The Frontstretch: Matt McLaughlin's Thinkin' Out Loud: Pocono-1 Race Recap by Matt McLaughlin -- Monday June 11, 2012

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

Matt McLaughlin · Monday June 11, 2012



The Key Moment – With under four laps to go, race leader Mark Martin bobbled just enough that second place Joey Logano was able to execute a perfect bump and run to retake the lead.

Joey Logano made a textbook bump and run on Mark Martin and ended up celebrating the win in Pocono.

In a Nutshell – A new track surface, a new race distance, and the youngest and oldest Cup drivers competing hammer and tongs for a win.

Dramatic Moment – The final ten laps featured some of the best racing of the season. It sure did look like Martin (who isn’t competing for a title) and Logano (who only had an outside chance of making it to the Chase prior to his win) were actually battling for the victory, not just willing to settle for a good points day.

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

OK, less is more. The 400-mile race Sunday was better than most of the recent 500-mile ones held at Pocono, especially in the middle stages. This year’s event took just three hours, three minutes; but wouldn’t 300-mile races here be even better still?

Zone 10, the final timed segment on pit lane became something of a Twilight Zone on Sunday afternoon. 22 penalties were issued for speeding and nineteen of them occurred in that single segment. Something had to be amiss. (Or perhaps NASCAR hired the East Brandywine police department to enforce the speeding rules. I’m told today there was no speed trap on Horseshoe Pike for the first time since Christmas Day.)

Editor’s Note: That final segment was part of an expansion of timing lines at Pocono, from nine to ten that occurred during the repaving this offseason. Crew chiefs confirmed they were notified of the changes, given a detailed diagram and several mapped out pit road for their drivers. Speculation on the incident from NASCAR teams, at press time ranged from faulty wiring to the “pit out” line drawn in the wrong place (some teams speculated by as much as ten feet) or even straight-up driver error. However, NASCAR Vice President of Competition Robin Pemberton vehemently denied there were any problems, telling Jeff Gluck of SB Nation and others, “There’s nothing wrong with the loops. There’s a time to pass over them, [they] calculate the speed and that’s the end of it. Pretty simple.”

Anyone else notice with the speeds at Pocono a lot of the teams had their cars dog-tracking again? (In other words, the body is skewed off-center from the chassis.) At Michigan next week, you’ll probably be able to read the numbers off the door standing dead straight ahead of those cars.

Why do the caution periods have to be so long at Pocono? It takes two and a half minutes for the pace car to circuit the track with the field in tow. That ought to be plenty of time to grab an errant piece of debris; instead, three cautions to clean it all up took an average of about five laps apiece. Oh, and whatever brand of oil dry they use at Pocono, it’s time to switch to something else.

Good manners “refrains” me from dwelling too long on this week’s one-race suspension Kurt Busch earned for his postrace comments to the press after the Nationwide race at Dover. I’ve watched a lot of “fans” pile on the reporter involved, but here’s the deal. If a driver feels a question is inappropriate or leading, how difficult is it to simply reply, “I have no comment on that?” It’s a lot more social than expressing a wish to do somebody bodily harm. Secondly, I hate this notion that Busch isn’t hurting anyone but himself. Busch’s attitude is keeping the No. 51 team from signing a sponsor and that puts the jobs of those hard-working guys and gals at James Finch’s shop at risk. My guess on how this one plays out tomorrow (Tuesday) when Finch and Busch have their “come to Jesus” meeting to discuss what happens going forward? Busch will keep the ride but he’ll lose it before August for mouthing off on the radio yet again. The former Cup champion’s career has suffered a fatal, self-inflicted wound; it’s just going to take a few weeks to bleed out.

Speaking of self-inflicted wounds… why the hell was qualifying allowed to start on Saturday with the track so covered with Speedy-Dry that clouds were forming behind the cars as they entered Turn 1 (and started a sideways trip towards the outside wall.) C’mon, really, NASCAR is supposed to be a professional sport, right? If nothing else, they could have learned a lesson from the Daytona 500 and soaked the offending parts of Pocono with Tide.

In Friday practice, Stephen Leicht hit a woodland mammal out on the track he told his team he thought might have been a beaver. Fortunately, the car wasn’t too extensively damaged but Ward, I think there’s something wrong with the Beaver. Run-ins with wildlife aren’t uncommon at Pocono, with everything from squirrels and rabbits right up to whitetail deer having wandered onto the track during races. I’d say the most bizarre instance of “wild life” intruding on the track was a drunken fan, back in 1993 who decided to sprint across the speedway directly in the path of race leaders Kyle Petty and Davey Allison. Ward, I think there was something wrong with that fool as well. (Said rocket scientist then hopped over the wall and got lost in the woods. Seeking help, he set a signal fire which allowed State Police troopers to find him and place him under arrest.)

Anyone hear a rumor that Twitter and NASCAR have formed some sort of alliance? Yeah, talk about it has been so incessant this week even I figured out how to go look at the #NASCAR page. I felt like an adult attention deficit disorder sufferer at a really bad cocktail party. There were tons of people talking incessantly without saying much of anything. Though it’s still lost on me, I’m told one of the charms of this whole Twitter thing is the egalitarian nature of the medium. But with this #NASCAR tag, a Twitter team decides whose comments get posted and which don’t make the cut. They say they are “curating” the comments. I guess “curate” is French for “censoring.” Editor’s Note: NASCAR has maintained there is no censoring involved, as an algorithm goes into selecting the Tweets. No NASCAR employee was reportedly part of the actual Twitter selection process so as to maintain a sense of independence.

Vanilla Ice at a NASCAR race? Really? Vanilla Ice driving a late ’80s 5.0 Mustang convertible replete with the ugly ass “GT” batmobile body cladding and chromed wheels? I think I felt a little vomit in my throat. (But for the record, Mr. Ice was once a championship-caliber motocross racer.) I’m fearful Meatloaf might be the Grand Marshal at Michigan.

I guess I’ve never understood NASCAR, which bills itself as a family sport (and it is if you happen to be a member of the France family) being used to promote an R-Rated movie. That’s just me. I don’t understand domestic violence being used to sell fried chicken, either.

Ten teams employed a start-and-park strategy at Pocono, the most ever. Ever wonder why NASCAR doesn’t limit the field to 33 competitive entries to end this foolishness?

Even though he finished eighth, most of the email I’ve gotten so far about Pocono has been about Dale Earnhardt, Jr.’s incredibly awkward post-race interview. According to USA Today’s Nate Ryan, Junior thought the interview was taped, not live and an unruly fan looking for autographs distracted him to the point that he wanted to start over.

Yes, I heard the rumor that Jerry Springer is considering sponsoring the No. 51 team and Kurt Busch. Sounds to me like an adept marketing ploy by both Springer, to get his name out there and the Phoenix Racing team to remind folks they are looking for sponsorship. Sure, Kurt Busch in the Jerry Springer Chevy… with Lindsay Lohan filling in on weeks Busch is suspended.

The Hindenburg Award For Foul Fortune

For the second straight weekend, Kyle Busch’s efforts were derailed by engine failure. Busch was 30th in line when the pay window opened.

Greg Biffle led a lot of laps and clearly had a fast car before losing a cylinder and falling off the pace en route to a 24th-place finish.

Kasey Kahne charged into the top 10 late in the race only to slide sideways into Denny Hamlin. That apparently bent up the No. 5 car badly enough that eventually, Kahne lost a tire and slapped the wall hard. He wound up 29th in the final tally.

To finish first, first you have to finish. This obvious lesson was apparently lost on Aleks Gregory, who managed to wreck out on the pace laps in Saturday’s ARCA race.

Carl Edwards qualified for the outside pole but on the first lap got hit by Denny Hamlin from behind. That shoved a fender into his tire, though fortunately for the No. 99 team, a caution flew that same lap. Edwards then got nailed for speeding on pit road and an additional penalty for failing to line up where NASCAR directed him to do so for a restart. After that type of beginning, maybe an 11th-place finish wasn’t a complete disaster?

A questionable “fuel only” call by his crew chief late in the event sent Jeff Gordon back onto the track deep in the field. He eventually finished 19th. Yep, passing was difficult at Pocono but his teammate Earnhardt employed the same strategy and emerged from the pits just one position ahead of Gordon; in that case, the No. 88 went on to finish eighth.

AJ Allmendinger emerged from his car shaken and sore after a hard impact with the Turn 2 wall. He wound up 31st.

The “Seven Come Fore Eleven” Award For Fine Fortune

Jimmie Johnson was hit twice with pit road speeding penalties, then had his car get out from under him on a late restart, surrendering about a dozen positions. Still, he soldiered on and surged back to a fourth-place finish.

Despite hitting Edwards on the first lap and getting hit by Kahne late in the going, Hamlin still managed to finish fifth at one of his best tracks.

Clint Bowyer was yet another unfortunate recipient of a speeding penalty but he managed to drive on to a sixth-place result. It’s a lot easier when a third of the field has the same problem…

Worth Noting

  • Logano’s win was the first Cup victory for him since a rain-shortened event at New Hampshire in June of 2009.
  • Martin remains winless at Pocono over a career spanning 30 years despite now having finished second here seven times.
  • Logano was the first pole winner to win a Cup race since Ryan Newman at New Hampshire last July, a span of 31 races.
  • Four drivers: Kenseth, Hamlin, Biffle and Johnson lead the pack with seven top-5 finishes in this season’s 14 Cup points races. Earnhardt continues to lead all drivers with eleven top-10 results in those events.
  • The top-10 finishers at Pocono Sunday drove four Toyotas, five Chevys and a Ford. Keselwoski way back in 18th was the best-finishing Dodge driver.
  • Mark Martin’s second-place result was his best since he was also runner-up at Dover last Spring. Martin’s last Cup victory occurred at New Hampshire in the fall of 2009.
  • In the last six races, Stewart has finished third three times and 24th or worse in the other three races.
  • Hamlin (fifth) has managed three top-5 results in the last four Cup races.
  • Bowyer (sixth) hasn’t led a lap since Martinsville.
  • Kenseth (seventh) has strung together a streak of nine straight finishes of 11th or better.
  • Paul Menard’s ninth-place finish was his best since Las Vegas.
  • In ten consecutive races, Earnhardt (eighth) has missed the top 10 just once, at Darlington.
  • McMurray’s tenth-place result was his best since Bristol.
  • Ryan Newman’s 12th-place run marks his eighth straight race without a top-10 result.
  • Kahne’s 29th-place disaster ends a streak of seven straight top-10 finishes.
  • Juan Pablo Montoya (17th) hasn’t managed a top-10 finish since Bristol.
  • Biffle’s 24th-place drive was easily his worst of the season, eclipsing an 18th-place result at Richmond.

What’s the Points?

Kenseth takes over the championship lead after Pocono and is now ten points ahead of second-place Earnhardt. Former points leader Biffle slides down two spots to third after his engine woes. Hamlin and Johnson hold station in fourth and fifth places, respectively, with more than a full race’s cushion on eleventh-place Carl Edwards.

Kevin Harvick (+1), Martin Truex, Jr. (-1), Stewart, Bowyer (+1) and Keselowski (+1) round out the top 10 in the standings. Kyle Busch, whose mechanical problems had him tumbling three spots now moves to the first “wild card” position in 12th place. Paul Menard leapfrogs up three spots to 13th in the standings, still winless and would miss the Chase if the season ended now along with Edwards. The second “wild card” position is actually a tie; Ryan Newman and Logano have the same number of points, but Newman’s extra top-5 finish is enough to give him the edge.

Further back, Kahne’s wreck dropped him two spots to 16th. Teammate Gordon’s still mired at 22nd in the standings (down a spot from last week), just ten points ahead of Martin who has sat out three races this season.

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 four icy cold bottles of Corona with a Gentleman JD chaser added for the final ten laps.

Next Up – The Cup series heads off for a Father’s Day weekend stop in the Irish Hills of Michigan. It’s the second straight visit to a track that’s been newly repaved.

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
Frontstretch Foto Funnies: It’s Not Gonna Fit…


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06/11/2012 06:30 AM

I am ECSTATIC for Joey Logano! Congratulations on your first, over the finish line win!

06/11/2012 07:44 AM

Lots of good stuff here, but none for Kurt Busch. Whatever dreams he may have had in his head about being asked by Coach Gibbs to take Joey’s place next year (under the Gibbs / John Riggins reasoning) are now done.

As for the Twitter thing I have a bit of investment advice if anyone is interested in getting rich: be quick and copyright/register the spelled out/spoken phrase “Hashtag NASCAR” even if you have to change your name to “Hashtag NASCAR” do it. It was used extensively on the Sunday broadcast and I expect it will be in the future perhaps to the point will begin to believe that is the sport’s name. If a similar thing could happen to Vince Furnier it can happen to NASCAR.

06/11/2012 09:04 AM

Wow, I thought I was the only one that noticed the cars “crab-walking” again, because I never heard anyone mention it. Thanks Matt!

06/11/2012 09:24 AM

i noticed the “crab walking” a week or so ago. thought it was odd how the rear-ends were crabbing again.

i was wondering what was wrong with jr….it looked to me like he had a gut full of ulcers during that post-race interview.

06/11/2012 09:39 AM

“Anyone else notice with the speeds at Pocono a lot of the teams had their cars dog-tracking again?” – Wondered if it was just me. First noticed it on Fri during qualifying when Speed focused on Reutimann’s car while discussing Kurt’s suspension. Also, if Pocono continues w/that boring looking trophy, the least they could do is wrap it with a Schaefer tall boy decal as a throwback to Pocono’s beginnings. Schaefer: The one beer when you’re having more than one.

06/11/2012 09:42 AM

Really good race—how ironic that we’d be this far into the season and saying that POCONO had the best race so far!?

Great finish, and I’m a lifetime, die-hard Mark Martin fan. That was as good as racing gets, and good proof that when you generally reduce corner speeds, and put handling back in the driver’s hands instead of pure aerodynamics, it doesn’t matter how fast the track is overall.

But watch your back Joey, Mark Martin doesn’t forget. ;)

06/11/2012 10:08 AM

“There were tons of people talking incessantly without saying much of anything.”
That is the essence of Twitter! Perfect for DW.

One of the announcers said that Johnson needed a caution to get closer to the front. How long after that did he get one?

How many more speeding penalties were there after the drivers stopped accelerating at the wrong line? NASCAR told and showed everyone where the lines were before the race. It seems they were accelerating before they got to the yellow line at the end of pit road. There was a yellow line at the start of pit road too. DUH!

Why was Larry Mac back on TNT? I noticed @hollywoodham wasn’t.

06/11/2012 10:17 AM

Ever wonder why NASCAR doesn’t limit the field to 33 competitive entries to end this foolishness?

I thought that was because the ‘broadcast partners’ were guaranteed full fields for each race, otherwise there would be financial penalties…

And as far as Kurt Busch goes, has there been a faster case of a driver going from champion to toxic than him? It doesn’t even seem like drugs are involved…

Carl D.
06/11/2012 10:53 AM

You whoa down to 55mph at the line entering pit road and you accelerate after you get to the line exiting pit road. Unless there was a sensor beyond the exit line on pit road, all speeding penalties seem valid to me. This business of telling the drivers where the sensors are seems ridiculous to me, but maybe I’m missing something here. If so, someone explain it to me.

Bill B
06/11/2012 11:24 AM

Re: “NASCAR has maintained there is no censoring involved, as an algorithm goes into selecting the Tweets. “

What’s to keep them from setting the algorithm up to ignore phrases like: “boring race”, “fake debris”, etc.. It is still being censored, it’s just being done by a pre-defined program instead of human eyes.

Why did those caution laps take so long? I don’t know but it sure seemed like NASCAR wanted to take fuel mileage out of the equation by running so many caution laps. Which was great for those that took a chance but not so great for those who played it safe. I’m not a big fan of fuel mileage races but we were robbed of a nail-biting last couple of laps.

06/11/2012 11:53 AM

were these drivers “tweeting” during the race? i know here in GA, texting and driving is illegal. i’d think tweeting is same as texting. i see the tweeting during race as being a distraction for the driver, even if he tells their spotter “tweet this or that”.

also, sensors are on pit road, if you get busted speeding between two, you’re busted. use to be where you’d slow down to enter the pits, maintain pit road speed, and then floor it when you hit the end of pit road. now it’s manipulating the sensors in pit road. kind of like racing between redlights on a city street. racing between sensors is too much tought into driver making a pit stop in addition to getting in the pit box the correct way. guess i’m just getting old and don’t like to think so much.

06/11/2012 11:55 AM

Bill B, I so agree with you, it hurts! They don’t need a person to employ censorship, just someone who can write appropriate code.

I, too, was amazed that NASCAR let that caution go on so long. I only wonder why they manipulated so that the fair haired boy didn’t win.

Bill B
06/11/2012 12:32 PM

LOL. Do they think that we are dumb enough to think that the federal government reviews every phone call, email and comment by human eye when they are looking for key words that flag someone as a potential terrorist. IMO, this is NASCAR just trying to both cash in on Twitter and at the same time control what fans see.

If there is one thing that offends me with NASCAR it’s when they think their fans are too stupid to tell when someone is p*ssing on their head and telling them it’s raining.

06/11/2012 12:47 PM

Glad I wasn’t the only one that noticed the long caution periods. Does Nascar really have to open pit road every caution, especially when they have only run 5 laps. I’m thinking Nascar needs to go back to the old days regarding pit road. Keep it open all the time (unless there is a safety issue) and let the chips fall where they may. This might add some excitement to a sport that badly needs some too.

I was pleasantly surprised at the racing. Tony Stewart mentioned it was very hard to pass, but it looked like there was some passing going on. Could it be the fact that TNT actually showed battles on the track maybe?

Kevin in SoCal
06/11/2012 01:04 PM

How come the newsletter said Kyle Busch at Kentucky was the last win-from-the-pole driver and Matt says it was Ryan Newman?
The pit road speed is 55 MPH, but NASCAR gives the drivers a 5 MPH cushion. So if you get busted for speeding, you were ALREADY speeding more than 55 MPH limit. Quit your whining, lower your RPMs, and continue on.
I was against the change from 500 miles to 400 miles, but after watching what it did for Fontana and now for Pocono, I’m fine with it. But no way should it be 300 miles. 400 miles is fine.

06/11/2012 01:06 PM

Bill B, in a word, yes, NASCAR does think the fans are that stupid. This isn’t 1960 and the fans are already tech savvy – probably more than NASCAR itself.

Just like Pemberton calling the fans “needy” for wanting to see the debris.

Is that rain I feel? LOL

06/11/2012 02:49 PM

Matt, maybe the questionable decision by Jeff Gordon’s team to pit him has to do with the fact that he has the worst crew chief when it comes to race strategy? As a result, I wouldn’t expect to see Gordon near the front at the end of the next two races either, because for different reasons, strategy will be involved.

And I can’t figure out why the debris cautions took 10-15 minutes. On a debris caution, or a caution for a minor spin, NASCAR usually opens the pits for all cars by calling a “quickie caution”, meaning all cars can pit, regardless of their standing in the race.

But Steve, keeping the pits open when the caution is thrown can (and usually did) cause major scoring problems, which is why the rule closing the pits when the caution comes out was instituted in the first place. Often the leaders would pit when the caution was thrown, which allowed others to make up laps by not pitting. Rusty Walace once made up two laps in the 1989 Daytona 500 by doing so.

Another problem with keeping th pits open when the caution is thrown is that when some of the leaders pitted, NASCAR didn’t even know who the leader was. In the 1986 Daytona 500, there was such an instance and actually caused three drivers (A.J. Foyt, Rick Wilson, and Lake Speed) to be penalized one lap in the 1986 Daytona 500, because the pace car driver didn’t know who the leader was.

Managing Editor
06/11/2012 04:58 PM

Re: Kevin In So Cal, Matt M. is correct. Correction to come in tomorrow’s Newsletter, Jeff was off. The irony to this whole record is the last two victories from the pole came in back-to-back races: Kyle Busch in Kentucky and then Ryan Newman at Loudon the week after.

06/11/2012 06:37 PM

Maybe the cautions are dragged out to allow for more commercials. Maybe.

06/11/2012 08:00 PM

So na$car’s ineptitude in scoring the race should therefore lead to another asinine rule?
Besides with today’s technology there shouldn’t be any trouble keeping track of a cars position.

Making up laps under caution, isn’t that the wave around we have now?

Matt L
06/11/2012 09:35 PM

This was one of the best Pocono races I’ve seen. Shortening the race 100 miles turned out to be a great decision, similar to when California Speedway’s race was reduced to 400 miles.
I feel Texas should be the next track to chop 100 miles off each race. Less riding around and more racing.

06/11/2012 10:09 PM

Matt, Glad to hear someone else is offended by that atrocious KFC ad.

#NASCAR is like inviting your parents to listen in on the upstairs extension…when there was such a thing!

06/13/2012 09:57 AM

Hey maybe Joey Logano can take some of his winnings and buy Tim Bainey Jr. a new race car

06/15/2012 02:45 PM

My guess on the pit road speeding problem – it is a factor of time elapsed over distance. The time they get from the transponders and the distance is already programmed into the computer – what if transposed digits so the distance used in the calculation was feet short of the real distance? Having the wrong distance would give an inaccurate speed…and NASCAR only said “There was nothing wrong with the loops”. They never said that the entire process to calculate speed was correct!!