NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Matt McLaughlin’s Thinkin’ Out Loud: 2008 Brickyard 400 Race Recap

The Key Moment: Jimmie Johnson’s pit crew got him off pit lane first during the last of a string of competition cautions, and once the No. 48 car was in clean air there was no catching it.

In a Nutshell: A complete and total unmitigated debacle that was unacceptable and unwatchable… but presented in High Definition to fans lucky enough to be home.

Dramatic Moment: Anytime the drivers had managed six entire laps without a caution, we could only sit and wait to see who the next victim of a blown right-rear tire might be.

Other than that, the nod goes to Carl Edwards‘s quixotic charge trying to run down Johnson in the final seven laps.

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

When there’s a very public disaster of this magnitude blame has to be assigned. In my mind at least, NASCAR gets 60% of the blame. With the Cup cars competing at Indy for the first time in the new car, there should have been an open test during which surely this issue would have been discovered while there was time to address and correct it. If this doesn’t prove to them that the new car is a bad idea nothing will. 30% of the blame goes to Goodyear. They should have generated enough information during their three driver test to see the potential for a huge problem, and they should have moved Heaven and Hell to see it didn’t happen. 10% of the blame goes to the drivers for being willing to run at 3/4-throttle most of the day while waiting for a tire to blow, rather than just parking on pit road and refusing to race under such unsafe conditions. That’s what most drivers did prior to the first Talladega race back in 1969 when a similar tire issue came up.

Naturally, there will be second guessing on NASCAR’s call to basically run a high-profile race in 10-lap segments. So, what should have been done? Given the circumstances, they took the most conservative and safe approach – and I’m all for driver safety. Some will say the race should have been postponed until Goodyear could conjure up a safe competitive tire. Even if there were a lot of empty seats, there were still a ton of fans at Indy and their needs had to be taken into account. Not everyone would have been able to come back and they’d burned a lot of high-dollar gas to be there Sunday. From my position as armchair quarterback, here’s what I’d have done. I’d have taken the same conservative approach NASCAR did for the first three-quarters of the race. As it became evident the problem wasn’t going to go away, I’d have told the crew chiefs coming up to 40 laps to go I’d be throwing the last competition caution. After that, knowing what they did about their tire wear and their cars, they’d be on their own with input from their drivers whether to continue pitting every 10 laps or maybe going to a Hail Mary pass for the win and leaving the car out there a few more laps.

In the end, we all fail occasionally. It’s what we learn from failure that separates success from failure in the future. To me, the lesson is obvious and I’ll type it out in all capital letters in case Brian France, Mike Helton, and Robin Pemberton left behind their reading glasses as they fled Indy to avoid being lynched: DUMP THE NEW CAR!

ESPN began their stretch of Cup broadcasts with a new look and lineup that succeeded to a degree. On the positive side, the camera work was stunning, they weren’t afraid to ask the hard questions about the tire issue to Goodyear and NASCAR officials, there were no cartoon gimmicks like “Race Buddy” or “Digger,” and they finally dumped that Surely Inept (or whatever her name was) woman from the booth. On the downside, some of the cast seemed to fawn over drivers rather than interview them, there were several long audio and video malfunctions, they began that relentless “Race to the Chase” drumbeat like they meant to cave in fans’ skulls, and they rushed off the air with the story of what had gone wrong left untold. Oh, and after mentioning or showing the “Kissing of the Bricks” incessantly, they failed to show the moment happening live.

If I recall correctly (remember I still have a Grateful Dead sticker in the rear window of the Pontiac), after their own debacle at Indy the Formula 1 folks offered a refund on their tickets to fans who wanted one. Ironically, it was a tire issue that caused all but six drivers to pull off the track during the formation lap and park for the day. So, is NASCAR going to offer fans at Indy a refund, too?

Maybe instead of sending trucks in from Pocono with new tires, NASCAR should have had the teams send trucks overnight with last year’s cars from the shops?

Did NASCAR award the five-point bonus for leading the most laps to Brett Bodine, driver of the pace car?

Despite all the hype about 250,000 fans on hand, it appeared at least 25,000 of them failed to show up. As the farce unfolded, it also appeared that a lot of fans voted with their feet, leaving earlier than is the standard at most tracks. Were they trying to beat traffic or worried they were going to have to stop and get new Goodyears on their car every 25 miles on the ride home? The “Goodyear Get There” tagline seemed unintendedly ironic on Sunday.

Great Moments in Team Ownership, Part One (Presumably of dozens): Newly minted Cup team owner to be Tony Stewart was on hand at ORP to watch his National Midget teams compete. When a questionable call was made against his driver, Tracy Hines, Stewart went over a wall to question a race official about the call. Stewart then lost his temper and batted the official’s headphones off his head. Stewart says now he expects to be fined for his actions. The trick here is to figure that out before taking action. I don’t care what sport we’re talking about, even if it’s high school girls field hockey, you don’t lay hands on the officials.

Has anyone ever figured out why fans in Indianapolis pay good money to sit on the frontstretch staring across at other fans looking back at them rather than just choose to sit on the backstretch?

Well, it didn’t look like the downsized restrictors on the Toyota engines hurt Kyle Busch much Saturday night during the Nationwide Series race, did it? But looks might be deceiving. ORP is one of those tracks where too much power can actually be a detriment to a driver, causing him to buzz the tires off the corners. Let’s give it a few weeks to see how this change plays out. Meanwhile, I have a suggestion on how to reign in Busch. Make each driver race the following weekend with the additional ballast of all the beverage cans tossed at them aboard the car. They can crush them, of course. You have to leave room for the driver.

KEITH: NATIONWIDE SERIES BREAKDOWN AFTER IRP

Jeez, even the rumor of Oprah Winfrey coming to Kannapolis, N.C., caused the city fathers to quickly remove the memorial banners to Dale Earnhardt along the “Dale Trail,” as if stock car racing is some hideous Southern secret that can’t be admitted worthy of a Faulkner Southern Gothic novel. Did they make homemakers take the white sheets down off their clotheslines as well, lest they be misinterpreted as evening wear outfits rather than bedding?

I hear Ford lost over $8 billion in the last financial quarter. Did they check down behind the cushions on the couch? That’s where I always find the money I lost.

Is any one else getting the idea any well intended “moment of silence” at a racetrack isn’t such a great idea? That fact was once again driven home by one extremely rude foul mouthed fellow during the pre-race ceremonies.

The Hindenburg Award For Foul Fortune

A lot of folks had a lot of problems at Indy, but nobody had any worse luck that that bird that had the close encounter of the wrong kind with the No. 31 car on a restart. I guess the early bird gets the worm and the slow bird gets the bumper?

Matt Kenseth’s tire failure was the most dramatic of the day, removing a large portion of the right-rear body work on the No. 17 car when it let go. And yet Kenseth (like Edwards) still had the class to apologize to the fans who had endured the race after the event.

Kevin Harvick was just riding when Kurt Busch’s worn right-rear tire sent the No. 2 car out of control and into Harvick’s Chevy. Gunky engine buildup sucks, but sheetmetal torn asunder is worse.

No NASCAR driver puts more emphasis on winning at Indy than Stewart, but his already ill-handling mount saved its worst for the final few segments of what some folks were alleging was a race.

Michael Waltrip didn’t even wait until his tires wore out in the first segment to wad up another car. At the rate he’s going, look for Waltrip to show up at the wheel of Cozy-Coupe with NAPA lettering taped to it at a race soon.

The “Seven Come Fore Eleven” Award For Fine Fortune

It wasn’t much of a race, but it still paid well to win. Call Johnson the 2008 Brickyard 400’s First Survivor.

Edwards cut over into Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s car early in the race, and the mayhem could easily have ended both their days.

A failing charging system had Jeff Burton’s even finishing the race very much in doubt early in the going, but he hung on to finish ninth.

Shortly after leading the race, Earnhardt Jr. cut down a tire and lost a lap pitting under the green flag. That could have been disastrous, but a free pass and solid strategy helped him soldier on to a 12th-place finish.

Mark Martin was fortunate enough to have his right-rear tire give way just as a competition caution slowed the field – keeping him from losing a lap. Sometimes, it’s all about timing.

Kasey Kahne suffered a cracked header early in the race and lost a lap. With cautions flying every 10 laps he was also able to get a free pass, get back on the lead lap, and drive onto a seventh-place finish.

Denny Hamlin was leading the race when he caught a beer can to the front grille, apparently tossed by some drunken fan to protest the farce he was seeing. I’d really like to see this beverage can tossing trend stopped. First off, I have never cottoned to the wasting of a perfectly good beer. Secondly, one of these days one of those cans is going to seriously injure a fan seated in the lower rows of the grandstands when it misses its mark.

Worth Noting

  • The top-10 survivors at Indy competed in three Chevys, three Fords, two Dodges and two Toyotas.
  • The top finishing ROTY candidate at Indy was Patrick Carpentier in 18th.
  • Johnson has finished first and second in the last two races. Prior to that, his last top-five finish was his win at Phoenix in the eighth race of the season.
  • Edwards has finished second in two of the last three races. Indy marks his fourth runner-up result of the 2008 season.
  • Hamlin (third) managed his first top-five finish since Pocono in June. He has finished third four times this year.
  • Elliott Sadler’s fourth-place finish was the best of his 2008 Cup campaign.
  • Jeff Gordon (fifth) came away with his first top-10 finish in four races.
  • Jamie McMurray’s sixth-place finish was his best of the 2008 Cup season, and his best result in this series since he won at Daytona last July.
  • Burton (ninth) scored his first top-10 finish since Pocono.
  • For the second straight week, AJ Allmendinger (10th) scored the best finish of his Cup career.
  • Earnhardt Jr. (12th) has top-12 finishes in 15 of 20 Cup races this year. This concludes our test of the emergency mandatory Earnhardt Jr. note for this column… we now return you to your regular programming.

What’s the Points?

Kyle Busch still leads the points standings, with his lead over Earnhardt Jr. shrunk slightly to 253. Earnhardt and Burton remain second and third, while Johnson’s “win” moves him up a spot to fourth. Despite finishing second, Edwards drops a spot to round out the top five.

The day’s big loser in the points was Harvick, who dropped four spots to 13th. Harvick is now just two points out of the Chase. Kenseth fell three spots to 11th, and he’s just six points ahead of Harvick.

Hamlin had the best day in the points, moving up four spots to eighth. Behind him, Kahne moved up two spots to ninth, while Clint Bowyer reclaimed the 12th position in the points – albeit by a slim margin.

David Ragan took over the 14th spot in the standings from Brian Vickers, but both drivers are watching the thundering herd ahead of them leaving them in the dust.

Overall Rating (On a scale of one to six beer cans with one being a stinker and a six-pack an instant classic): I wouldn’t give Sunday’s race a warm cup of mule spit.

Next Up: It’s time to head back to the Pocono Triangle for Poco-Two. Wow, I hope Goodyear has some tires left for the race.

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