The Frontstretch: Thinkin' Out Loud: Chicagoland Race Recap by Mike Neff -- Monday September 16, 2013

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Thinkin' Out Loud: Chicagoland Race Recap

Mike Neff · Monday September 16, 2013


Key Moment – 109 laps into the race, the skies opened up and the race went under a red flag. Had the weather held off for another 25 laps, the race would have been called official and no one would have had to stay up until midnight to see the finish.

In a Nutshell – The first 109 laps of the race were about as boring of a parade as they could be. After the extensive rain delay, cautions were running rampant which led to numerous restarts. Engines were blowing more frequently in the last half of the event than they had in a race since Toyota was losing engines like a seven year-old losing baby teeth. In the end, Kyle Busch was the dominant car of the post-rain delay, but Matt Kenseth got a push on the final restart and led the last segment to win. Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon overcame some difficulties to post strong finishes but, in the end, it was Kenseth who scored the win ahead of Busch, Kevin Harvick, Kurt Busch, Johnson and Gordon.

Dramatic Moment – On the final restart of the race, Kevin Harvick pushed Matt Kenseth to the lead ahead of Kyle Busch. Once the cars were nose to tail, there was no passing for the lead and Kenseth ran off and won the race.

What They’ll be Talking About Around the Water Cooler

Five hours and 10 minutes of rain delay coverage. Sure, those fans at the track would like to see the race and many of them can’t come back on Monday but sheesh, taking the green at 10 PM was a bit much. Fortunately, with the excitement of the Chase having everyone on the edge of their seats, it certainly had to be easy for all of the fans to stick it out.

By the way, NASCAR, starting the race at 10 is the same as starting it Monday. Anyone who had to take vacation to attend the race or had a long drive to get there did not stick around to see the end of it. If you don’t believe that, check the tape of the race because there were a couple thousand people in the seats when the race restarted.

Danica Patrick is often accused of believing the sport revolves around her. While that is inaccurate, there is one word of advice that she might want to listen to. When there has been a very long red flag and NASCAR calls you back to the car, it is a good idea to get there as quickly as you can. David Hoots came on the radio to ask if all of the drivers were in their cars and ready to race when he was informed the driver of the No. 10 was not in their car. He responded by saying, “We can start without her.”

Which rule change, penalty, NASCAR decision should we start with?

Since I was last with you, Michael Waltrip Racing was fined and penalized for manipulating the outcome of the race at Richmond. The move to have Brian Vickers pit and ultimately allow Joey Logano to make the Chase on points was considered a violation of the infamous 12-4, actions detrimental to stock car racing. Somehow, having your driver pit when the pits are open is an action detrimental to the sport. There was no rule against it, at least at the time, and the MWR folks, specifically Ty Norris, figured it out better than everyone else on the track. While NASCAR most likely wanted to do nothing, as they routinely do, their hand was forced because the hoard of casual fans who apparently were paying attention to the race lost their collective minds and demanded something be done. The fact is that, since NASCAR started there have been people making decisions that ultimately effect the outcome of races against the wishes of others. But past history didn’t matter, present outrage did and the biggest fine in the history of the sport was handed out. Whether you agree with the decision or not, once thing is for sure, NASCAR has opened an enormous can of worms that is going to bite them in the ass for the next 60 years of the sports’ life, assuming it lasts that long.

As part of the fines and penalties that hit MWR, Martin Truex Jr. lost points which knocked him out of the Chase. While Clint Bowyer was accused of spinning on purpose, although it wasn’t proven, and Vickers pitted to let Joey Logano around, Truex did nothing but race his heart out. In the end, he was the only driver who was really penalized by the entire fiasco that developed at the end of Richmond.

While that seemed to be enough of a mess already, things were just beginning to get silly. Some intrepid scanner geeks dug up some radio chatter between the spotter for the No. 38 and his driver that insinuated Penske Racing would like to have David Gilliland slow down in the closing laps. As a result, that would allow Logano to drive past him and gain another spot to ensure he would make the Chase. In the end, Gilliland slowed down enough to let Logano catch him from a straightaway behind and pass him for a spot that helped him make the Chase on points. Amazingly, Penske Racing was chastised and given a firm pat on the wrist along with the entire racing organization being placed on probation for the remainder of the calendar year. Somehow, even though Penske did the same thing MWR did, manipulating the outcome of the race to the benefit of some and the detriment of others, they didn’t get anything near the $300,000 fine that MWR received. Whatever the load of bunk is that NASCAR will try and feed you, the reason is simple: Michael Waltrip is a spineless shill when it comes to NASCAR and they know he won’t fight them over the decision. Roger Penske is a man who will fight tooth and nail if he feels that he’s being accused of something that can’t be proven. If they tried to fine Penske, he’d have sued them and drug this thing out for months, just like the 1981 Indianapolis 500, which wasn’t official until October 9th.

If that wasn’t enough, when the teams got to Chicago the heads of the sanctioning body had a meeting with all of the Cup teams to discuss some new rules and policies going forward. The highlight of the meeting was a new rule that basically says all of the drivers have to compete at 100% of the ability of the driver and car throughout the entire event. NASCAR President Mike Helton did make clear that it does not apply to start and park drivers, so Michael McDowell’s job is safe for now. Umm… what? How in the world are the people calling the races, who don’t even consistently enforce minimum speeds or “out of bounds” are going to be able to tell that people are giving 100% is beyond even the most brilliant of minds.

With the sport already in a complete tizzy over a week of jurisdictional muscle flexing, the NASCAR folks decided to make one more announcement on Sunday morning. The restart rules were tweaked in an effort to make the calls less subjective for race officials. While the true effect remains to be seen, it most likely has just moved the subjectivity from one spot to another on the restarts. The leader will still start the race in the restart box but that is the end of when they will have an advantage. If the leader fires, then the second-place driver beats the leader to the start/finish line that is now OK. If the leader doesn’t start in the box, then it is up to the flagman. The subjectivity will now be all about how fast the leader is bringing the field to green and whether the second-place driver fires at the same time or before the leader. Just another worm in the can…

I would love to be a fly on the wall at Earnhardt Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates on Monday morning to hear the explanation of why Juan Pablo Montoya’s rear fender wasn’t cleared from the tire before the race restarted. The result, a flat was highly embarrassing, since it was knocked in on the rear tire right before the red flag flew to start the five-hour rain delay.

The Hindenburg Award for Foul Fortune

Joey Logano, after all of the attention this week, was the first Chase contender to be bitten by a mechanical failure. Coming to the pits with smoke puffing from his exhaust pipe was more than evidence enough that he had a bad engine issue. In an effort to give 100%, though, Logano continued to circulate under the caution with smoke and lord knows whatever fluids spewing from the exhaust pipe. It took awhile, but eventually his motor did give up the ghost and he ended up as the lowest-finishing Chase contender.

Not that anyone thought Dale Earnhardt, Jr. was going to win the title but his engine detonation once again has signed his season’s death certificate. He may rebound and pull off the improbable, but the odds are stacked very strongly against him.

Cole Whitt had a rough first Cup Series race of the year on Sunday. First, he was the driver that brought everyone’s attention to the rain in Turn 4 when he spun to the infield to ultimately bring out the red. He then went back to racing after the red was lifted, only to completely detonate his engine. His No. 30 ride blew up so violently, the car became engulfed in flames.

The “Seven Come for Eleven” Award for Fine Fortune

Jimmie Johnson had a pit stop penalty called in error by a NASCAR official which cost him quite a bit of track position early in the race. The official thought lugnuts were loose when, in fact, they were all tight on the car.

Kurt Busch was hit with a speeding penalty during some green flag pit stops. He took a wave around to try and get back into contention and made up the ground when Joey Logano’s engine first started smoking. It ended up Busch was able to put the No. 78 in a top-5 finishing position.

Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. has been consistently improving his best career Cup finish. Last week was his first career top 10 result with a 10th place at Richmond. This week, he scored an eighth-place finish at Chicago. Stenhouse was the second-highest finishing Ford driver, one spot behind defending champion Brad Keselowski.

Worth Noting

  • The six wins by Kenseth in the No. 20 equals the total wins for the car from 2007-‘12. Tony Stewart had four and Logano scored two.
  • Six wins for the No. 20 also ties the best season ever in terms of wins for the number. Tony Stewart scored six wins in 2000 behind the wheel of the No. 20.
  • This race win was Kenseth’s 30th of his career. Kenseth is the 22nd driver in the history of the sport to reach that plateau. Sunday was Kenseth’s 500th Cup series start.
  • Kenseth has run 14 races at Chicago and this is his first victory at the track. The win is his third top 5 and fifth top 10 at Chicago.
  • There were 25 lead changes among 16 drivers. Both of those numbers are records at Chicago. Three of them actually took place on the track.

What’s the Points

Overall Rating (On a scale of one to six beer cans with one being a stinker and a six pack an instant classic) – What is to be said about the 24 hours of Chicago? The first half of the race was a mind numbing snoozefest of a parade. The second half was an engine blowing display of starts and stops that never really had a flow but still showed that track position means more than tires or strategy. The aero dependency of these cars is still ruining the sport, even more than the decision makers in Daytona trying to overlegislate their way into a racing series where everyone is equally identical. We’ll give this one two beers simply for the excitement that happened at the end of the race.

Next Up — The Cup Series moves to Loudon, New Hampshire for the Sylvania 300. It will be available on ESPN and PRN at 2:00 on Sunday.

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09/16/2013 09:31 AM

didn’t manage to stay awake, 4:30 am comes quickly to this old gal, so i was in bed when green flag waved. when they were an hour late getting started the first go round knew it was going to be a long race. only a shame they didn’t get to halfway. wouldn’t have mattered much, cause i think kenseth was leading at that point. would have helped jr. i can’t see him overcoming such a points deficit, and he’s not in a good frame of mind to mount the charge. he is one driver that could benefit from some time with a sports psychologist.

should we start a pool to see how long it will be before johnson is back in the points lead?

09/16/2013 09:36 AM

Last night was a tale of two races. For the top five or so cars, it was a single-file parade in which it was impossible to pass anyone within two laps after a restart. Behind that, though, it was a really entertaining race with plenty of passing and tire wear being a major factor: Jeff Gordon drove from 18th to sixth on tires only some five or seven laps fresher than those around him, and he wasn’t the only one to make exciting charges up the running order. I couldn’t watch before the rain delay, but the race after the delay was the best I’ve seen at Chicagoland in years.

09/16/2013 10:36 AM

oh geez, cry me a river because some people are so bent out of shape that Gordon GOT in because NASCAR said so. I’m a happy 24 fan. Mike, trust me that it wasn’t any of the “casual” fans who roared at NASCAR. The media who touts Jr Nation seems to forget that Gordon has a pretty damn big fan following, too.

Also, it wasn’t putting Jeff in that was NASCAR’s mistake, it was NOT excluding Bowyer for his part in the MWR manipulation.

You are right, there is no “rule” against pitting your car under green, but it sure is a damned unsportsmanlike thing to do it to deliberately manipulate the finishing order. Plus, it wasn’t just Vickers, Bowyer pitted again in order to make sure the running order was to the advantage of Logano as well as helping Truex. The media knows it, too, although it seems the majority would rather say how awful it is that NASCAR is ruining the sport by adding a driver. BS!

Gordon had a really good run at Chicagoland – I hope it continues for the next 9 weeks & that he finishes well up in the points.

Bill B
09/16/2013 10:41 AM

So now that drivers need to give 100% does that mean that if you ride at the back of the pack outside the draft at the restrictor plate tracks you get penalized?

As for Gordon getting in Jerserygirl has it right. The espn talking heads agree. NASCAR’s real mistake is when they didn’t fine Bowyer whatever number of points it took to push him out of the chase. He spun out on purpose. It was obvious. Forget about being able to prove it beyond a reasonable doubt.

Just answer one question. Do you personally think Bowyer spun out on purpose? If so, then penalizing him and only him out of the chase would have solved all the issues. Even ESPN’s talking heads were saying the same thing yesterday.

09/16/2013 11:16 AM

i wish they would have shown more of the jet dryers. it looked like they were having a race that was just as good as the cup cars and with maybe only three less lead changes. watched a bit of the first half up to the rain delay, left and didn’t come back as i didn’t want to chance cheating death (by boredom) again…

as far as boyer spinning, i couldn’t care less and i really don’t see what the big deal is…. so what you all are saying is that it’s only ok for nascar to manufacture finishes and points but not for the teams to operate well within the rules to “affect” the outcome of a race? really? i’m not trying to judge what’s right or what’s wrong or intent. i just want to see a good race. that’s it. if it weren’t for the ludicrousness that is “the chase,” team based points manipulation wouldn’t mean as much and there would probably be better racing as the races themselves would mean more. now this 100% statement of idiocy. keep firing at your foot nascar it’s becoming more entertaining than the racing “product.”

09/16/2013 11:41 AM

jerseygirl24 – i found it interesting that johnson was whining about 13 cars being in the chase vs. 12.

this dale sr fan was glad when gordon was put in the chase. only way to make me happier would have been to take bowyer out. he started the mess at richmond with mwr.

the talking heads on espn got on my nerves during the pre-race rain delay.

i did laugh when brain fart said “he” can add the 13th car to the chase. guess he wanted to let people know he’s still in charge. he sure has trouble forming a sentence.

09/16/2013 12:00 PM

I had to work overtime Sunday and thought I had missed the race by the time I got home after 8, so I only saw from the restart on. Given that I picked up some overtime money and missed what most are calling a snooze fest in the first half, I’d give this one three Rolling Rocks with frost on the outside of the bottle and just a touch of slush on the inside. Mike, can we get our voting rights back?

09/16/2013 12:07 PM

On the restart after the “competition” yellow, the 48 car pulled away like he had 50 or more horsepower than Kyle Busch. I thought the “race” was over and looked for the Mannings game. On the restarts at the end, he lost positions. When is he going to stop sandbagging and go at 100% all the time like HASCAR wants?

Brian also added the chase because he “can.” How’s that working out?
When there is a competition yellow shouldn’t ALL the teams have to change four tires?

09/16/2013 12:17 PM

So Gordon and the Hendrick boys have NEVER done anything sneaky to help themselves in the past?

LOL. Fools are soon parted with their money, which goes directly into Brian France’s pockets.

Let the good times roll.

09/16/2013 12:35 PM

I know it sucks for the teams and media, but I’m glad we didn’t get a rain shortened event. The race was actually pretty decent after the red flag, and I just hate the idea of rain strategy impacting the Chase. That’s another flaw of the Chase that one rain shortened Chase race can disproportionately impact the standings v. 1 rain race out of 36.

09/16/2013 01:31 PM

Is there anything to the rumor that Brain France is going to be the new CEO of WWF?

09/16/2013 01:33 PM

I agree with JP. I have been watching racing since the mid 1970’s and I am amazed at the uproar, people don’t know their Nascar history. Lots of good books on the subject. I fear alot of these fans are new Chase fans, who just like the driver without much understanding of race strategy itself. Labeling it cheating is irresponsible, no cheating was done as it wasn’t proven, Nascar said as many times as the media said it. It has been accepted race strategy in full view of Nascar. I firmly believe this is due to the driver who did not benefit (THIS TIME). What about Jeff being told to slow up (or something to that effect) by the new definiton of not giving it your all and manipulation, shouldn’t he be fined? Oh the mess Nascar has wrought. There was a very good reason the results of the race stood and were final, the founding fathers of Nascar saw this bologna coming a mile away. Go Those darling perfect, above reproach little darlings. LOL.

09/16/2013 01:43 PM

I used to LOVE racecars… But now NASCAR’s just a big trainwreck. That’s alright, because I love trains, too…

09/16/2013 01:43 PM

Janice, Johnson, IMO, only drives for the same organization as Gordon, but he’s not a good teammate. Based on past behavior and present comments – in particular, his woe is me, 13 drivers changes the odds. That’s why it made me laugh when some people were saying that he deliberately hit the wall to “help” Jeff. Johnson looks out only for Johnson.

A few years ago, when all the Roushketeers were playing leapfrog with the lead to allow each time to get a point for leading, I don’t recall that ever happened between the 48 and the 24. If HMS was going to have team orders this year, Kahne would have let Jeff win at Pocono to give him a better chance at the wild card slot.

IMO, Knaus & Johnson’s goal in life is to beat Gordon every single time they can. That’s fine. I want Gordon to beat every other driver out there, too. Since that fits in with NASCAR’s “100%” effort and fairness policy, that’s fine.

Just in case I’m not clear on this – I truly dislike the 48 team. Do I think they cheat? Yes. Did I see the restart @ Chicago where Johnson pulled away like he had extra HP? Yes. Did I notice that after having 4 “terrible” weeks, all of a sudden Chad has flipped the “switch” and it is full steam ahead. Yes. Do I think they were sandbagging to help their teammates in particular Gordon? No, again, because the 48 team only helps the 48 team. Does it piss me off that the 48 has gamed the Chase for years? Yes.

Its one of the reasons I wanted Gordon in the chase & I really want him to win one of the 10 race trophies. Stick it up the you know what of the driver of the 48 and forcibly remove the lucky horseshoe.

Kevin in SoCal
09/16/2013 02:05 PM

Go check out the NHRA Facebook site and read all the whining and complaining about ESPN, NHRA, and NASCAR about how ESPN2 pre-empted a tape-delayed NHRA race to show live NASCAR racing.

09/16/2013 02:16 PM

Has to be one of NASCAR’S worst weeks ever, absent a fatality on the track.

Yesterday’s events just were the icing on the cake.

Anyway, there are no longer 13 drivers in the Chase, for all intents and purposes.

09/16/2013 03:37 PM

For all the Johnny Come latelys loving Gordon and extolling his wonderous virtures..16 years ago,(one example) there was a monsterous car called T-Rex. You should read up. For all, calling what happened cheating on anything Richmond. Nascar has deemed nothing was done illegal and it wasn’t. In the T-Rex instance Nascar didn’t like those pesky known but grey areas that allowed to build that car, but all they did was change the rulebooks. Which is what if they don’t like what happened at Richmond should change the rulebook. I am always amazed when its a HMS anything, they “push the grey area” and are “innovators”, anybody else doing the same thing gets a Scarlet “cheater” on their firesuit. Hester Prynne got off easy and she did it!! Lol

Bill B
09/16/2013 03:51 PM

Just want to point out that I am fine with guys letting other guys ahead for a point, or pitting for no reason, or going slow (as long as you keep the minimum pace). However if you are going to spin out on purpose, or throw debris out the window to purposely bring out the caution, then that’s where I draw the line.
If it had been any other race but the chase cutoff race people would not have freaked out as much but it was and they did.
Once again, you can blame this on the chase. If race 26 were the same as the other 35 races, the repurcussions wouldn’t have been as bad.

And one last point. MWR’s execution of that manipulation was terrible. Why don’t you just get a plane with a banner behind it letting everyone know what you’re up to.

09/16/2013 04:50 PM

I did it for the first time in 20+yrs I did NOT watch record dvr attend or even know who won a cup race until just now .Thank you na$car for this week I can live with out you and not care .But I still love and will read this site

09/16/2013 05:24 PM

kb, not a johnny come lately Gordon fan at all. I’ve been following his career since he drove winged sprinters. Yes, I will indeed extol his virtues. He’s a pretty great guy and Ray Evernham was an amazing crew chief. Yes, they built the T-Rex car and absolutely took advantage of EVERY area not covered in the rule book. They raced it one time – at the All-Star race and it was an amazing display of an awesome car, a smart crew chief and a damn good driver in his prime.

You are also right in saying that NASCAR took that car and went over it. They told HMS to never bring it back to the race track and then re-wrote the rule book.

The difference between what went on at Richmond and the T-Rex car is that Ray built a phenomenal car to outrun the competition, he didn’t try and manipulate the finish.

09/16/2013 07:06 PM

Sorry Jersey Girl you missed my point completely. And it was in no way pointed at you(althought I do not agree with alot of your comments) just the legions of fans crying foul when they don’t know their history. I dare say there was a few “manipulating” events that besides MWR that got Gordon in the Chase if you wanted to break it down on some moral high ground. I happen to look at it as racing, racing and strategy. People during T-Rex incident were crying cheating too, you say is it different..a edge to win the race? Splitting hairs to suit your explanation of manipulation.

09/16/2013 07:22 PM

JerseyGirl, you just made my point for me. Sadly, you seem to think that just because it was an All Star race well thats o.k. Sorry you see it that way. You missed my point completely as well. The point being is Nascar saw it and said no more, and changed the rulebook, it doesn’t matter if it was for an all star event or not, they ran it. More reprocussion came out of that little diddy. Jump to the future, 22/38 no foul Nascar says, people can have selective moral high ground whenever they want, that doesn’t mean its illegal in Nascars eyes. If it isn’t in the rulebook against said action, it isn’t cheating. Bang head on desk when bantering with HMS fans.

09/16/2013 08:58 PM

Crap. If Gilliland doesn’t let Logano pass at the end of Richmond, Jeff would have been in a tie for 10th with Joey, and Joey would have been in on the first tiebreaker, which is wins. This is just another example of Brian France having his nose shoved so far up Rick Hendricks a$$ he can tell you what he has for breakfast every morning. I hope Jeff wins the championship this year because if he does it’s going to have an asterisk next to it the size we havent seen since Barry Bonds broke the home run record. Sorry Jeff fans…if he had ran better or God forbid won a race during the season he wouldnt have had to rely on that mongoloid to “give” him a spot in the Chase.

JD in NC
09/16/2013 10:18 PM

kb – early last week you said NASCAR painted themselves into a corner with the MWR penalties. I disagreed on the grounds that they just issued a point and dollars penalty like they have done since the beginning of time. However, with Idiot in Chief BZF stating that they were letting a 13th driver in basically because he has the authority to, the whole ruling junta of NASCAR slammed themselves firmly into a deep corner within an ocean of paint a mile deep all around.

09/17/2013 07:39 AM

Do we really need THE CHASE?


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