NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Matt McLaughlin’s Thinkin’ Out Loud: 2008 Homestead Race Recap

The Key Moment: Carl Edwards ran out of gas as he coasted across the finish line to take his ninth Cup win of the season.

In a Nutshell: Edwards did all he could do, but Jimmie Johnson did all he had to do; and thus, the 2008 Cup season went out with a whimper, not a bang.

Dramatic Moment: I’ve got six words here; B-O-R-I-N-G.

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

So, how many Cup team members will actually be given pink slips on Monday, and how many teams will show up to race at Daytona in February?

There’s a lot wrong with this sport today, but one thing you cannot fault either Edwards or Johnson for is showing class in defeat and victory.

Does anyone else wish that Cale Yarborough would have been there to congratulate Johnson as he got out of his car after the race?

Wow, ABC even preempted America’s Funniest Home Videos in place of post-race coverage! Maybe they heard the message race fans were sending last week loud and clear?

Did someone at ESPN not get a memo that there would be more than two cars competing out there on Sunday?

I’m going to do a column Thursday on the recently announced testing ban for 2009, but the story is big enough, I want to make a few quick comments here as well. When you get down to the brass tacks, NASCAR did the only thing they could do in light of these perilous economic times, with so many teams struggling to remain viable. But my fear is that in this instance the rich (the big three Cup teams) will get richer as they find ways to circumvent the intent of the testing rules while the poor (the rest of the Cup field) will just fade away. The success of the program will depend on Jack Roush, Joe Gibbs and Rick Hendrick deciding to act in the best longterm interests of the sport and not their own self-interest, which is a stretch. If any one of the three starts playing footloose and fancy free, the other two super teams are going to react in kind. Given the testing limitations in place when the Car of Horror was introduced, the Hendrick organization pushed the edges of the envelope and gained a decided advantage over the rest of the field as a result. When Jack Roush initially tried to follow the spirit of the rules, he ended up looking like a fool – and then threw a huge amount of money at getting his teams competitive again. This time, it behooves the Big Three car owners to realize that in the long term, there needs to more than 12 competitive teams out there on the racetrack each Sunday afternoon if fans are to remain interested in the sport. Even if they can gain a short-term advantage circumventing the new testing rules, in the long run they are slitting their own throats.

How to sum up Johnson’s title… “No tears, no beers, no fears”… at least on camera. The man is a robot.

OK, NASCAR made one tough call deciding to ban testing – at least for the foreseeable future. Now, they need to cowboy up and make the next difficult call by announcing plans to trim 10 races off the schedule. Truthfully, I think that’s the only way the sport can survive this economic downturn. Less races means less expenses for teams already struggling to get by. Just the elimination of the two road-course dates would save the teams millions on developing cars that are only dusted off twice a year. Less races also means that more fans would attend those events that do remain. Right now, fans who attend Pocono and Michigan have their choice of two races that are only months apart. But given one race to attend, I think the grandstands would be packed. Here’s my call, in an attempt to enrage everyone equally: Watkins Glen, Chicago, and Sonoma are gone. Fontana, Michigan, Pocono, Atlanta, Phoenix, Texas and New Hampshire are cut back to one race each. The season ends before Halloween, with more off weekends over the course of the year.

HENDERSON: WHY NASCAR NEEDS TO TRIM THE FAT

Isn’t it amazing that the U.S. Congress seems so hesitant to help out the Big Three automakers – which employ one in 10 Americans – after offering a $700 billion bailout to financial institutions that employ the top 10% of wealthiest wage-earners (and I use that term loosely)?

The final points are still being tallied, but as of right now NASCAR’s new 6-6-6-6 rule for next year’s Bud Shootout (the top six teams in points from each of the four manufacturers make the field) is looking incredibly stupid. Ryan Newman and Tony Stewart aren’t in the race. Robby Gordon is. For those with ADD, Newman won this year’s Daytona 500 and Stewart is a two-time Cup champ; but Gordon is a blip so small on this year’s radar, even NORAD might have missed him. Yeah, this makes sense… if you’re an imbecile.

Does it seem to anyone else like this whole merger of DEI and Chip Ganassi Racing was slapped together so quickly, it smacks of desperation more than a well thought out business decision? Come on; when they can’t even announce what make of car they’ll be running and neither GM or Chrysler has endorsed the deal, it just seems rushed. The bottom line seems to be that under stipulations of the Bass Pro Shops sponsorship – the only solid deal DEI had left – the team must field at least three full-time teams. Absent a merger with Ganassi, that just wasn’t going to happen, and that would have allowed Bass Pro Shops to shop their sponsorship dollars around in a buyers’ market. The merger seems to be a Hail Mary pass into the end zone with both organizations as the final seconds clicked off the clock, and my guess is that the ball is going to end up bouncing out of bounds rather than being caught.

Give the Miami track this much… the area sure does offer up a spectacular sunset as a backdrop. But as far as these 4 p.m. ET race start times, I can live without ’em.

Few people might have noticed it, but a big thumbs up to Greg Biffle for racing Johnson cleanly back in the pack rather than helping his teammate by parking the guy.

With the end of the 2008 season, I realize many of my loyal readers will be packing it up for another year. Since we won’t be talking again until next February, let me wish all of you a Merry Christmas (or whatever Holiday you celebrate) and wish you the best in the coming New Year. Yes, things are pretty stressful right now, but tough times don’t last, tough people do – and I know that most NASCAR fans are the salt of the earth types. They’ll get by one way or another no matter what challenges are thrown in their path. Thanks for sticking with me and the sport through a less than compelling season that has caused most of us to wonder why we remain fans even as our numbers dwindle. Right now, my plan is to take several weeks down time to get back home, patch my bones, then get back truckin’ on. Yeah, what a long strange trip it’s been following this sport in 2008. And to borrow a phrase from Dennis Miller, “That’s the news and I’m outta here.”

The Hindenburg Award For Foul Fortune

Matt Kenseth ran out of gas leading the race and fell to 20th in the final rundown. That’s just how his season has gone.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. had an above average run before a wheel bearing burnt up, leaving the rotor to wobble uncontrollably and the caliper to break. I can’t even remember the last time that set of circumstances took a driver out of contention. If nothing else, the No. 88 team has found every way possible to lose races this year.

Kurt Busch started the season with great hope after his dramatic finish at Daytona in February, but the year went bad from there. Two trips into the wall dropped Busch to 43rd in the final rundown.

The results seemed preordained, but it had to be tough for Edwards to lose two titles in the same weekend while winning both races.

The “Seven Come Fore Eleven” Award For Fine Fortune

One more lap, and Edwards would have been sitting on the cool-down lane looking like a jackass.

How about Bill Elliott finishing 12th in the Wood Brothers car? Elliott and the Woods have earned their place in NASCAR’s history, and it’s sad that a driver on the verge of retirement and a team on the edge of extinction didn’t get a mention on TV for their achievements.

Stewart led the race late and finished ninth to end his career at Joe Gibbs Racing on a positive note.

Casey Mears‘s last ride with Hendrick Motorsports was also a good one; he finished eighth to solidify 20th spot in the point standings.

Jamie McMurray had a substandard season, but a third-place finish at Homestead gives him some reason for optimism next year.

Johnny Benson might have been written off long ago as yesterday’s news; but he did, in fact, claim the final Craftsman Truck Series title in 2008.

Congratulations go out to Clint Bowyer as well for his Nationwide Series title scored on Saturday.

Worth Noting

  • Edwards won his ninth race of the season, more than any other driver. Johnson and Kyle Busch each scored eight Cup victories this season.
  • The top-10 finishers at Homestead drove four Chevys, three Fords, two Dodges and a Toyota.
  • Johnson averaged a 5.7-place finish in the Cup standings to claim his third consecutive title.
  • Edwards won three of the last five Cup races this season and had top-five finishes in all five of those races.
  • McMurray finished third in the last three Cup races this season.
  • Jeff Gordon went winless for the first time in a Cup season since way back in 1993 – his freshman season on the circuit.
  • Travis Kvapil’s eighth-place finish was his first top-10 result since the Talladega event this spring.
  • Stewart averaged a 16th-place finish in the 10 Chase races. My guess is he was a little distracted by his plans for next year.
  • At press time, Sam Hornish Jr. unofficially held a two-point lead over Regan Smith for this year’s Rookie of the Year honors. Unfortunately, even if Smith squeaks out the award he’s still shopping for a ride for next year. As for the other rookies who didn’t survive the season (Dario Franchitti, Patrick Carpentier, Michael McDowell, Jacques Villeneuve), I guess we can conclude the open-wheel invasion into Cup racing is now officially ended.

What’s the Points?

Let the record books show that Johnson won the 2008 Cup title with a 69-point margin over runner up Edwards. Third-place Biffle was 217 behind Johnson.

Teammates Kevin Harvick and Bowyer moved up a spot in the standings to fourth and fifth, respectively, displacing their teammate Jeff Burton down two spots to sixth.

Kyle Busch and Stewart each moved up two spots to finish ninth and 10th in the final standings. Denny Hamlin moved up a spot to eighth.

Kenseth’s gas pains dropped him three spots to 11th in the standings. Earnhardt Jr. fell two spots to finish in the cellar of the Chase in 12th; both will miss the banquet, as only the top-10 finishers make the spotlight of the Waldorf Astoria in New York.

David Ragan secured the “Best of the Rest” title with a 13th-place finish, 226 points ahead of Kasey Kahne.

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 cans of lukewarm generic stuff on our way to a long winter’s nap.

Next Up: Tha… tha… tha… that’s all folks. The 2008 Cup season has mercifully reached its overdue conclusion months too late for most of us. Racing resumes at Daytona in mid-February, same Matt-time, same Matt-channel for those of you who choose to ride this train wreck out. If you need me in the meantime, I’ll be in the garage in a pair of Carhartt overalls working on some old Chevys.

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