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NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Matt McLaughlin’s Thinkin’ Out Loud: 2010 Texas Fall Race Recap

The Key MomentMatt Kenseth and Denny Hamlin squared off in a three-lap shootout at the end of the race that had the fans at home and in the stands on their feet.

In a Nutshell – The race took a long time to reach a simmer, but it boiled over nicely there at the end.

Dramatic Moment – Watching Kenseth sail it into the corner in a do-or-die move looking for the lead there after the final restart. The move worked too well, though, and Kenseth was forced to get out of the gas to make the corner, handing the win to Hamlin.

In the course of a single lap, Martin Truex Jr. collected the wall for the third time, and, while the field was under caution, Jeff Burton stuffed Jeff Gordon into the wall. That led to an airing of grievances on the track apron that drew the loudest cheers from the crowd all day.

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

Will the No. 24 pit crew replace the No. 48 team for the next two races? My guess is they will not. Rick Hendrick won’t allow it. That sort of move would tear apart the fabric of a team that has, in fact, won four straight titles.

While they were a bit busy pitting Clint Bowyer’s car, I’m guessing some members of Kevin Harvick’s former pit crew couldn’t help but grin when the driver of the No. 29 put himself into the wall and out of race contention. Maybe they were calling for Bowyer to take over Harvick’s seat for the rest of the evening? To me, it’s simple: you win as a team and you lose as a team. You walk far enough across the pasture… and you’ll end up with crap on both boots.

I’ll go out on a limb and pick Hamlin as this year’s champion. Of the three title contenders, he’s the only one that is still using the pit crew that got him into the Chase to start with.

My guess is if those officials hadn’t been so quick to jump between Gordon and Burton, the ratings problem might have been solved. Whatever happened to “Boys, Have At It?”

I don’t get Kyle Busch being held two laps for a single finger salute to a NASCAR official. My guess is the penalty was given because the gesture was seen on TV. If a single finger salute automatically drew a two-lap penalty, I doubt Dale Earnhardt the Original would have won many races. But Busch’s “freedom of speech” argument was strictly grammar school stuff.

For the second straight weekend, ESPN blew their post-race coverage. Carl Edwards led the field to the green-white-checkered restart on Saturday. Second-place finisher Kyle Busch loudly and profanely insisted Edwards had jumped that restart. Of course, Busch wasn’t interviewed on TV after the race, no replay of the restart was shown, and no NASCAR officials interviewed to get their take. ESPN was too eager to get to coverage of horsies and ducks, I reckon. So why are ESPN’s ratings so bad? I dunno. Why is their coverage so bad?

Speaking of Busch, it was interesting to monitor Johnson’s radio after one of Sunday’s flubbed stops. What he told his pit crew was that he really needed them to rise to the occasion and do the job that he knew they were capable of doing. There was no harshness or bitterness to the comments to make them feel worse. How many times have we heard Busch in a similar situation cursing his team and sarcastically congratulating them for costing him another race win? Despite his boundless talent, it would seem that’s one area where young master Busch is going to have to show a little maturation before he wins a Cup title. You could hear the tension in his crew chief’s voice as Busch was told his single finger salute had cost the team a two-lap penalty and that they worked too hard to have their day ruined by that sort of crap. When Busch tried to protest, he was told if he felt like it, he could drive the car back to the truck and they’d just load up and go home. This week, everyone will be talking about the No. 48 team’s crew, but I’d love to have a seat at the Tuesday meeting with Joe Gibbs, Busch, and Dave Rogers.

Speaking of ESPN, how many dozen times during the race (when points weren’t awarded) did we see the graphic displaying the points differences between the three title contenders? But after the points were actually awarded, the network cut to Sportscenter before updating the standings.

NASCAR, the networks, and track management are apparently really concerned about the loss of one of their key demographics, males from the age of 18-34. I guess I feel a little offended by that being well on the north side of 34 and having been attending stock car races on my dime since the fellers that fall into that demographic were still crapping their diapers. Ever the promoter, Eddie Gossage, GM of TMS, came up with this weekend’s marketing campaign to engage those younger guys, No Limits, which seems based largely on those two standard fallbacks: booze and boobs. I’m a big fan of both, but I can’t help but wonder what happened to the days when NASCAR realized that nearly half their fan base was female. And aren’t those guys in the 18-to-21 year-old demographic officially too young to imbibe? Hey, Eddie, leave “No Limit” to Deana Carter and do something classy like open a Hooters at TMS.

No limits might not have pressed everyone’s buttons, so the inestimable Mr. Gossage also held a press conference this weekend in the company of a simian… as in a monkey. Apparently SMI CEO Bruton Smith opined even a trained monkey could sell race programs, so Gossage had them doing just that. Is it just me, or does anyone else think pet primates and get shivers recalling that pet ape up in Connecticut eating a woman’s face off? Were the monkeys told there were “no limits?” In an exclusive interview with one of the program-selling monkeys who was smoking a cigarette and kicking back a Bud tall boy at the time, I learned monkeys by nature enjoy eating people’s faces, don’t enjoy selling programs, and think they could come up with a better points system than Brian France’s Chase if nepotism didn’t keep lower primates from holding his job.

For older fans, it’s been nice to see Mark Martin and the No. 5 team showing some signs of life the last couple of weeks. When it comes to performance, there actually are No Age Limits.

I like it when readers write me to ask my opinion on an issue or to comment on what I wrote on an issue. I read every note I get, though due to the volume of email I can no longer reply to each of them. But given my animosity towards Robby Gordon, I keep getting emails asking me why I failed to comment on the latest “news” coming from the camp of America’s (self-proclaimed) Dynamic Racer. First off, the guy is running like a three-legged beagle with its ass in the mouth of a rabid wolverine. Secondly, I’m not a tool or a stooge. Yeah, sure, Gordon got pulled over by the cops in one of his race vehicles on the road. At first it was one of his Cup cars, but by the time ESPN got the story the photo showed one of his off-road trucks. Then it is alleged his personal truck, one bearing the logos of the new sports energy drink he’s trying to promote, got towed out of the motor home lot of the AMP Energy 500 at Talladega. Now, a bicycle company is suing Gordon for impinging on their copywritten logo with the design of his race car and logos on that new energy drink’s cans. If this life-or-death battle is not resolved amicably, it could mean the end of the team! Yeah, all right. And good luck with the whole new energy drink scheme. It seems over the last few years, the coolers of convenience stores have exploded from Red Bull to a several dozen “energy in a can” products. Me, I’m sticking to red Coke as per my cardiologist.

The Hindenburg Award For Foul Fortune

Greg Biffle dominated the race, but lost first and second gear in his transmission late in the going. A restart with just three laps to go didn’t give Biffle enough time to reassert himself, and he wound up fourth.

Gordon fell victim to a rare unforced error by one of the cleanest drivers on the circuit. He was 37th and Burton 36th when all was said and done.

Truex Jr. had a horrendous day, hitting the wall hard enough to draw a yellow flag three times. The third one proved the knockout punch, leaving his smoking wreck of a race car sitting in the garage 38th.

The “Seven Come Fore Eleven” Award For Fine Fortune

After all these years in NASCAR, Roger Penske finally got to celebrate a title in one of the sport’s top three touring series. Brad Keselowski is the 2010 Nationwide Series champion.

Kenseth lost a lap early when he made an unscheduled stop, fearing an equalized tire. Well, he not only made up the lap, he damned near won the race.

When Kenseth bounced off the wall there at the end, Hamlin had to make a quick evasive move to avoid a wreck that likely would have decimated the field and ended his title hopes.

Trevor Bayne had a credible Cup debut in the lightly regarded (over the last decade) No. 21 car. Bayne finished 17th and on the lead lap. Let’s just hope nobody starts calling him “Sliced Bread.”

Hard contact into the wall could have ended Harvick’s race and season. But he survived with a sixth-place finish and lives to battle on to Phoenix.

Worth Noting

  • Hamlin’s win was his eighth of the season. Even if Johnson were to win the next two races he could only tie that mark, the first tiebreaker if the points tally is equal.
  • Kenseth’s second-place finish matches his best result of the season. He also finished second at Atlanta this spring.
  • Martin (third) now has top-five finishes in two of the last three races.
  • Joey Logano (fourth) now has four consecutive top-10 Cup finishes. He might just earn himself a new nickname like “A Relatively Mold Free English Muffin.”
  • Harvick (sixth) has now earned six straight top-10 finishes. Under the old points system, he’d have clinched a championship today.
  • David Ragan’s eighth-place finish was his best since Talladega in the spring.
  • Jimmie Johnson’s ninth-place finish was his worst since Loudon. That marks the third straight race where Johnson has finished worse than the week before.
  • He just barely missed it, but Tony Stewart (11th) finished outside the top 10 for the fourth consecutive week.
  • Marcos Ambrose’s 12th-place finish was his best since Richmond.
  • Gordon’s 37th-place finish was his worst of the season and his worst result since Watkins Glen last year.
  • Well, that’s sort of weird. Dale Earnhardt Jr. made more money for finishing 25th at Texas than he did for finishing seventh at Martinsville. Looks like the “in-sher-enz” bill gets paid this month.
  • The top-10 finishers at Texas drove two Toyotas, four Fords, and four Chevys. Sam Hornish Jr. (18th) was the best finish by a Dodge driver.

What’s the Points?

Hamlin takes over the top spot in the points. He now leads Johnson by 33 and Harvick by 59.

Edwards moved up two positions to fourth in the standings. Kenseth moved up three spots to fifth. I still don’t get that. Kenseth has only six top-five finishes and no wins this year.

Gordon’s wreck cost him two spots. (He’s now sixth in the standings.) Kyle Busch’s finger cost him two spots. (He’s now seventh.)

Stewart slid another spot to eighth.

Biffle and Bowyer each advanced two notches to ninth and 10th, respectively.

Kurt Busch dropped another two positions to 11th. Burton also dropped two spots and is 12th in the standings.

Martin took over the top “outside looking in” perch in 13th, displacing Jamie McMurray. (It’s kind of interesting that every driver from 11th to 14th in the standings used to drive for Jack Roush.)

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 four and a half cans of Lone Star. Biffle dominated most of the race, but unexpectedly some unexpected things happened as well — including a pretty fair semblance of real racing there at the end.

Next Up – It’s off to Phoenix, the penultimate race of the season, for part two of the Mild, Mild, West show. The next interesting thing to happen in Arizona is going to be the Barrett-Jackson auction in January, not the upcoming race.

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