NASCAR Race Weekend Central

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

The Key Moment: With eight laps to go, Greg Biffle finally got around the outside of teammate Matt Kenseth to take the lead.

In a Nutshell: If you surfed away to catch a local football game, you missed the greatest finish to a Cup race this season – the stuff of legends.

Dramatic Moment: The last 45 laps were gripping stuff, with three and sometimes as many as five drivers going after it hammer and tongs for the lead. There were fenders banging, tires smoking, and fans on their feet… if only the magic could have lasted for the final five laps.

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

So, how come disgruntled fans still tune in every week if they’re so dissatisfied, some of the newer fans want to know? A day like today is why. Every once in a great while, things still work out like they’re supposed to – I just wish it happened more often. All together now: “Like back in the good old days…”

I’m not ready to completely write off Kyle Busch’s chances at a title yet, but after two terrible races, it’s going to take a Herculean effort that people would be discussing for decades.

NASCAR took a tentative step forward into the 21st century this weekend with their announcement of a random drug testing policy to be implemented next year. Those subject to random tests include drivers, crew members, and NASCAR officials at most racing events throughout the ’09 schedule. My gut tells me the first to fail will be Brian France, who will then flee into his condo and deny he ever peed in a cup despite the obvious evidence of the Car of Sorrow. It seems curious that NASCAR won’t release the list of banned substances they’ll be testing for – and as a reminder to Cup drivers and crew members, Nyquil is on it.

For those of you who, with varied levels of amusement, still think Dover, Del. is some backwards hole in the wall outpost kept alive by an air base and soy beans, try thinking of Dover Downs as the Philadelphia-land speedway instead. Oh, and about those allegations of boring, one-lane racing at Dover…

I’m local, so I have to say given the absolutely perfect weather on Saturday, the attendance at the Nationwide Series race on Saturday was absolutely pitiful. NASCAR really needs to revamp their Triple-A series before it flatlines.

I may be guilty of commenting on it myself too often the last few weeks, but when it comes to scanning team transmissions during a race, motorsports fans enjoy an immediate access not available in other sports. So, when drivers and crew chiefs get a bit snippy or profane over the radio during an event, I suppose that’s their right to do so. I remember back in the day on the warmup laps, a member of the No. 3 team driven by Dale Earnhardt would welcome fans scanning the team’s frequency to the race, but then add that the conversations would be rated R and perhaps unsuitable for the kids in the stands.

With that in mind, I think NASCAR should never consider penalizing a driver or team member for cussing over the radio if that comment is inadvertently broadcast on TV. After all, it’s the network’s responsibility to have someone with a quick finger on the bleep key. And to those drivers complaining about what’s being said about their radio comments in the media, yes, you are free to say whatever you want – but we’re free to say whatever we want about those comments as well.

I think maybe I am beginning to understand the madness behind the actions of the NASCAR brass. Perhaps they’re thinking that if, in their greed, they screw things up so badly they start losing money, the Federal Government will step in with a billion-dollar bailout to save them.

Doesn’t it seem that when a NASCAR commercial features fans in Jeff Gordon garb they’re all either female or under the age of six years old? It must be tough to be an adult male Gordon fan.

Two NASCAR officials suspended after the Mauricia Grant racial and sexual harassment suit was filed have now been fired. Initially, NASCAR said there was no substance to Ms. Grant’s allegations, which makes this development curious. A separate lawsuit has now been filed by a former black male employee of NASCAR saying he was discriminated against due to his race and marital status. But in the suit, this fellow admits he got into a heated argument with a fellow employee and threatened to stab him in far more colorful terms. OK, I support the Grant lawsuit, but this fellow has no real gripe. I don’t care how heated the argument – and I’ve been in some pretty nasty ones with fellow employees over the years – you simply cannot threaten to do them grave bodily harm. The race, religion, gender or sexuality of the two combatants has nothing to do with it. You simply can’t threaten to “cut” someone and not lose your job. We’ve seen too many workplace tragedies in recent years to allow that.

Speaking of Gordon, I no longer see that there’s any question he’ll compete for this year’s title (he won’t) but the question is whether he can win a Cup race this season to keep his 14-year victory streak alive (he might).

Speaking of commercials, with their direct involvement in killing the first muscle car boom and their stressing of safe driving, does anyone else find it odd a new commercial for a car insurance company features Kevin Harvick doing donuts in a quiet suburban cul-de-sac in front of impressionable children? Just get caught doing that in your old Trans Am by the cops, and guess what would happen to your insurance rates…

The Hindenburg Award For Foul Fortune

The way he was driving, you just knew Robby Gordon was eventually going to take out one of the leaders. He finally got around to running into Jamie McMurray, who had a top-five car much of the race and desperately needed a good run. Someone desperately needs to run Gordon out of the sport.

Busch’s title hopes took a hard hit when he lost an engine before the halfway point of the race. It was only the second engine failure for one of the JGR teams this Cup season.

Denny Hamlin’s chances went awry with a leaking rear end, and we all know how embarrassing that can be.

David Reutimann enjoyed a strong run until he was hit with a one-lap penalty for pitting out of the box late in the race on his final stop.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. spent another long afternoon floundering around after blowing a tire and damaging his right-side quarterpanel.

The “Seven Come Fore Eleven” Award For Fine Fortune

After a lackluster season, back-to-back wins by Biffle to start the Chase has to be considered a major shock. It does indeed still appear to be a three way battle for this year’s title – only Biffle might be in the mix instead of Busch.

Radio transmissions by the No. 16 team midway through the race seemed to indicate that Biffle was seeing smoke from Carl Edwards‘s car that indicated a potential imminent engine failure; but in the end, no mechanical gremlins spoiled Edwards’s third-place run.

Jimmie Johnson found himself right in the midst of other drivers’ wrecks several times, but managed to steer clear of the mayhem on his way to a fifth-place finish. A timely caution flag on lap 291 also put Johnson back in the hunt when it appeared he might have to make one more stop than his competitors.

Michael Waltrip enjoyed a strong 10th-place finish. No, I’m not sure how that happened, either – but I bet NASCAR checked the intake manifold on the No. 55 car after the race.

Jack Roush enjoyed a good day at Dover with cars he owned finishing first, second, and third. Richard Childress also had to be pretty happy, seeing all three of his title-contending cars finished ninth or better. Joe Gibbs… well, at least the Redskins won.

Mark Martin had a stellar run on Sunday. Even while the TV network involved was trying to paint the finish of the race as a three man battle between teammates, Martin was there in the mix right until the end.

Worth Noting

  • Four drivers (Edwards, Kyle Busch, Johnson, Biffle) have combined to win the last 11 Cup races.
  • Biffle posted back-to-back Cup wins for the first time in his career. He didn’t miss by much midway through the 2005 season, though, winning two of three races with victories in Dover and Michigan. By the end of that year, he wound up finishing second in the Chase to Tony Stewart.
  • Kenseth’s second place finish was his best of the 2008 Cup season.
  • Edwards has finished third his last two times out in a Cup car.
  • Jeff Burton (ninth) has strung together three straight top-10 finishes for the first time this year since the Coca-Cola 600, the first Dover race, and Pocono.
  • Martin (fourth) has managed top-10 finishes in his last four outings in a Cup car.
  • Johnson (fifth) has strung together four straight top-five finishes.
  • Harvick (sixth) is on a roll with eight straight top-10 finishes.
  • Jeff Gordon (seventh) has just three top-10 and two top-five finishes in the last eight Cup races.
  • Waltrip (10th) earned his best Cup finish since Loudon, and his second top-10 Cup result of the season.
  • Dave Blaney (12th) had his best finish since the last Dover race.
  • Bobby Labonte (14th) had his second straight top-15 finish, the first time that’s happened since Loudon and Daytona in June/July.
  • The top-10 finishers at Dover drove three Fords, six Chevys and a Toyota. Ryan Newman in 13th was the highest ranking Dodge wheelman.
  • Michael McDowell in 29th had the best finish at Dover of any of this year’s rookie candidates. Whoever is crowned this year’s ROTY will likely be wearing one of those gold cardboard crowns they hand out to unruly kids at the local Burger King just to quiet the little monsters.

What’s the Points?

Edwards now leads the standings by 10 markers over Johnson and Biffle. Johnson and Biffle are tied as far as a points total, but Johnson has the advantage with four wins compared to Biffle’s two.

Harvick had a great day in the points, moving up five positions to fifth in the standings. His teammate Burton advanced one spot to fourth. Gordon climbed three spots to eighth while Kenseth took two steps out of the cellar to 10th.

On the other end of the spectrum, Busch tumbled four spots in the standings to 12th despite having won the most races this season. He’s gone from first to last in just two weeks. His teammate Hamlin fell five spots to 11th, while Earnhardt Jr. also fell five spots to wind up ninth in the standings.

Outside the Chase, Kasey Kahne holds onto 13th place, just 35 points ahead of David Ragan.

Overall Rating (On a scale of one to six beer cans with one being a stinker and a six-pack an instant classic): I’ll give this one five and a half bottles of icy cold Corona with a Captain Morgan chaser. The race loses half a bottle for a long, drawn out middle section with not much happening, and the anti-climax of the final five laps.

Next Up: Hey, Toto, it’s back off to Kansas for an event most fans look forward to like a prostate exam. But hey, they’re getting a casino on the premises, so maybe soon we can look forward to two Kansas events a year where the Cup drivers make like Keebler Elves and tackle the cookie cutter.

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