NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Matt McLaughlin’s Thinkin’ Out Loud: 2007 Pocono Summer Race Recap

The Key Moment – On lap 154, Kurt Busch assumed the lead yet again, and the rest of the field couldn’t pedal fast enough to keep him in sight.

In a Nutshell – See Kurt run. Run, Kurt, run. Nap, fans, nap.

Dramatic Moment – Other teams gambled on two tires or no tires during the fifth caution period on lap 140, getting out ahead of the No. 2 team, who went with four. That dropped Busch back to ninth for the restart, and he did have to pull some hard driving to regain the lead over the next 10 laps.

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

Anyone who has ever tried to get to I-81 or the Pa. Turnpike after a Pocono race knows the sad irony of the event being named for a movie called Rush Hour 3.

Did NASCAR put the cars on the engine dyno after Pocono? It looked like Busch’s Penske Dodge engine was in a class of its own.

Who should have won at Montreal; Robby Gordon, Marcos Ambrose or Kevin Harvick? Here’s how I saw it on TV: Harvick triggered the big wreck shortly after the penultimate restart. If you look at the video of that incident and keep your eyes ahead of the pig pile, at that same instant Gordon was laying a bumper to the right rear corner of Ambrose’s Ford. Ambrose maintained the lead, but was all crossed up (to paraphrase Smokey Yunick, he looked like a monkey trying to hump a football in there). Sensing opportunity, Gordon took to the grass to complete the pass, even though the yellow was already flying. At that point, Ambrose retaliated and left Gordon sideways across the track unable to maintain minimum speed. According to NASCAR, that was the key factor in their decision. Oh, well; so much for all these scoring loops deciding the running order at the time of caution. Maybe they didn’t have them in Canada? Anyway, a decision was made by the NASCAR powers that be; Gordon had to restart the race in 14th place. Well, like the marching band in Don McLean’s “American Pie,” Gordon refused to yield.

BOWLES: BUSCH SERIES BREAKDOWN AFTER MONTREAL

With Gordon’s known temper and dastardly tactics, the race should never have been allowed to restart with the No. 55 car in second… at least on the track. Heck, the pace car should have wrecked him if it came down to it. A less dramatic solution would have been to halt the race and have Gordon removed if he would not restart in his ordered position. But the race did restart, and as expected, Gordon punted Ambrose and Harvick drove his Chevy to the levy. It was exciting to watch, but it leaves fans of the sport scratching their heads and wondering if NASCAR has plumbed to new depths in ineptitude when it comes to officiating races. I’ve seen better officiated Jello-wrestling matches at local bars… and some blame must be placed on ESPN, too, for failing to highlight the key moment of the supposed pass for the lead when Gordon knocked Ambrose sideways while the caution was flying just ahead of the big wreck. At least Canadian fans got a new villain worthy of Dudley Dooright’s old nemesis Snidely Whiplash.

One more thing… if Gordon was banned from the garage area on Sunday, why was he interviewed behind his hauler?

Kasey Kahne is going to be the next driver of the Bud car? Is it just me, or has anyone else noted this year Kahne is running like a three-legged lamb? Reports this week claim Kahne ran into well known waste of protoplasm Paris Hilton while out partying in L.A. She told him “God, you’re cute” and kissed him. Hopefully, it ended right there. The last thing NASCAR needs is a tabloid romance between two folks who get a lot more attention for anything but their actual accomplishments – at least this year.

So, 124 employees and three drivers are out of work as a result of the recent DEI/Ginn Racing “merger.” Somewhere, JD Stacy is laughing himself hoarse. Look for the eBay auction on the Ginn blimp soon.

I thought that familiarity might lessen contempt for ESPN’s ill-conceived “Draft Track.” I was wrong. But the piece on the Allison family in the pre-race show proves ESPN can still produce classics. Rusty Wallace’s line of the race: “He’s gone from ‘here kitty, kitty,’ to kitty litter.” The one Rusty probably regrets: “There ain’t no catching Busch now.”

NASCAR said that Tony Stewart called the legitimacy of the sport into question a couple of months back, saying they used “debris cautions” to orchestrate the outcome of races. Oddly enough, since Stewart made his comments, the number of debris cautions has dropped dramatically. I was expecting a late-race spate of them Sunday, and it never happened. But that’s just a coincidence, I’m sure…

The Hindenburg Award For Foul Fortune

Ambrose was deprived a hard-earned win in Montreal when he was purposely parked by a car that had no business being in the same area code as him. The fact he was able to be so upbeat in his post-race interviews was amazing. “Marcos Ambrose” is how you say “Carl Edwards” in Australian. On a related note, my guess is the Ford folks were less than happy to see Gordon, in a Ford, wreck another Ford on its way to a high profile win, handing victory to the Chevrolet set in the process.

There were only seven cautions all day, but Jamie McMurray found himself in the midst of three of them, finally ending his race by limping his thoroughly trashed Ford towards the garage after totaling it with 20 to go.

David Gilliland had a credible run going before getting swept up in a wreck to end his day. And here’s the truly odd part: he didn’t cause it.

LUNKENHEIMER: BUBBLE BREAKDOWN AFTER POCONO

All three MWR racing cars made the field for the first time this season, but it didn’t matter much. Dale Jarrett and David Reutimann had DNFs due to fuel pump problems, and were credited with 41st and 42nd place, respectively. The illustrious leader of the organization did manage to finish the race… but Michael Waltrip wound up 38th, six laps off the pace.

The “Seven Come Fore Eleven” Award For Fine Fortune

Dale Earnhardt Jr.‘s car was clearly not to his liking for the first part of the race, and he was vocal in his displeasure on the radio – the handling got so bad Junior actually spun out on his own on lap 124. To compensate, his team gambled on changing a shock under that caution rather than taking tires. Junior went on to finish second.

After several weeks of foul fortune, Jimmie Johnson finally got another top-five finish to all but seal his spot in the Chase.

Clint Bowyer had to start at the rear of the field after an unapproved engine change, but he still left Pocono with an eighth-place finish.

Ricky Rudd provided the struggling Yates organization with a decent finish, coming home 13th. Not far behind him, fellow 50-something veteran Bill Elliott came home 18th.

Worth Noting

  • The top-10 finishers drove a pair of Dodges and eight Chevys. The best-finishing Ford was Rudd in 13th and the best-finishing Toyota was Dave Blaney in 20th.
  • The win marked Busch’s first since Bristol last March. It was also the first race win by a Dodge on an oval this year, breaking a drought that went back to Kahne’s win at Charlotte last October).
  • Seven of the 10 drivers who posted top-10 finishes at Pocono in June did so again on Sunday: Denny Hamlin, Jeff Gordon, Stewart, Ryan Newman, Bowyer, Mark Martin and Casey Mears. The new faces were Kurt Busch, Earnhardt Jr. and Johnson. Who were the drivers to miss the cut? Kyle Busch, Matt Kenseth and Martin Truex Jr.
  • Earnhardt Jr. (second) posted his first top-five finish since Loudon.
  • Hamlin (third) posted his first top-10 finish since winning Loudon. In four Pocono Cup starts, Hamlin still hasn’t finished worse than sixth.
  • Stewart (sixth) earned his third straight top-10 finish.
  • Newman managed his best finish since the last Pocono race (seventh).
  • Bowyer (eighth) now has top-10 finishes in three of the last four races.
  • Rudd posted his best finish since Charlotte (13th), as did Tony Raines (15th).
  • Juan Pablo Montoya‘s 16th-place finish was the best by a rookie in this race. As it appears now, there finally might be some parity at the end of the season with a Chevrolet driver taking the Cup title, a Ford driver the Busch title, a Dodge driver Rookie of the Year honors, and a Toyota driver the truck championship.
  • Does anyone else think it’s odd that NASCAR hasn’t been able to announce a replacement title sponsor for what is now the Busch Series this deep into the season?

What’s the Points?

Jeff Gordon is still leading the standings, though his gap narrowed infinitesimally to 366 over second-place Hamlin. The rest of the top five: Kenseth, Stewart and Jeff Burton hold serve as well. Gordon now needs only to start the next five races to make the Chase, even if he finishes 43rd in each.

Behind the top five, only two drivers swapped positions in spots six through 10. Johnson moved up two spots to seventh, while Harvick fell two spots to ninth.

Further back, Kurt Busch moves into the last Chase position in 12th, knocking Earnhardt Jr. at least temporarily out of title contention. Junior now trails Busch by seven points, while 14th-place Newman trails the driver of the No. 8 by 83 points.

Overall Rating (On a scale of one to six beer cans with one being a stinker and a six-pack an instant classic) – I can only give this one two pony bottles of Pennsylvania’s own Genesee Cream Ale. We used to use the stuff for “pony races” back in college, and some of those races were more exciting than Sunday’s event.

Next Up – The circuit heads off to Watkins Glen – but I head off to Ocean City, N.J. for the last annual family vacation, the end of a 36-year tradition that has been the centerpiece of my summer since I was in middle school. Mom had paid for the place prior to her death, and my sisters and I have decided to honor her by gathering the entire clan for the last time. It’s likely to be a week with a lot of laughter, some tears and the occasional dinner table arguments, with some sunburns suffered, many novels read and passed on to the next sibling, wine and beer consumed in a fashion worthy or our Irish heritage and a final sad goodbye to beachfront accommodations. Yes, to keep my habit of annoying my sisters, I’ll probably lock myself in the back bedroom to watch the race as I have done all these years; my sisters would expect nothing less of their older brother.

But I won’t be writing about it. See you for Michigan.

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