The Frontstretch: Matt McLaughlin's Thinkin' Out Loud: Phoenix-1 Race Recap by Matt McLaughlin -- Monday March 5, 2012

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Matt McLaughlin's Thinkin' Out Loud: Phoenix-1 Race Recap

Matt McLaughlin · Monday March 5, 2012


The Key Moment – Kevin Harvick was reeling in leader Denny Hamlin until, with just over a lap to go, Harvick’s No. 29 car sputtered low on fuel.

Even Jared from Subway had to be impressed over Denny Hamlin’s fuel-saving abilities, which earned the veteran a trip to Phoenix Victory Lane.

In a Nutshell – Denny Hamlin and Darian Grubb got served up a huge helping of redemption after their humiliations last season.

Dramatic Moment – Anytime Harvick and Kyle Bush are running in close quarters, fans are going to be on the edges of their seats given the duo’s checkered (and wreckered) history. When the pair were battling for the lead, there was no quarter given and none asked.

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

Well at least it didn’t rain, right?

While I prefer the new track design to the old configuration at Phoenix, this oval is one of those tracks I still don’t think deserves two race dates. Rockingham and Darlington used to be the second and third races on the schedule, and it was a whole lot easier on the teams than two treks out west. Oh, and they featured a heck of a lot better racing as well…

Why exactly wouldn’t Tony Stewart’s car refire after he shut it off briefly to save fuel? The restart sequence isn’t that complex but the steps have to be done correctly and in order. Maybe someone might want to throw the EFI owner’s manual in the glove box of the No. 14 car. (D’OH! Grubb took it with him when he left.)

Despite Stewart’s problems, by and large the big story about the switchover to fuel injection is it hasn’t been a story. A seamless transition is the best possible outcome for NASCAR; it even works with this ethanol gas, which hasn’t proven to be the case with most motorcycles, ATVs, snowmobiles, small engines and classic cars. Despite those rosy commercials you see, adding ethanol to gas is one of the biggest boondoggles in politics. It takes more energy to produce than it yields.

Less than two years removed from winning a NASCAR championship with Dodge – in Nationwide with Brad Keselowski – team owner Roger Penske is ditching their Chargers for Ford Fusions beginning in 2013.

I don’t pretend to be shocked by Roger Penske’s announcement this week that his teams will be switching to Fords next year. Throughout a long career as an owner, Penske has run Pontiacs, Fords and Dodges (And even AMCs back in the day). What did catch me off guard was the timing of the announcement. This early in the season, Penske is already a lame duck despite two cars capable of making the Chase. Certainly, Dodge isn’t going to want to give Penske any trick parts they might develop knowing he’d take that knowledge with him to Ford next year. The timing of the announcement is also awkward for Dodge. They are going to reveal the new Charger they plan to race in 2013 at Las Vegas next week, but probably won’t be able to announce any teams who will run the new Dodge next year.

An appeals judge this week ordered the drag strip at Fontana to be shut down until the track makes noise mitigation modifications to quiet things down for the track’s neighbors. (Yes, I’m with you. What idiot moves in around a racetrack and doesn’t expect some noise? It’s like the folks here in Chester County who build McMansions next to a pig farm and then find out pigs stink and they crap a lot.) You have to wonder if the ruling is going to have any implications for the upcoming Cup race.

I’ve come to the conclusion that about 300 miles is the ideal distance for a Cup event. The beginning and end of the race are the bread and middle portion is the bull crap. The more bread you have, the less crap you have to ingest.

The marketing types have gone over the line. Online ads meant to spur ticket sales at Dover have one (non)word in them, “Crashtastic.” No, come on, really? What’s the intended target audience and do I have to sit beside those types?

With all the uproar about Tweeter at Daytona, last week I got a few requests for my Tweeter handle this week. Simply put, I don’t have one. I don’t even have a frickin’ cell phone and I don’t want one. The only tweeting that goes on around Eyesore Acres is the newly returned robins out on the dying and muddy front lawn as they look for worms. But if you are in the area, I’m usually on channel 23 on the CB when I’m out in the GMC or Trans Am.

Well, it might have been a one in a million occurrence last week when Montoya slammed into the jet-drying truck and set it ablaze, but NASCAR and the ISC have already leapt into action. Starting at Phoenix, rescue crews were wearing crash helmets and fire suits. They’re looking at adding roll cages and four-point belt systems to the rescue vehicles as well. I’m just waiting for the day NASCAR fines themselves for a rescue truck with unapproved C pillars…

The Hindenburg Award For Foul Fortune

Marcos Ambrose was running third with 16 laps to go when his engine expired in a smoky fashion. He wound up 32nd, then took his team to task after the trip to the garage. “We are here trying to run for wins and run for championships,” he said. “To trip over ourselves like that, it just isn’t going to get it done.”

Clint Bowyer cut down not one but two tires in the first 25 laps of the race. He never recovered, winding up six laps down in 30th place.

Kasey Kahne won here at Phoenix last fall in the first race on the reconfigured track. This time, he hit the wall early and ended up in the garage for an extended period of time, finishing 34th. Like the disclaimers in the investment ads read, “Past performance is not necessarily indicative of future success.”

Stewart had a strong run going before the aforementioned restarting issue. That cost him two laps and left him 22nd.

Not only did Jamie McMurray get a big piece of the Menard/Allmendinger wreck, he eventually lost an engine as well. His second straight DNF of 2012 left him 37th.

Jeff Burton had another good run going, inside the top 10 but mechanical issues sent him to the garage. A valve was the likely culprit that caused an ugly 33rd-place result.

The “Seven Come Fore Eleven” Award For Fine Fortune

There was some real question as to whether Hamlin had enough gas to finish the race. He did, but just barely.

It was probably rough for Harvick to see a potential win slip through his hands, but the car re-fired well enough to allow him to hold onto a second-place finish, albeit seven seconds behind Hamlin. It could have been worse… Harvick might have been chasing Kyle Busch.

Stripped lug studs forced Jimmie Johnson to make three stops under a caution period, dropping him back to 24th in the running order. It took half the race, but he was able to charge back to a fourth-place finish..

53-year-old Mark Martin claimed the pole for the Phoenix race and drove on to a credible ninth-place finish. Don’t bury me ‘cause I ain’t dead yet…

Worth Noting

  • All three of the JGR drivers finished in the top 10: Denny Hamlin (won), Kyle Busch (sixth), and Joey Logano (tenth).
  • The top-10 finishing positions were claimed by the drivers of five Toyotas, three Chevys, a Ford and a Dodge. Curiously, the Fiat 500 Abarth still hasn’t been cleared for competition.
  • Five drivers; Hamlin, Biffle, Harvick, Martin and Logano have top-10 finishes in both this year’s Cup events.
  • Hamlin won for the first time since Michigan last June.
  • Danica Watch. The good news: she finished the Nationwide race without wrecking. The bad news: She lost a lap in the first 28 and eventually finished three laps off the pace.
  • No driver who finished last November’s Phoenix race inside the top 10 repeated the feat in Sunday’s race. Joey Logano just missed, with an 11th-place finish last November followed up by a tenth-place result yesterday.

What’s the Points?

Hamlin takes the points lead by six points over second place Greg Biffle. Hamlin and Biffle are the only two drivers with top-5 finishes in both this season’s Cup points events.

Kevin Harvick moves up four positions to third in the standings. (Exactly where he finished in the points the last two seasons.) Former points leader Matt Kenseth fell to fourth, while Dale Earnhardt, Jr. rounds out the top 5 in points.

Way down the list, Jimmie Johnson is currently shown 37th in the standings. If the appeal board overturns the penalties against the No. 48 team, he’d move up to twentieth.

By the way, if you’re already in an uproar over the points, you must have been potty-trained in your first month of life. Chill, folks, we’re two races into a VERY long season.

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 cans of icy cold Colorado Kool-Aid. The race dragged for long stretches, but still featured some entertaining moments.

Next Up – The teams head north to Las Vegas (after a 4,088-mile side trip back to Mooresville to restock the haulers.)

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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Bill B
03/05/2012 08:11 AM

As I watched Tony Stewart unable to restart his car I wondered how wise turning the car off and restarting it repeatedly during cautions might be with the new fuel injection system. Does anyone know if there should be a problem with doing that?

I also thought it was interesting when someone pointed out that you don’t see the flames coming out of the exhaust pipe anymore because there is no excess fuel burn off with EI. Interesting and logical. So does that mean the probability of fuel mileage races goes up?

03/05/2012 10:30 AM

Tony will not be shutting off the engine ant more.

just talking
03/05/2012 11:11 AM


Don’t tease me with a second Darlington date – that is just cruel – too much to wish for right?

Correct on Ethanol – boondoggle about sums it up

300 miles seems about right too – don’t know how sponsors would take it though

Jeff W
03/05/2012 11:36 AM

Matt, are you drinking the pro-big oil koolaid? Get some actual, current facts before spouting this old-timer BS.

“Despite those rosy commercials you see, adding ethanol to gas is one of the biggest boondoggles in politics. It takes more energy to produce than it yields.”

Kevin in SoCal
03/05/2012 01:02 PM

As far as I know, the drag strip being temporarily closed will have no affect on the Cup race in Fontana. Sorry you got your hopes up. But I’m PISSED about it, as it was the last 1/4 mile drag strip left in Southern California for us amateurs to race on. I guess the complainers would rather us race on the street.
Back to NASCAR, I’m shocked at how few commenters there are about Matt’s post today. Where is everyone?

Carl D.
03/05/2012 01:18 PM


There’s just not much left to say about this race or Matt’s summary, but I’ll say this…

If Rick Hendrick gets the #48 team’s penalties overturned, it will say volumes about the France-Hendrick relationship. It doesn’t matter to me how significant the infractions were, far less-affluent and influential owners have been penalized for less, and their penalties are almost always upheld on appeal. Is Brian in Rick’s pocket? We will see.

03/05/2012 01:29 PM

Kevin ISC,
Thanks for the update. Actually I take the loss of any drag strip personally. Like you said, if they shut down the strips we’ll run em in the streets (from the fire road to the Interstates) I used to run a series of class and bracket cars at Atco, Maple Grove and Cecil County. What really bothered me about the story is the event canceled this weekend was a Street Legal event, meaning I’d guess the cars would be running mufflers. How much nosier is that than an Interstate. I guess the people complaining preferred the site as an EPAtoxic waste site?

03/05/2012 01:34 PM

Matt, now it’s my turn. The fruits and nuts are loose and running rampant. LACR here in Palmdale shut down several years ago, They quit racing at Saugus years ago and reduced it to a flea market, Toyota pulled out of Irwindale and it was forced to shut down, albeit not permanently as yet, and now this stupid problem in Fontana surfaces. I’ve lived in this silly state for 50 years and 3 months which constitutes my entire life and I’ve about had it. I’m sure more tracks have shut down than I have listed but these are the ones I attended frequently. I can add Corona Raceway, Riverside, and Ontario to the list but I was just a kid then.

I understand the desire for The Rock to be put back on the schedule where it was but I’m wondering if they keep these races out west early in the schedule for weather concerns, even though it rains in the winter here too.

It would make a lot of fans happy just to put something back the way it used to be.

BTW I gave the race 4 cans as I thought it was decent. No digger was a bonus.

03/05/2012 01:51 PM

Addendum for you Matt, LACR (Los Angeles County Raceway) is one of the Drag Strips Kevin ISC mentioned.

03/05/2012 02:41 PM

And if course Lions and Pomona and whatever they called the one Big Willy ran. Do you know which of those strips was used in a classic Adam 12 episode where Reed was trying to get the street racers to race at the track instead? If you watch that episode frame by frame there are many way cool cars including a Hemi Superbird.

03/05/2012 03:01 PM

I don’t see where there is any benefit to shutting off the engine with EFI. I’m no master mechanic but, as I understand it, under deceleration with no throttle input the fuel injectors are shut off ( no flames out of the pipes) until the idle rpm range is reached. The only fuel saved would be the minimal amount required under idle.

Vito Pugliese - FS Staff
03/05/2012 03:23 PM

Carl Long would likely have an opinion on any sort of penalty appeal being overturned as well.

Kevin in SoCal
03/05/2012 03:24 PM

Brotherhood Raceway on Terminal Island is the track Big Willy ran. I’m 36 years old and have been racing my street car since 1999. I started at Pomona, and that closed to us street legal racers because the local residents didnt like the noise from the pros. Yet the pros remain. Then I went to Carlsbad, and it closed because the land is more valuable as a shopping center. Then LACR closed because that land was more valuable as a rock quarry. Now we lost Irwindale and Fontana. The only 1/4 mile track left is Famoso Raceway in Bakersfield, about 120 miles from Los Angeles. My father is a racer too, he used to race at Lions, Irwindale, Riverside, and Orange County. Those are all closed as well. There’s just too many people out here and not enough space to house them all. The most ironic thing to me about Fontana’s residents complaining about the drag strip noise is the train tracks that run parallel to the race track. The trains come thru several times a day. The race track runs once or twice a month.

03/05/2012 03:45 PM

That’s definitely LACR in the ADAM 12 scenes. It wasn’t as nice as Pomona, but it was improved since those days. I used to live within earshot of it. Makes me think of my old ’65 Skylark Gransport with the Wildcat under the hood. Those were the days…

Kevin, good point about the trains. We’re talking selective complaining over there.
And thanks for mentioning Orange County too. I completely forgot about that one, even though I went there more times than I can count.

And Vito, You could probably make a healthy list; Carl’s team, Bowyer’s, Hyder/Waltrip, to name a few.

03/05/2012 05:11 PM

Actually Matt, in the 1970s it was Rockingham and Richmond immediately after Daytona—Darlington was in April.

03/05/2012 10:32 PM

One would be wise to listen to their elders. “Old timers” know the truth of ethanol and are figuring out ways around it to save their engines.

Unfortunately it cost more, as does everything that is touched by washington.

03/05/2012 11:41 PM

Is it just me or is that one of the uglier trophies handed out these days?

03/06/2012 02:51 PM

Matt, along with mentioning reduction of number of laps, it should also be mentioned that the number of races should be reduced.

Several of the tracks on the schedule absolutely do not need two races run at them, period.

Something aroung 26 races would be more than sufficient, and thus the season could start in March and end in September.

I love racing, but that would be enough of Nascar for me.

03/06/2012 04:01 PM

Boondoggle is right. Ethanol takes more power to produce than it offers (as Matt stated), and consumes about 3~4 gallons of water per gallon produced, which seems at least a little wasteful of the most precious commodity on the planet. As farmers start to grow more corn for ethanol production, the cost of other foods increases at the grocery store due to limited availability. Finally, it would seem that there is not enough land available to meet even a large part of current demand for an alternate fuel. Add that to the fact the crops need to be rotated, means that growing corn for ethanol isn’t really sustainable… Good thing ethanol offers us so much :)

Mr Bill
03/07/2012 08:47 AM

This new fuel that is made from items people can eat instead of being processed from oil that people can not eat is driving the cost up of many things I use daily. I put some of this new fuel into my big block ’66 Chevelle and the car would not even idle. I finally found a retailer that sells racing fuel to get my Chevelle back to what it should be. All this cost more and I really don’t see any improvement to the performance or the planet for the extra money. All this new fuel stuff sounds good, but that is about it to me. The Volt from Chevy is about 45,000 and what do you get? Other than 10,000 tax credit from the other tax payers I don’t see any thing that great. Oh, Volt production stopped this past weekend. It seems the cost of gas will need to go even higher before we are forced to buy this wonderful car that is a hugh step back for all motorist.

Jeff W
03/07/2012 09:08 AM

You ethanol-haters really need to read some current literature and stop regurgitating 20-year-old information.

Ethanol has little to no effect on the price of food. You know what has an enormous effect? Oil prices.

Do some research and find out how efficient the latest plants are at producing ethanol.

I’m not saying it’s the answer but it’s PART of the answer. I guess you would prefer to continue sending your hard-earned cash to OPEC and polluting our air and water.

03/09/2012 06:05 PM

Far from a hater – just that if the government is pushing ethanol as its panacea, there is surely ‘big corn’ money behind it. To me its not so much the idea – its that it is not ready for prime time, but is being forced out anyway. Please post some links for more current information about ethanol production and benefits. Google doesn’t filter by age of information!

Jeff W.
03/11/2012 11:00 PM

The money behind ethanol is a fraction of a fraction (of a fraction…) of the money behind oil. I’m not sure what you mean by “prime-time” but I’ve been using 10% ethanol blended gas for the 25 years I’ve been driving. If you mean it’s not ready to replace fossil fuels, you are absolutely right. I don’t see that ever happening. But it can partially replace, and help reduce the consumption of, imported oil. I feel, rather unfortunately, that we will need to employ a number of different solutions to end the nasty business of burning fossil fuels. You also identified a huge problem, which is the lack of current, unbiased information. Being from a “corn state,” I get a lot of “information” from both sides and can compare and filter to glean what I think is something close to accurate. I supposed it’s much harder where ethanol isn’t such a hot topic.