The Frontstretch: Matt McLaughlin's Thinkin' Out Loud : Atlanta Race Recap by Matt McLaughlin -- Sunday March 18, 2007

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Matt McLaughlin's Thinkin' Out Loud : Atlanta Race Recap

Matt McLaughlin · Sunday March 18, 2007

 

The Key Moment: With three laps to go, Jimmie Johnson slammed the door on Tony Stewart to complete a pass for the lead. That caused Stewart to drift up to the wall, and it was all she wrote after that.

In a Nutshell: Sometimes, the race does go to the swift. The battle up front between Johnson, Stewart and Kenseth showcased a trio of impressive performances from three likely title contenders.

Dramatic Moment: It was clear Johnson had the faster car on the final restart, but equally clear Stewart wasn't of the mind to be passed. Unfortunately for Stewart, he couldn’t hold on.

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

Wow, a race that starts early on a Sunday afternoon and ends before dinnertime…this is the sort of concept that might just catch on.

Have some of the Chevy teams found an aerodynamic advantage by thinning out their hoods or moving the bracketry to allow the hood to collapse down a bit? Their cars are odd looking, to say the least. Whatever’s going on, you can’t deny this simple fact : those Chevys are fast.

So, AT&T is going to sue NASCAR for the right to put their decals on the No. 31 car? (In case you haven’t heard, Cingular is the new AT&T.) Ever heard the old expression “You can't fight City Hall?” Well, compared to taking on NASCAR, fighting City Hall is a Smurf's picnic.

What was the deal with NASCAR's long delay in throwing the caution on the first lap of Friday's Truck race? That bumper support on the track looked like a spear waiting to impale someone. Given the organization's willingness to toss the yellow hanky for an errant pop rivet on the apron, the decision to hold off on this one just seemed rather odd.

Wasn't it unusual FOX had to air the audio segment claiming Johnson wouldn't make the end of the race on gas twice before NASCAR threw an unnecessary caution for debris? You’d think there'd be better coordination on that one; those two booths lie adjacent to one another.

Last week, Bruton Smith gave the Fontana track GM a hard time about empty seats. Well, Bruton, maybe you need to talk to your GM at Atlanta. How a track that features racing this good doesn't sell out is simply beyond me. Are there concerns about the weather? Postrace traffic? Post Saint Pattie's Day hangovers? Or are people staying home to watch college basketball? Inquiring minds want to know.

With all the hullabaloo about that NASCAR official stopping Jimmie Johnson's runaway tire last week, why doesn't NASCAR just simplify things and issue penalties for any piece of equipment, including tires, leaving the pit stall a driver is assigned to?

So, Michael Waltrip now has a radio show. That's in addition to his TV gigs and all the commercials he films. Far be it from me to suggest how he runs his life; but with the way things are going with a little team called MWR right now, maybe he needs to quit these other gigs and concentrate on his day job. After all, he might need those broadcast gigs as a fallback position, and as he's learned from his brother, the field of race broadcasting talent doesn’t come with the same level of compensation.

There's NASCAR comics now? Why didn't I get the memo? Frankly, it seems a little redundant given the current state of the sport.

The Hindenburg Award For Foul Fortune

After losing Saturday's Busch race in the pits, Kyle Busch had to be fuming when he started the race with loose lug nuts and had to pit while running inside the Top 5. His team further screwed up his efforts by dropping the car off the jack on a later stop.

Greg Biffle really screwed up three other drivers’ days with a mental lapse, turning Brian Vickers’ second start with Toyota into a less-than-impressive performance. Kasey Kahne needed a good run to try to get inside the Top 35 in points, but didn't get one after ending up an innocent victim. And after his California wreck, David Reutimann really didn't need another hard impact, either.

Is there anything uglier than a former champion perhaps past his prime out there running at the back of the pack? This Toyota experiment may be financially lucrative for Dale Jarrett, but it isn't doing his image much good.

Polesitter Ryan Newman had to drop to the rear of the field for an unapproved engine change. During the race, he got nailed for speeding on pit road and finished a disappointing 23rd.

The "Seven Come Fore Eleven" Award For Fine Fortune

With Top 10 finishes in both of the weekend's races, Juan Pablo Montoya put on a good show.

When the crush panel became detached on the right front of his car, Jeff Gordon lost a lap in the pits during lengthy repairs, but he rallied back for a respectable 12th place finish.

Life in the pits wasn’t good for either Busch brother this weekend, but Kurt Busch rallied back from his pit road speeding penalty to finish 11th.

With his third Top 10 finish of the Cup season to go along with a second consecutive Busch win, you could say Jeff Burton had a pretty good weekend in Atlanta.

Worth Noting

  • The Top 10 finishers drove six Chevys, two Fords, and two Dodges; the top finishing Toyota kamikaze was Dave Blaney in 27th. The Top 10 drivers in points now pilot eight Chevys (including the Top 4 points positions) to go along with two Fords. David Stremme (eleventh) is the best Dodge points-man, while Dale Jarrett (33rd) is the top Toyota pilot.
  • Juan Montoya was the top rookie, coming home fifth; no other rookie even finished on the lead lap. The finish was JPM's first career Cup Top 10.
  • With Sunday’s win, Jimmie Johnson scored his third consecutive Top 3 finish. It was the first time a driver won two consecutive races since Tony Stewart did it at Texas and Atlanta late last Fall. Johnson will go for three next week at Bristol, but it’ll be a tough assignment : the last time a driver won three straight races was in 1998. That year, Jeff Gordon actually won four in a row : Pocono, Indy, Watkins Glen, and Michigan as part of a stretch that saw him win ten of seventeen races to close out the season.
  • Tony Stewart scored his first Top 5 of the season.
  • Mark Martin had his worst finish of the season, tenth, but is now the only driver with Top 10 results in all of this season's four races. Jeff Gordon, Jeff Burton, Jimmie Johnson, Matt Kenseth and Tony Stewart have three Top 10s each.
  • Matt Kenseth has finished in the Top 4 in the last three races.
  • Clint Bowyer scored his second Top 10 in three races.
  • Carl Edwards earned his second consecutive Top 10.
  • Martin Truex scored his first Top 10 of the season.
  • Reed Sorenson earned his first Top 10 of 2007, his first such result since Michigan last August.
  • Dating back to Martinsville last fall, Jeff Gordon has Top 10 finishes in seven of the last nine points races.
  • Kevin Harvick has finished outside the Top 20 the last two weekends.

What's the Points?

The Top 5 in the points held serve. Mark Martin remains on top for what should be the final time this year; he still plans on skipping Bristol next weekend. Jeff Gordon is eight points behind Martin in second, while third place Jeff Burton is just three points behind the No. 24. Despite winning two of this season's four races, Jimmie Johnson stays fourth, still 28 points out of the lead. So much for the impact of that big bonus for winning races. Matt Kenseth in fifth is 62 points behind the top spot.

Today's big gainers in the points were Tony Stewart (up seven spots to sixth), Clint Bowyer (up nine spots to ninth), Carl Edwards (up seven spots to tenth) and Juan Pablo Montoya (up seven spots to fifteenth).

Drivers taking a hard hit in the points at Atlanta include Kyle Busch (down seven spots to fourteenth), David Gilliland (down nine spots to 21st), and Elliott Sadler (down three spots to thirteenth).

After next week's race, the Top 35 in this year's points will be guaranteed a starting spot. Most notable among those still on the outside looking in is Kasey Kahne, in tough shape heading to a track where he’s never finished better than 10th. Other drivers below that crucial cutoff point include D.E.I.'s Paul Menard, Ray Evernham’s Scott Riggs, and Toyota's Brian Vickers, Dave Blaney, and David Reutimann. For everyone else it’s still way too early to start worrying about points. For these guys, it is essential.

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 four icy cold bottles of Corona served up by Heather Locklear's second cousin. It wasn't a classic Atlanta race, but you have to love a track with multiple grooves.

Next Up: The Cup Series is off to Bristol for the much-anticipated debut of the sport’s new body style; the Car of Tomorrow is now officially the Car of Next Weekend.

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©2000 - 2008 Matt McLaughlin and Frontstetch.com. Thanks for visiting the Frontstretch!

Scott
03/19/2007 07:49 AM
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Why Nascar will not move the Atlanta races to dates where you do not freeze is beyond me! We have a track with lights so you would think one of the races could be moved to a date where it would be warm enough to race at night. I nearly froze at the truck race and I am just sick of going for the weekend when we know the weather is going to be bad.

chris
03/19/2007 08:31 AM
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No mention of Dale Jr. in this article. Must be a NASCAR first.

DJ
03/19/2007 06:43 PM
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Speaking of Atlanta, did anyone happen to read the article at NASCAR.COM by Tom McCarthy? No controversies? Is this guy a crack whore?

The front group of drivers were driving like fools at a race with lots of green flag laps burning up fuel while many drivers conserved their fuel because they like most people outside of the World Racing Entertainment inside thought this race was going to be legit and go green all the way. Man the whole race was Horses**t because of this ending. What would happen if they actually ran a race as it unfolded.

MATT
03/19/2007 09:26 PM
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You want JUNE-yer, we got JUNE-yer. Earnhardt was mightily pissed at his crew for screwing up a top 5 car on the final pit stop. But in this particular instance I don’t think he’ll ask Zero and Blind Terry to swap his crew with Michael Waltrip’s.

Bonus points to ya’ll if you understand the arcane east coast reference to Zero and Blind Terry.

MilerRace
03/21/2007 09:33 PM
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I didn’t at first, MATT, but with a little research, I do now. Thanks.