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NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Matt McLaughlin’s Thinkin’ Out Loud: 2010 Las Vegas Race Recap

The Key Moment: With 16 laps left to run Jimmie Johnson, shod with four fresh tires, passed race leader Jeff Gordon, who had just two (and two worn ones) to take the lead and eventually the win.

In a Nutshell: Man, I’ve seen more damned passing on a merry-go-round.

Dramatic Moment: It was an afternoon totally bereft of drama, a good nap spoiled. An utterly insipid excuse of a sporting event.

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

Hopefully, SportsCenter is going to show that decisive pass Johnson made on Gordon a bunch; that’d benefit the majority of fans who’d already dozed off by that point.

While there’s a lot of races left to go, fans dreading yet another HMS juggernaut this season have reason to be concerned.

I have my own guess as to why those caution lights kept turning on inexplicably at Las Vegas in what was yet another black eye for the sport. FOX had wired a mouth-controlled remote to the jaws of hundreds of fans across the country, and when the action got so tepid and predictable, they drifted off to sleep. With their jaws in the wide open “fly-catching” position, the caution lights were triggered to spice up the action and jolt them awake….

OK, the Olympics are over. NASCAR officials are going to have to hurriedly do an about face and blame the college basketball tournament for their lackluster ratings. Remember back when they told us stock car racing was the second biggest sport to the NFL?

None of the Ford teams chose to run the new FR9 engine at Las Vegas. I don’t know about you, but if I got my butt kicked by my crosstown rivals three weeks in a row to start the season, I think I’d be pulling everything but the lint out of my bag of tricks at Atlanta next week. If you’re going to go down, at least go down in a blaze of glory. It worked for Bon Jovi, right?

A quick note to Kyle Buschwhen storming off after a Nationwide Series event, it behooves one to be surrounded by one’s entourage to avoid appearing like a spoiled little monster taking his ball and going home. Doing it solo just looks foolish and probably makes one’s sponsor wonder why they’re writing those big checks.

After Saturday’s successful if trouble-plagued Nationwide race, team owner Kevin Harvick has officially ended his pit crew’s pre-race ritual of staying up all night watching Three Stooges episodes while drinking grain alcohol with hookers.

50 years ago today, one Richard Petty won his first race in NASCAR’s top division at the old Charlotte Fairgrounds on North Tryon Street, showing his Plymouth’s tailfins to the other 20 cars in the field. The crowd on hand to witness this achievement, which is perhaps only notable in hindsight, numbered 7,900… a figure that almost equals last week’s crowd at Fontana. One of Petty’s top 10 race-winning purses that year, the victory paid a sum of $800. My guess is Johnson would drop that amount of money out of his pocket and not bother to bend over and pick it up.

Rain in the desert helped spoil Part Tres of the Danica Patrick experiment. Is this God’s way of saying, “Hey, Hun, you might want to consider keeping your shirt on?” Let the record show that Ms. Patrick’s toe-dipping dalliance into Nationwide racing resulted in an average finish of 34th in three starts, with one race actually completed, well ahead of many start-and-park teams but somewhat behind many teams that never garnered a moment of airtime. Oh, and for the record I have to agree with one poster who commented on my column last week. Minus the glam treatment for commercials, Ms. Patrick in race day trim does indeed resemble Eddie Munster. (For those who would argue Eddie… er… Danica was taken out in two crashes not of her own making, I counter that given the equipment she had, she shouldn’t have been running back there with the least common denominators. When you’re playing in the sandbox with the stupid kids, you have to expect to get a cat turd shoved in your ear from time to time.)

John Wes Townley, a Nationwide driver for RCR, was cited for underage possession of alcohol this week in Vegas. Who does this guy think he is… a member of the Canadian women’s hockey team?

Johnson won his 49th Cup event to take over 12th on the all-time list. I will say that FOX commentators’ assertion that David Pearson (who has won 105 events in NASCAR’s top division, second only to Petty) better start looking in his rear-view mirror is simply farcical, though. You know, there was an era they thought Gordon was going to bypass the Silver Fox for race wins, too, but now victories are few and far between for Boy Wonder.

Give this track its due. Las Vegas is the one NASCAR speedway where the pace car (a 2011 Shelby GT350 this year) is cooler than the racecars.

Longtime readers know I’m like a volunteer fireman, which means I’m never off duty. This week, a good friend needed his buddy with a pickup truck to take him to Lowe’s to pick up some plumbing parts after a winter-related plumbing disaster. On a whim, or perhaps because he took me out for dinner and a few beers before the trip, I decided to check the NASCAR knowledge of employees of the home improvement center that backs our four-time Cup champion here in eastern Pennsylvania. The original plan was to ask 10 employees, but the folks at the store were so helpful as I wandered around looking clueless and bored (I do auto parts, not home improvement) that I talked to 12 of them. Of the 12, four correctly identified Johnson as the driver of the No. 48 car. We’ll give half points to Mike, who knew that the reigning champion drove for Gordon (sic). But the best answer of the night goes to Anne, who told me, “I’ve seen him, but when I’m off I tend to watch This Old House… not racing.”

Is there some sort of competition between NASCAR drivers to be filmed wearing the ugliest set of sunglasses this season?

Not at all racing-related, but a heads up to my loyal readers. If the quaint village of Guthriesville gets another foot of snow or suffers another extended power outage, my columns will be posted a few days late. It takes a few days for handwritten missives written in crayon to float to the east coast in a coconut from the islands.

The Hindenburg Award For Foul Fortune

Gordon led 219 laps, only to have questionable pit road strategy cost him a probable race win.

Pole winner Kurt Busch never even led the first lap, and eventually got caught up in an intramural wreck between EGR teammates Juan Pablo Montoya and Jamie McMurray. Note to Chip: You might want to keep JPM and McMurray a few seats apart at tomorrow’s team meeting to discuss this latest screwing on the pooch.

Kyle Busch’s late-race speeding penalty dropped last year’s winner of this event to a 15th-place finish. After the race, he was seen beating a baby seal pup with an aluminum baseball bat. At least this time, he didn’t use a guitar….

The “Seven Come Fore Eleven” Award For Fine Fortune

Johnson had to overcome a rare botched pit stop by the No. 48 team, when several lugnuts were dropped, on the way to his second consecutive Cup win.

Kevin Harvick wrecked in practice Friday, but won Saturday’s Nationwide race and finished second on Sunday in the Cup event. So all in all, it was a pretty productive weekend for him.

Matt Kenseth had to overcome a wheel left loose during a pit stop en route to a fifth-place finish.

Greg Biffle ran strong early, but got boxed into his pit stall midway through the event and fell back to 25th. He eventually rallied to a 10th-place finish on a track where passing was at a premium.

Kasey Kahne was penalized for running over an air hose in his pits and fell a lap off the pace at one point. As a result, his eventual ninth-place finish has to be a moral victory – especially after wrecking his car the last two weeks.

Worth Noting

  • Johnson has won eight races since Gordon last rang the bell in Texas last spring. Cue up the Eagles, ’cause there’s a New Kid in Town, and you’re still arowwwwwww-nnnd. How bad is it getting? Johnson has won two titles in the last two-plus years (four consecutive titles now, actually.) In the same two-plus year period, Gordon has won just one race.
  • Johnson has now won 66.6% of this year’s points-paying Cup races. Biblical scholars, take note of that number…
  • Harvick, Clint Bowyer, Biffle and Kenseth have top-10 finishes in all three points-paying races this season.
  • The top-10 finishers at Las Vegas drove six Chevys (including four that claimed the top four spots), three Fords and a Toyota. The top finishing Dodge was Brad Cause-a-catastrophe… er… I mean Keselowski in 26th.
  • If we’re going to have a Rookie of the Year this season, Kevin Conway needs to stop running into stuff.
  • Harvick (second) has back-to-back top-five finishes over the last two weeks. That’s an accomplishment he failed to pull off all of last year.
  • Mark Martin has finished fourth in his last two Cup events.
  • Kenseth (fifth) has three consecutive top-10 finishes this year, a feat he never pulled off last year despite winning the first two races.
  • Joey Logano (sixth) has strung together two top-10 finishes for the first time since Darlington and Charlotte last May.
  • Tony Stewart’s seventh-place finish was his best since Fort Worth last fall.
  • Among the notable drivers still looking for their first top 10 finish in the Cup series in 2010 we find Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin, Keselowski and Ryan Newman.

What’s the Points?

Why are we even bothering to discuss this three races in, with 10 miles behind us and 10,000 more to go?

Yeah, OK, this is why I get paid the big bucks. Harvick continues leading the points. That would be a big deal if this was November, not March. He leads teammate Bowyer by 47.

Martin moved up three spots in the standings to third, and trails Bowyer by two points. Kenseth also moved up three spots to fourth, and trails Martin by just nine points.

Look out! Johnson leapfrogged seven spots up to sixth in the standings and is now just 63 points out of the lead. Haven’t we seen this Looney Tune somewhere before?

Kyle Busch desperately clings to the coveted 12th place in the standings, the final Chase spot, by his well-polished fingernails emblematic of the Boy-Bitch he is. He leads Gordon by just two points.

Further back, Daytona 500 winner McMurray fell another 10 spots to 14th in the standings. Winning Daytona pays well monetarily, but it’s just one of 36 races on the schedule points-wise.

The sport’s Most Popular driver, Dale Earnhardt Jr., (his bad old self) has moved up to 15th in the standings. That puts Junior all of nine points ahead of lesser-known Scott Speed, who I believe is driving cars rented from Hertz at the airport in this year’s Cup events. Of course, Speed is likely to drop further in the standings after learning someone placed a macramé plant holder atop his head prior to the Vegas race.

Among those who have dug themselves a nice-sized burrow in the points early in the season (And remember, a burrow is a hole in the ground, a burro is an ass. It’s important to be able to tell the difference between the two) we find Kurt Busch (19th), Hamlin (22nd), Kahne (23rd) and Newman (32nd). Yes, we’re still just three races into the season, but I hereby award Newman fans the right to start panicking. Just do it outside my earshot.

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 parade one lukewarm can of generic stuff skunked by the desert sun. I know I’ve seen worse races, but as I grow old and my mind goes soft, I can’t remember the last of them this bad. Maybe that’s a blessing.

Next Up: After a less than successful two-race Western swing, the Cup series heads back to its spiritual roots for a little Southern Comfort at Atlanta.