NASCAR Race Weekend Central

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

The Key Moment: Once Carl Edwards‘s pit crew returned him to the track with the lead after the final pit stop, it was his race to lose.

In a Nutshell: Edwards and Ford score one for the home team just outside the Motor City – a place that could use some good news right about now.

Dramatic Moment: I don’t care how talented a driver is or how good his car is, this year you just don’t want Kyle Busch running second behind you with a handful of laps to go; just ask Jimmie Johnson. A flurry of late-race cautions gave Busch several chances to overtake Edwards.

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

I think what we saw Sunday is a foreshadowing of this year’s title run with Busch and Edwards, the winningest pair of drivers this year, competing for the honors right up until the end of the season.

Was Sunday’s event actually a good race, or are we all just lowering our standards after so many putrid events?

He’s got this racing stuff down pretty well, but Edwards needs to work on landings during his post-race backflips.

Lucy, someone has some “splainin’” to do. After Saturday’s Michigan Nationwide race, NASCAR elected to put the top-finishing entries from each manufacturer on the chassis dyno to see where they were at as far as parity. During the process, NASCAR officials discovered that the two Joe Gibbs Racing entries had been monkeyed with. Under the driver’s seat, magnets had been added to the gas pedal in each car to keep the throttle from completely opening in an attempt to significantly lower the amount of horsepower the tests might reveal.

I’m sorry, but the penalties for this infraction have to be medieval (to borrow a term from Pulp Fiction). There’s no way to write this one off as an honest mistake or an inadvertent oversight. This was clearly a deliberate attempt to circumvent the rules, and since it occurred with two cars – not just one – it is clearly an organizational ploy and not one of a single individual. There’s no sense in deducting points; instead, neither entry should be allowed to compete for the Nationwide title. Monetary penalties mean nothing considering the bottomless financial resources of JGR, so the only penalty that can send a clear message to them (and the other race teams) is to suspend both their cars for the rest of the Nationwide season. That would mean Joe Gibbs would have to have some unpleasant conversations with his sponsors as to why their rolling billboards are on the sideline. You’ll note I’ve refrained from mentioning what make of car the JGR guys compete in, but my outrage and disgust would be equally livid if this infraction was found on a Dodge, Chevy or Ford.

He was clearly frustrated, but Denny Hamlin really threw his team under the bus in his post-race interview.

OK, Edwards won the race, so he was going to sound upbeat. He even sounds upbeat when he finishes last. But teammate and fifth-place finisher Matt Kenseth sounded ready to throw in the towel for the rest of the season. Compare and contrast those two reactions… how does a driver’s mental attitude affect his team and his chances at winning? Discuss.

BOWLES: EDWARDS WINS MUST-WIN DUEL AGAINST KYLE BUSCH

There are currently five drivers who would make the Chase right now who have yet to win a single race this season. (The fact Kyle Busch and Edwards have combined to win 13 of 23 events might have something to do with that). But once again, race fans are looking at the potential of a driver winning a title without having won a single event, a possibility without parallel in the pantheon of sports. You have to wonder if a winless championship would finally force Brian France to admit he well and truly screwed the pooch with this dog of a points system of his. I mean, just imagine trying to explain to stick and ball fans how a sport crowns a winless champion. In a way, it might be bitterly fitting if Jeff Gordon were to manage to win this year’s title without scoring a victory. After all, he’s scored the most combined points under the traditional system twice since the Chase was implemented – but come up dry as far as titles.

So not only has Ryan Newman given up on his team, the No. 12 team has given up on Newman. Isn’t this the same outfit that won this year’s Daytona 500?

No koi were injured in the filming of this race.

One more thing you never thought you’d see during a Cup telecast: a commercial for Saab.

The Hindenburg Award For Foul Fortune

Rick Hendrick couldn’t have enjoyed Sunday’s race. His three marquee stars all saw decent races go bad with deflated tires, hard contact with the wall, and a last-lap spin. The fact Johnson and Gordon collided (with a little help from Tony Stewart) made the pill that much more bitter to swallow.

Marcos Ambrose came off a career-defining weekend at the Glen with a blown engine and a dead last-place finish at Michigan.

Someone at JGR ought to put Hamlin on suicide watch.

Clint Bowyer just couldn’t get out of his own way for much of Sunday’s race. He needs some extra base hits in the next three races to make the Chase.

Gordon hasn’t run this badly in a very long time. Still winless this season, even if Gordon does make the Chase he’s not going to be a contender the way the No. 24 car is running. Is it just bad karma or bad cars? We all know Gordon can drive.

The “Seven Come Fore Eleven” Award For Fine Fortune

Edwards was just barely able to avoid the spinning No. 22 car by diving to the apron en route to victory.

Jack Roush had to enjoy seeing his teams collect four of the top-five finishing spots at his home track.

David Ragan was a weapon most of last season, but he’s matured and strung together a record of some good finishes this season.

Brian Vickers has apparently read Kyle Busch’s book, “There is Life After Rick Hendrick Racing.”

Worth Noting

  • Edwards’s five Cup wins this season eclipse his personal best of four Cup victories scored back in 2005. Edwards is currently second in the Cup and Nationwide series standings, so it’s not just Kyle Busch who is having a dream season.
  • Kyle Busch has finished first or second in four of the last six Cup races. My guess is there are no magnets on the throttle pedal of his JGR car.
  • Ragan’s third-place finish is his best of the season, and matches his career best in the Cup Series – scored at Richmond in the fall of last year.
  • Greg Biffle (fourth) scored his first top-five result since Chicagoland.
  • Kenseth (fifth) scored his first top-five finish since Daytona in July. No wonder he sounded so elated.
  • Kevin Harvick (eighth) has three consecutive top-10 finishes in Cup races for the first time since Bristol this spring.
  • It’s hard to believe, but 23 races deep into the season Gordon, Kenseth and Harvick don’t have a single Cup victory between them.
  • Jamie McMurray (10th) enjoyed his third top-10 finish in the last four Cup races.
  • It has now been nine races since Jeff Burton (11th) has managed a top-five finish.
  • Scott Riggs‘s 15th-place finish was his best this season.
  • Gordon endured his fourth DNF of the season, but the first since Fort Worth in April.
  • Hamlin endured just the fourth DNF of his Cup career. The No. 11 team hadn’t had an engine let go since Bristol last August.
  • Dale Earnhardt Jr. (23rd) hasn’t managed a top-five finish in the eight races since he won at Michigan earlier this year.
  • Sam Hornish Jr. (22nd) was the top finishing ROTY candidate at Michigan.
  • The top-10 finishers at Michigan drove five Fords, two Toyotas, two Chevys, and a Dodge. So, to all my blue-collar brethren struggling to get by in Detroit: “Man, the dope is there’s still hope.”

What’s the Points?

Kyle Busch still leads the standings, and would make the Chase even if he decided to take the next three weeks off. Behind him, Edwards took a nibble out of Busch’s lead and is now 222 points out of first. That lead is pointless, so to speak, with just three races remaining before the Chase. Johnson, Earnhardt Jr. and Burton held serve in positions three, four and five, respectively.

Biffle advances three spots to seventh in the standings, giving him a modicum of breathing room inside the Chase. Harvick also advanced three spots to eighth, appearing relatively safe as well with Bristol and Richmond still on the docket. Kenseth might have sounded like he’d backed over his own dog after the race, but he did in fact advance two spots in the standings to 10th, 74 points ahead of the cutoff for the Chase.

On the flip side, Gordon dropped three positions to ninth, and he’s clearly getting flustered. Kasey Kahne also dropped three spots and is now 11th in the standings. But it was Hamlin’s blown engine that really delivered a sucker punch to his season; it dropped him three positions to 12th, just 26 points above the cut line for the Chase.

On the outside looking in, Bowyer and Ragan are technically tied for 13th right now; they are the aforementioned 26 points behind making the Chase.

Further down the list, Newman dropped two more spots to 17th and Kurt Busch fell a spot to 19th. These aren’t happy times for Roger Penske – at least on the NASCAR side of the empire.

Overall Rating (On a scale of one to six beer cans with one being a stinker and a six-pack an instant classic): I feel kind of like Charlie Brown picking a Christmas tree because I know others will disagree… but it wasn’t such a bad little race. I’ll give it four cans of almost chilly generic stuff.

Next Up: After three months of an endless bummer, a nation turns its lonely eyes towards Bristol next Saturday night. All we can hope is that we get a repeat of the 1998 Night Race and not a placid return of last year’s Bristol Lite.

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