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NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Matt McLaughlin’s Thinkin’ Out Loud: 2011 Kansas Fall Race Recap

The Key MomentJimmie Johnson easily aced Kasey Kahne on the green-white-checkered restart to score the win.

In a Nutshell – Toto, I don’t think we need to go to Kansas anymore.

Dramatic Moment – Ummm… well. Define drama. By my definition, this race was utterly and totally devoid of any drama.

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

This weekend marked the 140th anniversary of the Great Chicago Fire. Sunday’s race may have been the biggest disaster in the Midwest since.*

Isn’t it amazing how NASCAR’s alert spotters always find debris on the track when a driver builds up a 13-second lead? One of those officials jumped the gun on Sunday and nearly triggered a fuel mileage finish by calling a debris caution five laps too early.

How is it Johnson passed Kurt Busch exiting pit lane but he wasn’t caught speeding?

Speaking of Johnson, isn’t amazing that upon learning ESPN’s microphone was almost dead in his initial Victory Lane interview, he was able to repeat his words almost verbatim when the reporter was handed a live mike? I think he must have been typing out what he wanted to say after the race on his iPad in the closing laps.

OK, what fool decided we needed to go to Kansas twice during the Cup schedule?

The way it’s looking right now, it appears like there’s going to be many more drivers looking for a ride next year than there will be seats available. Jack Roush seems resigned to reducing his outfit to three teams next year, while Richard Childress Racing may do the same. It looks increasingly like the two-team Red Bull outfit is just going to disappear with no buyers on the horizon. Kahne and now Clint Bowyer are lucky enough to know where they’ll be driving next year; Mark Martin, David Ragan, and Brian Vickers do not.

Several people have asked me about the points Reed Sorenson earned before being released by Turner Motorsports early last week. Yes, points earned towards a drivers’ championship go with the driver when he moves to another team. That means, yes, technically if he drives in all the remaining races Sorenson could still be the series champion (it would take a bit of a miracle). He’ll likely have to finish a lot better than 26th, though in an underdog ride with MacDonald Motorsports.

While the stands were far from full, there were quite a few race fans on hand for the Cup race. It seems Kansas fans must appreciate the ability to buy tickets to an individual race rather than season tickets. Oh, and for the record the casino isn’t open yet.

What are the odds? In the Truck Series, Austin Dillon has a narrow points lead over James Buescher. The pair’s relatives, Ty Dillon and Chris Buescher, are atop the points in the ARCA series as well. (Of course, the gap between the two is a bit more formidable in that series…)

If nothing else, those Australian V8 touring cars are a lot more high-tech than the Cup cars. I fell asleep before the race ended but what I saw looked more competitive and entertaining than the typical Cup race. The TV broadcast was better as well (no inanity from the Hollywood Hotel helped a lot) and tended to focus on the action more so than the Cup races FOX does. That happened, of course despite several efforts by our old friend Darrell Waltrip to derail the proceedings.

Speaking of Saturday night, the SPEED channel and ESPN did an amazing job tag teaming. Some fans stayed up for the Australian race and even the Formula 1 event that started at 2 a.m. here on the Right Coast. Shortly thereafter, ESPN helped them all get a much needed nap with their broadcast of the Cup event.

A lot of racing fans of all stripes have been eagerly awaiting the new Velocity Channel (formerly known as Discovery HD.) It’s been rumored a lot of the racing the SPEED channel has dumped in favor of serialized programming (much of which is frankly awful) would return on Velocity, sparking interest. I had my first encounter with Velocity over the weekend, though and it left me scratching my head. Friday, they broadcast the Mecum collector car auction from Dallas until 9 p.m., then switched to an hour’s worth of poker. Poker? What in the hell does poker have to do with vehicles? Saturday’s programming decision was even more bizarre. Velocity broadcast the Mecum Auction from 2:00 to 6:00; then, with the auction still going on, they switched over to a re-run of the four hours of coverage they’d already shown. If there was any advertising for upcoming race events on the channel, I must have missed it.

* – As tragic as it was, the Great Chicago Fire wasn’t actually the deadliest disaster in Midwestern history. The same night the fire started in Chicago, there were four major conflagrations around Lake Michigan that some current scientists speculate were started by a meteor crashing to earth. (The cow kicking over the lamp story in Chicago has long since been proved false.) In Peshtigo, WI, one of those fires is said to have claimed 1,200 – 1,500 lives compared to 300 to 400 lost in Chicago. The Peshtigo fire, in fact, burned wooded acreage twice the size of the state of Rhode Island. So now you know.

The Hindenburg Award For Foul Fortune

Jeff Gordon ran in the top three for almost the entire race but blew an engine with three laps to go. I’m not saying Gordon’s title chances are over, but they took a severe blow on Sunday.

Tony Stewart was best in class (second to Johnson) for much of the race but he slid through his pit box on the final stop and backing up so the car could be serviced took him a ton of extra time. The No. 14 car wound up 15th.

Teammates Martin Truex Jr. and David Reutimann both suffered broken axles exiting the pits. Truex had actually been running fairly well after last week’s debacle at Dover, but both wound up well outside the top 30 on the same weekend Michael Waltrip Racing announced its expansion with Bowyer.

Ryan Newman couldn’t pass anything but the time all day. He wound up 18th.

Joey Logano, two laps back in 29th, may have reached the point they need to print up milk cartons to help find his missing career. In a related memo, the head of the Wonder Bread bakery released a statement that pop-top beer cans, not Sliced Bread, were the best thing to happen in the last century.

The “Seven Come Fore Eleven” Award For Fine Fortune

Carl Edwards’ car was dreadful most of the day, to the extent he needed a free pass to even get back on the lead lap. Yet somehow in the frantic final few laps, he was able to charge his way to a fifth-place finish. Even the ESPN Boys in the Booth weren’t sure how that happened. Of course not. They were watching the TV coverage of the race on their monitors.

Though his car wasn’t as bad as Edwards, Kevin Harvick spent much of the race running midpack and complaining mightily about his car on the radio. But when the dust settled, he was sitting comfortably in sixth.

Greg Biffle got nailed for speeding in the pits during the race and sent to the back of the pack. Still, he recovered well enough to finish eighth.

A slow pit stop dropped Kahne to 40th position early in the race, but he had enough time to rally back to a second-place result.

Because he isn’t in the Chase, the achievement went largely unheralded, but Marcos Ambrose finished ninth on Sunday.

Worth Noting

  • Chevrolet wrapped up this year’s manufacturer’s title on Sunday. It’s their ninth in a row, capturing every one since the start of the 2003 season.
  • Johnson’s win was his first since Talladega in April, but he has led at least one lap in each of the last nine races. Note to other teams trying to dethrone the No. 48 outfit: that’s a lot of bonus points.
  • Kahne’s second-place finish was his best of the season.
  • Brad Keselowski (third) has finished 12th or better in 10 of the last 11 Cup races. He’s just 11 points out of the lead in the standings. Can you imagine NASCAR crowning a Cup champion who left 99% of Americans asking, “Who?”
  • Matt Kenseth (fourth) has top-10 finishes in the last three races. Running out of gas at Chicagoland might come back to haunt him at year’s end, though.
  • Edwards (fifth) has top-10 finishes in the last seven races, including all four in the Chase.
  • Ambrose has finished ninth the last two weeks.
  • The top-10 finishers at Kansas drove four Chevys, four Fords, a Dodge and a Toyota. (Note: If Bowyer was already driving for Michael Waltrip, it could have been two Toyotas. Of course, if Bowyer was already driving for MWR, his axle would have snapped leaving the pits.)
  • Paul Menard’s 12th-place finish was his best since the second Pocono race.
  • Dale Earnhardt Jr. (14th) hasn’t led a Cup race since the Brickyard 400.
  • Denny Hamlin’s 16th-place finish was actually his best result in the four Chase races. That’s not going to get the job done.
  • Landon Cassill’s 17th-place finish was the second best of his Cup career. (Cassill finished 12th at Michigan.)
  • Gordon’s 34th-place finish was his worst since Richmond this spring, as well as his first engine-related DNF since last year’s Homestead season finale.

What’s the Points?

Edwards assumes sole ownership of the points lead this week. He was previously tied for the position with Harvick, who is now second – a mere one point behind the No. 99 bunch.

Johnson advanced two more spots to third and is now just four points out of the number one position. Keselowski and Kenseth also advanced two spots in the standings and are now fourth and fifth, respectively.

Kurt Busch fell two spots to sixth. Stewart took the biggest hit in the points, falling four spots to seventh while Kyle Busch hangs onto eighth. The top eight are still within 20 points of the leader four races into the Chase.

Further back, Earnhardt Jr. and Gordon swapped ninth and 10th spots, with Junior now holding the advantage. But even Earnhardt is a full 43 points out of the lead and Gordon is four further points back. Newman and Hamlin hold on to 11th and 12th.

In the “Best of the Rest” category, 13th-place Bowyer is now 20 points ahead of 14th-place AJ Allmendinger.

Overall Rating (On a scale of one to six beer cans, with one being a stinker and a six-pack an instant classic) — Give it two cans of warm generic stuff, whistle through your teeth and spit.

Next Up – The Cup series returns to its spiritual home in Charlotte, North Carolina. Saturday night’s race is being sponsored by Bank of America, so teams have been informed they will be charged $5 each time they use their air guns.

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