The Frontstretch: Matt McLaughlin's Thinking Out Loud: Aaron's 499 by Matt McLaughlin -- Sunday April 29, 2007

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Matt McLaughlin's Thinking Out Loud: Aaron's 499

Matt McLaughlin · Sunday April 29, 2007

 

The Key Moment: Jeff Gordon edged past Jamie McMurray just as David Reutimann's car went up in smoke to take the lead. A series of incidents moments after the restart sealed the win for Gordon.

In a Nutshell: It's come to this. Drivers have decided only the last ten laps matter so they are willing to drive in formation in the high line for a significant portion of the race in an attempt to leave Talladega upright and conscious.

Dramatic Moment: When they restart a plate race with ten laps to go the pressure cooker is on high. When they restart a plate race with two laps to go they adjust the pressure setting to "nuclear."

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

Talk about the Perfect Storm brewing for a downpour of beverage cans onto the track. First off, it's Talladega and those folks would probably throw cans at Santa. Then not only does Jeff Gordon win, but by doing so he eclipses Saint Dale of Alabama's win total and does so on the Intimidator's birthday, a virtual blasphemy. Finally to rub salt into the wound the race ends under caution. TV didn't highlight it but first hand accounts tell me Jeff Gordon's description of "rioting" wasn't far from the truth. At least one reader who called me amidst the pandemonium claimed to have seen a sheriff's deputy assaulted for trying to arrest a can tossing fan. Give good sportsmanship points to Jimmie Johnson and Kurt Busch for serving as wingmen protecting the 24 with their cars when the barrage started. Once again FOX decided not to show the mayhem. I guess they think it makes NASCAR and its fans look bad. But compare that to the coverage of the infamous NFL game where officials mistakenly ended a game prematurely after the fans threw stuff on the field. It's part of the story.

How ironic is it that the first debris caution put Tony Stewart back on the lead lap?

Hey if NASCAR and the track owners use those of you throwing cans on the track as a pretext to ban coolers the rest of us who enjoy a cold brew during a race aren't going to be real happy with ya'll. And there's a lot more of us than there are of you.

With as many tough hits as he's taken in rapid succession has anyone checked Kyle Busch for post-concussion syndrome? Remember the season that Dale Earnhardt Jr. finally admitted he'd been driving in a haze for months after his vicious California wreck?

I found it fascinating Brian France and other senior NASCAR officials visited mainland China this week. I find it tragic they were allowed to return. My guess is that the Chinese got a few tips on setting up a full fendered racing series while NASCAR officials got a refresher course on crushing dissent under a dictatorship.

In other races where a green-white-checkered finish was indicated and it was common knowledge some front runners were low on fuel, NASCAR has mandated red flags rather than running teams out of gas under extended caution laps for clean up. Why not Sunday? It surely did foul up Denny Hamlin's afternoon.

Would someone in NASCAR's stat department please correct Bobby Allison's total wins to 85, one more than Darrell Waltrip. Though DW wasn't about to fess up it was clear that Mike Joy, with a thorough working knowledge of the sport, wasn't going to step into that trap when the "total career wins" graphic flashed up on screen. Hey, when Bobby Allison won that Bowman Gray race in a Mustang the entry form read that a Grand American car was legal in that event. If Bobby Allison didn't win that race why doesn't Richard Petty have 201 victories?

It's been another interesting week listening to Tony Stewart who apparently decided while he didn't have to talk to the media after Phoenix (only other drivers who finish in the top 3 have to), he could talk on his radio program. Of course he gets paid to talk on his radio program. Mr. Stewart feels there are too many unneeded debris cautions lately. Well, duh. Even us ignorant media types figured that out ages ago and have been commenting on it for years. And it seems that Mr. Stewart feels that it is a "privilege" for media members to talk to him. Fact is, back in the day when I had on-site media credentials talking to Stewart was a genuine pain in the ass. Trying to edit what he had to say to sound intelligent and suitable for family reading was equally challenging. Trying to avoid getting punched in the face when he wasn't in the mood to talk was an occupational hazard. Other drivers who have accomplished far more than Stewart has on and off the track were far more gracious and accommodating to even lowly internet scribes. It's a game. The other drivers know it. Writers know it. They talk. We include the name of their sponsors in articles. Fans read. All is swell. Home improvement stores, like Lowe's for instance, get more customers. As far as I'm concerned Tony's PR people can delete me from their email lists. I won't be using the name of the only sponsor stupid enough to back an ill-mannered, bad tempered, violent punk in my articles because quite frankly I'll only walk into one of those stores if the local mom and pop hardware store is already closed for the day and my basement is flooding. I look forward to walking into any of the big box, "wanna see what we are buying from China putting American workers on the dole" stores with the same eagerness as a prostrate exam. Stewart and I are on the same page as far as NASCAR manipulating debris flags to orchestrate rather than officiate races. I'm glad he finally figured it out. Maybe next he'll figure out he can cash in his chips and retire as he recently threatened to do and the sport of stock car racing will get along just fine without him just as it did before he arrived.

There is some debate concerning Stewart's comments as to whether NASCAR throws caution flags to benefit one particular driver. I guess that's natural considering Gordon won the Phoenix race and the attitudes of the ABJG sorts. But I don't believe that NASCAR is trying to give any particular driver a win. I believe they are just trying to tighten up the competition to add some contrived excitement to races which, because of the nature of the rules package currently in use, are all too often become stultifying boring. But if NASCAR is just going to throw a phony debris caution with twenty laps to go to spice things up why should fans have any incentive to watch the first three hours of a race? Just tune in for the last twenty minutes and catch whatever action the bogus debris flag caution might provide.

Ryan Newman and Juan Pablo Montoya, old friends, ran into each other again. What are the odds?

One comment Stewart made that perked up a lot of ears was his accusation NASCAR treats their fans as if they are stupid. So how many of you genuinely believe Stewart was fined ten grand for skipping the post-race interview at Phoenix, not for what he said on his radio show?

Let's introduce some facts and figures into the "debris caution" debate. I found these on the RacingStalkers.com compiled by Sean using information gleaned from the Racing-Reference.info website (simply the best racing stats site on the Internet bar none.) I spot checked alternate years and found these stats to be correct but don't want to take credit for compiling them-

Season/Debris Cautions/Total Cautions/Percentage of Debris Cautions in First Eight Races of Season

1997…7…76…9.2%
1998…3…58…5.2%
1999…3…49…6.1%
2000…3…65…4.6%
2001…8…63…12.7%
2002…9…72…12.5%
2003…7…65…10.8%
2004…9…58…15.5%
2005…22…86…25.6%
2006…25…83…30.1%
2007…20…72…27.8%

Note the sharp spike in 2005. Isn't that the second year NASCAR and Brian France decided to add the "Chase" to the sport to interject some excitement into the championship drive? Apparently they decided to do more than that to add a little "excitement" to individual races. You know it's a good thing the senior management types of the pro wrestling organizations apparently don't listen to Tony Stewart's radio show. They'd probably sue him for libel claiming their events are a lot more honestly staged than NASCAR races, and my guess is they'd win the lawsuit with taped coverage of the Phoenix race serving as Exhibit A.

Was anyone else a little repulsed by ESPN commentator Brad Daugherty's reaction to the early Busch series wreck on Saturday? I've been saying for years NASCAR fans don't watch racing to see wrecks, but apparently, at least one does. Maybe it would be best to hold off celebrating a wreck until it was confirmed no drivers had been hurt?

It was kind of overlooked with all the hoopla about Stewart's remarks and resulting fine and Jeff Gordon being poised to eclipse Dale Earnhardt's victory total on what would have been the Intimidator's birthday but Sunday we passed an important milestone. Twenty years ago Bobby Allison's Buick almost ended up going into the grandstands after a wreck. (His son, the late Davey Allison, went on to score his first win that day.) As a result, NASCAR added the restrictor plates as a "temporary" measure until they could find a permanent way to solve the problem.

Speaking of the law of unintended consequences. During Busch qualifying Dale Junior weighed in on the fans throwing beverage cans at Jeff Gordon after the win in Phoenix. He noted that was dangerous for the drivers and for the fans in the lower sections of the stands. He suggested fans wishing to voice their displeasure throw toilet paper instead. Thus I'd suggest any fan planning on attending an upcoming race bring along a roll of baby wipes in case nature calls. The restrooms are likely going to have been looted of essential paper products before the race even begins.

One school of thought claims the safest place to be during a plate race is up front so the wrecks unfold behind you. Did anyone else notice the amount of drivers running second during the Busch race who were involved in incidents, most notably Kyle Busch? Apparently the only safe place to be during a plate race is aboard the 55 transporter heading home.

Did Coors and the No. 40 team make a studious decision to send Stremme's car into the heart of Bud country with chewing gum cloaking?

The Hindenburg Award For Foul Fortune

If any driver and team needed a strong run, it was Casey Mears and the No. 25 outfit. Mears looked solid all day and was running second when he got spun and wrecked while trying to pit by his own teammate, Jimmie Johnson. (Maybe Johnson thought Vickers was still driving the No. 25?) To paraphrase the classic line from "Coolhand Luke," I think what we got here is a failure to communicate.

With the way he's been tearing up cars for the last month, maybe it's time Kyle Busch's team dumps the Frosted Flakes sponsorship and signs on Captain Crunch?

Dale Jarrett typically runs well at Talladega, but early ignition problems spoiled his day. As such, the No. 44 team remains outside the Top 35 in owner points and with Jarrett now out of previous champions' provisionals, he's likely to have quite a few weekends off.

It's tough getting wrecked on the final green flag lap of a race like Tony Stewart did, but to have the same driver who caused the wreck then finish you off is irritating. Between his butt chewing on Friday, the fine, and Sunday's race it was a wonder Stewart sounded so reasonable after the race. Other than that, how was your visit to Sweet Home Alabama, Mr. Stewart?

It was another tough weekend for Michael Waltrip Racing with two DNFs and one DNQ. They need to improve PDQ.

Juan Pablo Montoya ran better than his 31st place finish indicates. Perhaps he hadn't gotten the memo Newman was running a yellow paint scheme this week?

The "Seven Come Fore Eleven" Award For Fine Fortune

It's not often a driver appears under the Foul and Fine fortune headings, or that a driver who wrecks twice in a weekend is considered to have good luck. But the fact Kyle Busch was able to walk away from the horrific wreck in the Busch series race and compete Sunday was a miracle. How hard did Busch hit? The impact cracked his HANS device.

Bobby Labonte managed to win the Busch race Saturday on the final lap even as his mortally wounded engine steamed its last gasp.

Jimmie Johnson triggered two major incidents but drove off without a scratch to finish second.

Ryan Newman finished sixth minus most of his right front fender and the cowl section of his car.

In an unusual occurrence at Talladega, the vast majority of the teams got to take their undamaged cars home to prepare them for the next and last plate race the conventional cars will compete in.

Worth Noting

  • If I have to tell you Jeff Gordon moves into sole possession of sixth on the all time Cup winners list, passing Dale Earnhardt Sr., you haven't been paying attention. It was Gordon's second consecutive win and the sixth victory scored by a Hendrick Motorsports driver in the last seven races.
  • Jimmie Johnson scored his sixth Top 5 finish in this season's first nine races. His third place finish was Kurt Busch's best finish since he also finished third at Talladega last fall.
  • Don't look now, but Jamie McMurray has Top 10 finishes in four of the last five races. Supposedly, he's celebrating by inviting Kasey Kahne to a dinner of rabbit stew…but it's organic rabbit stew boiled Fatal Attraction style. His fifth place finish matched Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s best result of the season. And I hear he's signed an endorsement deal with Charmin too.
  • Kevin Harvick scored his best finish since Bristol.
  • David Gilliland scored the best finish of his fledgling Cup career. But I hear Tony Stewart has invited him over to dinner this week. On the menu is David Gilliland boiled Fatal Attraction style.
  • David Stremme scored his second Top 10 of the season and of his career.
  • Ryan Newman also scored his second Top 10 of the season. Martin Truex, Jr. managed his third.
  • Scott Riggs scored his second Top 20 finish of the season. Kasey Kahne's 17th place finish was actually his best since the Daytona 500. What is up with Ray Evernham's teams?
  • Kyle Petty enjoyed his best finish since Texas last fall.
  • Sterling Marlin led the race and scored his best finish of the season.
  • Chevy drivers took the top two finishing spots and six of the Top 10. Ford and Dodge each had two drivers in the Top 10. The best finishing Toyota was Jeremy Mayfield in 23rd.
  • David Ragan was the top finishing rookie in 19th.

What's the Points?

For the second straight week, the top 5 (Gordon/Burton/Kenseth/Johnson/Hamlin) hold serve but Jeff Gordon is leaving them in the dust. Second place Jeff Burton is now 203 points behind Gordon. As such, Gordon will leave Richmond with the points lead even if he finishes 43rd at Richmond and Burton wins.

Among the title contenders, Kevin Harvick and Jamie McMurray had the best days. They each advanced four spots and they are currently seventh and eighth, respectively. Kurt Busch moved up three spots to tenth while Tony Stewart moved up a spot to sixth.

Carl Edwards fell four spots to twelfth while Kyle Busch fell three spots to ninth. Clint Bowyer fell two spots to ninth.

Other notable drivers on the upswing are; David Stremme (up four spots to 14th) Dale Earnhardt Jr. (up two spots to 13th) Elliott Sadler (up two spots to 15th) and Martin Truex Jr. (up two spots to 18th.)

Drivers having their tickets punched for the downbound train include; Juan Pablo Montoya (down three spots to 19th) Greg Biffle (down two spots to 16th) and Robby Gordon (down four spots to 27th.)

The three MWR drivers are in bad shape. Dale Jarrett is 37th in the points, David Reutimann is 43rd and Michael Waltrip is dead last and still at -27 points after nine races.

Overall Rating (On a scale of one to six beer cans with one being a stinker and a six pack an instant classic): There's no beer cans left to give out. They all got tossed over the fence. (OK, I'll scoop up three cans off the apron.) It was about what you’d expect when they race at Talladega other than that extended formation flying portion of the race that ought to send a message louder and clearer to NASCAR than anything Tony Stewart decides to say this Tuesday.

Next Up: It's time to find out if NASCAR's wildly imperfect new race cars will mess up the racing at the sport's most perfect venue, Richmond.

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WWE??
04/30/2007 01:03 AM
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To clarify, the Chase started in 2004 while the sharp increase in debris cautions started in 2005. Guess this means Matt is right – the chase wasn’t exciting enough so debris cautions should do the job….or not. What ever happened to green flag racing???

mmack
04/30/2007 07:11 AM
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Matt,

It’s St. Dale of Kannapolis, NOT Alabama.

St. Dale of Talladega is also acceptable.

Wolfman
04/30/2007 09:42 AM
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Could the “debris caution” be more related to the demise of the “gentleman’s agreement” on yellow in favor of the “Lucky Dog”. The “Lucky dog” was started after the last NHIS race of 2003.

Perhaps renaming it to the “Dirty Dog” would be more accurate?

Dawn Morris
04/30/2007 02:05 PM
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I am so glad you mentioned how Brad Daugherty reacted to the wreck. I, too, thought it was very disgusting the way he cheered, and even worse to televise it.

Sean Decker
04/30/2007 06:15 PM
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You’re dead right on Bobby Allison’s win in a Grand American Mustang. If it was declared legal to race and it won the race then it’s a win in my book and it should be in NASCAR’s too.

TeamNutmeg
04/30/2007 08:50 PM
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What am I missing about McMurray and Kahne that makes the Fatal Attraction quip funny?

Jan..the Tbirdchick
04/30/2007 09:37 PM
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Great article, Matt! Prince Brian and Co. needs to realize that contrived “debris” cautions, the Lucky Dawg Pass and manipulating a so-called exciting finish among other faux pas’ will be among their undoing. Come on Bruton and Humpy, give us a real major league stock car racing series!

JD
05/01/2007 03:34 PM
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Matt,
Your recap is my one must NASCAR read each week. I’m on board with most everything you’re pointing out, esp. “debris” cautions, the orchestration of races, and the proliferation of boring, cookie cutter tracks. But pointing out Terrible Tony’s reluctance to deal with the media is kind of silly. Sorry you had to deal with him, but who is he supposed to talk to now, all info flows through the corporate locks. This sport needs Tony Stewart, and now more than ever. The NASCAR “boom” is over, maybe that’s a good thing. But no one could possibly invent a sport with such a lack of personality and color. Maybe we could just find 43 robots in Hendrick Chevys and Roush/BoSox Fords to hypnotize us each week for sleeping purposes, kind of like watching golf. And then DW could come up with an asinine catch phrase for 10 laps to go (that we could print on tshirts) and we’ll watch all the cars end up in a big pile, and have to study the replay like the ‘friggin Zapruder film to figure out a winner.