The Frontstretch: Matt McLaughlin's Thinkin' Out Loud: Watkins Glen Race Recap by Matt McLaughlin -- Monday August 13, 2012

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Matt McLaughlin's Thinkin' Out Loud: Watkins Glen Race Recap

Matt McLaughlin · Monday August 13, 2012


The Key Moment – This one wasn’t over until the checkered flag was thrown. Wow.

In a Nutshell – I’m still not a fan of NASCAR road course racing but I liked Sunday’s race a whole bunch. Fenders banging, tempers flaring, the old bump and run and a wholesale change in the running order… what’s not to like?

Dramatic Moment – That entire last lap was about as wild as anything I’ve seen on a race track in many a moon.

We’ll give Kyle Busch some style points for his three-wide kamikaze pass to take the lead on the final restart as well. Ambrose’s eyes were wide as saucers when he saw what Busch did.

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

A few drivers were pretty hot after the race and stated categorically NASCAR should have thrown the caution when it became apparent that there was oil down all over the track. I’m not sure how that would have worked. The leaders had already taken the white flag so a green-white-checkered finish wasn’t an option. Cleaning up a race track that large would probably have taken an hour and they’d likely have missed some spots anyway. All the drivers were racing under the same adverse conditions with varying levels of success so the playing field was level.

23 years ago today, we lost Tim Richmond.

Today, Monday, August 13th, marks the 23rd anniversary of Tim Richmond’s passing. (Don’t know who Tim is? Or want to take a trip down Memory Lane? Check out this two-parter on his career.) Anyone who ever watched Tim race on the road courses knows he was among the best ever. Richmond scored the first win of the modern era at Watkins Glen from the pole and also won the last race of his career at Riverside.

I’m not too sure what to make of AJ Allmendinger’s explanation of how he came to fail that drug test. If you missed it, Allmendinger says he was tired one evening and a friend offered him a pill he described as a “dietary supplement” to help perk him back up a little. If that’s true, the ‘Dinger is an idiot, and this fellow he was with wasn‘t much of a friend. If it’s not true, obviously he’s a liar. It reminds me of some old Bob Dylan lyrics from days of yore: “Now the rainman gave me two cures/Then he said, ‘Jump right in’/The one was Texas medicine/The other was just railroad gin/And like a fool I mixed them/And it strangled up my mind/And now people just get uglier/And I have no sense of time”

Kyle Busch might be facing some fines this weekend. Yes, Busch was 7th (NASCAR rules only require the top-3 finishers in an event to remain on pit road and make themselves available to the TV and radio networks. They are also required to address the press in the press box after the race.) But Busch was one lap from victory, positioned to win until Turn 2 of the final lap. Afterwards, he decided to get out of his Toyota and then get out of Dodge. The way I see it, any such penalty for those infractions probably would have paled compared to the penalties that likely would have resulted if he had in fact spoken his mind in the immediate aftermath of the race. And no, Kyle, that’s not the finger they had in mind for the Finger Lakes 355.

There was some confusion after the race due to Keselowski’s comments claiming that it was Busch’s No. 18 car oiling down the track. Keselowski later admitted on that Twitter thing that he was mistaken. He’d seen brake smoke from the No. 18 and it was actually Bobby Labonte’s No. 47 that was dropping fluids.

Class, compare and contrast Kyle Busch’s post-race conduct this week with Johnson’s last week. Johnson had also just lost a race he thought he had in the bag but was able to address the issue of what happened with composure and class. (Even if he wasn’t going to admit that he cut down that right rear tire body-slamming the No. 17 car on the frontstretch before they’d even reached the corner. Oddly enough, after Sunday’s race at the Glen, Johnson said when he first hit the oil he felt he had a tire going down. I think maybe somebody’s a little phobic about flats.)

With the Olympics finally over, NASCAR is ready to fall back on their old standby excuse for disappointing TV ratings next week, the NFL.

Johnson’s No. 48 was painted what was said to be Cortez Silver this weekend. Cortez Silver was one of the loveliest colors Chevy ever added to their palette, especially when gracing a ’69 Camaro Z28 with contrasting black stripes. I know that color pretty well, having owned a 70 SS Chevelle painted that hue but Johnson’s car didn’t look Cortez Silver to me. I think we used to call that color “rattle can primer.”

I noted with great sadness Dodge’s (Fiat’s?) decision to withdraw from NASCAR racing at the end of this season. While a hardcore Ford Mustang guy at heart, I appreciate Dodge’s contribution to the muscle car era wars and to NASCAR over the years. Richard Petty’s Dodge Charger was all but unbeatable in the early part of the 70s, and Dodge contributed two true works of art to the sport; the forever svelte 1969 Dodge Charger 500 and its more outrageous cousin the Charger Daytona. I’ve been mocked occasionally over the years for my heartfelt love of the Winged Warriors Mopar produced just to stay competitive in NASCAR racing and will admit they are rather ungainly from certain angles taken out of historical context. I’ve always just written off those critics as the sort who have a deep affection for their Accords or Camrys and would be just as happy doing appliance reviews for Consumer Reports as writing about racing.

It’s interesting ESPN chose not to even acknowledge last week’s lightning tragedy after the Pocono race. Had they broadcast the memorial fund on live TV it could have helped raise some much needed funds for fans and survivors who had their lives unexpectedly turned upside down. Since they didn’t, I will. You can donate funds to the PA 400 Memorial Fund, 1234 Long Pond Road, Long Pond PA, 18334.

More mechanical insights from Ms. Danica Patrick: “Water isn’t supposed to come out the tail pipes.” I wonder what grade she got in high school shop? (If DW was her instructor, no doubt an A+.) As for what grade she got in driver’s ed… well, let’s not go there.

The Hindenburg Award For Foul Fortune

Kurt Busch had driven up to 11th place when one of the wheels fell off his little red wagon.

Jeff Gordon had been complaining vehemently about his car for much of the race but a final adjustment lit the afterburners on the No. 24 and he was able to work his way into the top 10. Unfortunately, he made it to the last corner of the last lap before spinning in Labonte’s oil. That spin left Gordon 21st when the pay window opened after the race.

Earnhardt was probably well content with a solid top-10 result going late in a road course race. That’s when he spun in the oil and dropped to a 28th-place finish and from the lead to fourth in the standings. Channel you’re inner-Bill Murray and repeat after me, “It just don’t matter.” NASCAR will be re-racking the points after four more races, anyway.

Tony Stewart seemed primed to recover from an early pit road penalty only to lose a top-10 finish in the closing laps.

Tony Stewart is always a favorite at Watkins Glen but a pit road penalty dropped him to 25th. A relentless Stewart charged all the way back to second before his car got out from under him and he spun into the inside wall at the entrance to the pits. He was able to make up some spots in his badly damaged Chevy but still finished 19th.

Pole-sitter Juan Pablo Montoya had a strong run going before breaking a lower front control arm bouncing his car over the curbs. (Sunday’s race was notable for an unusually high rate of mechanical attrition even by the standards of a road course.) While the team effected repairs, JPM was 33rd at the end of the race.

Part-time Cup competitor Brian Vickers lost an engine in his MWR car before he could complete a single lap.

Denny Hamlin suffered through yet another engine that went up in a ball of flames, ending his day. Hamlin had already wiped out his primary car in a practice wreck and took a hard hit at the end of last week’s race at Pocono. When it rains, it pours.

Edwards really needed a win Sunday and it appeared that he might just steal one on strategy until he ran out of gas entering the pits and struggled to re-fire the car. He went on to finish fourteenth.

Our Canadian friends couldn’t even watch the race live on Sunday. TSN decided to show the event via tape delay. I guess if it worked for NBC with the Olympics…

The “Seven Come Fore Eleven” Award For Fine Fortune

Keselowski slammed into the rear of the No. 18 car on that final lap and with the left front corner sheet metal on his Dodge shoved back into the tire, it wasn’t clear if he’d be able to complete it without shredding that tire. He did, and while he lost the win he did score a second-place finish.

Clint Bowyer began complaining his brakes were fading before the race even reached its halfway point. He still soldiered on to a fourth-place finish.

Sam Hornish, Jr. certainly made his case to remain at the driver of the No. 22 Penske car next season at Watkins Glen. He finished third in Saturday’s N-W race and fifth in Sunday’s Cup event.

Not a noted road course racer, Matt Kenseth is likely very happy to escape the Glen with an eighth-place finish, especially after the last lap debacle at Pocono last week.

Regan Smith managed a ninth-place finish after crafting a path through the last lap carnage.

Worth Noting

  • Ambrose’s win was the first for a Ford driver since Biffle won at Texas 15 races ago.
  • The top-10 finishers at Watkins Glen drove three Fords, three Toyotas, two Chevys and two Dodges.
  • Johnson leads all drivers with 11 top 10 finishes in 22 points races this season. Three others, Biffle, Kenseth and Earnhardt have nine apiece.
  • Johnson also leads all other drivers with 16 top-10 finishes in those races. Earnhardt has 15.
  • Since winning at Kentucky six races ago, Keselowski hasn’t finished outside the top 10.
  • Bowyer has led exactly one lap in the last six races.
  • Hornish’s fifth-place finish was his best since Pocono in 2009. (He also finished fifth a few races later at Michigan that year.)
  • Biffle has top-10 results in three of the last four races.
  • Kyle Busch has failed to score back-to-back top-10 finishes since Darlington and Charlotte this spring.
  • Kenseth managed to snap a streak of three straight finishes outside the top 10. His eighth-place finish also matches his best career result at the Glen. He finished eighth here in 2003 as well, the year we won his only Cup title.
  • Regan Smith has top-10 finishes in just two races this season. He’s finished ninth in the last two events.
  • Truex now has top-10 results in the last three races.
  • Newman’s 11th-place finish was actually his worst in the last five races.
  • Harvick hasn’t enjoyed a top-5 result since Dover. He hasn’t led a lap since Charlotte.
  • A 21st-place run was Gordon’s worst since Darlington.
  • Earnhardt has endured his two worst finishes of this season over the last two weeks.

What’s the Points?

Johnson leaps forward three positions to take over the points lead. He’s just one point ahead of Biffle and two points ahead of Kenseth.

Former standings leader Earnhardt dropped three spots to fourth and suddenly, the Happy Shiny people are hiding back in their caves. Buck up, ya’ll, he’s only 17 points out of the lead.

Keselowski advanced two spots to fifth in the standings with an unknown number of “Good guy points” to his credit. Truex dropped a spot to sixth. Bowyer advanced a full three positions to seventh. Tony Stewart dropped two rungs down the ladder to eighth, while Harvick holds station in ninth. (If he doesn’t do something quick, we’re going to need to put Harvick’s picture on a milk carton soon. He’s been all but invisible the last couple months.)

Denny Hamlin’s fiery exit from the race dropped him to tenth in the standings, the final secure spot for the Chase. In brighter news, he’s a full 40 points ahead of eleventh, which is almost a full race’s worth of points. There’s just four races to go until the seeding process.

Kahne maintains his hold on the first Wild Card slot as the only driver outside the top 10 with two wins to date. It’s in the battle for the final Wild Card slot that things get interesting. Right now Newman has wrested that spot back from Gordon. Gordon trails Newman by ten points.

Why was Kyle Busch so angry after the race? His second win of the season, which seemed in his grasp would have all but guaranteed him a Wild Card slot for the Chase. He’s currently 14th in the standings, six points behind Newman.

Overall Rating (On a scale of one to six beer cans with one being a stinker and a six pack an instant classic) — Well, I suppose it’s been about forever since I gave a race a full six-pack, but it’s time. I’m tempted to give it five beers with a Genny pony chaser because of the oil, but maybe I’m just feeling a little generous tonight looking at the week that lays ahead of me.

Next Up – It’s back off to Michigan. Anyone remember who won there last time out? I’ll have a surprise announcement later this week that will thrill some of you and disappoint a few of you. Stay tuned.

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Today on the Frontstretch:
NASCAR Easter Eggs: A Few Off-Week Nuggets to Chew On
Five Points To Ponder: NASCAR’s Take-A-Breath Moment
Truckin’ Thursdays: Top Five All-Time Truck Series Drivers
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08/13/2012 06:41 AM

Outside of Martinsville and (maybe again) Bristol, road courses offer the only ‘old school’ bumping and banging. How can you not love that?

Bill B
08/13/2012 07:21 AM

Wow, who would have thought having oil on the track could produce such exciting racing. I’ll give that race 6 cans (of oil). In fact, oil for everyone!!!!

Carl D.
08/13/2012 07:38 AM

I’m no fan of Danica Patrick but I will say that the fact she was able to keep her temper and joke about oil coming out of the tailpipes is pretty commendable considering she was taken out of the race on lap 1 in an accident she had nothing to do with.

Keselowski was racing hard on the last lap when Busch came down in front of him. The way I see it, either the spin was Kyle’s fault or the oil’s fault. No way does a driver lift in a last-lap race for the win. However, if a Kyle Busch fan wants to argue the point, I’d tell them to go back and watch the finish of the 2010 Food City 250. These guys have a history of not playing nice together, and Brad didn’t do anything that Kyle wouldn’t have done if the roles were reversed.

If the race had been stopped on the last lap, the fans would have been robbed of the best finish of the season. To the drivers that complained about Nascar letting the race end under green, I suggest some cheese to go with that whine.

Carl D.
08/13/2012 08:56 AM

Of course I meant “water coming out of the tailpipes”. The #47 car even got oil all over my comments.

08/13/2012 10:03 AM

There was a big difference between Jimmy and Kyle not winning thier respective races. Jimmie screwed up and Kyle(along with half the field )hit oil.

Yes that last lap was exciting, but with the eagle eyes that nascar has(being able to see “debris” that no one else can find) how did they miss this oil that went all the way around the track? I have seen cautions for blown engines that didn’t drop any any oil, and full coarse caution for someone rubbing the wall.

I am probably in the minority, but I would like to see the drivers race back to the caution, as they did for most of nascars history. Yes I remember the race that caused the change from racing back to caution, and have probably seen as many close calls since they quite racing back as before.

While yesterdays finish was exciting, and I’m glad the race finished under green, what would have happened if there would have been a bad wreck caused because drivers didn’t know track had been oiled down.

Bobby H
08/13/2012 10:11 AM

I love road courses and that was a great race. I’m surprised you even watched Matt; but glad you did. I miss you Tim Richmond! And Davey and Alan.

08/13/2012 11:03 AM

If that’s what it takes to give me racing like that, I say they lay down a coat of oil on every other groove at Michigan this week and see if we can get that last lap action for 200 on Sunday.

just talking
08/13/2012 11:49 AM

Thanks for the Dylan reference. I am putting together a list of top 10 Dylan songs to give to my daughter. I am down to 18 now – including Memphis Blues.

Not a big fan of road courses either, but after so many boring boring races this years – one or two more road races plus three or four more short tracks and maybe we will have something.

I think many people are under rating the importance of Dodge leaving Nascar. They have turned the corner as a company, and are able to better compete with Ford, GM, etc., and still they feel it is not necessary to be in Nascar. One more sign of the demographic shift away from Nascar. Management better get smart quick.

08/13/2012 11:49 AM

I have to admit that I enjoyed the end of that race as well, even though my favorite, Gordon, was caught up in the oil spill.

I did think it was interesting that NASCAR could totally ignore the oil on the track – obviously it suited their interests for this race when they can throw a caution for a straw at other times.

I know some times they use a “local yellow” but maybe since the oil was all the way around the place, it wouldn’t have been possible.

I was surprised that Kubu maintained his composure. I wouldn’t have blamed KyBu for spouting off – although IMO I don’t think BradK did anything wrong.

Kevin in SoCal
08/13/2012 12:30 PM

Matt said: “Former standings leader Earnhardt dropped three spots to fourth and suddenly, the Happy Shiny people are hiding back in their caves. Buck up, ya’ll, he’s only 17 points out of the lead.

Congrats to Johnson for EARNING the points lead based on a strong run in the race.

Matt said: “Channel you’re inner-Bill Murray

That should be “your”

bill sprehe
08/13/2012 12:42 PM

“Oils well that ends well.”

08/13/2012 12:53 PM

NASCAR pulled a NASCAR again yesterday. They gave their viewers another reason to compare them to the WWE. When Stewart spun himself off the track, he did just that, spun off the track, on to pit road, out of harm’s way, and ended up pointing straight down pit road. He got the engine fired and got moving relatively quickly, but NASCAR threw a full course caution. There really wasn’t a need for a caution at all.

On any other track, when a car blows up, they throw a caution to check for oil.

But not yesterday. Full course oil slick; no caution. I can’t figure these guys out.

I guess I’m a bit of a hypocrite though, because I liked that last lap as much as the next guy. I’m just saying that NASCAR looked a little foolish with the yellows again yesterday.

And Matt, I too am both surprised and glad that you watched the race yesterday. Take that last wild lap away and it was still better than the average cookie cutter. IMO, anyway.

08/13/2012 12:54 PM

You’re correct in your correction. I had caught that and fixed it but must not have saved the correction. My apologies.

08/13/2012 01:18 PM

NASCAR Racing used to be more like the last lap because the cars had so much less grip. They could put racing back like that every week with the help of Goodyear and aero changes. That would mean fewer 1.5 mile tracks though.

Don Juan
08/13/2012 02:36 PM

Is it awful that I was also thinking that they should always make them race on oil? That 1 lap was better than any 1 lap we’ve ever had at Kansas or Fontana.

08/13/2012 02:39 PM

I loved this revue and loved the salute to Tim Richmond. In his time there was no one like him.

I am a fan of road courses and wish we had a couple more, as to me to be a complete racer you have to be accomplished on ovals, short tracks, rp tracks and road courses. There are only a hand full of racers out there today who can claim such expertise. I love road courses and love Watkins Glen particularly.

Everything everyone mentioned is all true and appropriate to this discussion. One addition as Johnson has now taken over the leadership of the points standing. Beware and be afraid. I never compare Kyle Busch with Jimmie Johnson, because Kyle Busch is a true racer with all the shortcomings that go with it. Would I rather have a sponsor’s dream, always correct champion or one who drives his guts out, is not happy when things happen that prevents his winning, and who drives other forms of racing every chance he gets? You bet I would take a Kyle Busch every time. Johnson drove in the top 10 the whole race. He didn’t make charges to the front, he took his time, content to drive the course in the top 10 and hope for mistakes from those in front. That’s what many races have become. In those races where Johnson was crazy fast, he dominated, but he never pushes the car beyond what he can do with it safely. He knows his limits and if Chad gives him a car he can cruise with, he will. But Johnson, though he was handed a win at Sonoma last year by Ambrose, is not what I consider a road course racer. He won’t rub fenders and gouge his way into a turn ahead of a competitor, wrecking or being wrecked in the process. His chief concern is to get a good finish and be in contention to win if those ahead wreck each other. Its the safe and some would say, “championship” way to do it, but is there any one of us who didn’t prefer Brad K and Kyle Busch banging on one another and then Ambrose getting into the mix. That was some exciting stuff to watch. So, while Johnson may be positioning himself for championship number 6, I would rather watch any number of lesser competitors, beat and bang their way to immortality or ignominy. For me there is no comparison. We can delight in a Watkin’s Glen race or ignore it and praise the racers who are the anointed ones when they win a boring race with no real competition aside from clean air.

Glad Matt you watched. We’ll convince you yet.

08/13/2012 03:18 PM

Heard the comment more than once in various post-race coverage that this year’s finish is the 1st one EVER at The Glen with a last lap pass. If that is true, its truly remarkable.

08/13/2012 03:37 PM

The 88 spun with 7 to go. That oil must have been out there a long time?lol. Worth pointing out also the 78 ran inside the top 10 for the last 15 laps.

neil puckett
08/13/2012 03:47 PM

Dodges contibution to the muscle car era? Mopar was the muscle car era! Their Wedge and Hemi motors were giant killers!The wing cars were produced to stay competitve,what are you on? They were the class of the field!Ford got on board with the 429 torino taladega and actully had a few more wins than chrysler if i’m not mistaken.(rarely) Just a reminder,all those B body Hemi cars were handicaped,factored,and finally banned by Nascar in order to protect GM whose big block 427 was a boat anchor.GM has been carried for years!

Don Mei
08/13/2012 03:53 PM

Tim Richmond was the best.

08/13/2012 04:19 PM

As I recall it Ford won the 68 and 69 drivers and manufacturers titles. The 68 Charger was hampered by a tunneled rear window and a rearset grille that was terrible aerodynamically. Thus was born the Charger 500 with a flush rear window and front grille. Ford responded with the Talladega Torino, which was never offered on the street with a Boss 429 engine. (The Boss 9s were holmogated in the about a beast!) Mopar responded with the 69 Charger and 70 Superbird, a car designed specifically to bring Petty back from Ford. Earlier in the era, the Ford 427 SOHC was outright banned, so both sides took thier lumps. And let’s not forget the infamous test where a Buick GS455 Stage One beat a Hemi GTX for title of fastest RPO muscle car ever!

08/13/2012 05:02 PM

cincylady, thank you so much for describing the way Johnson “drives” so perfectly. The chase allows this to happen and has royally, in my opinion, screwed up a lot of the good racing.

Mr Bill
08/13/2012 06:17 PM

Matt, are you going to follow the Dodge example and leave NASCAR? Say it ant so!!!!!

08/13/2012 06:42 PM

Just Talking,
I hope “How Does it Feel” also made the cut. The best post-breakup song ever!

Steve K
08/13/2012 08:25 PM

NASCAR wants a “wow” factor? Throw oil on the track more often. With the on track action trending towards boring nine out of ten races, NASCAR better not whiff on this new chassis next year. I am perfectly content watching IndyCar and F1 only. Who would have thought we would see the day when the open wheelers consistently put on a better show than the Cup cars.

08/14/2012 12:13 AM

Mr. Bill,
Helplessly hoping that’s not the case.

08/14/2012 01:58 PM

Road courses rule….always have!

08/15/2012 01:22 PM

I thought the clock had turned back to the seventies! I’m not a big fan of road races, but those last laps were as exciting as any I have seen in decades. Everyone in the NASCAR head-shed should be forced to watch them every single day, until they understand what racing passion is, and what we oldtimers have been longing for.