The Frontstretch: Blackhawk Down: NASCAR Conspiracy Theorists Run Amok by Matt McLaughlin -- Thursday August 9, 2012

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Blackhawk Down: NASCAR Conspiracy Theorists Run Amok

MPM2Nite · Matt McLaughlin · Thursday August 9, 2012


In some certain circles, I am considered a conspiracy theorist, a nattering nabob of negativity who always suspects the worst possible motives behind NASCAR and the people inside the sport. I admit I am cynical both by nature and through experience but compared to some folks out there, I am Shirley Frickin’ Temple.

After Sunday’s race, as I sat down to write my recap I was on edge because I was already hearing rumors some fans had been struck by lightning and some of those individuals were badly hurt. (Tragically, we know now that Brian Zimmerman, a 41-year-old married father of three lost his life.) I immediately focused on that story and began calling friends I knew had been in the grandstands to ensure they were safe. But elsewhere on the Internet and in Twitterville (which I am rapidly learning is a lot less friendly place than Who-ville or Margaritaville), a cauldron was boiling over as more fuel was added to the fire by people hiding behind funny screen names. (I’ve been asked, so my Twitter handle mcmatt76 was chosen because “Matt McLaughlin” and “Mcmatt” were already in use. The “McMatt” part should be obvious. The 76 was added because a picture of my 1976 Trans-Am hangs over my desk.)

The contention held that on the final restart, Jimmie Johnson rode up the track and possibly even triggered the wreck with Matt Kenseth to help his teammate and team owner of record Jeff Gordon make the Chase. How could it not be so? After all, Gordon’s win at Pocono Sunday now has him laying claim to the second “wild card” spot for the playoffs. That dirty, rotten so and so and the convicted felon that pays him! How dare they ruin the integrity of our sport!

Well, truth be told NASCAR lost its cherry decades ago with the advent of the front wheel drive clone funny cars. But that’s besides the point… let’s see if this theory has merit.

So let me see if I can climb inside Jimmie Johnson’s mind as he’s cruising around under yellow preparing for that final restart. Chad Knaus had doubtlessly made him aware that heavy weather had reached the outskirts of the track property. If, in fact the race resumed it would only run a handful more laps. Johnson also knew he clearly had the fastest car and was in the lead. All he had to do was hold off one concerted rush by the No. 17 car into turn one and his fourth victory of the season was in hand. That would mean that once the Chase began, he’d be seeded in the top spot ahead of Stewart and Keselowski, who have each won three times. For a driver who admits he wants to win eight titles to lay claim to the “Greatest Driver Ever!” honors that’s a pretty powerful incentive to get up on the wheel and get the job done.

But the black helicopter clan supposed that Johnson was furiously working on his iPad, cell phone, and calculator under that caution doing more math than a high school class full of trig students. “Let’s see. If I pull over and let the No. 24 by, where would that leave him in the points? Let me check where all the other drivers from tenth to sixteenth are currently running in the points. Oh, grand, if I let him win that would move Gordon to fifteenth. That’s pretty good. Wow, trouble ahead! He’d be tied with Newman for fifteenth. How many second-place finishes do Ryan and Jeff have? How many thirds? D’Oh, they’re tied! How many fourth-place finishes do they have? Oh, no! Grand, Jeff had more fifth place finishes than Ryan so he’d have that wild card spot.”

Under this scenario, it was time to start operation “Fear and Loathing” on the restart. “Sorry, Kenseth, I’ll do my best to make sure you don’t go head on into the wall, but let’s face it: points don’t matter to either of us any more. We’re both ranked so high up there our playoff berths are all but cemented. And frankly, that color of the paint on your car is hideous anyway. Zestfully, clean my butt. I’m an Irish Spring man. Manly, yes, but I like it too, especially since I’ve grown this macho approximation of a beard to make me look less like of a girly-man.”

Jimmie Johnson looks on, wondering if McLaughlin will launch any attacks at his facial fur this week… yup, he did.

Here’s how I saw the restart, and I was watching it pretty carefully since I wasn’t thinking the first few raindrops pattering on the window pane were the sound of the New World Order army storm troopers’ boots hitting the earth as they rappelled out of their trademark black helicopters. Johnson was once again playing games on the restart. Kenseth snookered him but good. Caught off guard by the No. 17’s hard charge to the outside, Johnson charged into Turn One with the reckless abandon of the Light Brigade. Unaware Kenseth was already to his outside, Johnson slid his Chevy up the track to block and the two collided.

I am not Pollyanna. I don’t buy Johnson’s explanation of a flat right-rear tire having gone flat. Maybe after he body-slammed Kenseth’s Ford, but not before.

Now if this was a pre-planned action on Johnson’s part, he must have had a crystal ball installed in his race car. As Johnson struggled (masterfully, as it turned out) to correct his sideways car, the No. 17 got sideways and Biffle shot into the outside wall. At that point, there was no knowing if it was going to be a two-car wreck, a four-car wreck, or a field-decimating pig pile – and Gordon could easily have been caught up in the carnage. Also narrowly missing the wreck was another of Johnson’s teammates, Kasey Kahne, who is fighting for every position to try to keep inside the cutoff for the Chase. In a worst-case scenario, the No. 17 could have hooked hard left and sent Johnson headlong into the wall, windshield deep, and broken his leg eliminating him from competition for the rest of the season.

See? There’s a funny thing about wrecking a tightly bunched pack of race cars running at 180 mph: sometimes the results are not very funny at all.

Just how widespread was the controversy? Once I’d nailed down the facts surrounding the tragedy that occurred in the parking lot, I did that #Jimmie Johnson thing on Twitter and spent the next hour reading some pretty outrageous stuff people were writing in less than 140 characters; and I wasn’t alone in reading this innuendo. The normally affable and unceasingly polite Jimmie Johnson wrote on his Twitter account, “Good night everyone, even all of you with your head stuck in your ass.”

Hey, he said it; not me, it was on his official account and he hasn’t disavowed the statement either.

So do I have faith in the integrity of the No. 48 team? No, I do not. I think they got caught cheating red-handed at Daytona and got away with it because of the team owner’s personal relationship with the final referee. When Knaus told Johnson last year at Talladega that if he won the race, he’d have to back the car into the wall, I don’t think it was because he felt that the post-race wreck would be on Speed Center all week giving their sponsors valuable exposure. To his credit, however, Johnson seemed genuinely shocked by the request. Funny how that’s the same car that got nabbed at Daytona this year. And I’m uneasy about the skewed attitude of the car that dominated at Pocono and Indy, how low it rides in the back under race conditions. I think we’re either going to see some new rules added soon to corral that beast of a No. 48 car or it will once again run afoul of the inspection process. Perhaps NASCAR is waiting for the first race of the Chase to extract a little payback for their decision being overruled at the start of the season.

With a long, checkered past of documented rules violations, suspensions, and on-air instructions to damage vehicles in case of a win, might the No. 48 start sandbagging a bit to keep away from the ire of NASCAR officials until the start of this year’s Chase?

I also believe that team orders have been issued in NASCAR racing previously. I know that to be a fact. I’ve heard one driver told to pull over and slow down so that his teammate could lead a lap and get a bonus point. Keep in mind if he’d earned one such bogus bonus point during the final 10 races last year, Carl Edwards would be the reigning champion. Could team orders help set the field for this year’s Chase? If at Richmond, the Roush statisticians discovered that if Kenseth, running eighth, yielded his spot to Edwards, running ninth on the last lap and the No. 99 would make the Chase after all it might happen. But if Kenseth was leading the race and Edwards was second, I don’t think Kenseth would yield a win.

Yes, Gordon is currently in the Chase on a wild card, but there are still five races left to run and anything could happen. This weekend, Gordon could crash out on the pace lap and Newman could win, or Kyle Busch could grab his second win of the season. I don’t think team orders or ill-intent on anyone’s part gave Gordon a win last weekend at Pocono. Sometimes odd or surprising things happen at the end of stock car races. If that weren’t the case, I doubt the sport would have survived its initial few seasons.

So if you’re still cowering down the basement, armed with a tin foil lined soup colander on your head waiting for the New World Order takeover, lay aside your headgear, come upstairs and go outside. It’s a pretty nice world we live in and you might as well enjoy the sunshine before the New World Order kicks off the nuclear winter that leaves the cockroaches.

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Today on the Frontstretch:
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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Bill B
08/09/2012 07:10 AM

Not even Mr Spock could have calculated the odds that Gordon would win or be caught up in the wreck if JJ purposely wrecked the front of the field.

08/09/2012 08:03 AM

I was ticked that Jimmy took out Matt as Kenseth was going to have the Chase lead spot back due to Jr’s early troubles. Damn, you Jimmy Johnson! With that said, even I couldn’t make the leap that JJ did it to get Gordon in the Chase.

Now maybe if he did it to get Gordon in the Chase and keep Jr the lead……j/k! Jimmy simply ran out of talent going into Turn 1.

08/09/2012 08:11 AM

Wow! LOL! Whew! Nascar fans and writers are some of the most sickest people out there. I find myself pulling for Jimmie more and more when he gets dumped on week after week…just like Gordon of the nineties. Hate the haters of success. Good for Jimmie to blast his twitter twits, I loved it. I just wish he’d say something like that on TV to reach more idiots. I’m pulling for him to win another trophy. And when its all said and done, I’m hoping for 106 wins and 8 championships. Now, that would stick in the craw of all types of Nascar fans for generations. And then I will start rooting for Chase Elliot.

Your last paragraph was brilliant, but predictable. I was thinking that basement/foil scenario at the first sentence of the first paragrah.

08/09/2012 10:33 AM

Jimmy doesn’t have the talent to have done that on purpose.

There is no way I am a fan of anything HMS, but say watch out for Jeff if he makes the chase.

08/09/2012 10:44 AM

HankZ: we pile on Jimmie Johnson because he drives a car built and maintained by a cheater, and because he chooses to always play it safe, and to always play the system to get to a championship, rarely just going for the win.

But fixing the Pocono race? The odds are astronomical, there’s no way he did—and he’s proven in the past that he won’t pull over for anyone, even his teammates.

Carl D.
08/09/2012 11:43 AM

“I think they got caught cheating red-handed at Daytona and got away with it because of the team owner’s personal relationship with the final referee.”

Damn Straight. And it’s that kind of thing that has the conspiracy theorists ready to pounce on any action by HMS that seems even vaguely suspect no matter how far-fetched it actually is.

Michael in SoCal
08/09/2012 11:59 AM

RickP is right. This was one of the rare instances where Jimmie Johnson just ran out of talent. I think it was twiddling with all the switches for the brake fans that distracted him just enough.

08/09/2012 12:18 PM

Michael is corret! An an in car camera view of 48 during restart he most definitely was messing with his fan switches..looking up and down at the dashboard…when low and see an inside shot of his car sliding up the track! Maybe JJ needs to carry his iPhone in the car so he can just say “Siri..turn off brake fans” !

08/09/2012 12:27 PM

JJ, the cry baby, just flat got in over his head and doesn’t have the gonads to admit it!! Flat tire my a**!. Rest assured in the right place Kennesth will get even, and way down inside JJ knows it!! Personally I hate anyone or anything having to do with “the felons” company. But I have to admit he knows who to pay off to get his way….

old farmer
08/09/2012 12:35 PM

If there was a conspiracy involved, it was NASCAR holding the green flag after the clean-up w/ rain coming to insure Gordon a yellow flag victory and possibly putting him into chase contention.

He would not have won the race had the green been given, thus leaving him still out of the chase. NASCAR wants it golden boy in and did what it needed to do to give him a win.

08/09/2012 12:40 PM

so… are you saying that twitter doesn’t do anything to help dispel the stereotype that nascar fans are of lesser intellect? hmmm.. imagine that.

the way i saw it, jimmie just “flat” overdrove the corner. it had nothing to do with a tire going down.

i think the old farmer may have something there.

08/09/2012 01:19 PM

Thank you, Matt, for helping to clear this up. I don’t think for one nanosecond that Johnson/Knaus had anything in mind but making sure they won that race. Helping Jeff Gordon wasn’t even on the radar. As you said, Gordon could just as easily have been caught up in the mayhem as taken the lead.

I don’t follow Johnson – I’m not a fan of his but somewhere I saw a bunch of the twitter comments compiled – including the one that you referenced from dear lovable JJ.

I really like the idea that Nascar may be “waiting” patiently to exact payback from the 48 team until it will hurt them the most.

08/09/2012 02:42 PM

john: “rarely just going for the win”

Ha ha! And yep; not going for the win is why Jimmie has more wins since 2002 than any other driver. Imagine how many he might have if he’d been trying to win. Oh and to some that said he has no talent? Read what I just said. LOL Thanks for the laugh.
@HankZ: well said As for the piece. Last two paragraphs were good. LOL on the conspiracy theorists. But as s usual – and why I don’t read much of Matt’s stuff anymore, I don’t think Matt L can write anything without finding a way to throw in his dislike of the 48 team. Guess that’s the only way he can find readers is to appeal to the 48 haters. Yay for Jimmie’s twitter comment! Jimmie’s the real deal and he’ll be 6X champ come November.

Carl D.
08/09/2012 03:32 PM

The #48 team does not cheat and Jimmie Johnson is immensly talented. Therefore JJ is right, it HAD to be a blown tire. No way does a 5-time champion who is so great he makes a mediocre crew chief like Chad Knaus look good EVER make a mistake. My guess is that Goodyear, at the direction of Mike Helton, sabotaged the tires to help Junior keep the points lead. And did you know that Mitt Romney is the reason Dodge is leaving Nascar?

Bill B
08/09/2012 05:42 PM

Old Farmer,
“He would not have won the race had the green been given”

What do you base that conclusion on? Had they restarted the race a lap or two earlier there still would have only been a couple of laps before the rain came. Kahne would have had to come in for the tires. Everyone else that ran up front all day was 8th or back. Gordon came from 27th to 6th during the first 88 laps. So once again, how do YOU know he wouldn’t have held onto the lead for two laps of green. And since you seem to have the gift of seeing the future could you help a brother out with this weeks Powerball numbers?

08/09/2012 09:39 PM

I’ll do the manly thing and step up for PJ since he doesn’t want to read Matt’s columns any more.

Matt is my favorite NASCAR commentator and Frontstretch has become my favorite blog.

I’m hoping that Jeff gets five before JJ gets six. I want to see these two duke it out for top gun. It would rival the Petty/Pearson rivalry. They’re both very good and likely to race each other without resorting to Earnhardt bumper pool tactics.

long past fan
08/10/2012 07:00 PM

Best thing about nascar is reading Matt and the comments after the races. Never watch the fwd clone races. I would like to see Ford & Toyota pull out. Dodge is smart enough to know that they get no sales boost from being in nascar. Cant buy any of the engines and the used stuff cannot be used in the other race series etc.
Nascar is done for gearheads stick a fork it. Let the marketers and high rollers have their own mutual admiration races.

08/10/2012 11:14 PM

“Fear and loathing” indeed. All that’s missing is a trunkful of pharmaceuticals and a large Samoan attorney…

I agree with old farmer; if there’s a conspiracy it’s NASCAR waving off the restart three times.