NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Matt McLaughlin’s Thinkin’ Out Loud: 2011 Kentucky Cup Race Debacle Recap

The Key MomentKyle Busch aced the final restart, then had time to relax and watch the mayhem behind him in the rear-view mirror while cruising to victory.

In a Nutshell – Busch let loose on the field most of the night with an old-fashioned butt-whoopin’.

Dramatic Moment – Well, there sure weren’t a lot of them to select from, were there? I’d say the last two laps were the only part of the race that got my pulse rate up.

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

As dominant as Busch’s No. 18 car was, when he got behind Brad Keselowski his Toyota seemed powerless to pass. Confused? That’s just another product of the aero push phenomenon that’s destroying racing. (Hold on; I’m being told that for the record, it’s no longer “the dreaded” aero push. It no longer officially exists and shouldn’t be talked about. The racing is great. It’s never been better. Ignore the man behind the curtain…)

As bad as most of that race was, you have to wonder how many fans left early to beat the horrifying traffic? In fact, the backup was so bad – reported to be 20 miles long, by some – you have to wonder if those who left early were heading past drivers still trying to make it to the race. (In fact, they must have. Before some fans could reach the entrance for the track, their cars were turned away so local law enforcement could prepare for people exiting. If those fans shut out from attending aren’t offered a full refund for their tickets, I hope that Kentucky is shuttered up at this time next year.) Track GM Mark Simendinger, as well as everyone’s favorite Brian France, promises traffic improvements are being planned for 2012 and beyond. My guess is there will be a whole lot less fans trying to make the trip, anyway.

“Read Kentucky’s Latest Traffic Statement Here”:https://frontstretch.com/breakingnews/34553/

Lucas Oil Raceway, the former IRP short track near Indianapolis has become a fan favorite for tight, close quarters action. A staple for the Nationwide Series since its inception in 1982, the Truck Series also runs there on the same weekend as the Cup stars descend on Indianapolis. Across town, their event at the Brickyard has quickly gone from one of the high-profile events on the schedule to a flop, evidenced by this year’s difficulty in selling even heavily discounted seats. (Sorry, but racing stock cars at Indy is praying in somebody else’s church.) So, in a brilliant move NASCAR has decided to switch next year’s Nationwide race from the IRP short track to the Brickyard, a move I’m pretty certain can only yield disaster. If nothing else, it will be perceived as one because a Nationwide Series crowd in an arena that large is going to look like a Foghat reunion concert at Wembley.

Oops. Apparently, the organizational planning at Kentucky didn’t go so well. Even Friday night, with the smaller Nationwide Series crowd there were still long lines of traffic trying to reach the stadium 40 laps into the event. The ever colorful Bruton Smith, owner of the facility, labeled a nearby highway, I-71, the worst road in the world and urged fans to avoid it. He felt if they picked any other road at random to get to and from the track, they’d fare better. Tongue in cheek, he went on to say he hoped to get all Saturday’s fans out of the area and home by Tuesday.

Let’s see; horrific traffic, a track surface that looked like a motocross course, a garage area the track’s owner professed to be embarrassed by, no SAFER barriers along the frontstretch inner wall… did track management not get the memo that the Cup Series was finally arriving in town? Again, though, let’s be fair. When Texas and Las Vegas held their inaugural Cup events, there were massive traffic jams and mass confusion amongst track management on how to fix things. Oddly enough, both those tracks are owned by Smith’s SMI corporation as well. You think maybe they should have anticipated this mess?

The “wave around” rule has never really bothered me. Honestly, I prefer it to the old method of having cars on the tail end of the lead lap, lining up ahead of the leaders which was always a recipe for mayhem and confusion on a restart. But the email I am getting in increasing volume from fans is vitriolic and states they simply don’t like this type of “free pass.” Saturday night’s alleged race is going to add more fuel to the fire, with fans already telling me they feel the rule was designed to help some of the sport’s big names (the HMS bunch are most frequently mentioned) make chicken salad out of chicken crap.

Here’s the “wave around” consensus amongst my readers (and know I may be a bit of a lightning rod for the disaffected): If a team is that slow, they should restart behind the faster cars anyway, still a lap down. Changes to make things better should come at the shop that week and not as a result of NASCAR corporate largesse.

Sounding a bit more like Marie “Let them eat cake” Antoinette then he probably meant to, Jimmie Johnson tweeted (where do these drivers find all this time to tweet?) he felt bad for the fans caught in traffic. Johnson noted he had traveled home for his daughter’s birthday Friday, but when returning for the race was advised of the traffic issues so he decided to use a helicopter to make the trip to Kentucky. You know, if more fans would take their helicopters or walk to the track we could avoid these messes in the future…

The Hindenburg Award For Foul Fortune

He wasn’t running that well to begin with (again) but Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s exploded tire exiting the pits turned his night from bad to worse. He ended the night in 30th.

It’s been awhile since I’ve seen an engine expire quite as dramatically as Jamie McMurray’s. That smoky mess ended his night early; the No. 1 car finished 36th.

Clint Bowyer was having trouble just staying out of the way most of the race, but his lap 261 crash ended a bad night on an even more sour note. In fact, none of the RCR cars ever really seemed up to speed (Best Finish: 16th) which is unusual at a mile-and-a-half track – even one that’s bumpier than an artillery range.

Keselowski and team experienced radio problems that kept them from being able to communicate about the car and strategy during a crucial period of the race. That may have helped take a winning car and left it seventh by the checkered flag.

The “Seven Come Fore Eleven” Award For Fine Fortune

It was a pretty good weekend for Kyle Busch with a win in Thursday’s Truck race, a third-place finish in the Nationwide race and a dominating Cup win in Saturday’s main event.

Jeff Gordon’s car was simply horrendous for the first half of the race, so slow in fact that he lost a lap. Considering the circumstances, a 10th-place finish had to feel like a gift; as it is, if not for another terrific save after getting sideways the night might not have ended on such a merry note.

Last week’s winner, David Ragan, got his car sideways in the oil that brought out the third caution but he did a nice job to save it. One week after winning Daytona, the driver of the No. 6 Ford was a consistent top-10 runner and came home eighth.

Worth Noting

  • Kyle Busch’s third win of the season ties him with Kevin Harvick for the most Cup victories in 2011.
  • Here’s an odd contrast between Harvick and Busch. In the three Cup races he’s won, Harvick led nine laps while Busch has led 513 en route to his three victories. Overall, Busch has led 1,060 Cup laps while Harvick has led just 130 this year.
  • David Reutimann’s second-place finish was easily his best of the season.
  • Johnson’s third-place finish was his best since winning Talladega in April.
  • Ryan Newman’s fourth-place finish was his best of the season.
  • Matt Kenseth (sixth) now has top-10 results in five of the last six races.
  • Keselowski (seventh) led more laps at Kentucky (79) than he had led in every other race combined this season.
  • Kurt Busch (ninth) has led the last seven Cup races. By the way, no truth to the rumor that failed radio out of the No. 2 car will be installed in the No. 22 Dodge this weekend to improve team morale.
  • Gordon (10th) has top-10 finishes in four of the last five Cup races. But he’s led just one lap since winning at Pocono.
  • Earnhardt Jr. (30th) hasn’t finished better than 19th in the last four races.
  • The top-10 finishers at Kentucky drove three Fords, three Chevys, two Toyotas and two Dodges.

What’s the Points?

Kyle Busch now assumes the championship lead, taking over from Harvick. He’s ahead of second place Carl Edwards by four points while Harvick drops to third, 10 markers back.

Kurt Busch lies fourth, while Johnson and Kenseth swap the fifth and sixth spots in the standings, with Johnson having the advantage. At 19 and 22 points out of the lead, they are the final two drivers with a realistic shot of winning the regular season title. Gordon, sitting seventh is 71 points out of the lead although, with two victories in hand he appears to be a Chase lock.

Earnhardt Jr. falls another spot to eighth after a thoroughly futile month of racing for the No. 88 bunch. Newman, Denny Hamlin, and Tony Stewart all moved up a spot in the standings and are now ranked ninth through 11th, respectively. Under the law of Conservation of Points Positions, someone had to surrender those spots, and it was Bowyer, who fell three notches to 12th.

But a winless Stewart, now back in Chase position can’t afford to be complacent. Coming off that Daytona win, Ragan (up two spots to 15th in the standings) currently holds the 12th slot for the Chase, while Keselowski sits 21st in points, has a win and is just three points out of possible title contention – and taking Stewart’s spot.

One other driver to consider: Juan Pablo Montoya, who sits 13th in the standings with the series heading to Watkins Glen next month, where he’s a favorite to win. Would that shake things up or what? (To be fair, Stewart usually runs pretty well at the Glen, too.)

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 it a single can. Move along, folks, nothing to see here.

Next Up – The Cup circuit heads northeast to New Hampshire, so I’m heading due east to the Shore. See ya for Indy.

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