NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Matt McLaughlin’s Thinkin’ Out Loud: 2010 Bristol Spring Race Recap

The Key Moment: Chad Knaus’s questionable call to outfit Jimmie Johnson’s No. 48 with four tires on the final stop paid off. Miraculous holes appeared before his Chevy like nothing I’ve heard of since Moses parted the Red Sea.

In a Nutshell: Good ol’-fashioned NASCAR racing with prolonged side-by-side battles for the lead and throughout the top 10, fenders rubbing, tires smoking, and the fans on their feet. Yeah, this is why even us cynical old son of a bitches keep watching every week.

Dramatic Moment: If your heart wasn’t pounding for those final 10 laps, you may want to make an appointment with a cardiologist.

It was fun to watch Brad Keselowski and Carl Edwards race side-by-side, lap after lap without contact after the mess at Atlanta. My guess is a whole lot more was said in the NASCAR trailer than fans will ever hear about.

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

Before the usual merriment, tsunami of cynicism, and general written mayhem, I must pass along my genuine and sincere get well wishes to Larry Pearson, who was seriously injured in a savage wreck during the “Old Timers” event at Bristol Saturday evening. The former two-time champ in NASCAR’s AAA series blew a tire, hit the wall, then got hit broadside in the driver’s side numbers by Charlie Glotzbach. Both drivers were knocked out cold by the incident, but Pearson suffered the more severe injuries, including a broken pelvis. This “Legends” race is supposed to be fun, but the severity of the wreck was sobering. If competitors from days of yore are to put on a show for the fans at a NASCAR-sanctioned track, there ought to be rules in place to help protect them including requirements for full-face helmets, HANS devices and the energy-absorbing foam between the roll cages and the door sheetmetal on these cars.

Yeah, that’s what I’m talking about! There was a lot of discussion if the extension of the SAFER barriers was going to ruin racing at Bristol, but Sunday fans were treated to a Goldilocks moment. The racing wasn’t too hot, with an endless string of wrecks, nor too cold with single-file racing. It was just right. The track at Bristol has undergone countless revisions, but I think they’ve got it about perfect right now.

Empty seats and vast tracts of them at Bristol, once the toughest ticket in all of sports to score? OK, it’s time to hit the panic button. Among those who weren’t in attendance were smokers who have been banned from the grandstands. This used to be called Winston Cup racing, right? As you reap, so shall you sow….

Edwards, possessing a wry sense of humor, stole a classic line from movie reviews after emerging from his closed-door meeting with NASCAR officials, Keselowski, Roger Penske and Jack Roush. “We laughed, we cried…” Edwards noted. But something tells me that when the moving picture is coming to an end, newly-minted best buds Edwards and Keselowski are still going to get in a fistfight over the last handful of popcorn.

At the site of the first “Car of Tomorrow” race (wherein winner Kyle Busch memorably said the car sucked) next week, the much maligned “new car” will debut in a new configuration minus its controversial rear wing, with that eyesore being replaced by a traditional “blade style” rear spoiler. But don’t get too excited just yet: the newest of the new cars will still feature that cowcatcher front end that has proven to be such a disaster for side-by-side racing. You can put makeup on a gorilla, but it’s still not going to look like Faith Hill….

Do you get the feeling if it wasn’t for the Edwards/Keselowski incident, the FOX pre-race show would have been 60 minutes of the three denizens of the Hollywood Hotel rendered fortunately mute, staring at each other muttering, “I got nothing… cue the gopher.” And any discussion of great NASCAR rivalries without mention of the Richard PettyBobby Allison feud that dominated the early ’70s in our sport is just a bunch of self-serving chatter. Those two cats flat out hated each other, seemingly at times more intent on wrecking one another than winning races. The fussing and feuding often continued off the track as well, in victory lane, in the garage area, and away from the track. It was two proud sons of the South refusing to back down an inch; and watching Allison and Petty heading for the checkers as the afternoon sun faded over the fourth turn, fenders bent, tires smoking and steam coming out from under their hoods and helmets and was about the best racing this sport has ever seen.

Having had an exclusive deal with NASCAR for over a decade and a half, wouldn’t you think that Goodyear could finally bring safe, competitive tires to every track?

Some unexpected fallout from the Edwards/Keselowski incident this week included Kevin Harvick saying Edwards was a “fake.” Edwards responded that he felt Harvick was “a bad person.” Jezum Crow, Auntie Em, I’m all for drivers settling disputes amongst themselves without NASCAR stepping in to slap wrists, but do they have to sound like two dumb kindergarteners fighting over a tasty cat turd in the sandbox?

You’ve got to love Jeff Hammond’s latest attempt at a column on the FOX sports site blasting internet writers for their take on the sport. This is the same guy who memorably appeared with Chris Myers in a hot tub during a pre-race segment, and he thinks we give a crap about his goat-roping abilities and offseason facelift so awful, he now looks Asian to complement his dime store tanning booth pigmentation? Yeah, that’s entertainment – sort of like root canal surgery without anesthesia in a Third World country. Hammond seems to think it’s high time that NASCAR internet writers have a Goldilocks moment and decide if they want “too hot” or “too cold” instead of “just right” (see above) when even his booth boy cohorts weren’t quite sure what to make of Edwards’s move live on the air at Atlanta. Well, it does seem certain that most fans and internet writers would rather spend a night at the Bates Motel showering then spend another afternoon at the Hollywood Hotel listening to Hammond and his cohorts prattle on like a bunch of drunken men taken leave of their senses. I kid because I care.

For those of you anxiously awaiting the debut of the new Ford Mustangs and Dodge Challengers in the Nationwide Series, apparently the rolling out of the new cars is on hold until July at Daytona – not next weekend at Martinsville as originally planned.

Did I really hear Chris Myers, about the damnedest Yankee ever to be involved with the sport, use the term “Ya’ll” in his signoff?

Do you think presumably retired Ward Burton ever resents his brother Jeff ending up with the CAT sponsorship?

Far be it from me to suggest the fates would favor the driver who chose the coolest song for driver intros at Bristol in the race, but Johnson’s selection of Led Zep’s “Ramble On” was clearly the best. Tony Stewart, who finished second, selected Eastbound and Down (better known as the theme song from the original Smokey and the Bandit movie) as his intro tune. Now, let’s see Stewart race a black car with a big screaming gold chicken on the hood, and maybe he’ll win another race. (Mine is available if the insurance coverage is right, and he can sneak the 462 cubic engine through tech.)

The Hindenburg Award For Foul Fortune

Clint Bowyer hadn’t suffered the indignity of a DNF since Darlington last May, but a blown powerplant ended his day early at Bristol.

Kurt Busch had the dominant car all day, and just like Johnson, his team chose to go with four tires on the final stop. But the breaks just didn’t fall his way in traffic, and Busch wound up finishing third.

Joey Logano won the pole, but right-front tire issues ruined his day by lap 100.

Marcos Ambrose had a competitive car, but kept falling afoul of the speeding cops on pit road. Maybe his tach is calibrated in the metric system? (For the record, Tasmania is a separate entity from Australia.)

Mark Martin had a contending car before getting hit by Greg Biffle, his former teammate and (presumably) friend.

Juan Pablo Montoya keeps threatening to win on an oval track but he, too, got caught up in Biffle’s mess.

Kasey Kahne just couldn’t keep a right-front tire under his car. Camber is like war. Too much of it isn’t good for children or other living things.

Robby Gordon’s team is now 36th in owner points, and will have to race their way into the field until such a time they re-enter the Top 35 this season. Gordon has never been a great qualifier, so this is going to be quite a challenge.

The “Seven Come Fore Eleven” Award For Fine Fortune

Johnson’s car was great on short runs but not so good on long runs. But he got a nice short stretch to the checkers there at the end and scored yet another win.

Given the radar screen, it’s a near miracle NASCAR and fans on hand got to see the entire 500 laps of racing at Bristol.

Kyle Busch won both Cup races here last year, but a blown right front tire just past the halfway point of the race put him hard into the wall. He still drove a severely damaged car to a top-10 finish (ninth).

Stewart was barely mentioned all day, or in fact for most of this season, but he powered his way to a respectable second place finish in the final laps. He might have forgotten how to shave, but Stewart hasn’t forgotten how to drive when the chips are on the table.

Biffle caused the big 13-car wreck that brought out the eighth caution, but drove away relatively unscathed to a fourth-place finish. My guess is the line of drivers waiting to congratulate him after the race wasn’t too long… and most of them were swinging tire irons.

Despite being sickened by flu and fumes, Jamie McMurray scored a top-10 finish. Sickened by the smell from the jet dryers? That’s a new one for me.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. had to overcome a pit road speeding penalty and a tiff with crew chief Lance McGrew on the radio en route to an all-too-rare top-10 finish.

Justin Allgaier joined the ranks of Nationwide winners on Saturday, and was added to an even more select group of drivers… those Keselowski hasn’t wrecked trying to advance his position late in the race. This is the guy I want to pick my lottery numbers this week.

Worth Noting

  • Logano won his first career Cup pole on Friday.
  • Allgaier’s Nationwide win at Bristol was not only his first series victory, but the first by any Dodge pilot since Kahne won there in August of 2007.
  • The top-10 finishers at Bristol drove five Chevys, three Fords, a Dodge and a Toyota.
  • Kevin Conway in 28th was the top-finishing rookie at Bristol. This year’s Rookie of the Year battle rivals Senior Citizen Tiddlywinks for drama and excitement.
  • Teammates Biffle and Matt Kenseth are the only two drivers to score top-10 finishes in all five of this year’s points-paying races. Kenseth and Johnson are now the only two drivers with three top-five finishes in those five races. All of Johnson’s top-fives have been victories.
  • Johnson’s Bristol win was the 50th of his career, tying him for 10th on the “All-Time Victories” list with Junior Johnson and Ned Jarrett. That’s pretty respectable company to keep.
  • Tony Stewart’s second-place finish was easily his best of the season, and his best overall result since he won at Kansas last fall.
  • Kyle Busch (third) has strung together back-to-back top-five finishes for the first time since Loudon and Daytona last summer.
  • Biffle (fourth) is on his hottest roll since a period from Richmond to Sonoma in 2006, when he scored seven consecutive top-10 finishes.
  • Edwards’s sixth-place finish was his best of the 2010 Cup campaign.
  • Earnhardt Jr.’s seventh-place finish was his best on a non-plate track since Bristol last August.
  • McMurray’s eighth-place finish was his best since he won at Daytona.
  • Kyle Busch’s ninth-place finish was his best Cup result in 2010.
  • Harvick’s 11th-place finish was actually his worst of the season. And the way Bristol started out for the No. 29 team (qualified 33rd, ran near the back most of the day), it could have been a whole lot worse.
  • Jeff Gordon (14th) has now missed the top 10 in four of five Cup races this season.
  • 2009 Chase contender Ryan Newman (16th) has yet to crack the top 15 in a points-paying race in 2010.
  • Gibbs Toyota teammates Kyle Busch, Logano and Denny Hamlin have combined to score just one top-five finish of a possible 15 in the first five races of 2010. Maybe it’s the floor mats?

What’s the Points?

Harvick remains atop the standings, leading Kenseth by just one point. If we were heading into the final race of the season, that would surely be “sumpin’” but as it stands, the numbers are just a statistical anomaly. Johnson, who has won three of this season’s five points-paying races, is third. Sorry, I don’t get it. Don’t bother trying to explain it to me. Consistency… yada, yada, yada.

Earnhardt Jr. moved up five spots to eighth in the standings, and a lonely nation rejoices. Kyle Busch moved up five spots to 10th, but still had to endure a sit-down with Chris Pizzi, the most annoying non-rodent FOX has ever force-fed fans. Brother Kurt also got a nice bump, jumping from 10th to sixth despite those horribly yellow wheels. But Edwards gained the most positions this weekend out of anyone, moving up seven to end up 13th – just 26 points out of the top 12.

Bowyer’s engine woes dropped him seven spots to 12th in the standings. Scott Speed dropped out of the top 12 and down six spots to 18th. Martin was the biggest loser, falling nine spots to 16th.

If you’re really concerned about points this early in the season, I’ve got one word for you: “Prozac.”

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 five icy cold bottles of Corona served by a fetching lass of a bartender with the morals of a minx. It might have been a full six-pack if Goodyear had managed to bring a decent tire to Bristol.

Next Up: Mr. Peabody, set the Wayback Machine for 1949 because the circuit heads back to the virginal short track at Martinsville next weekend. Gather your hot dogs whilst you may, because time, it is a fleeting….

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