The Frontstretch: Matt McLaughlin's Thinkin' Out Loud: Pocono-1 Race Recap by Matt McLaughlin -- Monday June 13, 2011

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

Matt McLaughlin · Monday June 13, 2011


The Key Moment – Jeff Gordon’s team elected to go with four tires during the fourth caution period while Juan Pablo Montoya’s team took two. Shortly after the restart Gordon was able to dispatch Montoya and drove off into the distance.

In a Nutshell – Yeah, oh well; but at least it didn’t rain and nobody ran out of gas on the last lap.

Dramatic Moment – Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick provided some amusing if tense moments early in the race running each other hard. Apparently this whole Busch/RCR rivalry really isn’t over despite what the PR people make those involved say.

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

What can they do to get back some of the excitement of the Pocono races of yore? I’ll discuss that with you later this week. Yeah, it’s my home track but I won’t try to call Sunday’s race a classic. Watching first Hamlin, then Montoya, then Kurt Busch and finally Gordon dominate wasn’t even as exciting as checking the weather scan to see when heavy weather was going to move in.

You have to wonder how many drivers and teams will still decide to shift in Pocono’s August race after a rash of failed transmissions, clutch issues and reports of markedly decreased fuel mileage for those drivers who shifted aggressively.

Jeff Gordon’s victory at Pocono was his 84th in the Cup Series and ties him on the all-time list with Darrell Waltrip.

I’ve known this day was coming but now it has finally arrived. Some media types will write that Gordon is now tied with Darrell Waltrip and Bobby Allison for third in overall wins in NASCAR’s top division. Gordon is now, indeed tied with DW, but in my opinion (and several others) he needs one more win to match Allison’s career mark. NASCAR record books are simply wrong on this issue and despite decades of folks trying to show them the facts they simply refuse to correct their error. Turns out Allison won a race at Winston-Salem on August 6th, 1971 but because of a shortage of cars in the wake of the factory pullout that year, both the Grand National cars and Grand American (pony cars) were allowed to compete. Allison, in a Ford Mustang beat Richard Petty in a Plymouth Road Runner but the stats don’t give him credit for the win despite the fact other drivers got wins added to their total for similar victories. Nor did Petty get credit for the win in official records. That night at Winston-Salem, apparently nobody won the race…

Why do so many NASCAR drivers insist on wearing sunglasses in the rain? Do they think nobody will know who they are?

For such a soft-spoken guy who rarely exhibits any real temper meltdowns in public (as compared to his boss) Ryan Newman sure does seem to have become a burr under NASCAR’s saddle. Reportedly, Newman received another $50,000 “secret” fine for his actions in the sanctioning body’s hauler while discussing his now infamous on-track actions with Montoya. Personally, I don’t believe in any “secret” fines. A secret fine is like one of those old unmarked Mustangs the PA State Police used to use for speed enforcement. The driver who got nailed gets the message and slows down. But if you park a fully marked patrol unit beside the highway… most everybody slows down, right? Even more troubling are rumors that NASCAR felt compelled to issue the fine because Montoya brought a lawyer with him to the meeting. There are not too many ways to further screw up NASCAR officiating, but allowing trial lawyers to enter the process? That would be one of them.

There’s more evidence that Danica Patrick is moving full-time to Cup next year, as is leaving the No. 5 team whose car is currently driven by Mark Martin. Farmer’s Insurance is slated to sponsor the No. 5 team next year when Kasey Kahne takes over, a little weird given his longtime association with Allstate and those three creepy chicks. Farmers will also apparently be an associate sponsor with Martin for the rest of this season, while as for Danica? The latest rumors this website is hearing surround a two-year deal: one for Nationwide in 2012 and then Cup the following year (Nationwide would be with JR Motorsports, of course).

Pocono has probably grasped the concept of being environmentally green and sustainable more so not only than any other racetrack but any sporting venue. The only problem is, you’ll have lots of time to consider the wonders of that 25-acre solar field while sitting in gridlocked traffic trying to exit the track — breathing in all those auto emissions. .

On the plus side, give Pocono track management some style points for having a sense of humor. Traditionally, the track has been considered to have three corners though some media types who can’t get their minds around the concept have labeled the exit of turn 3 “turn 4.” All the corners are numbered in black letters against the white wall at Pocono for drivers with Adult Attention Deficit Disorder, I suppose. So this year, through some creative use of blue tape the exit of turn three is now marked: “What Turn 4?”

How did the Canadian Grand Prix and Pocono end up on the same weekend? It’s not a big deal for those of us here in the U.S. but if you’ve ever been to Pocono, you know there’s a ton of Canadian fans who attend the race. (There’s even a Canadian flag flying at the track to welcome them.)

As deeply involved with Mopar as his family was, you’d think Kyle Petty would realize that the Dodge equivalent of the Plymouth Superbird was the Daytona, not the Super Bee. (Actually, the Daytonas were 1969s and the Superbird was built in 1970. The Dodge Daytona was introduced at Talladega and the Ford Talladega was introduced at Daytona.)

The Hindenburg Award For Foul Fortune

Denny Hamlin looked ready to dominate yet another Pocono race. A slow pit stop dropped him back some positions, but the merriment was just getting started; he led 76 of the first 101 laps of the race. However, another stop down the stretch left Hamlin exiting the pits with a flat tire, leaving the carcass of that tire wrapped around the rearend of the car and damaging a brake line. He eventually struggled home 19th.

Carl Edwards had his usual top-5 run going when his Roush Fenway Ford dropped a valve. The failure dropped Edwards to a 37th-place finishing position and eroded his former forty-point lead in the standings down to just six.

In what’s becoming a recurring problem, Greg Biffle’s team failed to fill the fuel cell. In another recurring problem, a frustrated Biffle continuously slapped the wall trying to catch up and finally spun himself out. He wound up 27th.

Tony Stewart struggled early and fell back well outside the top 30, only to rally back and climb to as high as sixth by Lap 120. For a moment, all was good in the No. 14 camp… and then, he blew out third gear. Stewart was notably unamused, “thanking” NASCAR for rules promoting shifting in a terse radio response en route to 21st.

Jeff Burton, having a nightmare of a season ran out of gas while running thirteenth. And at Pocono, when you run out of gas you have a very long way to coast back to the pits; Burton fought hard simply to climb back to 20th by the finish.

The “Seven Come Fore Eleven” Award For Fine Fortune

Kurt Busch wrecked in his primary car in practice but managed to stick his backup car on the pole. He went on to finish second in the race in that backup.

It was a pretty good day for Rick Hendrick with one of this drivers winning, another finishing fourth and another sixth. Only Mark Martin (18th) ruined the mojo.

Jimmie Johnson had to overcome an overtime pit stop, his young guys struggling with a left-front tire to fight his way back up to a fourth-place finish.

Ryan Newman was able to nurse a failing transmission to a ninth-place performance.

For Harvick, earning a 34th-place starting spot was no way to begin the weekend. He then had his little run-ins with Busch and soon thereafter had a piece of metal pierce the grille of his car, a problem that could easily have punctured the radiator. Somehow, those lengthy repairs were avoided, leaving Harvick and team to trudge on to a fifth-place finish.

The spectators at Le Mans who were behind the guard ail when Allan McNish crashed his Audi early in the event (and almost cleared that guardrail) were among the luckiest people on this planet this weekend. The car disintegrated on impact at an estimated 180 miles per hour and showered debris, including one tire/wheel assembly over the guardrail – but there were no major injuries. What’s the French term for “SAFER barriers?”

Worth Noting

  • Gordon’s fifth win at Pocono ties him with Bill Elliott for the most wins at the triangular track. Oddly, the last of Gordon’s wins here was in 2007 and the one previous to that was back in 1998, thirteen years ago.
  • The top-10 finishers at Pocono drove six Chevys, two Toyotas, a Ford and a Dodge.
  • Kurt Busch’s second-place finish was his best of the 2011 Cup season.
  • Johnson’s fourth-place finish was his best since he won at Talladega.
  • Earnhardt (sixth) has three consecutive top-10 finishes for the second time this season. He’s averaging a tenth place finish in this year’s fourteen points-paying races.
  • Juan Pablo Montoya’s seventh-place performance was his first top-10 result since Martinsville.
  • Carl Edwards’ 37th-place finish was his worst since Texas in the fall of 2009.

What’s the Points?

As noted above, Edwards now leads Johnson by just six points. Earnhardt remains third, a further four points behind Johnson. Earlier this year, I wondered aloud if the new points system just made it more likely NASCAR would finally crown a titlist who hadn’t won a race that year and debated what it would do to interest in the sport. Well, if Junior is Cup champion even if he never wins a race, my guess is there’d be dancing in the streets.

The drivers fourth through seventh in the standings: Harvick, Kurt Busch, Kyle Busch and Kenseth all held serve. They are all within one race’s worth of points of Edwards after the No. 99 team’s troubles Sunday.

Clint Bowyer and Tony Stewart swapped the eighth and ninth spots with Bowyer now having the advantage. Ryan Newman rounds out the top 10.

In the “wild card” scenarios, Gordon advanced two spots to eleventh in the standings and is just six points out of the top 10. If the No. 24 driver can make up one more position in the final twelve regular season races, all this talk about a second win having granted him a lock on one of the “wild card” spots will be out the window though it’s a nice ace to keep up your sleeve. Right now, Denny Hamlin holds the final spot in 12th despite zero wins on his resume; Brad Keselowski, armed with his Kansas victory remains 13 points outside the top 20.

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 it a single can of not-so-cold generic stuff.

Next Up – The series heads west to Michigan. Gas strategists for the teams may want to bring a spare set of batteries for their calculators.

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06/13/2011 01:05 AM

It was nice of you to mention the Canadian Grand Prix. It took 4 hours and 5 minutes to run because of a rain delay and finished after the Pocono race. There is something inherently wrong when a two hour and five minute rain delay is more interesting than the “race” at Pocono. It was the best F1 race in years with Button passing Vettel halfway through the last lap. I don’t think I missed much by skipping the 3 and a half hour Pocono show. What was it like without DW?

By the way, one ticket for each of the front straight Grandstands for the F1 race was $647 for the weekend.

And could someone explain to me how a man in Palm Springs getting a lap dance can get poked in the eye by the dancer’s shoe and get a $650,000 settlement?

06/13/2011 01:14 AM

2 points:

1) Is anybody else pleasantly shocked that NASCAR didn’t immediately throw the caution when Biffle spun it? I just knew for sure that they were going to throw it. They finally made the right call (though the excitement factor of the race may have benefitted) and I applaud them for it.

2) I know everybody has their own opinions, and I don’t really have a horse in the race, but is it not awesome that Harvick and Busch continue to mess with each other. And then when Harvick said something along the lines of he’s just getting started… Call it wishful thinking, but, Matt, do we have the makings of a REAL rivalry on our hands? One that the beloved “casual” fan would actually watch the race just to see what happens with? I hope so!

06/13/2011 07:41 AM

Absolutely the worst race of the year! Worst than Phoenix and Talladega! And I’m not saying that because it was won by the biggest whining, sniveing cry-baby in NASCAR! In fact, more jerks finished in the top-7 to make this race positively nauseating! Proof positive that (1) the race should be shortened to 400 miles, and (2) Pocono should lose one, if not both, of their dates!

Bill B
06/13/2011 07:54 AM

There were 3 or 4 debris cautions, did we ever actually see a piece of debris for any of those cautions.
There was a point between the green flag pitstops around lap 95 and lap 118 (which included that caution at lap 112) where viewers were never updated on the running order. That was about 20 to 30 minutes and in my opinion that is unacceptable.

I agree with Country, I would have bet money they’d have thrown a caution for the Biffle spin. I was glad they didn’t and not just because I am a Gordon fan.
You might only give this race 1 beer but this reminded me more of a pre-Brian France race than most. Long green flag runs with green flag pitstops. No forced caution at the end to bunch up the field to manufacture a close ending. In fact, when was the last time there was no caution for the last 100 miles of a race?

06/13/2011 08:21 AM

Really happy with the result, but that race stunk. Why on earth don’t they shorten races at Pocono. The only reason I’ve heard the Matiolis say is people “pay for 500 miles”. I’ve been there and I think it’s so it’s not so obvious that it takes longer to get back to the highway then it is to run the race. Please, NASCAR shorten those Pocono races. They should lose a date but won’t unless a NYC area track is built. I did like TNT’s Race Buddy site though. I’m glad the F-1 race kept the rain. They need massive rain at every race, that seems to make it easier to pass than that crazy DRS system they use.

06/13/2011 08:25 AM

Ken- The only thing NASCAR needs to lose in Pocono is you; Go back to monster trucks, they fit your attention span.

NASCAR Cup racing has always been a marathon. Why would someone advocate taking something out of the race? I agree Pocono needs to have 1 race, but I think EVERY track oughta be 1 race. But to shorten The racing because you can’t wait to be done? Go outside and play. Leave the adults to watch the race.

Bill S.
06/13/2011 10:09 AM

I don’t agree that Busch and Harvick continue to mess with each other. Alothough no one affiliated with FS will ever admit it, Kyle continues to take the high road and Harwreck continues the grudge match alone. NASCAR warned them both, but only Harvisuks needed the warning. I am beginning to think there is something wrong with that guy. Rivalry is one thing; blood lust is another. And the two of them cannot ever really be classic rivals, because the age difference puts them in totally different places in their careers. One on the way up; the other on the way down. Yeah, it is wishful thinking on your part, those of you who want this foolishness to continue.

The only way Kyle will participate is in the way he did at the end of last season when he was out of Chase contention and decided to make Homestead pure hell for Harvick in support of teammate Denny Hamlin.

Again, the thugs in this sport all seem to have one thing in common – RCR. Newman should probably think about joining up, since he is of the same juvenile mindset.

And as the season unfolds, the dreaded SIX-PACK looks more and more likely to prevail.

06/13/2011 10:42 AM

Please do discuss what can be done to make Pocono Races “exciting again,” and if exciting is too far to realistically reach, simply interesting will suffice. For a track as unique as Pocono the racing there puts me to sleep. Literally. I made it to around lap 20 before I winked out.

Carl D.
06/13/2011 11:15 AM

I take a week off for vacation and you guys run Susan off… I’m gonna miss her like I miss my ex-wife. In fact, My ex-wife’s name is Susan. Hmmm…

I used to like Ryan Newman before he decided that it was his job to tell the media how they should cover Nascar. I find it ironic that he has drawn two 50K fines from Nascar, yet he’s the guy telling the media they need to be “more positive” in their reporting.

Bill B…. I also noticed that we never got to see the debris that caused all those cautions. I wonder what constitutes debris in Pocono. Boredom?

Ken… I’m confused. I know you didn’t like the winner and some of the top finishers, but is that why you want to see the races shortened? I’m having trouble following your argument.

One can of warmed-over generic beer sounds about right. I actually drank a couple of cold PBR’s while on vacation, and this race wasn’t nearly as good.

06/13/2011 12:15 PM

Ken – Denny Hamlin won?

irvan fan
06/13/2011 12:55 PM

“What was it like without DW”

boring race, but i would have given it 6 cans of the warm generic stuff since we didn’t have to listen to DW

06/13/2011 01:01 PM

As a long, long time Burton fan, It befuddles me as to why he’s making so many mistakes and week after week having a 15th to 20th place car to boot. Running out of fuel at Pocono is akin to a death sentence in na$car. Time to shake up the team. I missed the first 90 laps of the race and judging from the action on the track (or lack thereof)I didn’t miss much. As for Danica, here comes the QOH again>

06/13/2011 01:33 PM

Matt, I have only one thing to clarify in a race that you reviewed very succinctly. The legendary 85th race that Bobby Allison won but didn’t win according to Nascar was at Bowman Gray Stadium in Winston Salem. You may know the distinction but many others will not. Bowman Gray was one of the great Nascar racing venues and one sadly missed by longtime Nascar racing fans.

Bill S.
06/13/2011 02:17 PM

DW may have been gone, but Kyle Petty was awful. How many times did he have to say, “I don’t know anything about this, but…..” If you don’t know anything Kyle, give the mike to sombody who does.

Back to the old mute button.

06/13/2011 03:04 PM

I agree with Ken if Pocono lost one date I would not cry. All 500 mile races should be chopped to 400, the 600 back to 500 and others 300 miles. One of the few things positive about Pocono is the track is not owned by Bruton Smith or the France family.

06/13/2011 03:58 PM

Hey Matt! Thank goodness for Harvick messin’ with the shrub. It was the only excitement of the race and kind of reminded you of the Intimidator himself. Nascar should have left them alone to “have at it.”

While Kyle Petty is funny, his annoying stutter at the beginning of sentences is as bad as DW’s “back in the day” and self-promotion. And we still have Larry Mac to put up with.

The only intelligent race comments came from Carl Edwards after he came off the track.

Camera work was horrible, too. I’m happy to have DVR to get me through these things in quicktime.

Bill S.
06/13/2011 04:08 PM

Yeah, Katie, Harvick messed with Kyle so bad that Kyle finished third. And Kevie obviously didn’t care that he was putting his teammates all around him at risk as well. Or maybe Kevie just knows that Kyle is such a good driver that even being pushed into the water on the apron would not make him lose control.

Kevie and Dickie sitting in a tree….

06/13/2011 04:12 PM

Ken, you’re a whiney idiot that no one cares about! That’s all that needs to be said! You fool! Go away please never to be heard from again! Asinine moron!!!

Carl D.
06/13/2011 05:49 PM

Personally, I like Kyle Petty in the booth. I find him quite knowledgeable, professional, and unassuming. Plus, the fact that he doesn’t act like a self-promoting buffoon is a welcome change from the Waltrip brothers and Jeff Hammond.

06/13/2011 05:59 PM

bill s why is it everytime kyle busch does something stupid you gotta try to bash kevin harvick and rcr

Kevie and Dickie sitting in a tree….

really showing how smart you are there dumbass

another good read Matt

The Mad Man
06/13/2011 07:46 PM

4 mystery debris cautions were a minus but no DW was a plus. It’s rate it as one cold can of the generic non-alcoholic stuff.

Funky D
06/13/2011 08:47 PM

To be fair, the spectators were behind a catch fence. However, media types were allowed in the area between the fence and the wall (which looked to be at least as soft as a SAFER barrier). However, a photographer nearly got creamed by a flying tire complete with an A-arm assembly that could have impaled someone. Those folks were quite lucky indeed!

Sharon J
06/13/2011 10:30 PM

Tim-According to Bill it is Ok when Kyle messes with Kevin but not if Kevin messes with Kyle.
His words
(The only way Kyle will participate is in the way he did at the end of last season when he was out of Chase contention and decided to make Homestead pure hell for Harvick in support of teammate Denny Hamlin.)

Iowa Guy
06/13/2011 10:59 PM

Hmmmmmm – I thought Kevin Harvick was the whining sniveling crybaby of NASCAR.

06/13/2011 11:45 PM

Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick— two tough guys for sure…. Maybe they’ll have a little girl fight and pull each other’s hair before it’s over with.

In his prime, Cale Yarborough would have pounded both of those little twerps into the ground like tent stakes without even setting down the chicken drumstick he was munching on. Heck, he probably still could now.

Those two punks having a hissy? That’s what passes for a rivalry today? That’s a long way from Petty and Allison…

Bill S.
06/14/2011 03:42 PM

Tim, just what did Kyle do that was stupid at Pocono? Kevin put him into the water on the apron and Kyle simply drove away from Kevie. Only one party needed a warning, and it was the one who was putting not only Kyle at risk, but also his own teammates who were stuck back there at the same time. Initially, it looked like Jeff Burton would come to Kevin’s aid, but he apparently thought better of it and also backed off. Take one for the teammate? Not if the teammate is Kevin Harvick!

Sharon, I never said what Kyle did at Homestead last year was right, only that he did it. And would probably do it again in the same circumstances. But then Kevin’s retaliation was completely beyond the level of harassment – he simply put Kyle out of the race. Whatever “evil” Kyle has ever done or been accused of doing, Kevin has always gone a step further into destructive behavior.

Kevin and Richard are both thugs who deserve each other.

And Fairlane, my two fondest memories of Cale are him blowing his engine in the 1985 Daytona 500 and losing his power steering the same year in the Southern 500. Proof that there is a God and He wants one of the good guys to win a million bucks now and then.