The Frontstretch: Matt McLaughlin's Thinkin' Out Loud: Phoenix-1 Race Recap by Matt McLaughlin -- Monday March 4, 2013

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

Matt McLaughlin · Monday March 4, 2013


The Key Moment – Carl Edwards seemed to be cruising to an easy win when Ken Schrader wrecked with three laps to go, drawing the caution flag. On the green-white-checkered restart, Brad Keselowski in third gave Edwards a nice shove into the lead and he cruised on to win after all while Keselowski, Jimmie Johnson and Denny Hamlin waged a spirited battle for second in his mirror.

In a Nutshell – The new logo for the Gen-6 car apparently ought to be “No Passing Zone.”

A small step for mankind… but a very big step for Carl Edwards Sunday, over the moon on getting to Victory Lane in Cup for the first time since Las Vegas in March, 2011.

Dramatic Moment – During that final lap Hamlin, Johnson and Keselowski battled for second, side by side. It seemed the first time all day any driver actually seemed to care about advancing his position.

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

Truthfully, most folks will be talking about some upcoming NCAA basketball tournament, which teams should be part of the contest and even devising imaginary ladders. What almost nobody will be talking about is stock car racing. After the glamour and drama of Daytona, there’s been a dearth of stories about the Cup Series, this week that involve the actual racing itself. I mean, come on… when the big story is Junior is on a diet, it’s back to reality. (Prune juice. Really?)

Of course, the residual big story that continues to garner headlines was the continuing recovery of the victims injured in the grandstands on the last lap of the N.W. race. Earlier this week, Frontstretch ran a column by my esteemed colleague Jeff Meyer blasting some of those injured fans for deciding to sue NASCAR and the track. I respectfully disagree. Saturday wasn’t an unforeseeable accident. Many writers, myself included, have been predicting it for over a decade. No, the carnage wasn’t as bad as it could have been but it was still life-altering for those injured in the tragedy. They’re going to have medical bills. They will miss time for work. Their friends and family had to pay for extended lodging to be with the injured. There are out-of-pocket expenses coming at a time of reduced income. I feel NASCAR should bear those costs, if not for legal reasons then for compassionate ones. One single mother had her leg broken and Achilles tendon torn. She then had to endure a 13-hour ride home in agony seated in the backseat of a pickup truck. (Because of the swelling, they hadn’t even been able to put a cast on the shattered leg.) C’mon. How many aircraft does NASCAR or the ISC have at their disposal? They couldn’t have flown her to an airstrip near her home?

At Daytona, the drivers said they couldn’t pass because the spoilers were too short. This weekend at Phoenix, the same drivers said they couldn’t pass because the spoilers were too tall. It behooves NASCAR to quickly figure out at what spoiler height is their “Goldilocks moment” as in “just right.”

The Toyotas are clearly very fast this season, but their power trains are proving to be fragile as well (see: Martin Truex, Jr.‘s broken rear gear, plus engine changes pre-race for Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch). Expect the midnight oil to be turning at TRD this week.

On a brighter note, it’s nice to know it’s 80 degrees and sunny somewhere in the world. Those of you who live in the northeast are probably as tired of rain, gray skies, cold temperatures and biting chilly winds as I am.

Another Nationwide race and another win for a Cup driver. (In this case, Kyle Busch putting on an absolute driving clinic. Busch got caught speeding on pit road and dropped to 23rd on the restart. 45 laps later, he was back in the lead.) The last time a full-time N.W. driver won a race in his own series was Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. at Kansas last year. Guess what he’s doing with his Sunday afternoons now…

Jimmie Johnson laughed off claims that that he’d purposely destroyed the front end of his car doing doughnuts to celebrate his Daytona 500 victory. Oddly enough, the No. 48 car struggled mightily to make it through pre-qualifying tech inspection this weekend, requiring three trips through the barn before it was labeled kosher. When that happens, so soon after that it just adds to the image of the this team as being cheaters. Then again, if you’re not trying to push the envelope, especially with a brand new car you’re probably not doing your job…

But wait… there’s more… rumors are circulating that NASCAR’s new high-tech laser based inspection system for the cars’ bodies might be at fault with some of the teams struggling to pass pre-race tech. It is said that the normal jostling around of moving the equipment from track to track is effecting the system’s accuracy. If that’s the case, it behooves NASCAR to have three cars, one from each manufacturer competing built to comply completely with the rules being enforced. Use those three prototypes to ensure the accuracy of the measuring devices weekly.

The team calls Landon Cassill’s ghastly paint scheme “camouflage wildfire.” Well, that was my second guess. My first one was it looked like someone had gorged themselves on pasta and Mad Dog 20/20 while dropping acid, causing him to puke.

Sharp-eyed (no pun intended) readers who commented on last week’s column pointed out something I saw but deleted from that column which had already swollen to epic length. After Tony Stewart’s Holden was wrecked, at Daytona he joined his team in trying to make repairs to get it back out on the track. But while using a die-grinder, Stewart overlooked basic air tool safety by not donning eye protection. My guess is good vision is essential to race car drivers and that a bit of red hot metal piercing your eye isn’t going to help vision any. Besides, it smarts something awful…

It’s a brave new world amongst the decimated ranks of the NASCAR media. This year, NASCAR is determined that there will be a more positive tone to coverage of the sport. As such, they are trying to spew out positive storylines, one after another which some elements of the press are regurgitating undiluted. Take, for instance the breathless headlines that last week’s TV ratings for the Daytona 500 were up roughly 30 percent over last year. Hmmm. What do I recall about the 2012 Daytona 500? Well, for the first time in the event’s history Sunday’s running of the race was rained out. Attempts to run the event Monday afternoon were also hampered by weather issues, so the race finally ran on Monday evening against primetime programming. During the course of the event, fans still awake had to endure the delay caused by the jet dryer explosion, one that led the race to conclude in the wee hours of Tuesday morning. And ratings were up over that? No crap. The highest-rated Daytona 500 ever remains the 1979 running of the race, the first broadcast flag-to-flag on network TV. With much of the nation socked in by a blizzard and only three channels to choose from, that 500 earned a rating of 10.5 — higher than Sunday’s 9.9.

As long as we have Darrell Waltrip and Larry McReynolds in the booth, fans will continue to be reminded that there’s no such thing as a bad Goodyear tire — just bad teams that do bad things to their tires.

The Hindenburg Award For Foul Fortune

The afterglow of Daytona faded as quickly as fog on the lawn in the spring at sunrise for Danica Patrick. She was never up to speed in any of the practice sessions at Phoenix and qualified 40th. During the race, she struggled to run in the 20s before popping a tire, clobbering the outside wall, then getting hit so hard by David Ragan it sheered off most of the left side sheet metal on the No. 10 car. As I’ve said, the Daytona 500 is the chrome and neon trim of the sport. Starting Sunday, we’re seeing the nuts and bolts and it appears the No. 10 team is in need of some Loctite.

Ryan Newman lost a right front tire and slammed the wall Sunday – twice. After the second incident Newman, who wound up 40th ran from the car as if afraid someone would tell him they could fix it so he could return to the race.

Kyle Busch’s Sunday didn’t start well with an engine change, sending him to the rear of the field. He then spun out trying to work his way forward and struggled just to get back on the lead lap (he wound up 23rd).

Finishing fifth isn’t awful. In fact, there are have been months-long periods during his career Dale Earnhardt, Jr. probably would have soul-kissed a mule for a top-5 result. But Sunday, it appeared the driver of the No. 88 car had a shot at a win until he spun the rear tires starting on the outside on a restart and he faded backwards.

Mark Martin won the pole, then led two practices this weekend at age 54. He dominated the early stages of the race, looking like a threat to become NASCAR’s oldest winner but fell victim to a wheel left loose during a pit stop.

Clint Bowyer’s day also went wrong in the pits. Bowyer thought his team was going to change two tires when, in fact they planned to replace all four. To add a little icing to the cake, Bowyer then found himself blocked in his pit stall by the car ahead of him (Travis Kvapil).

The “Seven Come Fore Eleven” Award For Fine Fortune

The only thing that went wrong for Carl Edwards all of Sunday was a stuck landing on his backflip. The Russian judge gave him a 4.

Jimmie Johnson’s season is off to a positive start with a first and second-place finish to date.

Denny Hamlin had to start from the rear of the field after his team had to replace yet another blown engine in his Toyota. He managed to charge forward well enough in the final two laps he was able to wrest third from Brad Keselowski.

How close did Keselowski’s team come in judging their fuel mileage? He ran out of gas while crossing the finish line in fourth.

AJ Allmendinger’s return to grace continues apace with a solid eleventh-place finish.

Worth Noting

  • Edwards won a Cup race for the first time since Las Vegas, the third race of the 2011 season. He also led laps for the first time since Bristol last August.
  • Earnhardt, Johnson and Keselowski have top-5 finishes in both this season’s points-paying events. No other drivers have even two top 10s.
  • The top-10 finishers at Phoenix drove five Chevys, three Toyotas and two Fords. Like General Francisco Franco, the Dodge Cup program continues to struggle valiantly to remain dead.
  • Johnson has now won three of the last six Cup races.
  • In the last thirteen Cup races, Keselowski has missed the top 10 just twice.
  • Jeff Burton (10th) earned his first top-10 finish since Talladega last fall.
  • While it feels like a the fall race at Phoenix was a long time ago, there have only been three points-paying Cup races run since then. (Including Sunday’s race.) Well, the only driver with a top-5 finish today and in last year’s penultimate event is Denny Hamlin. The only other driver with a top 10 in both races is Brad Keselowski.

What’s the Points?

Johnson leads the standings, eight markers ahead of Earnhardt and Keselowski who are tied for second. Bowyer and Hamlin are tied for fourth, 18 points behind Johnson. If the Chase were to start right now, NASCAR would save us months of watching frustratingly boring races.

If you’ve already gotten your panties in a wad over the points, I have to ask if you have even the barest semblance of a life. When the last time you talked to mom, walked the dog (or had the dog take mom for a walk), pointed out the constellations to children, hugged an endangered species, or went out on a date with a partner that wasn’t inflatable? Life… it’s not just a breakfast cereal anymore.

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 it two cans of lukewarm generic stuff. At least this week, all the fans left on their feet.

Next Up – The Cup series is leaving for Las Vegas. Yawn.

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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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Bad Wolf
03/04/2013 03:32 AM

“As long as we have Darrell Waltrip and Larry McReynolds in the booth, fans will continue to be reminded that there’s no such thing as a bad Goodyear tire — just bad teams that do bad things to their tires.”

I think they were “Twixed” after Danica blew the right front. What to do, what to do. Danica can do no wrong and they can’t blame her driving or car set up for melting the bead, but the Goodyears are always top shelf. It took a few minutes after Danica hit the wall, but Larry did come back and say the Goodyears are just wonderful.

Matt, how can you not be excited for Las Vegas? Fox kept breathlessly telling the viewers all afternoon that Jimmy Johnson and Danica Patrick would be leading the charge to Vegas.

03/04/2013 06:29 AM

I didn’t think the race was all that bad. People expect too much at times.

Bill B
03/04/2013 07:23 AM

I thought it was an average race too. Not bad, not great.
I was happy that there were no phantom debris cautions. Of course, one could argue that NASCAR didn’t need them this week as there seemed to be several one car incidents sprinkled throughout the race that brought out legitimate cautions.
I will add that I’m not sold that the Gen-6 car is doing anything to produce better racing. At least it isn’t any worse.
…“went out on a date with a partner that wasn’t inflatable” that there is funny. Good one!

03/04/2013 08:36 AM

How funny was it that Jimmie Johnson was crying about Edwards “pushing” the rules? Hey pot, meet the kettle.

03/04/2013 08:47 AM

As Robin Miller said on Wind Tunnel last night, It was a typical NASCAR race, on the dull side until the last few laps then had an exciting finish-his words. I don’t see how Danica could be leading the NASCAR crowd anywhere yet but we’re gonna have the crap all year.

03/04/2013 08:55 AM

man, i was trying to figure out what the 33 car was. i think this paint scheme is the new ugliest paint scheme. glad that peter max car that dale sr drove in the all star race all those years ago has been replaced by a new ugliest car in nascar.

race, so/so. watched beginning, watched last 20 laps. knew caution would come out with 5 or so laps to go.

everyone made comments last week about how people jumped to conclusions about johnson tearing up the car that won at daytona and the conspiracy issues. well if his crew chief didn’t have reputation for rule infraction that he has, maybe the conspiracy theorists would not had shown themselves.

poor dw his latest love got wrecked. did jeff hammond that refer the #10 as the #7 car? guess he’s not on the dw program with danica love.

on to vegas. heard there was a taxi cab strike in that city on the news today.

i’m waiting for a new “don’t go below yellow line at any track” to be established after mr. hamlin’s move.

and chris myers…..54 IS NOT OLD. yes in nascar it might be rare. hope martin wins while fox has the broadcast, so myers can eat some crow!

Carl D.
03/04/2013 09:05 AM

DRV’d the race and watched it last night. Fast-forwarded through the boring parts. Watched the race in about 30 minutes.

The Truth
03/04/2013 09:19 AM

The Fenning Edwards pairing has gotten off to a good start. I would expect some growing pains with the Gen 6, its a new car that NA$CAR pawned off on the teams with little/no time to test. Phoenix is a notoriously tight track. wasn’t hard to envision a rather drab race. Whoever got out front stayed out front. The solution to avoiding obsolescence once stick and ball sports swing into hih gear: Build more short tracks and/or tracks that prmote multiple racing grooves. Or give Rockingham back its dates, and add Iowa as well.

03/04/2013 09:28 AM

Yes Carl D., Without DVR, FOX and NASCAR would get Less than the 45 minutes or so it gets from me each week.

McLaughlin, “At least this week, all the fans left on their feet. “

The above was beyond simply a poor choice of humor. The flippancy of that statement stands in unbelievable hypocrisy when compared to the earlier part of your article.

It is the equivalent of you leaving YOUR airplane in the hangar while letting the injured fan ride home.

03/04/2013 09:35 AM

Any idea how many total lead changes not related to pit stops?

03/04/2013 10:07 AM

I wish FOX would get with the program. There was passing throughout the race. The problem was, nobody saw any of it, except during a couple of “Crank It Up” segments where they used a fixed camera on the wall, which revealed several cars going door to door. Listening to the scanner, there were lots of teams passing cars in the field, but when the networks fixate on a few select cars, they’re cheating the fans out of seeing most of the race. It’s a shame that week after week, the product on the track is better than the product people see on TV.

03/04/2013 10:44 AM

I thought the race was great and I thought there was plenty of passing, it just wasn’t for the lead. And FOX did a terrible job of showing it. The the final laps were exciting, even before the caution, because BK was hunting down Johnson. The racing was much, much better than last week and deserves a nod for it.

I wonder how many haters will blame Danica for “not driving the car right and that’s why it blew a R/F tire” this week…

Jacklegged Nascar Expert
03/04/2013 10:48 AM

No real cars= no real fans. Gen 6 is as lame as the last!

03/04/2013 12:25 PM

Come on guys, the car has 1 (that’s O-N-E) leitimate race under its belt! Give the teams some time to work on it. If they could make that turd CoT work after several hundred races, then these cars should be great by mid-season.

They have a lot of the right things you’d like to see. Lighter, more left side weight, lower CoG, more drag. Those things should make this car much better after they have a chance to figure out the chassis dynamics to make it run.

03/04/2013 12:32 PM

Hooray for 2 columns in a row from Matt!

This was a pretty typical race at Phoenix not terribly exciting to watch. Have to laugh at all of the hype over the Gen6 car which seems to be producing about the same level of aero issues as the COT did. I’m not surprised at all, considering that what NASCAR promises vs what it delivers is always suspect any more.

I had the tv on mute so I didn’t have to listen to DW wax poetic over Danica over and over nor cry tears when she blew a tire and wasn’t able to continue and win the race. He really doesn’t do ANY driver a favor when he fixates on them. Let the fans decide who they want to cheer for, rather than try and stuff it down our throats by repeating their name incessantly.

Listening to both Johnson & Hamlin whine excessively over their foul fortunes when finishing 2nd & 3rd makes me feel ill.

Gee, I’m so excited about Las Vegas – did you hear Johnson & Patrick will be leading the charge! Be still my heart.

Of course Vegas will be another late starting race for me on the East Coast. I only watched as much of the borefest at Phoenix as I did because it was getting cold & dark and I’m fighting a cold.

The audio on my raceview worked although nothing else did. I sat online waiting to “chat” with the help desk for an hour and a half. Amazingly bad for a product that when Turner had it was reasonably functional, if not perfect.

03/04/2013 01:02 PM

JJ doing what he does best: Crying!! Love the tv commentators that said it was “sour grapes!! Kudos to them for having the guts to call a spade a spade!!

03/04/2013 02:27 PM

What a negative article..I Would almost think Matt didn’t like Nascar racing at all..The guy I heard complaining about “no passing” passed the whole field except for 2

03/04/2013 02:46 PM

As a three time champion, JJ thinks NASCAR should kiss his Butt.

03/04/2013 06:28 PM

One thing you can be sure of from Matt with these race critiques: You never go without hearing him take a shot at Danica. So when Danica finishes Top 10 in a non restrictor plate race this year (bank on it), what’s the excuse going to be? Fuel mileage, luck, the drivers felt bad for her? Couldn’t give her credit for a good run last week and back on the haterade this week.

And by the way, Matt, your attempt at humor is weak and borderline classless. Time to get some new material. The fans leaving on their feet comment was especially classy.

03/04/2013 09:15 PM

yeah, Matt’s back, won’t have to waste a minute watching and will get the real story. Sorry I missed your last weeks column, I stopped reading the site because you were gone. Let’s take up a collection to keep him. Welcome back.

Steve K
03/05/2013 03:26 AM

I recall two on track passes for the lead. It happened the same run, Biffle past Montoya who then returned the favor. It was the best sequence of racing shown until the final lap.

Would it kill FOX to show side by side racing further back in the pack? Watching a leader all by himself is not entertaining. There is a reason Sebastian Vettel doesn’t get on camera during F1 races after the start.

Cheers to Toyota. It is nice to see mechanical failure (Sorry Goodyear, you do not count) back in racing. The fact that the Toyotas are the fastest yet least reliable is evidence that they are trying. This is not always obvious in this sport.

Bill B
03/05/2013 11:03 AM

For the most part Matt says what a lot of us are thinking. As for Danica, if she get’s a top 10 and it is due to fuel mileage or luck then it should be noted. The only way I will call him out on it is if Danica runs in the top 10-15 all day and then finishes well and he still claims it’s luck. I would say the same about any driver that didn’t crack the top 15 all day (not due to pit cycles, not taking tires, etc.) and then gets a top ten due to the planets aligning in their favor.

BTW, you are entitled to voice your opinion butif you don’t like the message Matt is delivering there is an easy answer…. Don’r read it.

03/05/2013 11:51 AM

Bill, there are alot of things that I agree with that Matt says about the sport, but every week he has to say something negative about Danica. Its tiring and makes him look like a sexist hater. Last week in Daytona Danica had a nice run and deserved some credit but Matt couldn’t do it.

For someone who supposedly knows alot about racing, he appears to know very little about her racing background. If you have seen her drive in Indy in person, you know she can drive. She mixed it up plenty with the boys in that series going over 200mph in the process.

What I find hypocritical is he complains that Danica gets too much coverage from the media, but he talks about her every week in his column? Doesn’t that make him a contributor to the very problem?

I wait with breathless anticipation for what excuses Matt will come up with when she finishes top 10 in a non plate track. Until then I will continue to get a good chuckle at his backhanded juvenile comments about her each week.

The Mad Man
03/05/2013 05:23 PM

Good to see you back Matt. Just as curmudgeonly as ever.

NA$CAR has only 3 tricks left in it’s bag of tricks this season. Princess Sparkle Pony, Jr, and the COT II better known as the Gen 6. So be prepared to have those 3 items shoved down your throat even after Fox ends the season. So mute the TV, find MRN/PRN, and listen to real commentary while watching the weekend “highlight reel” that Fox presents and passes off as race coverage.

Chris T.
03/05/2013 10:34 PM

“Nationwide” is a business name and is comprised of one word, not two and your use of N.W. is in error. The abbreviation N.W. usually stands for North West.
Too bad you couldn’t come up with a reason that Kyle Busch was so dominant yet struggled to recover no better than 23rd place from what looked like an inconsequential tap of the wall.
Odd that you should comment that “Johnson has now won three of the last six Cup races.” which was also true at the last race. DUH!
I’d give the race 4 Beers and your article a minus one after your ignorant and insensitive comment about “fans leaving on their feet”.