The Frontstretch: Matt McLaughlin's Thinkin' Out Loud: Samsung 500 by Matt McLaughlin -- Sunday April 15, 2007

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Matt McLaughlin's Thinkin' Out Loud: Samsung 500

Matt McLaughlin · Sunday April 15, 2007


The Key Moment: Once again, Jeff Burton found himself in the midst of a final lap race for the win. He prevailed over Matt Kenseth after fifteen nail-biting laps battling door-to-door.

In a Nutshell: If you turned off the race after a boring first half, you missed a classic.

Dramatic Moment: Those final twenty laps were about all a fan could hope for. Burton found a way to win the race while several other drivers found a way to lose the event.

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

So we need the Car of Tomorrow to promote good racing, huh? Can't see it from my house. ‘Course, as hard as it's raining right now, I can't see the barn, either.

Dale Earnhardt, Jr. drove Kyle Busch's 5 car back onto the track after both the 8 and the 5 were forced to the garage by Busch's questionable judgment? Maybe things really are so bad at D.E.I. that Junior is auditioning for a ride next year? Carquest had to be thrilled. Seriously, it was a classy thing for Earnhardt to do.

So the driver of the AT&T…D’oh…Cingular… car is within eight points of leading the Nextel Cup point standings? Something tells me this court hearing on April 26th is going to be more interesting than next week's Phoenix race.

So Michael Waltrip says he fell asleep and wrecked his SUV somewhere around 2 A.M. last Saturday night. Fortunately, he's OK because looking at the pictures of what was left of that thing, it's hard to believe anyone walked away. But when a would be Good Samaritan shows up and says she's called 9-1-1, he walks away in his socks and wanders a mile home. Shouldn't he have been waving a caution for debris? Then, when the cops show up at his house, nobody answers the door. No wonder rumors are flying. I just Don't Understand It.

Love them or hate them, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jeff Gordon remain the two most recognizable faces in the sport. (With Stewart making a play to join them.) So why is it both times the 8 and the 24 swapped the lead, FOX was off on break?

Did Kyle Busch not get the memo that the drivers aren't supposed to race back to the caution any more? He might want to beat a hasty retreat if he sees a large group of folks in red walking towards him this week.

So TMS had to spend a bunch of money on some sort of hydraulic system to level out the dip in the corner. And somewhere former presidential candidate Ross Perot, who sold Bruton Smith a parcel of land that had been found to be too unstable to develop due to an erratic water table, is giggling himself bright red in the face. Whatever happened to Frances Ferko anyway?

Kevin Harvick says it's time for Kyle Busch to stop whining about the Car of Tomorrow. I think it's time for Harvick to stop whining about the Busch brothers and start analyzing why his own season is turning to crap. And didn't Harvick have some pointed things to say about the combustible car at Martinsville a couple weeks back?

Does that new Chevy R07 engine come with the 100,000 mile powertrain warranty? (Excluding the cable drive for the fuel pump of course.) In reading over the design specs of the new engine, it sure does seem to have an awful lot of technology similar to the Toyota Cup cars’ engine and not all that dissimilar from the "fresh piece of paper-it ain't no Hemi" Dodge engine. Welcome to the Engine of Tomorrow.

Does Kelly Earnhardt really think her brother won't be back at D.E.I. next year, or is she just upping the stakes upon her return to the bargaining table? I keep waiting for things to degenerate to Kelly and Teresa having a Dynasty style Linda Evans-Joan Collins type catfight in a fountain. Maybe Humpy Wheeler could arrange it as part of the pre-race festivities for the Winston….oh, der…whatever it's called.

I don't know why it struck me today, but it appears the marketing department at NASCAR is getting a little heavy handed again. It's subtle but notable in the Subway commercial featuring Tony Stewart and Jared (does he even have a last name?) Stewart is introduced as "racing champion Tony Stewart.” So what? He's not introduced as "NASCAR champion" or even "a Nextel Cup champion." If he were, doubtless the Daytona Beach folks would have wanted some tribute paid to them. It's about time the marketing honchos at NASCAR realize it's the drivers themselves that add marketing value, not the sanctioning body or the title sponsor.

ESPN took over the popular website and a few people decided the site was doomed and the days of the independent NASCAR websites were over. And yet, after a few weeks, not a damn thing has changed on the site and it's still as great as ever. Jay even continues to post articles posted by folks who go on message boards under assumed names to trash his decision without revealing the fact that those bellowing souls write for rival networks of ESPN. Poorly.

Note to Matt Yocum: The folks at Sunoco probably don't appreciate you referring to Kevin Harvick's 29 ride as "the Shell car." Remember how they wanted the Pennzoil stickers made bigger?

In an age where Don Imus got the boot for being politically incorrect one too many times, isn't it odd FOX apparently has no reservations about airing a program that features folks driving illegally at high speeds, banging into one another and in a lot of instances waving handguns around? No, I'm not talking about the Martinsville race. It's the new show Drive, which I am sure is going to induce some young folks to start their own "There's no rules – Just get to the finish first" street runs. Me, I prefer to stay retired from that game undefeated.

The Hindenburg Award For Foul Fortune

After a strong run in Saturday's Busch race, rookie David Ragan was optimistic heading into Sunday. That optimism evaporated in a first lap wreck on Sunday.

Dale Earnhardt, Jr. clearly had a race contending car until Busch came to shove.

Tony Stewart escaped with minor damage after Juan Montoya ran out of talent in a corner and into the 20 car. But that incident was enough to cause an eruption of Stewart's volcanic temper, and for the next several laps, he was his own worst enemy.

Jimmie Johnson looked like he had a genuine shot at scoring yet another win until an engine went flat, and he was unable to avoid the spinning 20 car.

Jeff Gordon looked to have a race win in hand until he made an unforced error and slapped the wall hard.

What didn't go wrong for Ryan Newman Sunday? He wrecked, a jack broke during a pit stop, and he suffered tire issues.

Kurt Busch pitted out of the lead only to have a caution flag fly on the next lap, trapping him at the tail end of the lead lap.

You think it's easy being Casey Mears? He watches all three of his Hendrick teammates up there battling for the win most weekends, but can never get his own efforts on track. This one was a done deal after a wreck just one lap into the race.

The "Seven Come Fore Eleven" Award For Fine Fortune

He's says it's heartbreaking to lose on the last lap, and I don't doubt it. But as bad as his car was early in the run it's still fairly remarkable Matt Kenseth managed to finish second.

A loose lugnut forced Denny Hamlin to make an unscheduled pit stop and dropped him almost two laps off the pace. Hamlin battled for almost 200 laps to get back on the lead lap, then sliced his way to a ninth place finish.

The contact with Tony Stewart could easily have ended Juan Montoya's day, but he recovered from the incident and posted a Top 10 finish.

Worth Noting

  • Sunday’s win was the first for Jeff Burton since Dover last fall. Prior to that, Burton's most recent victory was Phoenix in 2001. Burton has Top 6 finishes in six of this season's seven races. He has as many Top 10s and Top 5s as points leader Jeff Gordon, but unlike Gordon, Burton has won a race. Stupid points system.
  • Matt Kenseth has Top 10 finishes in five of this season's first seven points races.
  • Mark Martin has competed in five races this season and posted Top 10 results in all five.
  • Jamie McMurray posted his best finish of 2007 and his first Top 10 result since Watkins Glen last August.
  • Greg Biffle has Top 10 finishes in two of the last three Cup races.
  • Martin Truex, Jr. (seventh) posted his best finish of 2007.
  • Juan Montoya posted his second Top 10 result of the season. Among those not applauding the achievement is Tony Stewart.
  • David Stremme scored the first Top 10 result of his Cup career.
  • Tony Raines managed his best finish of the season and his career best since Charlotte last fall.
  • Brian Vickers scored his third Top 15 finish in the four races he's managed to qualify for this season.
  • Paul Menard had his best finish since Atlanta in the spring of last year.
  • Dale Earnhardt, Jr. endured his third DNF in this season's seven races.
  • Kyle Busch suffered his worst finish of the season.
  • The Top 10 finishers at Texas drove five Chevys, three Fords, and a pair of Dodges. The best finishing Toyota pilot was Brian Vickers in fourteenth.
  • Juan Montoya was the top finishing rookie of the race and the only rookie to manage to finish on the lead lap.

What's the Points?

Jeff Gordon retains his point lead, but he is now just eight points ahead of Jeff Burton, who maintains second in the standings. Matt Kenseth and Jimmie Johnson swapped third and fourth place, with the advantage now going to the 17. Denny Hamlin's late race rally allowed him to move up a spot to fifth in points.

Clint Bowyer moved back up a spot to sixth, while Carl Edwards moves up a position to eighth. Jamie McMurray moved up two spots to tenth. Just outside the Top 10, Mark Martin moved up four spots to eleventh. Showing up for a race will do that for a guy, but can you imagine the ballyhoo if a part-time driver makes the Chase? Juan Pablo Montoya moved up four spots to thirteenth and is now just twelve points out of a playoff berth despite those bright yellow stripes on his rear bumper.

Martin Truex, Jr. moved up five spots to nineteenth in the standings. Greg Biffle advanced four spots to seventeenth. Kurt Busch advanced two spots to fifteenth.

On the down side of the spectrum, Kyle Busch dropped two spots to seventh while Tony Stewart surrendered one spot and is now ninth. Dale Earnhardt dropped seven spots to a sobering eighteenth, while Kevin Harvick fell four more spots to fourteenth. Finally, David Ragan continues to drop off the radar, falling four spots to 23rd.

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 cans of ice cold Lone Star served up by a former member of the Cowboys Cheerleaders in need of a ride home.

Next Up: NASCAR's spaghetti western tour continues with a trip to Phoenix: the mild, mild, west.

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