The Frontstretch: Thinkin' Out Loud: Martinsville-2 Race Recap by Mike Neff -- Monday October 28, 2013

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Thinkin' Out Loud: Martinsville-2 Race Recap

Mike Neff · Monday October 28, 2013

 

Key Moment – Pick most any restart in the second half of the race and you’ll find Jimmie Johnson on the outside. As a result, the No. 48 car was unable to move forward after having led 123 laps early in the race. Johnson’s crew chief, Chad Knaus, tried to pit off sequence to give him an advantage on the restarts, but in the end, it was fruitless and he had to settle for a fifth-place finish.

Johnson’s omission from the front opened it up for a host of other contenders to take control. In the end, Jeff Gordon came through to reappear on the championship radar screen, however faintly with three races left.

Jeff Gordon was all smiles after scoring his first victory of 2013 (and 88th of his Cup career) at Martinsville Sunday.

In a NutshellMatt Kenseth has discovered new life at Martinsville since moving to Joe Gibbs Racing, but it still hasn’t led him to Victory Lane at the shortest track on the schedule. After Kenseth led the most laps during the race, Gordon passed him with 20 laps to go and went on to win his eighth career race at the track, tying him with Jimmie Johnson for the most among active drivers at Martinsville. When the dust had settled, Johnson and Kenseth are now tied in points with three races left to go in the 2013 Cup season; Kenseth posted his best career finish at the track.

Dramatic MomentJeff Gordon babied his tires to the end and, with 20 circuits left, he moved under Kenseth in Turn 1 to assume the lead. Surprisingly, a race that was slowed by 17 caution flags went green for the final 77 laps, a setup that put Gordon on cruise control to the checkered flag.

What They’ll be Talking About Around the Water Cooler

While we’ve been maintaining for two weeks that this championship is a two-horse race, it is now a two-horse dead heat with three races to go. Kenseth and Johnson are tied in points, so the person who can score the most out of these two drivers over the next three races will be the champ. Jeff Gordon, thanks to his win on Sunday, is 27 points behind Kenseth and Johnson. That puts him just barely on the fringes of contention. But unless the two point leaders are involved in a cataclysmic crash, heading into Turn 1 at Texas they aren’t going to both lose 27 points to Gordon.

Greg Biffle and Johnson had a moment in the middle of the race Sunday where Johnson got into the left rear corner of Biffle’s car, knocking the bumper cover loose. Biffle returned the favor to Johnson but did not dislodge the cover on the No. 48. During post-race interviews, as Steve Post began to talk to Johnson about the race, Biffle grabbed Johnson by the back of the neck and spun him around, unleashing an expletive-laced tirade over Johnson’s driving while warning the title contender that he better watch out. Johnson handled the confrontation with his typical unemotional aplomb and eventually received a Twitter apology from Biffle. There are quite a few in the garage who would not have been nearly as understanding of that scruff of the neck grab, probably turning the incident into a scrap on national television.

Some folks are calling Jeff Gordon’s run to his current top three position in points a validation for NASCAR adding him to the Chase this season, following fan uproar over events at Richmond a couple of months ago. Sure, Gordon and the No. 24 team have had a good run, but changing the rules on the fly because of Twitter complaints is a bad precedent to be establishing in a sport that itself admits has an integrity issue. If, by some miracle, Four-Time becomes the second Five-Time this year, there will be even more claims of right triumphing over wrong. The bottom line is, most years there is a team that closes with a good run from 11th or 13th in points, depending on which version of the Chase was employed that given season. That doesn’t mean that team should have had a shot at the title in a ten-race playoff. The same holds true for Gordon. They didn’t run well enough to earn a spot in the Chase during the regular season so this run, while impressive, should be for 13th, not 1st.

Darrell Wallace Jr. scored his first win in the Camping World Truck Series on Saturday. Many people, especially the folks at NASCAR, quickly jumped on the drum beating about Wallace being African-American and a graduate of their Drive for Diversity program, calling the win historic. Wallace is not the first African-American nor the first D4D graduate to win a national touring series race, so calling it historic is a bit of a stretch. It is certainly significant – the first African-American since Wendell Scott in 1963 to win in NASCAR’s top three series – but it doesn’t seem historic. As a note, I consider Bubba Wallace a personal friend and I could not be happier for him. When he won on Saturday, I didn’t even consider the fact he was African-American. I just considered he’s a good driver and he just took another step towards the ultimate goal of being a Cup Series competitor. Shouldn’t that be what the ultimate goal of the D4D is? Acceptance, looking at people for accomplishments and the people they are… not the color of their skin? I hope that someday, we will get to that point and I pray that people will remember the steps Wallace took to help make that happen.

Did Richard Childress’ loving relationship with his grandsons — which has led towards an open door for two future Cup Series rides — help push Kevin Harvick out the door at RCR?

Kevin Harvick and Ty Dillon overshadowed Darrell Wallace, Jr.‘s first Truck win on Saturday. Harvick was making a one-off Truck start for his former/future team. He was spun out by Dillon, with an assist to Matt Crafton, and then body-slammed Dillon’s truck with his own as the two of them headed back around the track to get into the garage. Harvick ended up stopping in Dillon’s pit and then made some disparaging remarks about the brothers, their driving style and why he was leaving RCR on FOX Sports 1. Harvick made some sort of apology on Sunday, although if you read the words closely it was not directed toward Childress or his grandsons. Harvick is on his way out the door at RCR, so the situation was already strained, but it is now going to be on the verge of breaking.

The Hindenburg Award for Foul Fortune

Kyle Larson continues to have some terrible luck as he attempts to garner some Cup Series experience before he goes full-time next year. For the second time in as many tries, an engine turned sour, preventing him from making the most of his opportunity with the No. 51 Chevy prepped by Earnhardt Ganassi Racing and run by Harry Scott, Jr. While the powerplants were likely experimental, high-risk for the rookie the ledger still reads two starts, two DNFs for one of the most highly-touted talents of his generation.

Travis Kvapil had a difficult day at Martinsville, part of a BK Racing disaster in which their cars caused four of the race’s 17 cautions.

Every race at Martinsville, there’s one or two drivers who seem to bring out the caution flag more than most. This year’s culprit? The Whopper. BK Racing had not one but both its drivers responsible for four cautions on the day. Travis Kvapil spun twice, winding up a crumpled soda can in his Burger King / Dr. Pepper Toyota en route to 24th. And David Reutimann? He spun twice to bring out the caution, only to have mechanical problems for the sixth time this year. He eventually pulled his car into the garage area, where it caught on fire due to a faulty rear gear. Not exactly the “flame-broiled” finish the team was expecting… he wound up 37th.

Jimmie Johnson, while fifth had to be feeling down. The No. 48 car was on the outside too many times, for too many restarts and lost too much track position midrace. Chad Knaus, sensing handling problems on short runs took the team off sequence, bringing them in for new tires but essentially writing off a shot at the win in the process. A top-5 finish, in hindsight was somewhat miraculous coming through traffic but when your championship rival outpoints you at a track where you’re supposed to put them away, well…

Mark Martin has been less than stellar in his substitute role for Tony Stewart but Sunday, it was definitely not his fault. Kurt Busch tried to avoid contact with another car off of Turn 4, a move which resulted in turning straight into Martin. That wreck led to extensive time behind the wall, a 36th-place result and seventh outside the top 10 in eight starts for the 54-year-old in the No. 14 Chevy. From the sounds of things, 2013 is going to be Martin’s last year in Cup competition, although he would still like one more shot at the Daytona 500. We’ll see if SHR throws him a bone for keeping Tony Stewart’s seat warm the last few weeks.

The “Seven Come for Eleven” Award for Fine Fortune

After the events on Saturday and his claims for roughly two-thirds of the race that his car was blowing up, Kevin Harvick soldiered home to a sixth-place finish at Martinsville. In all honesty, Harvick came closer to not having a seat in a car on Sunday than most people realize. Fortunately for him and his title hopes, cooler heads prevailed, a sort of apology was issued, and the No. 29 team had a decent day. Let’s see how they come out of the box at Texas before we start assuming everything is peaches and cream at RCR.

Juan Pablo Montoya’s quest for a Sprint Cup oval win will have to wait another week. Strong early, he lost a lap after poor pit strategy before battling back to 13th during the race’s stretch run.

Carl Edwards and Juan Pablo Montoya both received Lucky Dogs during Sunday’s race and both finished on the lead lap in 12th and 13th, respectively. While Montoya is usually known for his “take no prisoners” style of driving on short tracks, it was actually Edwards who appeared to be on a mission to hit everything but the pace car early in the race. He seemed to calm down over the second half and brought home a respectable finish, recovering from early incidents with Jeff Burton and Kvapil.

Brad Keselowski spent the first half of the Martinsville race looking like a 15th-place car. But the chemistry with crew chief Paul Wolfe, after the duo returned to Victory Lane at Charlotte seems to be back on track. A series of midrace adjustments, combined with strong strategy put the No. 2 car up front; Keselowski stayed there down the stretch and ran fourth, a career best for him on this short track.

Speaking of career bests, Matt Kenseth has to be jumping for joy this Monday morning after outpointing Jimmie Johnson at his best track. Kenseth was 14th in the Spring and had led 169 career laps at Martinsville entering Sunday. This race? He led 202, overcame a poor-handling car on long runs and had the perfect setup for the final green-flag stint to stay up front. The second-place result could well be the key to the championship should the No. 20 Toyota team pull away from their rivals by Homestead.

BOWLES: Kenseth’s Martinsville Miracle

Sheet metal fabricators are going to be doing a booming business this coming week. There was not a single car on the track, when the checkered flag flew, that did not have some sort of wrinkled metal. The car owners in the Cup Series will be writing some big checks for more body panels this week.

Worth Noting

  • Jeff Gordon’s win is his 88th of his career, which puts him 17 away from tying the Silver Fox (David Pearson) for second on the all-time wins list. It has taken Gordon nearly eight years to amass the last 17 wins in his impressive total, so the odds are rather small he’ll even get to 100. Still, he remains one of the five best drivers in the history of the sport.
  • This win is Gordon’s first of 2013. He is the 16th different winner this season in 33 races, eclipsing the 15 unique winners that scored victories in 2012.
  • Gordon’s win ties him with Jimmie Johnson at Martinsville for the most among active drivers with eight. Richard Petty has the most all-time, with 15 while Darrell Waltrip is second with 11.
  • Matt Kenseth’s second-place showing at Martinsville was his second career top-2 finish at the historic track. Kenseth has never taken home a grandfather clock in his career.
  • While Kenseth leads the series with seven wins this year, Sunday was his first runner-up finish of the season. Kasey Kahne, by comparison has finished second five times in 2013.
  • Clint Bowyer’s podium finish at Martinsville (third) was his second career top 3 at the half-mile track. Interestingly, it was his second consecutive top 3 after a runner-up effort this Spring. Bowyer has 16 starts at Martinsville and has three consecutive top-5 runs.
  • Contrary to popular belief, the Rookie of the Race award does not automatically go to Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. every week. Danica Patrick had one of the cleanest-looking cars when the checkered flag flew on Sunday and brought home a 17th-place finish to claim the honor. She was the first car one lap down at the end of the race.
  • A four-foot long orange, plastic-coated sledgehammer weighs 20 pounds. We’ll see if that’s enough to draw a penalty after it was thrown at Harvick’s head.
  • Martinsville hot dogs are the stuff of legend. They are still $2 and they are from the Jesse Jones Sausage Company, which is now a subsidiary of ConAgra foods. They used to be made at a plant on Jones Sausage Road outside of Raleigh, NC until the plant closed in 2010.

What’s the Points?

Technically, Matt Kenseth leads Jimmie Johnson by zero. That’s what the official press release says that NASCAR handed out after the race. Why a seemingly contradictory statement? Although both drivers are tied for the championship, with 2,294 points, Kenseth holds the tiebreaker with two more wins during this season. It could be ironic if the title comes down to that tiebreaker and Johnson wins one more race while Kenseth doesn’t. Remember, Kenseth won the first race at Kansas with an engine that was found to be illegal — yet he was allowed to keep the win. Keep that in the back of your mind over the next three weeks.

Thanks to his win at Martinsville, Jeff Gordon jumps up to third in the points, 27 behind the leading duo. Sure, it is a nice story but he’s a longshot at best to win this deal. Kevin Harvick managed to keep his “lame duck” job for another week and finished in the top 10 to hold onto fourth in the title hunt. He’s one point behind Gordon and has the same chance to overtake the three drivers ahead of him as Gordon does leapfrogging the two leaders. Rounding out the top 5 is Kyle Busch. “Shrub” gave them a run for most of the day at Martinsville but faded late to a disappointing 15th-place finish. That puts him 36 points from the top spot. He is the last driver within one race worth of points from the lead but we all know he’s not going to make that up.

Heading up the second 10 is Clint Bowyer. He is 55 points out and is just focusing on trying to get into the top 5 by the end of the race at Homestead. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. came home eighth on Sunday and lost a place in the standings to Bowyer. At this point, he’s still going to get to go to Vegas, which isn’t bad considering how his Chase started. Greg Biffle is eighth in points and might be getting a call from NASCAR suggesting an anger management counselor. He’s not going to fall out of the top 10 in points but he’s also not going to get higher than sixth in the next three weeks. Next comes Kurt Busch, who had a long day before ending the race in 18th. Fortunately for him Carl Edwards, who is right behind him, didn’t fare a whole lot better so they both held their position in ninth and tenth in points, respectively. The differential between the two is just a single point.

The remaining three had a swap for the 11th position thanks to Ryan Newman being punted into the outside fence in Turn 1 and mangling the back of his car. He dropped to 12th in the standings while Joey Logano ran strong for the first half of the day before coming home in 14th. That was still good enough to put him 85 behind the leader and 21 ahead of Newman in the 11th spot. Then comes Kasey Kahne, who had another disappointing race in the 2013 Chase. At one point, Kahne wound up hung on the curb, in Turns 1 and 2 for multiple caution laps before his car could be yanked off by a tow truck. Kahne is now 124 points from the lead and could be mathematically eliminated from the title at Texas.

Overall Rating (On a scale of one to six beer cans, with one being a stinker and a six pack an instant classic) – What can you say? 17 cautions, a pass for the lead with 20 to go, the Championship battle is tied, a driver nearly assaulted another driver during post-race interviews and nobody threw a hammer at anybody. Short of a side-by-side race to the checkered flag, this one had it covered. Giving it five frosty Budweisers and counting down the days until we get to Martinsville again.

Next Up — The circuit heads to Texas for another pivotal race in the Chase for the Cup. Johnson and Kenseth waged an epic battle for the win there a couple of years ago. We’ll see what happens this time around on Sunday, 3:00 PM Eastern on ESPN. If you want to hear the race, tune into PRN at the same time.

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Carl D.
10/28/2013 10:16 AM
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I’ve seen those Martinsville hotdogs up close and personal. Not gonna eat one.

Nice to see Jeffy break the winless streak. Nicer still to see Kenseth finish ahead of Johnson. I really thought the pressure was starting to get to Kenseth, but I hope he continues to prove me wrong.

24crazy
10/28/2013 10:38 AM
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Jeff Gordon raced his way in the “Chase” before Bowyer and the rest of MWR decided that they needed to change fate and Cheat…

janice
10/28/2013 10:39 AM
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this is 2013 and darrell wallace’s race should not be such a big deal with the win. i was happy to see that he won the truck race. he’s a racer and has worked his way through the ranks. i hope he has lots of success.

ok i’ll say it….princess sparkle pony had a top 20 finish at martinsville.

biffle showed that a lot of drivers will be glad to see homestead. i think there’s burned out and some are fed up with the hendrick lovefest. i did enjoy it very much when people wouldn’t let johnson in when he was stuck on the outside lane. he he he he. even cheating chad knew he’d have trouble getting in line when johnson was complaining about a pit stop and knaus came over radio and said he ha was counting restart positions, so you’ve got to restart on the outside…apparently chad wanted johnson to wait a second or two before leaving the pit.

onto texas.

remember, time changes next weekend as well!

pepper
10/28/2013 11:00 AM
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Jeff Gordon says he deserves to be in the chase. Twelve drivers raced their way into the chase. Gordon wasn’t one of them, so exactly what does Gordon base this on? Thank you for this, “Some folks are calling Jeff Gordon’s run to his current top three position in points a validation for NASCAR adding him to the Chase this season, following fan uproar over events at Richmond a couple of months ago. Sure, Gordon and the No. 24 team have had a good run, but changing the rules on the fly because of Twitter complaints is a bad precedent to be establishing in a sport that itself admits has an integrity issue.” And this “ They didn’t run well enough to earn a spot in the Chase during the regular season so this run, while impressive, should be for 13th, not 1st.”

NASCAR has less integrity now than it had before Richmond. And Jeff should be ashamed to go around declaring he “deserves” to be in the chase.

Michael in SoCal
10/28/2013 11:21 AM
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How anyone who is a fan of Nascar gave the Martinsville race zero beers is beyond me. Pull your head out of wherever it is, because you need to see the light.

MilChad
10/28/2013 11:26 AM
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Another great Martinsville race. NASCAR better not EVER think about taking this historic track off the schedule.

Ace
10/28/2013 11:33 AM
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Agree with 24crazy…Gordon had raced his way into the Chase before MWR’s lame cheating! Anyone who says otherwise, is just a Gordon hater.

john
10/28/2013 11:49 AM
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Another excellent race at an excellent track. Martinsville is the only race in the playoff worth watching anyway.

Bill B
10/28/2013 12:20 PM
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Pepper,
Re: “so exactly what does Gordon base this on?”

I can’t speak for Gordon but as someone that watched the Richmond race I would base it on the fact that someone purposely spun out to manipulate the ending of that race. You can argue that all you want but if Bowyer hadn’t of spun out on purpose Gordon was in. Now, do you want to start debating whether or not Bowyer spun out on purpose again? DA

Gary
10/28/2013 12:26 PM
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I say we go back and forth between Martinsville and Bristol for the chase title.

Upstate24fan
10/28/2013 12:32 PM
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What a weekend at Martinsville. Between the 24 getting the win and Harvick napalming his bridges at RCR, NASCAR doesn’t get any better than that. It would be kind of fitting for Jeff to steal a championship this season considering the Chase probably cost him two more championships.

Tim S.
10/28/2013 12:55 PM
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Amen on all points, janice. Hendrick first, ask questions later. I guess it’s fine if you’re a fan, but I most certainly am not. Hendrick Fatigue should be recognized by the CDC.

Kevin in SoCal
10/28/2013 01:11 PM
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I’d love to see Mark Martin back again next year, but Stewart-Haas Racing has a full plate with 4 cars next year. They cant race a fifth. Martin would have to be with a different team and SHR providing the chassis and engine.

janice
10/28/2013 01:12 PM
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tim s – like that hendrick fatigue! not a fan of hendrick, ever! in my opinion he’ll always be a convicted fellon pardoned by clinton!

Dan
10/28/2013 02:19 PM
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You’re wrong Mike. Gordon was in the chase with just a handful of laps remaining at Richmond. The results were determined by other’s actions, not by Gordon’s under performance. He was doing what he had to do that night to gain entrance into the “Chase”. If not for the underhanded actions by others he would have been one of the twelve.

DoninAjax
10/28/2013 02:52 PM
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Didn’t Johnson finish fifth, unless he blew by Brad at the finish (which the car is probably capable of without the sandbagging)?

It seems Brian got confused when he heard a Hendrick car was leading and didn’t order the caution to help Johnson at the end. He only got it half right (car numbers). Hendrick will have a talk with him this morning.

Judging by Chad’s comments about double-file restarts, I expect Hendrick will “suggest” a change in the rules to Brian during their talk.

JD in NC
10/28/2013 03:02 PM
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Gary,

I could go for that chase schedule, as long as we include Darlington and a road course.

kb
10/28/2013 03:51 PM
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Something was up when the people who were bad all year suddenly were the talk of the town qualifying so well at Richmond. Jeffery does not deserve to be in “The Chase”, you do not change rules mid stream because you can. What other sport does that???? No respect. We find it very funny that Jeffery is “racing” like he hasn’t done in years, with all the luck of the Race Gods shining on him this Chase season. It is part of the Nascar script to have Jeffery finish well, he has to, to prove to the doubters that Jeffery should have been in “The Chase” all along..see you dumb, clueless doubters of Brian France, look at Jeffie go isn’t he awesome. Nascar is the WWF. The future wasn’t written at Richmond, last I checked the checkers wasn’t dropped, so Nascar made huge assumptions, Jeff should be ashamed taking a free extra seat. Stuff happens in sports all the time, they call things final for a reason, the fallout from Richmond is still and will evolve and not in a good way.

Dan
10/28/2013 04:23 PM
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Ah yes another conspiracy theorist. The world is full of them.

Managing Editor
10/28/2013 04:33 PM
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Re: Johnson’s finish

Hey DonInAjax,

Mike had it correct (fifth) except for one spot, at the top of the column as you pointed out. We missed it … thanks for letting us know, I went ahead and adjusted it.

Appreciate you being such an avid reader and great commenter on our site!

Ken Smith
10/28/2013 06:12 PM
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I hate to tell the Martinsville track announcer, but I don’t think Junior Johnson ever won a “Sprint Cup Race” !!!

Bill B
10/28/2013 06:23 PM
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I hope Hendrick does say something about how ridiculous double file restarts are at that track. They are inherently unfair to anyone on the outside. Something is wrong where it’s better to be 11th than 4th. What’s the point?… to see who can make sure they get out of the pits in an odd spot? Yeah, strategy like that belongs in racing.
I’ve been railing against DF restarts at Martinsville since they started DF restarts. It’s about time JJ got burned on the outside a few times. If that’s what it takes for someone to take a closer look at the restart process then I am all for it.

GinaV24
10/28/2013 06:39 PM
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I was at the race and had a wonderful time! It was a beautiful day, Gordon had a great car & showed why he’s a damn good driver. He’s had the opportunity to win this race several times in the last couple of years and I was happy to see that NASCAR didn’t decide to throw a bogus yellow to get a GWC. The finish was plenty exciting with Jeff working to get around the 20.

Mike Neff – sorry that you can’t appreciate what a good driver is and feel that you need to disparage his drive to move up in the points & possibly win the championship. Is it a longshot? Sure, but I’ll take it over a runaway. And yes, Gordon & his team does deserve to be in this chase – they had raced their way in until MWR decided to cheat.

I have no idea what the race looked like on TV but it was a lot of fun to watch it in real life. Having been to this track multiple times, I agree that it is one of the best race to attend.

david
10/28/2013 08:16 PM
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Did Jeff really race his way into the Chase before “Spingate” ? I seem to remember almost all the Hendrick cars finishing behind Jeff the last 4 races before the Chase. Anyone else notice that?

underbird
10/28/2013 08:50 PM
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Oh my god… the Gordon “rainbow brigade” of fans have come out of hiding. The only thing manipulated about this season is everything to do with it. Including the phantom 13th Chase position.

Sure, you can complain about Bowyer spinning all you want, but the only proven manipulation was when the rules were changed to accomodate the fourth Hendrickmobile. I’ve seen several 10’s of these rules changes happen over the years to make sure that a Hendrick bowtie got some kind of favored treatment, but this is the first one that was overtly labelled as such. Still shaking my head over this one…

another Andy D
10/28/2013 09:03 PM
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@Bill B, Hopefully my wife won’t bludgeon me with one of those Ty Dillon crew hammers, when I wake up multiple times tonight laughing about your post.
Changing the rules because Jimmy can’t figure out how to get to the inside line, priceless!

Bill B
10/29/2013 10:28 AM
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another Andy D,
I get your sarcasm but just to be clear it has nothing to do with Jimmie. It has to do with a bad rule that doesn’t work at that particular track.

So, do you personally think it’s fair for the 4th place car to be at a disadvantage to the 11th place car?

So do you personally think it represents the spirit of racing to run slower than you can coming out of the pits to try to get an odd spot?

Paul
10/29/2013 01:26 PM
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I gave it zero cause Hendricks won again!

 

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