The Frontstretch: Thinkin' Out Loud Like Matt McLaughlin : Pepsi 500 by Phil Allaway -- Monday September 1, 2008

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Thinkin' Out Loud Like Matt McLaughlin : Pepsi 500

Phil Allaway · Monday September 1, 2008


Key Moment: Pole Qualifying on Friday. Johnson’s pole winning run set the tone for the rest of the weekend.

In a Nutshell: I can describe the race in eight words or less: Johnson came, he saw, he kicked butt.

Dramatic Moments: With such a dominating performance by Johnson, the biggest excitement on the track was caused by falling caution lights. Not one, but two yellows were thrown because of them. The first resulted from an entire light assembly falling off of the catchfence and crashing to the track on Lap 20. Fortunately, it didn’t hit any cars below—that would definitely mess up a race car.

The second was caused by a small piece of the light shield detaching from the assembly on Lap 161, which fell down into traffic and bounced off a few cars. Weird stuff. In the 20 years and 671 races have been run since I discovered the now-Sprint Cup Series, I’ve never seen that before!

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

Is it just me, or has there been a lot more butt kicking in races this year? Johnson led all but 22 laps (or 44 miles) on Sunday. This type of domination has never been seen before at Auto Club Speedway. The last time someone even came close was in the 2006 Auto Club 500 when Greg Biffle led 168 laps, or 120 miles less than Johnson did Sunday night. These runaways have not been limited to so-called cookie cutter tracks, or to just the Nextel Cup Series.

Turns out that it was a sellout at California, they just changed their seat width to 20 feet

While attendance has been estimated at 70,000 for Sunday night, it is approximately 15,000 fewer people than that attended the race last year, when temperatures were over 100 degrees during the day for most of the weekend. This is slightly over 75 percent of the listed seating capacity for the track and is also more than 30,000 less than the peak attendance for this race. The point is, you could see the empty seats pretty well.

Sunday night’s Pepsi 500 is the last time that the Fall race at Auto Club Speedway will be held on Labor Day Weekend. Maybe the move to October on next year’s schedule will help the speedway out. In the span of two years, the now-Auto Club Speedway went from having one race that sold out to having two that don’t. And I won’t even go into how I personally think they should have never gotten the second race in the first place.

This weekend, the Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series goes back to Richmond. The last time the Sprint Cup teams were at Richmond, Denny Hamlin led 381 laps during the race. Hamlin finally lost the lead because of a flat tire, but up to that point, he had led all but one lap in the race. The race ended with a grand total of four lead changes, mainly because Kyle Busch pulled an overly aggressive move on Earnhardt Jr., which resulted in Earnhardt Jr. crashing and Busch going up the track, allowing Bowyer to skate by and claim the victory. Had Hamlin not had the flat, we could have been looking at a situation where Hamlin could have led all but one lap.

I couldn’t help but notice just how close the owners’ points are around the 35th place cutoff at the moment. A.J. Allmendinger’s 14th place finish on Sunday boosted his team five spots in the standings up to 31st, which locks the No. 84 in for Richmond. The odd man out is Sam Hornish, Jr. in the No. 77. His 31st place finish dropped the Penske Travel Centers/Mobil 1 Dodge to 36th. Robby Gordon’s No. 7 on the bubble, with an 18 point cushion over the No. 77. However, just in front of the No. 7, positions 31 through 34 are separated by five points. It’s just crazy to look at, but I can only imagine how the individual teams involved in this scrap feel.

Kevin Harvick and Matt Kenseth both managed Top 5 finishes despite starting in 33rd and 37th, respectively. Due to Johnson’s complete and utter dominance, their amazing advances through the field went largely unnoticed by ESPN. Each driver moved up a spot in the point standings, but neither is locked into the Chase as of yet. Both should be able to with relative ease next week at Richmond.

The Hindenburg Award For Foul Fortune

Joe Nemechek’s night ended on Lap 70 after a hard hit to the Turn 2 wall. Nemechek pancaked the right side of the No. 78 Chevy, destroying his car and all chances of completing the event.

Kurt Busch made contact with Martin Truex, Jr. early, cutting his left rear tire. NASCAR was slow to throw a yellow, and Busch lost two laps in the process.

Brian Vickers ran in the Top 5 most of the night, only to have his pit crew erase the advances made on the track. A penalty for a tire violation on Lap 182 put Vickers at the tail end of the longest line, a deficit he could never fully overcome.

The “Seven Come Fore Eleven” Award For Fine Fortune

Kyle Busch wrecked, but didn’t hit anything as he took the checkered Sunday night in his battle for 7th place with Kasey Kahne.

Overall Rating On a scale of 1-10, this race gets 4.7. There was good racing in and around the restarts, but when Johnson got away, there was no drama.

Next Up: Richmond, for the Chevy Rock & Roll 400. It’s the last race before the Chase begins, so expect constant reminders of the points leading up to and all throughout the race. The Chase takes precedence and certain notable facts can be completely overlooked. If someone out of the Chase actually ends up winning on Saturday night, they will be treated like an afterthought, with the only exception being Joey Logano. The broadcasters are bound to keep a steady watch on him all night.

Matt McLaughlin will be back next week to give you some more of his thoughts and musings about the race at Richmond, and likely some thoughts about the upcoming Chase to the Cup.

The Frontstretch Newsletter, back in 2014 gives you more of the daily news, commentary, and racing features from your favorite writers you know and love. Don’t waste another minute – click here to sign up now. We’re here to make sure you stay informed … so make sure you jump on for the ride!

Today on the Frontstretch:
Did You Notice? … Breaking Down A Sprint Cup Season Eight Races In
Beyond the Cockpit: Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. on Growing Up Racing and Owner Loyalties
The Frontstretch Five: Flaws Exposed In the New Chase So Far
NASCAR Writer Power Rankings: Top 15 After Darlington
NASCAR Mailbox: Past Winners Aren’t Winning …. Yet
Open Wheel Wednesday: How Can IndyCar Stand Out?


©2000 - 2008 Phil Allaway and Thanks for visiting the Frontstretch!

09/01/2008 11:38 AM

Good column, Phil. It sure was nice to have a week off from Matt’s endless whining and general negativity.

Kevin in SoCal
09/01/2008 01:20 PM

85,000 last year? I remember it being around 70,000 as well, but I’m no expert.
And what’s up with those caution lights? That’s just amazing. Its almost comparable to a crew member leaving some lug nuts loose before the start of the race. Doesnt anybody check these things?

Phil Allaway
09/01/2008 01:38 PM

Thanks, AJ. Always good to get some positive feedback.

09/01/2008 01:51 PM

Stick around Phil! This was a more positive way to start the day.

09/01/2008 03:13 PM

Because Jimmy Johnson led the race, there was no drama?!? AJ’s heavy-lifting wasn’t drama? Kasey’s workin’ it up wasn’t either? There’s more racing than the front of the pack. You need to get back to the roots of racing…between two racers, there IS a race. watch it!

09/01/2008 03:23 PM

I find it interesting no one has mentioned the fact that ESPN didn’t show the start of the Nationwide race. I know they shuffled it off to classic until the football game was over but alot of us don’t get that channel. While ESPN did the right thing by showing the football game to its end, we sure would scream if they left a race early, they seem to be getting a free pass on thier over scheduling.

Phil Allaway
09/01/2008 08:26 PM

The thing about the football game sending the start of the Nationwide race to ESPN Classic: I’m not a fan of it, but it’s football we’re talking about here. You can’t pre-empt the end of a series football games in this country, even if the outcomes are seemingly assured. This is why a 7:30pm time slot on Sunday is a “death time slot.” Also, the rant about that would probably be out of place here. Doug will probably bring it up in his TV recap, though.

09/01/2008 09:36 PM

Once again , i could’nt help but notice that a caution flag was thrown instantly for a driver who just barely scraped the wall , leaving no debris whatsoever , and later another driver slapped the wall much harder , i believe it was in almost the same spot , and no caution was ever thrown . Do the officials just miss seeing these incidents , or are the conspiracy theories true ?

Peter Griffen
09/02/2008 12:29 AM

Once again a real barnburner of a race from Fontana NOT.

Looks like a lot of wives would not let their husbands attend, or else there was a lot of shopping going on under the grandstands.

Pityfull races = empty seats.

Kevin in SoCal
09/02/2008 02:57 PM

Or there are so many other things to do here and not enough money to do them all. The Angels were in town, the Padres were in town, but the Dodgers were in Arizona. We have Disneyland, Knott’s Berry Farm, and Six Flags Magic Mountain. Then there’s Hollywood, Legoland, Sea World, the Los Angeles and San Diego Zoo’s, all the landmarks and museums in Los Angeles and San Diego, and who knows what else I’m forgetting. In the South you can either go to a NASCAR race, there might be a baseball game nearby, or you can chew tobacco and watch the grass grow. Atlanta hasnt sold out in a while either, so I guess we know what those people are doing. And Atlanta is known for have close finishes.

Master Braytak
09/02/2008 10:04 PM

If the SoCal market is so saturated with things to do then maybe Nascar should place the races where they are one of the only games in town, or create better racing to bring the “fans” back.