The Frontstretch: Matt McLaughlin's Thinkin' Out Loud: World 600 Recap by Matt McLaughlin -- Monday May 28, 2012

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Matt McLaughlin's Thinkin' Out Loud: World 600 Recap

Matt McLaughlin · Monday May 28, 2012



The Key Moment – On lap 332, Kasey Kahne passed Denny Hamlin and pretty much put it on cruise control for the final 100 miles of NASCAR’s longest event.

Pretty much the only spinout on-track in Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600 was Kasey Kahne’s burnout after the race. The 32-year-old won his first race for Hendrick Motorsports, taking control in the final 100 miles during an event that featured just five cautions.

In a Nutshell – It wasn’t a particularly good race, but what it lacked in drama it made up for in length. Sort of. This year’s edition of the World 600 was actually the shortest ever at just three hours and 51 minutes.

Dramatic Moment – Around lap 317, Kahne and Greg Biffle staged a brief side-by-side battle up front. Kyle Busch had the best short run car, Biffle the best intermediate run car, and Kahne the best long run car. Rarely were they ever driving the same speed at the same time.

Those last 100 miles this year were completely superfluous and devoid of interest.

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

It’s Memorial Day weekend, so I’d like to start by offering my thanks to the brave men and women who defend our cherished freedoms. Thanks for your service and thanks to all who have served in the past, especially those who paid the ultimate price or come home with life-altering horrific injuries.

I’d guess the last lap of the Indy 500 will be the main topic of conversation at the office Tuesday morning. There is no question that Indy was the better race on Sunday.

MONTGOMERY: Indy 500 Race Recap

In looking at the 600 versus the 500, I’ll also say Indy featured a better National Anthem (Martina McBride flat out nailed it), the better flyover (particularly the two P51 Mustangs) and, by a huge margin, a better pace car. (A 427 Corvette versus a frickin’ Camry? Really?)

I dunno for sure, but when the big story the weekend of the World 600 is Earnhardt choosing a Batman paint scheme for Michigan maybe the bloom is off the rose.

Slump? What slump? Rick Hendrick, Chad Knaus, Jimmie Johnson and the rest of the four-car organization seem to be clicking on all cylinders after three wins in the month of May.

For all those weeks, everyone was asking is Hendrick Motorsports ever going to win again? Now, everyone is starting to wonder if they’re ever going to lose again. They closed the month of May with three straight victories, posted four cars in the top 11 Sunday night and Dover this weekend is one of Jimmie Johnson’s best career tracks.

With all the debate about the lack of caution flags this season and what it is the fans really want to see, somebody pointed out to me that the ASA Series has a rule that if the race goes green for 75 laps, a competition caution is thrown. (I guess that’s easier than tossing a beer can on the track or claiming someone saw one.) Normally, I’d eschew such gimmickry but the notion has its merits. Going into the event, every team and driver would know that the rule was in place and could adjust their strategies accordingly as the race progressed. It’s an idea anyway. Anything beats having to use pieces of toothpicks in the corners of your eyes to stay awake for an entire Cup race.

I can understand his frustration after having been spun in the pits, but Tony Stewart’s decision to spin his car around in a cloud of tire smoke to get back into his pit box could have caused a catastrophe. If there’s no rule against driving the wrong way on pit road during a race, it ought to warrant at least a one-lap penalty. If something like that happens, I feel a driver should return to the track and pit again the following lap.

Speaking of which, what’s going on with Stewart-Haas Racing? Neither Stewart nor Newman seemed up to speed all weekend. Newman hasn’t scored a top-10 finish since winning Martinsville. And Dani… moving on…

One of the few times Danica Patrick was smiling this weekend, during a rough ride in both Saturday’s Nationwide Series event and Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600. She failed to finish inside the top 10 in either.

About a half-million fewer viewers tuned into last week’s All-Star race. After this year’s farce, I’d guess at least another half-million folks are likely to skip the event next year. For comparison’s sake, the NFL Pro Bowl game had more than triple the viewership and the league is apparently ready to dump the event. Yeah, I’d say the handwriting is on the wall.

Well, apparently next Memorial Day weekend Danica Patrick would like to do the Indy/Charlotte double, now that the start of the 500 was moved back. Ms. Patrick’s agent noted that if she does so, “it would not be attempted simply for publicity.” Yeah, right.

The Hindenburg Award For Foul Fortune

As noted above, Stewart was really never up to speed all weekend. Getting turned on pit road, by Brad Keselowski just added the icing to his cake. Smoke struggled to a 25th-place finish, just five spots ahead of his Sparkle Pony teammate in the bright green car.

Mark Martin had just gotten back on the lead lap when his engine expired late in the race. That’s his second such motor problem in his last five starts; Martin wound up with a 34th-place result.

Johnson clearly had a car fast enough to contend for a win for much of the race at a track where he once dominated, but the sloppiest pit stop I’ve seen this season cost him a lap after a drive-thru penalty for removing equipment from the pit box. (As well as his gasman, who took a nasty tumble trying to dislodge the gas can from the No. 48 car.) Johnson went on to finish 11th.

Marcos Ambrose had a strong car and even led early only to have his left front hub seize up, dropping him out of contention. Ambrose ended the night 32nd.

The “Seven Come Fore Eleven” Award For Fine Fortune

After the way his season started, Kahne had to be wondering if he’d still have a ride after the season, but he’s suddenly one of the hottest drivers on the circuit. A sixth straight top-10 finish has allowed him to rise from 31st to 15th in points.

Brad Keselowski, after a rollercoaster start to 2012 bounced back up to 11th in series points following his strong fifth-place effort Sunday night.

Keselowski had a rough night in the pits. First, he got nailed for speeding. Then, he drove into the back of Stewart’s car exiting his pit, a move that could have easily have ended his evening. Instead, he managed a solid fifth-place finish.

While a seventh-place result might seem like kissing your sister, the way Jeff Gordon’s season has been going, the fact he left Charlotte without wrecking, rolling mechanical mayhem, or getting attacked by a plague of locusts probably had him dancing atop the bar with a bottle of champagne in each hand after the race.

I’m not sure which category to lump Biffle’s finish under. It had to be frustrating for him not to win after dominating much of the race. But considering he was overheating early in the event, yet never blew up in 600 miles, that had to be a sigh of relief for the point leader. He also made significant contact with the wall, but got away without any apparent damage to the No. 16 car, meaning all in all fourth place wasn’t such an awful night.

Carl Edwards had a terrible qualifying run and was well off the pace until the sun set. At that point, the No. 99 came alive and Edwards drove to a credible ninth-place finish despite an extra stop to tighten a lug nut left loose.

Edward’s RFR teammate Matt Kenseth also had his efforts thwarted by a lug nut left loose on a stop, but he also rallied to a top-10 finish. (Tenth.)

Indy 500 winner Dario Franchitti was hit and spun out on pit road early in the event. He fell back to 28th at that point, but still managed to win the race, even with Takuma Sato spinning directly to his inside on the last lap.

Worth Noting

  • This race featured five caution flags. Four of them were for debris and just one was for a single-car incident.
  • The top-10 finishers at Charlotte drove four Chevys, three Fords, two Toyotas and a Dodge.
  • Kahne’s victory was his thirteenth win in 300 career Cup starts. Three of those victories have been scored in the World 600. Kahne’s top-10 finish streak, mentioned above has put him no worse than eighth in the final results since Texas in mid-April.
  • Biffle now leads all drivers with seven top-5 finishes in this season’s first 12 races. Earnhardt leads in top-10 results with nine such finishes. Biffle, Kenseth, Johnson and Edwards all have eight top 10s.
  • Hamlin has finished second in the last two point races.
  • Kyle Busch has amassed five straight top-10 finishes in Sprint Cup.
  • While he’s off to a fast start this season, Biffle’s fourth-place result was actually his best since he won in Fort Worth.
  • Earnhardt now has top-10 finishes in seven of the last eight Cup races.
  • Gordon’s seventh-place finish was his best since a fourth at Texas in April.
  • Stewart’s 25th-place finish was his worst of this season but not by much. He finished 24th at Texas and Talladega.
  • Since winning at Martinsville, Ryan Newman has averaged about a 21st-place finish in the last six races. Stumbling from eighth to thirteenth in the standings, he’s now just seven points in front of Kahne for the final “wild card” slot in the Chase.

What’s the Points?

Biffle stays atop the standings for yet another week and opens his gap over second place Kenseth to ten points. Hamlin moves up a spot to third, bypassing Earnhardt, who is now fourth and the only winless driver inside the top 5. While Johnson remains fifth in the standings, he is now 48 (what are the chances?) points out of the lead, a full race’s worth. The top 10 is rounded out by Martin Truex, Jr., Harvick (+1), Kyle Busch (+1), Stewart (-2), and Edwards.

Keselowski advances a spot to eleventh but with his two wins already this season, I bet he’s sleeping better at night than Edwards. He holds the first “wild card” slot, while the aforementioned Newman sits 13th with the second.

For you frustrated Gordon fans, the good news is he’s up two spots to 22nd in the points. The bad news is he’s 174 points out of the lead and 93 out of the top 10.

Overall Rating (On a scale of one to six beer cans with one being a stinker and a six pack an instant classic) — I’ll give this one two cans of somewhat chilled generic stuff. It wasn’t the best race of the year but it wasn’t the worst, either.

Next Up – The circuit heads north to the White Cliffs of Dover.

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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05/28/2012 07:04 AM

so hendrick team won again. and kane got his first win in hendrick car. is kane the now the “best driver” at hendrick (to quote a driver named jr), I can’t imagine that jr is the hot shoe.

fell asleep on couch. diidn’t see end, really didn’t care to wake up enough to see it.

i was shocked when stewart did burn out to turn the car around on pit road. a car was coming down pit road and almost hit stewart cause of the tire smoke. surprised he didn’t go after keslowski after the race. but with how his teams are running, he probably couldn’t afford the fine right now.

dover will be dr. dick’s last rodeo. happy 70th to dr. dick and happy retirement.

05/28/2012 08:43 AM

I agree with Janice. I fell asleep for a good part of the race and didn’t watch the end of the race. Two beers is two too many for this borefest. Side by side racing seems to have went the way of the dodo bird.

Carl D.
05/28/2012 08:49 AM

I used to love watching this race. Hell, I had an infield spot in turn two and attended both Charlotte races in person for many years. Now I wouldn’t attend this race if I had free tickets and they were giving away free beer.

The Indy 500 may have had a better national anthem, a better flyover, and a better pace car (and it was definitely a better race), but the World 600 had Danica Patrick, not one but TWO Waltrips, and more debris cautions.

While Joey Logano was sporting the Dollar General logo, it appears that Marcus Ambrose actually gets his race cars from there. The hub seized up? Really? I’m thinking he’d have better off going to Brakes for Less.

The pre-race story from the WWII soldier about the beach landing at Normandy was not only the best thing about last night’s race, but reminds us why we all are able to enjoy our freedom. God bless all the veterans as well as our soldiers still serving around the world.

05/28/2012 08:57 AM

Did not even turn the tv on. Got in the truck and took a ride in the Smokies. From what I read I am glad I did.

05/28/2012 10:02 AM

I think perhaps your comment on Tony Stewart reflects your inner Nervous Nellie / Tort Lawyer, Matt. It is why there are warning stickers on the top of step ladders and cautions that McDonalds Coffee tends toward being hot. His recovery in the pits was the high point of the race for me as it was a perfect — perfect, I say — illustration of his personality.

Smoke could see what we on TV could not as it was a tight shot and he paused briefly for someone to scoot by.

As for Indy it was both a better race and a better broadcast, but not enough attention is being given to Hinchcliffe who did better than The Sparkle Pony ever did; maybe the reason she said next year she intends to do both and his performance was the reason I went over (for the 1st time ever) to Go Daddy and voted for him to be on the website home page. I know that is mild as rebelliousness goes, but it made me feel good.

05/28/2012 11:29 AM

OK,Why wasn’t Smoke fined like Kurt for burnout on pit row. There was crew over the wall Carl almost got it on road. Talk About a tantrum! That is one of the worse I have ever seen. Alot of people were in danger by a man who lost it in a race car. Much worse then Kurt’s and I am sure not a fan of Kurt!

05/28/2012 11:33 AM

they really didn’t have much to say about Danica during the 600 other than the leader is passing Danica again. Ha ha. It was so nice not hearing her name every five minutes. I was shocked nobody wanted to interview her after the race.

Kevin in SoCal
05/28/2012 11:48 AM

I agree with AncientRacer about the Tony Stewart incident. Being penalized by having to go around to pit is adding insult to injury. Its not Stewart’s fault someone else hit him. You should only have to go around if you miss your pit box. I didnt have an issue with what Tony did, as it was under green and there were very few other cars/people around. Under yellow with every pit member and car on pit road would be a different story, however.

05/28/2012 11:55 AM

IfI come across as a bit squeamish perhaps it’s because I recall (as I’m sure you do)an incident at a race (Atlanta, 1990?) when Ricky Rudd hit some oil on pit road and ran into members of Bill Ellliott’s crew, killing one of them, Mike Ritch.

05/28/2012 12:11 PM

Danica did 900 miles of racing. In the Nationwide race, she started 3rd, raced in the top 10 most of the race, dropped back to 30th or so after a bad pit call, then RACED her way back to 12th, before ending up 14th. Good on her. Then she finished a 600 mile race in a backmarker car (I don’t care if it was supplied by Stewart-Haas or not). Good on her.

Hate FOX for not shutting up about her non-stop, don’t hate the racer.

As for this weekend?

Aussie v8 Supercars were awesome…

Nationwide race was entertaining…

World of Outlaws at Charlotte was awesome…

NASCAR Canadian Tire Series at Mosport was the race of the year so far…

Continental Tire race was great…

Monaco GP was thrilling…

Indy 500 was exciting…

Coke 600 was crap. Starting to sense a pattern here…

05/28/2012 12:23 PM

I remember the cars in the Indy 500 finishing the race on the tires they started on. If the NASCAR tires last so long why don’t they have a minimum number of laps they have to run, like 100 or 150? Changing them every 40 or so is a waste of money and there’d be less chance of loose nuts (that hold the wheel on).

Watching Tony Stewart on Friday running with the Outlaw sprints in his uniform was over ther top. He never stopped mentioning Hendrick in his interview and getting the free pass on Sunday night when he needed it solidified his standing as a Hendrick car. It must have really hurt Brian to give Edwards’ Roush car a free pass.

And the Indy tires were Firestones.

I also remember when the Indy race started at 12 Eastern time and you could set your watch when the cars crossed the starting line. I miss those days.

bill sprehe
05/28/2012 12:57 PM

Why is there no “sense of urgency” in nascar anymore? If it is present you will see a good race!
I think Sammy Swindall felt a “sense of urgency’ Saturday night!

05/28/2012 01:32 PM

Sammy Swindell flat out drove like an idiot Friday night. This is coming from a regular sprint car observer. He definitely made it interesting, however.

Brian France Sucks
05/28/2012 03:39 PM

Sparkle Pony needs to learn how to get on pit road. She almost got nailed by guys going 70-80 MPH faster than her several times. On track she’s a rolling road block.

05/28/2012 04:17 PM

Once again a Hendrick powered car can pass everything in sight like there’s extra ponies under the hood. All’s well with nascar.

Now if they were Fords or Toyotas the red flags would be going up and all kinds of special testing would be required.

Gotta make it fair for everybody right? Nah.

05/28/2012 04:18 PM

LOL, definitely thought the Indy 500 race and coverage were both better than the 600. I had the TV on with the mute button depressed since I simply can’t listen to the noise without meaning from the booth. I used trackpass and twitter and found out all I needed to know.

Glad that the race went by quickly and very happy that Gordon finally had a decent finish. I was holding my breath since I was afraid the stupid stick would come out and whack him once again before he crossed the finish line.

Was Danica in the race? Oh yeah, the chick in the green car who was lapped multiple times and then was vowing revenge on the driver of the 78 car who was “racing too close to her”. Awww poor baby. But she wants to do the double next year? Ha.

05/28/2012 04:36 PM

I remember that incident well. Was there that day (AMS & Talladega kinda my Big Show home tracks). I just looked at what Smoke did same way as Kevin in SoCal did. Was Green Flag. Little traffic compared to Yellow. Empty pits on either side and his guys as well as the NASCAR officials all hopped back over wall before he did it.

Context matters in a situation like that.

Bill B
05/28/2012 04:45 PM

I was hoping Biffle (or anyone else that was in the lead) would lap the field but NASCAR wouldn’t let that happen. Phantom debris cautions undermine the sport, I’d rather see the field get lapped. At least we’d have something to talk about today. With that said, I definitely would not like to see predetermined cautions every 75 laps. I can’t stand when they do the competition cautions due to it raining the night before, so I don’t want to see more fake cautions (and more chances for NASCAR to manipulate races). I’m just saying, it would have been cool to see someone lap the field.

I’m with you Gina. I was waiting for a part to fall off a plane 20,000 feet over the track and it land on Jeff’s car. Hope the bad luck streak is over. If he just get’s the finishes he deserves (based on how good his car is) from here on I will be happy. Chase be damned.

05/28/2012 05:50 PM

More points, less action.

05/28/2012 07:53 PM

It’s funny, too, if the rest of the season was reasonably exciting I don’t think this race would’ve gotten nearly this much negative response. If ANY race on the calender is expected not to have a lot of hard side-by-side racing, and long green flag runs with the leader outrunning the whole field, it’s the 600 mile endurance race.

But taken as a whole over the season, it’s still just as awful. :/

05/28/2012 08:26 PM

Having attended the race and having spent only $10 on a scalped ticket that allowed me to sit in a $100+ seat just right of the start finish line was AWESOME!

Leaving the race with a hundred laps to go (because I was bored with the “lack” of racing) which allowed us to hit the interstate with out much traffic was PRICELESS!

And the only real racing I saw happen was by Paul Menard when he came high off turn 3 as a “piece of meat in a sandwich” through turn 4 to over take the 51 and I believe the 83 at the start finish line… that was one hell of a move…

btw… I, along with 140K, had “chicken skin” as Darius Rucker closed the anthem and the big big big american bird flew overhead…

2nd btw… Burton Smith blew it by moving the sovee haulers… it was so spread out you just didn’t feel like walking through it all…

05/28/2012 09:49 PM

Indy had several more crashes and NO debris cautions. NASCAR needs to stop attaching parts with Silly Putty and get a real cleanup crew instead of the 3 Stooges.

Rick Hendrick is beginning to look like Chip Ganassi. Tell him to lay off the fried cheeseballs.

05/28/2012 10:06 PM

These drivers were driving their butts off and the fans call it boring. Boring is #10.

05/28/2012 10:44 PM

I was gonna give the race one can of beer but voted two cans of beer only because the 48 had trouble and didn’t win.

That was about the only exciting thing about the “race”.

05/29/2012 08:53 AM

I was at the race and had spare tickets I literally couldn’t give away. The place had a ton of empty seats and people were leaving by the thousands at the 300 lap mark. Wake up NASCAR, you guys are in serious trouble!!!

Greg Maness
05/29/2012 11:02 AM

Someone please confirm … but, I swear in the “old days” driving the wrong way on pit road was automatic disqualification. 1959 FIRECRACKER 250 comes to mind … I think that is why Larry Frank was DQ’d on the 89th lap. I seem to recall it happening other times, and not that long ago (80s perhaps?).

05/29/2012 04:18 PM

Matt, your dislike for Tony is really clouding your judgement.

Watch the video again. He was not driving the opposite way on pit road. He did a 360 immediately after he got turned around, which was the only way he could get the car to face the right direction without losing too much time.

I thought it was quick thinking on his part, but you would need to take off the blinders to see that.

Every week we have to hear you whine about Danica getting too much exposure, but yet you discuss her over exposure every week. Your obsession with discrediting her every week isn’t any better than the media forcing her down our throats every week. If anything, it gives me a good chuckle though

05/29/2012 09:09 PM

Couldn’t interview Danica after tghe race? She had to gom to the can.

05/30/2012 09:40 PM

Just cant wait till next year when the sparkle pony has to qualify on time wonder how many races they will have to buy her into or will they put her in Newmans car…