NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Matt McLaughlin’s Thinkin’ Out Loud: 2010 Michigan Summer Race Recap

The Key Moment: Kevin Harvick pushed Denny Hamlin around Tony Stewart after the final restart, then on lap 189 passed the No. 11 car and drove off into the Michigan sunset.

In a Nutshell: I kind of feel like Charlie Brown saying, “You know what, it wasn’t such a bad little race after all,” but some of that is written off by the diminished expectations I bring to any Michigan event.

Dramatic Moment: The last 30 laps featured some decent racing amongst drivers and teams with various pit strategies, points agendas, and temperaments. Whether that was enough excitement to pay off a relatively brief three-hour time investment for the fans is open to debate.

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

If there’s something positive to be said about the Chase, and it’s a struggle, the fact a pair of drivers like Harvick and Hamlin can have at it gunning for a win, knowing they’re both already a virtual lock for “postseason” play is a good thing.

Hey valet, mine’s the Challenger… er, Shelby… I mean, Lexus… oh, actually the Corvette. Once Dodge’s poster child, Kasey Kahne switched to Ford this season but will be driving a Red Bull Toyota the next in preparation for driving a Hendrick Chevy in 2012. Hopefully, he’s been given flashcards of the various manufacturers’ headlight decals in order to find his racecar going forward.

Fontana lost a race to Kansas City. How about we take one of these Michigan race dates and move it to Rockingham? The crowds have been thin at Michigan before, but Sunday’s attendance was particularly embarrassing.

Well, at least this time Joey Logano didn’t hide behind his dad during a spirited post-race discussion. But he needs to get a little better at picking who to confront. It appeared Ryan Newman was ready to wrench the head off Logano’s skinny little neck and spit down the hole. (Yeah, yeah, I know the actual phrase, but my bosses are a little jumpy about that sort of shi… stuff.)

Does Kyle Busch produce more whine than the Napa Valley?

Has this ever happened before? With Kevin Conway out of a ride, there appears to be no further Rookie of the Year candidates this season. Paging Danica Patrick, please dial the courtesy phone prior to 2011.

Some drivers just seem to be unable to mutter anything other than banalities, sponsor plugs, and clichés in pre-race coverage. Thanks to Kurt Busch for his stunning insight that one’s waterfowls must be properly aligned prior to the Chase.

Note to Juan Pablo MontoyaRobby the Robot would like his sunglasses back. Foreign cars, FOX Sports, yellow-lettered tires and ugly eyewear are a curse upon this generation of race fans.

18 engines were confiscated by NASCAR after the Michigan race. They will be taken to NASCAR’s R&D headquarters for dyno analysis to see which manufacturer’s and team’s mills are sporting the most horsepower. Since the test was announced prior to the race, do you want to guess how many drivers clutched their engines and revved the wee out of them on the cool down lap to bend a few valves and make it seem they’re at a big disadvantage? As best I can recall, this will be the new Ford FR9’s virgin debut on the NASCAR dynos, and I’m fascinated to hear later this week what sort of numbers they’re producing. Of course, that information will be leaked, not official….

The only thing I find more unacceptable than the death of a driver in any racing event is the death of a fan there to watch it. Prayers go out to eight souls killed and numerous others badly injured Saturday night at an off-road race in California. Those fans were standing less than 10 feet from the race course without so much as a hay bale between them and the competitors. You have to ask yourself how such a set of circumstances are allowed to happen. It sure does call into question why Allen Bestwick and Brad Daugherty seemed so positively gleeful predicting a night full of carnage and wrecks at Bristol next week. Real race fans want to see the acrobats out on the high wire… they don’t want to see them fall.

The Hindenburg Award for Foul Fortune

Jimmie Johnson and the No. 48 bunch have found numerous ways to give away race wins this season, but rarely do they hand the field one like they did at Michigan. A series of uncharacteristically slow pit stops doomed Johnson’s chances despite a fast car.

Jeff Gordon was in contention for a win until an equalized tire sent him to the pits en route to a 27th-place finish.

Fellow Fronstretch scribe Amy Henderson picked this week to postulate that Kurt Busch might be the underdog title contender not getting his props. Well, not if he suffers another DNF anytime soon… Busch lost an engine in convincing fashion and finished 40th, behind several teams considered to be start-and-parkers.

Mark Martin hit the wall, cut down a tire, and got caught in the pits by a caution flag. It was all he could do to struggle home to a 28th-place finish that dropped him out of 12th in the points.

Kahne was unable to capitalize on a pole run Friday, losing the lead on the first lap and driving home to an unremarkable 14th-place finish.

The “Seven Come Fore Eleven” Award for Fine Fortune

It was good to see Jack Roush back at the track after a near fatal aircraft accident. It seems that Roush will fully recover from all his facial injuries suffered in the crash, other than a ruptured left eyeball that will leave him permanently blind in that eye. Having survived two aircraft accidents (the previous one only because a military trained cancer-survivor pilot rescue soldier happened to witness him crash an experimental aircraft into a lake), you’d have to surmise that the next time Roush flies into Las Vegas, he’s hoping to be dealt a one-eyed Jack. The car owner maintains he still plans to pilot an aircraft again despite the loss of one eye. Not with my phobic butt on board, sir.

It had to be pretty good medicine for Roush to see three of his cars finish in the top five in his first race back to the track.

Harvick seems to have regained his Mojo as of late, even as we approach the Chase while his main rivals, Johnson and Hamlin, have suffered a few missteps.

Elliott Sadler was desperately in need of a good run, having already been informed his services would not be required at Richard Petty Motorsports next season. A ninth-place finish Sunday, his best of 2010, means that maybe Sadler can find a job more coveted than running the go-kart concession at a Jersey Shore boardwalk next year.

Hamlin’s car once again suffered electrical issues early in the race, forcing him to switch to the backup battery and shut off the driver cooling system. Hamlin recovered well enough to finish second. By the way, I find it curious that the JGR teams keep having these alternator problems. I was told several years ago that a rash of alternator issues indicated a team was using traction control.

Worth Noting

  • Harvick’s win was his third of the season, but his first on a non-plate track since Phoenix in November 2006.
  • Hamlin’s second-place finish was his best since back-to-back wins at Pocono and Michigan in June. He’d scored only one other top-five result (Pocono in July) during that stretch.
  • Carl Edwards‘s third-place finish was his sixth consecutive top-10 Cup result. Edwards averaged a 4.5-place average finish in those six events. To paraphrase Clarence Clemmons and Jackson Brown, “all my life, you are an FR9 of mine.”
  • Greg Biffle (fourth) enjoyed his third top-five result in the last four Cup races.
  • Believe it or don’t: Matt Kenseth (fifth) managed his first top-10 finish since Charlotte.
  • Stewart (sixth) drove to his fifth consecutive top-10 finish in a row. Even more amazingly, “his slovenlyness” shaved prior to the race for the second week in a row.
  • Montoya (seventh) failed to lead a lap for the first time in seven races.
  • Martin Truex Jr.’s eighth-place finish was his best since Richmond this spring.
  • David Ragan’s 11th-place finish was his best since Talladega and his second best of the season. UUPPS I did it again…
  • It’s now been six races since Johnson (12th) has managed a top-five finish. He’s averaging a 21st-place finish in those six races.
  • Kyle Busch (18th) has no top-five finishes in the last nine Cup races.
  • Dale Earnhardt Jr. (19th) has yet to score a top-five finish in any of this season’s non-plate races. The only time that happened in his father’s storied Cup career this deep into the season was… um… never.
  • It’s been six races since Newman (23rd) enjoyed a top-10 finish.
  • The top-10 finishers at Michigan drove three Chevys, four Fords and three Camrys. The top-running Dodge was Sam Hornish Jr. in 32nd. Yikes.

What’s the Points?

Harvick obviously remains atop the standings and is now mathematically locked into the playoffs. Harvick is now 293 points ahead of Gordon, who remains second in this “Race to the Chase.”

Hamlin had an outstanding points day, trampolining three spots up to third in the standings. Stewart had an even better day, advancing four spots to fourth. Johnson remained in fifth, while Edwards moved up three positions to sixth in the standings.

Jeff Burton fell four spots to seventh, followed by Kyle Busch and Kenseth. Kurt Busch really took it on his not inconsiderable chin, dropping six spots to 10th in points after his DNF Sunday. Biffle maintains 11th while, for those of you deaf folks who followed the race on ESPN, Clint Bowyer advanced a spot to 12th in the standings, displacing Martin, who falls to 13th, 35 points behind Bowyer.

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 Michigan three cans of relatively cold beer. I was expecting worse.

Next Up: Wake up, everybody! The Summer Doldrums takes a break next Saturday night in Thunder Valley at Bristol. The Bristol race kicks off a three-race stretch of night events, freeing up summer Sunday afternoons for those of us blessed with big two-wheelers.

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