The Frontstretch: Matt McLaughlin's Thinkin' Out Loud: Firecracker 400 Race Recap by Matt McLaughlin -- Monday July 4, 2011

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The Key Moment – David Ragan, with an essential assist from teammate Matt Kenseth, got some sweet redemption after his miscue shifting lanes prior to a restart at the Daytona 500.

In a Nutshell

There they went marching in their packs of two,
Professional drivers reduced to playing
Jabbering monkeys and jackasses
To be part of Noah France’s plate track seaside zoo.

Dramatic Moment – Well the last five laps of the race were pretty unpredictable and equally violent. I guess some people like that.

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

Bread and circuses, right? Presumably a bunch of carnage, inducing late-lap wrecks after a relatively sedate and uninteresting race is what the fans paid to see. It’s a philosophy that will attract new people to the sport both on TV and in person… right? Um, good luck with that. Seen any roller derby on the TV lately?

Don’t you hate hearing that drivers had agreed to “go steady” in two-car packs days before the race? Or about how Hendrick management wanted Jeff Gordon to push Mark Martin to the win, just so they could try to get the No. 5 car in the Chase, too? Whatever happened to the elbows out, every man for himself style of NASCAR racing, the type where drivers would hook up in marriages of convenience on just the final lap… and only if it was in both their best interests to do so?

Well, if nothing else I think this race is going to force the Hendrick strategists to rethink how long they can afford to hang at the back of the pack before making a charge at the end. Simple answer… not as long as they did Saturday night.

All indications are that the HMS and RCR teams are experimenting with ways to get all four of their team cars to be able to hook up rather than running in tandem and they might just get it figured out by the Talladega race. I’m growing increasingly disgusted with these multi-car outfits dominating the sport.

Daytona doesn’t even try to sell the backstretch seats for the July race and they must not have tried too hard to sell out the frontstretch seats, either.

I still don’t get NASCAR’s reluctance to throw a caution on the white flag lap of a race; it’s a delay that’s happened several times this year, Saturday included. If they’d thrown a caution after the first final lap wreck (as was clearly warranted by the severity of the situation) maybe another dozen race cars already clearly out of contention wouldn’t have been torn to scrap, too.

I miss the kinder, simpler days when the Firecracker 400 was run on the Fourth of July, started at around 11 AM and was over by 2 PM so everyone could hit the beach or the motel pool to escape the brutal heat of a Florida July afternoon. Maybe the air conditioning in their million dollar motor coaches didn’t work as well back in the 1980s?

What does it say about the health of the sport when a driver (Matt Kenseth) who has already won two races this year and is a lock for the Chase loses his primary sponsor in July? It’s perhaps ironic that the No. 17 team was running “Affliction” decals at this weekend’s race.

There’s been a long standing argument over whether race car drivers are athletes. (Naturally, I think they are.) But when you add into the debate a second driver in a tandem is running at 180 MPH plus without being able to see anything ahead of them other than the other driver‘s rear spoiler, it’s hard to argue that they’re too smart.

If Trevor Bayne’s win in February established his career, Ragan’s win Saturday at the same track may have saved his.

In a bit of irony, “Bubba the Love Sponge”, a radio DJ, drove the pace car during the warm-up laps at Daytona. Mr. Sponge may be best remembered by NASCAR fans as the guy who overdosed on an allergy medicine and produced the same failed drug test results NASCAR cited to suspend Jeremy Mayfield. Was Bubba given a drug test prior to operating the pace car?

The Hindenburg Award For Foul Fortune

Former points leader Carl Edwards lasted only 24 laps before his teammate Greg Biffle shoved him into the wall. A knocked out crush panel actually had Edwards getting physically sick in his car a few laps later. Fortunately, I haven’t personally experienced the dynamics of vomiting in a full face helmet but I’d guess it is isn’t pleasant. Sneezing is bad enough.

Trevor Bayne was the Cinderella story of the Daytona 500 but his chariot turned into a pumpkin on lap 5 of Saturday’s race. He failed to finish in 41st.

Danica Patrick had a credible run going at Daytona in Friday’s Nationwide race up until the final lap, where she fell to 10th. One could argue that her inexperience with an out of control race car (compare and contrast to Kevin Harvick earlier in the event) also caused a whole lot of drivers to have a bad finish to the evening, triggering a multi-car accident heading towards the checkered flag.

The “Seven Come Fore Eleven” Award For Fine Fortune

With three laps left to go in regulation Jeff Gordon was sideways in a pack of cars looking like he was going to trigger a monster wreck. But Gordon made a great save and somehow rallied on to a sixth-place finish.

Kyle Busch recovered nicely from some hard impact with the outside wall to somehow finish fifth. Of course, that’s a lot easier when two-thirds of the field gets wiped out in the “overtime” portion of the race.

Joey Logano got tangled up with Mark Martin as the duo attempted to partner up late in the race (causing quite the merry mess) but drove on to a third-place finish. Ironically, it was Martin whose recommendation helped get Logano into Cup to begin with.

Montoya’s ninth-place finish wasn’t too bad – especially for a fellow who got a piece of the action in two wrecks in the final eleven laps.

Worth Noting

  • Not only was Ragan’s win the first of his career, it was his first top-10 result in five races.
  • Matt Kenseth finished second for the second time in the last three races.
  • Joey Logano’s third-place finish matched his best of the season. Logano was also third in the World 600; however, still mired at twentieth in the points, the No. 20 team really needs a win to get back in title contention.
  • Kasey Kahne’s fourth-place finish was his best result since Darlington.
  • Kyle Busch (fifth) has top-5 finishes in three of the last four Cup races.
  • Jeff Gordon (sixth) has scored top-10 finishes in four of the last five races.
  • Juan Pablo Montoya has led laps in six of the last seven races.
  • A.J. Allmendinger’s tenth-place finish was his best since Charlotte.
  • Tony Stewart (eleventh) hasn’t had a top-5 result since Las Vegas, the second race of the season. To put that in perspective, I was shoveling snow off the walks the day of the Vegas race and it’s 90 someodd degrees outside right now.
  • Dale Earnhardt, Jr. (nineteenth) has missed the top 10 in his last three Cup outings.
  • Did anyone else notice that former Daytona 500 winner Geoff Bodine was out there racing again on Saturday? (He ran 38th).
  • The top-10 finishers at Daytona drove three Fords, three Toyotas, and four Chevys. Kurt Busch in fourteenth was the top finishing Dodge pilot.
  • Mark Martin is now 0 for 53 at Daytona, a record of futility that rivals Charlie Brown’s field goal kicking percentage.

What’s the Points?

Kevin Harvick takes over the points lead from Edwards, who had held the top spot since after the Texas race in April. Harvick has a five-point lead over his Ford rival. Kyle Busch moves up two spots into third, a further five points behind Edwards while brother Kurt and Matt Kenseth round out the top 5.

Jimmie Johnson’s bizarre decision to pit without his wingman Earnhardt cost him; he fell two spots to sixth in the standings. Of course, he’s only 22 points out of the lead while Earnhardt in seventh is fully 52 points behind.

Gordon and Bowyer swapped eighth and ninth spots, with Gordon now holding the advantage. Ryan Newman sits tenth, while Denny Hamlin (courtesy his Michigan victory) holds the first Wild Card spot sitting eleventh.

Uneasy lays the head that consumes mass quantities of Whoppers. Tony Stewart is technically twelfth in the standings, but if the Chase were to start tomorrow (I think I just vomited into my nose) Ragan would get that twelfth spot based on Saturday night’s win and the Wild Card scenario.

Overall Rating (On a scale of one to six beer cans with one being a stinker and a six pack an instant classic) — Quite frankly, I’m tired of waiting two hours to see drivers really get up on the wheel for the final ten laps. This new plate track format licks the sweat off a dead wombat’s scrotum. One can.

Next Up – The Cup series heads off to the uncharted territory of Kentucky.

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


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downunder fan
07/04/2011 01:03 AM

Completly boring race for 155 laps. I taped the race and then fast forwarded to the last 5 laps hoping Ambrose might get lucky along with AJ. Better luck next time.

Carl D.
07/04/2011 08:00 AM

I’m sick of seeing so many perfectly good race cars getting taken out during restrictor plate races due to one driver’s mistake. To be honest, it was the same way before then tandem racing when the drivers ran in huge packs. This won’t change until the restrictor plates are gone. I’m not advocating taking the plates off and having cars run 215 mph or more, but this madness is ridiculous. If Nascar is bound and determined to continue this crap-shoot style of racing, the drivers ought to get a mulligan during the season. This isn’t racing, it’s survival of the luckiest.

07/04/2011 09:49 AM

See, Matt, that’s why I like you. You make old fart comments just like I do and you see the obvious. Like, for instance, Danica. I was there watching and I replayed the Nationwide wreck back at the portion of a million dollar motor coach. What was pretty clear to me was she overcorrected. She is not yet up to snuff in terms of her understanding of the center of gravity of a stock car. I could go into a discussion here of the parallels between that and fun and games on a pillow topped bed, but I will spare you.

As for Mr. Sponge, you did not note but I will, he is running for County Commission or something in the Tampa area. Why that is of any matter at all here I cannot possibly comment.

Mr Bill
07/04/2011 10:15 AM

Watching the so called race at Daytona was about as interesting as watch 42 people play high card draw. Some one is going to win, but who will it be and the most important reason WHY did they win. Very little about the race Saturday night that I enjoyed or would make me look forward to the race there next year.

07/04/2011 10:36 AM

i woke up with 10 laps to go. got on phone with friend of mine and told her over and over they were going to wreck. then when they did and g/w/c, told her they’d wreck again. why can’t na$car eliminate g/w/c at plate tracks as they create more carnage. more sheet metal, equipment and money in engineering went home on the wrecker with 10 laps to go than the entire race.

drive me nuts when they were talking in pre-race that martin had decided his “partner” was going to be jeff gordon the tuesday before the race. what’s with dragging brake so team mates/partners could catchup. that’s not racing. that’s f1 and team orders.

someone asked me why front stretch was so full…cause they didn’t open up back stretch seats for sale. they kept frontstretch packed for tv, i.e. advertisers.

kentucky has sold out….good for them, first race there. see how interesting the race really is next weekend.

Kevin in SoCal
07/04/2011 12:17 PM

Matt said: “Denny Hamlin (courtesy his Pocono victory)”

Uhhh, what? Denny Hamlin didnt win at Pocono, Jeff Gordon did. Denny Hamlin won at Michigan.

07/04/2011 01:36 PM

I agree Kevin. I didn’t write that. The editors inserted it.

Don mei
07/04/2011 02:09 PM

Absolute carnage! That’s not racing. Some suggestions:
1…clear lexan spoilers to improve visibility
2…points awarded in pairs…total points for first and second divided by two(tongue in cheek)
3…305 cubic inch motors with no plates.

Bob Tanner
07/04/2011 02:13 PM

You’re “Getting increasingly fed up with multi-car teams…?” O
ve been fed up since 1987 when Bill jr. allowed Rick Hendrick to strat this horrible trend. The “MegaTeam” concept has done more to destroy NASCAR than anything else in the last twenty-five years, IMNSVHO.

07/04/2011 02:14 PM

I want to comment on the on the new rule about the pole sitter choosing the inside or outside. During restarts ain’t quite so bad, because it gives the leader an advantage. But I totally disagree with pole winner chosing the outside at start of race. If he won the pole, that’s where he should start. In a sport that’s trying to get more fans, all this does is confuses the new casual fan as to who actually won the pole. This may not be so relevant to some, but in race pools,etc…where people draw a #1 for instance, unless they see the starting lineup, they do not know who they actually have. Maybe if NASCAR would quit fudging rules, then maybe it would be more interesting to new fans. What do you think, Matt…or comments from others.

07/04/2011 03:10 PM

I like the polesitter being able to choose his lane. If the outside line is preferred, he’s earned it!

And Matt, I wouldn’t worry about the four Hendrick cars trying to work together. That team hasn’t worked well together successfully on plate tracks since 1997.

07/04/2011 04:16 PM

That there was Anti-Racing. The other forms of racing must be shaking their heads – as I am. That was more confusing than Fathers Day at Arnold’s house.

07/04/2011 04:41 PM

good column, Matt. Typical nonsense at another RP track. I hate the tandem racing but hate the multiple GWC attempts even more. We made the trip from NJ to Daytona a couple of times for the 500. That was plenty. At least at home I can get something done while they are out there making laps until the last 10 laps or so when all hell will break loose.

I was actually impressed with Danica managing her car with Tony and others pushing her in the nationwide race, but once things went bad, well, there were wrecked race cars, gee, what a surprise!

Very happy that Jeff Gordon was able to save his car and come back to 6th by teaming with (gasp) Kyle Busch – who’d have thought it? LOL I thought it was pretty funny that Voldemort aka Chad left the MPD without a partner at the end — Johnson’s twitter account must have been lighting up with angry Jr fans. Guess the PR firm he hired still hasn’t been able to make Weasley popular.

Bruce Florman
07/04/2011 04:55 PM

This year’s plate racing is obviously just a cheap American knock-off of Top Gear’s double decker racing. I’d rather watch the original

07/04/2011 06:21 PM

If I heard correctly, as the race started the announcers said that according to Nascar Rules no pushing would be allowed on the last lap…? Did anyone else hear that?

Bill B
07/04/2011 06:56 PM

RP racing sucks donkey dongs!!! Crap-shoot, crap-shoot, crap-shoot. Wonder if the owners could just give the money they spend on the wrecked cars straight to NASCAR and just take those races off the schedule. Between the RP races and the double file restarts at the other tracks NASCAR has found the key to scripting exciting finishes. I ask, if someone has led 90% of the race and has a 5 second lead before that final caution comes out, why should that final restart have so much weight as to render the rest of the race pointless.
For the record, any race where riding at the back for the first 150 laps is a viable strategy for winning is BS. Try that at Martinsville.
Also Matt, while I agree that HMS might need to re-examine how long they can ride around at the back, I think Gordon and Martin may have won the race had Vickers not shoved Kahne up two lanes. (That sounds stupid… Gordon and Martin could have won… but that’s the way this tandem racing works).
All I can say is that at least there are only 4 of these farce races per year, and that is 4 too many if they can’t figure out a way to fix this ridiculous style of racing.

07/04/2011 09:50 PM

The only smile I got from the whole weekend of racing was imagining the comments Smoke must have been thinking while being behind Danica around the track. Always sounds like that’s where he’d like to be.

07/04/2011 10:33 PM

i was thinking the same about what stewart might be saying on the radio or thinking in his head…
prolly not fit for tv though. danika was in great equipment but way way out of her league. (like in indy cars where she is in good equipment and way way out of her league.)
both races were simply horrid and unwatchable. my indifference toward nascar grew leaps and bounds with this one.

Nick Doneilo
07/04/2011 11:53 PM

Joe Nemechek gets sponsors, runs his most competitive race since last fall, LEADS, runs in the top 10 for a good chunk of the race, and doesn’t even get mentioned?? Come on!

07/04/2011 11:57 PM

Was that supposed to be a race or a test session?

And I thought plate racing couldn’t get any worse.

Bill B
07/05/2011 12:45 AM

Leading laps at an RP race has become a joke. Leading the race is like a cheap hooker, everybody gets a turn. Nemechek wasn’t the only guy that is usually a back marker that was able to lead laps at the RP race.
I don’t see leading at the RP track any different than staying out to lead a lap during the caution.
I will admit it was worth mentioning that he ran the whole race for a change.

07/05/2011 07:54 AM

Why is Danica even mentioned in a “Cup” article?

07/05/2011 08:09 AM

the friday night race wasn’t a cup race? sorry. hard to tell the difference.

Sue Rarick
07/05/2011 08:15 AM

Simple solution……..Run the road race course……NO tandem racing and NO restrictor plates……Problem solved

07/05/2011 10:38 AM

I still don’t understand some people. Yes, Danica still has some learning to do. However, she didn’t cause the wreck and anyone who doubts that hasn’t looked closely at the video or is simply allowing their bias/jealousy to cloud their vision.

That is not to say one can’t be critical of Danica. She clearly is not comfortable being the pushing car. She doesn’t like not being able to see. If she wants to gain the respect of her competitors she’ll need to work on that in order to have people to work with.

With that being said, the wreck at the end of the race was not Danica’s fault and had nothing to do with a lack of talent or car control on Danica’s part. Mike Wallace tried to get up in front of her and misjudged making contact with Danica’s car. This pushed Danica off the front of Almirola’s car. When she brought the car back, the #88 had moved up a bit & as she came across to get back in position it started to turn the #7. As she came down the track attempting to catch the car she made contact with Wallace’s car. As the two cars attempted to straighten out they made contact again and then everybody wrecked. If there is any blame to be placed as to the origins of that wreck, it is on Mike Wallace and his spotter. It isn’t on Danica Patrick.

Side note/question: With EFI coming into the sport next year, is that not going to do away with the restrictor plate?

07/05/2011 11:50 AM

The “alleged“races at Daytona and Talladega have degenerated into the longest demolition derbies on record. Imagine running “carefully controlled pairs” (Great for skating competitions) for 98% of the race. Suddenly the drivers become Mr. Hyde and the race turns into a demolition derby with the survivors finishing. The rest of the field SCRAP!

The only difference is that in a true demolition derby there is only one survivor/winner.

07/05/2011 12:58 PM

It wasn’t that Gordon and Martin were planning to match up earlier in the week that caught my ear – so much as they decided it was “Mark’s turn to win”! Really?!

Maybe Cup racing has been flailing for a few years now; but, I can’t recall feeling that disappointed in the sport all at once before.

Bill S.
07/05/2011 05:45 PM

mkrcr – what makes you think Smoke is interesed in following Danica – in any sense that term might be used? Smoke talks like a stud, but may be deeper in NASCAR’s closet than any driver has ever been.

And Gina, thank your lucky stars for Kyle blazing his way through traffic AND wrecks and delivering a 6th place finish for Jeffie. No way Jeffie could have done it without him. He already admits Kyle is the best driver on the track and the one he would most like to beat.

Get on board with your lover boy, Ms. 24.

And more blah, blah, blah, everything sucks according to Matt. Seriously, why do you write ANY columns? They are all the same. Someone could easily fill in the blanks for you to name the villains of the week.

Take your retirement savings and drink it to death. Do us all a favor.

Nick Doneilo
07/05/2011 08:42 PM

I just think Joe deserved a little bit of a mention or something. For what he was able to do, with losing a couple crew guys, especially was amazing. Joe Nemechek is the true racer. I don’t care if Mears, and Cassill and Lally were up front at one point. Those teams have pretty major sponsorship, and Joe has close to nothing. And leading ANY CUP race is worth mentioning, no matter where it is. It’s hard to lead one… and look what it got Dave Blaney and TBR!!!

07/05/2011 10:12 PM

Racing at Talladega and Daytona has become so boring. Instead of driving 40 miles to watch the October Talladega race, I have decided to fly to Ontario, CA to watch an international figure skating competition: Skate America. At least I know that I will actually see world class athletes compete instead of watching drivers do a two-car tango for several hours.

07/06/2011 08:59 AM

Hendrick Rules NASCAR!!! YEAH BABY!! What he says Brian does! RICK will always rule! Don’t ever forget it or else!! All will bow down to Rick! LOVE IT!! That is how it must be! Don’t EVER think it will change! It will never change. What Rick says is law!

07/06/2011 03:08 PM

“Mark Martin is now 0 for 53 at Daytona, a record of futility that rivals Charlie Brown’s field goal kicking percentage.”

I like Mark Martin, but that made me laugh out loud!

07/07/2011 08:59 AM

I still think the tandems are better than one 35-car pack. At least the tandems pass each other instead of looking like a 190 mph rush hour traffic jam.