NASCAR Race Weekend Central

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

The Key Moment: On the final restart with 12 laps to go, Greg Biffle muscled his way past Jimmie Johnson to the subdued delight of anyone left awake.

In a Nutshell: Another NHMS snoozer. C’mon, Bruton, fix this mess.

Dramatic Moment: Drama at NHMS? You might as well be searching for couth in Philadelphia.

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

Before we start discussing Sunday’s race, let me say the entire Frontstretch staff and myself want to offer our prayers and support to our friends and fellow fans down on the Gulf Coast who bore the brunt of Hurricane Ike’s fury. We are with you during this difficult time. A good friend of mine in Galveston lost everything he owned to the storm, but his positive attitude in discussing the fact that he, his wife, and children survived unscathed is a less than subtle reminder that all of us need to be grateful every day for those things we have – and to remember the relationships we have with those who love us outweigh anything we can own.

Could the Chase have started off with any more drama? Sure, if the Brady Bunch were allowed to play a spirited game of lawn croquet before the race.

To those detractors ready to write off Kyle Busch as a title contender after a disastrous afternoon at Loudon, it might be wise to recall that Johnson finished 39th here in 2006 en route to his first Cup championship.

OK, how many laps did you make it before drifting off for a nap?

NASCAR’s network partner “ESPN/ABC” tried to break a story this week accusing Craftsman Truck stalwart and multiple time champion Ron Hornaday of using performance-enhancing drugs. The sad fact of the matter is the drugs in question were prescribed not to enhance Hornaday’s chances against younger competitors, but to save his life after he was finally diagnosed (after many missteps) with a thyroid disease. I have my own somewhat unique perspective on the issue in that after my own nasty fall that almost cost me my left leg, I was also prescribed with steroids and male hormones to help my body heal. I don’t recall being able to juggle pianos, win marathons or star in porno movies while I was being treated. What I do recall is that the drugs the doctors prescribed me allowed me to toss aside the walker and begin those first few fleeting steps to a normal life again against the odds. Kudos to Hornaday for the class with which he faced this non-issue and his willingness to face it head on – but brickbats to ESPN for trying to invent a story and then refusing to address their error when it was proven false. I am especially disappointed in Dr. Jerry Punch, who due to his medical training could have issued a unique and authoritative opinion on the issue, stating this was standard treatment of Graves’ disease. If Ned Jarrett and the late Benny Parsons were still around, they’d doubtless we hosting a “Come to Jesus” meeting with their colleagues over this sensationalized story, and they’d give them such an ass-chewing nobody involved would be able to sit down for a week. I’m just glad that NASCAR took an informed and compassionate look at Hornaday’s treatment and condition, then decided no penalties were in order. That’s in stark contrast, of course, to their lifelong ban of Tim Richmond for “substance abuse” of over-the-counter cold remedies prior to the 1988 Busch Clash.

Qualifying was canceled for the seventh time this season and the second week in a row at NHMS. It’s almost as if our infinitely patient and forgiving God is weighing in on the Chase from above.

LUNKENHEIMER: TRACKING THE TRUCKS AFTER LOUDON

With Dodge having announced their withdrawal from the Truck Series next year, Bobby Hamilton Racing, the last marquee Dodge team, has announced they will throw their lot into the crowded Toyota pool next year. One part of me thinks that the late Bobby Hamilton must be spinning in his grave considering his team will be driving for a foreign manufacturer next year. But the rest of me acknowledges that Hamilton was a realistic man, and given the present circumstances with Dodge leaving the series, he’d likely have decided “Any port in the storm.” Born into near poverty, Hamilton was a practical guy who never lost his roots. He once told a senior class at a local high school to pursue their dreams no mater what the odds, given that he was a “redneck millionaire” but a millionaire nonetheless. My other favorite Hamilton quote was his answer to a question as to who was the greatest NASCAR driver ever. Hamilton responded that the greatest NASCAR driver ever was probably driving a tow truck somewhere in the Charlotte area because he wasn’t pretty and well-spoken enough to earn a ride in today’s NASCAR climate despite his talent. Hamilton died of cancer on January 7th, 2007; and as Forrest Gump might add, “and that’s all I’m going to say about that.”

Is it just me, or does Jeff Gordon look and sound a decade older than he did last year? It bears mention that Gordon, the original young gun, has been at this game full-time for 15 years now; and by his own admission, he’s got more career behind him then ahead of him. Where do the years go?

The Hindenburg Award For Foul Fortune

Last week, Busch saw a 200-point plus lead evaporate due to the Chase format. Busch could use a few of those points back after a failed sway bar link and subsequent crash left him 34th in the field.

Matt Kenseth was looking slightly less hapless than usual this season when he got hooked by the out of control No. 45 car and took a quick jaunt into the wall. It was the first DNF for the No. 17 bunch this season.

Joey Logano may indeed be the next big thing; but at New Hampshire, he was just another rolling road block running a lap down. Sweet.

Gordon seemed to have a solid run going, and avoided yet another Robby “he ain’t my brother” Gordon wreck. But locking up his tires to avoid it all forced Gordon to the pits and an eventual 14th-place finish.

The “Seven Come Fore Eleven” Award For Fine Fortune

The brake problems Biffle encountered early in the race seemed to indicate he was in for a very long afternoon coasting around the track. Instead, he coasted into Victory Lane for the first time in almost a year.

A pit-road collision and a penalty for speeding on pit road seemed to doom the No. 20 car and Tony Stewart; but, he rallied back nicely to post an eighth-place finish.

With the sort of season he’s had since Daytona, few people might have noticed – but Kurt Busch finished sixth.

Worth Noting

  • Biffle won for the first time since his controversial “out of gas” victory at Kansas last year.
  • Johnson (second) has finished first or second in the last three Cup races.
  • Carl Edwards (third) has top-10 finishes in eight of the last nine Cup races.
  • Jeff Burton (fourth) enjoyed his best Cup finish since Martinsville this spring.
  • Martin Truex Jr. (seventh) managed his first top-10 finish since the Glen.
  • Kevin Harvick (10th) has now posted seven straight top-10 finishes.
  • Bobby Labonte (13th) matched his best season finish since Loudon last time around.
  • The top-10 finishers at NHIS drove five Cheys, two Fords, two Toyotas and a Dodge. Barefoot girls sitting on the hood of cars in the soft summer rain continue to prefer Dodges, and those driving to the levee still prefer Chevys.
  • Regan Smith in 23rd was the top finishing candidate in this year’s woeful Rookie of the Year class.

What’s the Points?

For the first time seemingly since mankind invented the wheel, Kyle Busch no longer tops the standings. In fact, he tumbled seven spots to eighth, 74 points out of the lead.

Edwards and Johnson are technically tied atop the points standings, each having gained one spot – with Edwards holding the advantage over Johnson with more race wins.

Biffle’s win launched him up six points in the artificially contrived points stratosphere to third in the standings. Other beneficiaries of this silliness include Burton (up two spots to fifth) and Tony Stewart (up a spot to seventh). Harvick climbed a spot to 10th in the standings.

On the flip side, Clint Bowyer tumbled four places, from fifth to ninth in points. Gordon fell a spot to 11th, and Kenseth remains the Chase cellar dweller – in 12th, already 177 out of the lead.

For those few of you who realize there were more than 12 drivers out there on the track today, Kasey Kahne remains atop the standings for the “Non-Chaser Invisible Men,” 59 points ahead of David Ragan in 14th.

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 two lukewarm cans of the generic stuff. It wasn’t as mind-numbingly insipid as some NHMS races, but it wasn’t far off.

Next Up: It’s off to the white cliffs of Dover, the second most hazardous to Talladega in the Chase. None of the Chasers will win the championship at Dover, but some of them will surely piss away their chances at winning the title.

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