The Frontstretch: Matt McLaughlin's Thinkin' Out Loud: 2007 Las Vegas Race Recap by Matt McLaughlin -- Monday March 12, 2007

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Matt McLaughlin's Thinkin' Out Loud: 2007 Las Vegas Race Recap

Matt McLaughlin · Monday March 12, 2007

 

Key Moment: Las Vegas is like a stew; all the ingredients are there, but it's going to take some seasoning to make it special.

In a Nutshell: Good track, great drivers, bad Goodyears, mediocre race.

Dramatic Moment

Burton, Gordon and Johnson staged an epic, if brief, shootout during the penultimate restart.

The last lap of Saturday's Busch race.

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

You know what they get when they never repave the track and just let the status quo remain? Daytona, the biggest embarrassment on the schedule.

Hey, we're apparently changing names again….starting next year, it will be the Sprint Cup. A quick note to the Sprint execs; changing the name of the Chase to the Sprint for the Title still isn't going to band-aid the basic and fatally flawed current method of determining a champion.

After this weekend, about the only person left uncertain the Vegas track deserves a second race date is Brian France. Brian France, whose sister and family runs the rival track ownership group the ISC and the California track…which has two dates. Color me surprised.

Garage gossip this weekend included grumblings about the Car of Tomorrow. Though it was only a few weeks ago that NASCAR PR types were telling us the COT would make the inspection process easier, it seems now that not one team could get a car through inspection at the Bristol test. As such, NASCAR may make the teams only meet four of eight body inspection points at the upcoming Bristol race. So I guess that makes the official car the sanctioning body envisions into The Car of a Few Months After Tomorrow?

While on the topic, I have a serious question for anyone in the know. How is the rear spoiler attached to the deck lid of the COT? It would seem in a sheet metal bending wreck, especially one where a car backs into the wall, the wing could become detached and potentially become a danger to the fans of tomorrow in the grandstands. Are there tether cables retaining the wing the way tethers keep the hood and wheels attached to the car in a wreck?

Lightweight is important on a race car, but I doubt many teams will follow Robby Gordon's lead of lightening the car by removing sponsorship decals. The plain black wrapper car made it harder for drivers to see the potential hazard that is Robby Gordon ahead of them. Ask Casey Mears.

Apparently, some fans didn't get it. Jeff Burton did not drive over to find Kyle Busch after the Busch race to apologize. Burton had done nothing wrong, and he knew it. So did Kyle. Instead, it was a very sportsmanlike gesture on Burton's part to go make sure Busch was OK and to congratulate him on a hard fought race. That wasn't too surprising because Burton is one of the classiest guys in the garage area, but the fact Busch, while terse, was still diplomatic in his postrace comments suggests maybe there may be some hope for this volatile young man after all.

Michael Waltrip says he can turn things around with his pathetic team because all the adversity he has encountered during his career has made him stronger. Well, I hope he can bench press a transit bus because boy, right now, this outfit is nowhere bound.

Despite all the nasty things he said about the Goodyears this week, Tony Stewart still seems like the perfect marketing match for the tire maker. Both Goodyears and Stewarts are prone to random, unexplained, and spectacular blowups. In the Old Days, it was Goodyear versus Firestone…today, Goodyear produces tires for the Flintstones.

You had to feel for Gillian Zucker, track GM of Fontana, who had the poor sense to enter track owner Bruton Smith's press conference at Vegas like a gladiator armed with a pop-gun, taking on the Supreme Gladiator of all time. Looking like an aged Laurie Partridge on acid, trying to comprehend her descent down Alice's rabbit hole, Ms. Zucker did not fare well.

On a brighter note, Smith did offer to triple Zucker's salary if she'd come work for him. If I were Zucker, I'd take that offer in a heartbeat. It's not often the Captain of a sinking ship gets rescued before the rest of the crew. Vegas had more fans in the stand for the Busch race than California managed for the Cup event.

I think maybe I'm beginning to understand Darrell Waltrip's major malfunction when it comes to race broadcasting. Has anyone else noticed that when discussing a broadcast, he calls it a "show" rather than a "race?”

Jeff Hammond’s revisionist history: NASCAR developed the HANS device. Sorry; the design was over a decade old, and NASCAR resisted requiring it. The open wheel series here and overseas adopted it years before NASCAR.

More signs of Ford's budgetary crises: Ad dollar cutbacks mean they had to dump Toby Keith and hire Mike Rowe of the Discovery Channel's "Dirty Jobs" to do truck commercials.

The Hindenburg Award For Foul Fortune

David Ragan had a great start to the season, but reality reared it's ugly head early in the Vegas race.

Kasey Kahne started from the pole Sunday, but wrecked out late for the second day in a row.

Sterling Marlin ran in the Top 10 for most of the race only to blow up with only 16 laps left.

Jeff Burton might have had the one car that could keep Johnson honest late in the race, but his efforts were hampered by a failing electrical system.

Kyle Busch overcame several close calls and questionable pit strategy to post a Top 10 finish.

Dale Earnhardt, Jr. threw away a potential Top 5 finish by pitting before pit road opened during a late caution.

The "Seven Come Fore Eleven" Award For Fine Fortune

Jimmie Johnson overcame a pit road penalty for a runaway tire and several substandard pit stops to take the win.

Jeff Gordon thought he had a tire going down late in the race under caution, but that wasn't the case, as he held on to take second place behind his teammate.

Denny Hamlin ran most of Vegas stuck in midpack. But just like David Pearson used to do, once it got down to the finish where the checks get written, Hamlin popped up front once again; he ended up third.

Worth Noting

  • Jimmie Johnson won for the first time since Martinsville last fall. It was his second consecutive top 5 finish.
  • Jeff Gordon finished second for the second straight week and has Top 10 finishes in all three of this season's points races.
  • Denny Hamlin had his best finish of 2007 and finished third for the third time in the last five points races.
  • Matt Kenseth backed up his California victory with another Top 5 finish.
  • Mark Martin has Top 5 finishes in each of this season's first three races.
  • Carl Edwards cracked the Top 20 for the first time this season, running 6th.
  • Tony Stewart has two straight Top 10 finishes.
  • Ryan Newman enjoyed his first Top 10 finish since Bristol last August.
  • Jamie McMurray scored his first Top 10 finish since Dover last fall.
  • Dale Earnhardt, Jr. finished a race for the first time in 2007.
  • Chevrolet claimed the top three finishing positions and six of the Top 10 spots. Ford drivers managed three Top 10s, and Ryan Newman was eighth in a Dodge. The top finishing Toyota (and one of just two to make the race) was Dale Jarrett in 33rd.
  • The top finishing rookie was Juan Pablo Montoya in 22nd.

What's the Points?

Mark Martin maintains the points lead while Jeff Gordon moves up a spot to second; he’s now six points behind Martin. (Hey, 6, that's my number….err it used to be.) Jeff Burton slides a spot to third, 42 points behind Martin. Jimmie Johnson had a monster day in the points moving up eleven spots to fourth after his win.

Other big movers included Denny Hamlin (up ten spots to eighth), Matt Kenseth (up seven spots to fifth), Elliott Sadler (up six spots to tenth) and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. who moved up twelve spots to 28th.

Among drivers getting torpedoed in the points Sunday were David Ragan (down fourteen positions to nineteenth) and Joe Nemechek (down thirteen spots to twentieth).

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 this one two cans with a chaser. This track is going to be a contender someday…just not on this Sunday.

Next Up The series heads back to its cradle in the Southeast for the spring Atlanta event; a race that has featured some outstanding finishes…but some lousy weather.

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Ed
03/12/2007 06:34 AM
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Hey Matt, you once questioned whether Toyota realized that they had bought a pig in a poke with Mikey. Ya’ think maybe they are frying up some bacon about now?

Chase
03/12/2007 06:41 AM
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With Robby running a plain, black wrapper & Mikey hitting the wall of full realization of his limited talents, maybe MWR ought to hire Robby to drive the 55. That would cure both their woes wouldn’t it? Er…um…uh…ahem…well… on second thought…

Carl D.
03/12/2007 07:22 AM
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I’m just wondering why the spotter didn’t let Junior know that pit road was closed during that last caution period. It seems to me that part of a spotter’s job would be to let a driver know when pit road is closed and when it is open. I don’t profess to know what Standard Operating Procedure is for spotters during a caution, but it seems that letting a driver know when pit road is open would be part of their responsibilies during a caution period.

M. B. Voelker
03/12/2007 07:56 AM
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Of course there are tethers on the COT wing.

They’ve been shown in detail in at least 2 COT feature pieces on Speed that I’ve seen so far.

Thomas Duwe
03/12/2007 08:49 AM
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Mike, first, thanks for your coverage over the years and second, yes, there are tethers on the CoT rear wings. Jo Ann and Mad Mikie were kind enough to post my UCAP from Bristol testing at
http://www.laidbackracing.com/Articles2007/BristolTest.html

Keep on keepin’ on showing NASCAR’s foibles!

Tom in Bristol

Moparfan
03/12/2007 10:03 AM
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Is there a one penalty limit for leaving with equipment out of the pit box, or is it a Jimmie Johnson exception? It made my heart warm to see the nascar official stop his front tire well out of the pit box as he left. Can’t let those rules interfere with the desired finish, can we?

sandi
03/12/2007 12:42 PM
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great article matt! you should have added ward burton to the hindenburg award. he FINALLY makes a race only to be taken out by gordon. pretty scary that robby is driving a “stealth” vehicle these days! DW’s major malfunction is that he opens his mouth!

Sonny
03/12/2007 02:05 PM
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I totally agree with Moparfan!

MATT
03/12/2007 03:50 PM
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Some points

Thanks for the info on the tethers. I missed that.

As far as Junior, as with any two way radio when one mike is keyed no one else can talk. Jr. was talking to his crew chief about two tires or four and thus neither the crew chief or spotter could let him know that the pits were closed.

As for the official and the 48’s runaway tire, I asked and this is what am I told. If the tire is headed right at the official he may intercept it. He is not allowed to go out of his way to retrieve or stop it. Yeah, that’s a dumb rule but I’ve beeen told it is in NASCAR’s often discussed but seldom seen rulebook.

Anderson Gump
03/12/2007 08:33 PM
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Lets see, Matt. This week you let us know you hate:
LVMS
Goodyear
Brian France
ISC
Darrell Waltrip
Michael Waltrip
Robby Gordon
Daytona
COT
Jeff Hammond
And Ford Commercials.

Tell me again why you watch NASCAR?

RAEckart
03/12/2007 09:12 PM
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Carl D,

Steve Hmiel was yelling at the team that pit road was closed, but they were talking over him on the radio and Junior heard it just as he passed the cone. But Steve did his job.

Alan
03/14/2007 02:58 PM
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Rumor on several message boards is that Robby Gordon had Monster Energy Drink lined up as a sponsor for Vegas, but Red Bull threw a hissy-fit so NASCAR didn’t approve Monster as a sponsor.

Robby and his crew were in full Monster logo’d uniforms, and the black car with green trim certainly fits with Monster branding.

Perhaps you could chase this down for us Matt? Oh, right, you don’t like Robby…