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NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Matt McLaughlin’s Thinkin’ Out Loud: 2009 New Hampshire Fall Race Recap

The Key Moment: Mark Martin chose the outside lane and managed to hold the lead on the final three restarts to assert his claims as a legitimate title contender.

In a Nutshell: It wasn’t as bad as the NHMS race where Jeff Burton led flag-to-flag… but it wasn’t much better, either.

Dramatic Moment: The double-file restarts throughout the event featured the afternoon’s only real racing.

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

NASCAR trotted out the 12 Chase contenders for media events in New York City this week again. I scanned online coverage from major news outlets, the network sites and major sports sites not affiliated with the sport – and found the coverage was virtually nil.

Want to know why the Hendrick cars are dominating at the same time that the Roush cars are struggling? Look at the attitude of the front tires. The Hendrick teams and their associates have apparently found a new front end geometry with the new coil-bound suspension, while the Roush cars are still dialing in huge amounts of negative camber to crutch their Fords.

Starting off the Chase at NHMS is sort of like playing the World Series in the dark. Somebody turn out the lights, I don’t want to see any more….

Is there any more question as to whether NASCAR is about sport or entertainment? When AJ Allmendinger got spun on the final lap and was sideways on the track, the officials in the tower swallowed their whistles, refusing to throw a caution until the leaders were almost on top of Allmendinger’s stricken car. Ironically enough, it was Dale Jarrett sitting sideways in traffic at this same track that caused NASCAR to change the rules banning racing back to the yellow.

Who were those other 31 guys running out there amidst the Chasers?

Stock car racing on a Sunday afternoon? What a novel idea. I hope it catches on. And maybe, just maybe, they’ll move the starting time back to one o’clock on the dot the way God and Junior Johnson intended it to be. After all, why spot the NFL game and an hour and 10 minutes to catch viewer interest before the race even starts?

I wonder what Kevin Harvick went over to discuss with his driver Ron Hornaday after Saturday’s truck race? My guess is it wasn’t the annual Employee of the Year award.

I don’t know if someone at NASCAR decided they didn’t want a guy that looked like Yoda in the Chase or if his PR guy thought it was a good idea, but Martin showed up this week sporting prematurely brown hair in place of that gray buzz cut he’s had for decades.

The Hindenburg Award For Foul Fortune

Kasey Kahne blew an engine just 66 laps into the race, the same week that 60 members of the RPM shop learned they’d be out of a job next season. What a coincidence, huh?

Dale Earnhardt Jr. was having a fine run in fourth when David Reutimann took him out. Hopefully, NASCAR was able to spirit the No. 00 driver out of New Hampshire under cover of darkness in an armored car before he was torn limb to limb.

Tony Stewart seemed to have one of the cars to beat before the axle retainer on the rear of the No. 14 car became askew. (To be honest, that’s a new one for me.) The resultant 55-second pit stop harpooned Stewart’s chances at a win.

Jeff Gordon had a far better car than his 15th-place finish might indicate.

If Harvick was unhappy with a third-place finish on Saturday, he must have really been pissed after struggling to a 32nd-place finish on Sunday.

The “Seven Come Fore Eleven” Award For Fine Fortune

After suffering overheating issues following hard contact on pit road, Kurt Busch was still able to finish sixth.

Problems in the pits sent Kyle Busch back in the field, but he recovered well enough to finish fifth. Busch was also fortunate to narrowly avoid the spinning car of Allmendinger under the ninth caution period. Editor’s Note: The No. 18 car did fail post-race inspection for reportedly being too low. Expect penalties to be forthcoming sometime this week.

Brian Vickers lost a few lugnuts in the pits, but recovered from falling as far back as 30th to finish 11th.

Worth Noting

  1. Martin’s fifth win of the 2009 season makes him the winningest driver of 2009.
  2. Juan Pablo Montoya’s second-place finish matches his best of the season. Montoya also finished second at Indy.
  3. Denny Hamlin (third) has now strung together seven straight top-10 finishes.
  4. Jimmie Johnson’s fourth-place finish was his best since he won at Indy eons and eons ago.
  5. Kyle Busch finished fifth for the second straight week in a row. Cue up the Patti Loveless, because it’s a little too late to do the right thing now.
  6. Ryan Newman (sixth) has now managed four straight top-10 finishes. I’d say the first four races of this year were a pain in the neck for Newman, but he doesn’t have one.
  7. Elliott Sadler’s eighth-place finish was his best since the Daytona 500.
  8. Vickers (11th) still hasn’t finished worse than 12th since the last New Hampshire race.
  9. Stewart (14th) hasn’t managed a top-10 result since winning at Watkins Glen.
  10. Kahne’s 38th-place finish was his worst of the season.
  11. The top-10 finishers at New Hampshire drove five Chevys, two Toyotas, two Dodges and a lone Ford (Greg Biffle in ninth.) It has now been 25 races since a Ford won a Cup event.
  12. Joey Logano, who finished 21st, was the top-finishing rookie of the race.

What’s the Points?

The points are all screwed up because of the realignment travesty after last week’s race at Richmond. Martin retains his points lead by 35 points over Johnson and Hamlin, who are tied for second. Montoya moves up seven spots to fourth in the standings, while Kurt Busch jumped up two spots to fifth.

Stewart fell four spots to sixth in the standings, while Newman climbed two spots to seventh and Vickers held serve in eighth. Biffle now holds ninth outright, but is already 92 points behind Martin one race into the Chase.

Further back, Gordon also fell four spots to 10th in the standings, while Carl Edwards dropped two spots to 11th. The big loser was Kahne, who stumbled seven spots to 12th.

Kyle Busch maintains his “best of the rest” status, 13th in the points.

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 three cans of six, about average for a NHMS race. The late-race cautions spiced things up just enough to wake fans from their stupor.

Next Up: It’s off to the White Cliffs of Dover, sort of a supersized Bristol. You want fries with that?

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