The Frontstretch: Matt McLaughlin's Thinkin' Out Loud: Coca-Cola 600 by Matt McLaughlin -- Monday May 28, 2007

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Matt McLaughlin's Thinkin' Out Loud: Coca-Cola 600

Matt McLaughlin · Monday May 28, 2007

 

The Key Moment: Casey Mears crossed the finish line on fumes to take the checkers at Lowe’s, running out of gas on the cooldown lap.

In a Nutshell: The Top 5 finishers were Mears, J.J. Yeley, Kyle Petty, Reed Sorenson and Brian Vickers. For one evening, the Cup circuit fell down Alice's hole into Wonderland.

Dramatic Moment: Waiting to see if anyone could make it those final ten laps. See, sometimes not throwing a phony debris caution flag actually makes for an interesting finish.

Waiting to see if any cars were left running after the first 125 miles with the carnage that marred the first half of the race.

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

Most of the time races in the contemporary Cup era have been won by the "haves" (as in have money) and lost by the "have nots." Sunday night it boiled down to a battle between the "have gas" and the "have nots."

Humpy Wheeler proposed this week that qualifying would be more exciting (and thus more tickets would be sold) if more than one car qualified at a time. Hey, here's an idea. Don't lock the Top 35 cars in the owner points into the show and qualifying would be a lot more exciting. Or how about this? Split the World 600 into a pair of points races, the World 300s. This race tends to drag in the middle, and a pair of shorter races with full points awarded for each race would have the fans hanging from the rafters. Oh, and to spice things up, invert the field after the first race.

600 miles of racing isn't too much. 600 miles of listening to DW is. Has he broken even his own record for self-promotion with this race? For the record, the race didn't last five and a half hours…the FOX telecast did. This race was actually run in under 5 hours for the first time in a few years.

Was the nose of Johnson's 48 car outside of his pit box when the left rear tire changer installed the missing lug nuts during the 13th caution period? It sure did look that way.

Was I the only one waiting to see Michael Waltrip take off his shoes and run home after he wrecked in qualifying?

It was only for a brief time, but how cool was it to see Bill Elliott leading a Cup race again? But how uncool was it watching a Japanese car lead a race on Memorial Day? Oh, right, right. The Camry is an American car. They're assembled in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, right?

OK, admit it. You channel surfed a few times to see who won the Indy 500. It's a shadow of its former self, but it's still the Indy 500.

This new Toyota engine package is clearly stronger but is fragile. Both Dale Jarrett and Jeremy Mayfield had good runs (a great run in Mayfield's case) scuttled by blown engines. Maybe MWR developed the engine thinking it only had to run two laps of qualifying before being loaded back on the truck and sent to the shop to be rebuilt over the weekend?

The two open wheel racing series face a lot of challenges, but could any stock car fan watching the Indy 500 not feel envious of the "Side by Side" coverage that allows fans at home to keep watching the action even during commercial breaks?

Seriously, with Friday being an "off-day" at Charlotte, can't we just move the Busch race to Friday and the Cup race to Saturday night so race fans can have a two day weekend after the race?

They want to move the first Dover Cup date to the first weekend in April? Given the unpredictable nature of the weather in my native northeast, NASCAR ought to install snow plows on the track drying trucks. Winter didn't want to let go this year. The only change to the schedule I really want to see is the Labor Day weekend race returning to Darlington.

So let's see. Chevys have the new R07 engine available to the teams. The Dodges have a new nose. Toyota has a new engine package designed to produce more midrange torque. And Ford? Well….um, do you get the impression that they don't really have their heart in this game anymore?

The Car of Tomorrow, unaffectionately known as the CoT, will now officially be the full-time ride in the Cup series next year. Look for spot shortages on rear wings in the ricer aisle of your local Pep Boys with drivers in slammed Civics forced to actually bolt picnic tables to their decklids. So, what do this Xzibit character and Brian France have in common? Both of them are Pimping a lot of Rides.

Was Mayfield's save after spinning a couple 360s at 180+ MPH amazing or what? Of course, it might have been that time he spent driving backwards that fatally wounded his engine.

The Hindenburg Award For Foul Fortune

The weather was perfect in Charlotte, but not for Jeff Gordon. His evening ended with a driving Raines. Ironically, it was Ending Rains that cost Tony Kanaan the Indy 500 at about the exact same time.

Kurt Busch dominated the race early, but his night ended with a hard impact into the inside wall while he was running as the first car a lap down. Meanwhile, his brother Kyle apparently got frustrated after a battery failed in the No. 5 car, and he spent the next 20 laps trying to knock the walls down. The walls won. Rick Hendrick has got to be reconsidering whether there's room at the Inn for Junior after all.

Ryan Newman qualified for the pole but fell out of the race with mechanical woes. All in all, between Indy and Charlotte, it was a tough weekend for Roger Penske after a strong qualifying performance across the board.

Greg Biffle's season of discontent hit a new low with an early wreck and a last place result. If Earnhardt decides he could drive a Ford after all, you might be seeing the Bud No. 16 car next year. I doubt Jack Roush much appreciated the comment Biffle made after the race about his cars being "junk" all season.

Wrecks in the first quarter of the race damaged or at least tweaked half the field.

The "Seven Come Fore Eleven" Award For Fine Fortune

I don't know how much gas was left in Casey Mears’ car when it won the race, but on a five dollar bet, I'd have drank it. Combined with his second place finish in Saturday's Busch race, it was a career weekend for Mears. To win, Mears had to overcome a pit road speeding penalty as well.

J.J. Yeley was told this week that his continued employment at Joe Gibbs Racing was in his own hands and he needed to start finishing better. Well, a second place finish ought to buy him a little breathing room.

Kyle Petty hadn't enjoyed a Top 5 finish since Dover in the Fall of 1997…that is, until his third place run on Sunday night.

Tony Stewart's evening appeared likely to end early when he got a big piece of the big crash, but he soldiered on to a sixth place finish and actually led the race awhile.

It was Jimmie Johnson's cutdown tire that shed its carcass and triggered that big wreck, but he drove on unscathed and the wreck behind him actually worked to his benefit.

Brian Vickers seemed to have squandered a good run when he slapped the wall, but he left Charlotte with a Top 5 finish.

Dale Earnhardt, Jr. rebounded from a flat tire and the resultant unscheduled stop that dropped him a lap off the pace to finish eighth.

Worth Noting

  • The Top 10 finishers drove six Chevys, two Dodges, a Ford (Ricky Rudd in seventh) and a Toyota (Brian Vickers in fifth.) A Toyota in the Top 5? With all due apologies to Gracie Slick, why do I feel a hooka-smoking caterpillar dictated these race results to me?
  • All four Hendrick drivers have now won a race this season. Richard Childress is the only other team owner to land multiple drivers in Victory Lane, while Jack Roush claimed the other win left on the table as a team owner. Chevys have claimed eleven of twelve races this season.
  • Jeff Gordon failed to finish a race for the first time since…well…Charlotte last fall. It was Gordon's fifth straight DNF at this track.
  • Toyota scored their first Top 5 finish in the Cup series. Brian Vickers also gave them their first Top 10 back at Fontana.
  • Reed Sorenson scored his best ever Cup finish. J.J Yeley celebrated his first career Top 5 finish in the Cup series.
  • Ricky Rudd managed his best finish since Sonoma in 2005.
  • Dale Earnhardt, Jr. had his third Top 10 finish in the last four races. Hey, maybe someone will hire this virtual unknown after all!
  • Denny Hamlin has Top 10 finishes in six of the last seven races.
  • Jimmie Johnson has Top 10 finishes in the last five races, even with his second worst finish ever in a Charlotte Cup race.

What's the Points?

Jeff Gordon had such a big honking points lead coming into Charlotte that even a 41st place finish couldn't dethrone him from the top of the heap. But his lead over Jimmie Johnson, who remains second, is down to 132 points.

Beyond that, the top six, including Gordon, Johnson, Matt Kenseth, Denny Hamlin, Jeff Burton, and Tony Stewart, held serve yet again. Even fourth place Burton still trails Gordon by more than two races worth of points.

In the “Best Of The Rest Category,” Carl Edwards moved up two spots to eighth while Kevin Harvick rebounded two spots to seventh despite a lackluster evening. Kurt Busch fell two spots to ninth while Clint Bowyer dropped a spot to tenth. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. advanced a spot to 13th and is now just thirteen points out of the Chase. But minus the 100 point penalty for the illegal wing mounts at Darlington, he'd be in ninth position in the points.

Back towards the rear of the point standings, Mears’ win advanced him six spots to 29th and his team doesn't have to worry about qualifying next week. Other notable drivers making nice advances up the ladder include J.J. Yeley (up five spots to 15th), Kyle Petty (up five spots to 26th), Reed Sorenson (up five spots to 24th), and Ricky Rudd (up three spots to 31st.)

Drivers heading in the wrong direction with the hammer down include Ryan Newman (down five spots to 18th), Greg Biffle (down three spots to 19th), Elliott Sadler (down three spots to 20th), and David Gilliland, down seven spots to 34th and needing to pull out of the nosedive to avoid having weekends off soon.

The most interesting points battle (and I'm stretching the word "interesting" to the breaking point here) is between seventh place Kevin Harvick and 12th place Carl Edwards, who find themselves separated by less than 100 points. It's sort of like watching pigeons fight over dropped popcorn while the Top 6 are enjoying a feast.

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 four pony bottles of Genny Cream Ale. I hate races decided on fuel mileage but I hate using artificial caution flags to spice up a finish even more.

Next Up: It's off to the white cliffs of Dover with the white elephant…the Car of Tomorrow.

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Doug
05/28/2007 08:02 AM
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What silly writing! Actually in spots just plain stupid!

Oh, and he neglects to mention what caused all the wrecks at LOWES!!

GOODYEAR TIRES! YES, DEFECTIVE GOODYEAR TIRES!

In fact Matt toes the “NASCAR” line when he states “Jimmie Johnson’s cut down tire that shedd it’s carcass”!!

IT WAS NOT A “CUT DOWN” TIRE! IT WAS SIMPLY A DEFECTIVE GOODYEAR FAILING”!!! AS HAPPENED THROUGHOUT THIS FARCE OF A RACE AND HAPPENS THROUGHOUT THE SEASON!

And what does he (Matt) have against Toyota??writing

Dennis
05/28/2007 08:06 AM
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Wow, and exciting finish despite NA$CAR shenanigans. Crunching the numbers, conserving fuel, and going the distance finally is allowed to pay off like it should. Too bad Atlanta was not allowed to play out the way it was running. Is FOX done with race coverage yet? Can they be any worse? Who the hell produces that race coverage a blind man or someone from an Anti-Violence coalition? Every time a car was turning sideways or starting to hit another they would switch views to foolishness and then jump back too late.

Joe Fisher
05/28/2007 08:12 AM
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I concur on the Toyota slam. Daimler Chrysler Matt? Germany played a significant role in history too. But then again, where i live people still think the “War of Northern Aggression” is still going on so why should I be surprised?

But, I thought I had one too many Newcastle’s when I woke up and saw Kyle Petty getting interviewed after the race. I thought either Bobby Labonte won or Kyle caused the wreck, but 3rd and stating that he couldn’t be happier if Casey was his son. That’s deep. Thought it was funny that 3 of the top 5 drivers were “hot seat” guys who had been mentioned as the odd man out if Junior goes there. Something tells me Junior will end up at Ginn Racing, just a hunch.
NASCAR need to do something about the Chevy domination. These are similar cars right?

MATT
05/28/2007 08:50 AM
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Umm…Doug…you are entitled to your opinion of course and I share your scathing opinion of Goodyear tires and the tire monopoly NASCAR allows but let’s look at the Johnson incident. Allmendinger got hard into the side of the 48 car when he got loose (because his Goodyears were too hard) and that sort of contact historically ends up in cut down tires. Short of making tires out of titanium I don’t know how that particular incident and its reprecussions could be blamed on the Blimp Boys.

Oh and you might note the the Daimler and Chrysler sides of the equation just went through an ugly divorce. But on a brighter note when the complete collapse of the American automobile industry fueled by the Japanese government’s studied efforts to keep the value of the yen artificially low finally costs you your job I hear those Toyota Camry’s are among the most comfortable to sleep in parked under an Interstate overpass having enjoyed a dinner of possum fried over a sterno can.

Joe Fisher
05/28/2007 10:25 AM
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That they may be. The Sienna’a are good to sleep in as well. Complacency is what doomed the American Auto industry Matt. Complacency and Unions running roughshod.

Coop
05/28/2007 02:20 PM
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“But how uncool was it watching a Japanese car lead a race on Memorial Day? Oh, right, right. The Camry is an American car. They’re assembled in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, right?”

But of course the Dodge Charger, Chevy Monte Carlo and Ford Fusion are all assembled right here in the good old US of A, right? Because NASCAR would never allow cars that were manufactured in, say, Mexico or Canada…

MATT
05/28/2007 02:26 PM
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You’ll get no argument from me that unions running roughshod and the tunnel vision of auto execs (I’d call it arrogance more than complacency) have dealt the big three a major blow. But the question is what do we do now.

The auto industry is said to employ one in three Americans either directly or indirectly. That’s a lot of jobs. And unlike Japan, Germany or any other foreign country I can name with a dog in the fight our government seems determined to allow the free trade market to decide the future of our industry. With the Koreans already looming large and the Mainland Chinese about to enter the auto market in a huge way it appears to be a matter of piling on. What’s more rather than helping the federal government seems intent on kicking the industry while it’s down imposing unrealistic MPG and pollution standards on the big 3 at the same time investment capital is at a premium.

My feeling is if the standard is “free market” then so let it be. If consumer want more economical, more green cars, let em buy em. If they want larger cars with internal combustion engines let em buy em. For all the hullabaloo about the recently departed Ford Excursion and the Hummer being irresponsible no one is making a peep about Toyota’s new full size pickup with it’s big V8.

Scoop
05/28/2007 03:06 PM
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Matt, First things first – the employees created the unions that have destroyed the US auto industry. Where else you can sit on an assembly line, screw in a light bulb every 2 minutes, and make $30/hr with full benefits including retirement?? I’m a small business owner, and that is just ludicrous. Second, the imports have proven to be more reliable, cheaper, and offer the same or better features with improved warranties. Why wouldn’t somebody want all of that? As far as MPG, the Toyota truck is the best in its class. Now I think owning any large vehicle is insane for commuting (which I see way, way too often), including any imports. But, if people like tossing their money to the oil monopolies then so be it, they deserve to be poor, just stop the bitching about it or buy something more economical.

MATT
05/28/2007 03:27 PM
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From what I have been told some Japanese consumers have decided that they want an American vehicle, be it a Harley, a Mustang GT or a Corvette (or oddly enough those old Chey Astro vans that were a hit with the customizer crowd over there as well as the old Caprice wagon). They wanted the size, they wanted the horsepower. But to import American cars in the hundreds, not the hundreds of thousands we let the Japanese import here consumers have to jump through flaming hoops at huge expense. The Japanese government has thier auto industry’s back.

As it stands written in the Book of the Boss

My daddy came back to the iron works,
when he come home from World War II
Now the yards just scrap and rubble,
Seems those big boys did what Hitler couldn’t do,
These factories made the tanks and bombs,
that won this countries wars,
Now our sons are dying in Iraq and Afgahnistan, and we’re wondering what they’re dying for,
Here in Youngstown….

Happy Memorial Day.

steven humphrey
05/28/2007 04:41 PM
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i’m reminded of my fathers’ saying. “even a blind squirrel finds an acorn now and then.”

Jan
05/28/2007 09:55 PM
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“As it stands written in the Book of the Boss

My daddy came back to the iron works,
when he come home from World War II
Now the yards just scrap and rubble,
Seems those big boys did what Hitler couldn’t do,
These factories made the tanks and bombs,
that won this countries wars,
Now our sons are dying in Iraq and Afgahnistan, and we’re wondering what they’re dying for,
Here in Youngstown….”

Thanks for the mention of my hometown and the Boss, Matt. Now that the mills are long gone, we will survive or not by one auto plant’s CEO’s whim. For the record, there are no fat lazy autoworkers doing nothing, but men and women busting butt and taking concessions to keep our GM plant alive.

BTW, don’t write the Fords off just yet. Even though the Blue Oval brand has been the redheaded stepchild of NASCAR since the ’66 strike and Big Bill France, RYR and Ricky Rudd have something up their sleeve. We just saw the beginning at the World 600 last night.

Wolfman
05/29/2007 11:56 AM
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Matt’s nightmare:
At the Labor Day Southern California 500, Robby Gordon in a Toyota moves into 12th place in points. Then wins the chase for the championship in a 10 race series that includes 3 road races and 2 restrictor plate tracks.