The Frontstretch: Matt McLaughlin's Thinkin' Out Loud: Firecracker 400 Race Recap by Matt McLaughlin -- Monday July 9, 2012

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The Key Moment – Kasey Kahne gave Tony Stewart just enough of a push to slip him by the dynamic duo of Matt Kenseth and Greg Biffle. Seconds later, Kahne was knocked sideways all pandemonium broke out behind him, handing Stewart his third Cup victory of 2012.

In a Nutshell – It took awhile to get going but the end of the race featured more violence and mayhem than anything outside a Bruce Willis movie. You gotta love the plate tracks. (No, quite frankly I don’t.)

Dramatic Moment – Those last eight laps were like lighting a fuse and just waiting for the powder keg to blow.

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

Without question, AJ Allmendinger had the roughest Daytona weekend of anyone, finding himself suspended after failing a NASCAR drug test.

What is up with AJ Allmendinger? The shocking news he’d been suspended for failing a routine drug test broke just hours before the race, forcing Penske Racing to fly Sam Hornish back to Daytona with just minutes to spare. You always hate to see this sort of story break about a likeable young competitor but with the Olympics looming again, it’s likely we’re not done hearing about failed drug tests this summer. I’ll withhold judgment until we get some facts about the alleged infraction.

So who’s going to fill in for Allmendinger while he’s sidelined from one of the sport’s highest profile rides? Will Hornish continue to sub or will Roger Penske look for another free agent. (We all know it won’t be last year’s driver of the No. 22 car, Kurt Busch.) With Penske moving to Ford next year, will Ricky Stenhouse or Trevor Bayne get a shot at the wheel? It might be a good indicator of just how closely Penske and Roush will collaborate in the Ford camp next year.

NASCAR has manipulated the rules wildly in an attempt to break up the tandem racing so many fans professed to dislike. Let the record show in the end, the race was decided by three two-car tandems; the Nos. 17 and 16, the Nos. 14 and 5, and the Nos. 31 and 29. One driver from each tandem claimed a top-3 finish while their wingmen took one on the chin.

Think there’s going to be some bad blood between Biffle and Kenseth this week? Biffle dutifully pushed Kenseth to the front for much of the race, then latched onto him again after pit road issues dropped them to the back of the pack. Together, the good friends appeared unstoppable up front, the only tandem that could use the outside lane to get to the lead. But down the stretch it appeared Kenseth chop-blocked Biffle and got him sideways, causing the Big One on the biggest lap. Biffle was credited with just a 21st-place finish once the smoke cleared.

I think some of the sponsors involved in the sport need to have a serious look at all the different paint schemes they run on some cars. It makes it difficult for the fans, particularly new or casual one, to pick out who is at the wheel of which car. In the days of yore you had the black No. 3 car, the black, orange and yellow No. 28 car, and the bright orange No. 17. You knew at a glance who was running where.

Anyone who recalls the fatal pit road accident involving Bill Elliott’s team at Atlanta in 1990 knows just how frightening the pit road accident involving Ryan Newman, Jeff Gordon and Brad Keselowski was.

Brian France gave his annual midseason State of the Sport address this weekend. Some notes:
1) After a brief opening statement, France took questions for about fifteen minutes. I’ve heard them take more time on AM radio in the Midwest listing grain prices at the local silos.
2) The gist of it is that NASCAR is considering shortening some race lengths next year, but by and large the schedule won’t have any major shakeups. The season will still feature an overabundance of cookie cookers with a light sprinkling of more interesting tracks. So I guess we still won’t have the Southern 500 run on Labor Day weekend next year. Sigh.
3) Glass dashboards? Dude, WTF are you babbling about? I think what the most esteemed Mr. France meant to say is that cars could have fully digital gauge panels in the dash, which fans at home would be able to access online.
4) NASCAR has strict guidelines on how many commercial interruptions their “network partners” may air during an hour of a race broadcast. Apparently, those strict guidelines are a whole lot more liberal than most of the fans actually watching the race on TV are able to handle. France was mute on whether he preferred mashed potatoes with gravy or mac and cheese.
5) NASCAR will not consider Bruton Smith’s idea of scheduling mandatory cautions during a race because they eschew “gimmickry.” On the other hand, the gimmicks that include the Chase, the top-35 qualifying rules and the “wave-around” rule will continue.
6) While NASCAR, the organization he heads, embraces and endorses Twitter as an essential part of the new NASCAR landscape, BZF himself does not have a Twitter account to allow the fans he claims to care so deeply about to contact him. DuPont apparently hasn’t developed an oven mitt temperature resistant enough to allow him to view even the first batch of fan input on what he’s done to this sport. (For the record, I’ve been flirting with Twitter even as an ugly, aging old hippie. I’m at @mcmatt76 but I still prefer reading your comments in the section devoted to such below this article. 140 characters are a pretty tough limit against which to hold an intelligent debate. With Twitter, U hav 2 rite like this.)

What was up with the lip synching in the post-race interviews on TNT? It looked like one of those Japanese Kung Fu movies they overdubbed in English. You know, the ones we used to watch on UHF in those cannabis and Genesee pony Saturday afternoons of my youth. (I’m told some viewers didn’t get the choppy synchronization, but I was far from the only one who noticed it.)

No jet driers were injured during the filming of Saturday night’s event. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty Towards Track Drying Equipment monitored the filming of the race.

The Hindenburg Award For Foul Fortune

Obviously the weekend’s big loser was Allmendinger. If you were on vacation, he was suspended from driving in the Firecracker after failing a random drug test. As I write this column, no one has said it was an illegal drug. Other substances, including alcohol and performance-enhancing drugs can also trigger a positive drug test. So what happens next? Allmendinger has 72 hours to request his “B” sample be tested. (Roger Penske indicated Sunday he asked for that.) If ‘Dinger does, in fact fail and admits there’s an issue he can apply for reinstatement. That involves a program set up by NASCAR’s drug czar that might include rehab, education, and further testing. If a driver completes the program, he can return to competition. Unfortunately, he’s also wearing a scarlet letter in the sponsors’ minds from that day forward and my guess is Allmendinger’s career is over. It’s a damn shame.

Jimmie Johnson failed to finish a plate track race for the third time this season. He did manage to complete more than the single lap he ran in the Daytona 500.

I don’t know how badly Denny Hamlin’s sore back was hurting him before the 400, but it had to be a great deal more painful after his big wreck.

Austin Dillon has hit a rough patch. After winning last week’s Kentucky Nationwide race, he was penalized for his car being too low following post-race inspection, tarnishing the win. After claiming the pole at Daytona Friday, his car was once again declared illegal and he started from the rear. While a fourth-place finish Friday night (sliding backwards across the finish line) wasn’t too bad, Dillon will doubtlessly lose some of those points he earned later this week when NASCAR issues penalties for the latest infraction.

How often is it that a single driver is tapped for not one but two potential relief driver roles? Kenny Wallace was tabbed to be the substitute for Kevin Harvick in case he had to fly home to be there for the birth of his son. He was then subsequently tagged to fill in with the No. 22 team if Hornish couldn’t arrive in time. But Harvick didn’t have to leave and Hornish made it to the track by the skin of his teeth, ruining what would have been a huge career opportunity. Hopefully, Wallace got at least a few cases of Bud and Pennzoil as parting gifts.

Bill Elliott qualified sixth and ran as high as third in the race before his hastily assembled Turner Motorsports pit crew cost him a ton of positions on the first stop. Elliott’s evening ended with the disastrous wreck at the entrance to pit road.

Kyle Busch managed to keep his nose clean most of the evening running up front until getting caught up in a wreck with five laps to go. He also wrecked out of the NW race on Friday and clearly wasn’t happy about it. Move along here, folks, nothing to see here.

The “Seven Come Fore Eleven” Award For Fine Fortune

Stewart qualified for the outside pole of the Firecracker but the time was disallowed after the 14 car failed post-qualifying inspection. He had to start out back with Hornish but still managed to drive on to the win. When the weather gets hot Stewart typically does too, and as anyone in the Midwest or Northeast can testify it’s damn hot out there right now.

I haven’t been able to learn the name of the NASCAR official assigned to the No. 2 team’s pit during the pit road mayhem but he made one heck of a dash to safety, hurdling the wall moments before he would have been hit by the out of control No. 39 car. Like I said, that incident was a tragedy narrowly averted.

A twelfth place finish isn’t going to get Gordon into the Chase but his evening could easily have ended with that savage crash at the entrance of pit road.

What didn’t happen to Keselowski? As noted above his car got slammed while it was sitting parked in its pit stall. He then went ahead and spun himself out later in the event. I figure he’ll be satisfied taking his eighth place check to the bank Monday morning but I don’t want to park anywhere near him when he does.

The car that struck the No. 2 car, Newman’s No. 39 suffered minimal damage (in the land of the blind, a one-eyed man is king) and the SHR driver was able to post a fifth place finish.

Worth Noting

  • Stewart has won four of the last eight Firecrackers 400s. The win was also his third of the season tying him with Keselowski in that category.
  • Perhaps even more impressive is the fact Stewart won a Cup race for the 47th time in just his 482nd start. That’s roughly one win every ten starts.
  • Kenseth and Johnson lead all drivers with top 5 finishes in half of this season’s 18 points races. Kenseth, Johnson and Earnhardt lead in the top 10 finish category with thirteen such finishes a piece.
  • Jeff Burton’s second place finish was his best of the season. (His previous best had also been scored at this track, a fifth place finish in the Daytona 500.) It was just the fifth top 5 result for any RCR Cup driver this season and matches Kevin Harvick’s second place finish at Phoenix as the best run by the RCR trio.
  • The top 10 finishers (survivors?) at Daytona drove four Chevys, three Toyotas, two Fords and a Dodge.
  • Kenseth has just one finish outside the top 10 in the last nine races.
  • Logano’s fourth place finish was just his second Cup top 5 result this season.
  • Newman’s fifth place result was his first top 10 since he won at Martinsville.
  • Edward’s sixth place run was his best since Fontana.
  • I don’t understand how the purses for NASCAR races work. In February Kahne earned nearly $300,000 dollars for a 29th place finish. He earned just over $125,000 for a seventh place run here Saturday.
  • Michael Waltrip’s ninth place finish was his first top 10 result since Talladega last fall.
  • Bobby Labonte’s tenth place drive was his best since Loudon last summer.
  • David Reutimann’s 11th place finish was easily his best of the season.
  • Though he wound up with a wrecked race car, Earnhardt is still credited with completing every lap run in this year’s Cup series competition.

What’s the Points?

Kenseth retains his points lead and is beginning to gap the field. He’s now 25 points ahead of Earnhardt who remains second in the standings.

Biffle retook third place from Johnson who had an even worse night than his.

Stewart leapfrogged ahead four spots to fifth in the standings albeit a considerable 84 points out of the lead.

Cue up the Tom Petty because Clint Bowyer is free-fallin’ thee spots to tenth with only the safety net of a single win to keep him in contention. Hamlin is slightly more comfortable though down two spots to seventh but with two wins this year.

As it stands right now the two “Wild Card” slots would be filled by Kyle Busch (12th in points, one win) and Joey Logano (14th in points, one win.) Logano is just one point ahead of Ryan Newman who has also won a race this year.

Still outside looking in are Jeff Gordon and Carl Edwards. Like a castle in the corner of a medieval game, I foresee terrible trouble, but I stay here just the same.

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 the Firecracker three cans of well dented up and shaken not stirred Bud. Of course any plate race that doesn’t maim a driver or wind up with a flaming race car in the grandstands gets an extra can for defying the odds. Next year’s Daytona 500 will mark the 25th anniversary of NASCAR reintroducing the plates as a “temporary measure” until a more permanent solution could be developed at Daytona and Talladega.

Next Up – It’s off to the Monotonous Mile in New Hampshire.

Contact Matt McLaughlin

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I'm Mental
07/09/2012 08:16 AM
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What kind of jack-leg organization informs a competitor an hour and a half before an event that he failed a drug test he took a week ago? Oh…that’s right, I forgot who I was talking about.

Carl D.
07/09/2012 08:18 AM
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I remember all too well the tragedy in Atlanta when Ricky Rudd’s car hit Bill Elliott’s car on pit road and a crew member was killed. That was the first thing I thought about Saturday night when I saw the #39 car sliding towards Keselowski’s busy pit box. If not for heads-up situational awareness by the crew members of the #2 team, we might be mourning another tragedy this morning.

I really hope Allmendinger’s drug test was a lab error or something, but having been in a occupation most of my life that involves frequent random drug testing, I have my doubts. Like you said, it’s a shame. I really think Allmendiger is a talented driver who was finally positioned for success. I await the rest of the story.

Spridel
07/09/2012 08:20 AM
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You’re flirting with Twitter now? Are you contemplating a cell phone too??

Gordon85Wins
07/09/2012 08:38 AM
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I laughed out loud when Brian France of all people said he was opposed to “gimmicks”.

DoninAjax
07/09/2012 08:39 AM
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David Pearson has 105 wins in 574 races. That’s about a win every five races. And he didn’t have a Hendrick car. He also has 113 poles, which is one pole every five races. He had eleven straight poles at Charlotte.

steve
07/09/2012 08:51 AM
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The first 150 or so laps were extremely boring. With the outside lane unable to advance, most drivers simply held their position. I’d rather have the two car drafts where at least there’s some movement.

Bertus
07/09/2012 09:25 AM
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I do hope with all my heart that Nascar is transparent enough this time and that there is no procedural questions with regards to Dinger’s test.

If Dinger had (almost) any other sponsor than Shell/Pennzoil I probably would not have this uneasily feeling…

Lydia
07/09/2012 09:43 AM
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I haven’t read anything about a possible points penalty for Stewart re his qualifying infraction?? It’s possible, with such tight points in the 5-10 positions, with a points deduction Stewart could fall out of top ten. ?????

Spot1
07/09/2012 10:57 AM
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Well, in the Nationwide series they only docked Dillon 6 points for his infraction.

GinaV24
07/09/2012 11:09 AM
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All hail the great and powerful Brian France. He stands for goodness and competitive fairness.

Right, and pigs will fly!

Sorry, NASCAR and the word gimmick has become synonymous.

I, too, was glad to see that no one was hurt on pit road. That was ugly and very scary.

Don Mei
07/09/2012 11:34 AM
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Brain (sic) France, the Poster Boy for the Lucky Sperm Club.

Lydia
07/09/2012 11:47 AM
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Spot1…you’re right Dillons Kentucky penalty was 6..not sure if 6 will fit this time. But, for some reason in my mind I’m thinking this season they lowered the points severity and $$$ amount in Cup Lite penalties due to it being second tier and such…so

ArkyBass
07/09/2012 01:07 PM
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LOL “Kung Fu movies” Had the same issue on my local cable feed. Switched over to Tru TV (which was also carrying the race) and same thing.
I had to turn it off, enough irritation for one race. I did apprecitate the Side by Side commercials or whatever they call it.

Bill B
07/09/2012 01:14 PM
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FYI – According to the Daly Planet if you were watching in Hi-Def the pic and audio were in-sync. If you were watching in Standard-Def then you got the “Bruce Lee effect”.

Kevin in SoCal
07/09/2012 01:20 PM
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Matt said: “With Penske moving to Ford next year, will Ricky Stenhouse or Trevor Bayne get a shot at the wheel?”

We already know where Ricky Stenhouse is going, to the #17 after Matt Kenseth leaves.

Lydia, they lowered the points penalties last year to reflect the lower points gained per race in all series now.

Andy
07/09/2012 01:27 PM
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I think you may have become my favorite NASCAR blogger.

Agree 100% that the special paint jobs have gone too far. I’m in favor of going back to the Sixties. No more than three colors, and the same scheme all year.

Matt
07/09/2012 01:49 PM
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Andy, thanks.
Spridel, perish even the thought of a cell phone. Regards to Chim-chim though.

Bill B
07/09/2012 01:54 PM
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Actually Matt, I think embracing Twitter is more radical than having a cell phone.
Next you will be telling us what you had for dinner.

Sean
07/09/2012 01:56 PM
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Well, a 6-point penalty in this revised points system is pretty much equivalent to a 25-point penalty in the old points system…

Matt
07/09/2012 02:15 PM
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Twitter is like a cactus. If you choose to you can ignore it. A cell phone is more like a kitten, it needs a lot of attention and cost money to own monthly. A cactus is never going to interupt you when you have something to do quickly.
The tipping point for me was when I found out you don’t need a cell phone to do this Tweeter thing you can use your PC. Only down side is I notice that some people hide behind thier handle and say nasty things they’d never say to your face. I slipped up once and said something needlessly cruel and unkind. If I do it again I’ll quit the Twit.
For the record I had beef tips in onion gravy and a Coors Light for dinner last night.

Steve
07/09/2012 02:19 PM
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Could you just imagine what would have happened if there was no speed limit on pit road? That could have been disaster and hopefully those that think there shouldn’t be one are rethinking their logic.

I can’t beleive another blogger gave this race a 5 star rating. If you wanted 2 ten car pileups in the last 10 laps than I guess it was a spectacular race. That wasn’t a race, that was survival.

23520000349597
07/09/2012 02:20 PM
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Agree about all the varied paint jobs. I think they do it to sell more die cast collector cars. If they ran the same paint all year they could only sell one model car. This way they can sell 20 or more !!

Matt
07/09/2012 02:29 PM
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Is anyone still laying out 50 bucks for a toy car in this economy?

Sean- Correct me if I’m wrong but I beleive Clint Bowyer got socked with a 25 point penalty after he won at NHIS in the kickoff race of the chase (also in an RCR car ironically) And that was 25 points in the new points system, about the difference of finishing 21st rather than winning. It does seem NASCAR is handing out lighter penalties in the AAA series. I can understand lower dollar fines, they race for a smaller purse, but don’t get the logic of the points. Wait did I just use “logic” and “NASCAR” in the same sentence?

Tim
07/09/2012 04:27 PM
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Spread the message: Since Nascar doesn’t listen and is run by looneys…

Bruton Smith listens: write him or email him and tell him what you would like to see.

upgrayedd
07/09/2012 05:24 PM
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It’s funny you mention the paint schemes. I said the same thing to my girl as we were watching the race. Didn’t know who was who. I remember when the only “special” paint schemes came out for the All Star race and even that didn’t start until about the mid 90’s. I agree that some of it is due to die-cast sales, but I think this year more than anything it’s teams putting together patchwork sponsorship. The paint schemes are different every week because they have a different sponsor every week.

As for the #22, I’d like to see The Captain give Robby Gordon a call. He’s a Dodge driver. Give him a few races in the sun in top notch equipment one more time.

Vince
07/09/2012 06:11 PM
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I agree about the paint schemes. They seem to get uglier as each year passes. I love the classics. The Petty Blue cars of the 60s, the red, white and polished gold numbers of the 60s Wood Brothers, Bobby Allison’s red and gold Coke Machine. Smokey Yunick and Curtis Turner’s black and gold 66/67 Chevelle.

Today’s color schemes and combinations remind me of a bad acid trip I had back in the early 70s!

Bill B
07/09/2012 07:52 PM
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Coors light, huh? Cool.

I weigh in on the patchwork of sponsorship side of why there are so many more paint schemes.
I don’t know it for a fact but I think the diecast market has died down (with the rest of the sport).

Bill B
07/09/2012 07:56 PM
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Oh yeah, BTW, I hate cell phones because you are never “out” anymore (of course you can turn them off but few do) but I wouldn’t want to not have one. It’s just too damn convenient and comes in very handy during emergencies.

Teresa
07/09/2012 11:08 PM
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“No jet driers were injured during the filming of Saturday night’s event. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty Towards Track Drying Equipment monitored the filming of the race.”

Thanks for the hearty laugh, Matt — I really, REALLY needed that today.

oldgalfromsocal
07/10/2012 01:14 AM
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Jeff and Carl can’t buy a thrill

TDblDUb
07/10/2012 02:05 AM
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Matt,
Clint’s 25 point hit was in 2010 under the old points system. The new system just started last year (‘11).

J.D.
07/10/2012 05:19 PM
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They docked Clint 150 points in 2010