The Frontstretch: Matt McLaughlin's Thinkin' Out Loud: Martinsville-1 Race Recap by Matt McLaughlin -- Monday April 2, 2012

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The Key Moment – On the first green-white-checkered restart, Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson led the field to the green, both on worn tires as competitors behind them on fresh ones licked their chops. Clint Bowyer, propelled by a solid shot to his rear bumper from Ryan Newman, took the Hendrick duo three-wide towards the first turn and it didn’t work out too well for any of the three of them. Meanwhile, Newman snaked his way into the lead and, ultimately, the win.

Ryan Newman snaked his way by A.J. Allmendinger on the final restart after a wild finish to win Sunday’s Martinsville melee.

In a Nutshell – There’s nothing wrong with the new NASCAR style of racing that an old short track can’t fix.

Dramatic Moment – Obviously, they’ll be talking about the penultimate restart of Sunday’s race for a long time.

Prior to the melee, Gordon spent twenty laps running down Johnson and he had just completed the pass to take the lead when the sixth caution flag flew.

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

What was Reutimann thinking staying out on the track with a broken steering component rather than getting out of the way and letting the race take its course? (In his defense, Reutimann said after the race that his car had cut out on him and died while he was trying to limp to the finish with that broken steering component. “I know it sucks for everyone. But I can’t get out and push the thing,” Reutimann noted.)

It’s funny how Martinsville is the oldest track on the circuit, and the place really hasn’t changed much since it was paved, but nobody is calling for this half-mile to be torn up and changed.

Much of the focus on the big wreck will be on Bowyer’s decision to take the leaders three-wide at Martinsville. But I’m thinking I saw Gordon and Johnson conspire to bring the field to that restart awfully slowly, in the hopes of boxing up their competition and settling the race between themselves on the final lap. It also appeared it was Johnson’s decision to move down the track while aware he was in a three-wide situation that triggered the wreck.

Rick Hendrick will have to wait awhile for his 200th official win after good friend Gene Haas, co-owner with Tony Stewart (and HMS customer) took the trophy Sunday.

What’s all this hullabaloo about Hendrick waiting to get his 200th Cup win? If you’re realistic and recognize Stewart-Haas Racing as a thinly disguised satellite team to HMS, that 200th win took place sometime last season.

I’d hate to see Newman lose a sponsor but maybe Outback ought to consider sponsoring Phoenix Racing. Out Back is where Kurt Busch has been running all season.

One pass for the lead and one caution flag in the first 250 miles at Martinsville? (In fact, there were only seven cautions all day, the fewest at Martinsville since 1996.) Are today’s drivers more talented and courteous than our heroes of yore, or are they more timid and cautious just trying to score some points towards the Chase rather than racing?

Yes, I write about stock car racing, but longtime readers know about my lifetime predilection for loud, fast cars of any sort. This week the NHRA family lost a legend of the sport with the passing of Bill “Grumpy” Jenkins, a personal hero of mine from way back. The Grump built and raced a series of Chevys in the Super Stock and Pro Stock classes, mainly Camaros but there were a few Novas and Vegas mixed in there as well. The majority of them were raced under the “Grumpy’s Toy” moniker, and successfully at that with plenty of victories on the all-time resume. Jenkins’ shop is right down the road from me and as a kid I loved watching him run at Atco and Maple Grove. I still have a model of his ’69 Camaro I built when I was ten and about a half-dozen diecast cars of various “Toys.” Godspeed, Mr. Jenkins. Your contributions to drag racing will not be forgotten and you’ll be missed.

Adventures of a Yankee Writer in Dixie: Episode One. Way back, when on one of my first forays south to cover a race, I arrived at the office with a splitting headache courtesy of allergies and clogged sinuses. (And perhaps the dozen or so beers I’d had the previous evening.) Trying to be helpful, one of my compatriots handed me a Goody’s Headache Powder when I’d been expecting an aspirin. So I unwrapped the package, saw that powder and figured I knew what needed doing. I chopped it into two straight lines with a credit card, rolled up a twenty-dollar bill and prepared to snort the lines. Fortunately, my co-worker intervened before I did so. I still blush every time someone mentions a Goody’s.

Jeff Gordon was gassed – literally – in the waning laps at Martinsville after losing first the lead through contact and then running out of fuel during an ugly series of green-white-checkered events for the No. 24 car.

The Hindenburg Award For Foul Fortune

What didn’t happen to Gordon in the waning laps of the race? First, he was the meat in a 48-15 sandwich on the infamous sixth restart but unlike the No. 48, he kept it off the wall. Then, he ran out of gas waiting for the race to resume. The unofficial results (and they are subject to change) show Gordon finishing fourteenth despite having led 328 laps.

Johnson seemed to have the race in hand until Gordon got a nose by him moments before the sixth caution flag flew. Before Johnson got a chance to try to retake the lead, he was in the wall.

Kasey Kahne blew an engine at lap 316, his third finish outside the top 30 in six races with Hendrick Motorsports (38th). On a brighter note, he didn’t wreck this week, but it had to be frustrating for Kahne and the No. 5 team to watch their three stablemates running 1-2-3 late in the race.

Kevin Harvick’s No. 29 car sported a paint scheme that mirrored the front page of a newspaper the day Prohibition was repealed. Perhaps that was appropriate in that Harvick was a headliner early in the race but by the midway point the Bud car was already old news. At day’s end, he was 19th.

Kurt Busch melted down not one but two right front tires and spent the rest of the day just trying to stay out of the way en route to a 33rd-place finish.

The season with both Busch brothers has been filled with wrecks, not wins in a bumpy start to 2012.

Kyle Busch’s day went even worse. He broke a track arm and stuffed the No. 18 into the wall in what was arguably the hardest hit in Sunday’s race. After spending 65 laps behind the wall for repairs to be made, Busch finished 36th.

The “Seven Come Fore Eleven” Award For Fine Fortune

Newman had to overcome a pit road speeding penalty earlier in the race and squirt through a hole about as wide as his car during that final wreck to take the win.

A.J. Allmendinger was being treated for the flu on race morning and fell a lap down at one point during the event. He probably felt a lot better than that after finishing second.

Earnhardt’s car took a hard hit to the right front when Gordon slid into his path but he drove a clearly damaged car to a third-place finish.

At a track that clearly isn’t a good one for the Roush organization, on a weekend where none of the Roush-Fenway cars ever seemed up to speed, a fourth-place finish had to feel like a gift to Matt Kenseth. Carl Edwards (11th) and Greg Biffle (13th) were probably surprised and pleased to leave Martinsville with a minimal amount of damage in the point standings.

Worth Noting

  • Three drivers: Biffle, Kenseth and Earnhardt have top-5 finishes in half of this season’s Cup points races.
  • The top-10 performers at Martinsville Sunday drove three Chevys, three Toyotas, two Fords and a pair of Dodges.
  • A.J. Allmendinger (second) managed his first top 10 since switching to Penske Racing and his best ever Cup result.
  • The top-5 finishers at Martinsville combined to lead a total of sixteen laps Sunday. The race is not always to the swift nor the battle to the strong.
  • Aric Almirola (eighth) scored his first top-10 result in the No. 43 RPM car. The way he was beating and banging with Allmendinger (who ironically drove the No. 43 car last year) it’s a wonder either of them made it to the checkered.
  • As noted above, Earnhardt (third) drove to his third top-5 result in this season’s six races. He had just four top 5s in all of 2011 combined.
  • Boy Howdy is Kyle Busch off to a slow start this season. By this point last year, he had one Cup win, three Nationwide victories and a Truck win. Discounting his triumph in the Shootout, a non-points event, Busch hasn’t rang the bell at all this year in any of the three major touring series.
  • Jeff Gordon (14th) still hasn’t managed a top-5 finish this season.
  • Martin Truex, Jr.‘s average finish this season is ninth (he was fifth on Sunday). In all of 2011, he averaged an eighteenth-place result.

What’s the Points?

Greg Biffle retains his points lead. He is now six points ahead of second-place Earnhardt. Tony Stewart moved up a spot to third in the standings. He is one of four drivers listed as being 12 points out of the lead but gets the nod with two wins already this season. Kenseth is fourth (+2) with one win, followed by Kevin Harvick (-3) in fifth and Martin Truex (+1) in sixth.

The top 10 in points are rounded out by Denny Hamlin, Newman (+2), Bowyer (-1) and Johnson (-1) in that order. Last year’s points runner-up Carl Edwards is eleventh in the standings but 47 points (almost a full race’s worth) out of the lead.

Keselowski moves up four spots to twelfth in the standings. He’d be the final “wild card” entry if the season ended today.

Further back, those two extra points Gordon earned for leading a lap and leading the most laps Sunday helped him some, but not much. He’s up four positions to 21st in the standings. Teammate Kahne is in worse shape, 31st in points and already 133 out of the lead. I’d say the focus now has to be on winning a couple of races to get a “wild card” slot in the playoffs for the No. 5 team. Agenda item number 1: Finish events.

In owner points, which clinch a spot in each race for the top-35 teams, the No. 10 team is now 36th despite Reutimann’s questionable late race shenanigans. The outfit, which is the one Danica Patrick is slated to drive for at Darlington next month is now one point behind the No. 83 BK Racing bunch and Landon Cassill.

Overall Rating (On a scale of one to six beer cans, with one being a stinker and a six-pack an instant classic) — Yeah, OK the first 400 laps dragged on at times but we’ll give this one five icy cold bottles of Corona and a chaser of Gentleman Jack served up by a bartender who looks like Deanna Carter.

Next Up – The Cup series takes a week off to allow Christian fans to celebrate the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. Racing or some facsimile thereof returns at Texas on Saturday night, April 14th.

Contact Matt McLaughlin

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phil h
04/02/2012 01:47 AM
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{What’s all this hullabaloo about Hendrick waiting to get his 200th Cup win? If you’re realistic and recognize Stewart-Haas Racing as a thinly disguised satellite team to HMS, that 200th win took place sometime last season.}

Well said Matt! Not only the wins,but a championship as well in 2011.

HJ
04/02/2012 02:11 AM
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Thank you for pointing out the fact that the 24 and 48 were slow at the restart. They can blame themselves for the wreck.

I’m sure the 48 feels they were cheated out of a win and will seek to have the results overturned by John Middlebrook.

Tim
04/02/2012 05:48 AM
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Will be interesting to see if they have to buy Danica’s way into the race.

Sicklajoie
04/02/2012 05:58 AM
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I would think that the 24 & 48 were slower than everyone else on the restart because the rest of the field had 100 lap fresher tires.

SB
04/02/2012 07:30 AM
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Martinsville hasn’t changed much over the years, and that’s exactly why no one is calling for it to be torn up or reconfigured. I don’t recall fans wanting Bristol reconfigured before it got ‘fixed’. Of course, the ‘chase’ neutered the night race long before that, with drivers more worried about protecting points than winning a race.

Ghost of Curtis Turner
04/02/2012 08:06 AM
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Great Race+Poor TV Coverage = Go to Martinsville in the Fall.
I don’t blame Reutimann or Baldwin for what happened on Lap 498, I blame NASCAR. Because Tommy Baldwin and Daved Reutimann were mandated to make sure Danica is in the Top 35 so she is “guaranteed” a starting spot at Darlington???
If DP is the Great Driver we are being forced into believing then why are they so concenred that she can’t quailfy for the Race at Darlington?? Could it be that the NASCAR has been lying to us??? Nah that would never happen…oh and since when did Bill France build Martinsville??? that statement from the Faux Broadcasaters made me nearly kick in my TV set. GoCT

Janice
04/02/2012 08:13 AM
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i think the fact that dw kept saying “hendrick had the banners and hats and whatnot” there with them at the track for the 200th win said it all. he basically got his “200th win” a few weeks ago when stewart won as that’s a satellite team of hendrick.

i also loved the fact that knaus tried to argue the speeding penalty….think there will be an appeal process for this? (LOL)

Bill B
04/02/2012 08:21 AM
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NASCAR should be quicker to black flag cars that have obvious problems, especially in the last 20 laps of a race.

I love Martinsville. It was a great race even though the events that transpired at the end of the race robbed the car that should have won. While I am bitter that the 24 had victory snatched from him, what a great track.

MIracefan
04/02/2012 08:26 AM
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Gordon and Johnson are on old tires and expect everyone behind them to just sit and wait patiently while the two of them figure it out. Taking it three wide at the end is what they are supposed to do. A little bit of actual racing broke out. So tired of this ride around and protect every point scenario. And to really make the day miserable, the broadcasters spend every moment pushing the Hendrick agenda. Give it a rest. They hounded Reutimann for wanting to squeak out every point possible at the end. Wasn’t Johnson recently doing the same while spewing oil on the track? Ridiculously frustrating to watch anymore………….

MilChad
04/02/2012 08:56 AM
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I was at the race and it’s hard to believe that they ever considered moving one (or both) of their dates to other tracks. The place was nearly full and easily the best race so far this year. Hopefully this will shut people up when it comes to the “should Martinsville have two Cup dates?” debate.

Jerome
04/02/2012 09:05 AM
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Great article. well said ghost. I am sure the wheels are spinning down in Daytona with NASCAR trying to figure out how to get Patrick into Darlington if the Hendrick…ooops…Tommy Baldwin #10 is still outside the top 35. They will find a way to get her in; the whole sport of NASCAR and it’s very existence hangs in the balance.

just talking
04/02/2012 09:09 AM
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Can’t understand why Nascar does not have more short tracks. OK – not great racing based on the past, the Chase and points counting (the worst words in Nascar – “it was a good points day” – ugh) took care of that, but still much better than what is ahead of us at the cookie cutters. Add a Darlington date, Rockingham – something.

How does Fox get away with a car owner (and brother) in the booth? Better to put Penske,Rousch, etc. – at least more interesting and knowledgeable.

Jerome
04/02/2012 09:10 AM
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Great article. well said ghost. I am sure the wheels are spinning down in Daytona with NASCAR trying to figure out how to get Patrick into Darlington if the Hendrick…ooops…Tommy Baldwin #10 is still outside the top 35. They will find a way to get her in; the whole sport of NASCAR and it’s very existence hangs in the balance.

toomuchcountry
04/02/2012 09:47 AM
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Prepared to celebrate 200 Cup wins as an owner? Call us when you actually SET a record.

Signed,
Petty Enterprises

Carl D.
04/02/2012 09:51 AM
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“And it appeared it was Johnson’s decision to move down the track while aware he was in a three-wide situation that triggered the wreck.”

Thank you Matt. I know Johnson was upset after the race, but the replay clearly showed Jimmie coming down and triggering the wreck. He blamed Bowyer for “dive bombing” to the bottom, but that’s exactly what Bowyer should have done. He had a legitimate shot at winning the race with fresher tires than Johnson and Gordon, but he had to get around them. Maybe Bowyer didn’t get the memo that Johnson and Gordon were racing for Hendrick’s 200th win, otherwise I’m sure he would have been perfectly happy with third place.

All in all I thought it was a fine race… slightly better than average by Martinsville standards, but a thriller compared to last week’s farce. And it was great to see the ‘Dinger snag a 2nd-place finish.

Rob Bolling
04/02/2012 10:33 AM
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It was a combination of slow restart, questionable line into the turn. (You can’t get to car to rotate from the line Boyer took, somebody was gonna have to go up the track) and JJ putting the squeeze on the three of them.

Finally! good and exciting racing this season.

Don Mei
04/02/2012 10:56 AM
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I cant believe how bad the announcing has become. At one point in the race, maybe with around 160 or so laps to go, there were several position changes among the top five drivers while the clown act in the booth was carrying on about something irrelevant and they completely missed it: add to that the periodic intrusion of MW into the conversation with his “Nascar can do no wrong attitude”, and the obvious conflict of interest involved in a car owner doing a broadcast, and the whole exercise sinks to the level of a carnival act. God, Benny and Ned, we REALLY miss you!!!

Mike In NH
04/02/2012 11:06 AM
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#10 is one point out of 35th. That’s why he stayed out. He has as much right to race for every point as anyone else (like Kyle Busch) does. He just had the wrong kind of breakdown at the wrong time. Why would he WANT to cause the whole race to come to a halt?

Mike In NH
04/02/2012 11:09 AM
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Other thing is you could also blame the 24 and 48 chiefs for being the only ones not to get tires. When that happened an accident was inevitable. If they’d gotten tires, even if they’d lost a spot or two, they all would have started cleanly and not gotten run over and would have had a chance to race for the win.

Carl D.
04/02/2012 11:22 AM
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Don Mei….

I’m with you. Not only is Michael Waltrip annoying as hell, his appearance as a booth announcer is a complete conflict of interest. I look forward to the day when Larry, Darrell, and his brother Mikey are merely a bad television memory.

DoninAjax
04/02/2012 11:38 AM
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Anyone who didn’t expect a dive bomb and ensuing wreck-em derby hasn’t been watching real racing (it only seems to happen at Martinsville). I said to my friends to watch out for Newman on the first GWC because he was in a perfect spot if trouble happened. The hole opened up like the Red Sea for him and Allmendinger.

Rocky
04/02/2012 11:42 AM
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Short track racing usually means short tempers, donuts on doors, and the chrome horn. Didn’t see a lot of short tempers, saw a lot of donuts, and the recipients of the chrome horns were more civil this race than I’ve seen with no retaliation afterwards. Overall a good race!

Robby
04/02/2012 12:01 PM
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The races were always called awesome when it was Jenkins, Benny, and Ned.

ESPN forced Jenkins out(he still calls awesome races on the IndyCar side)…Ned retired, and Benny sadly passed.

Waltrip is such a Hendrick homer it makes the races absolutely unbearable to watch. How has FOX not noticed this? Then again, this is the same company that lets Tim McCarver and Joe Buck call every baseball game and they are just as Cardinal biased as Waltrip is Hendrick biased.

This has even been noted by a certain driver of the #2 car that stated on Twitter he doesn’t like watching races on TV because of them…lol

babydufus
04/02/2012 12:30 PM
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i found the race to be fair by martinsville standards. not great. the broadcast, i agree, was abysmal. i don’t understand why people are pointing fingers. it’s the end of the race and guys are going to make moves for the win. boyer tried a desperation move on a car with older tires and there was no racing room for JJ. i don’t see how this could have played out any differently.

and.. I guess it was a good thing happy beat up on the little league kids on saturday…

think hendrick is gonna ship a new “ready to race don’t ouch a freakin thing” car over to the baldwin shop for the next aero… i mean texas event?

Kevin in SoCal
04/02/2012 12:52 PM
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I dont have a problem with Reutimann staying on the track to get every point he can. I have a problem with Reutimann have a legitimate problem with his car and STILL staying on the track trying to get every point he can. He must have passed pit road at least twice after his problems started.

What about Brad Dougherty and Ray Evernham in the broadcast booth, and on NASCAR Now for ESPN?

My father used to race against Grumpy Jenkins in NHRA Pro Stock back in the early 70’s. His favorite Jenkins story involves a race at Tucson Dragway in Arizona. The rumor mill says Jenkins would drive with an egg under his throttle foot so it wasnt so obvious how fast his car really was. My dad lined up against him in the semi-finals, and put a huge holeshot on him leaving the starting line. Grumpy must have squished that egg catching up to my dad’s car, as he set low ET, high MPH, beating my dad by a fender at the finish line with a new NHRA record. Rest in peace Grumpy, we’ll all miss you at the track.

Funky D
04/02/2012 02:42 PM
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The quote of the race was from Ryan Newman: “Clint kind of cleared out Turn 1 for us…” Ya think? LOL!

Tom Dalfonzo
04/02/2012 04:19 PM
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This is why I keep lobbying for Irwindale, Evergreen, & Iowa to receive Cup dates. This is the type of racing that those tracks would put on, which means they deserve NASCAR Cup races. New fans would come out in droves & fan interest would be to the moon. All those tracks need are some wholesale renovations & they are ready to go. It goes to show that I know what the fans love more so than NASCAR ever will.

Doug
04/02/2012 05:00 PM
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If car #10 is not in top 35 in points, they will just put Danica in car #36 and Dave Blaney will Qualify in the #10

GinaV24
04/02/2012 08:23 PM
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i was at the race, i was sorry gordon didn’t win since he had a great car. the 10 should have gotten off the track, esp since they knew they had a big problem. glad i didn’t have to deal with fox’s lousy coverage and could just watch the race. no commercials or waltrip’s it was a real pleasure

old gal from socal
04/02/2012 08:33 PM
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You’ve outdone yourself with the headache powder anecdote…good work!

Mr Bill
04/02/2012 09:06 PM
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Matt,I’m happy you decided to come back for another year!

Brian France Sucks
04/02/2012 10:14 PM
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Reutimann was trying to keep the 10 car in the Top 35 so that Danica Patwreck doesn’t have to qualify on speed. NA$CAR will have to invent a new rule allowing her a guaranteed starting spot when that happens.

Bud Sudz
04/03/2012 09:35 AM
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4 Points:

-If the 10 had pitted, what would everyone be talking about now? He’s not the first backrunner to stall on a race track.

-If the 24 and 48 pit for tires, 4 or 5 other cars would have stayed out and they would not have battled for the win. They made the best call for their teams. The cars behind always do what the leaders don’t do.

-If Bowyer hadn’t “dive bombed”, Newman would have dive bombed him and he would have been the meat in the sandwich in Turn 1. He made an instant decision that almost paid off, but Newman forced that decision with some help from the slowly moving 24 and 48.

-While Johnson was PO’d inside the car, his post-race comments are exactly what’s wrong with the Chase. Basically, he said that they still had a good finish and we’ll move on. While I was never a Dale, Sr. fan, he would have hopped out of his car and exited the track with reporters having to walk with him to get a short answered comment. Winning used to matter. Every Week. Period.

john
04/03/2012 01:08 PM
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I have zero problem with Bowyer or Newman, they were trying to win a race, at a real race track, after an exciting race. It was a good Sunday’s racing.

Blame the Top 35 rule for Baldwin making the call to stay out and limp around. It’s NASCAR’s fault, not Reutie’s.

That was everything good about stockcar racing all in one race. A timeless track, lots of decent racing all weekend, a great finish involving five guys who all pushed for the win, and some great strategy too, with old tires vs new.