NASCAR Race Weekend Central

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

The Key Moment: On lap 188, Denny Hamlin, who dominated the second half of the race, reasserted himself by retaking a lead he wouldn’t relinquish.

In a Nutshell: After three hours of tiresome triangular tedium, folks are sure going to be discussing those last 35 laps for a while.

Dramatic Moment: Due to a cornucopia of strategies during the final caution periods, the fastest cars ended up mired in traffic in the waning laps. The fastest of them won, but a bunch of the rest ended up scrap on the final lap.

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

Where was the caution when Kasey Kahne’s car got in the grass and hooked hard right into the wall on the final lap? Hamlin had the race won. Because there was no caution thrown immediately, drivers like Jeff Gordon and Ryan Newman ended up running wide open into the carnage. It is flat out amazing to me there were apparently no serious injuries in that melee.

What has relative newcomer Hamlin got figured out about Pocono that has eluded even talented veterans like Mark Martin? (Who has finished second here six times, but never won.)

Wow, do you think Joey Logano is a bit miffed at Kevin Harvick? I don’t know about commenting on another driver’s wife like that, especially if you’re single. And I doubt we’ll be seeing Kahne and AJ Allmendinger enjoying a few laughs and a game of paper triangle football at the local Waffle House after Monday’s team meeting at RPM.

Psst. I’ve got a secret for you. Want to see some of the old-school style racing me and the other old folks are always going on and on about? Order up coverage of Tony Stewart’s All-Star dirt-track race Wednesday night from Eldora. As an added bonus, profits help a variety of good causes.

Class, compare and contrast… Darrell Waltrip’s incessant irritating self-promotion in the booth, and Kyle Petty’s more laid back self-deprecating humor. I know which I prefer. Welcome back, TNT.

Was it just me, or was there more passing under the rain delay than there was for the first 100 laps at Pocono? What a sorry-ass snoozer most of this race was.

The “Gillette Profusion Whatever the Hell the rest of the official title was” ended a charming anachronist trend that dated back to 1997 wherein the two Pocono races were simply known as the “Pennsylvania” and “Pocono” 500. Yeah, it’s a minor issue, but I guess track management at Pocono needed a few bucks to pay the note on the “World’s Largest Restroom.”

Only three drivers chose to do the weekend double, flying from Pocono to Nashville to compete in the Nationwide series race. Those drivers finished 1-2-3 in Saturday’s event. Draw your own conclusions as to what that says about the health of NASCAR’s AAA division.

Kyle Busch chose to shut down one of his truck teams this week. Busch is the latest in a long series of Cup drivers who have found that this owner/driver scenario is tough. In Busch’s case, it was a litany of sponsorship woes, wrecked race vehicles, and unpaid bills that caused his current problems. Somehow, these guys just aren’t getting the message that the best way to make a small fortune in race team ownership is to start with a large one. It makes what Kevin and DeLana Harvick have been able to accomplish as team owners that much more remarkable.

Hamlin did a burnout that would have made John Force proud to celebrate his win, but lost a ton of style points for nosing the car hard into the wall to finish his freestyle exercise.

Hey, did you hear that the Pocono racetrack property now includes a 25-acre solar farm, a hotel and a restaurant just in case this racing thing doesn’t work out? Track owner Dr. Joe Mattioli professes that he’s “scared to Hell” when he sees the number of empty seats at some tracks this Cup season. That ought to set some bells to ringing down at the NASCAR headquarters in Daytona Beach.

I don’t know what to make of this, but I’m hearing that this week MLB umpire Jim Joyce was offered a job with NASCAR to officially determine if debris cautions have to be thrown in the final 10 laps of a race.

Did former Cup champion Bobby Labonte really just start-and-park a car? What happened to ending your career with some small measure of grace and class?

The Hindenburg Award For Foul Fortune

Clint Bowyer dominated the first half of the race, but he joined the multitude of drivers slapping the third turn wall and his Chevy was never the same again.

Kahne took one hell of a lick in that final lap wreck. Gordon, Martin (who had the front end of his Chevy shorn clean off), Martin Truex Jr., and Greg Biffle were all lucky to escape that incident unscathed.

Logano probably deserved a top-five finish. Certainly, he deserved a chance to speak to Harvick after the race to clear the air after winding up 13th. (I do want to say Logano did a nifty bit of driving to keep the No. 20 car out of the wall after getting tagged. He just about had it saved, too.)

When Gordon won’t even accommodate the TV cameras long enough to plug his sponsors, you know he’s well and truly pissed off. His 32nd-place day was a struggle with a particularly bad ending… and this is a track where he used to dominate!

Martin‘s midseason slump continued with a 29th-place finish at Pocono.

The “Seven Come Fore Eleven” Award For Fine Fortune

Sam Hornish Jr. probably raised a lot of eyebrows and earned some respect with his dogged drive to retain the top spot late in the race.

There was nothing about the way Tony Stewart’s car was running most of the day that indicated it might be capable of a top-five finish. In fact, it looked like one of those race cars that was destined for show duty at mall openings in a few years, but Stewart went on to finish third.

If you looked at the radar images just prior to the race, it seemed there was no way they were going to get 500 miles in on Sunday. NASCAR did a remarkable job drying a 2.5-mile track after the band of showers passed through the area.

It’s hard to consider a 14th-place finish fine fortune, but it was flat out cool to watch Ryan Newman just run his car up into the wall and keep it wide open to finish the race after he apparently lost steering in the final lap wreck.

Worth Noting

  • The top-10 finishers at Pocono drove two Toyotas, six Chevys, a Ford and a Dodge.
  • Joe Gibbs Racing entries have won six of the last nine Cup points events.
  • Kyle Busch (second) has now strung together eight consecutive top-10 finishes in the Cup series.
  • Stewart’s third-place finish was his best since Bristol.
  • Harvick (fourth) has missed the top 10 just once in his last seven outings in the No. 29 car.
  • Jeff Burton (seventh) has top-10 finishes in four of the last five Cup races.
  • Bowyer (ninth) led more laps Sunday (59) than he had in all the other season’s races combined (49).
  • Hornish Jr.’s 11th-place finish was far and away his best result of the season.

What’s the Points?

Harvick retains his points lead, but is now just 19 ahead of Kyle Busch in second. Hamlin’s fourth win of the season advanced him forward two spots to third in the standings. Matt Kenseth is fourth, while Kurt Busch rounds out the top five. Hendrick teammates Jimmie Johnson and Gordon are now sixth and seventh.

Burton, Carl Edwards and Biffle round out the top 10. Martin is 11th, while Bowyer returns to the top 12 in points, advancing a spot to 12th.

Newman fell out of the top 12, down two spots to 14th. Stewart advanced three spots to 13th in the standings, and is now just a single point out of a playoff berth.

Overall Rating (On a scale of one to six beer cans, with one being a stinker and a six-pack an instant classic): The first 150 laps of the race were about as awful an occurrence as I can imagine that didn’t feature live kittens being fed into a chipper. But things got pretty hot there in the last 35 laps, perhaps even a bit too spicy on the last lap, so we’ll give this one three cans. At least they got it in on Sunday.

Next Up: The Cup circuit heads off to Michigan to start that stretch of the season I call the Summer Doldrums… a spate of typically somnolent races that drags on until Bristol in late August.

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