The Frontstretch: Matt McLaughlin's Thinkin' Out Loud: 2012 Twin 150s Race Recaps by Matt McLaughlin -- Thursday February 23, 2012

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Matt McLaughlin's Thinkin' Out Loud: 2012 Twin 150s Race Recaps

Matt McLaughlin · Thursday February 23, 2012


Matt Kenseth scored the first ever Duel race win for Roush Fenway Racing Thursday with a late pass on teammate Greg Biffle.

The Key Moment –
Race One – A caution froze the field on the final lap of the race as Dale Earnhardt, Jr. was trying to mount a challenge on Tony Stewart for the win.

Race Two – Greg Biffle dominated the race but swept up on the final lap thinking he’d hook up with teammate Matt Kenseth to seal the deal. Instead, Kenseth dove down into the lower lane Biffle had opened for him, tow Jimmie Johnson in his wake to take the lead and the win.

In a Nutshell –
Race One – Yet another example of this weird fusion of pack and tandem racing liberally peppered with violent wrecks.

Race Two – Having seen the carnage in the first race, it appeared the competitors in the second event decided to play nicely with one another.

Dramatic Moment –

Race One – Had the three cars driven by Juan Pablo Montoya, Paul Menard, and David Gilliland scattered rather than locking together the wreck would probably have decimated the field.

Race Two – When Jimmie Johnson drove into the side of Regan Smith battling to the line, it very nearly set off the Big One.

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

A Few Reasons These Races Don’t Matter Much Anymore
1) With the top 35 teams in last year’s owner points locked into the race there’s little drama waiting to see who is going to qualify and who’s going home.
2) Starting positions don’t matter much at Daytona where many drivers, even those slated to start at the front of the pack, will purposely drop to the back of the field in an attempt to miss the big wrecks.
3) With the top teams locked into the race, those drivers have little incentive to race hard on Thursday and risk damaging their aero-tweaked play pretties.

A Couple Reasons These Races Do Matter
1) Qualifying position also determines pit stall selection order. We’ve seen time and time again that a good pit stall (easy in, easy out) can be crucial to a good finish in the 500.
2) These races are televised. Racing towards the front of the pack is the best way for a driver to get his car on TV with all the sponsor’s decals clearly in focus. Sponsors get warm fuzzy feelings when their logos are shown on TV. Happy sponsors write the teams big checks to keep them rolling.

Earlier this week, NASCAR raised the pop-off valve in the cars cooling systems to alleviate concerns about overheating after some cars ran hot in last Saturday night’s Shootout. You’ll recall from high school chemistry (about all I recall is the two playful piglets on Ronnie Cage struggling to break free of their pens, so I had to look it up) that as you increase pressure in a vessel, the boiling point of water goes up. At 25 psi (the original maximum allowable pressure) water boils at 240 degrees. At 28 psi (the new allowable max) water boils at 246 degrees. Big deal, huh? Look for some cars to erupt like Mount Vesuvius in Sunday’s 500-mile race.

You have to wonder if there’s some old-fashioned late 1990s politics at play here with the GM overheating issue. Back in those days, one manufacturer or another was always running to NASCAR officialdom crying they were at an unfair disadvantage and needed a rules tweak to run competitively. If Chevy can lobby NASCAR for a larger grille opening prior to the 500, that will negate all the work Ford put into their new-last-year FR9 engine to make it run cooler than the competition. Parity or parody? You decide.

To my way of thinking, the second 150-miler was the better of Thursday’s two events. There was actual racing and strategies in play as opposed to Duel #1, which was way too much wrecking and not enough racing. Yet as I look around online, it seems fans preferred the first race and by a wide margin. Maybe I’ve been wrong all these years. Maybe there is, indeed a much higher percentage of fans who do, in fact watch events hoping to see wrecks, not racing.

There were rumors in the garage area that after Michael Waltrip failed to qualify Robby Gordon, who made the race, offered to sell Waltrip his starting spot. Naturally Waltrip, Toyota’s chief mouthpiece, couldn’t drive Gordon’s Dodge, but Gordon has already hinted unless he can get a Dodge engine from the Penske organization (a rather unlikely possibility, especially given Gordon’s cash-strapped team) he’ll only run a few laps Sunday before parking his car. Editor’s Note: In the media center, Gordon clearly confirmed the ride was up for grabs. But there are no takers as of Friday, early AM…

Smokers are this generation’s lepers. For those who light up, there’s yet another place you can’t indulge your habit, the grandstands at Daytona. DIS is now on a growing list of tracks where smokers aren’t welcome. Ironically, for almost three decades NASCAR’s top division was Winston Cup. You’d think at a track as big as Daytona, NASCAR and the ISC could have found some way to accommodate smokers without forcing those who don’t smoke to sit beside them. (Hell, they don’t even sell tickets for the backstretch grandstands for the July race.) Yes, some people would like to see smoking banned everywhere, but quite frankly if you’re in an uproar about the healthy pink lungs of little Johnnie and his somewhat slow sister Susie, perhaps a race track with 43 high revving race cars and not a catalytic converter in sight might not be your ideal vacation destination, anyway.

What was going on with the synchronization of audio and film in the post-race driver interviews? The lip synching looked like something out of a Saturday afternoon Japanese Kung Fu movie.

SPEED and FOX had three chief storylines they were going to trumpet on Thursday:
1) All Danica, all the time
2) Kenny Wallace’s determined try to make the 500.
3) FOX’s new broadcast boy Waltrip racing his way into his 25th Daytona 500.

The Hindenburg Award For Foul Fortune

Among the notables headed home having failed to qualify for the Daytona 500; Bill Elliott, Kenny and Mike Wallace, Michael Waltrip and J.J. Yeley.

Waltrip had been in position to make the 500 when he was forced to stop early for gas. Trying to blend back out onto the track exiting the pits, Waltrip spun himself out and went hard into the wall. That’s also a misfortune for TV viewers this Sunday who are going to have to listen to his dimwitted babbling all afternoon.

Danica Patrick took a savage hit on the last lap of the first race, stuffing her Chevy windshield deep into the SAFER barrier. Fortunately, she emerged unhurt. I understand and even applaud the tactic of taking her hands off the wheel prior to impact, protecting her thumbs and wrists but it sure did look like she was channeling Macaulay Culkin from Home Alone.

Denny Hamlin led more than half of the first race but questionable pit strategy forced him to make a green flag stop en route to a seventeenth-place finish. For those keeping score at home, that’s Steve Addington – 1, Darian Grubb – 0.

The “Seven Come Fore Eleven” Award For Fine Fortune

Things didn’t look good for Robby Gordon, whose car started smoking early in the first race. Still, when Waltrip suffered his problems Gordon edged his way into the final transfer spot.

Dale Earnhardt, Jr. was sent to the back of the pack for a pit road violation by one of his crew members. He managed to drive to the front of the pack not once, but twice with seeming ease despite reporting to the team he was running at half throttle. There’s clearly a lot of horsepower under the hood of that No. 88, so look for Earnhardt to be a factor Sunday.

I’m still wondering how Regan Smith saved his car after Jimmie Johnson body-slammed him on the final lap trying to work his way into a hole that clearly wasn’t there.

The way Johnson’s car was blowing steam for the final portion of that race, it’s a wonder he finished at all much less finished second. With the Hendrick-engined cars of Jeff Gordon, Kurt Busch, and Ryan Newman also experiencing overheating issues, it seems the guys in the Hendrick camp have their work cut out for them prior to Sunday’s big race.

Worth Noting

  • Kenseth’s win was the first ever for a Roush team in the 150s.
  • Regan Smith finished second in a 150 for the second consecutive year.
  • Tony Stewart has won seventeen events at Daytona but is still trying to win his first Daytona 500 in his fourteenth attempt. He’s on track to join the cursed club of Buddy Baker, Darrell Waltrip and Dale Earnhardt Sr., all of whom consistently ran well at Daytona but had a victory in the big one elude them for years.

Overall Rating (On a scale of one to six beer cans, with one being a stinker and a six-pack an instant classic)

Race One – Three cans of the same old stuff.
Race Two – Four cans, as racing without gimmickry returns to Daytona.

Next Up – The Great American Race (or some semblance thereof) rolls off Sunday afternoon.

Contact Matt McLaughlin

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Today on the Frontstretch:
Did You Notice? … Breaking Down A Sprint Cup Season Eight Races In
Beyond the Cockpit: Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. on Growing Up Racing and Owner Loyalties
The Frontstretch Five: Flaws Exposed In the New Chase So Far
NASCAR Writer Power Rankings: Top 15 After Darlington
NASCAR Mailbox: Past Winners Aren’t Winning …. Yet
Open Wheel Wednesday: How Can IndyCar Stand Out?


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Carl D.
02/24/2012 07:59 AM

One thing I noticed was that it appeared the outside line of cars in both races was having a tough time staying with the inside line, more so in the first race than the second. I don’t know if it was because the overheating issue was making pushes a little more risky or what.

I’m no Danica fan, especially after she got a free pass into the Daytona 500, but she hit that inside wall extremely hard and I was glad to see her walk away uninjured.

Ghost of Curtis Turner
02/24/2012 08:50 AM

Hey Matt,
Glad your still with us and healthy as ever.
I think that the Dual race’s gave us a good look at who’s going to be a contender for Sunday’s race. Ford’s engine package seems to very stout over the long run, but Hendrick showed the amount of abuse you can give their engines on the quick short runs. It will be interesting to see if there are a rash of engine failures late in the race.
Even though I am not a Danica fan either, I too am glad that nobody was hurt in any of the wrecks.

But on another note….I am sooo glad I watched the Duals with the sound muted, and Track Scanner On…..Because if the Duals were a sign of things to come from FAUX on Sunday..It’s going to be The Danica and DW show, that’s if unless some shlub sells Mikey a starting spot…then heaven help us all.
It’s amazing at how irrelevant DW is becoming in the booth. If you listen to him closely the past week you would swear, he’ is the one that came up with the idea for fuel injection. Heck at one point I think he even claimed to have invented it. How can one man be so out of touch and self serving. I just wish FOX would retire their Booth announcers. The amount of self promotion and favortisim in the FOX Booth is appalling, just down right appalling. Dear Lord, ol’ Benny Parson’s could do a better job right now and he’s dead! God Rest His Soul.

02/24/2012 10:21 AM

That was a huge hit for Danica, and not of her own doing. It just goes to show the level of hatred most people have for her that the first thing most people said (including writers on this site) was “look at the girl take her hands off the wheel!”

Indycar drivers are trained to do that to prevent wrists being broken. Once you know there’s no saving the car, you let go and bring your limbs in to avoid losing anything. Good for her and hard luck.

02/24/2012 10:57 AM

And along John’s line, Indy cars are also much smaller so Danica bringing her hands up so far was pure instinct of a veteran of open wheel racing.

I wish her success, as I do any rookie driver, I just wish NA$CAR and Fox would wait until the hype is deserved.

02/24/2012 11:32 AM

I’m with you, Matt. The second race (caution free!) was a great race, and what a finish! The first one, and the Shootout as well, for that matter, was just a lot of senseless wrecking.

02/24/2012 11:44 AM

the dopes in the booth were amazed by danika taking her hands off the wheel? have they never watched any open wheel racing of any type or were they just looking for something to congratulate her on? i like the new rules package for a couple of reasons; teams don’t seem to be ganging up with each other and the actual amount of racing seems to have increased. now they can spend some energy trying fix the sleep aid tracks (aka cookie cutters!)

02/24/2012 11:48 AM

I’m with you, Matt. POS did run out of talent, yesterday, when, according to JAWS, he got some “dirt” on those Goodyear’s when he pitted.

Wrecking that (Bad) Dream-Machine does mean we will have to put up with both him and JAWS, for Sunday afternoon.

I could just see POS out there, driving Robby’s MoPar-ride. I wonder if POS might even have a left-over MoPar-ride, when he was getting his “junk” from Bill Davis, back in 2006! Remember how great those Bill Davis MoPar’s ran POS was leasing? That was after Bill sold all of the MoPar engine designs to that “foreign/import” manufacture, trying to get into NA$CAR and Daimler-Chrysler pulled all of his factory support. LMAO!

Don Mei
02/24/2012 11:58 AM

“Dimwitted babbling! GREAT line!! I’m going to see if I can get the MRN broadcast on my IPad sunday and turn the TV sound off. Hope it works, otherwise Ill watch it with no sound at all. As to the lady, yes she gets way too much exposure, but so does Dale Jr. Its not either ones fault. She looked damned good out there running in that leading pack.

Kevin in SoCal
02/24/2012 12:40 PM

Of course the NASCAR public preferred the first race: it had Junior in it, and he led some laps.
I go to the race track, both NASCAR and NHRA, for the smell of tire smoke, racing fuel, and adrenaline. I DO NOT go to the race track to smell some inconsiderate person’s cancer stick two seats away from me. If you want to smoke, go somewhere else where it only affects you.

Bill B
02/24/2012 12:54 PM

“Greg Biffle dominated the race but swept up on the final lap thinking he’d hook up with teammate Matt Kenseth “

That’s not the way I saw it at all. It looked to me like Biffle was trying to BLOCK Kenseth, not hook up.

Let’s be honest, if there isn’t at least a couple of LEGITIMATE cautions on Sunday the race will get pretty boring. However, I’d rather have a boring race than fake cautions. I’ll still call it boring but at least it will be an honest race.

Doug in Washington (State)
02/24/2012 12:58 PM

I don’t know if Mikey can buy Robby’s ride. NASCAR made some tweaks to the 4-car ownership rule that states that if you drive it, it counts as ownership so Mikey already has the 15, 56, 56, and 40 (the one he wrecked). Adding the 7 makes 5.

What was pathetic was the Start-and-Parks in the duals. The 83, 93, 32, 26 all locked in via T35 (83,93), PC provisional (32), or qual speed (26) packed it up early. The T35 needs to go, especially for the beginning of the season. I can see guaranteeing last years Chase drivers, but that’s it.

02/24/2012 01:05 PM

i think that if you combine the first and second races, you pretty much got what we’ll see on Sunday. Some hard racing, a wreck, a sanity check, some good racing, and a dash to the finish. not a bad thing. the new package is great (no 2 car tandem all day), but i do hate that pack racing can decimate the field in a matter of seconds. can’t have it both ways I guess…

as for danica, that was a helluva hard hit, glad she walked away. Montoya’s hit looked pretty bad too, no one really talked about him, I guess he’s fine. And of course, can’t have racing in a pack without JJ nearly causing (or causing) a huge wreck.

sunday should be interesting. And the MRN broadcast is looking more and more favorable seeing that the brothers waltrip will be wailing away in their high pitched voices on sunday, talking about danica and kyle busch all day long, and not really talking about anything that’s going on during the race.

glad the season is back. hopefully they’ve addressed the aero push that takes place at 94% of the other races over the season.


02/24/2012 01:43 PM

Kevin in So-Cal…..Bravo! Several years ago my son and I attended the truck race, at Daytona. Unfortunately for us, several individuals set right behind us and blew smoke all over us the entire race, along with a few dribbles of beer. Being a musician, I use my lungs to make my living and hate smokers in public places.

We went to LVMS a couple of years later, and it was non-smoking; and, I sure didn’t see or smell any smokers in my seating area. Really appreciate that. Let them go smoke in the food court or parking lots.

Brian France Sucks
02/24/2012 02:02 PM

The good news: We won’t have to listen to D Duhbya crow about his idiot brother Mikey for miles, or until he wrecks (most likely before lap 60).

Bad news: D Duhbya’s idiot brother will in all likelihood be in the booth, exponentially decreasing the intelligence level on the broadcast.

02/24/2012 03:46 PM

I don’t know what was more funny yesterday. Listening to Darryl make excuses for Mikey wrecking himself, or the fake crowd noise cheering for Jr when he took the lead late in the race.

Man, these people must really think Nascar fans are stupid. I for one am pretty upset about the fake crowd noise. You would think there were 100,000 people in the grandstands yesterday. There were so many, that FOX never showed them. That’s gotta tell you something.

First fake cautions, and now fake crowd noise. What’s next? Steel cage matches in the garage area?

02/24/2012 05:43 PM

Does anybody think Danica got hit accidentally?

It seems Kenseth remembered when Biffle left him high and dry earlier in the race.

02/24/2012 09:18 PM

I thought the 2nd race was better – I don’t tune in to see wrecks. Maybe it’s all the casual fans that Brainless has been so eager to get that prefer the “reality show” style of racing. Of course you also have every track on the circuit showing wrecks as part of their promos to get people to come. A lot like Barney & Bailey it seems. Although I’m not a fan of Danica’s I was glad to see that she wasn’t hurt since that was a hard hit. Not sure why Fox/speed thought they needed to show us the wreck via her in car – seemingly before they knew she was OK.

Ugh, Mikey in the booth – glad I have trackpass so I can mute the TV for Sunday’s race. of course I only need to watch the last 10 laps anyway.

02/26/2012 12:45 PM

Hey Matt – its Eric from the old ABFD Forum from years gone by —-

—totally agree with your post about Michael Waltrip. I watched 10 minutes of the pre-race this morning and I’ve already had enough of him all weekend… who is it that thinks the viewers like to watch this guy??? I may have to find MRN and shut the TV volume down.


02/27/2012 12:49 AM

I’m eager to see if nascar helps chevy with the overheating issue. After all, it just wouldn’t do to have those Hendrick boys blowing steam.

Would nascar help FORD?

We already know about toyota. Remember a few years back? Toyota had a better engine but nascar forced a plate on them because they were winning so much and the chevy people were crying about it. Yet the year before the chevy drivers won about 2/3’s of the races and that was fine with nascar.