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NASCAR Race Weekend Central

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

The Key Moment: Jimmie Johnson had a dominant car, but a rare unforced error by the four-time champ (speeding on pit road) handed the win to Kyle Busch.

In a Nutshell: Once Johnson was penalized Busch put an old-fashioned butt-whooping on the field.

Dramatic Moment: There were damn few of them, huh?

For one brief period, the Nos. 18 and 48 cars ran each other hard around lap 350.

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

Boring. There’s no other way to describe Sunday’s race. But I’m glad NASCAR didn’t toss another unnecessary debris caution there at the end to spice things up. That’s a good first step to restoring some credibility to the organization.

For those of you who experienced the race at your computer, while sitting in your leather office chairs and listening to the pit crew or watching your favorite racers, you probably had a better personalized experience than just watching the race on TV.

Would Johnson have been able to beat Busch minus the speeding penalty? We’ll never know but my suspicion is the No. 48 car and driver had the advantage. It’s pretty hard to attribute this loss for Johnson to the new rear spoiler.

Dover could be considered the local Cup track here at Eyesore Acres. As such my neighbors, friends, acquaintances, and other locals, former and current race fans, could have planted their butts in some of those numerous empty seats this weekend with the weather having been so nice Saturday and Sunday. When I talk to folks the main reason they’ve never gone there or will never go back is traffic which is Biblical after the Cup race. Dover track management really needs to strike a deal with DelDot to pay them some money and have them leave the tollgate heading north away from the track left open for a couple hours after the race. And maybe a few words with the Delaware State police might help as well. Let’s just say that I’m certain Johnson and AJ Allmendinger weren’t the only poor souls nailed for speeding Sunday. The DSP takes the occasion of Cup race weekends to saturate the route from Philly with radar traps.

I could get used to these Cup races ending before 5 ET while there’s still several hours of daylight left.

NASCAR famously said prior to this season that they were going to “let boys be boys” to return a little friction to the racing. But after the Dover race are they going to let “Bowyer” be “boys?” Clint Bowyer got turned by Denny Hamlin on a late restart when his car didn’t come back up to speed. He headed to pit road for repairs then returned to the track to purposely take out Hamlin, who was running second, under caution which is pretty low-rent. Kudos to Hamlin for being incredibly gracious after the incident but jeers to ABC/ESPN for missing the whole incident unfold live.

Eraser-gate Part Duex? Remember the uproar following FOX’s initial broadcast of Cup qualifying in 2001 when they electronically removed the sponsor logos of firms not advertising during the race from their graphics? It seemed peculiar to me that during SPEED’s broadcast of Friday qualifying there were no Bud (or any other logos) on the uniform of outside polesitter Kasey Kahne. What’s up with that?

A minor point but one that irritates me to no end during truck races… Aaron’s does not give the first driver a lap or more down a lap back. NASCAR does. The day we start allowing corporate sponsors to give any driver a competitive advantage is the day I quit watching.

A few weeks back I wrote that I’d love to see drivers attempting the Memorial Day weekend double at Indy and Charlotte again. Apparently Speedway Motorsports chairman Bruton Smith loves that idea even more. He really, really, loves it to the extent he’s willing to post a $20 million bounty for any driver able to win both races. Even in today’s high buck world of racing, $20 million is some serious coin, two thirds of what it costs to sponsor a top-notch Cup team for the entire season. According to Smith, Indy officials are willing to accommodate the idea by starting the 500 at 11 a.m. ET. Something tells me this is going to be a big story next May. Remember the boost in interest Bill Elliott gave the sport winning $1 million at Darlington in 1985 courtesy of Winston? Mr. Stewart, are you up for the challenge?

News broke this week that Brian Vickers wouldn’t be driving the Red Bull car this weekend due to a medical condition later diagnosed as blood clots in his legs and lungs. The scary part of that diagnosis is that one of those clots could have broken free and caused Vickers a heart attack or stroke at such a young age. Unfortunately in my aging social circle I’ve had way too much experience with friends and family members facing similar challenges. Treatment protocol usually involves Coumadin or other similar blood thinners which dissolve the clots. But blood thinners have frightening side effects I have witnessed first hand. Even a simple stumble or incidental contact can cause massive bruising. Patients have to be monitored bi-weekly or even more frequently to make sure the drugs haven’t thinned the blood to a dangerous degree. Obviously for a racecar driver who might be involved in a wreck there are serious and even life-threatening consequences from a relatively minor incident. It takes six months for the human body to fully dispose of Coumadin after an initial dose. At 26, Vickers needs to consider he is still a young man with a lot of great years ahead of him in his career. Even in the dog eat dog world of Cup racing where losing a ride can torpedo a young man’s career, right now Vickers, his team, friends and NASCAR if forced to intervene need to put his long term well-being first. Oh, and for the record

I received some unexpected collateral damage in my email box this week after a column I wrote suggesting who I’d like to see inducted next year into the NASCAR Hall of Fame. Certainly no disrespect was meant towards Johnson or Jeff Gordon. They have compiled stats to date that certainly ensure their future inclusion into the Hall, and I respect the hell out of what each of them has accomplished. Nor, certainly, did I mean to diminish what Elliott has done during his career. Elliott was my favorite Cup driver after Richard Petty’s fortunes waned and his 1985 season alone will certainly cement his inclusion in the Hall someday. But folks, these are active drivers (though Elliott drives a very limited schedule.) The story of their future successes remains to be written. Nobody watches half a movie and decides the start is so good it deserves Oscar nomination when the ending might be so much better. I’d like to see the Hall adopt an open rule that no driver can even be considered until five years after he’s driven his last race. God willing Gordon, Johnson, Elliott and other current stars in the sport will be able to attend their inductions live and in person grinning ear to ear unlike the late Dale Earnhardt.

Another second generation driver in the wings? Chase Elliott, son of 1988 Cup champion Bill Elliott, won at Rockingham in the Sunoco National Tour (Basically the old ASA series) event. Making the victory that much more remarkable is the fact Chase was competing in his first ever race on a track longer than a half-mile. Maybe this time Ford can find a way to keep a rising young talent from defecting to GM or Dodge?

In a story related to the above, Brandon Mc (or is that “Mac”? ) Reynolds won the companion UARA Stars 75 event at Rockingham this weekend. Brandon is of course son of FOX broadcaster and former Cup crew chief Larry McReynolds. They’re racing at Rockingham again. It’s all good.

Michael Waltrip incessantly plugs on-line tire retailer “Tire Monkey” during truck races and SPEED programming where he’s a panelist. Tire Monkey now decides to back one of Waltrip’s, the race owner not the broadcaster’s, teams. Anyone else seeing a conflict of interest here? Anyone want to bet that Mario Gosselin’s truck team is out a sponsor next? Tires aren’t the only monkey business going on here.

The Hindenburg Award For Foul Fortune

It’s not often you’ll see Johnson give away a race win but it seems he is human after all.

Allmendinger ran as high as second but a botched pit stop and a pit-road speeding penalty ended his chances at a top-five finish.

Kahne ran up front early but a broken shifter torpedoed his day. A broken shifter? I’d thought I’d broken every part possible in a car but I’ve never managed that.

Bowyer exited the pits with the jack still beneath his car. Kind of hard to slip that one by the officials.

The No. 88 car that ran at Dover probably has a date with the crusher back at Mooresville. That dog just wouldn’t hunt. Unexplained steering issues just prolonged the agony.

Chip Ganassi teammates Juan Pablo Montoya and Jamie McMurray both broke panhard bar mounts within three laps of each other.

Marcos Ambrose and Sam Hornish Jr. both got to experience first hand why the proper term is “SAFER barriers” not “Soft Walls” after each slugged the wall a ton not once but twice.

The “Seven Come Fore Eleven” Award For Fine Fortune

Kyle Busch led nearly 500 laps in this weekend’s three Dover races, won two of them and would have won the truck race as well if not for a lack of fuel. He also had to overcome early radio problems on Sunday that left him unable to hear his spotter at one of the circuit’s most treacherous tracks.

Points leader Kevin Harvick had to overcome a 30th-place qualifying run to claw his way back to a seventh-place finish. As such he leaves Dover still leading the points.

Aric Almirola stepped in a heaping, steaming pile of dog stuff early in the Dover truck race, blowing a tire and losing two laps in the pits. Using both the Lucky Dog and wave-around rules, Almirola was able to get back on the lead lap and that’s when things got bizarre. Outside polesitter Elliott Sadler in the owner points leading KHI truck blew a tire and hit the wall. Kyle Busch, who had led more than 170 laps in the event, ran out of gas under caution. Ron Hornaday and Johnny Sauter couldn’t get back up to speed. Almirola was probably as surprised as anyone watching to win the race.

Jack Roush had to enjoy watching three of his drivers post top-10 finishes in the same event after the way this season has started for his organization.

Worth Noting

  • Matt Kenseth’s third-place finish was the best result scored by any Ford driver since Atlanta, where Kenseth finished second.
  • Kyle Busch scored his sixth consecutive top-10 finish on Sunday.
  • Jeff Burton’s second-place finish was his best result of 2010.
  • Kenseth (third) scored his first top-five result since Bristol.
  • David Ruetimann’s fifth-place finish matches his best of the year. The No. 00 team also finished fifth in the Daytona 500.
  • Greg Biffle (sixth) also enjoyed his best result since Bristol.
  • Stewart (ninth) managed his first top-10 result since Bristol.
  • Joey Logano’s 10th-place finish ends a skid of four straight races without a top-10 result.
  • Mark Martin (15th) has now gone three straight races without a top-10 result.
  • Johnson is averaging around a 26th-place finish in his last four Cup outings.
  • Dale Earnhardt Jr. missed a top 10 result for the fourth straight Cup race. You know “Changes” isn’t just a David Bowie song.
  • The top 10 at Dover drove four Toyotas, three Chevys and three Fords. Brad Keselowski’s 18th-place finish was the best for a Dodge.
  • Two team owners, Rick Hendrick and Joe Gibbs, have combined to win eight of this season’s 12 Cup races. In the Hendrick camp only Johnson has rung the bell this year.

What’s the Points?

As noted above, Harvick leaves Dover stilling leading the points. His second win of the season moves Kyle Busch up a spot to second in the standings, 69 points out of the lead.

Kenseth moved up two spots to third in the standings.

The Wonder-Bread Twins, Johnson and Gordon, each lost two spots in the standings. They are now fourth and sixth respectively.

Hamlin advanced another spot in the standings to fifth.

Burton and Kurt Busch swapped eighth spot with Burton now having the advantage. Carl Edwards wrested 10th spot from Martin.

Martin Truex Jr. advanced a spot and took over the coveted 12th points position.

Outside looking in, Ryan Newman advanced a spot to 13th in the standings and is just 30 points out of the top 12. Stewart moved up four spots to 14th and is just seven points behind Newman.

Earnhardt Jr. dropped four spots to 16th in the standings.

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 can of warm generic stuff. Dover might be my home track but I’ll call a clinker a clinker. Dover without drama? Strange days indeed.

Next Up: It’s off to Charlotte for the All-Star Race, an increasingly silly event that really ought to be run on the Saturday night before the 600 to allow a track like Rockingham to rejoin the schedule.

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