The Frontstretch: Matt McLaughlin's Thinkin' Out Loud: Richmond Edition by Matt McLaughlin -- Sunday May 6, 2007

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Matt McLaughlin's Thinkin' Out Loud: Richmond Edition

Matt McLaughlin · Sunday May 6, 2007

 

The Key Moment: Jimmie Johnson got the jump on teammate Kyle Busch on the final restart and assumed the lead for good.

In a Nutshell: A day late and a bit too sedate, but the Hendrick Juggernaut rolls on.

Dramatic Moment: With passing at a premium, drivers were letting the roughside drag on restarts trying desperately to make up positions. It sure looked like Tony Stewart and Ryan Newman were intent on igniting a field decimating wreck in the waning laps.

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

OK, what have the Hendrick teams figured out about this Car of Tomorrow thing?

Am I the only one that noticed there was more side-by-side racing in the Busch race Friday night than in Sunday's Cup event? FYI, The Busch Series still uses the Cars of Yesterday.

Thank goodness Johnson won rather than Gordon. If Gordon had won, Darrell Waltrip probably would have been in Victory Lane reading Jeff love sonnets.

They might as well have Dale Jarrett try to qualify that UPS truck, huh?

OK, maybe there is something to this Curse of the No. 25 team legend. How can the other three Hendrick teams run so well and the No. 25 car is an also ran?

Someone suggested that the Cars of Tomorrow might look better racing at night. Yeah, if they didn't turn the lights on.

Why is it every time the No. 12 and No. 42 car race each other it seems Montoya ends up in the wall?

I'm curious: When the King, Richard Petty, and the Queen of England met, did they have to use interpreters to speak? The United States and England…two great countries separated by a common language.

Mark Martin said all along he'd be racing part-time this season. Michael Waltrip said he was spearheading the Toyota invasion. Isn't it interesting that Martin has competed in a lot more races than Waltrip, as the No. 55 team’s Involuntary Retirement Drive hits Hyper-Overdrive.

Hmmm. NASCAR officials invited Tony Stewart (that might be too polite a term for the summons) to watch Friday's Busch race from the control tower to see how difficult their job is. And by some odd coincidence with Stewart there looking over their shoulder, not one phony debris caution was thrown even as Bowyer motored away from the field. Perhaps putting a cardboard standup of Stewart in the back of the tower would make NASCAR officials more standup about their calls. Oddly enough, there weren't a lot of cautions for debris on Sunday either. Perhaps Mr. Stewart's comments struck a nerve after all.

I've been called a simple son of a bitch, but given my druthers in the choice between a cracked HANS device and a cracked vertebrae, I'm going with the cracked HANS.

I keep hearing a rumor there's going to be an open wheel race staged somewhere in the Midwest the last weekend of this month. Anyone know anything about this? Seriously, it's almost sad to consider the state of the Indy 500. Remember when Indy dominated not only the motorsports coverage but all sports coverage in May?

Isn't it odd that some of these drivers and teams missing multiple Cup races are calling on NASCAR to change qualifying procedures to get them into the show? After all, some of these same drivers and teams have benefited from the new rules over past seasons, making races when faster drivers got sent home, and it was just hunky dory with them back then. It's not like some of these guys don't have the financial resources they need to perform…I'm thinking of the No. 55 NAPA team and the No. 44 UPS bunch. Of course, if I was a board member of either corporate entity I'd want to see a thorough accounting of where money was being spent. Let's just say Michael Waltrip's decisionmaking prior to and after his recent highway accident calls into question his ability to respond under pressure. Someone needs to put a sign on Mr. Waltrip's desk that reads "If you can't run with the big dogs, stay on the porch."

It's an interesting marketing campaign, but all week I have been getting emails asking who the "Jim Stewart" in the race's official title “Crown Royal presents the Jim Stewart 400" is. Some folks assumed Mr. Stewart was one of the victims of the Virginia Tech tragedy and wanted to know if there was a memorial fund. Many thought the race was set to honor one of Hollywood's enduring legends, Jimmy Stewart, perhaps best known for "It's A Wonderful Life." (Remember the scene at Martini's tavern where the bartender tells Clarence "Hey, look, mister, we serve hard drinks in here for men who want to get drunk fast.") As it turns out the Jim Stewart in question is an essay contest winner from Louisiana who enjoys boating and drinking Crown Royal. So do I. Well, boating, anyway…

It is not my habit to suggest ways for NASCAR and the networks to increase profits. But it occured to me there's a major marketing opportunity for the sportbeing missed right now. It would have been a pipe dream a few years ago, but with blindingly fast cable internet downloads and High Def computer monitors, the idea is now feasible. How about working things out with Apple so fans could go to the iTunes store and download complete video coverage of races back from the Golden Era? I'd pay four or five bucks to be able to see the 1985 Southern 500 or the 1976 Daytona 500 again. And for fans not blessed with fast cable service or high def monitors, NASCAR could always package and sell multi-DVD sets of an entire race season like some network shows sell annual DVD sets of their best programs. Put the 1992 season in a reasonably priced box set and I'll be first in line to buy one.

GM is urging NASCAR to have the race cars powered by ethanol in the near future. Why? The grandstands are already fueled by alcohol. The idea of Cup cars with corn-based alcohol in the trunk is a nice nostalgic tribute to the sports moonshining roots, though.

As things are heating up with this Kentucky vs. NASCAR lawsuit sometimes the war of words just gets plain silly. In defending the suitability of the track to host a Cup date, Kentucky lawyers noted that the track is “also immediately accessible via helicopter” (presumably to the teams Mooresville home base). Well that's all well and good. But like many fans, perhaps even a decided majority of them, I presently don't own a helicopter. I'm more concerned with how accessible the track is via a 1997 F150 four wheel drive with a grille and a big cooler in the back. Is there good Interstate access is or this going to be another one of those tracks with soul sapping gridlock after the race that has fans muttering profanely under their breath they ain't never coming back? Of course NASCAR couldn't let that silly statement top one of their own. They responded, “that to some extent, depending upon weather conditions, the entire planet, including the Kentucky Speedway, is ‘immediately accessible via helicopter.’” Oh, yeah? Let's see Brian France take a helicopter on his next visit to Red China. I'm beginning to think after a judge hears opening arguments from both sides he's going to send both lawyers to separate corners for a "time out" until they're ready to act like adults. Of course once he hears the ISC and NASCAR's contention there's no conflict of interest in NASCAR awarding dates to the ISC when both entities are run by one family, he may just order some members of the France family to the hospital for psychiatric evaluation to see if their delusional thoughts make them a danger to others. But on a brighter note, they can always take the helicopter to the loony bin.

The Hindenburg Award For Foul Fortune

It's hard to know whether to lump Kevin Harvick under fortune foul or fair (like the winds outside of Terrapin Station). Still, he had the dominant car until a pit road accident severely damaged the right front of the No. 29 car. But even as beat up as it was, Harvick managed a seventh place finish.

Jamie McMurray had his recent momentum derailed by an early cut tire and a subsequent hard visit into the wall.

It's been awhile since I've seen the normally even-tempered Jeff Burton that frustrated and angry after falling out of a race. Note to the No. 31 team….if you drop something into the engine, you might want to get it out next time.

Dale Earnhardt, Jr.'s chances at a Top 10 finish took a hit off the front bumper of the No. 66 car.

You can't change the weather, but I know a lot of NASCAR fans like me had plans for a Sunday off that turned out to be a spectacular day.

If he's tried everything else, Ray Evernham might want to have an exorcist visit his shop to rid it of demons.

The "Seven Come Fore Eleven" Award For Fine Fortune

Kurt Busch got spun out in an early incident and went a lap down. He just missed the Harvick-Ragan pit road crash, then managed to claw his way back to a fifth place finish.

Tony Stewart dropped to the back of the pack due to a lengthy pit stop to exorcise the demons from his ill-handling car. He worked his way back to the front only to get a piece of the Marlin-Burton-Rudd wreck, and for reasons unfathomable, he didn't get black flagged for debris hanging off the side of his car. Next, he had to survive a little pissing match with Ryan Newman. And because his team got him calmed down in time, Stewart won't even have to get out of bed at 6 AM next Friday to talk to NASCAR officials after all that. Oh, and despite the above he finished eighth.

Denny Hamlin took "best in class" honors, the first finisher not in a Hendrick car in third place.

It was a pretty fair weekend for Clint Bowyer too. He won the Busch race and posted a solid Top 10 finish on Sunday.

Worth Noting

  • OK, to sum up. The Hendrick teams have won all four CoT races and have won seven of the last eight races, including the last three consecutively. Chevys have won nine of ten races.
  • Jimmie Johnson has won four of this season's ten races.
  • Kyle Busch has Top 10 finishes in four of the last six races, but his other two finishes were a pair of 37ths. Busch has never finished outside the Top 5 in five Richmond Cup starts.
  • Denny Hamlin finished third for the fourth time this season. He has led in every CoT race.
  • Jeff Gordon has posted Top 5 finishes in the last six Cup races.
  • Kurt Busch has strung together a pair of Top 5 finishes for the first time since Sonoma and Daytona last summer.
  • He tried hard to give it away on Sunday, but Kevin Harvick has three straight Top 10 finishes now.
  • Starting at Atlanta, Tony Stewart has posted one good finish followed by one poor one. And oddly enough, the maddest he got was after his best finish.
  • Clint Bowyer posted his first Top 10 since Bristol.
  • Matt Kenseth posted his seventh Top 10 finish in this season's ten races to continue as Ford's brightest star.
  • Dave Blaney's 11th place finish was the second best ever for a Toyota driver in the Cup series.
  • Carl Edwards finished 12th for the third time this season.
  • J.J. Yeley enjoyed his best finish (14th) since Fontana.
  • Jeff Burton endured his first DNF of the season and his first since Martinsville last fall.
  • Juan Pablo Montoya finished outside the Top 25 for the third consecutive race. Of course he had some help doing so.
  • Jamie McMurray suffered his first DNF since Daytona.

The Top 10 finishers drove three Hendrick Chevys, four regular Chevys, two Dodges (both owned by Roger Penske) and a Ford.

What's the Points?

Jeff Gordon retains the points lead, and he'll hold it after Darlington too even if he stays home. Jimmie Johnson advances two spots to second but is 211 points behind his teammate. Matt Kenseth holds onto third, while Denny Hamlin advances a spot to fourth. His mechanical DNF drops Jeff Burton three spots to fifth.

Kyle Busch moves up two spots to sixth, while Kevin Harvick, Kurt Busch, Clint Bowyer, Carl Edwards, and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. all gained a spot. They are now eighth through 12th, respectively.

On the other side of things, Jamie McMurray took a nose-dive in the points and falls six spots form seventh to 13th. Back a little further, Ryan Newman advanced five spots to 19th.

Even further back, Ricky Rudd is in danger of seeing the No. 88 team fall out of the Top 35 in owners' points and that's nothing to ‘snicker’ about. The No. 88 is now the new team on the bubble in 35th.

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 two and a half cans of watered down domestic stuff that got warm in the trunk overnight. Richmond used to be one of the great tracks on the circuit, but the new cars really…ahem…rained on that parade.

Next Up: Traditionally Mother's Day weekend had been an off week for the Cup circuit, but NASCAR's assigned the unpopular date of the Saturday prior to Mother's Day to Darlington perhaps hoping they could use slow ticket sales as an excuse to shut down the track. Interestingly enough, as this is written less than 300 tickets are available to Saturday night's race. It might be a bit off the beaten path, but Darlington remains the best track on the circuit. Sorry, Mom, I'm going to be a little late next Sunday.

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

bills7718
05/07/2007 12:34 AM
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Right on again Matt. Stop moving around so much. Stay right here at Frontstrech now, great web site

Dan'l
05/07/2007 04:25 PM
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People keep talking about how hideously ugly those COT’s are. Isn’t it good that, at least in the case of the Camry’s, NASCAR’s “Stock Cars” actually have something in common with stock cars again?

Gary G
05/08/2007 07:21 AM
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Matt, Keep up the great recaps!!! We were at Richmond and actually really enjoyed a retro Sunday show down there.

Mike
05/10/2007 12:43 PM
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1992 season

Season finale at Atlanta. One of the best races ever… Three possible champions, a final ride for the King, incredible strategy to win a title, and championship hopes dashed – never to be fulfilled. GLad I have that one on tape, to remind myself how NASCAR used to be.