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NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Matt McLaughlin’s Thinkin’ Out Loud: 2009 Michigan Spring Race Recap

The Key Moment: Greg Biffle and Jimmie Johnson ran out of gas on the final lap to hand a win to Mark Martin.

In a Nutshell: To paraphrase Leonard Ginth-Parnell of Saturday Night Live’s “Master Bad Theater” skits: “Putrid, simply, putrid. Ultimately without any socially redeeming moments. This is about as bad as it gets.”

Dramatic Moment: Waiting to see who would run out of gas on the final lap while trying to avoid drowning on a mouthful of one own’s spit after perhaps the most boring race in the history of mankind.

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

Some folks have compared winning a fuel-mileage race to kissing their sister. Well, I’d compare Sunday’s racing to marrying your sister and raising a brood of six-fingered offspring who never learn to recite the alphabet… but can still suck down a 30-pack of Coors Light on a Sunday afternoon applauding the sort of abject stupidity NASCAR has been offering up the last couple of weeks.

Admit it. How many laps of this stupidity do you watch before drifting into a well-deserved Sunday afternoon nap?

I can only wish anyone surprised by the announcement that GM is radically cutting back their financial involvement in NASCAR racing the best of luck in their tryouts for a starring role in Disney’s remake of Pollyanna. The storm clouds have been gathering on the horizon so long that when the rain began falling this week, only those folks riding the short bus to school were surprised. The fact a Toyota took the pole for this week’s race staged in the heart of the American auto industry was just more salt rubbed in the wound for millions. Unfortunately, like it or not it’s clear NASCAR and its teams are going to have to adjust to dramatically less involvement by the Big Three over the coming seasons. But I don’t think this is the end of the world as we know it. Back in ’73, with the fuel crisis and draconian government regulation we all thought that the era of the muscle car was at its end. But in 1982, Ford reintroduced the Mustang GT and GM, caught with its pants down, waged war with its seriously underpowered Camaro/Firebird twins and the Corvette. This year, well-heeled muscle car buyers have a scintillating choice to be made between Shelby Mustangs, Hemi Challengers and big cube Camaros just as we did in 1970 – the renaissance years of the old muscle car era. My guess is those cars are going away in a PC age where hybrids are the darlings of the media. But they’ll be back. America’s fascination with fast, loud cars is such an ingrained part of our culture that they’ll remain a niche market automakers ignore at their own peril. And in a couple decades, the best of this year’s muscle cars will be going for dozens of times their original cost at Barrett-Jackson.

NASCAR announced a new “green pilot program” this week wherein 10 trees will be planted for each race run to offset the carbon footprint of that event. Those 10 trees, over their lifetimes, will absorb the CO2 emissions generated by the racecars (but not fans attending the event). I’d suggest to NASCAR that they up the amount of trees planted to 20 in an attempt to prove that they are trying to be proactive, not reactive, to this whole carbon footprint hijinks. I just wish I’d been savvy enough to suggest just such an idea (and others) in a column published on this site August 6th, 2008. Oh, wait a second, I did. Oh, and for the record, I’ve planted 10 sugar maple trees this spring to offset the carbon hoofprint of the Trans-Am, Harley, Nova and XR75 for the next five decades, so don’t harass me the next time I go to buy gas in the Pontiac.

I’ve been a huge fan of the 24 Hours of Le Mans since Ford and Carroll Shelby launched their quixotic and ultimately successful campaign to dethrone Ferrari with their Cobras and GT40s. I just never thought I’d live long enough to see a diesel-powered Peugeot defeat a diesel-powered Audi for the big prize. I guess those Audis didn’t have enough unintended acceleration… and as far as the stars and stripes, the Corvettes once again dominated in their class. Those Chevys were decidedly non-diesel powered….

SCORE stripped Robby Gordon of his Baja 500 win this week, citing speeding on public roads and pitting irregularities. However, there’s a YouTube video posted on Gordon’s website that seems to clearly indicate he was not speeding as accused during the road segment cited by race officials. Hopefully, cooler heads will straighten this whole mess out, because anytime race results are decided in a court of law and not on the race circuit itself fans tend to lose interest rapidly.

I reject any comparison between the late and lamented Alan Kulwicki (or even Ricky Rudd) and Tony Stewart when it comes to wins by an owner-driver. Now, any NASCAR race win is a notable achievement, and I don’t mean to diminish one iota what Stewart accomplished at Pocono… but Alan and Rudd were true independents. In comparison, Stewart’s so called “independent” race teams are mere satellites of Rick Hendrick’s all-conquering organization. In saying that, I don’t mean to belittle the remarkable things Stewart and his employees have achieved this season; but rather, I want to remind everyone of what a miracle Alan pulled off in winning the 1992 Cup championship as a true independent. My guess is that feat will never be repeated in our lifetimes or even in the lifetimes of our children; but then again, I never thought a Peugeot was going to win at Le Mans, either.

The Jeremy Mayfield/NASCAR David versus Goliath saga hit an important milestone this week with the admission NASCAR is accusing Mayfield of using methamphetamine, known back during my misspent youth as “crank.” Now, I ran with a pretty uncouth bunch during my wild age, including several members of the Warlocks motorcycle club, and sat drinking beers with several bathroom chemists who cooked up batches of crank back in the days when east coast motorcycle clubs, not Mexican cartels, dominated the market for one of the most evil poisons ever to addict its users. I was fortunate enough never to have been blown to bits in one of those bathroom chemistry labs and never got addicted to the stuff despite smoking it out of light bulb rigs in cheap motels with the Warlocks, but on a first-person basis I understand how vile meth is and how many lives it has destroyed. If NASCAR can convince me that Mayfield knowingly and willingly snorted, injected, or smoked crank I’d be the first person to support a lifetime suspension. But the key ingredients to make that crap were found in cold and allergy medicines available over the counter. And given the chemical makeup of crank, I’m going to need a lot of convincing that what the drug tests detected wasn’t just a double dose of Claritin D. As it is, I’ve watched people high on the stuff (including one guy who rode his motorcycle into a parked car, laid out and snorted lines waiting for the rescue squad to arrive with his leg all but torn off below the knee) and I can’t understand how meth would give a driver any performance edge on the racetrack.

Yeah, I understand that the Michigan economy is in the outhouse, but the crowd in the stands at MIS this weekend was positively embarrassing.

It might seem obvious, but it’s worth repeating. When it comes to any challenge, like singing the National Anthem, things are better left to the U.S. military than rich folks, celebrities or big-breasted women (or rich, celebrity, women with large breasts.)

The Hindenburg Award For Foul Fortune

It’s been a terrible week for NASCAR’s version of Charlie Brown, Johnny Benson. First, the defending Truck Series champion was told that his Truck Series team was shutting down due to sponsorship issues. Then, on Saturday night Benson was seriously injured in a fiery wreck in a super-modified race at the Berlin Speedway in Michigan. Thoughts and prayers go out to Benson, one of the nicest guys in the sport, for a speedy recovery and a quick return to the majors somewhere in auto racing.

Johnson dominated Sunday’s snoozer, only to come up a lap short on fuel. That calamity left him 22nd in the final rundown.

The folks at TNT must have been grabbing the ropes and preparing to go David Carradine after another terrible race they were forced to cover. Unless Holly Hunter finds a way to finally fall out of her bra soon during a commercial for Saving Grace, soon this whole NASCAR experiment might turn out to be a disastrous waste of money.

Kyle Busch finished second in this weekend’s truck and Nationwide series races, then lucky number 13th on Sunday. But at least he didn’t get a chance to smash any more trophies!

It was another tough weekend for Richard Childress, with only Clint Bowyer managing a top-10 finish. For a team that was once the GM/Goodwrench standard bearer, these have got to be troubling times.

The “Seven Come Fore Eleven” Award For Fine Fortune

When Martin finally retires a couple decades from now, he’ll lean against his walker and admit this one was handed to him.

You’d have to guess after his disaster at Dover and having to start at the rear of the field for the second time in three weeks, Jeff Gordon was pretty well pleased with a second-place finish.

The way Denny Hamlin’s season has gone, a third-place finish falling into his lap has to be considered a great result.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished 14th. The fact that can be seen as a hope for optimism is a clear sign of how badly his season has started.

Bill Elliott and the Wood Brothers had a strong qualifying effort and went on to a 16th-place finish against the super-teams. All in all, that was a pretty fair day’s work.

Worth Noting

  • The last time Martin won more than two races in a season was 1998. That year, he finished second to Jeff Gordon in the points.
  • Denny Hamlin (third) enjoyed his first top-10 finish since Phoenix.
  • Carl Edwards‘s fourth-place finish was his fourth straight top-10 result.
  • Biffle (fifth) has strung together three straight top-10 finishes.
  • Juan Pablo Montoya’s sixth-place finish was his third top 10 in the last four Cup points races.
  • Bowyer’s 10th-place finish was his first top-10 result since Martinsville.
  • The top-10 finishers at Michigan drove five Chevys, two Fords, two Toyotas and a Dodge.
  • The best finish by a rookie was Joey Logano’s 25th-place result.

What’s the Points?

Stewart remains atop the points standings, 47 ahead of Jeff Gordon and 142 in front of Johnson in third. Kurt Busch and Ryan Newman swapped fourth and fifth spots in the standings, with Busch now having the advantage.

Martin had the best points day, advancing five spots back into the top 12. He now sits eighth in the standings. Hamlin also had a pretty good Sunday, advancing two positions to 10th. Matt Kenseth fell three spots to 11th, while Jeff Burton fell two to 12th in the standings – leaving him now just three points inside the Chase.

Behind them, David Reutimann is now just three points out of the top 12. The fact a MWR driver is poised to displace the only RCR driver currently qualified for the Chase speaks volumes about how hard and fast RCR has fallen.

Earnhardt Jr. finds himself 252 points out of the top 12 in 18th place. Face it, folks, he just ain’t going to make the cut; and as a result, the ratings for the final 10 races are going to be a disaster.

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 a single cup of warm mule-spit. Terrible, simply terrible.

Next Up: Any fans NASCAR has left will be forced to endure next weekend’s somnolent road-course race at Sonoma.