NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Matt McLaughlin’s Thinkin’ Out Loud: 2008 New Hampshire Summer Race Recap

The Key Moment: A Biblical downpour bought the sedate proceedings at New Hampshire to a mercifully quick ending, with Kurt Busch emerging as the winner in a high-paying game of musical chairs.

In a Nutshell: A wholly unsatisfying ending to a wholly unsatisfying race.

Dramatic Moment: There was a brief period of racing between Tony Stewart and Jimmie Johnson for the lead as threatening weather moved in. Other than that, the race was a total and complete farce.

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

When defending their home track, native New Englanders have always been able to cite a series of sellouts for the Cup races, dating back to the track’s debut in the series. Well, that argument is off the table now. Despite the track’s announced sellout, there were vast sections of vacant seats in the stands. So, let me ask again: why did we give up North Wilkesboro for this mess?

Passing was so tough at NHMS, some drivers let their tempers melt down late in the race. Welcome to NASCAR’s Summer of Shove.

So, how long can NASCAR keep a stiff upper lip and refuse to alter the new car if the racing remains this relentlessly putrid? Seriously, watching Sunday’s race was about as entertaining as sitting on a splintery bench, drinking warm beer and watching an old Chevy truck rust. Will the last fan out of NHMS please turn off the lights?

No, I am reasonably certain that race winner Kurt Busch doesn’t actually plan to spend the next few races adding to his points deficit.

While there wasn’t much racing for the lead, Jamie McMurray and Juan Pablo Montoya battled neck and neck for the biggest bonehead of the afternoon honors. A lot of folks celebrated Montoya’s honest admission his acts were intentional. I figure a 100-point penalty and $100,000 fine later this week ought to cure him of that honesty next time.

Could Stewart really be considering a move to take over Rick Hendrick’s No. 5 car next season? The problem with four roosters in a henhouse is there’s no room left for anyone to lay an egg. Meanwhile, Stewart once again vented his ire at the press for asking questions about his future. The late Dale Earnhardt might have told Stewart you don’t have to worry until people stop discussing your future plans.

For those of you keeping score, Stewart’s win at NHMS in the Nationwide Series was the 12th victory by a Toyota driver in that series’ 18 races run to date. It seems right now the Camrys are making a parody of parity.

If I were a race fan in New England, I’d be mighty worried about new NHMS track owner Bruton Smith’s low profile at the track this weekend. If Smith planned to reconfigure the track, it would be done by now. My guess is NHMS is now on life support as a potential date donor for other SMI properties. Smith stated otherwise over the weekend, but he seemed to be damning the place with faint praise and the mercurial Smith has been known to change his mind like… well, um… the weather.

Great moments in Broadcasting 101: As NASCAR battles allegations of racial insensitivity, you have to love Larry McReynolds discussing Harry Gant’s not having a “Chinaman’s chance” in a race. But give Gant style points for a truly awesome collection of cars.

Madison Avenue has never really gotten their arms around who NASCAR fans really are, but I guess I liked it better when race broadcasts featured more ads for beer than boner pills.

Was that a question Ralph Sheheen put to Stewart after the race – or a monologue?

The Hindenburg Award For Foul Fortune

My heart bleeds for any fan who paid for a ticket and a tank full of $4-a-gallon gasoline to watch that mess of a race.

Stewart dominated the event, but once again found a way to drag defeat out of the jaws of victory.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. seemed en route to yet another top-10 finish when he got run over from behind trying to enter the pits. Jack Roush might want to revisit the idea of having McMurray sample his sponsor’s product at the wheel.

Kasey Kahne was victimized by a retaliatory bump, and all he has to show for it is a really crummy cartoon depiction of the incident.

The “Seven Come Fore Eleven” Award For Fine Fortune

Not only did the rain hand Busch an unexpected victory, it came just in time to keep him from getting black-flagged when brake cooling components began shedding from beneath the No. 2 car.

Michael Waltrip accepting the second-place check might be the best deal ever struck since the Louisiana Purchase.

Robby Gordon is extremely lucky this week’s Supreme Court decision on the Second Amendment doesn’t allow Cup drivers to pack handguns in their cars. For a perpetually laps-down car, Gordon sure does seem to like battling the leaders as if he’s contending for a win every week.

BOWLES: CASEY MEARS ALMOST HAD IT ALL

Yeah, he’s been pretty laid back and diplomatic about his contract status, but you just know Casey Mears had to be delighted to post the best finish of any Rick Hendrick team driver (seventh) the same weekend it was announced he won’t be back with them next year.

In a race dominated by Toyotas and Chevys, Dodge managed to get four drivers in the top 10 in the final rundown.

Worth Noting

  • The top-10 finishers at New Hampshire drove four Dodges, three Chevys and three Toyotas. The top-finishing Ford was Carl Edwards in 17th.
  • It was another tough outing for the rookies, with Aric Almirola in 23rd the top-finishing member of the freshman class (and he’s not even running for Rookie of the Year).
  • For Busch, it was his first win since Michigan last August and his first top-five result since this year’s Daytona 500.
  • Waltrip (second) backed into his first top-five finish since Phoenix in April of 2005. Are they laughing at me? I think they’re laughing at me.
  • JJ Yeley (third) enjoyed the second-best finish of his Cup career.
  • Martin Truex Jr. (fourth) had his best finish of the 2008 Cup season.
  • Reed Sorenson (sixth) enjoyed his best finish since the Daytona 500.
  • Mears finished seventh for the third time this season.
  • Johnson (ninth) managed his fourth top-10 finish in the last five races.
  • Bobby Labonte (10th) scored his first top-10 finish since Bristol last August.
  • Jeff Gordon (11th) has failed to post a top-10 finish in three of the last four Cup races.
  • Jeff Burton (12th) has missed the top 10 his last three times out.
  • Kevin Harvick (14th) hasn’t scored a top-10 finish since Richmond.
  • Joe Nemechek (20th) cracked the top 20 for the first time this season. Ouch!
  • Kahne (30th) has been maddeningly inconsistent as of late. In the last six Cup points races he’s won twice, finished second in a third race, and finished outside the top 30 in the other three.

What’s the Points?

Despite a substandard afternoon, Kyle Busch continued atop the points heap, now 64 ahead of second-place Burton. Earnhardt Jr., Edwards, Johnson and Jeff Gordon held serve in points positions three through six.

Behind them, Denny Hamlin and Greg Biffle swapped seventh and eighth places in the standings, with Hamlin now having the advantage.

If there was a silver lining around those storm clouds for Stewart, it is that he moved up two spots in the standings to ninth. Kahne and Clint Bowyer each fell a spot to 10th and 11th, respectively.

Harvick re-entered the top 12, displacing Matt Kenseth to 13th. Kenseth now trails Harvick by 15 points for that final spot in the Chase.

On the outside looking in, this New Hampshire win moved Kurt Busch up four spots in the standings to 18th – but he’s still a formidable 222 points out of the top 12.

Overall Rating (On a scale of one to six beer cans with one being a stinker and a six-pack an instant classic): We’ll give this one a half cup of rain water in a dented can, left by the proverbial barefoot girl on the hood of a Dodge drinking beer in the soft summer rain.

Next Up: The contrived excitement of plate racing at Daytona kicks in next Saturday night, another reminder these blasted new cars failed in one of their prime design goals of returning unrestricted racing to the plate tracks.

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