The Frontstretch: Matt McLaughlin's Thinkin' Out Loud: Bristol Race Recap by Matt McLaughlin -- Sunday March 25, 2007

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

Matt McLaughlin · Sunday March 25, 2007


The Key Moment: Jeff Burton got to Kyle Busch's rear bumper but declined to knock him out of the way on the final lap. The finish of the Vegas Busch Series race probably had something to do with that.

In a Nutshell: Good old track, good ol’ boys, and bad new cars.

Dramatic Moment: Anytime they restart a race at Bristol with two laps to go, the tension in the air is so thick you need a Sawzall to slice it.

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

The winner's take on the new Car of Tomorrow? “These things still suck.” Succinctly put, Kyle, but that comment will likely earn you a terse sitdown with the NASCAR brass this week.

Should Burton have laid a bumper to Busch? This is NASCAR racing at Bristol, after all…not croquet on the rear lawn of the royal family's summer estate.

The big story all week has been this misshapen gnome of a race car called the Car of Tomorrow. (Or CoT…unfortunate acronym, huh?) Frankly, I loathe the look of the thing, so it’s only natural to start the criticism by doing a styling analysis of the vehicle. Well, the car's greenhouse looks like it was pirated from an AMC Pacer, and the front end is pure nineteenth century steam locomotive cowcatcher. The slab sides conjure up nightmarish memories of a Buick Rendezvous, a Pontiac Aztek stripped of its birthday cake decoration. The rear end, well; to put it delicately, it looks like a bulldog bitch in heat raising her hindquarters in preparation of being mounted. And that rear wing? It looks like it was pirated off a slammed and primered Acura Integra outside the Los Angeles County Center Prison's Technical Institute. In thumbing through decades worth of Car and Driver back issues, the closest car I can find stylistically to the CoT is the first generation Infiniti M45, a sales dog that never hunted. Another friend compared it to a stretched limo version of a Renault Alliance involved in a runway collision with an Air Force A10 Warthog.

What the CoT doesn't look like is a Camry, a Fusion, a Five Hundred (er…Taurus), an Avenger, a Charger, an Impala, or a Monte Carlo. No, not even if you're on acid; it’s a completely different animal, and that's a good thing, too. If a production car this ugly were to be released, no amount of rebates and extended warranties could move the iron off the agency lots. As far as that old "Win on Sunday, sell on Monday…" philosophy goes, I guess it only applies to beer and home improvement centers now.

Here's one to debate among conspiracy theorists. NASCAR buys their way to dominance in the diecast stock car replica industry, and now they can save money by only producing one body for all four makes of cars. Of course, the looks of the thing ought to be the final nail in the coffin of the ailing toy car market.

Yes, NASCAR stock cars were last downsized back in 1981, at which point Buicks won all but nine of that year's races; Chevy scored just one victory that season, their worst performance in years. In 1982, Buicks won all but five of the thirty races on the schedule, at which point Ford was forced to release the new Thunderbird for 1983 to start winning races again. While not quite as cutting edge as the Taurus, the new Thunderbird was actually quite lovely by the standards of that era. Chevy responded with the Monte Carlo SS with its more aerodynamic nose, and an entire generation of Dixie shade tree mechanics had a new hot rod of choice. See, back in those days, there was at least some "stock" in stock car. You look at photos from that era, and even a casual fan can say "That one's a Buick, that one's a T-bird, and that one's a Chevy." Trust me. I was there back then.

Back to the present day, or should I say the future? This "Car of Tomorrow" name really has to go now that it’s here, untimely afterbirth that it is. Fans need to dream up a new name, so to get the ball rolling, here's some of my suggestions:

The NAScar.
The Pork Chop: Because you'd have to tie one to the roll cage to get a starving mongrel to lift his leg and salute it by pissing on the tire.
The LCD: The least common denominator.
The WIBEH: The Worst Idea Brian Ever Had.

While we're changing names, it's time for the National Association of Stock Car Auto Racing to confront the new reality with a name change to "The National Association of Standardized Car Auto Racing."

Hmmm. NASCAR introduces the Car of Tomorrow, and five Toyotas make the race for the first time. I guess we know what one manufacturer has benefited the most from the standardized body. While on this topic, the PR types keep saying the new car design is a lot safer for tall drivers like Michael Waltrip. Yeah, like he's ever going to qualify for a race again. How'd you like to be a fly on the wall the next time NAPA execs discuss their sponsorship of the No. 55 team. If I was the guy who suggested NAPA leave D.E.I., I'd stay away from any open windows. Oddly enough, there weren't many NAPA ads run during today's race.

I hear Tony Stewart compared the CoT to “a green Oldsmobile station wagon with wood sides.” I take that personally. I had a green Olds wagon with wood sides, a 1970 Vista Cruiser 455, and it was a pretty car that was a joy to drive. Just wish I still had it.

So if this is the Car Of Tomorrow, how come it still has pushrods and a carb, unlike anything that's rolled out of Detroit or Tokyo in about two decades? Oh, that’s right; the standardized NASCAR Engine of Tomorrow is still in development.

OK, I'm done now, I promise. Did I mention I don't care for the Car of Tomorrow?

I guess there was really no way NASCAR could fix things fairly once they messed up opening the pits during Saturday's Busch race. Once you've screwed the pooch, you can only pay to support the puppies.

It surely was good to see and hear Junior Johnson at the track again; but for the record, Johnson doesn't have any “Nextel Cup” wins at Bristol. In fact, he has never even entered a car in a Nextel Cup race. Johnson's entries ran in the Grand National and the Winston Cup series, as it was called back then. In fact, it was Johnson that arranged the long term marriage between Winston and NASCAR, back in the days when drivers had to be distracted by AM radio in their street cars, not those dang cell phones.

It's hard to overlook the preponderance of red garb in the grandstands at Bristol. Thunder Valley is still Earnhardt Country even if the T-shirts have changed from black to red.

Well now, there's a new career opportunity for retired NBA stars; Cup car catch can man.

OK, so Nextel Cup has two rookies named David Ragan and Regan Smith. Which one took over Mark Martin's Chevy and which one took over Mark Martin's Ford?

Last year, it snowed at Bristol during spring race weekend. This year, it was in the eighties. Note to Al Gore: A little global warming can be a nice thing.

Greg Biffle finished fifth, but found out this weekend that his primary sponsor wants to bail on the No. 16 team. Has he considered talking to NAPA? This might be a good week after the NAPA car stayed home while the Carquest car won the race.

The Hindenburg Award for Foul Fortune:

Tony Stewart dominated the first half of the race, only to have his chances at a win end with fuel pump drive problems.

Denny Hamlin appeared to have victory in hand when Jimmie Johnson blew a tire and NASCAR was slow to throw a caution. Unfortunately, that was when his car started “blowing up.”

Dale Jarrett was the first driver to turn a Car of Tomorrow into a Car Of Yesterday today. He had help.

It wasn't a great day for the three Ray Evernham drivers. Scott Riggs nailed the wall while running fourth. A pair of loose wheels cost Elliott Sadler a chance at a win, and Kasey Kahne cut down a tire and backed his car into the wall.

Shortly after clawing his way into the Top 10, a flat tire and contact with the wall dropped Jimmie Johnson to sixteenth.

Give Robby Gordon the "Cole Trickle" award because he hit dang near everything but the pace car. And if he'd been close enough, I bet he'd have hit that, too.

The "Seven Come Fore Eleven" Award For Fine Fortune:

As bad as Jeff Gordon's car was the first half of the race, I thought he'd throw up his hands in disgust and drive it to the garage area. The team kept working on the car and making it better, though, and Gordon finished third after having a legitimate shot at the win late.

Jeremy Mayfield and A.J. Allmendinger qualified for their first race of 2007. That led to logistical problems in the Bill Davis camp; Mayfield's transport driver had only packed one pair of underwear.

When you start 40th and finish fourth at Bristol like Kevin Harvick did, you know you had your work boots laced up tight all day.

Casey Mears finished tenth despite an incident early in the race.

After the start to the season Ward Burton and the No. 4 team have had, an 18th place finish may provide a morale boost.

Jeff Green finished sixth. I have no idea how. Seriously, Green tends to run pretty well here.

Carl Edwards had a good weekend, winning Saturday's Busch race and finishing 12th on Sunday.

Worth Noting:

The win was Chevrolet's 600th win in NASCAR's top division. That’s impressive, especially considering the fact Chevy sat out the period from 1963 to 1971.

The Top 10 finishers Sunday drove eight Chevys and two Fords. The cars change, but the results stay the same…Chevy teams have locked up a lot of talent at the wheel and in the pits. The top finishing Dodge was David Stremme in 13th, and the top finishing Toyota was Brian Vickers in 15th.

David Ragan was the top finishing rookie in 26th.

Jeff Burton leads all drivers with four Top 5 finishes in the season's first five races. He also has four Top 10 finishes, tying him with Mark Martin and Jeff Gordon.

Rick Hendrick has three drivers in the Top 10 in points; ditto for Richard Childress. Jack Roush has two drivers in the Top 10.

Kyle Busch scored his first win since Loudon last July and his first Top 5 finish of 2007.

Jeff Burton's second place finish was his best of the season.

Jeff Gordon has finished in the Top 3 in three of the last four races and hasn't finished worse than twelfth this season.

Kevin Harvick scored his first Top 10 since he won the Daytona 500. He hadn't finished better than seventeenth in the three races between the 500 and today's event.

Greg Biffle scored his first Top 10 finish of the season.

Jeff Green scored his best finish since Talladega in the Fall of 2002.

Dale Earnhardt, Jr. scored his first Top 10 of the season. No, seriously.

Clint Bowyer scored his third top 10 in the last four races.

Jamie McMurray scored his best finish since Watkins Glen last August.

Casey Mears scored his first Top 10 of the 2007 season and his first since Texas last fall.

What's the Points?

Mark Martin falls out of the points lead down to seventh; taking a weekend off will do that to a guy. Jeff Gordon takes over in his place and finds himself three points ahead of Jeff Burton, who takes over second spot. Jimmie Johnson and Matt Kenseth each move up a spot to third and fourth, while Kevin Harvick advanced two spots to fifth.

Kyle Busch had a great points day, advancing eight spots to sixth; winning a race will do that for you. Greg Biffle had an even better points day, advancing 11 spots to 16th. Dale Earnhardt moved up nine spots to 17th, while Jamie McMurray moved up six spots to 18th, but had to go home and eat organic food, so he still had a lousy day. What the heck does a guy on an organic diet have for breakfast? Are Pop Tarts organic?

Tony Stewart took a hard hit in the points, falling six spots to 12th. Juan "Is the Pablo optional?" Montoya fell four spots to 19th. Robby Gordon fell five spots to 21st, and Ryan Newman also fell five spots to 23rd.

Kasey Kahne can relax this week. He's guaranteed a spot in next week's race even if those three (didn't it used to be four) creepy chicks in the Durango run into him during qualifying. Meanwhile, all seven Toyota teams find themselves outside the Top 35 in points; Dale Jarrett needs to start considering how he is going to make races if he uses up his six previous champion Mulligans.

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 four icy cold cans of Colorado's finest. The first half of the race, all one could do was marvel at Stewart's prowess and cringe looking at the new cars, but things heated up nicely there at the end.

Next Up: The Car of Tomorrow heads for the Track From Yesterday…Martinsville.

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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
Going By the Numbers: A Week Without Racing Can Bring Relief But Kill Momentum


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

03/26/2007 07:08 AM

Way to go Matt!! NASCAR might as well bite the bullet and call them “(Your car manufacturer choice) powered” cars. They are NOT Fusions, Camrys or Impalas. This is the first Bristol race in a while that I did not watch in its entirety. The enthusiasm continues to wane. By the way, in the IRL race Sat. night Danica Patrick spun out entering pit road. Her car came to rest against pit wall, and no caution was thrown. NASCAR could surely learn something there. I guess the IRL doesn’t care who wins and whether they have gotten in enough commercials.

03/26/2007 07:55 AM

The Crap of Today reminds me of Clark Griswold’s station wagon from the original Vacation movie.

Bob Mc Intyre
03/26/2007 12:29 PM

matt, you are a true national asset. your comments and observations strip away all of the corporate na$car crap. keep on goin’.

03/26/2007 01:19 PM

For a Bristol race, this was pretty tame compared to past races. As to the name of the car, The Flying Brick, POS, Can of Tuna, Can of Tomotoes, Camry of Tomorrow, or Kit Car all seem to fit. I think Tony Stewart’s initial description of “butt ugly” definitely applies.

As to the new meaning of NASCAR, it should be “National Association for Spec Car Auto Racing” since that’s the direction they’re heading with the mandated gears, common body, common engine which is coming, and everything that you’d find in either IROC or a spec car racing series.

And it’s not a coincidence Toyota got in as many cars as they did. The Flying Brick or whatever name you want to use was purposely designed to get them into NASCAR. All the safety modifications could’ve been incorporated into the current “common template” style car.

03/27/2007 10:12 AM

great article, as usual, matt!! thanks for the ward burton mention!
:-) i like the WIBEH acronym for the COT. it’s pretty bad when the winner of a race disses his car. unfortunately, i doubt nascar will do one thing about fixing/changing those crates! we know that THEY know “best”.