The Frontstretch: Matt McLaughlin's Thinkin' Out Loud: Kentucky Cup Race Debacle Recap by Matt McLaughlin -- Monday July 11, 2011

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The Key Moment – Kyle Busch aced the final restart, then had time to relax and watch the mayhem behind him in the rear-view mirror while cruising to victory.

The key to mastering Kentucky was track position, something Kyle Busch had all night en route to a dominating victory in the Cup Series’ inaugural visit to the facility.

In a Nutshell – Busch let loose on the field most of the night with an old-fashioned butt-whoopin’.

Dramatic Moment – Well, there sure weren’t a lot of them to select from, were there? I’d say the last two laps were the only part of the race that got my pulse rate up.

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

As dominant as Busch’s No. 18 car was, when he got behind Brad Keselowski his Toyota seemed powerless to pass. Confused? That’s just another product of the aero push phenomenon that’s destroying racing. (Hold on; I’m being told that for the record, it’s no longer “the dreaded” aero push. It no longer officially exists and shouldn’t be talked about. The racing is great. It’s never been better. Ignore the man behind the curtain…)

As bad as most of that race was, you have to wonder how many fans left early to beat the horrifying traffic? In fact, the backup was so bad – reported to be 20 miles long, by some – you have to wonder if those who left early were heading past drivers still trying to make it to the race. (In fact, they must have. Before some fans could reach the entrance for the track, their cars were turned away so local law enforcement could prepare for people exiting. If those fans shut out from attending aren’t offered a full refund for their tickets, I hope that Kentucky is shuttered up at this time next year.) Track GM Mark Simendinger, as well as everyone’s favorite Brian France promises traffic improvements are being planned for 2012 and beyond. My guess is there will be a whole lot less fans trying to make the trip, anyway.

Read Kentucky’s Latest Traffic Statement Here

Lucas Oil Raceway, the former IRP short track near Indianapolis has become a fan favorite for tight, close quarters action. A staple for the Nationwide Series since its inception in 1982, the Truck Series also runs there on the same weekend as the Cup stars descend on Indianapolis. Across town, their event at the Brickyard has quickly gone from one of the high-profile events on the schedule to a flop, evidenced by this year’s difficulty in selling even heavily discounted seats. (Sorry, but racing stock cars at Indy is praying in somebody else’s church.) So, in a brilliant move NASCAR has decided to switch next year’s Nationwide race from the IRP short track to the Brickyard, a move I’m pretty certain can only yield disaster. If nothing else, it will be perceived as one because a Nationwide Series crowd in an arena that large is going to look like a Foghat reunion concert at Wembley.

With this type of traffic jam stretching for miles, causing gridlock around Kentucky Speedway it’s no surprise thousands of fans never even got to the track in time to see the race.

Oops. Apparently, the organizational planning at Kentucky didn’t go so well. Even Friday night, with the smaller Nationwide crowd there were still long lines of traffic trying to reach the stadium forty laps into the event. The ever colorful Bruton Smith, owner of the facility, labeled a nearby highway, I-71, the worst road in the world and urged fans to avoid it. He felt if they picked any other road at random to get to and from the track, they’d fare better. Tongue in cheek, he went on to say he hoped to get all Saturday’s fans out of the area and home by Tuesday.

Let’s see; horrific traffic, a track surface that looked like a motocross course, a garage area the track’s owner professed to be embarrassed by, no SAFER barriers along the frontstretch inner wall… did track management not get the memo that the Cup Series was finally arriving in town? Again, though, let’s be fair. When Texas and Las Vegas held their inaugural Cup events, there were massive traffic jams and mass confusion amongst track management on how to fix things. Oddly enough, both those tracks are owned by Smith’s SMI corporation as well. You think maybe they should have anticipated this mess?

The “wave around” rule has never really bothered me. Honestly, I prefer it to the old method of having cars on the tail end of the lead lap, lining up ahead of the leaders which was always a recipe for mayhem and confusion on a restart. But the email I am getting in increasing volume from fans is vitriolic and states they simply don’t like this type of “free pass.” Saturday night’s alleged race is going to add more fuel to the fire, with fans already telling me they feel the rule was designed to help some of the sport’s big names (the HMS bunch are most frequently mentioned) make chicken salad out of chicken crap.

Jimmie Johnson bypassing traffic via helicopter? That’s probably something NASCAR’s five-time defending champ was better served keeping to himself.

Here’s the “wave around” consensus amongst my readers (and know I may be a bit of a lightning rod for the disaffected): If a team is that slow, they should restart behind the faster cars anyway, still a lap down. Changes to make things better should come at the shop that week and not as a result of NASCAR corporate largesse.

Sounding a bit more like Marie “Let them eat cake” Antoinette then he probably meant to, Jimmie Johnson tweeted (where do these drivers find all this time to Tweet?) he felt bad for the fans caught in traffic. Johnson noted he had traveled home for his daughter’s birthday Friday, but when returning for the race was advised of the traffic issues so he decided to use a helicopter to make the trip to Kentucky. You know, if more fans would take their helicopters or walk to the track we could avoid these messes in the future…

The Hindenburg Award For Foul Fortune

He wasn’t running that well to begin with (again) but Dale Earnhardt, Jr.’s exploded tire exiting the pits turned his night from bad to worse. He ended the night in 30th.

It’s been awhile since I’ve seen an engine expire quite as dramatically as Jamie McMurray’s. That smoky mess ended his night early; the No. 1 car finished 36th.

Clint Bowyer was having trouble just staying out of the way most of the race, but his lap 261 crash ended a bad night on an even more sour note. In fact, none of the RCR cars ever really seemed up to speed (Best Finish: 16th) which is unusual at a mile-and-a-half track – even one that’s bumpier than an artillery range.

Brad Keselowski and team experienced radio problems that kept them from being able to communicate about the car and strategy during a crucial period of the race. That may have helped take a winning car and left it seventh by the checkered flag.

The “Seven Come Fore Eleven” Award For Fine Fortune

David Ragan kept up his Daytona momentum with an eighth-place finish Saturday night; that put the bow on his first back-to-back top-10 finishes since early Spring.

It was a pretty good weekend for Kyle Busch with a win in Thursday’s Truck race, a third-place finish in the Nationwide race and a dominating Cup win in Saturday’s main event.

Jeff Gordon’s car was simply horrendous for the first half of the race, so slow in fact that he lost a lap. Considering the circumstances, a tenth-place finish had to feel like a gift; as it is, if not for another terrific save after getting sideways the night might not have ended on such a merry note.

Last week’s winner, David Ragan, got his car sideways in the oil that brought out the third caution but he did a nice job to save it. One week after winning Daytona, the driver of the No. 6 Ford was a consistent top-10 runner and came home eighth.

Worth Noting

  • Kyle Busch’s third win of the season ties him with Kevin Harvick for the most Cup victories in 2011.
  • Here’s an odd contrast between Harvick and Busch. In the three Cup races he’s won, Harvick led nine laps while Busch has led 513 en route to his three victories. Overall, Busch has led 1,060 Cup laps while Harvick has led just 130 this year.
  • David Reutimann’s second-place finish was easily his best of the season.
  • Jimmie Johnson’s third-place finish was his best since winning Talladega in April.
  • Ryan Newman’s fourth-place finish was his best of the season.
  • Matt Kenseth (sixth) now has top-10 results in five of the last six races.
  • Brad Keselowski (seventh) led more laps at Kentucky (79) than he had led in every other race combined this season.
  • Kurt Busch (ninth) has led the last seven Cup races. By the way, no truth to the rumor that failed radio out of the No. 2 car will be installed in the No. 22 Dodge this weekend to improve team morale.
  • Jeff Gordon (tenth) has top-10 finishes in four of the last five Cup races. But he’s led just one lap since winning at Pocono.
  • Earnhardt, Jr. (30th) hasn’t finished better than nineteenth in the last four races.
  • The top-10 finishers at Kentucky drove three Fords, three Chevys, two Toyotas and two Dodges.

What’s the Points?

Kyle Busch now assumes the championship lead, taking over from Kevin Harvick. He’s ahead of second place Carl Edwards by four points while Harvick drops to third, ten markers back.

Kurt Busch lies fourth, while Jimmie Johnson and Matt Kenseth swap the fifth and sixth spots in the standings, with Johnson having the advantage. At 19 and 22 points out of the lead, they are the final two drivers with a realistic shot of winning the regular season title. Jeff Gordon, sitting seventh is 71 points out of the lead although, with two victories in hand he appears to be a Chase lock.

Dale Earnhardt, Jr. falls another spot to eighth after a thoroughly futile month of racing for the No. 88 bunch. Ryan Newman, Denny Hamlin, and Tony Stewart all moved up a spot in the standings and are now ranked ninth through eleventh, respectively. Under the law of Conservation of Points Positions, someone had to surrender those spots and it was Clint Bowyer who fell three notches to twelfth.

But a winless Stewart, now back in Chase position can’t afford to be complacent. Coming off that Daytona win, David Ragan (up two spots to fifteenth in the standings) currently holds the twelfth slot for the Chase, while Brad Keselowski sits 21st in points, has a win and is just three points out of possible title contention – and taking Stewart’s spot.

One other driver to consider: Juan Pablo Montoya, who sits thirteenth in the standings with the series heading to Watkins Glen next month, where he’s a favorite to win. Would that shake things up or what? (To be fair, Stewart usually runs pretty well at the Glen, too.)

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. Move along, folks, nothing to see here.

Next Up – The Cup circuit heads northeast to New Hampshire, so I’m heading due east to the Shore. See ya for Indy.

Contact Matt McLaughlin

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Championship Caliber? What Does That Even Mean?
Mirror Driving: Winning Vs. Points, Needing a Boost, and The Lady’s Last Dance?
Nuts for Nationwide: The Curious Case of Elliott Sadler
Happiness Is…Arrogance, Less, Next, and the Outdoors
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07/11/2011 07:31 AM

Bruton,nascar and everyone involved with this track should be embarassed at the traffic CLUSTERPHUCK this track has hosted Busch and Trucks series for 10 years and an extra 40,000 fans back up traffic for 7hrs and people still missed the event. Bruton, nascar and track management all had a wosre showing then the poor racing on the track.

If not for the debris cautions and wave around there would have only been a handful of cars on the lead lap. Even with previous wave arounds at last caution only 7 cars on lead lap and approx 15 take wave around.

Bill B
07/11/2011 08:07 AM

I’ve been railing against the wave-around rule since it started. Here is a question…. before the wave-around rule was in place, how often were there cars lined up ahead of the leaders on the tail end of the lead lap? My recollection is that maybe once in 5 races that would happen and it usually occured during a round of green flag pitstops that were interupted by an untimely caution. In any case it was an exception and not the rule.
Now it seems like there are wave arounds a few times every race. What changed to make cars that would not have been lined up at the tail end of the lead lap prior to the rule that now have them in position to take the wave around?

What this rule does is undermine the legitimacy of the entire race. Between the wave arounds and the double file restarts the first 80% of the race doesn’t matter anymore. You can show up with a car that’s out to lunch and still get a good finish when the cautions and crap-shoot restarts occur in the last 15 laps. To me this is like watching on football team run up a 30 point lead in the first 3 quarters and then have it reduced to a 3 point lead to make the ending exciting. Why did I just watch the first 3 quarters if they really didn’t matter?
In the history of NASCAR it has never been easier to get a lap back.

07/11/2011 08:28 AM

Hey, I know a lot of people that would go to a Foghat concert!

FYI, having driven down I-71 past the track back in early June, I can vouch for Burton Smith’s comment. All of that highway is 2-lane that has been reduced to 1 lane for construction. And it was nowhere near done when I went through there a month ago. I’m sure it will be great next year….

07/11/2011 08:48 AM

So there are three Hendrick cars a lap down with one in position for the free pass. I guess Brian phoned in for a debris caution. Then the other two get the wave around to get them on the lead lap at the back of the field. Then there is another caution for “oil” in seven laps and they’re back with the lead pack. Gordon really earned his lap back.
Brian earned his Hendrick money on that one.

I liked the helicopter part. I guess it would be a good idea to hang around the heliport and “thumb” a ride.

07/11/2011 09:09 AM

Sounds like the first event at Kentucky was about as well-planned as the first Car of Tomorrow race on the newly paved Indianapolis speedway. No refund for that; don’t expect one here. I’m glad I missed it, and I’m sure as heck glad I’m not a Kentucky NASCAR fan.

All of the lawsuits and crap to get a race at another aero speedway, maybe they could spend some of that energy doing some real planning to make it as little of a CF as possible.

I’ll bet there are enough people saying “never again” that this track won’t have a Cup race for very long.

Bill B
07/11/2011 09:11 AM

There were at least 20 cars that took wave arounds Sat night. Funny how you can single out the 3 HMS cars.

07/11/2011 09:14 AM

Unacceptable, that Kentucky didn’t have enough parking. Bad traffic is one thing, it’s part of the NASCAR landscape, but turning people away is another. I can see why NASCAR refused to give that place a race. On the waive around, I like it. I remember Kansas 2007 when lappers in front of the leaders caused a huge pile up that took out several chasers. The wave around rarely works out for those that take it. They usually end up getting burned by a long run.

07/11/2011 09:40 AM

I gave the race one beer, only because it would have been impossible to make it through to the end without any alcohol.

07/11/2011 09:55 AM

Buzz: The construction on I-71 was suspended a week ago for the race.

I’ve been to KY speedway for the Busch, Truck and ARCA races and parking and traffic was pretty bad with those smaller venues.

07/11/2011 10:19 AM

Traffic is almost always a problem getting to a track, not having enough parking because you overbuilt the stands is another issue. although from a PR point of view it would be a good idea for Bruton to refund the money to fans who couldn’t make it to the race, I expect it will be a cold day in you know where before THAT happens.

It was a terrible race to watch on TV – LOL, Matt I love your comments about the aero push issue. That’s right, if no one talks about it, all the problems will magically disappear on their own – along with the continued loss of the fanbase.

Based on what I saw on TV, I wouldn’t even consider going to a race at Ky.

07/11/2011 10:25 AM

Bruton runs races in various other locations without this nightmare, common denominator is KY. poor management on Everyone from the hiway Patrol to track management. If there is justice, they will be half full next year.

07/11/2011 10:29 AM

I’m pretty sure more series around the world use the wave-around rule than anything else. IndyCar uses it. The problem with NASCAR using it is that they throw way more cautions than any other sanctioning body does. If they threw cautions only when cautions were necessary, then the wave-around rule would be fine.

Having BOTH wave-around and lucky dog seems asinine to me however. Pick one. I’m actually okay with either, but not both. They’re both vast improvements over leaders slamming on the brakes letting 20 cars past to let their teammate(s) back on the lead lap…

Sue Rarick
07/11/2011 10:39 AM

Once again we have the Bruton carney game. He gets breaks from the State and instead of improving parking as the State was led to believe, he adds more seats (and screw the parking). He then lies about the cooler regulations so he can make a few extra bucks (he didn’t even get that right). Not to mention the shortage of porta-potties.

If Bruton’s comment about 15-20,000 people being turned away is true, he had better explain why they oversold the seats. They claimed 97,000 people were there (do the math).

That highway is overcrowded one weekend a year. Why should the people of Kentucky pay for highway expansion that only benifits one person? If Bruton wants the highway expanded, let him pay for it. He’s the one that will benifit from it most.

I hope the people in that area get smart and let this carney man sit alone at the track next year.

Carl D.
07/11/2011 10:41 AM

I DVR’d the race and then fast-forwarded through the dull parts. I think I watched the entire race in less than 20 minutes. One thing is for sure, you’ll never have to worry about me getting stuck in traffic on the way to a race at that track.

07/11/2011 11:01 AM

I was there. I-71 had nothing to do with the backup. The bottleneck was the inadequate parking and inadequate parking staff to handle the numbers of cars trying to get to the race.

Making I-71 ten lanes wide won’t speed up the parking process at the track.

bud sudz
07/11/2011 11:04 AM

Both the wave around and the lucky dog need to go by the wayside.
Yeah, I know that the lucky dog was introduced for safety reasons.
Instead, let’s get back to racing in the 90’s. Who cares if only 7 cars finish on the lead lap? The race used to reward the top cars (with some racing luck involved from time to time) for the whole race. If your car wasn’t good enough to finish on the lead lap, so be it. Fans watched the whole race, because the field of potential winners thinned throughout the race due to wrecks, attrition, or a bad set of tires on a long green flag run.
Strategy was involved because you either short pitted or stayed out hoping to catch a caution if you were a lap down (or gave the leader one heck of a challenge on a restart).
The bottom line was if you raced hard all day and your car went away at the end, you may slip to 10th place. However, nowadays, you can be junk all day, find a little luck at the end of the race and luck into a finish.
Aero push aside, Kentucky would have been a good race with a little tire wear. The track has always had two grooves and either TBS does a better job (which they do) showing it or there was generally better racing throughout the field compared to the other cookie cutters.
You never go to a restaurant the first month that it’s open and you never go to a new track to watch the first race (or so it would appear). Infield campers never had it so good!

07/11/2011 11:26 AM

Bill B

It’s amazing how many cautions come out when a Hendrick car needs one. They don’t come out for Roush, Gibbs or Childress and they sure won’t come out for Robby Gordon.
If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck and quacks, it’s probably a duck.

How many people other than me predicted the caution for Mark Martin before it came out?

Michael in SoCal
07/11/2011 11:43 AM

Another piss poor race at a boring dual-use (nascar / Open Wheel) track. I guess one plus with all the tracks and the crappy racing is that I’m having a lot more open weekends now that I’ve given up locking down my weekends for Nascar races. If the race is at a track with good racing, then I’ll watch. If not, I’m heading outside, or to a movie, or taking a nap.

And who are the jokers that gave this race a six pack rating??? It probably would take ten six packs to make this race any good.

And all the issues with traffic and parking are ENTIRELY Bruton Smith’s fault. He needs to fun the highway improvements, and then get enough parking for the 107,000 seats he put in.

07/11/2011 12:18 PM

Nascar must be run by the same rumbs in washington.

Move NW races to Indy? Raise taxes in this recession? Insane.

Oh Dali-bama where art thou with thy magic wand?

Bill B
07/11/2011 12:45 PM

Well, I can’t argue with you since it is a matter of perception.
I agree there are certain drivers that I dislike that always seem to get the cautions when they need them but until I start tracking who benefits from every dubious (i.e. debris) caution I must assume that has more to do with my perception.

Using football as a parallel, I have never watched a game where I didn’t think the refs were screwing my team. That I chalk up to human nature.

Carl D,
You actually found 20 minutes worth?

07/11/2011 12:52 PM

mikeGH, NASCAR’s management and race teams are almost exclusively made up of conservative, right wing, Republican voting people. Sorry, you can’t pin this crap on Obama. Brian France and Bruton Smith are perfect examples of what happens when you let big business have its way. A few people get rich and a lot of the rest of us make due with the product they produce.

Carl D.
07/11/2011 12:55 PM

Bill B….

17 minutes of fast-forwarding and 3 minutes watching McMurray’s car blow up.

John McManus
07/11/2011 01:48 PM

Isn’t selling the same seat twice fraud? Nascar and Bruton Smith = Bear Stearns?

07/11/2011 02:31 PM

NASCAR fans sure can be dumb. Sparta is a teensy town in a poor county and one weekend a year it swells to the size of the state’s 3rd largest city. And their infrastructure is supposed to handle it? Really? Those who got screwed in this deal ought to wake up and see how fat cats like Bruton are bending you over daily, not paying their fair share of taxes, creating only minimum wage jobs, taking corporate welfare, etc. He doesn’t GAS about inconveniencing you, he just wants your tax $.

07/11/2011 03:22 PM

Matt, your “Move along, folks, nothing to see here.” covers most of what’s wrong with NASCAR. There is not much to see anymore in NASCAR—bummer.

07/11/2011 03:29 PM

I’m OK with the wave around … But that race = NO …Dull & as earlier stated “get out front & your untouchable” …No we didn’t need this (or any more) Dull D’s…they just keep doing dum things without seeing whats happened to a once thriving sport. & While we go to a few race’s …We will never be @ that track as I can get this at any Dull D …Sorry Kentucky . You know where else the passing is done in the pits …F1 zzzzz

07/11/2011 03:42 PM

“bumpier than an artillery range”, another Matt classic. Maybe next year, they will let the cars run with two shocks per corner!!!

Bill S.
07/11/2011 06:14 PM

A BIG shout-out to Summer Dreyer. Less than 2 days after she wrote a column that said Kyle Busch’s season had taken a fatal down turn, Kyle won THREE RACES in FOUR DAYS, with a third-place thrown in for good measure! WOW! I am sure there are at least 40 drivers in the garage who would love to be enduring THAT slump!

Trucks, Cup, and Slinger Speedway made it a 3 for 4 weekend for poor washed-up old Kyle!

Summer, you are probably too young, but didn’t people say that the 1980 and 1984 Presidential races were going to be too close to call, because who is gonna vote for a 70-year old actor?

Only the biggest electoral college sweeps in history! You missed your calling, Summer! The political analysts need your keen perception!

07/12/2011 10:14 AM

bud sudz, in 1997-2000 the gentleman’s agreement had already broken down. What nobody seems to remember is that before the field was frozen and the lucky dog was introduced FREQUENTLY the leader would slam on the brakes coming to the caution to let a lapped teammate back on the lead lap. In the 1997 summer Michigan race, Jeff Burton was leading and Mark Martin was two laps down due to a cut tire. Martin gained one of those laps back when Burton and the other leaders pitted, but to gain the other lap back, Burton slammed on the brakes coming to the caution, let literally 20 or 25 cars past just so Martin could get back on the lead lap, and Martin eventually won the race. I don’t think the old system was very pure at all. Considering how many cautions there were at Bristol and how many drivers were playing these kind of games, even many of the Bristol races by the time of frozen fields had up to 15-20 cars on the lead lap. In my opinion, lucky dog was actually an improvement.

Bill B
07/12/2011 12:24 PM

All they need to do is continue freezing the field when the caution flag comes out (just like they do now). The only reason this was a problem before was because they were allowed to race back to the line but guys on the lead lap could not pass the leader no matter how slow they went. Lap cars could pass the leader and beat them to the line to get their lap back.
Of course that would mean that the only way you could get back on the lead lap is to race past the leader during the green flag. That would be fine with me BTW.

Brian France Sucks
07/12/2011 04:48 PM

Only way to fix KY Speedway is to bulldoze it and build a 3/4 mile Rockingham clone or a 1/2 mile Wilkesboro. Its the only way that track will have any staying power long-term. The track sucks as it exists now. I know, I’ve been and “watched” a “race” there. IF the action on-track was worth seeing, the fans wouldn’t complain so much about the parking/traffic/sh!tty service that SMI venues consistently provide.