The Frontstretch: Matt McLaughlin's Thinkin' Out Loud: Brickyard 400 Race Recap by Matt McLaughlin -- Monday August 1, 2011

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Matt McLaughlin's Thinkin' Out Loud: Brickyard 400 Race Recap

Matt McLaughlin · Monday August 1, 2011


*The Key Moment *– With three laps to go Paul Menard had saved enough fuel he could relight the afterburners and hold off a hard-charging Jeff Gordon for the final few laps.

*In a Nutshell *– A popular first time win by a young man whose family is inextricably linked with the Speedway helps mask the fact this was yet another race decided by fuel strategy, not racing.

Dramatic Moment – With all their collective racing experience I’m not sure how Matt Kenseth, Jimmie Johnson and David Ragan decided going four-wide into the corner with rookie Landon Cassill was going to be a good idea. It wasn’t. Drivers like Kasey Kahne and Carl Edwards paid the price.

Yes, it was intriguing over those last twelve laps to see if Gordon could run the leaders down but it was more likely those leaders were going to run out of gas anyway. If my notes are correct, every Cup race since the World 600 has been determined by fuel mileage.

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

I’m sorry. I just don’t get it. Kyle Busch scrapes the wall, keeps the car straight and continues on. NASCAR immediately throws the fourth caution. Not too long afterwards, Cassill is sideways across the track with half the field bearing down on him and for several agonizing seconds no yellow flag flies, greatly compounding the severity of the wreck.

Speaking of cautions, if an empty drink bottle on the track surface is enough to warrant a caution, why aren’t drivers penalized for tossing them out the window? It’s often shown on TV as it was today when Kyle Busch’s errant toss bought out the yellow.

They must have had hard liquor for breakfast in the control tower this morning. Who came up with the brilliant idea to open pit road with a track safety truck and crew parked right there, resetting the commitment cone at the pit entrance.

Remember back when the Brickyard 400 used to draw a standing room only 300,000 fans? (Overly optimistic reports estimate Sunday’s “crowd” at 130,000 but my guess it was well less than 100,000). Those days are gone. Of the course the economy isn’t helping but I truly believe that travesty of a 2008 race here was the final straw. If you’ll recall, NASCAR had to throw competition cautions about every 15 laps because that’s as long as the Goodyears would last and they needed to see to it someone actually finished the race. The ‘08 Brickyard is considered by many the worst stock car race ever run (the NHIS restrictor plate race in 2000 was a close second). After the race, fans felt ripped off and angry. A lot of them asked for a refund; they never got one and guess what? Those folks never came back. Is there a lesson here for the folks that run Kentucky?

The Nationwide drivers were almost universal in expressing their disappointment next year’s event will be held at the Brickyard rather than the short track. Most went on to add they hoped eventually they’d be back to the old IRP. Based on what I saw this weekend, maybe it’s time to move the Cup cars to the short track, too.

It was a treat to hear Ned Jarrett in the broadcast booth again, albeit briefly. Even while he was there as an honoree, he seemed to be keeping a better eye on the action than the three individuals paid to do so. Back in that magical ESPN era of the 1980s and ’90s, Jarrett would pay such close attention to the track he’d often be able to predict a wreck laps before it happened and direct the camera crews to keep an eye on the situation as it developed.

Are they running a demolition derby or a road race at Watkins Glen this month? Based on the promotional commercial being aired to try to sell tickets, someone unfamiliar with the sport might think none of these drivers ever make a corner.

Ten dollars for parking? In this day and age? You’ve got to be kidding me.

I’ve already gotten three emails on the topic, so here’s the 411 on ESPN’s so called “Side by Side” coverage that allows fans to continue watching the race during commercials. The improved coverage doesn’t start until the Chase (the final ten races) and it will only be featured in the second half of those races.

I can’t imagine kneeling on diamond ground asphalt is too comfortable even for a quick smooch of the bricks. Having to stay down there to do all the hat changes as well? Sorry, not at my age.

The Hindenburg Award For Foul Fortune

Kasey Kahne had a clearly dominant car early in the event but a botched pit stop and the eventual spin that tore up the nose of his car ended his chances at a decent finish.

Barely two laps into the race, Kurt Busch put his car hard up against the outside wall.

For such a big track, Indy’s pit road is awfully narrow. Among those suffering pit road collisions Sunday: Kyle Busch, Tony Stewart, Kevin Harvick, Johnson and Brian Vickers.

With passing at such a premium at Indy, Denny Hamlin’s blown engine in the final practice caused him to enter the race with one hand tied behind his back.

David Reutimann took the hardest hit of the event after a blown tire sent him hard into the wall; he wound up 36th.

The “Seven Come Fore Eleven” Award For Fine Fortune

Menard must not have been too close on gas after all. He had plenty left over after the race to do burnouts and victory laps.

Stewart survived his pit road entrance incident with Harvick well enough to finish sixth in a car that was clearly not the pick of the litter.

Mark Martin was nearly spun by Juan Pablo Montoya earlier in the race but kept it one piece to finish eighth.

It was a pretty fair weekend for young James Buescher, who finished third in the ARCA race, second in a truck, and third in the Nationwide Series race.

Worth Noting

  • Not only was Menard’s win the first of his Cup career, it was only his sixth top-5 result in 167 Cup starts. Four of those top-5 finishes have been scored in 2011.
  • Menard is the fourth driver to score his first Cup win this season, tying a record that goes back to 1997. (The others were Trevor Bayne, Regan Smith and David Ragan.) He’s also the first driver to score his first ever Cup Series victory in the Brickyard 400.
  • Regan Smith’s third-place performance was easily his best since he won at Darlington in May.
  • Jamie McMurray’s fourth-place result was his best of the season, bettering the seventh-place effort he enjoyed at Martinsville.
  • Mark Martin (eighth) scored his best finish since Dover.
  • Kevin Harvick (11th) missed the top 10 for the third straight race. Teammate Clint Bowyer (13th) saw his streak outside the top 10 extended to four events.
  • Chevy drivers claimed six of the top 10 finishing spots (including the first four) while two Ford drivers and a single Dodge and Toyota rounded out the top 10.
  • Chevys have won the last nine Brickyard 400s and thirteen of the eighteen Brickyards run to date.

What’s the Points?

Edwards and Johnson remain one-two in the standings. They are now separated by 11 points. Behind them, Kurt Busch had a tough day, that bout with the outside wall costing him three spots. Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch and Matt Kenseth jumped ahead, moving to third, fourth, and fifth in points respectively.

Behind Kurt Busch in sixth sits Jeff Gordon, with Ryan Newman holding serve in eighth, Tony Stewart advanced two spots to ninth in the standings, while Dale Earnhardt, Jr. fell to tenth. And, while Junior gained ground on the 11th-place driver in the standings his points position grows increasingly more precarious. He is now in the tenth and final spot that locks into the Chase, 19 ahead of Denny Hamlin but still has zero wins. Uh-oh; I’m just waiting for Brian France to announce that the thirteenth driver in the Chase will be voted in by the fans this fall.

If the regular season were to end right now (and incidentally it won’t) Menard would grab one “wild card” spot based on Sunday’s win and his fourteenth place standing in the points. David Ragan, with his win at Daytona has a shot from sixteenth if he can bypass Menard in points.

Overall Rating (On a scale of one to six beer cans with one being a stinker and a six pack an instant classic) — Two cans of warm, generic stuff that smells kind of skunky. This race used to be all sizzle and no steak. Now, it doesn’t even sizzle much.

Next Up – We’re just getting cranked up on the seventeen-consecutive-week stretch to crowning a champion at Homestead. This week’s round is at Pocono… again.

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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08/01/2011 06:32 AM

Damn, I missed all the excitement.

08/01/2011 07:34 AM

With all these fuel mileage “races”, I wonder if NA$CAR will need to adjust their minimum speed rule so that they don’t have to blackflag the leader?

Bill B
08/01/2011 08:00 AM

I was wondering the same thing about Kyle Busch’s water bottle. Usually, bringing out a caution by throwing something out on the track is a penalty. I guess NASCAR was thankful for the opportunity to throw another debris caution and bunch the field up. If I’m not mistaken there were 5 or 6 cautions, only two of them were legitimate.

Some days I just get so fed up with NASCAR’s manipulation of the races that I just want to go cold turkey and stop watching altogether.

The fuel mileage thing has gotten too pervasive. At least Menard couldn’t limp to the finish line yesterday. Jeff kept him honest.

08/01/2011 08:06 AM

There’s finally something the Cup car is good for…mowing grass.

08/01/2011 08:16 AM

I heard the words “clean air” way to often again yesterday. Even if the 24 would have caught Menard he probably wasn’t going to pass him because of the non-exsistent(per Nascar) aero push. Glad to see Menard win, he is a better driver than he gets credit for.

Bruce Florman
08/01/2011 08:32 AM

In ’08 they had to throw a “competition” caution every ten laps, not fifteen. Yes, I was there, and haven’t been back since. I didn’t leave the track shaking my fist and vowing never to return though. I’ve just had other things going on every year since then.

I find that I often have other things going on that keep me from watching races on the weekends too. That never seemed to happen ten years ago, but maybe my life was just less interesting back then. It certainly couldn’t have anything to do with the quality of the races these days.

Carl D.
08/01/2011 08:33 AM


I think you should start grading the race as follows: 5 beers for the all but the last 10-20 laps, and one final beer for the finish. If that was the case for this race, I’d give it 5 cans of warm skunk spit, and one cold wine cooler for Jeff Gordon’s attempt to catch Menard (we all know Jeff prefers wine over beer).

The “clean air” advantage is such that Nascar has to throw a caution for anything that could possibly be construed as debris in order to bunch the cars up for a restart. The race was so boring at times that if Nacsar had thrown the yellow for a feather on the track, I wouldn’t have complained.

08/01/2011 08:54 AM

Not too much to brag about as far as the racing was concerned, but it was nice seeing a 1st time Cup winner and Richard “Slugger” Labbe win.

08/01/2011 09:49 AM

good recap, I really wanted Gordon to win it, but Menard certainly drove a good race and won it fair and square.

I didn’t understand why NASCAR didn’t call a penalty for Busch throwing stuff out of his car – except that they needed the caution to close up the field so we could have the artificial excitement of double file restarts for 2 or 3 laps.

Oh heavens, Matt, I hope NASCAR doesn’t read your column and decide that the fan vote is THE way to get Jr into the playoffs? That would make the chase even more of a joken than it is.
I feel badly for the guy, who’d ever want that kind of pressure every day.

08/01/2011 10:21 AM

Not that I don’t appreciate the sentiment Gina, but there’s no way the Chase could be a bigger joke than it is. I read Matt’s column more than I watch races these days, and it’s all because of the grand idiocy that is the Chase.

08/01/2011 10:38 AM

They always throw water bottles out of the cars. It just happened that Kyle’s bounced back onto the track.

I bet you would find tons of bottles if you walked along the edge of a race track after a race.

08/01/2011 11:02 AM

Wait – isn’t NA$CAR all about the environment now (fuel injection, ethanol, etc)? Yet they allow the drivers to litter like crazy on the backstretch?

Bill B
08/01/2011 11:09 AM

Good one!!!! LOL

Yes they do always throw water bottles out of cars the question is, Why is that allowed?

NASCAR should make it illegal to throw anything out of the car at any time once they are out of their pit box. The only exception should be if there is something on fire or that presents an immediate danger (like a live hand-grenade).

08/01/2011 11:23 AM

I think you mean Regan Smith finished third. Ragan finished 23rd.

Michael in SoCal
08/01/2011 11:49 AM

A couple of things here…

Montoya and Burton had contact on pit road too.

It was Regan Smith who came in third yesterday, and who also won at Darlington earlier this year. David Ragan won at Daytona.

Why not mandate some sort of trash can in the car so that water bottles can be stored until the end of the race as opposed to thrown out so that Nascar can call a debris caution?

08/01/2011 11:49 AM

I guess I’m in the minority because I thought it was a good race. ESPN did a stellar job, the folks in the booth didn’t play favorites, and I stayed awake for the entire race. Artificial or not, I thought the last 10 laps were pretty darn good.

08/01/2011 12:21 PM

Thanks for noting it was Regan Smith not Ragan that finished 3rd, SouthJerseyGirl. As a big fan of Regan Smith, he deserves accolades for doing so much with a one car team.
I’ve never been a fan of the Chase, or the CoT, and while fuel mileage races are part of the game, this many is ridiculous.
I have never liked John Menard and the fact that he “bought” his son rides in Nascar, but I do appreciate that Paul Menard is a quiet, respected racer in the garage who has earned his stripes. However, we have had four first time winners this year. Two have won at rp tracks and the newest abomination, two by two racing, and the other two were fuel mileage wins meaning that none of these first winners would have won on ovals where it was just all out racing. Look at the top 10 for the Chase right now and you see the same old, same old. I still see a previous Chase person not in but close, winning a race to get in, and all of this WC excitement will be for naught.
It is the economy and the fact that Nascar does not have a clue about what value and a good product is all about…
‘Nough said

Matt L
08/01/2011 12:27 PM

The last 10 laps were very exciting. The other 150 were terrible since nobody could pass except for restarts.

Having Allen Bestwick in the booth really helped save ESPN & save this race from the click of the remote.

08/01/2011 12:34 PM

I was at the debacle that was the 2008 Brickyard and haven’t been back since. Not so much because of the tire issues…I’m just tired of spending all of that money to see one corner of the track. I have, however, been back to IRP (I don’t care who owns it now…it will always be IRP) for the Truck and Busch (same goes) races. Brainless France is going to bring down NA$CAR from the inside out if he keeps making stupid decisions like moving one of the best short track races of the season to one of the most boring tracks.

08/01/2011 12:39 PM

So, if a driver saves his tires, he’s a racer.
If a driver saves fuel, he’s a slouch?

Bill B
08/01/2011 12:46 PM

Matt L,
Gordon and Kenseth seemed to be able to pass others. It wasn’t easy but it could be done.

08/01/2011 03:23 PM

Wasn’t Robby Gordon shown throwing something (roll bar wrapping?) out of his car? It’s a good thing it wasn’t Robby who threw out the water bottle, not that anything different would have happened to him.

Carl D.
08/01/2011 04:20 PM

Matt L..

Thanks for giving props to Allen Bestwick. ESPN isn’t what it used to be back in the day, but having Bestwick on board is a step in the right direction.

08/01/2011 08:12 PM

I agree totally with your drink bottle comment. I said exactly the same thing to my husband – if it warrants a caution, why isn’t there a penalty? Deliberately tossing a water bottle = deliberately causing a caution.
Oh, I forgot….it was Kyle Busch….never mind.

Tom Dalfonzo
08/01/2011 08:57 PM

Having Allen Bestwick in the both was very nice. ESPN just needs to rehire Bob Jenkins and John Kernan, and ESPN is back in business.

It's About Time
08/01/2011 08:59 PM

Honestly, I think it’s time for a Stock Car competitor to NASCAR to emerge from the shadows. With all the small teams falling away and start-and-parkers, there must be enough cash to buy some 2011 Cameros, Challengers and Mustangs, safety ‘em up and throw ‘em out there at IRP, Rockingham and other short/mid tracks of note.. I mean, COME ON… people would watch, yknow, actual racing even if they streamed it online and put ads on the screen… it’s time for someone with money to use some sense and fill the market gap NASCAR is leaving…

namely, the desire for entertaining, hard-nosed, racing.

08/01/2011 11:55 PM

Once again NASCAR has manipulated the race throughout with its phony cautions. Early race strategy is jumbled up for most with cautions that seem to benefit a few. Tires that last through more than one fuel run encourage the fuel saving gamble. It is paying off this season for several teams who have nothing to lose and take that gamble. The wave around and the lucky dog make it hard for faster cars to keep the lapped cars a lap down. NASCAR just keeps finding ways to make watching these races harder. The Brickyard is touted as a premier race – why??? I am really trying hard to remain a fan. Again why???
Ending on a good note – Allan Bestwick is the highlight of the race coverage. At least he doesn’t bring his own agenda. Just calls the race……….

Don Mei
08/02/2011 10:09 AM

I think Nascar should mandate a compulsary “Trash stop” at the halfway point of each race. Allow an extra crewman over the wall to collect water bottles, gum wrappers , etc while the cars are taking on fuel and tires.

08/02/2011 12:37 PM

Wasn’t the last car that JGo had to pass in his charge to the front the #32 driven by Mike Bliss? Did it look to you like Bliss held up Gordon just barely enough to break his momentum just barely enough to allow Menard to get away and get the win? Could this be a form of subtle payback for an altercation some years back between Gordon and Bliss at an airport?
Or am I just reading too much into this?