The Frontstretch: Matt McLaughlin's Thinkin' Out Loud: Richmond-1 Race Recap by Matt McLaughlin -- Monday May 2, 2011

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

Matt McLaughlin · Monday May 2, 2011


The Key Moment – Kyle Busch was able to stretch 107 laps out of a tank of fuel to drive to victory Saturday night.

In a Nutshell – Perhaps it’s appropriate that on a weekend where gas prices soared north of four bucks in most parts of the nation, all three of Richmond’s marquee events were decided on fuel mileage.

Dramatic Moment – Waiting to see who, if anyone, would run out of gas on those final laps.

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

So let’s take a scary look ahead to Richmond this fall courtesy of team orders and the new points system. Let’s say that going into that race, the one that will finalize the contenders for the Chase, Denny Hamlin is still mired in the teens in the points and still hasn’t won a race. He and Kyle Busch are once again the dominant cars but Busch is leading, yet again, and Hamlin is second. During the final laps might JGR executives radio Busch and tell him to slow down and let Hamlin win the race so the No. 11 team makes the Chase? Would Busch comply? Would the fans riot afterwards? Don’t worry, darling, don’t you fret, we’re living in the future and none of this has happened yet.

So what do we call next weekend’s race? Officially it’s the Southern 500 presented by such and such and sponsored by whoever really wants their product boycotted but it is not THE Southern 500. THE Southern 500 is run at Darlington on Labor Day weekend. It is run during the brutal heat of the late summer afternoon of the Carolinas. Winning said event memorializes the winner into the august pantheon of the sport’s most elite drivers. That’s what THE Southern 500 is, not just a 500 mile race run south of the Mason-Dixon line or God forbid in Southern California. And until NASCAR realizes as much after their Fontana travesty, don’t look for the TV ratings to improve for the sport amidst the army of disengaged loyalists.

What is with Ryan Newman and Juan Pablo Montoya? It seems Newman has been running into Montoya every second or third week since the Columbian joined NASCAR’s top rank.

Matt McLaughlin and Frontstretch send good wishes to Trevor Bayne as he continues to struggle with unknown medical issues.

Good wishes go out to Daytona 500 winner Trevor Bayne who has been hospitalized again due to reoccurring symptoms (including double vision and numbness in his arm) that were originally attributed to a bug bite. It’s a little frightening that this deep into his medical issues doctors still can’t say what’s wrong with Bayne, but the kid is only 20 years old and an abundance of caution with his future health is clearly the best strategy. I’m sure for Bayne it is frustrating and frightening to be hospitalized again at such a young age after his time in the spotlight after Daytona, but he hopefully has many more years to race and prosper. Maybe he needs to talk to Brian Vickers and Ricky Craven.

It’s been a sad week for old school fans. The “Best Damn Garage in Town,” Smokey Yunick’s old shop, burned down. Yunick was one of the sport’s most talented mechanics and might be the most brilliant guy who ever devoted his attention to the greasy mechanical bits that make up the internal combustion engine. In addition to all his race wins and his innovations in open wheel cars (which included the first winged car to ever run at the Indy 500), Yunick was once courted by the Big Three during the 70s when gas mileage and lower emissions were center stage to help them develop new engine technologies. Had the Big Three actually listened to his ideas the only Honda in your neighborhood would likely we owned by a fat kid on a Mini-trail trying to chase down the ice cream truck. But Yunick had little tolerance for fools, charlatans and those trying to make a career out of college degrees and when they wouldn’t listen to his ideas he soon headed back home to Daytona. The fire has been determined to be caused by arson and it’s not surprising considering the upscale developments that have been erected all around the former shop which to be kind was a little on the unsightly side. Smoky Yunick was the DaVinci of the automobile, and an American patriot who flew bombers during World War II. The loss of his shop is the automotive equivalent of a massive fire at the Louvre. If you think you know a thing about NASCAR history and haven’t read his three volume autobiography, published posthumously, you sir are a pompous ignoramus.

Also this week, April 29th, would have marked Dale Earnhardt’s 60th birthday. My guess is by now Earnhardt would have retired from full time Cup competition and would be focused on his role as team owner. I’d also guess that when NASCAR officials sought his counsel on impending ideas like the Chase and the Car of Tomorrow, Dale’s less than generous assessments of such concepts would have been sufficient to knock them off the drawing board and out of public sight. There has never been a voice in the garage area that NASCAR respected the way they did Earnhardt’s and it it’s unlikely there ever will be again given our current five time champion is so bland it would probably take him and his PR team two weeks to draft a statement saying that, all things being equal and given that there was room for debate on the issue, he’d just as soon hope that no future infants or puppies ever contract malaria again, or at least they do so in smaller numbers than infants and puppies do today.

Given the Earnhardt anniversary weekend it was all that much more troubling to see Jeff Gordon, a good friend of the Intimidator but a driver who fans of the 3 car once considered his chief rival, going slamming driver’s side first into a section of concrete wall STILL not protected by SAFER barriers. Why is it so hard for track owners, particularly the ISC (which is, nod, nod, wink, wink NASCAR its very own self), to realize that drivers are eventually going to find the least convenient place on the track to wreck their cars heavily even where you think a couple of marshmallows glued to an inert surface would offer adequate protection?

I’m not sure who thought it was a good idea to have both Michael and Darrell Waltrip in the booth for Friday night’s Nationwide race. Fortunately despite the fact neither of them can ever shut up long enough to let anyone else wedge a word in sideways, they were both able to promote Kenny Wallace and Toyota to the point you thought early in the event he was the only car in the race.

Someone needs to let parents know that nobody under the age of 30 who hasn’t done prison time needs to be listening to Kurt Busch’s radio channel during the race. He apparently feels (and has made abundantly clear over the radio) the Dodges he has been provided by Team Penske are not competitive. If I were the crew chief of the 22 team I’d be packing a blanket and a dozen ball bats amidst the stuff I was hauling to Darlington next weekend. Maybe Jughead needs to recall the last time he was with a top tier organization, Jack Roush Racing, and he got a little mouthy over the radio and to his owner. It wound up costing him a job before the season even ended despite being the defending Cup champion. Roger Penske has little use for whiners who are supposed to be winners.

It was nice to see the FOX network solicit donations for those whose lives have been turned upside down by this week’s tornado and flooding disasters. But is there somewhere we can offer thoughts to help cure the disaster that is FOX’s own pre-race show before it drives us all insane? You probably remember the law of Conservation of Matter from high school. (It’s one of the few things I remember from high school simply because it comes up every time I can’t find my car keys.) Let me propose the Law of Conservation of Annoyance and Incompetence. It doesn’t matter if the FOX pre-race show is an hour or a half-hour. They can still annoy the Hell out of you just as much no matter how long they have your attention.

The Hindenburg Award For Foul Fortune

Martin Truex looked competitive early in the race but his team left a lug nut loose and to compound his misery Truex was then nailed for speeding when he returned to pit road to correct the issue.

Jeff Gordon looked like, well like you’d expect Jeff Gordon to look at Richmond, leading briefly and running up front. He got the worst of the nine car wreck after a restart.

Even though his car never really seemed up to speed, Earnhardt’s Chevy didn’t get very good gas mileage either. A late stop for a splash of gas dropped the 88 to a nineteenth place finish.

The way Joey Logano’s season is going makes me wonder if Charlie Sheen has been informed of a possible career opportunity with the 20 team.

I feel bad for any fan who laid out the bucks for a ticket to Friday’s Nationwide race (and the overpriced gas to drive there). To be blunt that race just sucked. (I also feel bad for a guy who rushed home from Carlisle and left the company of a good woman just to watch it. What the Hell was I thinking?)

The “Seven Come Fore Eleven” Award For Fine Fortune

How close was Kyle Busch on fuel? He ran out of gas doing his post-race burnouts.

After a horrendous start to his season, Denny Hamlin had the sort of weekend folks expected of last year’s second place points finisher, winning his own charity event Thursday, winning the Nationwide race on Friday and finishing second on Saturday.

Only days after remedial knee surgery Kasey Kahne enjoyed his best race of the season, finishing third.

Jimmie Johnson’s car looked so out to lunch early in the race it’s a wonder Knaus didn’t break out the picnic hamper. Somehow he rallied well enough to finish eighth. Anymore questions on how the 48 team has won five straight titles?

Worth Noting

  • The win was Busch’s third straight triumph in the Richmond spring event. He took home the trophy for the eighth time in 21 starts in NASCAR’s top three touring divisions this year.
  • Gibbs teammates Busch and Hamlin have combined to win the last five Cup events staged at Richmond.
  • His second place finish wasn’t just Hamlin’s best of 2011, it was his first top 5 result of the season.
  • Kasey Kahne (third) also notched his first top 5 Cup result of 2011.
  • Keeping with the trend, David Ragan’s fourth place finish was his best of 2011. He has top 10 results in three of the last four Cup events meaning he doesn’t have to wear brown shorts this week.
  • Carl Edwards (fifth) posted his seventh top 10 result in this season’s nine points paying Cup events.
  • Clint Bowyer (sixth) has now managed five straight top 10 finishes.
  • A.J. Allmendinger’s seventh place finish was his best of the current Cup season.
  • Tony Stewart’s ninth place finish was his best result since Las Vegas.
  • Jeff Gordon’s 39th place finish was his worst since the Phoenix fall race of 2008.
  • The top 10 finishers at Richmond drove four Toyotas (claiming the trifecta of the top three spots), three Fords and three Chevys. The top Dodge finisher was a none too happy Kurt Busch in 22nd, three laps off the pace.

What’s the Points?

Carl Edwards remains the points leader, now nine points ahead of Jimmie Johnson who remains second.

His win propels Busch forward three spots to third in the standings. The news isn’t as good for his JGR stable-mates, Hamlin who remains 17th despite the second place finish, and Logano who is 21st.

Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch occupy fourth through sixth place in the standings respectively, each down a slot from last week.

Everyone from seventh place Clint Bowyer is already a full race’s worth of points out of the lead. These guys need to post a victory to ensure their plans for the fall Chase.

A.J. Allmendinger leapt forward four spots to eleventh in the standings.

Jeff Gordon tumbled three spots to sixteenth in the standings despite his Phoenix win. He is within one point of being a full two races out of the points lead.

Overall Rating (On a scale of one to six beer cans with one being a stinker and a six pack an instant classic) Frankly I found the race curiously lacking for a Cup event at one of my two favorite tracks. We’ll give it three lukewarm cans of generic stuff and a discount for five cents a gallon off your next gasoline purchase.

Next Up – It’s off to Darlington, NASCAR’s most historic track, for the “new” tradition of Mother’s Day weekend. Don’t bother sending a card or flowers. The Lady in Black is one mean mother of a track that makes Mommie Dearest, Joan Crawford, look like Mother Theresa.

Contact Matt McLaughlin

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Today on the Frontstretch:
Swan Racing Announces Restructuring, No. 26 & No. 30 ‘Sold’ Off
Tech Talk with Tony Gibson: Taking Stock Of Danica Patrick In Year Two
Vexing Vito: Three Drivers In Need of a Role Reversal
Going By the Numbers: Top-10 NASCAR Variety Hard To Come By In…
Truckin’ Thursdays: Lessons Learned Just Two Races In
Fantasy Insider: Team Revelations For NASCAR’s Short Tracks



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05/02/2011 08:59 AM

My comments are going to be all over:

1. I give this 4 cans for nascar not throwing a late caution to bunch everyone up and guarantee everyone had a enough fuel

2. Why whould a start and park change an engine to only run a handfull of laps? Is the post race inspection more intense then qualifying inspection?

3. Disappointed to hear 5 Time whine when Chad tells him the way he’s driving the car will burn the tires off, and Jimmie whining how I’m I suppost to drive it. I would think a 50+ Cup race winner and 5 time Cup Champ would know how it save his equipment.

4. A shout out to Dave Blaney and his Golden Corral team for a great 13 th place finish.
I slammed this team while they were a start and park team and feel I need to acknowledge there hard work this year.

5. How many drivers would have brought out a caution for scrapping the wall like Kurt Busch did around the lap 195?
Was this for Kurt or to keep the leaders from running away from the field?

Carl D.
05/02/2011 10:24 AM

The Friday night Nationwide race may have been the worst race I’ve witnessed at Richmond. No one really to blame, though… some races are just stinkers and that’s all there is to it. It was nice of Kyle Busch to sit this one out so that another Cup driver could have his turn at shooting fish in a barrel.

I was so disappointed that there was no Newman-Montoya confrontation after the race. Montoya might be the only driver with with the guts to stand up to Newman and not be intimidated. I’m not taking Montoya’s side; he may have been owed a little payback for something that I just can’t recall, but Newman was clearly the first aggressor on Saturady night.

No, next weekend is not Labor Day, but there’s a new tradition in the Carl D. family. Every Saturday before Mother’s Day I pack up some dinner and head to Mom’s and we watch the Darlington race together. Mom’s been a race fan all my life and pulls for whoever’s driving “Richard Petty’s car” even though I usually have to remind her who it is (Sometimes she still calls A.J. Allmendinger John Andretti). Say what you want about the Southern 500 not being run on Labor Day, but these days I look forward to watching the race with Mom.

05/02/2011 12:20 PM

I come here once every few months… today, I read Matt’s comments and agree with them for the most part.

Matt says he found the race, “curiously lacking”; I atrribute that to the off-sequence pit stops scrambling the field frequently.

Granted… fuel prices are escalating again. But, of all the tracks I’ve been to, Richmond is the best to be at for a race. I was shocked at how many empty seats there were.

NOTE: When is NASCAR going to clearly state that they sometimes throw a yellow just to clean marbles from worn away tires? It’s no secret, there’s no shame… the junk on the track at times limits the racing so it has to be cleaned off.

Bill B
05/02/2011 12:20 PM

This race could have been good had the first 250 laps mattered. There were lots of guys that fell off the lead lap early and then, through the magic of the wave around and lucky dog, suddenly they are all back on the lead lap.

I know some people think this is great but I don’t. To me it’s like watching a football team kick ass for the first three quarters of the game and then having some rule wipe that lead out to where it’s a one score game again in the 4th quarter.

05/02/2011 12:21 PM

Let’s face it, even with top notch equipment Little Joey is the Danica Patrick of Nascar, a field filler.

old farmer
05/02/2011 12:24 PM

Matt—here’s a challenge: Write a column w/o mentioning Dale E. if you can.

05/02/2011 12:26 PM

wcfan: Why chide TBR for having to Start and Park? They only did so because they didn’t have the money to run a full race. Realize racers actually DO want to race… and when they survive the economic hardtimes, they race!

Instead of criticing Start and Park teams, sponsor them… pick up the tab for engines, tires, and rebuilds. (I know… you can’t afford to pay all that money, but it’s exactly why teams Start and Park).

It’s a matter of economics and not a choice they make when teams Start and Park.

Kevin in SoCal
05/02/2011 12:53 PM

I’m glad Matt didnt think this was a great race, even at Richmond. Several laps after a restart the top 10-15 cars were all nose to tail in a parade usually reserved for the bigger tracks. And there were many many empty seats.

Doug in Washington (State)
05/02/2011 01:36 PM

The #46 team changed an engine because they blew one in final practice. Any engine change requires starting at the back, even if its before qualifying.

However, I suspect some S&P teams do change engines after qualifying in order to not risk their “Qualifying Bullet” in a lap-1 wreck. A lot of these S&P teams only HAVE 2 engines.

However, I was under the impression that when they change an engine, the “bad” engine has to be submitted for inspection. But even having to pay for a rebuild (really just a reassembly) is better than totally destroying the engine. The “race” engine is usually down on power but is somewhat more durable.

05/02/2011 01:47 PM

I watched the Nationwide race with the motormouth brothers in the booth. At least I watched it until the utter boredom put me to sleep.

I skipped the Cup race completely. I had made plans with friends before remembering the race was on Saturday night and decided to just enjoy the evening. Glad I did because when I started watching the recording, well, I could FF through most of the so called coverage.

I agree – they can CALL the race next weekend the southern 500 whatever, but it’s not and won’t be until its on Labor Day. That said, I really like races at Darlington so I plan to be there

Nice of the yuppies and/or whoever wants to develop the property where Smokey’s garage was to burn down a garage since they probably don’t follow racing anyway. (that’s sarcasm folks). I hope the law finds and prosecutes them.

05/02/2011 01:50 PM

I found it curious how the broadcast is now able to clean up radio transmissions from drivers before they air them. I was listening to Jeff Gordon’s radio when he slammed that wall, and trust me, the language that Fox replayed was not “friggin”. It was a profanity laced rant about the lack of safer barriers and his ability to find the walls without them.
Thanks NA$CAR for being all about safety.

05/02/2011 01:53 PM

How would you feel if I was employed where you are and only worked about 15 min. a day and you worked ALL DAY and at the end of the week we were both PAYED THE SAME AMOUNT? I’m just being a start and parker, not working for what I’m being payed.

I was giving Tommy Baldwin and Dave Blaney a good job for wanting and trying to race the whole race.

Yes there have always been teams that did not plan on racing the whole race, but they were not as obvious about taking the money as Joe “First to the Pay Window” Nemacheck in Cup and Jeff “All Class” Green in the Busch Series.

05/02/2011 02:02 PM

I really, really wish Kyle Busch was a more personable guy so I could be happy at the end of most of the races. He’s just not likable and that’s a shame.

05/02/2011 03:06 PM

I couldn’t believe how many empty seats there were for the Cup race this weekend. I have been to Richmond many times, and I don’t recall EVER seeing empty seats for any of the Cup races. The gaping holes in the back stretch seating were particularly shocking…

05/02/2011 03:43 PM

WC Fan,

Don’t know if it was intended irony or not, but three of the Gospels have pretty clear parables about folks working all day under the blazing sun and being paid the same as other harversters who’d only worked an hour. Right now, NASCAR needs the start and parkers, so they will be allowed to remain as unfair as it is. If NASCAR doesn’t have full fields for every event they have to give back some bucks to the networks. Prying a buck out of Brian France is like battling a rabid pit bull for a T-bone steak.

Susan, you are of course entitled to your opinion but comparing Kyle Busch to Dale Earnhardt is like comparing Charlie Sheen to Humphrey Bogart. Yeah, Sheen makes more bucks, but do you really want to envision the end of Casablanca with Sheen and L. Lohan rather than Bogart and Bacall? We’ll always have Darlington….

05/02/2011 03:53 PM

I agree with you on the safer barriers. I have been to dozens of short tracks and seen hundreds of races, one thing I have learned is race cars will end up in places you would never think they could. Never assume there is a spot that a car will not hit a wall, or go off a track. Every wall, inside and out, should be covered with the safer barrier.

Carl D.
05/02/2011 04:19 PM

I think Kyle Busch is one hell of a race car driver, maybe the best we’ve seen in some years. But I see him more as the Darrel Waltrip type, not the Dale Sr. type. I think it’s due to his arrogance and his ego. Still, when he pulls his car out onto the race track, he often backs up every word he says.

Bad Wolf
05/02/2011 04:21 PM

I never found Dale Sr. to be personable or likable either. The first word that came to my mind when somebody said Dale Earnhardt was “jerk.” Some people told me he was a great guy off the track, but I didn’t see it. To each his own. But it’s becoming obvious that if there is a successor on the track to Sr., it is Kyle. Certainly not Junior. Kyle put on a clinic Saturday night, and race fans should appreciate that even if they don’t like him.

Matt, regarding Dale, Sr., could he have not made a much better contribution to the sport by NOT dying on the track? By installing his seat belt equipment as Bill Simpson instructed him to, by wearing a full face helmet, by being the leader in using the HANS device, and by not attempting that ill-conceived blocking move at the end of the Daytona race which killed him and damaged the sport irreparably? Just asking…….

This from “Susan” who a couple weeks back to fit her meme made it sound like she was Dale Earnhardts biggest fan ever.

The Mad Man
05/02/2011 04:30 PM

Having both of the Motormouth Brothers in the booth Friday night was an invitation for disaster and it sure panned out that way. Then with just Jabber Jaws Saturday, it was a Toyota Love Fest with a dash of excuses for Jimmie Johnson’s performance. When is Fox going to learn that the biggest reasons fans aren’t watching is because of the Motormouth Brothers? The 10 minutes the President spent talking about Bin Laden being dead was more exciting than either race this weekend as seen on Speed/Fox.

05/02/2011 05:43 PM

Susan, you really need to put the crack pipe down. Kyle the new Dale Sr.? Maybe you need hormone therapy or something because you just ain’t right in the head.

05/02/2011 06:49 PM

I love the way nascar throws 2 cautions one for debris and the other for kurt busch not wrecking to save Jr from going a lap down watch next week for the mystery caution as Jr is getting ready to go a lap down or the first car a lap down

another good article Matt

05/02/2011 08:14 PM

Wasn’t it amazing how the cautions continued until fivetimeshouldbenone got his lap back?

05/02/2011 08:45 PM

Susan, Also being a long time Bill Elliott fan, I can’t deny that Dale Earnhardt was a ‘cult of personality’.
He could command the respect of the man on the street and the moguls of wall street.
Kyle? Good driver, but closer to Jimmy Johnson than Dale Earnhardt.
Your comments on his passing are uncalled for Monday morning quarterbacking.

05/02/2011 10:04 PM

Susan, A race car driver’s job is not promote safety.
They want to push every advantage to WIN.
The other drivers are supposed to be afraid to drive like you do.
You don’t get that?

05/02/2011 11:49 PM

I admit in I screwed up on the Ingrid Bergman thing. Memory is the second thing that starts lackning as you get older.

I am still proud to have been a Bill Elliott fan and will never deny the fact I was a particularly rabid fan of the man back in the day….before I started writing about this sport which requires a lot of impartiality on the part of the writer. We all talk about the finishes of the 76 and 79 Daytona 500s, but I can never forget the “Million Dollar” win Bill scored at Darlington which was a big part of why so many fans tuned in and turned onto NASCAR. It was a brilliant marketing strategy by Winston, and Bill carried that honor well.

No, I was not always a big fan of Earnhardt. At times, again before I started writing about the sport I thought I he was the most loathesome son of a bitch ever to compete in the series. But as I began traveling the circuit and talking to the man I learned that outside the race track he was one of the most generous and charitable gentlemen ever to compete in the sport. It tore the heart out of men when he died and I put my fist through the wall I was so angry about how it happened. I can look over now and still see the scars on that hand from the incident. I wear them proudly despite the fact the colummns that followed his death basically ended my chances of ever being a mainstream NASCAR writer in the Bigs. Sometimes you gotta follow your heart and not your head. What the heart knows today, the head will figure out tommorow.

05/03/2011 08:12 AM

I used to at least respect Mike Joy as a broadcaster, but I’m at the end of that, too. Every week, he desperately tries to convince me that I’m watching the best racing EVER. His pleas have become more and more desperate lately and, frankly, I’m to the point of classifying Mike Joy as a NASCAR hack. His comment that “back in the old days” drivers used to ride it out at Richmond and only race at the end….but in TODAY’S NASCAR, they race hard the whole race. Oh really??? I guess Mike is getting his info from Darrell Waltrip and not actually watching the race himself.

Bob Jenkins….please come back!!!

Bill B
05/03/2011 12:30 PM

The only reason DE had so much sway with NASCAR policy is because Bill France Jr valued his opinion. Once Brian came in, all bets would be off as to how much DE’s opinion was valued. From what I have seen, it probably wouldn’t have made a difference because Brian isn’t listening to anyone.

05/03/2011 05:21 PM

Susan: do you like leather? And what do you think about women wearing collars? I have a job for you and your venom. They say love can heal the broken. No beers for you.

05/04/2011 09:08 AM

Live in the present … you do that lol … venomous may be a hard word for you to swallow so keep bashing everyone … guess that’s living in the present in your world.

05/04/2011 09:04 PM

Susan, I never made any comments about agreeing with Matt about his view on DE and safety.
Since it seems to need clarification for you, I actually disagree about that.
JMO, DE was a big risk taker and wouldn’t promote safety as it would take away one of his advantages.
Kyle can win a ton of races, but he will never have the following DE or even BE.
He just missing something.
Go to a race and you will see some M&M’s stuff, but most of it is left over from ES.