The Frontstretch: Matt McLaughlin's Thinkin' Out Loud : Easter Weekend by Matt McLaughlin -- Sunday April 8, 2007

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Matt McLaughlin's Thinkin' Out Loud : Easter Weekend

Matt McLaughlin · Sunday April 8, 2007

 

Editor’s Note : With no race this week, in lieu of the regular recap Matt has put together some thoughts on the ins, outs, whys, and hows concerning NASCAR that have come across the racing newswire. Hope you enjoy it!

  • This just seems odd to me. Some of the same people who blasted Juan Pablo Montoya for wrecking his teammate to win the Busch race in Mexico are now condemning Jeff Gordon for not wrecking Jimmie Johnson to win at Martinsville last week (and, to a lesser extent, chiding Jeff Burton for not wrecking Kyle Busch to win the Bristol event). I suppose some people just will use any excuse to criticize Gordon. Whatever his faults, and there are a few, Gordon is at least smart enough to know that. I guess some fans are just blinded by loyalty to their driver and their dislike of some other drivers. I seem to recall there was even more outrage last year when Brian Vickers wrecked his teammate Jimmie Johnson and (emphasis here) Dale Earnhardt, Jr. to win at Talladega.

Where do I stand on this issue? As I see it, stock car racing is a physical sport. Always has been…always should be. On the last lap, the fact somebody is your teammate doesn't matter. As I see it, moving them out of the way, even knocking them out of the way, is fair game as long as you give the other driver room to save his car. Wrecking another driver to win is low class, though; even the late Dale Earnhardt got booed at Bristol in 1998 for wrecking Terry Labonte to take the checkered flag.

  • This foam in the door story really has me burned up, terrible pun strictly intended. OK, so now NASCAR has admitted there's a problem, and it's not just teams not installing the stuff right. For now, they have told them to remove a rectangular section of the foam in the area closest to the exhaust system's radiant heat that they hope will serve as a short term fix. Listen, reducing the forces passed along to the driver is a laudable goal. A driver's side hit from another car or even the wall can badly injure even disable a driver. If you don't think so just ask Steve Park or Jerry Nadeau. But NASCAR still isn't addressing what happens to that foam in the event the car is set ablaze by a fuel or oil fire. (Remember Ryan Newman's little barbecue at Michigan.) The manufacturer of the foam admits that at around 570 degrees the foam burns. It doesn't smolder. It combusts. And the only two exits available to a driver are lined with that foam. I'd just like to see the issue addressed before we're getting daily updates from a burn ward on a driver's struggle to live. I remember the month Fireball Roberts hung on and the shock of hearing he had passed all too well; that should never happen again if we can prevent it.

So, what's the alternative to foam? I seem to remember back when energy absorbing bumpers were first proposed back in the early ‘70s (as well as I recall anything that occurred in the ’70s) that college engineering students were using bumpers backed by three or four rows of empty beer cans to develop bumpers that won contests for working. Of course, Detroit never went that route because the trash cans at corporate headquarters just couldn't rival college campuses for empty beer cans (even after I graduated). Now, I am not suggesting teams stuff a few thirty packs of empties between their doors and roll cages and give it a shot, but an extruded aluminum honeycomb lining of the proper thickness could probably absorb the desired amount of energy without worries it might burst into flame.

  • Carl Edwards probably picked up a lot of new fans in the wake of the Busch race in Nashville on Saturday. Edwards won the race in a Ford followed by Tora, Tora, Tora…er, sorry, Toyota, Toyota, Toyota. The Toyota Cup teams are still a joke, but Toyotas are dominating in the Truck Series and showing some serious muscle in Busch. By the end of the year I figure they'll be doing the same in Cup and that won't help ratings much.
  • So apparently GM is out of the bidding for Chrysler; the latest rumors have corporate hatchet man Kirk Kerkorian riding in to snag the company instead. For those not familiar with Kirk's corporate antics, he has a lot in common with a fellow with a similar name : Jack Kevorkian, the doctor who was jailed for helping ailing patients commit suicide. Jack performed the service for patients; kirk does it for companies…and profits. My guess is the inestimable Mr. Kerkorian will take a dim view of the budget for the NASCAR racing program.

So IRL team owner Jim Barnes thinks it would be a good idea to have combined IRL-Cup weekends. Sure why wouldn't NASCAR be interested in helping open wheel racing regain some stature after it's become an asterisk in the public consciousness. You know what really might help open wheel racing? How about a combined Champ Car and IRL event with all the cars racing at the same time?

  • I'd hardly call the rural burg that I call home a microcosm of the nation; I mean, we still have horse and buggies on the road though most belong to the Amish in these parts and the rest of us are all for this new-fangled indoor plumbing fad. But I offer the following as anecdotal evidence perhaps the NASCAR fad has peaked. We have one gas station in town (efforts to bring a second are causing considerable consternation from the historical society that wants to preserve the world's ugliest village). It's a Sunoco, and Sunoco of course is the official fuel supplier of NASCAR. Well one thing I've always noted about the official gas station of the world's ugliest village is they always had a lot of NASCAR driver related products in the store: be it coffee mugs, cigarette lighters, air fresheners, diecast or ballcaps. As I get my morning coffee and soft pretzels, I'll glance at the racks to see which drivers are rising and falling in popularity. (And I assume the empty spots are the Dale Earnhardt Junior merchandise. Around here, even the Amish love Dale). But lately, there's been less and less driver merchandise in the store, so I finally asked the manager why. Looking at me irritated, he told me "That crap isn't selling like it used to."

Take that comment for what it’s worth. Maybe NASCAR needs to open their diversity drive to include an Amish driver sponsored by a coin-operated bait vending machine conglomerate to grab back the world's ugliest village fans. I meanm once we get over fighting over how the village's name is spelled, of course. This town just hasn't been as much fun since Jim Croce and the rest of the hippies moved out. Yer humble scribe excluded. (Of course, most of the hippies had to move when the town decided to block off the crick to form a lake which, unfortunately, put the hippies' homesteads under water. And the historical society let out barely a peep when that project also put a building that once housed a textile mill that produced a great deal of the Union Army's uniforms, a stately mansion that was a Philadelphia Mafioso's summer home where Al Capone once laid his head, and a horse track where Man ‘O’ War trained.

But you want to talk some great crappie fishing?

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