The Frontstretch: Matt McLaughlin's Thinkin' Out Loud: Talladega-1 Race Recap by Matt McLaughlin -- Monday April 18, 2011

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Matt McLaughlin's Thinkin' Out Loud: Talladega-1 Race Recap

Matt McLaughlin · Monday April 18, 2011


The Key Moment – It came right down to those final few inches when Dale Earnhardt, Jr. pushed Jimmie Johnson across the line .002 seconds ahead of Clint Bowyer.

In a Nutshell – A nice payoff after a long afternoon of mediocrity.

Dramatic Moment – If Hollywood tried scripting a stock car race where eight drivers all finished within two car lengths of each other, nobody would buy the script.

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

If these guys aren’t going to race until the final five to ten laps, then why is the race 188 laps long?

Did it look to anyone else like Jimmie Johnson got his left front tire down below the yellow line trying to advance past Harvick in the tri-oval on the final lap?

Should drivers be able to talk to any other driver they want during a race? That seems to be the nature of the new beast. But they shouldn’t be looking down to search for a new frequency at 190 MPH anymore than you or I should be texting on the Interstate. My recommendation is the spotters haul a big old radio up to the stand and when their driver asks to speak to somebody else, let those spotters dial in the new frequency.

So which is the worse evil, the new two-by-two racing of this year’s Daytona 500 or the old 40-car pack? Oddly, while most drivers seemed to hate the old pack racing, they seem to dislike the new style even worse.

What got into Kurt Busch Sunday? Or maybe I should ask what didn’t Kurt Busch get into? He was Talladega’s Top Gun … venturing near his car was a good way to end up in the Danger Zone.

I’ll tell you what bunch of folks must really hate this new two-by-two racing: the sponsors. When a driver is pushing another driver his car, and thus the logos on it, are all but invisible.

Dale Earnhardt, Jr.’s take on this new type of racing at Talladega and Daytona? Well, he was pretty succinct: “This is a bunch of crap.” At least he can afford the 50 grand fine he’s likely to secretly receive this week.

It didn’t appear Kasey Kahne’s car got hit hard enough to trigger the sort of blaze he was forced to escape. (Oh, and where were the fire crews?) Perhaps an unintended side effect of the new fueling system is it allows gas to be pushed out the filler cap when a car is struck in that area?

Michael Waltrip is apparently slated to drive some sort of Ferrari at Le Mans later this year. Why? It can’t be based on the two top-5 finishes he’s managed in 42 Cup road course starts. The guy usually looks like a monkey trying to hump a football at the wheel of a Cup car on a road course.

The Hindenburg Award For Foul Fortune

Dave Blaney had a career run going and even led stretches of the race before getting wrecked out late by none other than Kurt Busch. He ended the day in 27th.

Trevor Bayne, Brad Keselowski, Kasey Kahne, David Ragan and Macros Ambrose (all of whom had led the race) were gathered up in the “big” wreck on lap 90 when Keselowski’s teammate Kurt Busch hooked him.

Mike Wallace took the wildest ride of the weekend on the last lap of Saturday’s Nationwide race. Wallace, who had recently led, wound up rolling over onto his roof and back onto four wheels – at which point he drove off and finished the race in 18th.

Despite a great ending to his day, Jeff Gordon sounded miserably ill after the race and eager to depart after offering Mark Martin some kudos. (Did I see Gordon putting his kids into a minivan, and a Toyota minivan at that after the race?)

The “Seven Come Fore Eleven” Award For Fine Fortune

The winning duo of Johnson and Earnhardt managed to survive a close call early in the race when they collided trying to miss Brian Vickers’ car. Earnhardt also had to overcome radio problems that plagued his team most of the day; in the end, helping Johnson left the No. 88 sitting fourth.

Ryan Newman made two incredible late-race saves after having his car knocked out from underneath him at speed in about as many laps. While he finished 25th, he did wind up still on the lead lap instead of on his roof or in the fence – what is often his fate in these type of restrictor plate events.

Jeff Burton also made a beautiful save after getting knocked sideways onto the apron.

Worth Noting

  • The victory was the first for Johnson since Dover last September.
  • The top-10 finishers drove seven Chevys (including the top six) two Fords and a Toyota. The top finishing Dodge was Kurt Busch in eighteenth.
  • Bowyer finished second for a second straight week.
  • Earnhardt, Jr. (fourth) now has seven straight finishes of twelfth or better.
  • Carl Edwards (sixth) has top-10 finishes in five of the last six races.
  • Mark Martin’s eighth-place result was his best of the Cup season. On Sunday, he also led a lap for the first time this year.
  • David Gilliland’s ninth-place performance was his best since Daytona.
  • Joey Logano’s tenth-place finish was his best of the year.
  • Jeff Burton (16th) is still looking for his first top-10 of the season.
  • Tony Stewart (17th) is enduring a five-race absence from the top 10.

What’s the Points?

Carl Edwards remains atop the championship standings. He’s five points ahead of Johnson, who moves up two spots to second. Earnhardt, Jr. moves up three spots to third, 19 markers behind while Harvick moves up five spots to fourth. Kurt Busch rounds out your top 5 this week.

Further back, brother Kyle Busch fell four spots to sixth in the standings after getting wrecked by his teammate Logano. Ryan Newman sits seventh, while Matt Kenseth tumbled five positions to eighth. Juan Pablo Montoya and Clint Bowyer round out the Chase spots, with Paul Menard on the outside looking in by three points. Tony Stewart remains in the doldrums and fell another two spots to twelfth.

By the way, everyone from ninth-place Montoya on back is already more than a full race’s worth of points out of the lead. That means Edwards would have to stay home, engage in a spirited game of trackside Frisbee or have his mom cook him lunch for them to catch up.

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 a four. Any plate race where nobody gets hurt and nobody gets into the fence is automatically awarded a can. The finish was a classic, but the first two hours were pretty tedious.

Next Up – The Cup series takes a week off as Christian fans celebrate the resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Racing resumes at Richmond on Saturday night, April 30th.

Contact Matt McLaughlin

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Today on the Frontstretch:
Beyond the Cockpit: Alexis DeJoria On The 300 mph Women of the NHRA
A Swan’s Broken Wings Equal NASCAR’s Next Concern?
Thinkin’ Out Loud – The Off Week Season Review
Pace Laps: Swan Racing’s Future, Fast Females and Dropping Out
Sprint Cup Series Facilities Can Build Upon Fan Experience by Looking to Their Roots


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

Bad Wolf
04/18/2011 12:35 AM

I was all set to actually sit in front of the big screen today and catch all the action live, but after tuning in to Saturdays race the “Oh crap, I forgot about the new rules and tag team racing” set in and I made other plans. I got back later in the day and fast forwarded to the last ten laps, but even watching the first 178 laps at 1000mph was boring as hell.

I also noticed JJ going below the double yellow line, and thought “what would Nascar do if it was Robby Gordon?

This new tandom racing is akin to making a new rule for the Olympics where the 440 will be run three legged style with tandom teams and gunny sacks. I predict a drop in ticket renewals at the plate tracks until this is fixed. Talk about monkeys playing with footballs, first they tear up Bristol then implement these new rules that make the racing even worse than the big packs, and not any safer in my opinion.

Is the trophy awarded today going to be inscribed with Jimmy Earnhardt? You could even hear the radio chatter from Hendricks after the win where someone said they both won.

Anyone else notice that they had ads covering up the empty seats today, AT TALLEDEGA!!!!! The end is nigh, Bristol and Talledega can’t draw enough fans to fill the stands, two of the three that used to be must see and attend venues. I even noticed on the home page here at Frontstretch last week that Kansas will now sell individual tickets to the Cup races. Used to be you could only buy the package deal and had to bend over and kiss the ring of the ISC boss to enter the gates, but now they are crying for people to come on down, we love you long time and will sell you one ticket. I say that I will fart in their general direction and say go pound sand. You would not sell me single event tickets in the past, so I hope your stands are half full for your 2 races this year.

Bobby O
04/18/2011 12:40 AM

OMG JJ won a race without getting a yellow flag “lucky dog” from nascar?
LOL what a joke!

04/18/2011 01:55 AM

I really loved that mystery debris caution with 24 to go. Seemed all the Hendrick cars weren’t in the lead pack and the race was threatening to stay green to the end. Did I miss something? I really thought NASCAR had stopped that little practice because people were so vocal about race manipulation. The end was exciting but contrived.
What was up with Kurt Busch? He was a one man wrecking crew!!!!

Bill B
04/18/2011 07:31 AM

I give it 3 cans just for the ending. But it was warm beer because I had to wait to open them until the race started on lap 180. Man, shot-gunning 3 warm beers in 8 laps is rough. Buuuurrrp.

Re: Gordon and the Toyota… I’d bet that was a driving service. I doubt he drove his own car to Talladega.

Re: Newman saving his car… it looked like he stopped on track to bring out a caution. Didn’t someone else just get penalty for that a couple of races ago?

Earnhardt nailed it – “it is a bunch of crap”.

I was never a big fan of RP racing and I didn’t think it could get much worse than it was when big packs ruled the day, but NASCAR has found a way.

And did anyone notice how prevalent driving at the back for the first 150 laps has become? It is definitely the smart thing to do with this current package and style of racing. I see nothing to be gained by mixing it up with close-quartered racing for the first 150 laps. (Of course that’s not really new, that’s always been the case at RP tracks. DJ did it an won almost a decade ago.

At least we can look forward to one of the best tracks on the circuit in three weeks.

Stephen HOOD
04/18/2011 07:57 AM

The caution brought out by Newman’s stop was actually caused by a tire failure on Montoya’s car. Newman did stop and a caution was thrown but it was because Montoya was spilling tire debris all the way down the backstretch.

I think Johnson’s fall below the yellow line was allowed because he didn’t advance his position while below the yellow line. As I understand the rule, a car cannot advance a position below the yellow line. In Johnson’s case if he went below the line, he didn’t advance a position until he was back above it. The yellow line is only out of bounds when you advance a position.

04/18/2011 08:13 AM

WTH do you people want? I’m about as “old school” as anyone but if you can find fault with 88 lead changes at the line and over 1,000 for the top spot overall & .002 seconds MOV, you NEED to find something else to do. If nothing else, the skill factor and the mental toughness of those you love to hate is amazing. And I am just as critical of some of the things NASCAR does as anyone but how does a sanctioning body dictate how drivers race? It may “suck” per Jr., but I see most of you are hanging around for the finish. Must be somewhat interesting. And the Newman caution wasn’t for Newman. It was for the shreeded tire on the 42 car. Yellow line? Gimme a break! Ain’t wild about JJ and Jr. but the #5 forced what little “line” action there was. Aw shucks! Just watch the Golf Channel if you’re bored. That will surely get your motor running.

04/18/2011 08:14 AM

With ALL THE EMPTY SEATS it looks like the fans are voting on this new RP racing and it is WE DO NOT LIKE IT.

I would only give two cans of goat p?ss, that was a sorry excuse for 499 1/2 miles with a great last 1/2 mile.

To hear the booth talk on friday Joe Nemacheck and Kevin Conway are two of the great guys in nascar. Joe does the most with the least, no mention of him only running 10% of the race for the last 3 years. So he can qualify with and race with a qualifing engine that only has to run a lap or two on race day. And then there is Kevin who no one in the garage can say a bad word about, but who’s sponser is being sued by two different race teams for lack of payment. Sounds like one hell of a guy.

I also would like to give a shout out to Dave Blaney and Mike Wallace, both had good runs ended by wrecks. And ended up costing them more to race then the start and parks made for showing up. GO Figure.

Brian France Sucks
04/18/2011 08:37 AM

^^^ My comment above^^^

Brian France Sucks
04/18/2011 08:40 AM

@ moddog

I remember Stewi forcing the “action” on Regan Smith a few years back. How’d that work out for Regan?

JJ should not have won. Crossing the yellow is crossing the yellow, unless eveidently, you’re JJ. Six inches or the entire car, if you advance your position as a result of dipping below, you get penalized. Unless you’re JJ.

And sorry about the ^^^ My comment^^^ above. My previous comment did not post.

04/18/2011 08:47 AM

turned it on with 6 to go intending to watch the dvr and avoid the jackassery. watched the finish and went back to the dvr increasing the speed every couple of minutes all the way up to plaid when it was plain to see there wasn’t much to the product. This should have been a 25 lap race. For all the press that the sport is going to get for having tied the closest finish (but with 8… um.. 4..) 4 pairs of cars there’s no race next weekend. But that’s prolly ok because few people are going to sit through 3 hours of riding to watch 3 minutes of good racing.

2 cans of bitter brew.

04/18/2011 09:03 AM

This 2 car tango does suck for 170 laps, but man when they decided to go for it the racing was amazing. I guess they would do the same under the old pack racing too. Then you would see 40 cars going single file for 50 or 60 laps, then going crazy at the end. My biggest continuing gripes with 2 by 2 is that you really need to take 2 cars to victory lane now. You needed help before to win a plate race but this takes it to a whole new level. Also, it makes the pit crews irrelevant. I noticed all day the Hendrick cars would wait a lap to pit to guarantee they could line up next to each other on restarts. In the end, an amazing finish and this is plate racing until they change the noses.

04/18/2011 09:22 AM


I thought the same thing about the debris caution. It reminded me that, a couple of years ago, the hypocrites at Fox made a big deal that they were going to make sure that they showed the debris that caused each caution.

This was in response to everyone’s suspicion about the debris cautions. I then remember that it sure did not last long before they quit this.

Frank J.
04/18/2011 09:40 AM

Anyone besides me who was watching Dale Jr.‘s DirecTV channel say “what” when he radioed his crew chief with “Crew Chief”..during a caution?.. I love the guy but your telling me you don’t know or remember who the guys name is?? Just thought it was pretty funny..I also wished Menard finished better, he rode in the top 10 all day just didn’t have anyone to push him like he needed.

04/18/2011 10:06 AM

If they’re going to race in pairs they should qualify in pairs. Start either 42 or 44 “race” cars.

If one partner is out should the other one be out too? How do they decide who the next partner is?

Shouldn’t the pushing car get the win too? You don’t have one without the other.

The ARCA race Saturday morning used old Cup racers and looked like the old Talladega. You gotta love Maryev.

The F1 race was the best in years, the Indy race not so much.

04/18/2011 10:23 AM

I watched the final 12 laps. The tag team tango has got to go.

04/18/2011 10:40 AM

We agree with most of the remarks above,but sorry we did see the debris on the track. Was a piece of metal ,so could have caused more big time problems. Can see it is a really a ‘thinking mans ‘race. But the ending was FANTASTIC!!!!

04/18/2011 10:41 AM

At least with the pack racing you saw drivers individually going for the win at the end. This was a joke. I hope JJ enjoys his first plate race win because he didn’t deserve.

Carl D.
04/18/2011 10:41 AM

What we’re talking about around the water cooler this week (other than work, of course)…

The FR9 engine may be just what the Ford teams needed, but the restrictor plate is the grand equalizer. Yesterday and during qualifying, it was the Hendrick cars that had the horsepower when it mattered.

Is Dale Earnhardt Jr. merely a race apparel salesman for Rick Hendrick? It was stated that the #88-#48 tandem, with Junior in front, was faster than with Johnson in front. Yet when the final laps were run, it was Johnson who was in front. Then again, it was DW that made the comment, so maybe it was pure BS.

Great final 5 laps. The rest of the race, while somewhat entertaining, was pretty pointless unless you happened to be in the vicinity of the #22.

04/18/2011 10:51 AM

@Moddog: The people on this “forum” arent happy unless they have something to complain about. Dale Jr could win the race on 2 wheels while spinning out Jimmy Johnson and kissing a puppy at the same time and they would say “eh, i’ve seen better.” I guess when you get old and no one cares about your opinion you have to find some outlet. Thank god Al Gore invented the internet.

Side note: Can we all finally agree that Trevor Baine and the Wood Brothers got lucky at Daytona? The kid (and the car) has sucked ever since.

04/18/2011 10:53 AM

WE agree with most all of the remarks above,but did see the ‘debris’. It was a strip of metal.Could have caused more problems. Think some one called it a ‘ thinking mans’ race ,which we would have to agree with. But the ending was FANTASTIC!!!

04/18/2011 11:06 AM

seems easy enough to fix — make every team add a strip of Bear Bond to the front and rear bumpers

04/18/2011 11:24 AM

Yes Bette – The metal piece was one debris – I think everyone is talking about the un-shown debris after that one. How about those 40 second pit stops – everyone waiting for their dance partners…zzzzzzzzz

Bill B
04/18/2011 12:12 PM

I thought the Trevor Baine win was an aberation from the start. The restrictor plate races are crapshoots plain and simple. Guys who can’t even stay on the lead lap during regular races are all of the sudden able to run up front. It’s magic.

Michael in SoCal
04/18/2011 12:16 PM

moddog – right on!!

Things change people, it’s part of life. If you don’t like it, go back to living in caves and trying to figure out how two rocks make fire when knocked together.

04/18/2011 12:28 PM

Matt….great comments about POS driving or trying to drive the Ferrari at LeMans. Remember, last season at Sonoma, he was wheeling that ToJo Sponsafier-ride and couldn’t even get it into the race. He did another one of his famous…“I Hit-The-Hauler”.

Loved how drafting partners, especially Reuti, wouldn’t get close to him at Dega. I guess they didn’t want to move the “wall”, once again!

Bill B
04/18/2011 12:43 PM

Too bad those 88 lead changes didn’t mean anything other than the current package that has resulted in the two car racing produces a lot of lead changes. When there are 88 lead changes at one of the 1.5 mile tracks I’ll be the first to say “WOW!!!!”.

04/18/2011 01:27 PM

Waltrip’s road course stats aren’t actually that bad. He’s good at surviving and getting a decent finish on them, which is all that’s really needed at an endurance race.

04/18/2011 01:32 PM

Why does NASCAR/FOX have a silly nickname for EVERYTHING? If I have to hear “2 car tango” or “dancing partner” one more time…

Sharon Jones
04/18/2011 02:03 PM

Am I the only one who noticed Edwards driving at the end of the race? If Harvick had not made a quick move to the left, half the winners would be wreckers at the checker.

04/18/2011 02:15 PM

After attending 27 straight years at Talladega I never thought I would tape the race and find something else to do on these two Sundays. Everybody has their own reason for not going but mine is I just don’t care to see a race that has more to do with a rules package than driver skill. Oh well.

04/18/2011 02:30 PM

Randy Goldman: of course Trevor Bayne’s win at Daytona was lucky (look at Derrick Cope in 1990) and the Wood’s Bros cars have been decent since Daytona … ya just gotta remember Bayne is a rookie.

Frank J you need to loosen up. It’s called humor. Jr didn’t forget his crew chief’s name (what was his name anyways lol). JJ was telling Chad during the race he wants to listen to Jr all the time because he’s so funny and in the post-race interviews Rick Hendrick was saying how Jr and Lance were good friends and are hanging out.

Just wondering if Kurt Busch had a really bad day punting everyone around or does it have to do with the Dodge front end. Don’t recall him spinning everyone at Daytona and he finished well there but it didn’t seem like the other Dodges (Kesolowski and R. Gordon) had a problem pushing other cars.

Yes, it was an exciting finish but I would prefer to see the plates go away and they figure out another way to slow them down and out of the fence.

PS: desperately seeking Susan and her strong opinions. Where are you babe?

04/18/2011 03:09 PM

I’d rather see the two-car thing than the 30-car rush hour traffic pack. Neither is great, but at least now there isn’t a parade of cars riding around in 2 lines. You gotta remember, most of the previous plate races were decided before the last lap. Nobody would pull out to pass because they were more interested in a good points finish than winning. At least this two-car crap gives some side by side by side by side racing at the end.

RP’s suck, plain and simple. But we’re never going to get rid of them.

04/18/2011 03:16 PM

Good Lord! My first time to this site… What a bunch of whiners! They ain’t taking off the restrictor plates, so get over it. This is only 4 races out of the 36… and the only 4 like this in the world per year, and it’s brand new. Why in the @*&^$%! would you want to change it to be like every other 1.5M race?

Author might want to take an actual survey of drivers before pronouncing that they like big pack racing better than this. The only ones who voted through the media said they didn’t like it. The ones who liked it, discussed the details of the race (probably because it was intense and enjoyable)… but at least the author’s comment ticked me off enough to post a comment, I suppose…

Lastly, I was there. Top row in the Tri-Oval Tower listening to the #29 and #36 or #33 on the scanner the entire race. And I will tell you, that was awesome… communication between the spotters and drivers was constant (vs. a place like Martinsville in the fall where there was nothing but silence). Strategies, bargaining, cursing teammate’s spotters, owners coming on breaking up arguments… Now, I might can see how the excitement doesn’t translate to TV all that well, and DW doesn’t help one bit… but don’t knock it, pal, before you try it. A lot of sports don’t televise as well as in person. This type of racing is sweet and these are the only drivers talented enough to make it happen.

04/18/2011 03:34 PM

I guess if you think it’s ok to give up on winning, and settle for pushing your teammate across the finish line is ok, then this 2-car pack racing is ok. But I don’t. And that’s exactly what Junior did yesterday, in my eyes. While racing like that might get you handed the checkered flag from the winner, it won’t get you a win or a championship.

Michael in SoCal
04/18/2011 05:35 PM

Amen KDog!

And robbiejr – According to a post-race interview, it was Junior’s plan to push himself & the 48 to the front then have the two of them go at it for the checkers, it just didn’t play out that way.

Walt B
04/18/2011 07:00 PM

If these guys aren’t going to race until the final five to ten laps, then why is the race 188 laps long? The four Hendrick cars were clearly the class of the field. They made a mockery of this type of “racing” by laying back until the final 20 lap heat race began. I have never been in favor of shortening races you could cut 450 miles from this race and not miss a thing unless you count a unnecessary Big One. It’s like the NBA all you have to do is watch the last two minutes of the game!

The Mad Man
04/18/2011 08:18 PM

The new term for RP racing is “Brokeback Racing”. You don’t need to be Fellini to figure that one out.

And how about Mikey’s comment about Andy Lally “being cute”?

As slow as the qualifying and race speed were I could’ve taken Bobby Allison’s 1968 Mercury out of a museum, run that, and probably have won the race with it.

This “race” didn’t even qualify as one can of warm spit. Get rid of the RP’s, quit tinkering with the rules, and let them actually race for 500 miles instead of looking like dogs out on the track sniffing each other’s rear ends.

Bobby O
04/18/2011 08:36 PM

For you JJ fans and defenders: I watched the yellow line infraction again, and he was passing at the time of the violation. You all are as blind as NASCAR to anything JJ does.

04/19/2011 09:55 AM

I just want to thank NASCAR! THANK YOU NASCAR for the new rules package for plate tracks! Why Thank You? Because you have save me a GREAT amount of time and money!!! I no longer need to waste my time watching this garbage, nor will I even consider spending hard-earned money going to one of these deals. Even my 8-yr old son, a “die-hard” Earnhardt Sr (RIP) and Jr fan, told me on Sunday he’d rather watch grass grow. Sorry NASCAR, bring back real racing and you’ll bring back real fans…….

04/19/2011 10:40 AM

Boring, boring, boring, thats what the 1st 185 laps were, great finish to a very boring race, anybody who thinks 88 lead changes means anything in this so called racing doesn’t have a clue as to what real racing is. 1 can of warm beer for this 1, a 3 lap race doesn’t make up for 185 laps of follow your partner till your car gets too hot…