The Frontstretch: Matt McLaughlin's Thinkin' Out Loud: Dover-2 Race Recap by Matt McLaughlin -- Monday October 3, 2011

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

Matt McLaughlin · Monday October 3, 2011


Keeping pace with a dominant No. 48 car in the last 100 miles, Kurt Busch took advantage of two late cautions to blow by Jimmie Johnson and score his first Sprint Cup victory since Infineon in late June.

The Key Moment – Kurt Busch got enough of a jump on the final restart, with 35 laps remaining that he was easily able to hold off Jimmie Johnson for the win.

In a Nutshell – Wow, what a race! Two leaders battling wheel-to-wheel, side-by-side for over twenty laps at the end. A five-car pack still in contention for the win with five laps to go and ten cars within a second of the leader. Oops! Sorry, I just described the IndyCar race at Kentucky. Oh, well; at least the Cup “show” wasn’t decided on fuel mileage.

Dramatic Moment – You know there was a good race wanting to happen between Busch, Edwards and Johnson in the final laps but the aero-push phenomenon kept it from gelling.

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

Did the Chase just ruin the finish of another race? I’m left wondering if Jimmie Johnson gave it all he had on that final restart or decided to preserve a top-3 finish to help himself in the points. It’s not like he and Kurt Busch haven’t already had their run-ins this season (as recently as last week) so caution might have been the better part of valor in some folks’ eyes.

Speaking of Johnson, his detractors had been celebrating all week as they wrote off his title chances. Even a lot of folks in the media wasted a lot of verbiage talking about the near-impossible task Johnson had ahead of him trying for that sixth title. Note to you all: he’s back. Be afraid. Be very afraid. Now, I’m not rooting for Johnson here. Frankly, I think it would be better for the sport to have a new champion this season, but I’m not going to write off the No. 48 bunch until they are mathematically eliminated.

Reed Sorenson caught a huge break this weekend when NASCAR “officials” forgot to inform him of a pit road penalty that would have sent his No. 32 car to the tail end of the longest line for a restart.

Another black eye for NASCAR officiating. In Saturday’s Nationwide race, Reed Sorenson’s car sputtered and ran out of fuel just as a caution flag flew. Thus, he was forced to enter the pits before pit lane opened, drawing the standard penalty for that infraction: restarting the race at the end of the longest line. Most casual fans know that by heart; heck, even Sorenson’s crew chief admitted he knew that consequence should have been coming. But in this case, the penalty was never assessed. Why? NASCAR “forgot” to tell the team they were penalized before the race resumed. After the event, officials contended that after the restart, there was nothing they could do to correct their own glaring error. Bull-feathers! They’ve thrown another caution and rearranged the field to correct errors countless times. I recall distinctly after Dale Earnhardt was incorrectly penalized for having his team fail to install a lug nut, NASCAR threw a caution and allowed Earnhardt to move back up to his rightful position. How much did it help? We’ll never know, exactly, but considering Sorenson is third in the standings… he just got an unfair points advantage. If this “break” allows him to defeat either of the drivers up ahead for the title, somebody is going to be raising Hell and I’m going to be right behind them with a pitchfork and torch.

How close was NASCAR to another rainout? Here in Chester County, about sixty miles north of the track as the crow flies, it started raining early this morning and never stopped. Of course, the only equipment we have to dry Little Washington Road is my landlord’s kid Jack dragging a tire up and down it aboard an old Wheelhorse garden tractor with a cast iron, ten-horsepower engine. It doesn’t do crap, but it keeps him out of trouble…

Who are these other 31 drivers out on the track with the twelve Chasers? Don’t bother asking anyone at ESPN. That network’s pre-race show ought to be re-titled “The Jimmie, Junior, Carl, Jeff, Kyle and the Other Seven Chase Dwarves Show.”

Wow, there sure are a lot of crying, whining babies in the garage area lately. And many of them seem to have infant children. (Note to Mrs. Johnson – Annie Hall called. She wants her wardrobe back.)

Isn’t it amazing how much more competitive and entertaining the Truck Series races are when guys like Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick stay home? Now, if we could just get the Cup guys to forgo Nationwide events we might see some decent racing in that series as well.

OK, who is in charge of scheduling? Fans (Phans?) here in the Philadelphia market have a glut of options this weekend. On Sunday, the Phillies had a playoff game and the Iggles played game four of the NFL season at home. For car guys, this weekend was the much anticipated fall Carlisle swap meet outside of Harrisburg. (Hershey is next week.) The NHRA is in Reading for a national event. And they decided this weekend was the one to schedule a Cup race at Dover?

Just in case you forgot what it looked like… we’ve posted a picture of Robby Gordon’s car here. It’s been awhile…

Robby Gordon said recently he’s begun start-and-parking his car because he’ll get the same amount of TV exposure whether he runs a few laps or the whole race. Gordon says his car is only shown during his qualifying run. But I’ve got a solution. If only the guy returned to his form of a few years ago, wrecking out drivers in the Chase, his TV exposure would rise dramatically…

The Hindenburg Award For Foul Fortune

Carl Edwards appeared to have the fastest car on Sunday but a speeding penalty on pit road ended his chances at a win. Edwards rebounded to a third-place finish but was clearly miffed with himself over the lost opportunity at the victory.

Dale Earnhardt, Jr. had a decent if unspectacular day going (after recovering from early suspension issues) until his team left the right-front wheel loose on a pit stop. That forced Junior back to get it fixed under green, late enough in the race that no amount of magical “debris” cautions or Lucky Dogs could help him recover: Earnhardt finished 24th, two laps off the pace and seemingly out of title contention at this point. Please note: there’s no truth to the rumor that the No. 88 team’s front tire changer had to be smuggled out of Dover in the trunk of a car to protect him against rabid Earnhardt fans. He was actually in the back seat under a blanket…

Darian Grubb never liked what he saw out of Tony Stewart’s car, both on-track and where it ranked on NASCAR’s scoring monitor. In two races this season, the No. 14 car had an average Monster Mile finish of 27th.

Tony Stewart admitted he was worried about Dover and as it turns out, he had good reason to be concerned. Stewart’s car wasn’t just bad, it was horrendous on Sunday; lapped early on, he missed a chance at getting the wavearound, never recovered and wound up two laps down in 25th.

I’m not sure what Greg Biffle needs to do to score a decent finish. He ran up front all day at Dover only to get hit with a pit road speeding penalty that left him down a lap. The No. 16 team took the wavearound, worked half the day to get back in contention as Biffle charged back into the top 10… only to wreck himself out late.

Brad Keselowski actually spent most of the day ahead of his winning teammate, but a thrown power steering belt cost him a couple laps. Eventually, he got back on the lead lap but the damage was done: Keselowski sat twentieth when they wrote out the race-ending checks.

The “Seven Come Fore Eleven” Award For Fine Fortune

A.J. Allmendinger was sent for a lurid slide just five laps into the race but kept the car off the wall, a rare save at Dover. He went on to finish seventh. All in all, it was a pretty good day for Richard Petty Motorsports with Allmendinger’s teammate Marcos Ambrose running ninth.

Kasey Kahne got into the back of Jimmie Johnson, who was slow on the final restart with 35 laps to go. It could have spelled disaster for them both, but Kahne – a future Hendrick teammate – lifted and gave Johnson room to gather up his car. Johnson went on to finish second while Kahne wound up fourth, the best ever finish of his career at the Monster Mile in 16 starts.

Worth Noting

  • The win was Busch’s second of the season. His previous victory was on the road course at Sonoma.
  • While he has just one win, Johnson finished second for the fourth time this season.
  • Edwards has now strung together six consecutive top-10 finishes.
  • Kahne finished fourth for the third time this season. Weirdly enough, all those fourth-place finishes were scored at tracks that begin with the fourth letter of the alphabet. (Daytona, Darlington and Dover… see, this is the sort of vital information you only get here.)
  • Matt Kenseth’s fifth-place finish was his best since the Brickyard.
  • Kyle Busch (sixth) is averaging a thirteenth-place finish in the Chase. From the penthouse to…
  • Allmendinger’s seventh-place finish was his best since Charlotte.
  • Ambrose’s ninth-place finish was his best since that win at the Glen. He finished with a top 10 at both Dover races this season.
  • Jeff Burton’s eleventh-place finish matches his best result on an oval track this season. Burton also finished eleventh in the other Dover race and at Texas this spring.
  • Stewart’s 25th-place performance was his worst since Bristol.
  • Earnhardt’s 24th-place finish was his worst since Kentucky. In that long stretch of races, he’s scored just one top-5 result.
  • The top-10 finishers at Dover drove four Fords, three Chevys, two Toyotas and the winning Dodge. Fords, Chevys and Dodges led at least 92 laps of the 400 run, with only Toyota lagging behind on this day. Apparently, we’ve about achieved parity in racing. Too bad it’s made a parody out of the racing.

What’s the Points?

Kevin Harvick advanced a spot to take over the lead in the standings. He’s actually tied with Edwards in the points but Harvick has more wins than the No. 99 bunch. Stewart fell two spots to third in the standings. As badly as he ran, it’s a wonder the damage was that limited. The win advanced Kurt Busch up five positions to fourth.

A second-place finish propelled Johnson up five spots to fifth. He’s thirteen points out of the lead. Still think his chances are toast? That blown power steering belt dropped Keselowski three spots to sixth, while Kenseth holds serve down in seventh. Kyle Busch fell two spots to eighth in the standings, while Jeff Gordon fell four spots to ninth. Each of those drivers are separated by no more than 19 points heading to Kansas.

Further back, Junior dropped two spots to tenth and is now a distant 34 markers back. Someone buy the No. 88 team a jumbo size bottle of blue Loctite. Ryan Newman and Denny Hamlin continue to round out the top 12.

In the “Best of the Rest” category, Clint Bowyer is thirteenth in the standings, two points ahead of A.J Allmendinger.

For those who are curious: under this year’s method of awarding points but the traditional (non-Chase) method of totaling season-long points, Edwards would currently be leading the standings by four over second-place Johnson and third-place Kyle Busch. It just goes to show ya…

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 this one three-and-a-half cans. Hey, the result didn’t come down to fuel mileage. It wasn’t the best race of the year, that’s for sure; but it was certainly the best race of the Chase.

Next Up – The circuit heads off to Kansas, the crowning engineering achievement of the International Speedway Corporation. But hey! I hear they have a casino…

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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10/03/2011 08:21 AM

what race??? leader took off and it was same thing different track. i was kind of hoping it would rain out. i thought your opening sentence of “in a nutshell” was a description of the two people leaving the toll gate at us 1 after the race.

yeah i was wondering how many lucky dogs jr would get. i gave up about 150 laps into it and flipped back in time to see last 30.

10/03/2011 08:46 AM

wooo hooo!!!!
a full six pack of the best boutique beer, for the indy car race. man that was awesome.
Nascar… there was no racing ‘cept for one restart. you didn’t even catch a break if you watched the start skipped the middle and came back for the final 30.

10/03/2011 09:42 AM

It was a less boring race than the spring race was – so I guess I’ll damn it with faint praise.

cold and drizzle made for an uncomfortable day in the stands, but it could have been worse. I absolutely agree that Johnson didn’t press the issue with Busch. He took the points and is moving on.

Yeah, whoever does the schedules for NASCAR needs to get a brain.

I’m already making plans for next week to be somewhere other than in front of my TV since Kansas is such a bore.

10/03/2011 09:58 AM

I don’t think scheduling had anything to do with the paltry attendance at Dover…the June attendance looked to be about the same, and the drop in attendance over the past few years has rival Michigan, where the economy is much worse. The need to pull a race from there, then take 40,000 or so bleachers out and put ‘em out in the sun, somewhere on Highway 61.

Bill B
10/03/2011 10:55 AM

It’s a damn shame that NASCAR would rather tell us how great the racing is every week by reciting stats instead of fixing the aero issues. Whoever gets out front can run away, everyone else rides single file behind them. If they could find a way to fix this one issue everything else would fall into place.

10/03/2011 11:43 AM

The casino is open, then?Oooooooo … chips….

And Harvick is in P-1. I have been predicting him to win it all the entire season because, well, I see dead people and they tell me things. Kevin did not disappoint on Sunday. Just chugged along.

The race was not a bad one. I just wish they had showed me more on TV. The currently stylish camera choises lack enough wide shots for a good grasp of the context. You are 100% right about the IndyCar race, though. I had to be told who won. I could not tell watching it. That freakin’ close.

Don Mei
10/03/2011 11:59 AM

Matt,you got ahead of me again. I got back from a car show and a nice ride on a beautiful day to watch the latter part of both the Indy car and Nascar. Caught the last twenty laps of Indycar…good stuff, it was RACING!!!! We dont see much of that in Nascar anymore. Then I watched the end of the Nascar race. Almost no passing and very little wheel to wheel. Really, really sad and close to being boring.

Don Mei
10/03/2011 12:08 PM

One last comment. People seem to forget that before Tony George forced the Cart/IRL split back around 1995, open wheel racing outdrew Nascar on TV. Dont think it can’t happen again. Whatever the reason, aero push, the chase, gas mileage, it doesnt make a damn bit of difference. The racing is generally terrible. If things keep going this way another 2, 3 years, Nascar will become a backwater again.

10/03/2011 12:28 PM

Don Mei: and some people seem to forget that, while Carpenter’s win was awesome and we’re all happy for him, it’s an all-too-rare occurrence in a series absolutely dominated by two teams and three drivers. Indycar CAN surpass NASCAR in popularity again—if anyone can ever stop Ganassi and Penske from ruining the series.

And agreed Matt, once again the Truck series put on the best race of the weekend, and it’s all the better when Harvick/Busch/Edwards isn’t around. I was really pulling for Piquet but the pit strategy didn’t quite work for him.

10/03/2011 12:38 PM

That “race” was another reason never to compare Johnson to real racers. Can you imagine Cale or Bobby or Buddy settling for second, even with Bobby in a Mustang. Isn’t The Chase supposed to stop points racing? And the POS supposed to stop the aero push?

Harvick didn’t finish fifth like he wanted, but it got him enough POINTS to lead.

Bill S.
10/03/2011 01:06 PM

Well, the good news is that Amy Henderson was proved wrong again. Last week she declared all but the top four out of Chase contention. Now we have NINE drivers within 19 points of the lead with 7 races to go. And both Driver No. 8 and Driver No. 9 have tiebreaker wins in their back pockets if it comes down to that.

If we had an elimination format, at this point we would be saying, “Thanks for playing” to Denny, Ryan, and Junior. But everybody else is very much alive. (Except Amy and Matt who will be joining them in the Outhouse.)

The bad news is this championship may be decided by the crapshoot known as Talladega. 19 points can disappear in the blink of a timely or untimely shove there.

And the vaunted change to the points system has NOT had the consequences predicted. Bad finishes are still punished; good finishes are still rewarded, just not as much, since top-fives and top-tens no longer come with a points premium, and an average finish of 13th may be enough to take home the hardware.

Speaking of which, don’t count out the Wisconsin connection. The Wisconsin Badgers trounced Nebraska, the Milwaukee Brewers are up 2-0 in the their MLB playoff series; the Packers are simply unstoppable. Matt Kenseth, anyone? He who caused the Chase format may yet reap the benefits of it!

Bill B
10/03/2011 02:06 PM

Bill S,
Regarding “The bad news is this championship may be decided by the crapshoot known as Talladega”….

Want to bet on whether or not the chase guys spend the first 150 laps of the race riding at the back of the pack?

10/03/2011 02:15 PM

There sure were a bunch of empty seats, in addition to the tarped areas. Boring races and football season will do that you know.
Just wonder how long it will be before companies figure this out. Sponsorships will be for the races up to the Chase. If you make the Chase they are renewed for those 10 races – if not, good luck. We’ll talk in the off season.

Bill S.
10/03/2011 04:24 PM

Bill B,
I would certainly not bet against the Chasers riding around in the back at Dega. It will be amusing to watch them scrambling to back up, and then see who gets impatient first. Or who accidentally loses the draft entirely (probably Junior, given the way things happen to him).

I don’t hate the Chase the way most fans do, but I also don’t think it is the fairest way to pick a champion. But whoever said life was fair? It could actually be interesting this year.

Don Mei
10/03/2011 05:20 PM

John, how many teams have much chance in Nascar outside Hendricks, Roush, etc. Maybe a few more than open wheel but the independent teams have more chance in Indycar. Remember the 500??

Bill S.
10/03/2011 05:47 PM

Ancient Racer, I HEAR dead people and they tell me, no way is Harvick EVER going to win a Cup championship! Un-Happy even managed to lose a spot on the final lap. It would be funny to see it come down to that one point, or the 6 points Edwards gave away with the speeding penalty!

10/03/2011 06:22 PM

Don Mei: er….

Well my first argument is that not only do the “little guys” not have much chance to win in Indycar, but they barely have a chance to podium.

Secondly, here are the non-Penske and Ganassi drivers who have won at least 1 race in the last 5 years:

Tony Kanaan
Marco Andretti
Danica Patrick
Ryan-Hunter Reay
Justin Wilson

That’s a total of 5 drivers in 5 years that won races not driving for Penske and Ganassi. Out of roughly 80 races. And while I don’t want to take away from their wins, Danica, RHR and Justin Wilson all won with fuel mileage and/or screwed up pit strategy to win.

AND if you include Andretti as a third “big team”, that means only a couple of “lower tier” drivers have won.

The deck is stacked. And again, this season might have some new faces in victory lane, but the championship is still down to the usual 2-3 drivers.

Comparing it to NASCAR is difficult in these terms because the “big teams” actually comprise about two-thirds of the field, whereas in Indycar, the big teams only have 5-6 cars depending on the season. And I would count wins like Paul Menard’s more important, even if he is driving for RCR.

Despite this, in the last 5 years Cup still has wins by:

Regan Smith
Paul Menard
David Ragan
David Reutimann
Kasey Kahne
Brian Vickers
Casey Mears
Martin Truex
Juan Montoya
Jamie McMurray
Brad Keselowski (driving for Phoenix)
Marcos Ambrose

and of course Trevor Bayne.

I consider all those drivers as being “upsets” or “the little guy.”

Believe me I’m not disagreeing about NASCAR’s level of suckage these days, and having Jimmie Johnson win every championship is one of the big problems. So is piss-poor cookie-cutter tracks, Aeropush, fuel mileage, and Cup drivers ruining Truck and Nationwide.

But let’s keep the suckage level in perspective—Indycar’s is off the chart.

(And yes Indy was awesome this year… :P )

10/03/2011 06:24 PM

woops… forgot Graham Rahal’s win in 2008. Make that 6.

10/03/2011 08:30 PM

John you also forgot…

Mike Conway winning at Long beach this year..

Also kinda forgot a big one…Dan Wheldon won the Indy 500 running for Sam Schmidt Motorsports..

and really..penske hasn’t been all that good..Only Power has won this year.

While on the other hand…3 out of the 4 Andretti drivers have won. Conway, Hunter-Reay, and Andretti have won a race this year…while their more “touted” teammate continues to toil along being the most overrated driver since Dale Jr.

Funky D
10/03/2011 08:45 PM

There seemed to be a bunch of fans that wore silver outfits to the track. They must have because they blended in eith the stands so well…

10/03/2011 08:47 PM

John…. you forgot that Na$crap’s Most Popular Loser, our beloved Dale Jr. has only 1 win in the last 5 years. Oophs! I forgot, Dale Jr. has the best equipent in Na$crap, and makes laps for the best team.

10/04/2011 11:40 AM

Matt, you were far too generous in giving this race 3 1/2 beers for this race I gave it a two as did a lot of other folks. Simply boring. And now we’re on to Kansas, another boring, cookie cutter track, made for bland cookie cutter drivers. This long time fan has, in the last few years, lost more and more interest in nascar. Again, the chase has gelded the cup series.

Don Mei
10/04/2011 01:41 PM

John, I think you misunderstand my point. Ive been involved in motorsports in one form or another for some 50 years. Im a fan of every kind of motorsports. The point I was trying to get across is simply that open wheel, after years in the doldrums, seems to be on an upward swing. Nascar seems to be going the other way. We can debate pros and cons; I’m simply suggesting that a complacent Nascar could find itself playing second fiddle again.

10/04/2011 02:46 PM

Robby: I wasn’t including this season in my examples, but I already mentioned this season has been a bit of a breath of fresh air. But it’s still an exception to the rule.

I would love for the IRL to succeed. I hope the New Car helps it do that.

I also agree that Indycar is on an “upswing” while NASCAR is on a “downswing” … But the IRL’s upswing is from absolute junk to mediocre. I dunno, I’m just pretty disillusioned with everything but the Canadian Tire Series and the Camping World Truck Series… and FINANCIALLY the Truck series is getting worse and worse, so it’s hard to be positive.

Hey on the plus side, World of Outlaws Sprints and Late Models still draw 80+ cars per event and pack the grandstands!

10/04/2011 02:48 PM

Robby: oh, and Wheldon didn’t win driving for Sam Schmidt, he was driving for Bryan Herta. Tags was on pole for Schmidt.

Don Mei
10/04/2011 06:01 PM

John, you are quite right about Indycar coming from absolute junk. Tony George emasculated open wheel. At its heydey, CART made Bernie Ecclestone nervous. I think they can come back. They have close races, a good mix of ovals and road courses. New chassis are coming, three manufacturers providing motors ; I think open wheel will do fine, especially once the country breaks out of the recession we are in. Im optimistic. Im very involved in vintage racing with a 71 240z. Its a participant driven sport so its a lot of fun and drawing more and more spectators who have been discouraged by the nonsense in “big time” racing. I think serious racing fans should hit the local short track event or the regional races at a road course. It keeps it all in perspective.

The Mad Man
10/04/2011 06:07 PM

Amazing how the rain and mystery debris cautions fell. Despite the fact that there were rain drops being shown on the cameras just about the entire race. I guess when you’re sitting in Race Control you don’t know it’s raining outside until a team tells you it’s raining.

Yet another snoozer and Kansas will be the same. Martinsville can’t get here soon enough.

And don’t forget what Fearless Leader Brain Farce said about the COT. “It’ll stop all of the aero dependency problems we had with the old car”. And I’ve got some bridges in NYC I’ll sell you.