The Frontstretch: Matt McLaughlin's Thinkin' Out Loud: Martinsville-2 Race Recap by Matt McLaughlin -- Monday October 31, 2011

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

Matt McLaughlin · Monday October 31, 2011



This muscle pass of Jimmie Johnson, with two laps to go at Martinsville gave Tony Stewart his third Chase victory in seven races.

The Key Moment – Tony Stewart drove by Jimmie Johnson on the outside with less than three laps to go to claim his third victory in seven Chase races this season.

In a Nutshell – Motorized mechanical mayhem at Martinsville. Easily the best race of the year.

Dramatic Moment – If you’re into bending fenders, smoking tires, and frayed tempers like I am the first quarter of this race was tough to beat.

The race dragged a little in the middle but the last fifty laps were exciting as well with countless improbable turns of tide. Johnson got passed on the outside at Martinsville? You’ve got to be kidding.

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

All these new race tracks have CAD/CAM designs, billions of dollars invested and committees studying everything right down to the coloration of the grandstand seats. So how come they can’t build a better track than Martinsville, which hosted its first NASCAR race 62 years ago?

Chad Knaus and Jimmie Johnson during happier days. But now, in light of recent events are fans forced to wonder whether those wry smiles are because they pulled a fast one on NASCAR officials?

Boy Howdy! As if we didn’t have enough to talk about after Talladega, yet another big story related to the event broke mid-week. By now, most of you have heard the live audio of crew chief Chad Knaus telling Jimmie Johnson prior to the race if he won, he either needed Johnson to smack the back end of his car into the wall doing his victory doughnuts or have someone run into the back of him. This shocker isn’t a conspiracy theory. If you haven’t heard it, listen to this; clearly, there’s no ambiguity here. Johnson, who sounds surprised, is told to cheat. He doesn’t refuse. That calls into legitimacy not only his two wins this season but his five straight championships. You want to talk about a smoking gun and a black eye for the sport? NASCAR’s reaction to date has been pretty mild, other than telling the No. 48 team their cars are going back to the R and D center for a post-race look over after the rest of this season’s four races. Sorry, the appropriate punishment would be to suspend Knaus for the rest of this season and all of 2012 in hopes it would embarrass Lowe’s into leaving the team which has been caught cheating numerous times before. Yeah, yeah, yeah, the No. 48 survived pre-race practice, pre-qualifying and pre-race inspections… but so did Clint Bowyer’s car prior to last year’s Chase kickoff race at New Hampshire, and it was found to be illegal after the race with a heavy points and monetary fine invoked to punish the infraction. This controversy is the series’ equivalent to the 1919 Black Sox scandal in baseball, and unless it is addressed with the seriousness it deserves, NASCAR will be stripped of whatever wavering amounts of credibility they have as a legitimate sport. If having heard or just listened to that video doesn’t burn your buns, get out of the kitchen before this whole MF sport burns down.

Johnson certainly didn’t do his reputation any good with the above mess last week. He was roundly booed at Martinsville all weekend. I’ve already got an email from one conspiracy theorist who said Johnson let Stewart win to avoid post-race inspection. Dude, the No. 48 was already slated for a trip to the R and D center for a post-race going over, one that will likely have it returned to Rick Hendrick in about fifty milk crates.

Listening to Kurt Busch’s comments over the radio, it’s clear that drivers tend to run poorly at tracks they hate. There’s definitely a causal relationship there, but do drivers hate tracks because they run poorly there… or do they run poorly there because they arrive at the event hating the track?

Miss Manners would be appalled by all the drivers getting in touch with their inner-barbarian at Martinsville, but keep this in mind: This series has been racing since mid-February. A lot of these guys are getting frustrated and just wish the overly long season would end. They either missed the Chase or they fared poorly enough in the championship run they know they’re out of it. They’ve been banged up, bruised and spent too many days away from their homes and the families they love. In some cases – cough, Brian Vickers, cough – they crossed the line enough times during the race they should have been given breathalyzer tests on pit road before being allowed to return to the track. However, the main culprit here is the grueling season and having to worry about a ride for next year after a substandard 2011. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: the NASCAR season should start after Easter and end by Labor Day.

It was a brief period, but for old timers like yer humble correspondent it sure was good to see the Petty blue No. 43 car leading laps at Martinsville.

This season, NASCAR tried to limit the amount of Cup drivers entering Truck and Nationwide races by ruling a driver could only earn points in one of the top three touring divisions. Thus, Denny Hamlin was awarded no points for his truck win at Martinsville. But the Cup interlopers are still affecting title outcomes. Ron Hornaday is in a relatively tight title hunt with Austin Dillon, among others. On Saturday, he finished second to Hamlin while Dillon finished third. Had Hamlin not entered the race, presumably Hornaday would have won; that win would have carried an extra three-point bonus, one which would have helped him make up more ground in the standings. Instead, he gained only a single point over Dillon.

Sean Irvan, who serves as jackman for the No. 38 team of Travis Kvapil was hit by Mark Martin in the pits and knocked briefly unconscious. He was later diagnosed with a concussion and knee and neck injuries but nothing life-threatening at a local hospital. Editor’s Note: We didn’t hear of this injury being mentioned by anyone at all during the race – certainly not on ESPN. Big miss if true.

Todd Bodine has a lot of “thinking” to do after an ugly finish to Saturday’s Martinsville Truck race.

Speaking of the Truck Series, the purse Hamlin won on Saturday was just over 32 thousand bucks. That’s about half what the start and parkers in the Cup series earned racing at Martinsville in the spring. No wonder Todd Bodine is so pissed off. After Saturday’s race, the term “cool-down lap” was an unintended irony. What I saw instead was more like a “meltdown lap.”

Junior decided Sunday that after this spring’s humiliating loss at Martinsville, he was going to let his knuckles drag, play rough and get a little aggressive. Lo and behold, he had a decent finish (seventh). Maybe this hearkens back to the old ’50s TV show “Father Knows Best?”

ESPN offered up one of those insightful nuggets you can only find in their pre-race programming. To quote Ms. Briscoe: “Qualifying was rained out by rain earlier this weekend.” Yes, qualifying is so rarely rained out by high humidity, or sunshine, or… honeybadgers. What the hell is with Kyle Petty and honeybadgers?

The Hindenburg Award For Foul Fortune

Kyle Busch led a lot of laps and clearly had a strong car. But he got tangled up with Kenseth late, then ran into the pits with an apparent flat tire. His team was so desperate to fix the damage and replace the tires without losing a lap (a virtual impossibility at Martinsville) that they neglected to reinstall four of the lug nuts before sending Busch back out onto the track. The fifth one was hand-tightened, and the wheel separated from the car before Busch made it above the blend line re-entering the half-mile oval. (He wound up 27th).

Brad Keselowski had a solid run going until he became the unwitting victim of a personality conflict between Earnhardt and Hamlin. Earnhardt had vowed on the radio there’d be “no mercy” when he got back to the No. 11 car, whose driver he felt had done him dirty and Keselowski was the collateral non-com damage. That dropped Kes to 17th in the final running order, costing him nearly a dozen points in the process.

Matt Kenseth seemed poised to take over the points lead most of the race, but then he got into a tangle with Brian Vickers that appeared to be a rare mental meltdown by Kenseth. Contact with Harvick on pit road then seemed to bend the sheet metal onto the No. 17 car’s tire, putting Matt hard into the wall en route to a 31st-place finish. That disaster, for all intents and purposes ended his run at the title.

A picture can tell a thousand words… like how Brian Vickers ended this day with his car in a thousand pieces.

Vickers had a piece of the first five cautions of the race (and more later in the event) but had somehow moved back up into the top 10 before he ticked Kenseth off. That’s one Red Bull car that won’t be up for grabs at the end of season garage sale when the team shuts down. Vickers saw to that by exacting a little payback on the No. 17, finishing his ugly afternoon in 30th place.

Jamie McMurray was one of those drivers hit by Vickers (which didn’t put him in very exclusive company) but he looked rather foolish trying to exact some payback under caution and putting himself into the wall again. The car never reentered the race, leaving its battery on the track en route to a “powerless” 35th.

The “Seven Come Fore Eleven” Award For Fine Fortune

Stewart fought with an ill-handling car throughout the first half of the race and battled tooth and nail to stay on the lead lap when a timely caution aided his cause. The driver/owner made the call to take an extended period of time on a stop to fix the car and the strategy played off splendidly in the end.

Carl Edwards couldn’t stay out of his own way for much of the race and went a lap down twice during the event. Two free passes got him back on the lead lap and a combination of attrition and a few passes (some of them less than surgical) allowed him to post yet another top-10 finish (ninth). It’s also rather rare for NASCAR to rescind a black flag for passing prior to the green, even when the preponderance of evidence suggests that’s the right call. Edwards didn’t win the title at Martinsville, but he damn near surrendered it earlier in the event.

It’s not often a driver will wreck on lap seven at Martinsville and still bounce back to a third-place finish. Jeff Gordon also thought his car had overheating issues, indicative of a busted radiator after that shunt but contrary to the norm for mechanized devices the car chose to fix itself. Call it the “Christine Principle.”

Worth Noting

  • As noted above, Stewart has now won three of seven Chase races. But he’s still second in the standings. Have I ever mentioned I think there needs to be more of a bonus for winning races? Other than the first million times, I mean.
  • Johnson, the runner-up has finished first or second in three of those Chase races.
  • Jeff Gordon’s third-place finish ends a streak of four straight races outside of the top 10.
  • Harvick’s fourth-place finish was his best since Chicago.
  • Hamlin’s fifth-place finish was easily his best of the Chase and he recorded his third straight top-10 finish Sunday.
  • Jeff Burton (sixth) has strung together consecutive top-10 finishes for the first time since Pocono and Watkins Glen last summer.
  • Earnhardt’s seventh-place finish was his first top 10 since Joliet.
  • Martin Truex Jr.’s eighth-place finish was his best since he ran second at Bristol in the night race.
  • Edwards (ninth) has finished no worse than eleventh in all seven Chase races. He sure looked like he was fixing to finish worse than that on Sunday.
  • Kenseth’s 31st-place finish was his worst since the Talladega spring race.
  • The top 10 at Martinsville drove seven Chevys (including the top four finishers), two Toyotas and a Ford. Kurt Busch in fourteenth was the top-finishing Dodge pilot.

What’s the Points?

Edwards improbably hung onto his points lead. He is now eight points ahead of Tony Stewart, who moved up two positions into second. Kevin Harvick also moved up two spots to third, but he’s 21 points behind Edwards with three races left to run. If Edwards keeps finishing inside the top 10, that’s going to be a tough amount to make up so it appears we have a two-man battle for this year’s title.

His late-race wreck (not of his own making) dropped Keselowski a spot to fourth in the standings but more importantly 27 points out of the lead. Former second-place driver Kenseth tumbled three spots to fifth in the standings, now with a deficit of 36 to make up. Johnson moved up one, to sixth, but mathematically actually lost ground. After last week, Johnson needed to make up 12.5 points a race to beat Edwards. After Martinsville, he needs to make up fourteen plus points an event to bypass him.

Kyle Busch fell a spot to seventh in the standings, a whopping 57 points out of the lead so you know which side of the “trick or treat” equation his day came down on. Kurt Busch, Dale Earnhardt, Jeff Gordon, Denny Hamlin and Ryan Newman held serve in the eighth through twelfth spots, eliminated from serious title contention. But, on a brighter note they will win some lovely parting gifts at the end of the season… like more money than you or I will likely earn in our lifetimes.

Clint Bowyer retains control of the “best of the rest” class (thirteenth in the points) by 24 over fourteenth-place Greg Biffle.

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 a full six pack of Corona served up by Deanna Carter with an “I ain’t driving home tonight” smile.

Next Up – The series heads to Texas, allowing weary writers too tired to ply their trade endless opportunities to phone one in with the usual trite cowboy analogies.

Contact Matt McLaughlin

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Today on the Frontstretch:
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
Frontstretch Foto Funnies: It’s Not Gonna Fit…


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10/31/2011 12:42 AM

I haven’t watched a race from start to finish all season – until today ……..

Kevin in SoCal
10/31/2011 01:55 AM

The race was great, but the multiple cautions every few laps were terrible. That’s not exciting racing to me.

Bill B
10/31/2011 08:03 AM

I wish there were more half mile tracks on the circuit (or that ten of the 36 races were at Martinsville) because that race was interesting from beginning to end. No long lines with no passing. There was always actions somewhere. I agree with Kevin from SoCal that a few less cautions would have been better but if Brian Vickers would have parked after the first wreck that would have probably gotten rid of four of those cautions.

Great race from beginning to end.

10/31/2011 08:17 AM

Not so sure Junior was being aggressive as much as just driving poorly.
He kept bouncing off the pink curb and taking out whoever was on the outside.

I’m sure the curb would say that he was aggessive.

10/31/2011 08:52 AM

Nascar doesn’t want to find the 48 cheating….just like the PGA doesn’t want to find out that Tiger Woods took steroids.

But they will totally destroy an up and coming driver for having some engine part 1/10,000ths of an inch off.

Believing nascar is a legitimate sport is like believing the Earth is flat. And I used to be a complete nascar hardcore freak with stickers on my truck and t-shirts and hats.

Sadly, I can no longer follow what used to be a big part of my life.

10/31/2011 09:12 AM

Corona my ass. If you are going to use the phrase, “Boy Howdy” it should be “Boy Howdy Beer”. But nobody except me and you probably remembers “CREEM”. ;))

10/31/2011 09:25 AM

I am not sure why anyone would be surprised by learning the #48 are cheaters, especially you, Matt? Don’t forget that this is an organization run by Rick Hendrick. Yes, the convicted felon Rick Hendrick (regardless if he was pardoned by Bill Clinton). Remember those federal charges with his Honda car dealerships? Do you remember when the #24 was winning all those races in 1995-1998? Gordon’s car was always plastered with the ‘Donate Bone Marrow’ decals? When he would win a race, he would get out of the car, kiss Brooke, thank God, and then say he wished Rick could be there but he was home fighting bone cancer. Truth be told, Rick Hendrick was under house arrest during those years and could not attend the races if he wanted to. When is the last time you have seen those bone marrow decals on one of his cars? Seems like that would be a cause that would stick with you especially if it saved your life?

10/31/2011 09:35 AM

As usual, no matter how bad the racing gets, it’s nothing a real racetrack can’t fix. And what a pass for the win! With Johnson out of the picture, the championship is actually interesting now!

Bill S.
10/31/2011 10:30 AM

Another week, another good points day for Stroker Carl. Gotta cheer for Tony now. And why isn’t there a rule about how many cautions one driver can cause before he is black-flagged for incompetence? Brian Vickers should have “fouled out” out of this race in the first 100 laps.

And let’s put the blame where it belongs on this year’s Chase miseries for Kyle Busch. And not for the first time. The crew choked, pure and simple. The car looked to be minimally damaged. All they had to do was change the right side tires, come back around and change the lefts and repair the minor damage. Jeff Gordon made 4 pit stops under the first caution for repairs. What genius in the 18 pits decided to try to do it all at once at the shortest track on the circuit?

As for Chad and JJ, yeah, maybe they have been cheating. But where is that crazy little thing called proof? What did they do and why can’t NASCAR inspectors find it? You can’t suspend somebody and strip 5 championships on the basis of a comment like Chad’s. Is that really a smoking gun or just smoke? Get some real evidence and then throw the book at them.

10/31/2011 11:10 AM

Heh… The short track I race at black flags you if you cause two caution flags. Tough love.

10/31/2011 11:29 AM

Mark Martin caused a caution that gave Carl one of his laps back. Then he was involved in another one that gave Carl another lap back. It would be interesting to sit in at the Monday morning meeting after Rick’s phone call to Brian.

I liked the Christine reference. Some body men could use the principle.

The Knaus comment made me think that if someone wants you to watch his right hand his left hand is probably on your wallet.

I liked the train shot at the end of the race. I could see my camping spot when I went to the Cardinal 500.

It seems Tony wanted to win more than Jimmie.

10/31/2011 11:30 AM

I recall watching Keslowski jumping up and down on the roof of his car in the Winner’s Circle at Bristol. I thought doing that was verboten which is why drivers now stand on the window sill. Bending the roof made it impossible to measure car height accurately. Chad needs to be fined for stupidity, if nothing else. Where did the last 17 minutes of that tape go?

Don’t blame Shrub’s crew. They’re not the one who said he would run over a crewman who wasn’t out of the way when he wanted to go. Put that one where it belongs – right on Mr. Busch the Impatient.

Bill S.
10/31/2011 01:12 PM

No, Jeb, I still have to put it on the crew or crew chief. There was NO NECESSITY to change 4 tires on that stop. They had plenty of time to change two, go out ahead of the pace car and come back for the other two. As I noted, Jeff Gordon made 4 stops on the first caution to get the car right. Kyle’s crew lacked the patience, they got panicky trying to do the whole job on one stop. You could clearly see the difference between the calm approach of the 24 crew versus the panic of the 18 crew.

JD in NC
10/31/2011 01:48 PM

Matt, I have a comment on the Knaus/Johnson cheating scandal. For the record, JJ isn’t my favorite driver, but I don’t hate him either. First of all, like you, I’m an old school racing fan. My first race, back when I was a kid, was the 1972 World 600 at Charlotte, and I’ve been hooked ever since. I can just about guaran-damn-tee you that similar pre-race instructions have been given by the likes of Junior Johnson, Smokey Yunick, Dale Inman and others down through the years. The only difference back then is that your comments were not being broadcast on TV or over the internet in realtime. You also didn’t have NASCAR inspectors looking over you shoulder ready to measure your car within a few thousands of an inch. It didn’t take a template to realize that Junior Johnson’s yellow banana car or Smokey Yunicks Chevelle were not exactly in their “as shipped from Detroit” shape. The point is there has always been cheating in NASCAR and there always will be. No point in getting so morally indignant about it. Especially for an old school guy like yourself.

Don Mei
10/31/2011 03:06 PM

I’m with you JD. Nascars rules are fundamentally absurd and produce cookie-cutter cars (for cookie-cutter tracks) that are, with the exception of their grille and headlight decals, essentially identical. Face it boys and girls; its a spec-car series that completely discourages innovation. If we had this crap years ago, Nascar would still be running at bullrings for $200 purses.

10/31/2011 03:26 PM

Lets see. The 48 crew chief has been busted cheating many times. Car owner is a convicted felon and an instruction was given to wreck a car on purpose. The driver acted very surprised at such instruction. What else are people supposed to think? Chads smart. Nascar would not be able to prove his car illegal either way so he’s covered either way. Are the 48 bunch getting desperate?

People have forgotten how hard Smoke worked to stay ahead of Hamlin earlier in the race when about to go a lap down. It paid off because the caution came out and he stayed on the lead lap.

10/31/2011 05:28 PM

I was at the race on Sunday. It was the best race of the season. There was actually racing from start to finish. What a shocker! The trouble is if you had to watch it on TV, you wouldn’t know it. If NASCAR wants more fans in the seats, they need more races like this one AND get the TV partners to show the action – not single car shots.

Bad Wolf
10/31/2011 07:13 PM

“Do you remember when the #24 was winning all those races in 1995-1998? Gordon’s car was always plastered with the ‘Donate Bone Marrow’ decals?”

I remember, and I was in the stands in the Tower Terrace at the Brickyard 400 when Jeff Gordon forgot to turn off the Traction Control before his “Burnout”, and did a 750hp no spin of the tires rocket ship launch down the track. I saw the tire marks on the track in person and it was definatly TC at work.

10/31/2011 08:22 PM

Let’s change the schedule and run Martinsville the day after Talladega. The drivers that lost their dance partners could exact their revenge on the short track and make for an even more interesting race! The race yesterday reminded me of the old Bristol.

10/31/2011 08:48 PM

What I saw on the restart was; Denny was in front of Brad on the outside. Denny dove down in front of Jr. to be on the inside, Jr. got rear-ended by Joey, & Brad got spun.
Did JJ not win because they did not dare cheat after last week’s remarks…?

10/31/2011 09:47 PM

It’s Halloween Mary Beth, and Dale Jr. dressed up as a “race car driver”, give Lil’ June Bug a big “atta boy” award. It’ll go real nice in Jr.‘s 3’x3’ section of the trophy case in the 48/88 shop. Right next to his Sprint All-Star race Pity Pass, JJ’s checkered flag from the spring Talledaga, and just enough room for his annual Na$crap Most Popular Loser award later this month. Another “Career” year for Dale Jr.!

11/01/2011 11:41 AM

Agree GinaV24. I was there also, could always find something going on to watch and listen to on the scanner.

11/01/2011 11:42 AM

Wow, what a race. Wish we could have a few more like this one. Maybe we could even get rid of the CHASE. I really don’t think we need it.

11/01/2011 01:21 PM

If NASCAR would listen to the fans and exchange a few of the mile and a half’s for Iowa & Irwindale and the like, we could get more of this kind of action. But apparently they’re not the good listeners they claim to be.

Matt, 6 beers? For all those commercials??

11/01/2011 03:00 PM

I would like to know why Edwards doesn’t get black-flagged for passing before the green flag?! Oh yeah, it’s Nascar and they like to make sure their boys do well. Would have possibly changed the pts standings a lot! Shady Nascar…