The Frontstretch: Matt McLaughlin's Thinkin' Out Loud: Michigan-1 Race Recap by Matt McLaughlin -- Monday June 18, 2012

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

Matt McLaughlin · Monday June 18, 2012


The Key Moment – On lap 108, Tony Stewart waved Earnhardt by him and allowed the No. 88 to take the lead. Earnhardt would not surrender that lead except for pit stops for the rest of the afternoon.

Dale Earnhardt, Jr. finally broke a four year winless drought in Michigan. Crew chief Steve Letarte had gone winless in 115 tries.

In a Nutshell – Junior wins again and all is sweetness and light around the globe. In fact I predict tomorrow we’ll see Romney and Obama sharing a single root beer float with two straws at the local Rexall and deciding the election by thumb wrestling. I predict the Iranians will give up their nuclear ambitions, North Korea will schedule democratic elections, the stock market will rise 5000 points and the Carpenters “Close To You” will soar back to the top of the Billboard charts. (For you non-88 fans, pssst, I agree, the end of the race was about as boring as it gets.)

Dramatic Moment – For those final 15 minutes the NASCAR nation was holding their collective breaths just waiting for the 88 to lose an engine, run out of gas or cut down a tire.

It’s always a little nerve-wracking when Juan Pablo Montoya and the jet dryers are on the track at the same time. (So what happened to the safety cars that were supposed to follow the drying trucks on the track after the disaster at Daytona?)

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

If someone besides Earnhardt was leading when Regan Smith blew a tire late in the race spreading chunks of rubber all over the track, you think maybe NASCAR would thrown a caution flag to make it a more exciting finish?

So if Earnhardt wins every 143 races when is he due to grab another trophy? If the NASCAR Cup schedule remains consistent it would be at Pocono in August of 2016. Good seats still available. Get yours now.

Wow, I thought this weekend’s 24 hour race was supposed to be in France not Michigan.

We had all the makings of the perfect storm; a newly repaved track featuring insanely high speeds, a mid-weekend decision to change the left side tires, questions about engine durability after the additional laps the cars ran in an emergency practice session, heavy rains the day of the race that removed what limited rubber had been transferred to the track, and the resultant two hour rain delay. But a weekend of unknowns left anybody but 88 fans with their minds un-blown.

My normal Friday night reverie was rudely interrupted by an announcement after two practice sessions that afternoon Goodyear was rushing replacement left side tires to Michigan. (Fortunately they had overstock of a tire that was developed after Charlotte was last repaved in 2006.) Apparently the Goodyear folks were concerned about blistering on some driver’s tires after that final practice session and by the results of the ARCA race which was largely determined by blistered tires. (Hoosiers, not Goodyears.) I agree with NASCAR…safety first. In fact safety, first, second and third. But the late night call sure did make a mess of the weekend with many drivers having spent the entire second practice session just scuffing in sets of the original tires to make ready for Sunday.

Saturday many car guys (and gals) must have approached sensory overload. Let’s see, you had the 24 Hours of LeMans (I’ve never understood why they’d name such a famous race after a mid-size Pontiac), IndyCar from Milwaukee, Cup qualifying at Michigan, a Nationwide race, the emergency evening Cup practice session, and the Mecum auction of the Salmon brother’s extensive car collection (on-line.)

In my mind, the 24 Hours of LeMans was the most interesting race of the weekend. There were hybrid cars, diesel powered entries and Nissan’s apparent tribute to the Batmobile, the Deltawing. Stricter rules have limited the creativity that used to make auto racing so interesting. (Particularly at Indy where they’ve run turbine powered cars, diesels and even some six wheeled race cars.) Hmmm. How about we switch the truck series entries over to diesel power?

*Latest sponsor to hastily withdraw their investigation into sponsoring the 51 team*….the Australian Vegemite Producers Association.

I’m not sure what that graphic on the hood of the 88 car was supposed to be but it looked like an errant flock of condors had pelted it with bird droppings.

There’s no truth to the rumor Brian France is considering moving all 36 race dates to Michigan next year to boost the sport’s popularity. announced this week they’re no longer going to use commercials which amount to soft-core porn. They want to take their marketing efforts up a few notches in maturity. That’s just grand. PeeWee Herman had been out of work a long time.

The Hindenburg Award For Foul Fortune

Ours is a cruel sport. Logano won last week and Pocono and then won again in Saturday’s NW race, his fourth victory in the last five races in that series. But Sunday the driver of the No. 20 car got himself crossed up and wrecked en route to a 35th place finish. Sometimes you eat the bear and sometimes the bear eats you.

Denny Hamlin seemed to be struggling on Sunday but his travails didn’t last long. A wreck and a fiery trip down pit road got him to the airport well ahead of most other drivers.

Kyle Busch bought a big piece of the wall early in the race but in the end it didn’t matter. For the third straight week the No. 18 suffered mechanical maladies under the hood. All in all it was a pretty ugly weekend for Joe Gibbs Racing.

Trevor Bayne makes only limited appearances in the Cup series and his on-track time was even more limited on Sunday with his engine expiring before the flag man could get the green flag back in its holster.

Kurt Busch managed to bring out two of the day’s eight cautions with unaided single car spins. But other than that how was your return to competition Mrs. Lincoln? (Busch is also said to have once again crossed swords with the media after the NW race Saturday. That’s not even really worth commenting on. After a wash a sow returns to the mud, as a dog returns to his vomit.)

After a horrid start to his season it seemed that Kasey Kahne had the wheels re-bolted to his little red wagon. A strong string of top 10s ended last week at Pocono and continued at Michigan Sunday with a wreck and resultant 33rd place finish.

Apparently the boneheaded little kid on his bicycle was uninjured despite several hard run-ins with the fence. Was that lad bottle-fed leaded paint as an infant? Heck, he wrecked more times than Kurt Busch.

The “Seven Come Fore Eleven” Award For Fine Fortune

Earnhardt’s day was not without its complications. The No. 88 car was pig poor at the start of the race and he fell back as far as 37th. I’m hearing rumors he finished somewhat better than that.

Stewart was also very unhappy with his car and the tire swap prior to the race but was able to communicate well enough what his Chevy needed to the team to drive on to a second place finish, albeit a distant one.

An engine swap prior to the race forced Johnson to start at the back of the field. Good pit strategy and some hard driving got him up to the top 10 and a reasonable top 5 finish despite running out of gas coming out of the last corner on a badly blistered set of tires.

Track promoters for the next few races will probably find a pair of 8s in victory lane means a full house in the stands.

TNT only gets six races a season. What were the odds that Earnhardt’s breakthrough return to victory lane would be at one of them?

Worth Noting

  • As widely noted it was Junior’s first victory in 143 races. He’s finished second seven times in that long stretch back to his last win which was also scored at Michigan on Father’s Day back in 2008. He’d almost made it 144 races without a win. 12 is the square root of 144. Why is that germane? It’s not. I’ve just always loved square roots. None of my plants have them.
  • Stewart’s second place finish was his best since his win at Fontana though he has finished third three times in that stretch of races.
  • Three drivers; Kenseth, Biffle and Johnson have eight top 5 finishes in this season’s 15 points races. Earnhardt has the most top 10 results in those races with twelve, as many top 10s as he managed all of last year. Johnson and Kenseth each have eleven top 10s.
  • Kenseth now has nine straight finishes of 11th or better.
  • Gordon’s sixth place finish was his best since Texas.
  • Clint Bowyer has now strung together three straight top 10 finishes for the first time this season.
  • Juan Pablo Montoya’s eighth place finish matches his best of the season. (JPM was also eighth at Bristol.) Those are his only two top 10 results this season.
  • Marcos Ambrose’s ninth place finish also matched his best result of 2012. (He also finished ninth at Darlington.) That ought to be good for a lifetime supply of vegemite…which in my case would be a half gram’s worth.
  • It’s been three races since Edwards has enjoyed a top 10 result. Brad Keselowski is enduring the same length of drought.
  • Jamie McMurray is still looking for his first top 5 finish this season. J. Mac’s To Do List for the Week A) Update resume. B) Stop sucking.
  • It’s now been nine races since Ryan Newman managed a top 10 finish. I think it’s time he goes to his team owner and complains that his teammate is getting better equipment than him.
  • Kahne’s 33rd place finish was his worst since Martinsville.
  • Hamlin’s 34th place effort was his worst of the season. This marks the first time he’s failed to finish a race since Watkins Glen last August.
  • Logano’s 35th place finish was also his worst of the season.
  • The top 10 finishers at Michigan drove six Chevys, three Fords, and a Toyota. The top finishing Dodge pilot was Keselowski in 13th.

What’s the Points?

Kenseth maintains his points lead but the gap is narrowing. Earnhardt is only four points behind him.

Biffle holds steady in third 17 points behind Kenseth.

Johnson and Hamlin swap fourth and fifth spots with Johnson now holding the upper hand.

The rest of the top 10; Harvick, Truex, Stewart, Bowyer, and Keselowski, hold serve.

While Edwards is listed eleventh in the standings, if the Chase were to start next week he’d be bumped by wild-card contenders Kyle Busch (12th in the standings) and Newman (13th in the standings.)

Gordon moves up two spots to twentieth in the standings. That’s important because in order to be eligible for a wild car slot a driver must be in the top 20 in the standings. Simply put Gordon and Edwards need to start winning races and preferably bunches of them.

Overall Rating (On a scale of one to six beer cans with one being a stinker and a six pack an instant classic)

For the Junior Nation: A 30 pack of icy cold Bud, served up by a somewhat less scary looking version of Taylor Swift.

For the Rest of NASCAR fans: We’ll give this one four cans of Colorado Kool-Aid. At least they got the race in on the scheduled day, tire issues didn’t ruin the race like the ‘08 Brickyard, and nobody got hurt all weekend despite the scary fast speeds.

Next Up – The series heads west for a date on the road course at Sonoma. (And I’m one of the few writers who doesn’t have to struggle with calling the joint “Infineon” because I never did.) Me, I’m heading for the local car show in either the Trans Am or the Nova. Watching stock cars trying to race on a road course is like watching reptiles trying to sing opera.

Contact Matt McLaughlin

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Today on the Frontstretch:
Did You Notice? … Breaking Down A Sprint Cup Season Eight Races In
Beyond the Cockpit: Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. on Growing Up Racing and Owner Loyalties
The Frontstretch Five: Flaws Exposed In the New Chase So Far
NASCAR Writer Power Rankings: Top 15 After Darlington
NASCAR Mailbox: Past Winners Aren’t Winning …. Yet
Open Wheel Wednesday: How Can IndyCar Stand Out?


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06/18/2012 06:11 AM

Somebody could have set off a small nuclear device in the turn 1 race groove with 10 to go and NASCAR would not have thrown the yellow.

06/18/2012 07:17 AM

PeeWee Herman is NOT out of work. He’s been driving the number 18 car for several seasons now.

06/18/2012 07:38 AM

Matt the picture on the hood of the 88 was bat splat,we usually robin’s splat on the windsheild cleaning it.

06/18/2012 07:43 AM

“Junior wins again and all is sweetness and light around the globe.”

Yep. That is pretty much it unless you want to add “and the girls are prettier and the beer is colder.” :)

06/18/2012 08:01 AM

It’ll be interesting to see if the Junior win equals more ticket sales and better TV ratings for NASCAR. I have a feeling the people that stopped watching NASCAR won’t ever come back regardless of Dale Jr. winning.

06/18/2012 08:05 AM

+1 Wallbanger.

Also, a caution was called for styrofoam on the track? Really?

“There’s no truth to the rumor Brian France is considering moving all 36 race dates to Michigan next year to boost the sport’s popularity.” No, it just easier to have all of the cars wear the number 88, so that the 88 will win and Jr. can pick up the trophy.

06/18/2012 08:11 AM

i kept waiting for engine to blow or wheels to fall off the 88. glad he won to shut up everyone. really only watched last 30 laps of race. just kept flipping back and forth.

i don’t think jr’s win will put more butts in seats, people have already planned their vacations and whatnot.

jr’s win made news headlines here in atlanta on the 6 am newscasts, over the braves getting beaten again.

thought it was interesting when i read where someone thought jr’s girlfriend looked like teresa now that she’s gone back to her natural hair color. ms. reinmann wants to keep low profile cause of how the relationship started (lol).

i guess next week gordon will win on road course then all 4 hendrick drivers, and stewart and newman will have wins this year.

06/18/2012 08:42 AM

RickP, yes, I had to laugh at that caution, too. Heard Gordon say on the radio – did they really call a caution for the piece of foam? The piece of foam that I hit several laps ago?

Strange but true.

Janice – I hope that Gordon wins next week – it would be nice to get a win anywhere anyhow at this point but a road course win in the brick on wheels would be great.

Carl D.
06/18/2012 08:54 AM

It was great to see Junior finally get the monkey off his back, and even better that it was because he actually had the dominant car. No rain shortened win, no restrictor-plate crapshoot win. He flat out beat ‘em all, plain and simple.

I missed the news about GoDaddy not doing the soft-porn commercials any longer. It’s a good thing, though. James Hinchcliff in a mini-skirt and stilleto heels probably wouldn’t sell many domain names.

I’m amazed that Joe Gibbs Racing can’t put Kyle Busch in a car that can last a whole race. Kyle’s patience has to be running thin, and I hope he doesn’t take his frustration out on an undeserving Craftsman Truck series driver.

It was pretty painful to watch the pre-race segment where Kyle Petty talked to the former drivers about how their sons are finding success as drivers themselves. That had to be tough, especially on Father’s Day weekend.

06/18/2012 09:55 AM

Big hairy deal, Jr won for the second time in four years driving the preferred make, for the preferred team, and after having many races manipulated to his benefit. I have to give props to his crew for standing by him even though they know that he’s not a driver who can take a medicore car and win with it. I’m sure that even Mikey Wlatrip could have won in that car on Sunday.

Not happy about the tire thing. Only a few cars were experiencing blisters, mostly the Hendrick and Waltrip cars. Why couldn’t they adjust weight and wedge to keep their car from burning up the left rear? Because on any given weekend, that’s the tire that DW claims turns the car in the corner. Hogwash, I say. Somehow I think the change had a lot to do with Biffle and Ambrose being 3-4MPH faster than the field. I’ve seen this numerous times where the rules are changed when Jack’s cars have a “perceived” advantage (Can you say Daytona in 2011?). I notice they don’t seem too keen to change anything when the bowties win 80% of the races every year, but then again, that might be considered favoritism.

Michael in SoCal
06/18/2012 10:36 AM

Four cans for this race? Nope, even with the 88 winning (and I’m a fan), this race gets two cans, maybe a third for not being rain-delayed to Monday. No more.

06/18/2012 10:48 AM

Jr. wins! And the toothless go wild!

06/18/2012 11:11 AM

Funny how some drivers were amazed they through a caution at the styrofoam. I was listening to Greg Biffle on Hot Pass and he was demanding in very foul language that NASCAR needed to open their f-ing eyeballs and throw the yellow. Yelled for two laps. Different perspectives of the situation.

Alos, you might want to check out what Kurt Busch’s crew members said about him coming back. They love the guy. They say they had no shot with Cassil last year, whereas this year they have a chance every week when they show up. That is actually true. But Busch will be kicked out for the season soon, it is inevitable.

06/18/2012 11:26 AM

So Jr just happened to win because of the “key moment” when Stewart waved him by on Lap 108. I’ve never before heard so many pigs squealing at one time.

Matt, I was looking forward to your column today. I thought you would have a few kind words to say. That’s okay. We don’t need any of your ilk to feel good about Dale Jr’s win. We will wallow in our joy while you return to wallow in the mud.

dewayne, better check your mouth. I have my teeth, but I doubt you have yours. Only the toothless would make a remark like that. Happy gumming.

06/18/2012 11:59 AM

Dale Jr winning is good for Nascar, plain and simple. I knew when he got the lead with the last 38 or so laps, there would be no cautions. When Regan Smith cut a tire, I was not one bit surprised there was no caution. Nascar is so transparent, but in the end they got what they wanted. Jr had a good car, the Hendrick sub car had Jr’s back and Jr did nothing to mess up the win. And now we can quit hearing about when Jr will win.
One thing, I happen to like TNT’s broadcast team and am just glad it was with them that Jr won as DW would have caused me to go postal most likely.
I think MIS had more cautions yesterday than in the 6 previous spring races I attended together.
All of the hype and none of the real sizzle aside from Jr’s win makes it all right with the world.

06/18/2012 12:02 PM


We can take care of @Dewayne’s teef. Yup.:-D

Hey! WebEditor! we will do it peaceable like and all and stuff :)

Bill B
06/18/2012 12:10 PM

Congrats to Jr. It’s been a long time coming. He’s been close many times, glad to see him seal the deal (and I am not part of Jr nation).

The best part was that DW wasn’t in the booth and we didn’t have to hear his hyperbole and gushing.
Logano won last week and Jr won this week, what will the media latch onto now…. look on the bright side media folks, maybe Kurt will do something stupid next week.

Greg Maness
06/18/2012 12:22 PM

“He was just a quiet guy who said something only when he felt he had something to say. It was going to take a while for all of us at Junior Johnson & Associates to get used to him. I liked his demeanor. He took his racing in stride. It didn’t matter what happened to him. He didn’t blame anyone for what happened to him. He took all the blame, even when I thought it wasn’t necessary. For the most part he let others do the talking.” … … that is a Junior Johnson quote about Terry Labonte found on MOTORSPORTSUNPLUGGED.COM. Terry is still driving … perhaps he should conduct a siminar for (many of) his fellow competitors on how to handle one-self with communicating with his crew and the media. Just thought it was worth mentioning!

06/18/2012 12:31 PM

Reread what I wrote. I didn’t mean to diminish in any way what Earnhardt accomplished. Yes. Stewart waved him by. That was probably smart on his part. It was midway in the race, the 88 had run him down quickly and there was only a groove and a half to race on. Tony probably wanted to get a look at the line the 88 was running and where he was getting back in the gas etc. From that point on, Earnhardt just took control of the race, running at a pace no one could match. The best car and driver won on Sunday. That doesn’t happen every week.

Kevin in SoCal
06/18/2012 01:00 PM

It was funny reading all the internet boards light up with Dale Jr fans. “Dale Sr was looking down and smiling at his son’s win.” Yeah? Where was Dale Sr the other 143 races that Dale Jr didnt win? LOL!

If Dale Jr wins once every four years, I’m fine with that. Keep up the hot streak!

Sherri T
06/18/2012 02:09 PM

Wow! I didn’t realize Jr was such a polarizing guy! I’ve always liked him and I was glad to see him finally win.

Why all the negative from people anyway? The sport is competitive so it’s not easy to win for anybody!

Carl D.
06/18/2012 02:15 PM

I too am glad that Dale Junior broke the streak on TNT and not Fox. I nearly go postal every time I hear DW refer to Junior as “Junebug”. That might be an apropriate nickname for a kindergarten kiddie, but not for a grown man.

06/18/2012 02:16 PM

Well…well…well. Jr. wins at Mich. We all could see it was fixed. Drivers were probable told not to race him if they knew what was good for them.

Kevin in SoCal
06/18/2012 02:21 PM

Wait… Dale Jr has a girlfriend? I thought he was gay.

06/18/2012 02:22 PM

Remember when Earnhardt first started running in NASCAR and they called him “Little E”. That used to make me gag. Sounded like one those My Frickin’ Ponies.

06/18/2012 03:15 PM

Man, those Hendrick cars just keep acting like there’s more power under the hood than the other cars. Will nascar look into it? Nah…..

Hmmm….an engine change before the race for the 48?…..

06/18/2012 03:21 PM

Ancient – LOL, now that’s funny right thar, yes, it is!

Sherri T, you didn’t know he was a polarizing figure? Sorry, where have you been? With the name Earnhardt, people either love him or hate him. There’s not much middle ground there.

06/18/2012 03:51 PM


“Sounded like one those My Frickin’ Ponies.”

Oh! Like a #SparkePony then?

Everything just made sense for a second then I lost it. Like Coleridge did with *Kubla Khan” …. :)

Driver [\] Down
06/18/2012 04:59 PM

One side of me says it good that Jr. won. The other says the result was scripted even before the season started and the race was just another WWE -I mean Nascar production.

06/18/2012 05:07 PM

Weave a circle round him thrice, and close you eyes with holy dread, for he on honey dew has fed, then downed a few beers with the boys, in the icy cavern at MIS, a place of spent tires and noise……

06/18/2012 06:01 PM

i read something this afternoon that mentioned jr would be in the allstar race next year. glad that’s over with so the world won’t be consumed as to whether or not he’ll make that race next may.

again during the race with “hastag nascar”. that’s becoming as annoying as a waltrip.

06/18/2012 07:10 PM

Not a Jr fan, but not a hater either. Would probably like the guy better if he drove for another owner.

I just hate the hype around this guy, as does he I’m sure. I counted the articles on Jayski from the independent writers and there were 46 articles specifically about him. On a typical weekend there’s four or five about the winner, about 15 about Jr., 10 or so that says JJohnson is gonna win the championship, and a couple about the Hendrick plane crash, or the cancer, or the Hendrick charity stuff, or the 200th win, or …

06/18/2012 07:28 PM

If NASCAR decides to have a competition yellow to check tire wear, shouldn’t the teams have to change the tires and check them?

Too bad Johnson’s engine problem showed up a day early.

06/18/2012 09:49 PM

TNT only gets six races a season. What were the odds that Earnhardt’s breakthrough return to victory lane would be at one of them? …. Kinda like the NBA lottery.

06/18/2012 10:03 PM

MaryBeth… Where are you???

06/18/2012 10:35 PM

I’d root for Jr. except for the fact that he had absolutely zero credentials when he entered NASCAR and if his name had been Jones, we’d never have seen him in Busch or Cup.
And, no, I don’t “hate” him, I just don’t like people that get a free lunch at other peoples expense.

06/19/2012 11:33 AM

You know I really have to wonder:
Government Motors a bankrupt company which should never have been saved by us the tax payers, is involved more than any other manufacturer in auto sports. In Nascar they have more cars running their motor and having access to their equipment than any other manufacturer.
Justs makes me wonder where all this money has come from.
Also makes me wonder why Government Motors has cars that always finish, well mostly always first in Nascar. Just wondering, hope that this bankrupt company is not using my money, they still owe me and other tax payers some money.
Must be under protection like the big banks and trading houses.

06/19/2012 11:05 PM

To those who think now that Jr. has won the hype is over, think again. I’ll wager the hype will just change to the Chumpionship.