Matt McLaughlin · Sunday April 22, 2007
The Key Moment: Tony Stewart got by him briefly on the final restart, but Jeff Gordon bulled his way back past the No. 20 with a slight nudge to the rear bumper.
In a Nutshell: Hardly a classic, but at least it was over quickly.
Dramatic Moment: When Stewart took it three wide with Gordon and the about-to-be-lapped car of Martin Truex, Jr., he was either going to take the lead or wipe the field out trying.
What They'll Be Talking About Around the Water Cooler This Week:
So Tony Stewart "politely declined" a post race interview by the TV folks. Why am I guessing there's more to the story we'll be hearing about this week? So why was Stewart so hot? My guess is that it’s NASCAR's call that he exited pit lane second behind Gordon while the video evidence seemed to suggest Stewart beat Gordon out by the width of a gnat's scrotum. Or perhaps the suave Mr. Stewart was objecting to the unnecessary caution flags that flew when he was leading or to perceived lack of etiquette by Mr. Martin Truex, Jr. of New Jersey in giving the leaders room to race. Or maybe he just needs to be pissed off all the time as evidenced by his now recanted post-race retirement comments after Texas.
What have the Hendrick and Gibbs teams learned about the CoT that nobody else has? Hendrick cars have won all three races with the lamentable and unsightly little roach coaches, but only because the Gibbs drivers have found a way to piss away wins in all three of those races.
It sure sounds like Denny Hamlin thinks he was penalized for stinking up the show, not speeding on pit road. Maybe Harvick was playing possum on that stop? The situation with all these mystery debris cautions has gotten so bad that even FOX, NASCAR's corporate lap dog partner is beginning to advise viewers they will show the debris "if we can find it." Several times Saturday, it didn't sound like Darrell Waltrip was convinced the debris in question mandated a caution. I mean seriously, a few scraps of duct tape and a trash bag?
Is a failed radio or transmitter a "safety" issue or a "competition" issue? Should Gordon have been allowed to keep his pole starting position after being unable to leave pit road with the rest of the field? I don't think Richard Petty even had a radio in his car for more than a handful of his 200 victories.
With NASCAR's stated goal of parity between the manufacturers, what are they going to do about the recent Chevrolet domination? It doesn't look like the new car is going to address the issue. Chevys have claimed the top four finishing spots in all three CoT races so the difference must be under the hood. And Chevy hasn't even moved to their newly approved engine en masse yet. But for right now the new Imposterâ€¦errr…Impala is three for three in CoT races. I just wish it could do the same on the showroom floor against the Camry and Accord.
Will Jeff Gordon's humility in his post-race comments comparing himself to Dale Earnhardt the Original, along with Hisself's own son rushing to offer congratulations, placate the Red Army for good…or will they stick another pin in their Jeff Gordon voodoo dolls? I fear if Gordon surpasses Earnhardt's mark at Talladega, there may be Bud-fueled rioting amidst a fusillade of cans thrown at the victor. But I will give the Earnhardt fans this much…that whole bit with Gordon kissing the belly of his pregnant wife in Victory Lane just sort of creeped me out. Behind the closed doors of their bedroom, cool, but not on nationwide TV. Of course, I am decidedly single, so maybe I shouldn't comment on it.
Despite all the ballyhoo and expense, it seems the Car of Tomorrow still has the Car of Yesterday's Achilles' heel. A car trying to pass another still goes aero loose and it makes passing difficult, which is what the CoT was supposed to address. But don't tell Gordon or Denny Hamlin that you can't pass. It just seems a great deal of getting "pissed off" is a lot more important than the front splitter in doing so.
Was the flag with the "3" on it really intended to honor the late Dale Earnhardt, or was it Rick Hendrick's boys’ way of reminding everyone they've won all three of the CoT races run to date.
It seems some drivers are fed up and ready to give Juan Pablo Montoya a taste of his own medicine.
Man, what in heck is wrong with the Ray Evernham teams this season? They're struggling to finish on the lead lap.
FOX's latest experiment "The Audio of Yesteryear" went over like a burning Led Zeppelin. Oh the humanity. Significant improvement could be made to the normal audio by removing the microphones in front of Hammond, Myers, and Waltrip.
Michael Waltrip has a new crew chief, Buddy Sisco. Sisco says it's a dream job for him. Sure, sort of like being promoted to captain of the Titanic after it struck the iceberg and as the stern was beginning to raise towards the stars.
So, which car are they using next week again? Is next weekend "tomorrow" or "yesterday"? Maybe they could take all those silly-looking wings off the CoT and mount them to the roofs of school buses as part of a "stay in school" initiative, the reasoning being "cooler" looking school buses would make kids want to attend class. Yes, it's a stupid idea that won't work. But so is the CoT.
After Dale Earnhardt, Jr. finished the race for Kyle Busch (who had wrecked the No. 8 car out of the race after an all too common mental lapse), Busch said he tried to call Dale to thank him. "I had the wrong cell phone number. I got someone else on the phone who didn't speak very good English." Ummmâ€¦so maybe that was Earnhardt, Jr.? Speaking of D.E.I., while they haven't gotten that minor matter of signing Junior to a contract for next year ironed out yet, they did announce they were forming a new entertainment division this week. According to the press release, Earnhardt Entertainment Division will develop, produce, and distribute music, film, and television, visual imaging and digital content, as well as special event projects. Great. When are they going to develop and produce a race win?
The Hindenburg Award For Foul Fortune
*Denny Hamlin*'s car was clearly the class of the field, but a pit road speeding penalty dropped him to 31st. A third place finish was a great comeback, but it was clear Hamlin was left stewing over what might have been. (Though Stewart wasn't hamming it up after finishing second, either).
Ryan Newman had his best run in ages going when the team got caught in the pits by an untimely caution. At that point, the crew panicked and sent Newman back into the fray with no lugnuts on the left front tire. Newman dropped from the Top 5 to post a miserable 38th place finish.
Dale Earnhardt Jr., Martin Truex, Jr. and Kurt Busch were all trapped a lap down after that same caution flew moments after they pitted. Newman and Earnhardt also made hard contact in the pits.
Somebody make up Casey Mears a T-shirt that reads "No, seriously I do drive for Rick Hendrick, too."
Jamie McMurray had been on a roll and started the race second. But a windshield tear-away blocked his grill and caused his Ford to overheat. He was never a contender again after the unscheduled stop to clear the grill.
David Ragan has had a rough couple of weeks. And he's helped some other drivers have a rough couple of weeks, as well.
The "Seven Come Fore Eleven" Award For Fine Fortune
*Jeff Gordon*'s radio went dead even before the start of the race. The team was able to diagnose and correct the problem before the race started.
Jimmie Johnson had electrical problems all evening but was able not only to finish the race but to post a fourth place finish. It's odd to see two problems that should have been caught in pre-race prep crop up early in a race.
The folks at Petty Engineering needed a good finish, and *Bobby Labonte*'s eighth place finish has to be a huge morale booster.
Jeff Green has done pretty well for himself in two of these CoT races.
Matt Kenseth barely skated by the wreck that claimed Casey Mears, David Ragan, and David Stremme.
- Jeff Gordon had a weekend for the record books. He tied Darrell Waltrip for most poles in the modern era on Thursday. He tied the late Dale Earnhardt in sixth spot on the all time Cup winner board. And he became the first driver to win Phoenix from the pole. In doing so he left just two tracks; Texas and Homestead, where he has yet to collect a Cup victory. It was also Gordon's first win since Chicagoland last July and only his third since winning Martinsville in the Fall of 2005. Gordon now has six Top 10 finishes in this season's first eight races and hasn't finished any lower than third in a CoT race.
- The Top 10 finishers drove eight Chevys, a Ford (Matt Kenseth, fifth) and a Dodge (Bobby Labonte, eighth). The top finishing Toyota was Dale Jarrett in 29th. Jarrett is also the highest Toyota pilot in the standings, sitting way back there in 36th.
- The top finishing rookie was Paul Menard in 25th, two laps off the pace. Not a great night for the yellow tape on the bumper types.
- Tony Stewart enjoyed his first Top 5 finish in four races. But apparently, he didn't enjoy it much.
- It took him awhile to get his season on track, but Denny Hamlin now has three straight Top 10 finishes.
- Matt Kenseth has Top 10 finishes in six of the last seven races. Will the last driver to leave the Ford camp kindly douse the fire and call in the dogs?
- Jeff Green's two Top 10 finishes in this season's first eight races match his total Top 10 results from last season. The last time Green scored more than two Top 10s in a single season was 2002.
- Kyle Busch has Top 10 finishes in three of the last four races and in all three of the CoT races.
- Bobby Labonte scored his first Top 10 finish since Martinsville last fall.
- Johnny Sauter scored his first Top 10 finish since Phoenix in 2005. His two Top 10 results at this track are the only two of his 38-race Cup career.
- Kevin Harvick managed his third Top 10 finish in the eighth race of the season.
- Mark Martin's twelfth place finish was actually his worst of the 2007 season.
- Jeff Burton's thirteenth place finish was his worst since Las Vegas.
- Tony Raines has Top 15 finishes in the last two races.
- Joe Nemechek posted his best finish since California.
What's the Points?
Jeff Gordon continues to lead the points. Jeff Burton remains second in the standings, but now trails Gordon by a full 74 points. Matt Kenseth remains third and is the only other driver who could assume the points lead from Gordon next week at Talladega. Jimmie Johnson and Denny Hamlin remain fourth and fifth, respectively.
Kyle Busch moves up a spot to sixth while Tony Stewart rebounds up two spots to seventh. Clint Bowyer's rough night drops him three spots to ninth. Mark Martin moves up a spot to tenth despite sitting out those two races.
While things were fairly steady inside the Top 10, just to the South there was wholesale movement. Kevin Harvick faded late but moved up three spots to eleventh. Greg Biffle and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. also advanced three spots apiece and are now fourteenth and fifteenth, respectively. Bobby Labonte trampolined four spots to nineteenth.
David Stremme freefalls six spots to eighteenth. Ryan Newman also plummeted six spots and is now a sobering 26th. Juan Pablo Montoya fell three spots to sixteenth while Jamie McMurray fell two spots to twelfth.
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 cans of lukewarm generic stuff. These CoT races seem to be developing a pattern. A couple of drivers will lead a huge amount of laps, pulling away from the field, but then business picks up at the end.
Next Up: Bread and circuses, folks. The circuit heads off to Talladega, where it's not who wins or qualifies that matters…it's who survives.
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