The Frontstretch: Matt McLaughlin's Thinkin' Out Loud: Fontana Race Recap by Matt McLaughlin -- Monday March 28, 2011

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Matt McLaughlin's Thinkin' Out Loud: Fontana Race Recap

Matt McLaughlin · Monday March 28, 2011


The Key Moment – Kevin Harvick got up on Jimmie Johnson’s bumper entering turn three on the final lap to get the No. 48 loose. That opened the top lane and Harvick drove jauntily on by for the win.

In a Nutshell – 195 laps of terrible followed by five laps of terrific.

Kevin Harvick’s victory at Auto Club Speedway was the first for both he and Richard Childress Racing in 2011.

Dramatic Moment – A lot of fans at home must have been startled out of a nice nap by all the cheering there at the end.

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

Probably most of them will be talking about basketball. It’s all anyone around here is discussing and it drives me nuts every March. The official stats say there are many more stock car diehards than college hoops ones, but the problem with a couple million “stock car racing fans” is they don’t watch or attend the races.

If the drivers are only going to actually race for the final ten to twenty laps anyway, maybe Fontana should try a 200-mile race distance next year?

What in blazes went wrong for Tony Stewart on the final restart? Listening to his radio, it seems he felt Landon Cassill was somehow at fault.

ESPN made a big deal Saturday about the bumps in the Fontana track surface. Oddly enough, the issue wasn’t even mentioned Sunday on FOX.

Kevin Harvick complimenting his pit crew over the radio. Kyle Busch gracious in defeat. Jeff Gordon running like a three-legged lamb at Fontana? Thanks for the tea, Alice, but I think I’d like to go back to my side of the rabbit hole.

Tony Stewart was a top-5 contender through most of Sunday’s race, fending off even perennial Auto Club contender Jimmie Johnson until a mysterious fade on the final restart left him “Smoking” all the way to his hauler.

Do you think Carl Edwards is sick of running second, especially to Kyle Busch?

Get well wishes go out to A.J. Foyt, arguably the most successful and versatile driver in racing history, who had to have a heart stent inserted Friday to clear a 95 percent blockage in an artery.

The IRL was pretty clever in kicking off their 2011 broadcast schedule a couple hours before a West Coast Cup race began. Unfortunately, the start of the event was sloppier than most of my buddy’s son’s quartermidget races. But once again, despite the growing pains of double-file restarts I was left to wonder why open-wheel fans get “side-by-side” coverage during commercials (half the screen still displays race action during breaks) while the stock car side still has to endure constant, full-scale interruptions. You know that I like to stir things up. Who’s interested in a grassroots movement for the fans where they refuse to buy any product advertised during NASCAR commercial breaks? The deal would be if side-by-side coverage for stock car racing gets adopted, they’ll all try to buy at least one product advertised during those segments every week.

Speaking of the IndyCar season opener at Saint Pete’s, while Dario Franchitti won the race going away a very impressive female driver scored a strong fourth without setting a wheel wrong. And here’s the odd part: it wasn’t that young lady ESPN seems so infatuated with, Danica Patrick, but Simona De Silvestro driving for a team that lost a lead engineer just earlier this week. Folks talk about diversity and equality in racing; well, I’ll buy into that just as soon as results and not appearance define a successful female racer.

I was saddened but not surprised to learn this week that National Speed and Sport News is shutting down after having been published since 1934. (For the record, that’s fifteen years before NASCAR staged their first season.) Shortly after I became able to read, a neighbor of my family was kind enough to pass along every issue after he was done poring over it; I’d also read the paper cover to cover. While not the founder, legendary motorsports journalist Chris Economaki was the guiding light that kept the paper fresh, informative and dynamic for all those decades. But in the end, the immediacy of the internet was too much to overcome for a print publication. NSSN will be sorely missed along with the old Winston Cup Scene paper.

Well if nothing else, the sparse crowd at Fontana had to make the folks at Bristol feel a little better. I think right now, you’d have better luck selling tickets to a wading pool at Fukushima than a Cup race at Fontana.

It was a daring experiment, but the white graphics on a white paint job for Clint Bowyer’s quarterpanels were absolutely impossible to read.

How can a TV show be a hit when the first episode hasn’t even aired yet? What FOX lacks in talent, it makes up for in hype.

Speaking of FOX, my guess is there’s somebody who is supposed to be in charge of reviewing graphics to be used during the race broadcast just to be certain nothing can be misinterpreted. Yes, I know they were talking about speeding on pit road, but when I read one of the UPS Logistics to the Fontana race was “don’t get a ticket,” I blew two streams of coffee six inches out of my nose. I’m sure the track’s box office appreciated the lapse in judgment…

The Hindenburg Award For Foul Fortune

Denny Hamlin ran strongly for a brief time early in the race. But after yet another engine failure, you know they’re going to be burning the midnight oil in the Joe Gibbs Racing engine department this week. Joey Logano’s engine apparently also had a fatal flaw that was discovered prior to the race; for the No. 20, it was a penalty for passing on the restart that left that Toyota the last car on the lead lap in 25th.

Jeff Burton’s strongest run of the season was sidelined by a pit road speeding penalty. The 15th-place finish was still his best of 2011, though.

Stewart ran up front and looked capable of winning right up to that final restart. A 13th-place finish, no comment post-race interview ensued.

After finishing in the top 10 in the first four Cup races of the season, Kurt Busch couldn’t get out of his own way on Sunday. He ran 17th.

Kyle Busch lost the race Sunday in its final stages, wasting a race-high 151 laps led en route to third. “Old Kyle” would have thrown a few things on his way to the hauler. “New Kyle?” He apologized to the crew after the race for letting them down. Seriously!

The “Seven Come Fore Eleven” Award For Fine Fortune

Kyle Busch had a rough start to the weekend, wrecking his primary car in the first practice before leading 151 laps and finishing third. What I want to know is what a manhole cover is doing in the tri-oval grass? You’d have thought the people at Fontana would have learned something after Greg Moore’s fatal wreck there.

Brian Vickers enjoyed his best run since returning to the circuit after last year’s health problems. He finished eighth.

Harvick had slid back as far as 28th and seemed in danger of losing a lap, but he roared back to lead the only lap that counts, the last one.

A key decision to make a final stop under caution for two tires allowed Matt Kenseth to finish fourth after having been invisible much of the race.

Worth Noting

  • The win was the first for Harvick since Michigan last August. It was the first win for RCR since he was edged by teammate Bowyer at Talladega last fall.
  • Jimmie Johnson has finished second or third in three of the last four Cup races. Kyle Busch has finished first, second, or third in three of those same four races. Anyone else see a battle brewing for supremacy?
  • After finishing outside the top 10 in the first three races of the season, Kenseth has finished fourth the last two times out.
  • Ryan Newman finished fifth for the third time this season.
  • Lest Johnson or Kyle Busch gets too complacent, Carl Edwards (sixth) is averaging an eighth-place finish this season.
  • Clint Bowyer (seventh) scored his first top-10 result of the 2011 Cup season.
  • Dale Earnhardt, Jr.’s twelfth-place finish was actually his worst since Daytona.
  • Hamlin’s 39th-place DNF was his worst performance since Atlanta last fall. He also lost an engine in that race.
  • The top-10 finishers at Fontana drove five Chevys, two Fords and three Toyotas.
  • Andy Lally and the No. 71 team will have to make the race on speed starting this weekend at Martinsville (where Hermie Sadler will sub in behind the wheel). TRG Motorsports is six points outside of a top 35 spot in owner points, a perch that would have given them a mulligan in Martinsville qualifying.

What’s the Points?

Carl Edwards now leads the championship by nine markers over Ryan Newman who advances two spots to second in the standings. Former points leader Kurt Busch has dropped to third; he’s ten points behind Edwards. His brother Kyle is right behind him, eleven points out of the lead while Johnson rounds out the top 5. He’s fourteen back.

Stewart fell three positions to sixth in the standings, followed by Paul Menard, Juan Pablo Montoya, then a three-way tie for ninth among Harvick, Kasey Kahne and Kenseth. Among the drivers who might want to try harder to score a win as a backdoor way into the Chase: Greg Biffle (20th), Denny Hamlin (21st), Jeff Burton (25th), and Jamie McMurray (28th). But I doubt any of the above drivers are panicked about points five races into the season, so why should we be? Remember, the leaves that have yet to grow on the trees here in the northeast will be ready for raking by the time the Chase begins.

Overall Rating (On a scale of one to six beer cans, with one being a stinker and a six pack an instant classic) — The first 195 laps rate a gentleman’s zero, all the monotony in eighty percent of the distance. But those final five laps get a solid six pack of the good stuff.

Next Up – Set the wayback machine to 19-fiftysomething as the circuit takes a delightful run back to historic Martinsville, Virginia.

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…


©2000 - 2008 Matt McLaughlin and Thanks for visiting the Frontstretch!

Kevin in SoCal
03/28/2011 02:38 AM

I completely agree with you Matt. The first 190 some-odd laps were the typical Fontana you all yawn about. If it wasnt for the action following the last restart, I’d have a nice plate of crow in front of me.
However, you might want to get your glasses looked at, as you’re so used to seeing fans disguised as benches, its all you see. In the few shots Fox showed us of the grandstands during the race, they looked pretty full to me.

03/28/2011 07:46 AM

Matt, I really like Kyle Busch and I don’t think it’s very nice of you to call him a manhole cover! ;)

03/28/2011 08:13 AM

I tuned in just as the final caution came out. Glad I did. I missed all the boring parts and got to see a great 10 lap battle for positions. Keep in mind though, if it wasn’t for the restart with 10 to go the ending would have probably been a stinker like the rest of the race. At least this one wasn’t for phantom debris.

03/28/2011 08:23 AM

glad i woke up in time. i was almost certain bush would have had his boom out.

that manhole cover was scarey. didn’t the track seep on friday as well?

03/28/2011 08:52 AM

Thank god for that late race caution. It gave us the best Cali finish I can remember. Textbook move by Harvick. Maybe all the races at Fontana, Michigan and Pocono need to have a mandatory late caution, because I see it every year, crazy racing for the first 15 laps of a restart then everyone goes single file till another caution with almost no passing.

Carl D.
03/28/2011 08:57 AM

Throughout the entire race I kept thinking “Well, this is the nail in Fontana’s coffin”. Then we get the most exciting finish since Daytona. Still, a great finish doesn’t change the fact that for the most part, this race was the most boring event on television since Rosie O’Donnell’s show got cancelled.

I don’t know what the attendance was like yesterday, but Saturday’s attendance at the Nationwide race looked pathetic. I’ve seen bigger crowds at my local karaoke bar. The sad part is, other than the finish, the Nationwide race was a better race than the Sprint cup race.

Hopefully there will be some exciting racing at Martinsville this coming weekend.

03/28/2011 09:01 AM

so you want side by side commercials like the irl for the boring racing that you hate? that makes sense…

Laidback Racing
03/28/2011 09:51 AM

to kevin in SoCal: Didn’t you catch the top of all the sections in turn one covered with the banner?

03/28/2011 10:21 AM

Is it just me, or does a weekend of Nascar racing seem empty without Danica’s natural talent and good looks. I’m ready for the IRL season to end so Danica can come back and wow us.

Oh, and 20 bucks says Matt M. didnt even watch the race. My bet is, he surfed as soon as it ended.

Robert McIntire
03/28/2011 10:41 AM

I already make it a point not to buy anything that says NA$CAR on it or what they advertise on TV

03/28/2011 10:49 AM


Please forward the twenty bucks to me via this website. In fact I watched the IRL, the Cup and the NW race all flag to flag. The last Cup race I didn’t either attend or watch was the 2007 Firecracker 400 the day my mom died.

03/28/2011 10:53 AM

We taped the race and gave it 2 hours before we started watching. As usual, after fast forwarding through the tons of commercials, we still ended up watching the last of the race only 38 minutes after it actually ended. That’s ALOT of commercials.

I was actually cheering for JJ to pass Busch for the win, thinking he was the lesser of two evils when WOAH! here comes Kevin to give us a thrill! Thank you Mr. Harvick for sparking the life into a really, really boring race.

If you follow DeLana Harvick on Twitter, you saw where she didn’t want to go to the Fontana race because it’s boring (her words, not mine). Class act of Kevin to give her a shoutout during the interview.

Sorry Cali folks, but the attendance was awful, no matter how you spin it. The huge banners covering stands doesn’t hide a thing. They worst thing the tracks did was paint the bleachers different colors. It really does show up when the stands are empty.

03/28/2011 11:00 AM

you’re in a nutshell comment said it all – 195 laps of terrible and 5 laps of fun to watch.

I flicked back and forth between the race and re-runs of a soap opera since I’ve seen this show before and it isn’t worth spending 4 hrs of my day on (the soap rerun was more interesting). Had the radio on for PXP because Fox’s persistence in showing one car or in car camera shots rather than something that lets us see whatever racing there MIGHT be doesn’t tell me enough (although at Calif – there’s not much to tell). That track sure isn’t on my list of “must see” tracks. I’m happy I got to Bristol before they “improved” it.

Randy, I didn’t miss Danica’s hype machine one bit. Thought Simona did a good job — between her, Johanna Long and Jennifer Jo Cobb, there might be a female racer I can follow — someone who can actually race, rather than whine, complain, toss her hair around and stamp her little foot when things don’t go her way.

03/28/2011 11:07 AM

It was nice to watch a race like this that only have to watch for about three hours. Now if NASCAR would only give added incentive for actual (racing) lead changes, that would improve interest in watching the races. Also when the day comes when Danica and Jennifer Jo Cobb both are racing Cup series and crash each other out of a race. What a fight that could turn out to be. Kind of like what Donnie Allison and Cale Yarborough did at Daytona. WOW!

03/28/2011 11:20 AM

I agree. 195 laps of crappy and five laps of racing. This not even “racertainment”. Get ride of Fontana and bring back “the rock”.

Fonzi Dew Lexington
03/28/2011 11:49 AM

I disagree completely..Good Race..Great Finish and the Stands looked full after about the 1/4 point in the race…Like AI was told last year “Hang it up MM, it’s over, you just can’t get it done anymore…”

03/28/2011 12:26 PM

each year we say the same thing about Fontana, when is NASCAR going to get it? A bad race at Charlotte or Bristol is an anomaly, at Cali it is the norm. At their worst any of the east coast tracks are better

03/28/2011 12:31 PM

gee fonzi,,,don’t think mark’s problem could be his new crew chief do you?????? last few years everyone just wanted to blame JR!

03/28/2011 12:47 PM

Excuse me, but what race were you all watching! It rained overnight and the track got green. That caused the cautious early racing with no yellows. Then as the track got rubbered in a lot of drivers lost the handle on the track and some found it. You all complain when NA$CAR throws phony yellows and they don’t here and you complain that it was boring. What do you want competition crashes! Vickers and Kahne charged towards the front and then lost the handle when the track rubbered in. There were other drivers that went back and forth in the pack as the conditions changed.

I enjoyed the whole race. I just eliminated Frontstretch from my favorites and I won’t even look at the responses. You all need a new hobby and leave this one to those that still enjoy it!

03/28/2011 01:22 PM

A fight between Danican’t and Jennifer Jo would NOT be the same as Cale and Donnie. But it would make for a PPV. The smart money would be on JJ. (Now there’s a JJ I could like)

03/28/2011 02:00 PM

A lot of discussion surrounds track attendance. Baseball has official paid attendance figures for every event.

03/28/2011 07:24 PM

another good article Matt for a change really enjoyed the race but only because I got directv and instead of listening to the fox broadcast I watched the incar camaras

Tom Dalfonzo
03/28/2011 07:49 PM

Five laps of thrills does not offset 195 laps of boredom.

The only thing that NASCAR should say to Fontana is this: Reconfigure the track or we’ll close it down and plow it up!!!

Also, give Toyota Speedway at Irwindale a call and tell them that they have been awarded a Cup race, and to have them get to work renovating the track for next year.

03/28/2011 08:37 PM

Matt, I’ll agree about the last 5 laps being great to watch, but the 1st 195 were past boring…& for whoever it was who said there was A crowd at this track after a 1/4 of the race was run, I’m guessing your partying was kicking in by then, the place wasn’t even 1/2 full…This track is just as bed as MIS, too much room for competitive racing with this “race” car …

03/28/2011 09:50 PM

Matt, well said. The ending of the race was good, but I gotta admit I spent most of the race watching college b-ball. However, this was the first time I’ve ever been happy with a finish at this track. I’d trade it for Rockingham in a second though.

Brian France Sucks
03/28/2011 11:06 PM

@ Tom Dalfonzo:

Problem is NA$CAR already owns California, so that ain’t happening. Ooops, my fault, I$C owns Fontana. Either way, the France family still owns Fontana. If they were smart (and Brian obviously isn’t), they would’ve tore down that track 6-7 years ago, built a North Wilkesboro or Rockingham-clone track with about 140,000 seats, and it would sell out every time. There are enough gear-heads in Cali to fill it if you provide something worth watching. The current configuration is pathetic, and attendance proves it.

Chris in TX
03/28/2011 11:20 PM

Simona Di Silvestro is bad-fast in everything she drives. If the equipment holds up (and is a competitive grade) she’ll win races.

Bill B
03/29/2011 12:40 PM

Let’s be honest, any track 1.5 miles or larger becomes boring when there are 80 or more green flag laps. California doesn’t have a monopoly on that and it isn’t something that just started happening in the last 10 years. A Michigan race in 1993 (an arbitrary year) would look just the same if there were 100 green flag laps. The difference is in 1992 the 1.5+ tracks were the minority so when those “boring” races happened it didn’t bother people as much.

I actually would have preferred the race finished without that last caution which, was the main reason we had that spectacular finish. As much as I didn’t want to see Kyle win it, sometimes it really seems unfair and arbitrary when a late caution allows guys that have been behind the leader a chance to take one away. I just makes me feel like I was a schmuck for watching the first 90% of the race.

Bill B
03/29/2011 12:46 PM

Notice how everyone is quick to pull for a female driver other than Danica. You know why that is? It’s not because people are against women drivers or Danica specifically. It’s because the media has been jamming Danica down our throats for the last 5 years and she really hasn’t done anything that notable. Yes, she did win a race and that is something but it does not warrant the attention she has been getting.
BTW I could say the same about Bayne although the Daytona 500 is the biggest NASCAR race (on paper anyway). Perhaps if the one race Danica had won was the Indy 500 then you could make a case for all the hype.

03/30/2011 10:35 AM

IndyCar hasn’t been called the IRL in two years. I was at the St. Pete race, it was pretty exciting. Great action in turn one, and with 5 support series running, there was racing all day from 10:30 in the morning until 6:00 at night. That is getting your money’s worth. The World Challenge race was pretty exciting too, real stock cars, Mustangs, Vipers, Corvettes, 911’s, Caymans, Volvos, VW, Acura, Honda, Mitsu, Nissan GT-Rs, Cadillacs, good stuff.