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NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Matt McLaughlin’s Thinkin’ Out Loud: 2007 Loudon Fall Race Recap

The Key Moment – This one was pretty well decided when the green flag flew. After resuming the lead on lap 185, Clint Bowyer drove away at will.

In a Nutshell – Three hours of terrible tedium.

Dramatic Moment – 300 laps at NHIS were almost completely devoid of drama… at least it was over quickly.

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

We gave up a race at North Wilkesboro for this mess? NASCAR needs to move this race date to Darlington or Rockingham.

So much for the CoT ending the “dreaded aero push” issue. If anything, it looks like passing is harder in the new cars than it was in the old one. And I couldn’t help but notice the track’s street sweeper looked prettier and more aerodynamic than the new McCars in the event.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the 88? You might want to invest in the local tattoo parlor. There are three things a wise man will never have tattooed on his body; a wife’s name, a girlfriend’s name or his favorite NASCAR driver’s number.

Seriously, how long did you last before channel surfing over to a football game or drifting off for a nap? That was just relentlessly putrid.

Bud is due to announce that their new spokesdriver is Kasey Kahne, who not only missed the Chase but is currently mired 22nd in the points. So, let me guess, the three creepy chicks from the insurance company ads run him off the road… and Kahne tells them, just because he has Bud on the car doesn’t mean he has Bud in the car… then he accuses one of them of being Tony Stewart‘s sister. See you later you crazy, mutant marketing types. Style over substance, indeed.

Another rumor has Coors Light replacing Bud on the No. 8 car next year. That’s going to take some getting used to. What’s the old joke about Coors Light being like making love in a canoe… not that there’s anything wrong with that.

At least this week Dale Junior signed a contract extending his deal with Wrangler jeans. Longtime fans who recall his dad driving those blue and yellow notchback Monte Carlos (and Thunderbirds and LeMans, incidentally) can only breathe a sigh of relief. You have to have some sort of constant to tether your universe to; I just can’t see Junior’s Red Army of fans in Dockers khakis…

Kansas is now offering “ticket insurance” to fans who purchase tickets to their events (in the required season ticket package, of course.) The coverage protects ticket buyers who are unable to attend an event due to unforeseen circumstances, such as a medical issue, traffic accident, jury duty, employment termination or any other covered reasons that prevent the insured from attending. The coverage, which is an optional purchase, will be $6.25 per ticket, and is available to both current and new season ticketholders. However, the tickets do not cover fans who waste money on tickets to events that turn out to be frightful bores; even Lloyds of London wouldn’t touch that one.

I finally managed to watch my DVR recording of Dale the movie this week. To anyone who hasn’t seen it yet (both of you) it is an excellent film I highly recommend. It will make you smile and it will make you cry. I’m just baffled they left out then ESPN booth-man Benny Parsons’s infamous call near the end of the 2000 Talladega race; “Here comes Dale Earnhardt! Where did he come from?” I must warn you, the film will leave longtime fans a bit bittersweet, recalling the way racers and racing used to be before NASCAR became a four-hour commercial occasionally interrupted by commercials.

So NASCAR still hasn’t found a sponsor to replace Busch as the title backer of their AAA series? Hello, Mr. Brian France, this is your wakeup call. The proliferation of Cup drivers running (and dominating) Busch events has diluted the worth of the series. NASCAR says even if a new title sponsor can’t be signed, they will run that series next season. After all, they can’t have all those Cup drivers running around idle on Saturday afternoons getting into mischief.

But man, the dope is there’s still hope. SPEED TV is reporting that as early as 2009 the series currently known as Busch series will have unique cars; to wit the Ford Mustang, the Chevy Camaro and the Dodge Challenger. I’ve been advocating this since the new body style Mustangs hit the streets to popular acclaim and GM and Chrysler were forced to respond with “pony car” prototypes of their own. Let’s face it, you buy a Fusion or an Avenger based on logic, but you buy a new Mustang or Shelby out of passion… and racing is all about passion. Of course, Toyota will have to come up with a suitable new car to enter the series (the Solara just isn’t going to cut it.) But the way things are going at Ford, maybe the 2009 AAA series will feature Toyota Mustangs duking it out with the local muscle. Anyone who recalls the ’70s Celicas know Toyota execs have a great affection for the classic Mustang shape.

You want to talk a race sanctioning body imposing a real fine that sends a message? This week, the FIA fined McLaren $100 million for stealing trade secrets from arch-rival Ferrari. In addition, the McLaren team was stripped of all constructor’s points earned to date and will not be allowed to earn additional points in the season’s final three races. Next time the No. 48 team gets caught with a doctored car perhaps a similar fine would finally get their attention?

What kind of “snack bar” adjustments can make a car faster? I suppose not letting the driver chow down too much to control his weight might help.

The Hindenburg Award For Foul Fortune

Kurt Busch seemed to have a top-10 car until he dropped a cylinder in his Dodge.

Dave Blaney slapped the wall not once, but twice, in an otherwise relatively caution-free event.

Kevin Harvick had an up and down day. He overcame a flat tire and the resultant green-flag pit stop by driving back to the top 10, but he faded badly at the end to post a 17th-place finish. Still, as close as he was to the spinning car of Reed Sorenson, it’s amazing he finished the race.

The “Seven Come Fore Eleven” Award For Fine Fortune

Bowyer had the sort of day most drivers can only dream of having just once in their career.

As seems to be typical, Matt Kenseth had to overcome a bad starting position and a mediocre car in the first half of the race. Yet somehow, once again he ended the day in the top 10.

Carl Edwards wrecked his primary car in practice and never got to drive a single lap in race trim in the backup car because of rain. Considering all that, his 12th-place finish was quite respectable.

Earnhardt Jr. spun about two-thirds of the way into the race but managed to drive back to a 16th-place finish. And he didn’t even blow an engine!

The No. 5 team’s pit strategy looked dicey but it worked brilliantly, leaving Kyle Busch with a fourth-place finish.

All four Hendrick Motorsports drivers finished in the top 10.

Worth Noting

  • All 12 drivers in the Chase have now won at least one Cup event.
  • All 43 cars finished a Cup race for the first time since NASCAR implemented that number of starters for every event.
  • Chevrolet drivers took eight top-10 finishing positions including the top six. One Dodge (Ryan Newman) and one Ford (Kenseth) filled out the top 10, while the top-finishing Camry was David Reutimann in 26th.
  • The top-finishing rookie was David Ragan in 19th.
  • Bowyer’s first win was his third top five-finish of the season.
  • Stewart has three wins and eight top-10 finishes in the last nine Cup races.
  • Casey Mears had his first top-10 finish since Pocono in July.
  • Jamie McMurray had his best finish since he won at Daytona in July. He’d finished 26th or worse in five of the six races run since that win.
  • Sorenson had his best finish since the Brickyard 400.
  • Denny Hamlin has missed the top 10 in three of the last four races. Harvick has missed the top 10 in six of the last seven races, as has his teammate Jeff Burton.
  • Kahne’s 20th-place finish at NHIS snapped a streak of three straight top-10 finishes.
  • Kurt Busch endured his worst finish since Michigan in August.

What’s the Points?Jimmie Johnson maintains his points lead over Jeff Gordon, who remains second and Stewart who remains third in the standings. Johnson and Gordon each have 5,210 points, but the first tiebreaker is number of wins, and Johnson has two more than Gordon. Stewart is 10 points behind the Hendrick duo.

Bowyer had the best day in the points, leaping forward eight spots to fourth. Kyle Busch advanced four spots to fifth. Martin Truex Jr. and Kenseth each moved up a spot to sixth and seventh. Harvick advanced a spot to 10th.

Kurt Busch took the worst drop in the points, tumbling seven spots to 12th. Edwards fell four spots to eighth, while Hamlin fell three spots to ninth. Burton fell a single spot to 11th.

In the “Best of the Rest” category, Earnhardt Jr. in 13th is now 41 points ahead of Newman, who is 14th.

Under the old points system, Gordon would be leading the standings a mere 312 points ahead of second-place Stewart.

Finally, the No. 21 team remains 39 points ahead of the No. 22 team for the 35th spot in the owner standings that guarantees a starting spot in next week’s race.

Overall Rating (On a scale of one to six beer cans with one being a stinker and a six-pack an instant classic) – This one gets a glass of tap water with an additional shot of Jack for a first-time winner.

Next Up – Dover and New Hampshire are both 1-mile tracks, but then, Heather Locklear and Janet Reno are both women too, right?