The Frontstretch: Matt McLaughlin's Thinkin' Out Loud : Goody's Cool Orange 500 by Matt McLaughlin -- Sunday April 1, 2007

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Matt McLaughlin's Thinkin' Out Loud : Goody's Cool Orange 500

Matt McLaughlin · Sunday April 1, 2007


The Key Moment : It came down to a drag race off of turn four on the final lap, with Jimmie Johnson prevailing over teammate Jeff Gordon at the checkers.

In a Nutshell : Racing the way it ought to be and the way it used to be. Why would they even consider taking a date from this track?

Dramatic Moment : Those final seventeen laps after the last restart featured some intense and physical racing throughout the field.

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

OK, so that foam in the doors can't possibly catch on fire. Explain that to Kevin Harvick. NASCAR mandates the foam used, its placement and the design of the exhaust system, so this is their mess to clean up with the Car of Tomorrow. I guess in this aspect, the "Car of Yesterday" was safer.

I'm still working on new names for these ugly new race cars. How about… the Chevrolet Imposter, the Ford Confusion, the Dodge Alleger, and the Toyota Can't-be.

What was with the fans pelting Johnson's car with beverage cans after the race? It was a clean, hard-fought finish. This time, I just don't get it. Was it because Junior didn't win?

Welcome to Wonderland, Alice. NASCAR says the reason that Greg Biffle won't be fined, despite his car being found too low in post-race inspection at Bristol, is that there was no rule governing the height of the car in said inspection (except at the plate tracks). Well, that had to come as a nasty surprise to drivers and teams who have paid fines for that same infraction in the past. How confusing has it gotten? Last Thursday, NASCAR's John Darby said NASCAR would give teams a half-inch tolerance instead of a quarter-inch on the minimum height requirement of the rear of the car during post-race inspection at Car of Tomorrow [CoT] races. Then Friday, he said the rule that had been modified didn't exist. Cue the White Rabbit, please. In studying everything I could read on the issue, it seems NASCAR's contention is that the old rule concerned roof height, not fender height, and the No. 16 car was too low on the fender, not the roof. Which begs this question… if the rear fenders are connected to the roof by the C-pillars, how can one side be too low and the other OK? Folks, introducing the amazing morphing race car…

There was also a lot of discussion this week about the padding in the new CoT possibly releasing gases into the car when heated. But once again, the debate is cloaked in confusion. Driver Matt Kenseth says that the gases released when the foam is heated are “toxic;” others said the gases were merely “noxious.” A toxic gas will kill you…a noxious gas will make you sick. NASCAR, on the other hand, claims the gas released is carbon dioxide, which is neither noxious nor toxic. It is, in fact, contained in every can of soda or beer you might consume. NASCAR also said the No. 17 team did not install the foam properly, causing the problem. Well, Kenseth claims that the foam was installed properly with the so called "false floor," and about half the foam was consumed during the Bristol event. He invited NASCAR officials to inspect the car; not surprisingly, they failed to do so. NASCAR also claims that the teams bought the problem on themselves by using lightweight exhaust systems. Well, if this foam stuff gives off noxious or toxic gases when heated, what happens when a race car is actually on fire after a wreck?

While many drivers have backed down on their criticism of the CoT, one key constituency seems to have given the new car a thumbs down: the fans. Ratings for last week's race at Bristol were down a sobering 17%.

Speaking of fiery wrecks, the NASCAR safety crew’s response to Tim Cowen's fiery Truck Series practice wreck was completely unacceptable. The first person to come to Cowen's aid was an unknown person who leapt the wall wearing slacks and a button-down shirt; even after their delayed arrival, the safety crew could not seem to even get the window net down on the burning truck. Miraculously, Cowen was not badly injured, because to anyone watching the wreck, it seemed very unlikely he'd even survive.

What Jack hath wrought: The latest trend in race team ownership seems to be partnering with a stick and ball sport tycoon. After the Fenway-Roush partnership, it was revealed this week both Petty Enterprises and Robert Yates Racing are courting suitors from the ball sports side of the equation. Who'd have thunk, huh? Wasn't this new car supposed to make racing more economical for the teams? Hmm…anyone else recalling the MLB and NFL strikes right about now? As it stands, written in the book of the Boss: Because there's just different people coming down here now and they see things different ways, so soon everything we've known will just be swept away…

DW's lame comedy took another step towards the wretched with his fart jokes during the rain delay.

Juan Pablo Montoya and Ryan Newman don't seem to like each other much, do they?

The Hindenburg Award For Foul Fortune

The First Annual Michael Waltrip Unintended Retirement Tour Powered by Toyota hit a new milestone in futility, as the No. 55 team failed to qualify for their fifth consecutive race. But I am certain Waltrip will not fail to qualify next weekend….because there is no race next weekend. The way things look right now, about the only thing the Mouth is going to qualify for anytime soon is food stamps.

Perhaps Maytag ought to consider sponsoring the 7 car; Robby Gordon spent much of the Martinsville race in the spin cycle.

Kevin Harvick was solidly in the Top 5 when fuel pump drive problems ended his chances for a decent finish. Then, as he gamely cruised around for points, his car set itself on fire.

Denny Hamlin seemed to be in good shape to win until a botched pit stop dropped him back in the field.

Dale Jarrett wasn't running worth a lick anyway, but having a wheel fall off during a race has to be infuriating and humiliating. Did someone at MWR not get the memo Camrys take metric lugnuts?

J.J. Yeley had a fine run going for much of the race, but hit the wall late.

The "Seven Come Fore Eleven" Award For Fine Fortune

As bad as Jimmie Johnson's car was in practice (43rd slowest of 43 at one point) his plans probably involved surviving Martinsville, not winning the race.

On the same note, as bad at Matt Kenseth's car was for most of the race finishing in the Top 10 had to feel like larceny.

Considering it was his first race at Martinsville, Juan Pablo Montoya did a fantastic job. Compare his first Martinsville race with David Ragan's debacle here last October in his first stab at the track.

For fans watching the race, but more importantly the fans in the stands, the rain delay was brief and they got to see the entire event. (Though some of the Red Army might have wished that the raindrops had kept falling.)

Someone tell Mike Joy he's having too much fun. He got to cover both the Barrett-Jackson auction and Martinsville this weekend, and I bet he didn't even have to pay for the hot dogs.

Worth Noting

  • Jimmie Johnson won his third race of the six events run this year. Jeff Gordon finished second for the third time in those six races.
  • While it was only his second Top 10 of 2007, Denny Hamlin has led more than 100 laps in each of the last two races.
  • Kyle Busch scored his second consecutive Top 5 finish and his fourth Top 10 this year.
  • Dale Earnhardt, Jr. scored his first Top 5 of the season and his first such result since Atlanta last fall.
  • The Jeffs, Gordon and Burton, each have five Top 10 finishes in the season's six races. Gordon, Burton, and Johnson have four Top 5 finishes this season.
  • Tony Stewart has Top 10 finishes in four of the last five races.
  • Scott Riggs scored his first Top 10 finish since last year's season finale at Homestead.
  • Jamie McMurray has Top 10 finishes in three of the last four races.
  • Since winning at Fontana, Matt Kenseth hasn't finished worse than eleventh.
  • Impala SS drivers claimed the top seven finishing spots. There were also two Fords and one Dodge in the Top 10. Chevys have won the last four races and five of this year's six Cup events. Toyotas have won all four of this year's Truck Series races. Are we talking parity or parody here?
  • The top finishing rookie was David Ragan in 15th. Juan Pablo Montoya finished one spot behind him.
  • The top finisher in a Toyota was Dale Jarrett in 28th. In contrast, Chevys have won the last four races and five of this year's six Cup events.
  • Clint Bowyer has finished 11th or better in four of the last five races.
  • Ricky Rudd posted a 13th place finish, what was easily his best finish of 2007 and his best since Fort Worth in the Fall of 2005.
  • David Ragan posted his best finish since Daytona.
  • Kenny Schrader posted his best finish of 2007 and his best result since Kansas last year.

What's the Points?

The top four drivers in the points held serve. Jeff Gordon now leads second place Jeff Burton by 28 points, third place Jimmie Johnson by 60, and fourth place Matt Kenseth by 130.

Dale Earnhardt, Jr. had a great points day, advancing six spots to eleventh. Tony Stewart advanced five spots to eighth, and Denny Hamlin moved up three spots to sixth.

On the down side of things, Kevin Harvick tumbled five spots to tenth, while David Stremme fell two spots to 13th. Not unexpectedly, Mark Martin fell eight spots to 15th.

Notable drivers making up ground towards the back of the pacl include Jamie McMurray (up six spots to 12th), Juan Pablo Montoya (up three spots to 16th), Kurt Busch (up three spots to 17th), David Ragan (up three spots to 19th), and Ryan Newman (up three spots to 20th).

Drivers sliding into obscurity include Bobby Labonte (down eight spots to 22nd), Greg Biffle (down five spots to 21st) and Robby Gordon (down two spots to 22nd).

It seems the cream will always rise to the top. Seven of the top 10 drivers in the final 2006 points standings are in the Top 10 again after Martinsville. The new faces on the top rungs include Tony Stewart (who finished 11th last year), Carl Edwards (who finished 12th last year), and Clint Bowyer.

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 five and half cans of Colorado's finest. It might have been a six if those damn ugly cars weren't so distracting.

Next Up : The season takes a rare off weekend to celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, our Savior. Racing resumes in Dallas/Fort Worth, the southernmost borough of New York City, in two week's time.

The Frontstretch Newsletter, back in 2014 gives you more of the daily news, commentary, and racing features from your favorite writers you know and love. Don’t waste another minute – click here to sign up now. We’re here to make sure you stay informed … so make sure you jump on for the ride!

Today on the Frontstretch:
Championship Caliber? What Does That Even Mean?
Mirror Driving: Winning Vs. Points, Needing a Boost, and The Lady’s Last Dance?
Nuts for Nationwide: The Curious Case of Elliott Sadler
Happiness Is…Arrogance, Less, Next, and the Outdoors
Frontstretch Foto Funnies: It’s Not Gonna Fit…


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

04/02/2007 01:43 AM

Well Matt, I notice that you failed to point out all the empty seats at the race today – and I mean well before the rain started. See? California races aren’t the only ones that don’t sell out. Even the beloved short tracks of the Southeast are missing attendees. I’ll bet you’re going to blame the lack of a sellout on the COT, aren’t you? Ah well, some things don’t change.

04/02/2007 06:30 AM

I didn’t watch the race yesterday because of the COT, although Martinsville is a real racetrack with real racing. After your comments about what DW did, I’m glad I didn’t watch. I think Mikey’s laughing at Toyota all the way to the bank…at the moment. However, reality may set in soon and he and Buffy may have to really rent to own at Aaron’s when they furnish the new doublewide.

04/02/2007 07:21 AM

Count me as one of the many fans disinterested since the introduction of the COT I think I watched 20 laps total. It looks like it was made by Fisher Price Toys. I guess one of it’s major safety features is that drivers will be less prone to injury during a wreck since relaxed, unconscious people don’t tense up before impact while passed out from noxious fumes in the cockpit. I bet that smoke coming from the 29 did not taste good to the firemen.

Steve Cloyd
04/02/2007 07:44 AM

I suppose what bothers me most about the new car is that rear spoiler. It’s just a little too fast and too furious for me. If they just took it off and had no spoiler, I’d be happy.

As for empty seats, I’m betting a lot of southern fans are losing interest as things change in an effort to lure new fans, which they aren’t doing well either at the moment.

04/02/2007 10:15 AM

NASCAR is using the points paying races to do R & D that they should have done at other times and it is costing teams. Are they going to go back and give points back to Tony Stewart, Kevin Harvick and the others that had problems due to the car.

The only thing these teams did wrong was to build their cars strictly to the specifications set forth by NASCAR. If NASCAR does not get this COT straight, then it may cost many teams the chance for a championship.

04/03/2007 10:47 AM

Matt, you say it so well. It will be interesting to see what happens when they start racing the CoT at one of the cookie cutter downforce tracks. Let the whining begin! Here is an interesting viewpoint on the subject at hand: