The Frontstretch: Matt McLaughlin's Thinkin' Out Loud: Pocono-2 Race Recap by Matt McLaughlin -- Monday August 6, 2012

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Matt McLaughlin's Thinkin' Out Loud: Pocono-2 Race Recap

Matt McLaughlin · Monday August 6, 2012


Jeff Gordon was the benefactor of a rare mistake by teammate Jimmie Johnson and bad weather. He ended up celebrating in Victory Lane.

The Key Moment – Jimmie Johnson, who had dominated the race, had his car get out from under him on the final restart and collected second-place Matt Kenseth. From there, it was on.

In a Nutshell – Mother Nature turned the Pocono race into a high stakes, very loud and damp high-speed game of musical chairs.

Dramatic Moment – When the field lined up for the final restart, Biblical downpours had reached the edges of the track’s property and the rest of the field knew they had one last shot at Johnson’s dominant No. 48 car. That’s like throwing a prime rib to a pack of starving dogs.

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

Unfortunately, NASCAR didn’t call the race quite quickly enough. Ten fans were struck by lightning on track property after the race. Tragically, one has died, one is in critical condition, one in guarded condition, two with minor injuries, and five were treated and released. I don’t know the circumstances that wound up with these folks getting injured so I won’t cast stones, but if you’re at a racetrack (or the beach, on a golf course, or anywhere else) use common sense when an electrical storm approaches and seek shelter immediately. Even if the storm is ten miles out, you can still get struck. In my area two sets of families of four were both injured by lightning strikes, one down the Jersey Shore and the other sitting in their front yard in the city.

I am writing this Sunday night. By Monday morning, there may be wholesale changes in the finishing order posted right now. Why? During a race, NASCAR uses the running order gathered from the last scoring loop to decide the running order when a caution comes out. At the end of a race they rely on videotape of the event to decide who finished where. Sunday, they didn’t realize that that third yellow flag was actually going to be the one that concluded the event, at least as far as green-flag racing. Several teams, most notably the Nos. 48 and 16 are protesting their finishing positions at press time.

It’s the new trend sweeping the nation! Defy the intent of the rules and set your car up to dog-track like a bloodhound with hip dysplasia. This week, the Roush Fords were as badly out of skew as the innovators of the trend, the HMS Chevys. But one mustn’t rest on their laurels especially when the competition is wise to your game. Ever the innovators the No. 48 team found a way to turn their car into a tail-dragger that rivals anything seen in the barrios of East LA. Getting that big blade spoiler down out of the air on Pocono’s long stretches adds a whole lot of speed. (The MPH type of speed, not the stuff that gets you suspended.)

There’s going to be a lot of folks wondering what took NASCAR so long to clean up a four-car wreck. If they’d hustled a bit, might the fans have gotten to see the race end under green? And if so, would Gordon have held on to win? I know only one thing for certain: we’ll never know.

What’s next for AJ Allmendinger? After being released by Penske Racing earlier this week his racing career, at least in NASCAR, is in limbo. Could he return to open-wheel racing (though obviously not with Penske)? And when is he going to stop hiding under his covers and address the situation? Race fans are known for swarming attacks but they can also be capable of incredible empathy given the information they seek and genuine contrition. So can Allmendinger still salvage his career? Well Eagles QB Michael Vick is still making good coin despite a stint in prison for animal cruelty. But then again, that’s my home town of Philadelphia, not the real world.

So what happened to this next generation track dryer that Brian France claimed would be able to dry a wet race track in half the time? Apparently, it’s at the R and D center being fitted with a glass dashboard.

So which was longer, the rain delay or the race itself? Both lasted approximately an hour and 45 minutes.

It’s interesting that while there were 22 pit road speeding penalties issued during Pocono’s June event, there was only one during Sunday’s race. So did the crew chiefs study the new timing lines, did the drivers stop trying to fudge their speeds or did NASCAR finally figure out they’d screwed up royally during the June event?

OK, maybe this one explains everything. The size of the crowd at last weekend’s Brickyard 400 flirted with the term “pitiful.” But reports this week state that between the money ESPN paid the track to broadcast the event and what Crown Royal paid for naming rights, Indy had already made enough to payoff the sanctioning fee that NASCAR charges a facility to host a race. Thus revenue from ticket sales (albeit weak ticket sales) concessions and parking earned the track somewhere around nine million dollars. And that’s just for Sunday’s event! So why don’t tracks improve the racing surface to make for better racing and draw bigger crowds? They don’t have to. These events are already profitable enough. Suddenly, I’m beginning to understand why Fontana is still on the schedule.

Fans in the Midwest wishing to attend a NASCAR race certainly have had a wealth of opportunities over the last month or so. In addition to the Brickyard 400, the N-W series ran in Joliet, Indy and Iowa for three consecutive races and the trucks ran at Iowa and Chicago. I’m not sure that’s the sort of schedule that’s going to help sell seats. Most of us aren’t wealthy enough to attend all those races in five weeks time, so I’d guess the fans have to pick and choose which they prefer to see.

At only 125 miles, Saturday’s truck race was perfect for those battling ADD.

My guess is Todd Bodine got sent home from Pocono without the “plays nicely with others” box checked on his report card.

Denny Hamlin announced this weekend he and long time girlfriend Jordan Fish are expecting their first child this January. Though excited about the impending arrival, the couple shared they were not looking to rush into marriage. Oddly enough, no fast food chain CEOs weighed in on the couple’s very personal decision. (Sort of like whether to have mashed potatoes and gravy or mac and cheese.)

The Hindenburg Award For Foul Fortune

Earnhardt Jr. fought his way to the front to the delight of his highly partisan fans but was felled by a transmission failure at the only oval track on the circuit where drivers routinely shift during the race. Earnhardt was so eager to get back out there he leapt from his car in the garage area and began jacking it up so repairs could be made before the rest of the crew even got there.

It’s not often you’ll see Johnson throw away a race. particularly when he has a dominant car, but he let the No. 48 get out from underneath him in the first corner following the final restart and dropped back to fourteenth.

Kenseth was running second on the final restart but was the victim of Johnson’s rare unforced error. He hit the wall, then slid down the track getting drilled directly in the driver’s side numbers by the No. 11 car in the process. He was shown as having finished 23rd.

Kyle Busch only made 19 laps before a brake rotor failed and cut down a rear tire. The No. 18 car went hard into the wall and Busch was forced to the garage area. He eventually finished 33rd.

It wasn’t a great day for the other branch of the Busch family tree, either. Kurt Busch blew a left front tire moments after emerging from the pits after a two-tire stop. The failure sent Busch hard into the wall and ended his day. He was listed 30th at the finish after that mess.

Denny Hamlin took a hard enough hit during the big wreck he was taken to the infield care center after the incident to get looked over, complaining of abdominal pain. Fortunately, he was treated and released but one of the fastest cars on the track all day was listed as 29th in the final running order.

Talk about a rough start for a driver attempting to make his Cup debut. John Wes Townley was scheduled to drive Frankie Stoddard’s No. 32 car this weekend. But on his very first lap of practice Townley smacked the wall and never even posted an official time. He later withdrew himself from the seat, ceding it to Jason White. Why he’d get the chance in the first place? The car was sponsored by Zaxby’s chicken restaurants, a chain owned by Townley’s father.

It was a pretty tough weekend for Joe Gibbs Racing. Logano, who had won here in June, finished 13th. Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin both crashed out of the race.

The “Seven Come Fore Eleven” Award For Fine Fortune

Cup wins are hard to come by. It’s not often you’ll have one fall, literally, out of the sky into your lap like Gordon did on Sunday.

Had the race been able to resume, no matter how briefly, Kasey Kahne would have been in a world of trouble. He’d been circulating the track under that final caution prior to the red flag with a flat rear tire.

The red flag couldn’t have flown too soon for Keselowski’s liking, either. He was running on fumes in the tank when the race ended after snaking his way through the carnage.

Regan Smith (ninth) and Marcos Ambrose (tenth) were probably both delighted to drive through the final lap mayhem to come away with a top-10 finish at Pocono.

Perhaps Elliott Sadler felt some measure of redemption after winning Saturday night’s N-W race. A highly questionable black flag on a restart last week probably cost Sadler a win at Indy.

The IndyCar Series probably got a boost today as race fans enduring the rain delay at Pocono sought alternative programming. (Anyone else find it odd that ABC/ESPN chose to schedule the two races concurrently? Or got caught short-handed on race announcers to the point ABC decided to have NBC produce the race?)

Worth Noting

  • HMS has now won seven of the last eleven points-paying races.
  • Johnson leads all drivers with ten top-5 results to date this season. He and Earnhardt Jr. are tied for most top-10 finishes with fifteen apiece.
  • Earnhardt failed to run the complete race distance for the first time this season.
  • Gordon’s win was his first triumph since Atlanta last September.
  • Kahne now has a pair of second-place finishes to complement his two victories this season. (He also ran second at Kentucky.)
  • Truex’s third-place finish was his best since he ran second at Kansas.
  • The top-10 finishers at Pocono drove five Chevys, two Fords, two Toyotas and a Dodge.
  • Stewart (fifth) has failed to lead a lap in the last three events.
  • Newman (sixth) now has four consecutive top-10 results but, like his illustrious leader is not gathering up many bonus points for leading laps. Newman hasn’t led a lap since Martinsville.
  • Edward’s seventh-place finish was his best since Daytona but he hasn’t managed a top-5 result since Fontana.
  • His ninth-place finish was easily Regan Smith’s best of the season. His previous best was a 14th-place drive at Darlington.
  • The last Pocono race was only about six weeks ago so the finishing order should have closely reflected the June race, right? Oddly enough, Tony Stewart was the only driver to post a top 5 in both events. Looking further back, Bowyer was the only additional driver to have a top 10 in both races.
  • Johnson’s 14th-place finish was actually his worst on a non-plate track this year. (For newer fans, the “plate” tracks are Daytona and Talladega.)
  • After getting off to a stellar start to the season, Kenseth has missed the top 10 the last three times out. He’s averaged about a 24th-place finish in those three races. They don’t put your face on a gum card for those sort of statistics.
  • Earnhardt Jr.’s 32nd-place finish was easily his worst of the season. His previous worst finish was a 23rd at Sonoma.

What’s the Points?

Despite an awful day, Earnhardt Jr. holds onto the points lead. He’s now five ahead of Kenseth, six points ahead of Biffle and eight points ahead of Johnson. It would seem that those four drivers will battle for the wholly symbolic title awarded to the driver who leads the points at the conclusion of the “regular season.” Fifth place Truex is more than a full race’s worth of points out of the lead.

As a consolation prize, though MWR’s top driver moved up five positions to earn that spot. Stewart advanced two spots to sixth and Keselowski also moved up two spots to seventh. Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick (who was nearly invisible all weekend) both fell three spots, to eighth and ninth. Clint Bowyer owns the final spot inside the top 10.

Look out below, because Kyle Busch plummeted four spots to fifteenth in the standings. He’ll probably have to win one of the next five races to make the playoffs.

To round out the Chase, Kasey Kahne and Jeff Gordon currently hold the two “wild card” berths. Gordon is actually tied with Newman who also has a single win this season but Gordon gets the nod based on having more fifth-place finishes. (They are tied as far as second, third and fourth-place results.) I said a few weeks ago there was no way Gordon was going to make the Chase so I might have to eat my hat. But I ain’t slathering my cap with horsey sauce just yet.

Edwards is actually eight points ahead of Gordon, in 12th place but he’s still got the goose egg in the win column.

Overall Rating (On a scale of one to six beer cans with one being a stinker and a six pack an instant classic) — The race was pretty sedate after a frustratingly long wait, but they’ll be talking about that last lap for awhile. Thus we’ll give it three bottles of Blue Moon… minus the orange slices, please.

Next Up – The circuit heads off to the long and winding road that is Watkins Glen.

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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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08/06/2012 08:26 AM

maybe hamlin’s gut hurts from swallowing that data sensor pill(shown on pre-race show).

read something where matt kenseth is suspect about johnson blowing tire to cause the wreck. i guess mr. kenseth feels a “let jeff get win” deal was in place at hendrick.

if jr survives next weekend at the glen with points lead, then maybe he deserves to be champion. was shocked to see that he is still holding on after blowing the tranny. again johnson taking out front few cars helped that factor.

i feel for the fans that got struck by lightening and the one killed. lightening is nothing to be messed with.

08/06/2012 10:32 AM

I can only hope that Mr. Kennesth has the guts to return the favor to JJ. His arrogance, not a flat tire caused that wreck!!look at the replays when he is in a slide….his tire is not down!!….He is a lying POS!, in my opinion.

08/06/2012 10:48 AM

Janice, sorry to disillusion you, but based on radio transmissions and comments from both JJ and Chad, I can guarantee you that Johnson is in no way, shape or form, that kind of a team player. Johnson’s doesn’t cut anyone a break – ever – especially not the 24.
He screwed up – which made me very happy since that meant that finally luck went Jeff’s way on Sunday.

I, too, am very sorry to hear about the fan who was killed and of course, those who were injured. I’ve been in those stands, there isn’t a lot of places to go to get into shelter IMO.

Kevin in SoCal
08/06/2012 11:40 AM

Hey, did you hear Dale Jr is leading the points?

In other news, Dale Jr is leading the points.

Dale Jr is leading the Cup points for the first time since 2004.

Thats all I heard all week. Give it a rest, media!

08/06/2012 12:05 PM

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. The sprint cup championship should be renamed “Hendricks’s cup”. After watching the blatant manipulation at the end of this race I had control myself to keep from vomiting. This long, long time fan has pretty much seen enough. Good day, hendrickscar.

Matt T.
08/06/2012 12:36 PM

You know, when the media write stories on the events of the week, it must highlight the biggest ones, otherwise it is called out for “missing” a big issue/topic — which is failing to do the assigned job.

Such is the case with Dale Earnhardt Jr. assuming the points lead. First, there was a change atop the point standings, so that’s going to be, at the very least, a bullet point in most every article (regardless of driver). Secondly, he’s the most popular driver and sways more attention to the sport — he transcends NASCAR. Like it or not (especially since he’s not held the points lead since 2004), that’s going to be a story.

The “newness” of this will wear off very soon and the story won’t be “The Story.” Also, the media write about what fans are interested in. It is reflected in page views. Not highlighting Earnhardt’s ascension to the point in some form or fashion is depriving both the fans (who clamor for it) and members of the media (whose jobs are based on whether or not people read their material).

In short, if you don’t want to read about it, simply don’t click links on Jayski’s clearinghouse page that discuss this topic.

08/06/2012 12:46 PM

I really don’t think I’m banging that drum too incessantly. I did mention leading the points at this juncture of the season is wholly symbolic. If the Chase were to start now, Stewart, Johnson and Keselowski would all hold rank over the 88 bunch.

08/06/2012 01:01 PM

Hey Kevin –
If it makes you feel better, look six weeks down the road when the points are reset. This is how they line up (as of now)…
1. JJ
2. Tony
3. Brad
4. Denny
5. Junior
6. Matt
7. Biff
8. Bowyer
9. Truex
10. Harvick

Kevin in SoCal
08/06/2012 01:32 PM

Matt, that wasn’t directed at you, but at the TV media, Nascar Now, and Nascar Raceday, who reminded the viewers over and over and over and over. They’re catering to the lowest common denominator, preaching to the choir, and whatever other cliches you want to use. I was all set to write about how Matt Kenseth “earned” the points lead back again after Jr’s transmission failure, too.

08/06/2012 02:00 PM

ABC aired the IndyCar race because it was supposed to be an NBC race but was bumped by the Olympics. NBC bought the airtime on ABC to show the race so that’s why NBC were the producers and announcers.

08/06/2012 02:01 PM

Oh and JJ is a @#$%er – I’m amazed that Kenseth didn’t come down in front of Edwards and complete the Roush disaster.

08/06/2012 02:06 PM

when points reset in 6 week, i see that the “appeal” from the daytona penalty will have zero impact. that what angers me so much. it’s scripted and contrived. didn’t i hear during broadcast that johnson was heard saying he wants #6 and wants to be the best of all times.

at least with jr in points lead we stopped hearing for a day or so of how the “winner of the brickyard” ends up being winner of the championship.

08/06/2012 02:25 PM

So Matt, do I have this right? Between TV and Sponsors, NASCAR is paid in advance, shall we say, and the track, Indy in this case, nets everything over and above?

If my figuring is right, we could ALL stay home, those entities would pay each other off and still make money… somehow.

Well, you’re right; that does explain Fontana! Somehow though, I wish I didn’t know how that works. That will eat at me for at least a week.


Bill B
08/06/2012 03:35 PM

I feel a lot better about Martinsville now. I was still bitter about the 10 car stopping for no reason bringing out a caution with a lap and a half to go and then that move Bowyer made taking out Gordon, Johnson and himself on the restart that handed the race to Newman. Now Gordon got a race handed to him in a similar fashion. Being in the right place at the right time matters as much as having a good car. I still can’t stand the double file restarts. To me they make the restarts (and often the endings) more of a crapshoot. And I am against any rule that raises the crapshoot factor (even though in this case it worked out for my boy).

I have to just shake my head and laugh at anyone that thinks Johnson could have (or would have) planned that to benefit Gordon. Once cars start going sideways on a restart there are no guarentees. Gordon could have just have easily been in the wreck instead of squeaking through with the lead. Anyone that thinks that a viable strategy to get Gordon a win was to wreck the front of the field when Gordon was part of the front of the field must not be paying attention. It’s a crapshoot all the way on those restarts.

As for viewers being pelted with stories on Jr leading the points, all I can say is that at least all the attention is legitimate. He has gotten more attention than he deserves for years just because of his fanbase, at least now he’s earning that coverage. Good for him!!!

08/06/2012 04:53 PM

John Wes Townley?
Well John Wes Townley ain’t no Paul Menard. And Paul Menard ain“t no Morgan Lucas. But he is improving. And Morgan Lucas is winning some races now but he ain’t no Jeg Coughlin.
John Wes removed himself from the race and let someone else drive the back-up car? Kudos to you for that Mr. Townley

08/06/2012 05:20 PM

The sprint cup championship should be renamed “Hendricks’s cup”. you correct but not for last sun Remember the cheating to state the year and what happened

08/06/2012 06:00 PM

The very best part of the whole race was the very loud cheering when NASCAR threw the flag and directed the cars to Pit Road. What most of the crowd in the stands and on social media seemed to have been hoping for came true. God acted, prayers were answered, Jeff Gordon got a win and the people were well pleased.

That is what I’ll remember.

08/06/2012 06:18 PM

And somewhere in the Maritimes a distraught fan was removing his head from the oven.

Joe D.
08/06/2012 10:43 PM

I actually disagree with the comment that NASCAR didn’t call the race quickly enough. Granted it was unlikely that the race was going to restart, but if they had waited for the worst of the storm to pass before “officially” calling the race then maybe they keep the fans safely under the grandstands and not in harms way.

08/07/2012 05:45 AM

I am glad I didn’t waste my time watching this race. Sounded like a real SNAFU.

08/07/2012 08:48 PM

holy cow… for the first time ever i agree with shoeman?

time for me to stop watching. for good. again.

08/07/2012 09:15 PM

“Oddly enough, no fast food chain CEOs weighed in on the couple’s very personal decision.”

Maybe that is because the CEO was not directly asked about it?

And thus ends my years of reading Frontstretch coverage of Nascar.