of Gordon, a right front tire failure of his own put him hard into the wall as the No. 24 team was enjoying a decent run. Last Sunday’s winner wound up 36th this time around.

Whenever Greg Biffle’s car had gas in it Sunday, the car was one of the fastest on the racetrack. But putting the gas inside it, what’s typically a simple process became a complex problem the No. 16 team could not overcome.

Greg Biffle led 11 laps early, but then experienced some bizarre fueling issues on pit road due to the new refueling rig. Even with some lengthy stops, the team was failing to get the fuel cell full and the No. 16 Ford ran out of gas at one point. A normally taciturn Biffle was clearly boiling over, mouthing off at the crew on the radio en route to 28th, three laps down.

The “Seven Come Fore Eleven” Award For Fine Fortune

Denny Hamlin had to start shotgun on the field after an engine change but drove his way to a respectable seventh-place finish.

Pole sitter Matt Kenseth had the fastest car in every practice session as well as very early in the race. But then came another ugly Goodyear tire failure; he fell two laps off the pace, then had to wait nearly 170 circuits to get back on the lead lap. An eleventh-place finish is OK, but dreams of what might have been are tough on a driver with the fastest car in the field. There’s a lot of that going around lately…

Dale Earnhardt, Jr.’s car looked hopeless during most of the practice sessions, but his team found the magic for Sunday afternoon, allowing Junior to charge up to eighth.

With this self-induced spin, Kurt Busch’s chances for victory at his hometown track came up short – again. He’s only got one top-5 finish in 11 career starts at the speedway.

Kurt Busch’s day took a decided turn for the worse when he spun out on lap 102 on cold tires. He rallied back to a ninth-place finish.

Race leader Edwards thought he heard something funny in the engine those last few laps, but it held on well enough to win the race.

Worth Noting

  • Dating back to Phoenix last fall, Fords have now won four of the last five races. That’s after winning four Cup events in all of 2010.
  • So who’s the top dog at Roush Fenway now? Edwards has nineteen Cup wins, Kenseth 18 and Biffle 16.
  • Tony Stewart’s second-place finish was his best since he won at Fontana last fall.
  • Juan Pablo Montoya (third) earned his best finish on an oval since Pocono in July of 2009.
  • Marcos Ambrose (fourth) earned his best oval track finish since Bristol in August of 2009.
  • Ryan Newman finished fifth for the second straight week.
  • Martin Truex, Jr. (sixth) enjoyed his first top-10 finish since Talladega last fall.
  • Denny Hamlin (seventh) had his first top-10 finish of this season.
  • Dale Earnhardt, Jr.’s eighth-place performance was his best since Martinsville last year. He has combined to score back-to-back top-10 results for the first time since last summer at Loudon and Daytona.
  • Kurt Busch (ninth) is the only driver with a top-10 finish in each of this year’s three Cup races.
  • Brian Vickers (tenth) scored his first top-10 result since he was forced out of the car by that health scare last spring. (Oddly enough, Vickers also finished tenth at Darlington, the last race he was able to run last year.)
  • Kyle Busch’s 38th-place dud was his worst since Daytona last July. It was also the first mechanical DNF for the No. 18 team since Fontana last fall.
  • The top 10 finishers at Las Vegas drove two Fords, four Chevys, three Toyotas and a Dodge.

What’s the Points?

Kurt Busch and Tony Stewart are now tied atop the standings. Carl Edwards and Juan Pablo Montoya are tied for third, seven points behind the leader. Ryan Newman rounds out the top 5, ten markers back from first.

It’s still early yet, but here’s some notable names needing to make up some ground: Jeff Gordon (19th), Kevin Harvick (20th), Jamie McMurray (29th), Greg Biffle (31st) and Jeff Burton (32nd). But if any of these are your favorite driver, do not panic. I repeat: do not panic. The season is three races old. Move along, people; nothing to see here in this section. Return to your homes and think warm, fuzzy thoughts. We’ll deal with the points maybe twelve races deep into the season.

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 adequately chilled generic stuff. The race gets an extra half can because I was fully expecting NASCAR to reach back into their bag of tricks and throw a debris caution with ten laps to go to spice things up.

Next Up – For reasons inexplicable to me, three dates deep into the season the series takes a weekend off. Racing resumes at Bristol a week from Sunday.

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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03/07/2011 02:17 AM

Nice article.
Ten years of DW is really pushing the limits of my patience. It would be nice for them to address the obvious – why are so many tires blowing. Not a mention at all. The racing was ok. I managed to get alot done around the house and still not miss much on the tv. Let’s be optimistic and hope Bristol really gets the season fired up!!

Bad Wolf
03/07/2011 03:19 AM

Heard the DW triple B schtick in the house, turned the race on the tv while in the shop working and pretty much ignored the race all day. I would have been better off listening to “The Boneyard” on Satellite radio instead of putting up with the clowns on Fox.

It’s getting to the point this decades long fan doesn’t even want to come here anymore to see what I missed. I guess it will be up to RG and freinds to turn out the lights when they realize they have won, and find that what they were defending really is a steaming pile.

Rock on Matt, I’ll be here in two weeks, Same Matt time, Same Matt channel to get your take on this years spring edition of the “New and Improved” Bristol spring race. I predict all sizzle and no steak, with poopsicles for desert.

Stephen HOOD
03/07/2011 04:05 AM

I watched the race from flag to flag, except for the 30 minutes in the middle when I washed the dishes. I do hate these aero races where the only opportunity to pass for the lead is on a restart or in the pit. What kept me watching was Tony leading and Junior in the top 5-10. It seems Junior was passing people for the third race in a row instead of being passed. Toward the end of the race my wife asked me why I was watching. She opined that nothing seemed to be going on. After a little thought I realized she was right. The good news for NASCAR is they compete with basketball and golf in the Spring, both of which seem even more boring and predictable than 13 lead changes in the pits.

Bill B
03/07/2011 07:32 AM

Remember when they tried to sell the COT by saying it would solve the aero problem? LOL

I agree that there was very little passing on the track once the cars got strung out and you were right Matt, there were no passes for the lead (I don’t even count Stewart passing Gordon, that was on a restart).
It was also obvious that they avoided the tire issue. Yeah, right, all these guys had too much camber in the cars.

Walter E. Kurtz
03/07/2011 08:03 AM

The horror… the horror…

03/07/2011 08:24 AM

i got tired of hearing mcreynolds talk about trends. i was very surprised, also, that a mystery debri caution wasn’t thrown to tighten up the field and give stewart a chance to win, or even earnhardt.

wow matt, i expected you to crucify robby gordon this week in lieu of his indefinitate probation status.

03/07/2011 08:42 AM

Sorry, Matt: I know it’s a pretty sore subject anymore, but I just hafta comment on the journalist issue: “professional” vs. “citizen” (or whatever): I guess this bozo you mentioned would have us go straight to the horse’s a$$ (Oops, excuse me: horse’s MOUTH) at NA$ for the “Proper” information; just like we should go to Dan Rather, Anderson Cooper and Keith Olberman for the “Real” news without spin. I think the so-called “sports journalists” are now running scared just like their counterparts in the lamestream media. (sob, sob. poor fellows) Wake up, Gentlemen! We are finally fed up with your crap! We’ll now go somewhere we can TRUST for our news!

Carl D.
03/07/2011 08:49 AM

I really can’t complain about this race. It was so boring I fell asleep and missed most of it, so I didn’t see much to complain about.

“Was Brad Keselowski purposely trying to block Edwards for the last few laps as Stewart reeled in the No. 99 car?”
I don’t think so. Brad’s car was pretty pathetic yesterday and couldn’t have held up a school bus. Edwards was just running his line and he got around Keselowski with little difficulty when he needed to. Actually, I think Brad’s pretty much over Carl Edwards. It’s Kyle Busch who’s an ass.

03/07/2011 09:06 AM

I said last week that on about lap 165 that when Jr. said to Steve that he was too loose on the start, & that Steve fixed it. Lance could not fix his car. This week Steve fixed it on lap 57, a much shorter amount of time to fix it. This is going the right direction. Jr. raced his way into the top ten from starts in the 30s for 2 weeks in a row. No one can say that he lucked into it or that Nascar gave him breaks. He raced his way up front! This is why I have said all along that he hasn’t forgotten how to drive! That is why I have been so upset that Rick didn’t use some of the money Jr. is bringing in to hire Addington or someone like him as his cc. After JG spun out in this afternoon’s practice, when SPEED interviewed him, he said that that he has all new cars this year. Jr. had a new car for Daytona and it was wrecked. So all they could get for him was the car JG drove at Talladega last year. The HMS publicity department said in their race previews for Jr. that the car Jr. drove in Phoenix was the latest driven by JG last year in Phoenix. The car Jr. has this weekend in LV was last driven by JG in Dover last fall. Jr. is getting JG’s leftovers, including cc. This swap was all about making JG better, Jr. is just incidental. I also believe that since Jr. is bringing in the most money and JG only has an AARP charity, & the money Jr. is bringing in is going to fund JG’s new cars & cc.
I will still be happier next year when he is back in the #8 car or at Gibbs. Something has been rotten for his 3 years at HMS.

03/07/2011 09:27 AM

Another Gem of an article Matt insert extreme sarcasm here

On a more important note, we need to talk about my girl Danica having her best ever finish in the Busch race and setting yet another historic record. Can we finally all admit that she is the greatest female driver to ever grace the sport and in time, she will prove to be one of the best ever?

Bill B
03/07/2011 09:43 AM

Jr at Gibbs? In a Toyota?

Get real.

So, for the record, are you happIER with Latarte or not?

Laidback Racing
03/07/2011 09:44 AM

On “this year’s first Matt’s “real passes” report.”
I was doing that in articles a few years ago and it made me mad…now I remember why…one freakin green flag pass for the lead…WOW… and we gave up Rockingham, Wilksboro, an Atlanta date and a Darlington date for this.

DW will NEVER admit he is one behind Bobby and will probably cry when Gordon passes him

Now Matt you know the tires blowing wasn’t a Goodyear problem…as RG would say insert extreme sarcasm here

I also watched only bit and pieces even tho the TV was on the whole race…too much effort for not enough payoff.

Bill B
03/07/2011 09:53 AM

That’s funny. Danica the greatest female driver ever. Good one.
There isn’t really a lot of competition so as Homer would say, “the greatest two words in English language; DE-FAULT

Don Mei
03/07/2011 11:12 AM

Danica Patrick is a good, competent journeyman race car driver. I enjoyed seeing her do well this weekend and hope she continues to improve at what she does. She still has not reached the level of Janet Guthrie who finished in the top 12 some ten times in her rookie season in Nascar…at the Winston Cup level, not in Busch. Time will tell.

Mr Bill
03/07/2011 12:08 PM

Matt, I read your articles because of the way you break a race down. The definition you have of passing is a good one, and it does illustrate what is wrong with most of the NASCAR racing these days. NASCAR is getting closer to Formula 1 with no passing and the race is won by the research and development staff not the on track racing. I don’t buy into the tire problem this weekend being a Goodyear problem. I think a tire problem that results in a mandatory caution every 10 laps as was the case in the past is a Goodyear problem not what happened this past weekend. Ford will be unstoppable on the mile and one half tracks this year and could be enough to make Carl Edwards the champion. This next week being an off week is a mistake.

03/07/2011 12:09 PM

Last I checked, top 4 is higher than top 12.

I dunno, I’m not a doctor though.

03/07/2011 12:13 PM

RG you weekly show what an ass you are with your asinine comments. NO SARCASM needed.

03/07/2011 12:22 PM

Thank you for using “McTracks,” Matt.

Now, as Susan suggested, I shall have a drink because I am convinced there is a conspiracy to steal my booze a bit at a time whilst I am not looking. It is the only way I can figure it keeps disappearing like it does. :)

Bill B
03/07/2011 12:24 PM

I’d say a 12th place finish in Winston beats a 4th place finish in NW.
Don’t think I have anything against Danica personally. The only thing I do have against her is the amount of hype/coverage she gets versus her achievments. I won’t name any names but she is not the only person that gets undue attention.

And, if you are going to point out that you’re not a doctor at least follow it with “but I did stay in a Holiday Inn last night”.

03/07/2011 12:36 PM

Oooh… nice… asinine. Someone got a word of the day calendar for his birthday.

Bill B
03/07/2011 12:54 PM

So you are going to be one of those Go Daddy Girls?


03/07/2011 01:07 PM

Matt writes you personal notes?! That’s awesome! How come he doesnt write me any? Is it because you are a chick (we will leave all speculation about Matt’s sexuality alone for now… although I have a few opinions if anyone wants to hear them).

It is nice to hear that someone other than myself realizes that Matt hates the sport that he covers. Like I said before, that sounds like a pretty crappy job to me. That’s like being allergic to peanuts and working for planters all your life.


03/07/2011 01:10 PM

On a related note, I guess Matt’s job at FS is safe. With his distaste for everything Nascar related, there seems like there is very little possibility that he will get caught clapping or cheering when someone wins a race.

Bill B
03/07/2011 01:25 PM

The question you should be asking is “why do so many people read and comment on Matt’s column given it’s negativity?”.

You don’t need to be a doctor to come up with an explanation for that… because there is a significant percentage of long-time fans that feel the same way.
And you are wrong… Matt and many of us will be clapping our asses off as Brian France gets kicked out of the top position.

03/07/2011 01:26 PM

RG…is that for Robby Gordon or Randy Goldman? Oh, don’t matter they probably are the same. And I don’t think Danica would admit to being YOUR girl! By the way Matt, if your article is so bad, why would anyone read it continuously?

03/07/2011 01:50 PM

Always brightens my day to see newbie fans making fools of themselves. Keep up the good work Matt.

Bad Wolf
03/07/2011 03:28 PM

To clarify the Danica 4th place finish, FUEL STRATEGY. Last I checked that aint real racing.

Jersey Girl
03/07/2011 03:48 PM

Awful race coverage yesterday. One car, in car, seeing most things happen in replay.

Sad news – DW just got a contract extension through 2014. He and rusty can annoy me on their respective networks unless I finally give up watching races on Fox or ESPN.

I’ve been thinking of just keeping my high speed internet access and following the races via trackpass and twitter. I get better information on what’s happening and I wouldn’t need to wear out my mute button PLUS I’d save money on the cable side of things.

03/07/2011 04:12 PM

Oh, I didnt know that fuel strategy didnt count. Thanks for the clarification. So I take it Nascar has a plan in place to take back all of the trophies previously given out to drivers that have won races because they gambled on fuel?

I think they should take all of that prize money and do something useful with it, like donate it to the Victory Junction Gang.

Or better yet, we can help put Matt M. through culinary school so he can move on to a different vocation.

03/07/2011 04:21 PM

Matt, you’re right on again.

Oh Lordy, I just saw the dreadful news about DW’s contract extension. What is FOX thinking? Sigh, another two years of his and Larry Mc’s incessant droning. On the bright side, it doesn’t take as long to watch a race when you fast forward through their chatter and the commercials too.

03/07/2011 04:54 PM

Time to overhaul the mute button on my remote. Mr. “Reason for the Past Champs Provisional” signed a 2-year contract extension. That means BBB til 2014. GAG

03/07/2011 05:30 PM

Danica was a top ten finish that became a 4th on fuel strategy.

Last time I checked that is real racing

03/07/2011 05:47 PM

Please tell me the info about DW signing an extension on his contract is not true. I was sure in my mind that the people at FOX would see that by far the most POLARIZING person on TV had run it’s course. I don’t dislike him as a person but as a broadcaster I can’t stand him anymore. His many shortcomings and arrogant, abrasive persona,has alienated a huge number of fans.Evidently Mr. Hill never watches his own broadcasts, listens to the fans, or reads these type of articles or bogs. It’s a very SAD day!!!

Don Mei
03/07/2011 05:47 PM

One top 4 versus 10 top 12s. Busch versus Cup…even the village idiot can figure that one out…..then again, maybe not.

03/07/2011 06:11 PM

DW thought Carl was snapping a 70-something winless streak.


That shows right there what the reality is.

03/07/2011 08:57 PM

And poor O’le DW can’t figure out why he didn’t make Na$crap’s hall of fame last year. Maybe the fan vote had something to do with it, and will again this year. He’s as delusional as MaryBeth, and her delusional excuses for Dale Jr.

03/07/2011 09:14 PM

Who is the “better” broadcaster, DW or Mikey Waltrip?

03/08/2011 02:03 AM

PLEASE take both Waltrips out of the broadcast booth. My mute button gets a workout when they are on the air. And a contract extension – dear God in Heaven…..
RG/Susan/Volcano – asinine is way too polite. Why are you still here? We read this column every week because we appreciate the viewpoint. The constant MM bashing shows you as a total moron. Way past asinine. You fill in the blank.

SS Mike
03/08/2011 11:21 AM

Dw is a legend in his own mind. Maybe ratings are down and have been going down because of that a-hole.

old gal from socal
03/09/2011 12:06 AM

I fear for the Phoenix repave/reconfigure after Sunday’s single file parade. I’ve got tickets to the Nov race, and it will be disappointing if it too is a snooze fest. I went to Vegas in 2007, and it was a decent show…I guess rule changes are the culprit.

03/10/2011 07:06 AM

Good article Matt, the race was just as bland as you described it, 1 pass for the lead in a race that long is exactly whats wrong with nascar, theres just no racing at most of 1 1/2 mile tracks. Is it just me or does it seem like the worse the race is the more we see randi & his little gang in the comments section telling us how great nascar is ? Not jmo, Danica is not even an average driver yet, her record speaks for itself.