The Frontstretch: Thinkin' Out Loud: Sonoma Race Recap by Mike Neff -- Monday June 24, 2013

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Thinkin' Out Loud: Sonoma Race Recap

Mike Neff · Monday June 24, 2013


Key MomentKurt Busch pulled into the pits on lap 35 and sped. When he came in to do his drive through penalty, he sped again which resulted in him having to do a “stop and go” on lap 37. Busch was the only car that seemed to have anything for Martin Truex, Jr. during the race; his pit road indiscretions kept him from being able to give the No. 56 a run.

Martin Truex, Jr. finally broke through on Sunday, ending an over six-year Sprint Cup winless streak with a dominating performance at Sonoma.

In a Nutshell – Sometimes, good things come to those who wait. Martin Truex, Jr. has been waiting for 218 races, but Sunday his patience was answered with an unlikely win on a road course.

Dramatic Moment – On the final caution of the race, Jeff Gordon went to the pits to gas up and get tires. Martin Truex, Jr. stayed out and assumed the race lead. Gordon ultimately made it back to second, but no one had anything for Truex, who led the final 28 laps of the race and was pulling away the entire final run.

What They’ll be Talking About Around the Water Cooler

In an amazing display of egocentricity, Darrell Waltrip was invited to give the command alongside a contest winner. Once they completed the command, Darrell ripped the mic away from the young lady, who was celebrating her moment in the spotlight just so he could utter his idiotic boogity crap and point the spotlight on himself.

A remarkable turn of events took place before the cars even got off pit lane. Paulie Harraka was apparently texting and driving, plowing into the back of Alex Kennedy who had checked up because David Reutimann had stopped on pit lane. At the same time, Bobby Labonte pulled into the garage with a radiator problem before he turned on to the track. Aside from all of that action, Jacques Villeneuve was sitting on jack stands as the first parade lap was going on with fluid coming out of his car on pit road.

Bobby Labonte was unceremoniously ousted from his ride last week so that they could evaluate the state of the team. He comes back this week and they forget to connect a hose or two that results in him failing to complete a lap. Here’s a suggestion for the JTG crowd – you have a lot bigger issues than your driver. For the record, AJ Allmendinger is now coming back quickly, at Kentucky this Saturday which leaves Labonte’s consecutive starts streak – currently at 704 – in serious jeopardy unless he wants to start and park.

It only took Juan Pablo Montoya three laps to tick somebody off and four laps to dump someone. His actions left Kyle Busch angry enough to send a sarcastic Tweet after the race showing his pleasure the No. 42 ran out of gas; at the checkered flag, the Target Chevy looked like it had been playing a game of bumper cars instead of trying to navigate around a road course. Pretty sure there isn’t anyone in the Cup series that can irritate people faster on the track than JPM. At the same time, he’s damn fun to watch.

Paulie Harraka has three career wins in NASCAR touring competition, if you call the K&N Series touring competition. He’s run 11 Truck and four Nationwide races without scoring a single top 10. It is great seeing drivers who have a lot of talent get a shot to run a Cup Series race as a reward for what they’ve done so far in their career, right? Let’s just say there are a lot more out there who should have been on Sunday’s starting grid before Paulie Harraka was given that chance.

Where were Goodyear’s rain tires when NASCAR needed them during a rare shower out in Sonoma?

It still makes no sense why the Cup Series refuses to use rain tires on a road course. These are supposed to be the best stock car drivers in the world. There is no reason they can’t handle turning left and right on a wet surface with tires designed to handle that kind of situation. Formula 1, Le Mans… hell, Legends cars run in the rain. If we’re going to be all wound up about stock cars on road courses, they need to keep racing when it starts pouring.

Kyle Busch can do some amazing things with a race car. He can also figure out how to shoot himself in the foot with the best of them. Busch was dumped by an overaggressive Juan Pablo Montoya, which pushed him deep in the field. After he clawed his way back to the top 15, he hit the pits during the second caution of the race and managed to get a speeding penalty on top of it all. Sure, he was the victim on Sunday but some of that damage, when things go wrong continues to be self-inflicted.

NASCAR has been running races at Sonoma for 25 years. They ran at Riverside International in 1958 and ran 108 races there. With all of that experience, they still don’t understand how local caution flags work. If a car is off track or spins and is trying to restart, you don’t have to throw a full-course caution. It really isn’t that difficult of a concept. However, considering they can’t figure out rain tires, only waving yellow flags on part of a racetrack is probably just a little too complex.

The Hindenburg Award for Foul Fortune

Bobby Labonte is the consummate professional. His team has hardly given him the best equipment to compete with, but you don’t hear him throw his guys under the bus. The 43rd-place finish on Sunday had nothing to do with Labonte’s driving.

Clearly, Sunday wasn’t Kyle Busch’s day. Between speeding penalties and being punted around the track like a pinball, he was lucky to simply finish 35th.

Kyle Busch was knocked for a loop by Juan Pablo Montoya early in the race. He then had a speeding penalty and followed that up with another knock off track by Carl Edwards that put the end to his potential to compete for the win. As a result, he ended up as the first car one lap down (35th) when the checkered flag flew.

Juan Pablo Montoya was once again bitten by the “if anything bad can happen, it will happen to Juan” bug again. JPM was running in second place for the majority of the final run and pitted the final time on the same lap that eventual winner Martin Truex, Jr. did. Unfortunately for Montoya, he didn’t get the same “King Of Mileage” tag which caused him to run out of fuel right after taking the white flag. He finished the race as the last car on the lead lap in 34th.

The “Seven Come for Eleven” Award for Fine Fortune

Kurt Busch went a lap down to the leaders on lap 36 while serving a stop and go penalty for speeding entering the pits — the second time he was caught. He got back on the lead lap, then fell off it again before working his way back to the front and came home with a fourth-place finish. While he put himself in position to have to battle back, it was still an impressive run. The No. 78 team keeps knocking on the door…

Jeff Gordon tried to get a leg up on everyone by diving onto pit road right before the caution flew for rain early in the race. Unfortunately, pit road was closed about one second before he hit the commitment line. As a result, he had to start at the back of the field on the restart and had to work the entire race to get back to the runner-up spot.

Brian Vickers had to start shotgun on the field thanks to his full-time driving gig in the Nationwide Series keeping him away from Sonoma for qualifying Saturday. While Vickers ended up 13th, he did manage to lead the race for three laps and he had a nearly flawless run from the back of the pack. Vickers also managed to do it without punting anyone out of the way or knocking someone on top of a tire barrier.

Worth Noting

  • It was 218 races between victories for Martin Truex, Jr. The only driver who went longer in Cup history between wins was Bill Elliott, who had 226 races between Darlington in 1994 and Homestead in 2001. Elliott went on to win three more races over the next two years once he scored that victory at Homestead.
  • Truex’s win at Sonoma continued several interesting streaks. Truex is the ninth consecutive different winner at the track. He is the seventh consecutive first-time road course winner and eighth first-time road course winner at Sonoma.
  • The second-place finish for Jeff Gordon is his second in three years at this track. It is his 13th top 5 all-time at Sonoma. Gordon’s average finish over his 21 career starts at Sonoma is 8.2.
  • Carl Edwards’s third-place finish was his second such result in three years. Interestingly, both times that he’s finished third at Sonoma he was behind Jeff Gordon. Edwards has only finished in the top 5 twice in his nine career starts there.
  • Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. was the top finishing rookie again this weekend.

Top 10 Cars By Manufacturer
Toyota – 2
Chevrolet – 5
Ford – 3

  • Kevin Harvick’s 10th-place finish gave him his sixth consecutive such result. He’s jumped up eight spots in the points during that span.
  • The fifth caution of the event was not just for the No. 11 hitting the wall, but also because of the grass fire that was caused when his car stopped in the dry grass on the side of the track. Remember, fans, only you can prevent forest fires.

What’s the Points?

Jimmie Johnson came home with a ninth-place finish in Sunday’s festivities at Sonoma. It was a decent run, but six spots behind Carl Edwards after a two-tire stop called by Chad Knaus late, instead of four scrubbed some speed off the No. 48. Since neither of them led a lap, Edwards gained six points on the leader in the standings and now sits 25 points behind Johnson. Clint Bowyer came home with a fifth-place finish, which drew him within 45 points of Johnson and means that there are now two drivers within a race of him in the points. Kevin Harvick came home with an undramatic top 10, which keeps him fourth. Matt Kenseth rolled home in 19th after a late race free fall which saw him drop from the top 5 over the final 20 laps. He still sits fifth in the standings.

Greg Biffle ran eighth on Sunday without appearing on TV for anything other than being passed. That moved him into a tie with Dale Earnhardt, Jr. for sixth but Biffle is credited with the spot in points because he has a win and Earnhardt doesn’t. Kyle Busch now sits eighth after his disaster, within striking distance of falling out. Brad Keselowski led, which gave him a bonus point but that doesn’t do much when you finish 21st. Keselowski is ninth in points without a win in his column yet. Rounding out the top 10 is Martin Truex, Jr. who rides the bounty of his first victory in 218 races to a spot in the Chase.

Kasey Kahne is the first driver in the “Wild Card” standings thanks to his victory at Bristol. Tony Stewart is the other driver, at this point in time, with a victory who is in the top 20 in points, so he would fill out the final “Wild Card” slot.

Overall Rating (On a scale of one to six beer cans, with one being a stinker and a six pack an instant classic) – Road course racing, like the wine from the Sonoma area of California, is an acquired taste. As road courses go, the race was pretty good. Multiple strategies put different drivers in the lead at different times. Some people drove like darts without feathers and sent multiple cars off the track. Others made pit road mistakes that caused them to have to run through the field and ended up with top-5 runs. All things considered, we’ll give this one four cans of Budweiser, because that is about as far from a California Chardonnay as you can get.

Next Up — It’s time to head back to Kentucky Speedway and find out if the traffic patterns can handle the ¾ capacity crowd that will be showing up for the race. The green flag will drop on Saturday night this week, so tune in to TNT at 7:30 PM or PRN radio to hear the action.

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NASCAR Mailbox: Past Winners Aren’t Winning …. Yet
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Bill B
06/24/2013 07:19 AM

Darrell Waltrip is a tool. I guess he doesn’t have any real friends just a bunch of yes men. If he did have friends one of them would take him aside and tell him how stupid BBB is and how much everyone hates it. But, here we are.

What an interesting race to watch. Every time I thought I had an idea of how it was going to go something would happen to change the dynamics.

I think Bobby Labonte needs to step back until he has a decent ride or retire. For a past champion he has really allowed himself to taint his career in the name of having a ride. What’s the point of riding around at the back, unless he’s just doing it for the money. Maybe he’s trying to set a record for how long a driver can linger based on past success. He’s even outdone Darrell I think.

As soon as Kurt Busch took the lead and looked like the car to beat I told my friend, “Don’t worry. He’ll do something to f-up his race”. And sure enough…

The start of the race was very comical with all those problems before the green flag dropped.

Juan Pablo got what he deserved. He was trying to bully his way to the front when, if he’d just let the race unfold, he’d have gotten there on ability alone. What’s wrong with that boy.

It might be time for Denny to think about that back surgery if he still plans on doing it in the off season.

Yeah, why can’t NASCAR learn to use local cautions? I can give them a break on the rain deal but local cautions seem like a no brainer.

For the last 3 or 4 years the road courses have produced some of the best races of the year. They really need to put one in the chase.

Carl D.
06/24/2013 08:04 AM

It was a pretty good race yesterday; not as good as the Nationwide race Saturday but still one of the better races of the year. It was good to see Truex finally get the monkey off his back.

I suspect we’ve seen the last of Bobby Labonte in the #47 car. Just as well for all involved. I’d like to see Hamlin go ahead and get his back surgery and Bobby return to JGR in the #11 for the rest of the season.

You did not mention All-Star Danica Patrick. No matter; I will do it for you. She notched another top 30, her 13th of the season. She has only 3 finishes outside the top 30, and none outside the top 40.

Somebody grab a mallet. I thought we were done with Darrell Waltrip this year, but just like a whack-a-mole, he keeps popping up.

06/24/2013 08:18 AM

I thought FOX was done regarding Nascar races this year. But, wait….there’s ‘ole Larry Mac talking Hendrick and the 48 and …. look! it’s DW and the boogity yell.

I enjoyed the race and am happy for Truex and Toyota.

06/24/2013 09:57 AM

If this race proved anything, it is that road course ringers are not what they used to be and I suspect you’ll start seeing fewer used by full time teams. I remember when a road course was on the schedule, you could pencil in Fellows, Said, R. Gordon, Tommy Kendall, etc. Top finishing ringer (don’t consider Ambrose a ringer) was 18th yesterday. Not anymore. The cars are so similar that a Stenhouse can ride around, stay out of the way and get a finish that is not damaging.

One thing that was not mentioned much aside from the Biffle comment in this artice, and I’m not sure if it is due to the fact that it is expected, but the TNT coverage was awful yesterday. I mean, were they doing like ESPN for soccer matches and broadcasting from a TV feed in a studio in Charlotte or Atlanta and not at the actual track? Did they all do an early morning excursion on the wine trains before they started the race? Coming back from breaks they were about 5 seconds behind the action.

And I am a huge Kyle Petty fan, but perhaps he should stop tweeting with pissy fans during the race and focus on the event at hand. We get that people think you play favorites and criticize you and yes, even say you got where you are in the sport because of your last name. Why give them validity by responding to them on Twitter during the race?

Finally, I know this is a NASCAR related column, but it would have been nice to mention something about the gentleman who was killed at LeMans Saturday.

06/24/2013 10:29 AM

This was another case of the same old people doing the same old thing. The broadcast wasn’t that bad. As someone mentioned, using stationary cameras meant no following the same couple of cars lap after lap, so that was a positive. But it just wasnt exciting. Maybe its me but the spark has gone out it seems.

Ken Smith
06/24/2013 12:43 PM

Might mention that Dave Blaney was back home in Ohio racing a winged sprint car this weekend! And was joined on Sunday night by Nationwide regulars Brad Sweet (who won the UNOH All Star Sprint Week feature event!) and Kyle Larson who finished 2nd to Sweet in the feature event. Blaney could only manage a 19th place finish. Nice to see the big boys come to play!!

Fed Up
06/24/2013 06:05 PM

Perfect call on Jaws. I started to change channels but didn’t make it before the Boogity BS. Maybe some of your
Frontstretch writers could take a poll and let Fox/Nascar understand that fans are fed up with the Waltrip ego.

06/24/2013 08:18 PM


Wayne V
06/25/2013 10:53 AM

I also agee about Jaws Waltrip. He seems clueless as to what the fans want to hear from the TV guys. The Boogity is just plain IGNORANT, insulting us fans and making the whole sport look stupid. He should listen to Wally, who I believe does a great job on the telecasts.


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