The Frontstretch: Matt McLaughlin's Thinkin' Out Loud: Fontana Race Recap by Matt McLaughlin -- Monday March 26, 2012

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Matt McLaughlin's Thinkin' Out Loud: Fontana Race Recap

Matt McLaughlin · Monday March 26, 2012


The Key Moment – Tony Stewart took the lead from Kyle Busch on Lap 85 and appeared to be in a class of his own. The rain just sealed the deal.

Tony Stewart took the lead from Kyle Busch at Fontana, then cruised to victory for his second win in five 2012 Sprint Cup events.

In a Nutshell – Well, it wasn’t very good but at least it was over quickly. (And what guy doesn’t want to hear that?)

Dramatic Moment – The race itself was almost totally and completely devoid of drama, so I guess I’d have to say the real drama was waiting to see when the rain would start falling. Prior to that, it was just another single file processional parade at Fontana.

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

So why are we discussing tearing up Bristol and not this mess of a race track? For those who were counting competitive passes for the lead, there were two. Kyle Busch passed Denny Hamlin on lap 2 and Stewart passed Busch on lap 85.

Isn’t it funny how there’s no debris cautions when NASCAR is trying to get a race to halfway with threatening weather moving in?

Why wasn’t Jimmie Johnson black-flagged when his car began spewing oil during those six final caution laps? Yes, the race was under caution but it was also raining and oil and water make for a slick mix.

Well, there certainly was no issue with the restarts at Fontana this week. There were none.

It seems every driver has his own opinion on returning Bristol to the old track configuration. Count Dale Earnhardt, Jr. as one of the drivers who feel it’s unnecessary. Junior opined that the perceived problem with the “new” Bristol racing is easy to fix: just have Goodyear bring a softer tire that that loses grip more rapidly than the current rubber. I’d go a little further than that. I’d insist Goodyear bring bias-ply tires back at least to the three short tracks and Darlington.

Danica Patrick’s car was marred by a “punctured radiator…” but did she really know what that means?

Danica Patrick’s frustrating season continued at Fontana Saturday. She completed just 63 laps and finished 35th after a punctured radiator and loss of coolant caused her engine to seize. Ms. Patrick’s expert analysis of the failure noted that the water in her cooling system “went away.” As such, “there was no steam to heat the engine up.” Yeah, well, um, you’ll have that… in Narnia. And this woman used to be paid to endorse a brand of antifreeze?

That loud whirring sound you were hearing outside of Kannapolis last week was the late Dale Earnhardt spinning in his grave after his son apologized for wrecking Gordon out at Bristol and vowing to engage in “damage control.”

There is absolutely no truth to the rumor that the New Orleans Saints have asked John Middlebrook to hear their appeal on the sanctions the NFL hit them with recently.

Nor is there truth to the rumor that Joey Logano’s PR people are selling T-shirts dubbing Logano’s season, “The Drive to Keep Kurt Out of my Seat in 2013.”

Great moments in measurement: Commenting on the extraordinary width of the Fontana track, FOX’s Larry McReynolds boldly predicted drivers would “use every ounce of that width.”

Night Ranger … no, really?

The Hindenburg Award For Foul Fortune

Hamlin had a strong car and was consistently in the top 3 but a very questionable call to the pit when the rain began left him with an 11th-place finish. I’m not sure what Darian Grubb was thinking. There are states in this Union that aren’t as big as that green blob of precipitation over the track on the radar.

Jeff Gordon drove from a 21st place starting spot to place himself solidly in the top 5 for much of the race. But Gordon was penalized for removing equipment from his pit (let’s face it, he didn’t just leave with equipment, he left with his gasman too). Gordon finished 26th, two laps down.

Kyle Busch had perhaps the only car that could run with Stewart’s all day. He in fact led 80 laps. But incidental contact with the wall apparently knocked the steering on the 18 just enough askew he could only watch Stewart drive off at will.

Problems in the pits, including lug nuts left loose, left Jamie McMurray 32nd in the final rundown.

The “Seven Come Fore Eleven” Award For Fine Fortune

Stewart is lucky neither Kevin Harvick or Hamlin decided to wreck him after he pulled slide jobs on them both charging towards the front.

Had the race resumed, however briefly, Johnson would have had to drop out with mechanical failure. Instead he finished tenth.

After running in the teens early in the race, Carl Edwards got his car underneath him and timed his drive to the front perfectly. He’d just entered the top 5 when the rain began falling. Edwards finished fifth.

A decision not to pit when the rains began falling allowed Kurt Busch and Phoenix racing to leave Fontana with their first top-10 finish of the season. (Ninth)

Fifteenth place isn’t great but at least Kasey Kahne didn’t wreck this week.

Worth Noting

  • Stewart, who typically doesn’t start firing on all eight until the weather gets hot, won his second race of the season. (Another bit of weird fallout from this freakishly warm spring?) Going back to last year, he’s now won seven of the last fifteen Cup points races.
  • Greg Biffle and Johnson lead all drivers with four top-10 finishes in the season’s five Cup points races. Biffle leads all drivers with three top 5s in those five races.
  • The top-10 finishers at Fontana drove six Chevys, two Fords, and two Toyotas. The top finishing Dodge pilot was A.J. Allmendinger in sixteenth.
  • Kyle Busch’s second-place finish was his best since he also finished second last fall at Charlotte.
  • Earnhardt’s third-place finish was his second top 5 of 2012. In all of 2011, he had only four such finishes.
  • Carl Edward’s fifth-place finish matches his best of the season. (He was also fifth at Las Vegas.)
  • Kurt Busch (ninth) scored his first top 10 since he won at Dover last fall.
  • Jeff Gordon’s average finish this season has been 24th, ironically enough. That’s got to leave some bruises.
  • Perhaps most importantly, Landon Cassill’s 36th-place finish combined with David Reutimann’s 27th means that they swap 35th and 36th spot in the owner’s points standings. So what? Well that means that Cassill has to qualify on speed next weekend at Martinsville, the first race to use this year’s owner’s points standings rather than last year’s. Reutimann is guaranteed a spot in next weekend’s race and needs to keep that car in the top 35 in owners points if Danica Patrick is to be guaranteed a spot in May’s Darlington Cup race.

What’s the Points?

Greg Biffle stays atop the heap, now seven points ahead of second place Harvick.

Earnhardt moves up three spots to third in the standings. Race-winner Stewart also moves up three spots to fourth. Matt Kenseth rounds out the top 5, down two positions from last week.

Martin Truex (-2), Hamlin (-2), Johnson (+3), Clint Bowyer (-1) and Ryan Newman (+3) round out the top 10, in that order.

If you add the three positions he picked up today to the six spots he advanced after the points penalty for the No. 48 was rescinded Tuesday, Johnson actually moved up nine spots this week.

Carl Edwards moves up three spots to enter the top 12 after a slow start to his season. Though he’s 49 points (more than an entire race’s worth) out of the lead Edwards says the plan is to enter the Chase leading the points. Yeah, and I’d like it if the spigot in the backyard spewed cold beer too.

I’d say the biggest surprise in the points to date is Kasey Kahne, up four spots this week but still mired in 28th. Jeff Gordon in 25th is a close second as far as shockers and he’s still looking for his first top 5 result of the season.

Overall Rating (On a scale of one to six beer cans with one being a stinker and a six pack an instant classic) — Do you ever have one of those late evenings when you’re sure you still have one last beer in the cooler but when you go to get it turns out one of your friends drank it? Fontana Sunday is that missing beer.

Next Up – It’s off to a track that mirrors the sport’s roots…the tiny flat half mile track at Martinsville.

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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03/26/2012 06:35 AM

another good read Matt I thought it was a decent race my biggest thought is Bruton smith is changing bristol back says he asked the fans and that is what they wanted should be ready for night race Damn that was easy someone asking the fans what they want could work all the way around

03/26/2012 08:18 AM

Next time someone complains about mystery debris cautions, remember this race.

Just before the yellow flag came out I glanced at the scoring crawl and Junior, in the 5th place car, was 22 seconds behind Stewart.

I hope that wasn’t someone’s first race…they’ll never go back.

03/26/2012 08:33 AM

that seemed to be about the right length for a race at fontana.

MJR in Springfield, VA
03/26/2012 08:34 AM

I’m usually not a very critical person. But seriously Tim, did you happen to read your post before you clicked on the submit button? Just wondering exactly what you were trying to say. Punctuation, correct capitalization and a clear thought process are handy little things to have when writing something that someone else may read. Please, no hard feelings.

03/26/2012 08:47 AM

wow…matt watched a race in california!

so sick of the jimmie johnson love-fest regaining those 25 points. he should have been blacked flagged. oh well…money talks, na$car listens.

03/26/2012 09:17 AM

This is the worse race I’ve seen in many a year. nascar knew the deluge was coming and started the race anyway. Great message to send the fans. This track needs to be blown up. Rating-no beers, just a broken bottle.

Matt L
03/26/2012 09:22 AM

It was interesting to see how long the race would stay green. That’s about all I can say about it.

03/26/2012 09:57 AM

Even though he is my driver, I am thinking Carl Edwards has lost his nerve or is just riding around on that new contract!!…NO aggressiveness at all!! It’s like he is not trying or his crew chief is sending him out to race with junk!!

Bill B
03/26/2012 10:17 AM


03/26/2012 10:58 AM

i was at the race, first caution free race i can remember in years. it showcased the strength of the cars and the importance of pit stops. Tony was the car to beat for most of the day. He’s on a tear.

as jim said, next time you’re all complaining about mystery cautions, take a look at this race.

it was probably worse on TV than in person, there was a good bit of racing behind the 10th position for most of the day.

Carl D.
03/26/2012 10:59 AM

I decided to DVR the race, then FF thru the commercials and the boring parts. So, I watched the entire race in about 10 minutes. Even that was too long. If yesterday doesn’t finally kill racing in Fontana for good, nothing ever will. And I don’t blame the bad weather… I’m thankful for it.

Meanwhile, Iowa still has no cup race.

Tom Dalfonzo
03/26/2012 11:16 AM

That is just it. Yesterday should hopefully be the final nail in Fontana’s coffin. Give Irwindale Speedway a call, tell them that they have been awarded a Cup race for 2013, & assemble a race track task force to build 80,000 seats, hotels, campgrounds, parking areas, luxury boxes, & easy infrastructure access around the area. Irwindale Speedway should be automatically granted a Cup race after what the fans had to put up with yesterday.

03/26/2012 11:24 AM

The best part of that race yesterday was watching the 3 Stooges give the command. Not much else to write about.

The Mad Man
03/26/2012 11:29 AM

Were all the missing fans hiding under the tarp in Turn 1 because of the impending rain?

03/26/2012 11:34 AM

>TIM ionlysawasmallamountoftheraceasiwasinabowling
littlebetter GO ROWDY

03/26/2012 11:41 AM

Bring this race date back to Rockingham! I plan on going to the upcoming truck race and hopefully there will be a good showing so NASCAR considers giving The Rock another shot at a Cup race. I know, I’m dreaming.

Kevin in SoCal
03/26/2012 11:44 AM

Nothing special about this race, but at least there were no BS cautions. We had lots of racing the whole time. No surprise though that the fans on this website saw the worst race ever, because thats what they wanted to see.
After seeing Darian Grubb make the stupidest call of the year bringing Denny Hamlin in from second place to pit, I’d have to say now we know the real reason why Tony Stewart let him go. Apparently everyone in Fontana but him knew once the rains started they were not letting up for a few hours.
Dale Jr finished in third place, not second. I bet he’s happy, because if the race continued he’d have lost the handle on the car and finished in the teens.

03/26/2012 11:52 AM

Wow! What a stinker of a race. Couple the lack of action with an unblievable number of commercials and I was sleeping by lap 40. If someone in NASCAR doesn’t corrolate the crappy TV coverage with a decline in the popularity of what used to be our sport, then they deserve what they get. The Indy Car race from St. Pete was a pleasure to watch and I’ve never been a fan of open wheel cars.

03/26/2012 12:14 PM

@kevin in so cal – I totally agree, I love how everyone loves to bash this track more than any other.

All the 1.5 mi and greater tracks have similar racing. No one ever gets bent out of shape when other tracks exhibit the same type of racing. People are just bitter about what happened years ago with the dates, and can’t seem to let it go.

Vegas produces the same type of racing, matter of fact I went in ’10 and ’11 both races DOMINATED by gordon and stewart respectively, yet…no complaints. Until the tires fall off more, or air is allowed to pass UNDER the car as well as over it, this is what we’re subject to.

03/26/2012 12:49 PM

Many of the writers on this website LOVED the Bristol race so I guess they LOVED this race at Fontana too.

And I know at least one writer who’s probably really happy the race didn’t restart thereby allowing the 48 to have a good finish.

Folks, I watched ONE Auto Club Speedway race years ago and that’s the LAST time I will watch that race.

Since Nascar won’t ask the opinions of fans like Bruton Smith did, then the only way to make our voice heard is to not go or watch boring racing.

03/26/2012 01:44 PM

I agree with the poster who said this is the right length for a race at this track. I thought it was weird that NASCAR let the 48 stay out with oil spewing from the car, too.

Caliboring strikes again. On to the paperclip!

03/26/2012 01:55 PM

As with all cookie cutter tracks CA the worst TGF dvr only took 3min to watch the race I give this race half a can of stinky moldy rain water .Na$car is getting so bad I’m watching F1 for racing action.sad

03/26/2012 02:06 PM

One time when we went to Bristol there were orange spots all over the track. Ran into Jeff Byrd at a concession stand and asked about them. He said that they were going to repave the track and had taken laser level readings all over it to ensure that they got it exactly the same. Something went wrong somewhere as they decided on the “progressive banking”. Hope they still have those laser level readings.

03/26/2012 02:31 PM

I had open heart surgery last week and, as I lay there in ICU, my wife suggested that I not watch the race fearing the effects of excitement on my heart rate. I just laughed.

03/26/2012 03:05 PM

Does anyone else but me think that if they put the track a Bristol back to the way it used to be that we will have 500 lap processions? I’m not entirely convinced that things will magically go back to the way things were. The racing is different now than it used to be. Be careful what you wish for.

03/26/2012 03:58 PM

Fox did try to get a races worth of commercials in the 1st 100 laps to beat the rain. Also kept hearing how Jeff Gordon was the biggest mover passing all those cars, all I saw was Kyle Busch leading a parade.

Michael in SoCal
03/26/2012 04:01 PM

To everyone hoping for a Cup-level race at Irwindale, forget about it. The infrastructure just ins’t there to support either the Cup nor Nationwide series to race there. Now a Truck series race might be doable, but that’s a might.

03/26/2012 04:15 PM

Three or four hours of commercials leading to 20 minutes of race coverage and another hour of commercials.

DW and Larry MaaaaC.

DW and MW.

The tires.

Aero push.


Nascar favoritism.

Collusion on the reversal for JJ.

30 year old FI technology that doesn’t work (well).

Mediocre fan support.


What are the Top 10 things wrong with Nascar (TWWN) in ’12?

I don’t believe the tracks are at fault. I’ve seen some of the best racing ever at Atlanta Motor Speedway several times over the last 25 years. It’s supposedly a “cookie cutter” track, but when they get the tires and fuel mileage right, the racing is awesome. Of course that didn’t help us not to lose one of our dates to another cookie-cutter track where the race last year just sucked. Perhaps that should be TWWN #11.

Speaking of the 3 Stooges, would that be a reference to DW, MW, and LM or BF, MH, and JD? I’m thinking they’re all interchangeable.

mkrcr – that is funny!! Best wishes on a speedy recovery.

03/26/2012 05:19 PM

Shouldn’t this have been the perfect race for those who think the ‘new’ Bristol is perfect? Nice, wide track, multiple grooves, and no time wasted under caution. They should be salivating about this perfect track in Fontana. If they thought Bristol was great, why isn’t this one?

03/26/2012 05:37 PM

Seems Like the Race never got started Yesterday but the weather should be proof that NASCAR does Not know how to Schedule races Remember how from 1997-2003 when Calfornia Speedway only had one race and it was run in Late April-Early May and the race was always a Sell out and a big deal, Well NASCAR you have Nobody to Blame but yourself for the fact this track is Failing for giving it a bad date Like you did the Rock, If NASCAR was Smart they would move the race back to Early may and Hold it at night but hey what do I know? Im Just a fan who has watched this sport his entire life mkrcr-f

03/26/2012 06:28 PM

I sat through a caution free race won by Geoff Bodine at N. Wilkesboro in the early 90’s. It was run on a Monday after torrential downpours on Sunday.
The culprit was the switch from bias ply to radial tires. Drivers could drive whereever they wanted to on the track and there was no “give-up” in the tires.
It was still an entertaining race as Bodine “hit the set-up” and everyone else wore out their equipment trying to keep up.
At least there was no “lucky dog” yesterday to artificially return a car to the lead lap. If you missed the set-up, had a bad pit stop or made a call that was pure Grubbish, you paid for it.
The problem was an uneventful race at an uneventful track with a tire that just doesn’t give up.

jerry jeff runner
03/27/2012 04:55 AM

Did you see the Nationwide race at fontana? Some of the best racing i have seen. great racing even on the long runs.

03/27/2012 08:36 AM

Judging from the comments here, I’d say rumors of a NASCAR comeback are greatly exaggerated! LOL

03/28/2012 09:17 AM

I think the Nationwide race proved one of two things: either the Car of Tomorrow is causing bad racing, or The Chase is forcing drivers to be too conservative. Everyone constantly whines how boring Fontana is, but the race for the win among SIX DRIVERS all race long on Saturday proved that the track can provide awesome racing.

The question is, was it because it was 5 Cup drivers who didn’t care if they wrecked, plus one NWS driver (Stenhouse) desperate to impress? Or is it because the Nationwide car has a better aero package?

I doubt NASCAR will answer either question…

03/28/2012 07:01 PM

Golly,MJR DidNt Know I hAD To BE a Genius .tO poSt On hEre….

Funny how you give some people a computer to hide behind and they become critical of the world