The Frontstretch: Matt McLaughlin's Thinkin' Out Loud: Talladega-1 Race Recap by Matt McLaughlin -- Monday May 7, 2012

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The Key Moment – Matt Kenseth got such a jump on the final restart he lost his pusher Greg Biffle. Brad Keselowski and Kyle Busch were able to bypass the No. 17 and settle things amongst themselves.

In a Nutshell – Just another silly, contrived and violent plate race….racing that appeals to the least common denominators amongst us.

Brad Keselowski conquered Talladega Sunday, using a daring last-lap move on Kyle Busch to take the checkered flag first… and earn the honor of carrying the American one.

Dramatic Moment – Anytime you have a green-white-checkered finish at a plate track everyone is going to be holding their collective breaths. The reason Sunday’s finish was more sedate than most is half of the field had already been wrecked out of the race or were just trying to nurse badly wounded mounts to the checkers.

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

NASCAR has insisted on countless changes to the cars since the advent of plate racing. Each new change just seems to increase the level of carnage on the track. (Is that what they want?) Maybe it’s time to really fix the problem. Lower the banking in the corners, get rid of the plates and let these boys actually race.

The latest plate track rules change involved the smaller grille opening to limit the amount of time drivers could run in two car tandems. Unfortunately on a hot day in Alabama the opening was so restrictive the cars were overheating in the pack and even while running in clean air.

I don’t know how many times I read this week that “pack racing” was back at Talladega. Maybe so, but clearly it was a tale of two tandems there at the end of the race. The Nos. 17 and 16 failed to pair up correctly thus letting the Nos. 2 and 18 take the top spots.

I couldn’t have been the only person thinking this in the wake of Eric McClure’s horrific crash late in the NW race Saturday. As I watched them cut the driver out of his car and fasten him to a backboard, I just wanted to know if these “fans” who supposedly do in fact want to see more wrecks were finally satisfied.

Carl getting airborne at Talladega: April 2009. We’d show you what happens next, but… you’ve already seen it 100 times too many. And unnecessarily, we might add.

Have you ever wondered how the young lady who had her jaw broken by debris when the No. 99 car got into the fence feels about watching incessant replays of the incident? That “finish” was shown at least ten times during the FOX pre-race show, with commentary. If Edwards’ car had actually made it into the grandstands would they still be using that footage?

In reacting to the “mystery debris flag” controversy in wake of last week’s race at Richmond, NASCAR’s Robin Pemberton went as far as to say that fans (and some elements of the media) are “needy” in insisting that we be able to see the “debris” that brought out the caution. “Needy?” No, really? I guess a proper race fan will just take NASCAR’s word the caution was legitimate because we’ve never been burned by questionable officiating calls before. Right. The scarecrow might not have had a brain in his head yet, but when Dorothy insisted on having a peek behind the curtain she found “the all great and powerful Oz” was just a basically flawed man that had screwed up. Listen, Pemberton, I’ve tried clicking the heels of my ruby red cowboy boots together and it’s not getting me back home to the sort of stock car racing I remember. Stop insulting your core audience.

The six Nationwide teams caught with illegal front snouts last week at Bristol got off this week with minor fines and the crew chiefs got probation. For those new to the sport, that’s NASCAR’s equivalent of pelting an individual with cotton balls while muttering unkind things about them under their breaths. Of course, at Daytona Jimmie Johnson had the book thrown at him for an illegal C-pillar… so I’m confused. Does NASCAR even have a rulebook anymore? I dunno. Has anyone sent them a 64-pack of Crayolas lately?

So why didn’t NASCAR call Danica Patrick and Sam Hornish to the trailer after Saturday’s Nationwide race? My guess is because at the time, the level of concern about Eric McClure’s condition overshadowed the incident. (If you missed it, Patrick felt Hornish had put her into the wall on the last lap. In retaliation, she put his Dodge into the wall on the cool-down lap. What had actually happened on the last lap is Hornish had a tire going flat and had been unable to steer his car, leading to the contact.) But after officials initially overlooked the controversy, Ms. Patrick has been asked to pay a courtesy visit to the NASCAR trailer after all, next weekend at Darlington to discuss what happened. I wonder if she’ll wear her boulevard beads?

My take on the above mentioned situation. I might not be a big fan of Patrick, but I applaud her for showing a little spunk. She felt someone had done her dirty on the last lap and she was out to prove she wasn’t going to stand for it. I wrote last Thursday I wanted to see some more emotion and bumper-banging back in racing and I’m not going to apply a double-standard here. Patrick hinted she flashed her boobs to get those beads she was wearing. She showed some balls after the race. (Yeah… disturbing hermaphrodite image… let’s move on.)

But Matt, I can hear some of you hollering already, like Rona who was recently appointed Vice President of my non-fan club by a certain President T. Swift, you’re already using a double standard. Last fall, you lambasted Kyle Busch for wrecking Ron Hornaday in the truck race. How is Saturday’s incident different? Let me count the ways. Hornish and Patrick are both Nationwide series regulars. Neither of them is battling for a title. The race was over, so Patrick cost Hornish no finishing spot or points. Had Patrick done the same thing to Hornish during an early caution period in the race, I’d be all enraged again. But as a reminder, if you’re going to rough somebody else’s car up a little after a race to express displeasure, do it on the track and not pit road where non-combatants could easily be injured.

I guess someone is going to have to explain to me how a race car goes into “vapor lock” when the current fuel injection system requires a minimum of 90 Psi to operate. Yeah, vapor lock used to be an issue on our old carbed muscle cars, particularly if they had headers, but with a carb the fuel system was operating at under 10 pounds of pressure. Remember that a liquid’s boiling point increases as the pressure in the system goes up.

Eric McClure’s savage Nationwide Series wreck Saturday could have been worse and potentially even fatal. McClure’s stricken car hit the SAFER barrier hard but just a dozen yards down the track was an opening in the inside wall and a long section without the protection of those SAFER barriers. That needs to be addressed. Come on, NASCAR; we’re talking Talladega. The porta-potties probably ought to be lined with SAFER barriers because the drivers will find someway to hit them. I’ve been watching races at this track long enough that I recall a driver flying up and over the fence into the parking lot…

No jet dryers were injured in the course of Sunday’s race.

The Hindenburg Award For Foul Fortune

I feel bad for all the drivers that they have to run these four stupid restrictor plate races every season as what amounts to Crash Test Dummies.

Jimmie Johnson’s expiring engine was part of another disappointing day for Hendrick Motorsports, whose owner remains stuck on 199 career victories (and zero for 2012).

Jimmie Johnson was leading the race when his engine expired. He ended up 35th in the finishing order. Sponsor tie-ins are important, but Rick Hendrick’s engine room announced this week they will no longer be using Diet Mountain Dew in place of motor oil. Stupidest commercial EVER.

Ryan Newman was another victim of an HMS engine failure. I’m sure Tony Stewart, Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and Kasey Kahne had to be imagining all sorts of odd sounds in their cars after learning of their teammates’ power plant problems.

Gordon’s engine never expired, though he was dealing with water temperature and pressure problems from the midpoint of the race. Getting taken out in a wreck probably only brought his misery to a quicker conclusion. In a post-race interview, Gordon said that his run of bad luck this year has gotten to the point it’s “almost comical.” For financial reasons, it’s probably best that Gordon decided to drive race cars and not become a cartoonist.

Kevin Harvick fought hard to get back on the lead lap after running out of gas but had his charge towards the front thwarted when he got a big piece of the Lap 184 wreck.

Denny Hamlin had also spent much of the day battling to get a lap back after a bad pit stop, but he tangled with A.J. Allmendinger trying to work the middle on Lap 184.

The “Seven Come Fore Eleven” Award For Fine Fortune

I’d have to say the luckiest guy at Talladega this weekend was Mike Affarano. While running in the ARCA series race Friday night, Affarano got hooked and turned into the outside wall, at which point his North Grand Auto Parts entry went into a dizzying series of almost seven rollovers. The accident was so severe the engine and transmission in that car almost came loose of the vehicle as it turned over. After several terrifying minutes, Affarano was able to crawl out of the car relatively unscathed, though I have no doubt that was one sore young man Saturday morning. For all the Hell I give NASCAR from time to time, the implementation of the SAFER barriers and HANS devices were a huge milestone in safety and have saved numerous lives. After Friday night’s race, you can add another name to that list.

Eric McClure was also a lucky young man to have survived that violent wreck Saturday. Things initially seemed grim with the Med-evac helicopter firing to life (the worst possible sound at a race track], the roof and rollcage being cut off the car, and an official frantically motioning for the safety crews to step it up. ESPN initially wasn’t even showing replays of the wreck , normally a sign that something awful has happened. (And a double-edged sword, as McClure’s team was huddled around the video monitor on their pit-box trying to catch a replay of what had happened to their driver.) As this column is being written Sunday evening, McClure is said to be awake and alert though in a great deal of discomfort at a Level One Trauma center in Birmingham.

Kasey Kahne get’s this week’s “Emerson Lake and Palmer ‘Lucky Man‘” award. He was directly in the midst of all three big wrecks Sunday and still finished fourth.

Trevor Bayne and Jeff Gordon were two drivers headed in opposite directions Sunday. Bayne charged forth to an eighth-place finish, surviving on-track contact while Gordon was doomed by a wreck and wound up 33rd.

Kenseth was penalized for entering pit road too early after he lost power just as a caution flag flew. He recovered nicely and finished third. In addition to the penalty, the No. 17 had also been battling issues with a vibration all weekend. That issue apparently caused Kenseth’s car to start falling apart in some bizarre places during the race. After the event Jack Roush announced that his teams will return to welding together bodies again even though using library paste makes the seams lighter.

Despite getting hit by an out of control Casey Mears on lap 175, Trevor Bayne soldiered home to a solid eighth-place finish.

Worth Noting

  • Keselowski’s win was his second of the season, tying him in that category with Stewart and Hamlin. The other four races this year were won by Roush teammates Biffle and Kenseth, Kyle Busch and Newman.
  • In team stats, the winners have come from four different teams; Stewart/Haas Racing (three) Joe Gibbs Racing (three), Jack Roush Racing (two) and Penske Racing (two.) Curiously those four teams all campaign different makes of cars.
  • The top ten finishers at Talladega drove four Fords, three Chevys, a pair of Toyotas and a Dodge.
  • Teammates Biffle and Kenseth lead all drivers with six top-5 finishes in this year’s ten points races. Earnhardt has the most top-10 results with eight. Johnson and Biffle each have seven such results.
  • Kenseth’s third-place finish brings his career total of top 10s in the Cup Series to 215, just under half of his 446 points race starts in NASCAR’s top rank.
  • Kahne’s fourth-place finish was his best of the season. He also led laps (eleven of them) for the first time this year.
  • Biffle (fifth) enjoyed his third top-5 finish in the last four races.
  • David Ragan’s seventh-place finish was easily his best since his departure from Roush Racing at the end of last season. His previous 2012 best was a 21st-place result at Las Vegas. That’s the one nice feature of plate racing. The amount of favorites who get wrecked or blow up allow some of the smaller teams to shine.
  • Trevor Bayne’s eighth-place finish was the second best of his brief Cup career though somewhat less notable than his victory in the 2011 Daytona 500… clap, clap, clap.
  • Earnhardt’s ninth-place finish was his sixth consecutive top-10 result, the most consecutive top 10s of his entire career.
  • Jamie McMurray’s 11th-place performance was his best since Bristol.
  • David Gilliland’s 13th-place run was his best since he came home 12th at Sonoma last year.
  • Marcos Ambrose’s 14th-place finish was his best race result since he finished 13th in this year’s Daytona 500.
  • Martin Truex’s 28th-place, post-wreck disappointment was his worst of the season, eclipsing his 25th-place result last week at Richmond.
  • Gordon (33rd) has managed just two top-10 finishes in this year’s first 10 Cup races.
  • Edward’s 31st-place finish was his lowest since Bristol. It was also his worst since last year’s Firecracker 400 at Daytona and the first time he’s been officially tagged with a DNF since Texas in the early stages of the 2010 season.
  • Joey Logano’s win in Saturday’s Nationwide race was the 200th by a driver in a Toyota in NASCAR’s top three touring divisions. Have you kissed a Camry lately? No, me either.
  • Johnson’s DNF was his first due to an engine issue since last year’s World 600 almost a year ago.

What’s the Points?

Biffle remains atop the points standings for yet another week. He’s now seven points ahead of teammate Kenseth, who moves up a spot to second in the standings.

Earnhardt drops a spot to third in the rankings, but just two points behind Kenseth. He’s got a comfortable gap over Hamlin (also down a spot to fourth) who trails the No. 88 by 18 points. Harvick rounds out the top 5 and is actually up two positions despite getting wrecked. Only at Talladega.

The top 10 is rounded out by Truex (-1), Stewart (+1), Johnson (-2), Kyle Busch (+2) and Clint Bowyer (+2).

Edwards is down two spots to 11th in the standings. His win moves Keselowski up a spot to 12th. With two wins in the bank as a backup, Keselowski is sitting plush with a royal flush, aces back to back.

Ryan Newman’s engine issues dropped him three spots and outside of the top 12 into 13th.

All right, it’s time for the No. 24 team to hit the panic button. He’s down six more spots to 23rd in the standings, a dizzying 146 points out of the lead. (That’s three full race win’s worth!). Everybody’s been talking about what a horrible start Kahne’s season got off to but he’s now up four spots to 19th in the standings, fourteen ahead of Gordon. When a name driver gets into a bad slump, conventional wisdom these days is he needs to talk to a sports psychologist. Gordon needs to skip that step and find his local Voodoo doctor.

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 lukewarm Schlitz. It’d normally give two cans but a plate race always gets an extra can if nobody is badly injured during the event. Plate racing is like watching Cops on FOX. Most of us do it, but you sure hope your neighbors and friends don’t know you are.

Next Up – The series heads off to its most historic and storied track, Darlington, for the first in a series of Saturday night events culminating with the World 600.

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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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Andy D90
05/07/2012 03:41 AM

“Maybe it’s time to really fix the problem. Lower the banking in the corners, get rid of the plates”

I’d prefer to see them make the cars even more stock than they planned to next year. Replace the splitter with a front spoiler no deeper than 4 inches. Remove the shark fins and put OEM front clips on the car. That will slow the cars down and consumers will once again reap the benefits that racing once provided.

05/07/2012 07:54 AM

When Danica crashed Hornish into the wall, it wasn’t the cool down lap. They had just crossed the finish line to take the flag. So hooking a car and turning them nose first into the wall is ballsy?

Stephen HOOD
05/07/2012 08:00 AM

Maybe you are right about plate racing. Maybe the potential carnage isn’t worth the spectacle. I have attended every Talladega race since the Spring race in 2007 and I haven’t experienced anything like it. The Dallas Cowboys, the New Orleans Saints, the Texas Aggies (Aggie bonfire—another event noted for unintended carnage), the Crimson Tide, Kentucky Wildcats in Rupp Arena: none of these events compare to the cars roaring into the tri-oval when completing the first lap. I don’t want anyone to die and I really don’t care about the wrecks, but I do love the spectacle of the pack (I liked the tandem too). I’m not sure the argument holds that the wrecks are more dangerous than they are at Watkins Glen or Texas or Bristol or Pocono. Maybe I am a blood thirsty rube hopped up on Mountain Dew and Coors Lite, but I enjoy plate racing and the skill set and tenaciousness that is required for success.

Carl D.
05/07/2012 08:03 AM

It doesn’t matter how many points Jeff Gordon is out of the lead; it only matters how many points he is behind tenth place. If he can make it to tenth, the whole 26-race “pre-season” becomes his mulligan. That’s how chase racing voodoo works.

The fact that Robin Pemberton is totally incompetent when it comes to rules enforcement was validated when John Middlebrook single-handedly overturned the #48 team’s Daytona penalties. Pemberton is a tool, that’s all.

I wonder if Brad Keselowski still thinks Kyle Busch is an ass.

Eric McClure’s accident was as scary as any I’ve seen in last few years. I’d like to know why his car never slowed, and possibly even accelerated. Stuck throttle? Thank goodness it appears that he will be okay.

05/07/2012 08:12 AM

Disagree with the Danica turn. Do it at a short track, not Talladega. Not the first time I’ve seen her use a car as a weapon.

Also, with the McClure thing, one thing I noticed that only enforces the need for a full time medical staff. Typically in the NFL, when there are hits where the initial on site diagnosis is some sort of a head and neck issue, THE HELMET STAYS ON. Facemask unscrewed but helmet stays on. When the EMTs were removing McClure, they took off his helmet prior to getting to a point where he was able to be removed from his vehicle.

05/07/2012 08:21 AM

i think princess patrick’s hook into hornish’s bumper was uncalled for. she’s still got to earn the respect of the other drivers and that just proved her “witchy” (replace the “w” with appropriate letter) reputation from irl. besides, if she did “flash for beads” not much to see anyhow, based on her lack of body fat. glad princess enjoyed talladega blvd. we’ll get overdose of princess next weekend at darlington.

still hate plate racing, glad no one was killed this weekend.

05/07/2012 09:26 AM

Matt, a driver is going to have to get killed before nascar does anything to fix the problem with these restrictor plate tracks. As far as wrecks go, I don’t want to see a lot of them. I just want to see some side by side racing at the other tracks. That will never happen with the current point system, the boxcar called a race car, and the boring race tracks. The McClure wreck was scary to watch. I hope he’s okay.

05/07/2012 10:27 AM

princess patrick’s move was anything but ballsy. Let’s flip the coin and just imagine son of Sam Hornish or anybody else putting her into the wall. Let me guess…oh no the Eric McClure situation would NOT have overshadowed that not for one second. danica does this crap because she knows she can do it but nobody would dare do the same to her because the media would smell blood in the water and would be foaming out of the mouth to crucify whoever dared spin her. The double standard is appalling and ridiculous.

05/07/2012 10:44 AM

Stupid race for stupid people to enjoy. Smaller/lower power engine packages are the solution (that way they make 450-500 hp without the poor throttle response and .00001% variation of the plate engines), but NASCAR will never do it because too many idiot rednecks enjoy these wreckfests.

Good for Brad K though, he’s shaping up as a contender this year.

05/07/2012 11:20 AM


Regarding the Danica move on Hornish, remember, you state to keep it off pit road to avoid hitting innocent crew members, but what about all the extra work that will now have to be done by the innocent crew members this week because of princess patrick’s tantrum…she has no class

Wayne T Morgan
05/07/2012 11:54 AM

Lower the banksand take off the plates and we will have another cookie-cutter track and single file racing. Best idea,go to nothing bigger than Darlington and at least they can
race or just watch plate racing and hope for the best.

05/07/2012 12:04 PM

first off, I hate plate racing. It simply isn’t “fun” from my point of view. Considering that DW and JJ (and now Martin Truex) have all gotten into the act by accusing the fans of being bloodthirsty and wanting wrecks because the caution free racing is “boring”.

Hmm,let’s see – who exactly is running promo after promo of cars WRECKING in the most spectacular and frightening way possible to entice the fans to come to the track? Oh yeah, that would be the TV broadcast folks!

And then you have an accident like McClure’s happen – I wonder if it makes any of them think about it. It was scary to watch and I hope that he recovers fully. Completely agree about the SAFER barriers – no more excuses – put them inside and outside at all the tracks.

On the Danica deal, well, my problem with it is that it IS a double standard. Plus, she’s stomped her little foot at other racers before – she needs to play by the same rules as everyone else and be treated the same way. No special rules.

Michael in SoCal
05/07/2012 12:48 PM

I’m with Stephen HOOD in enjoying the plate races (packs and tandems), but not wanting multiple wrecks. It’s the suspense of knowing those drivers are a second away from chaos, yet they still keep driving, lap after lap. The inevitable can come at any time, yet they keep driving. That suspense keeps me on the edge of my seat, especially as the end of the races draws near.

As for Robin Pemberton stating the fans & media are ‘needy’ for wanting to see the debris that brought out the yellow flag, are we ‘needy’ for wanting to see the race too? Maybe we just need to stop being so ‘needy’ and go outside for a few races. Let’s see how ‘needy’ Nascar gets for ratings. My suggestion would be to start with Indianapolis (especially the travesty-to-be Nationwide series race there this year).

And thanks for reminding us that when the 99 went into the fence, there were injuries to the fans. It wasn’t over when Edwards jogged across the start / finish line.

05/07/2012 12:51 PM

Been reading Matt’s columns for years, but did I miss an inside joke/story re: Taylor Swift? References to her are showing up a lot lately.

05/07/2012 12:58 PM

Plate racing isn’t racing.

But nothing will change until:

A) A fan/driver gets killed.


B) The fans stop going.

05/07/2012 12:59 PM

I would like to point out the success of Mark Martin’s approach to the first 2 restrictor plate races, predict continued success for him in the next 2 restrictor plate races and encourage all of NASCAR’s drivers to consider this approach until something is done to fix this mess.

Carl D.
05/07/2012 01:20 PM

Well said, T-Bone.

05/07/2012 02:01 PM

Commercials and DW equaled a less than stellar broadcast.

Bad Wolf
05/07/2012 02:47 PM

“I wrote last Thursday I wanted to see some more emotion and bumper-banging back in racing”

You mean like Bristol of old, Matt?

I wonder what the verdict would have been if it were Robby Gorden who hooked Hornish after the checkers.

05/07/2012 02:56 PM

Bad wolf- Call it the Goldilocks principal. When it comes to beating and banging you can have too much, not enough of it can be just right.

DWS44- Way too long and bizarre a story to relate here. Short answer, an intense nightmare bought about by Chantix,a bad diet and warm beer. If you email me, I’ll give you the full rundown, but I’ll warn you it’s a long and boring some of my columns.

Joe Hickory
05/07/2012 03:30 PM

Every time I turned on the race there was a commercial running.
So, I went to another channel.
By the time I finally turned the race on and a car was racing there was 30 laps to go.
God I hate DW

05/07/2012 04:04 PM

I was over there yesterday, and I would say between lap 75 and 150, they just all lay back and ride it out until there are 30 or so laps left.

They do this every time.

I think they ought to just take it down to about 125-130 laps because we get sleepy watching that portion of the race – I call that the lap-reduction portion.

Lotta drunk folks over there in turn four stands….

Brian in Portland
05/07/2012 08:17 PM

@Tim A driver did get killed (Earnhardt) and fans are not coming. But I agree with you, it’s not real racing. Even playing it on a computer it gets petty monotonous.

And I bet if Fox sat every on-air person for one race and replaced them with knowledgeable fans of the sport, the ratings would spike for that day.

05/07/2012 08:35 PM

When Edwards was in Toronto early this year, he said he bumped Danica in a race last year. She bumped him back in the next corner and waved as she passed him.

Talladega is once again a wreck-lover’s paradise.

Joe Hickory
05/08/2012 07:30 AM

I did turn on AMA, GP superbike and motocross over the weekend.
All the stands were packed for those races.
I think nascar has gotten so boring the last ten or so years. I use to care what cars were doing better than the others.
Now they are all the same to me.
They brought in Toyota and I rooted against them.
Now I don’t care at all.

05/09/2012 12:33 AM

TONY- You are soooo right. Danica is Has no class and can’t waite for her to be gone.

05/09/2012 10:05 PM

The biggest demolition derby track in the world. That is if you are into demolition derby “Racing”

Chris Evans
05/11/2012 03:43 PM

Racing at Talladega has become progressively sillier and sillier. I really don’t see the point anymore.

I know that Daytona is important because of all of the history wrapped up in it but I don’t feel the same way at Talladega.

I always feel like I’m watching the chariot races of death from Roman times when watching the races at Talladega.

Nothing is in a drivers hands there. It is the luck of the draw and try to avoid the carnage and destruction. Plus, hope nobody dies.

What a strange way to stage a ‘race’.


Chris Evans
05/11/2012 03:46 PM

I agree with Max’s post above. I don’t understand why the Talladega races are not short. It could only heighten the ‘drama’.