The Frontstretch: Matt McLaughlin's Thinkin' Out Loud: New Hampshire-2 Race Recap by Matt McLaughlin -- Monday September 26, 2011

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Matt McLaughlin's Thinkin' Out Loud: New Hampshire-2 Race Recap

Matt McLaughlin · Monday September 26, 2011


Tony Stewart earned redemption this Sunday at New Hampshire, making up for running out of gas while leading in 2010 to earn his second straight victory in this year’s Chase.

Staff Note: Welcome back, Matt!

The Key Moment – With two laps to go Clint Bowyer ran out of fuel, handing the lead and the win to Tony Stewart.

In a Nutshell – Turnabout is fair play. Last Fall, Stewart ran out of gas heading to the white flag at NHMS and Bowyer was able to capitalize on the error to take a win.

Dramatic Moment – Well, if you like watching people run out of gas you must be orgasmic after the last two races.

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

Is fuel mileage racing going to kill NASCAR? You could make a valid argument that you can’t kill what’s already dead.

Are further penalties in store for Kurt Busch and the No. 22 team this week after the car failed pre-race inspection Sunday? (The rear differential was apparently skewed to one side.) Recall a hefty points penalty on NHMS winner Clint Bowyer for a similar infraction (being outside tolerance) basically ended his chances in the Chase last year. When Mike Helton walks to the spotter’s stand to talk to a team owner prior to the race, that’s an ominous sign. Editor’s Note: Bob Pockrass from Scene Daily is reporting Cup Series Director John Darby has nixed any idea of additional penalties for the team.

Will Michael Waltrip’s “suffocating” presence as team owner (according to our Matt McLaughlin) threaten to derail Clint Bowyer’s Cup career next season?

I sure hope there’s no substance to the rumor that due to sponsorship issues Clint Bowyer will be moving from RCR to Michael Waltrip Racing, where careers go to die, next year. Metaphorically, drivers’ careers are like flowers. They need sunshine to grow. And nothing can survive in the massive shadow of MWR’s titular owner’s massive shadow.

Remember way back when when Bruton Smith and SMI bought the New Hampshire track from the Bahre family? Smith promised a major upgrade to the track configuration that would leave NHMS basically a one-mile replica of Richmond, one of the great tracks on the circuit. So what happened? Was all that money spent doing parking lot improvements at Kentucky prior to that track’s inaugural race?

Hopefully, everyone caught Saturday’s Whelen Modified race. Lots of passing and multi-groove racing at NHMS? What’s up with that? Here’s a hint: look at the width of the tires on the mods. Wider tires in Cup would also provide for better racing. (Particularly if they were bias ply tires.)

Ummm… let’s see. NASCAR’s first two Chase dates are held at Chicagoland and New Hampshire, a pair of tracks not known for scintillating action. Combined with a rainout (can’t blame NASCAR for that one) and two fuel mileage races, that ought to kill off whatever nascent interest there was in this year’s playoffs among casual and non-fans.

Speaking of which, I want to talk to the programming genius at ESPN/ABC who decided on a 2:15 ET start time for stock car races. It seems odd to give fans an hour and fifteen minutes to get into the NFL games (scheduled to start at 1 PM ET and the pigskin is flying minutes after one) when the NFL is already the ratings king. I thought the trick was to have fans surf by the football game during race broadcast commercials, right? Not the other way around. And if a TV network schedules a race to begin at two, when fans tune in at two sharp the cars ought to be rolling off pit road to begin the parade laps.

So where did I get off to? Longtime readers will remember I blew out my left knee back in 1996. Well, I now have a matched pair of bum knees to deal with, putting me in intensive care again during the earthquake and Hurricane Irene. I’m not sure where the rumors I had cancer or was dead started, but despite a lifetime of bad habits, hard living and the diet of a buzzard unfortunately for my detractors I’m not checking out anytime soon; I just won’t be able to beat any of you in a foot race for awhile. Thanks to all who emailed me good wishes during my convalescence…

The Hindenburg Award For Foul Fortune

Mark Martin has to wonder what he has to do to stop a year’s worth of bad luck after an equalized tire ruined a shot at a top-10, perhaps even a top-5 finish at New Hampshire.

Clint Bowyer almost won the race but came up two laps short on gas. That dropped him all the way down to 26th at the checkered; in comparison, last Fall Stewart went from the lead down to 24th while Bowyer jumped up to win the race.

Dale Earnhardt, Jr. ran in or around the top 10 all day until a pair of blown tires ruined his afternoon. Camber issues were reportedly the cause while the result was a disappointing 17th.

Mark Martin’s best run in ages was also spoiled by an equalized tire late in the race. Martin, who was despondent for a bit on the radio (and who could blame him, the way this season has gone) wound up 24th.

Jimmie Johnson dropped positions like a rock after tangling with Kyle Busch and bending up his steering system. The No. 48 team, whose radio chatter was testy at times throughout struggled to end the day 18th.

Denny Hamlin ran out of gas with six laps to go and fell from sixth to 29th in the running order. Stick a fork in his title hopes because they are well and truly done.

The “Seven Come Fore Eleven” Award For Fine Fortune

For the second straight week, Tony Stewart basically had a victory fall into his lap. The only laps Smoke led were the final two once Bowyer’s tank ran dry.

Brad Keselowski spent the first half of the race in Nowheresville, population him, until clever pit strategy garnered him some track position and a second-place finish. In comparison, teammate Kurt Busch was experiencing another mental breakdown en route to 22nd… weirdly enough, both Penske racer’s finishes matched their car numbers.

Matt Kenseth’s crew did an exceptional job Sunday at New Hampshire, fixing up the ailing No. 17 Ford after their spin to allow the ’03 Cup champ to surge back to sixth.

Matt Kenseth’s afternoon seemed doomed after he was spun by teammate Carl Edwards. But Kenseth recovered well enough to finish sixth, on the lead lap and ironically enough two positions ahead of Edwards. It’s the best result he’s managed at the Magic Mile in over five years.

Jeff Gordon rebounded from a horrid run at Joliet last week to lead the most laps and finish fourth at New Hampshire. And the No. 24 car didn’t even run out of gas this time!

Brian Vickers had a strong run and was finally able to capitalize on it with a respectable fifth-place finish. It served as a silver lining on a week Red Bull Racing officially notified the state of North Carolina the team will close its doors in December without a sale.

Jack Roush had a pretty good weekend, with all four of his teams finishing inside the top 10.

Worth Noting

  • Stewart has back-to-back wins in the Cup series for the first time since Joliet and Indy in 2007.
  • Keselowski has managed top-10 finishes in eight of the last nine Cup races. Ten races ago, he was 23rd in points and now the third-year Cup driver sits third.
  • Greg Biffle’s third-place finish was his best of the season.
  • Vickers’ fifth-place finish was his second top-5 result of 2011 (to go along with Dover in May). He also led laps in a Cup race for the first time this year.
  • Kenseth (sixth) failed to lead a lap for the first time in six races Sunday.
  • Edwards (eighth) has now posted five consecutive top-10 finishes.
  • Juan Pablo Montoya’s ninth-place performance was his best on an oval since Daytona in July.
  • Regan Smith’s tenth-place finish was his best since the Brickyard.
  • Kyle Busch (eleventh) has failed to post top-10 results in four of the last five Cup races.
  • The top-10 finishers at New Hampshire drove four Chevys, four Fords (all four of them owned by Jack Roush), a Dodge and a Toyota.

What’s the Points?

Stewart takes over the point lead, displacing Kevin Harvick to second in the standings. (I haven’t quite figured this Chase mess out yet, but I think winning the race still pays the maximum amount of points so that makes sense.) The gap between the two drivers is now seven. Brad Keselowski, a decided sleeper in the Chase despite a productive fall, moves up three spots to third in the standings; he’s eleven points out of the lead. Carl Edwards, the highest of the Roush Fenway crowd sits in fourth; he’s fourteen markers behind.

The four-time champ, Jeff Gordon moved up six spots in the standings to fifth, while Kyle Busch moved up five spots to sixth. The bad news for the duo is they are now 23 and 26 points out of the lead, respectively. Both have to hope the law of averages catches up with Stewart, somewhere during the next eight weeks or their championship hopes are pretty much toast.

Kurt Busch had the worst points day, falling five positions to ninth in the standings. A further NASCAR penalty for this morning’s pre-race infraction could really ice his cake. Other big losers: Ryan Newman fell four spots to eleventh in the standings, while Dale Earnhardt, Jr. fell three spots to eighth. Somewhere in Connecticut, they’re talking ESPN executives down off of rooftop ledges.

Those we haven’t talked about yet: Matt Kenseth, who sits seventh after some tiebreakers and Jimmie Johnson, tenth in points and 29 out of the lead. Denny Hamlin, still dead last is now 66 markers back and all but eliminated from title contention.

Clint Bowyer, while losing the race still has a three-point edge over Greg Biffle in the “Best of the Rest” battle hidden behind the Chase.

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 pirated out of the spare tire well of a rusty AMC Gremlin in a Vermont junkyard.

Next UpNASCAR heads to the Monster Mile of Dover, the third race of the Chase and hopefully the first that offers up some excitement for the fan base this Fall.

Contact Matt McLaughlin

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Today on the Frontstretch:
NASCAR Easter Eggs: A Few Off-Week Nuggets to Chew On
Five Points To Ponder: NASCAR’s Take-A-Breath Moment
Truckin’ Thursdays: Top Five All-Time Truck Series Drivers
Going By the Numbers: A Week Without Racing Can Bring Relief But Kill Momentum


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09/26/2011 12:58 AM

Welcome back!!!!!!!

09/26/2011 06:27 AM

Welcome back, Matt. This race yesterday is EXACTLY what DVR’s were made for.

09/26/2011 06:47 AM

Welcome back,
Glad to hear I didn’t miss anything,the weather here in Ohio was just to conducive for riding:) not many days like that left, didn’t even look to see who won til this AM. It’s a damn shame it’s come to “who cares” the new na$car

09/26/2011 07:31 AM

Welcome back Kid Lightning! We missed you.
Even two cans is a tough sell for that snoozefest. I’m with Jim, glad I DVR’d it.

Ghost of Curtis Turner
09/26/2011 07:54 AM

Weloome Back Matt!

09/26/2011 08:10 AM

Just a thought about the fuel mileage finishes and what to do about them. If they want to eliminate them why don’t they set a maximum # of laps each car can run on a tank of gas. For example they were saying yesterday the max was around 72 laps, make each car pit before they run more than 65 laps. Everyone on same agenda, no one runs out of gas and hopefully fastest car wins. I know it eliminates strategy, but can’t have everything.

09/26/2011 08:13 AM

welcome back!

09/26/2011 08:16 AM

what “change” dead wood getting rid of happened at stewart/haas racing last week to change things around that stewart mentioned in v/l yesterday? i don’t recall seeing anything and only major change last week was at rcr with comp director leaving.

09/26/2011 09:08 AM

Welcome back Matt.. Hope you got to patch your bones to get back truckin on.

I did go to the Whelen race and Truck race saturday and you are correct the Whelen race was terrific. The truck race was a bore fest with only 5 lead changes in 175 laps.

When will NHMS get with it and tear that track up and add some serious banking in the turns.. Not until they do that will they see me again on a Sunday. Why fight the traffic and crowd on a Sunday when the racing is so poor. If I am going to watch poor racing I want to get in for 40 bucks, avoid all traffic, park close and sit where I like. Thats the saturday schedule and it suits me just fine.

09/26/2011 10:02 AM

Welcome back Matt!

The place wasn’t the same without you!

Missed the race completely, I was putting out Halloween decorations on a somewhat nice day outside, until the rains came.

09/26/2011 10:10 AM

While this Tony fan loved the outcome of the race. It was a sleeper to be sure. Watching the last 40~50 laps will tell you all you need to know about this one.

If they are all decided on fuel mileage, then who will be left to watch Homestead that aren’t already in the stands?

09/26/2011 10:40 AM

Great to have you back, Matt.

It seems especially strange that Clint Bowyer would be going to MWR if anyone has ever listened to his radio during a race. I don’t think there’s anyone in the garage Clint thinks less highly of than ol’ MW.

The Modified race was fantastic. Not only do they have nice, wide tires, they’re also lower to the ground and lighter, making them handle like racecars and not dump trucks.

09/26/2011 11:02 AM

Welcome back, MATT, we missed ya.

Bill B
09/26/2011 11:02 AM

Glad to see you are back Matt and that your medical problems were mechanical not a life threatening disease.

I think you are pulling the trigger a little to fast with the line “The bad news for the duo is they are now 23 and 26 points out of the lead, respectively”.
There are still 8 races left and if either driver can finish 3 positions in front of Tony in each race the deficit is made up. The only one that is out so far is probably Denny Hamlin. Just too many points down on too many drivers..

A boring race overall (which is no surprise for NH). I don’t like fuel mileage races but I’d rather see that than a bogus debris caution by NASCAR to negate the gas mileage issues. Let the races unfold as they should with as little intervention from the booth as possible.

Man, they did pummel us with commercials yesterday. I guess since it’s only a 300 mile race and there weren’t many cautions they had to really pack them in.

09/26/2011 11:25 AM

Bring back the bigger fuel cell and let drivers learn to manage tire wear like the drivers did back in the day.

Kevin in SoCal
09/26/2011 11:35 AM

Matt said: “Brad Keselowski, a decided sleeper in the Chase despite a productive fall, moves up three spots to third in the standings;”

I’m guessing you mean Fall as in after Summer and not fall as in trip and stumble over. If so, Fall just started Friday. I’ve noticed over the years that races from Daytona to Daytona are called “Spring races” while races after Daytona are called “Fall races” even if they’re in the middle of Summer! Any particular reason for that?

And, welcome back Matt! Its good to have our favorite curmudgeon writing his column again. And thank you to the other Frontstretch staff who filled in for you.

09/26/2011 11:37 AM

Welcome back, Matt. Sorry to hear about your knees.

Ugh, as if Chicagoland and NH didn’t put on boring races all on their own, having them come down to fuel mileage is the nail in the proverbial coffin.

The dover fall race has usually been better than the spring race, but that’s not saying much.

Sorry to hear that Bowyer is going to MWR – I like him, but I won’t root for Motormouth’s Toyota’s.

If you’re a Stewart fan, I’m sure you’re happy, but is this really what NASCAR was looking for to decide who gets the 10 race trophy?

09/26/2011 12:06 PM

This fuel mileage thing is an easy fix. Just make the tires wear out before a full fuel run.

Back in the day, the bias ply tires wore out in 50-60 miles. If you have a 22 gallon tank and get 4 MPG, that’s 88 miles. If the tires wear out at 60 miles, then you’re pittng no later than 75 miles or you lose so much time on the track that you’re down a lap, negating the advantage of stretching the fuel.

Sometimes I wonder where the common-sense of the rules maker’s has gone.

09/26/2011 12:30 PM

yay! welcome back matt.
hope you get everything you kneed to continue your recovery.

gosh, am i glad the dvr. looks like you can save around one hour of your life if you skip the ads and then another 2 or so hours if you skim the meaningless parts of the race (irrespective of what JJ does to liven things up.)
I’m not writing that guy off yet, but man, he sure looks like he’s making mistakes born from desperation.

09/26/2011 12:46 PM

Welcome back, Matt!!

Matt L
09/26/2011 01:00 PM

Really happy to see you are back writing again Matt!

The race was a bore until the last 50 laps. The first 250 laps of the race gave no indication we are in the Chase a.k.a. ‘playoffs’.

Brian Mc
09/26/2011 01:03 PM

Welcome back Matt, we missed ya! I agree with Kevin in SoCal, the staff did great filling in for you but they are NO Matt McLaughlin!

09/26/2011 01:25 PM

unbird10 – common sense left the building when Bill France Jr retired.

I agree, the ugly car and an even uglier tire is a contributing factor to this mess.

09/26/2011 01:29 PM

Welcome back buddy!

09/26/2011 02:11 PM

If NASCAR really thinks fuel milage races are so exciting…they should just make a new rule that says you cannot pit anymore until you are OUT of gas! Now that would make for a six-pack of beer! WOW! I’m sure glad the NFL season is here.

09/26/2011 05:39 PM

Its great your back Matt we missed you around here in OC CA.

09/26/2011 06:01 PM

Good to have you back Matt. Kudos to Special K on his run of 10 finishes. But remember he is only in 3rd place in points because Brainfart France’s 10 race do-over Chase for the Chumpionship.

Carl D.
09/26/2011 06:24 PM

Welcome back Matt. Also, a hearty thanks to Tom for filling your shoes so admirably while you were away. He wasn’t you, Matt, but he was the next best thing.

I don’t think you can count anyone other than Hamlin out just yet. Stewart is hot right now, but he has a way of going from hot to cold overnight. I think Harvick is a better bet, and Keseleowski just keeps on rolling. With Johnson in 10th right now, this chase, as poor as the actual racing has been, is wide open. That said, it looks like the annual Kyle Busch chase meltdown is well underway. I won’t count him out just yet, but if history is any indication, he’s right on track.

09/26/2011 06:38 PM

If NASCAR wants to stagger the start time to NFL coverage, start the race at noon NOT 2:15. Start it before the NFL games start. NASCAR would have an hour of racing before the NFL games start. People can, then, tune out during the boring middle and flip back at half-time to catch the last part of the race. Perfect to the point that it makes too much sense.

09/26/2011 08:22 PM

Happy you’re back Matt and Stewart winning. Cool.

09/26/2011 08:35 PM

Glad to have you back Matt! A couple more races like that and we won’t remember who won the championship the week after.

Tom Dalfonzo
09/26/2011 09:13 PM

Someone needs to sit down and show the networks how to broadcast a NASCAR race right because they don’t know how to. All Sunday afternoon races need to begin at 12:00PM EST. The time that is wasted with this NASCAR Raceway garbage could be spent on valuable racing time. But no, the networks think they know everything. It is also time for cars to come equipped with wider tires and bigger fuel cells.

phil h
09/27/2011 01:41 AM

with the highest possible point swing for one race at 47 points and Hamlin like 66 points out,thats an entire race behind.
At JGR,Logano might be sliced bread!!but Hamlin is TOAST !!

Annie Mack
09/29/2011 12:27 PM

Wow! I hadn’t heard those rumors of your demise. It’s great to know they were greatly exaggerated. I just assumed you did something stupid in the car or on the motorcycle and needed to mend a little. Welcome back. I missed your point of view.