NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Matt McLaughlin’s Thinkin’ Out Loud: 2012 Fontana Race Recap

The Key MomentTony Stewart took the lead from Kyle Busch on lap 85 and appeared to be in a class of his own. The rain just sealed the deal.

In a Nutshell – Well, it wasn’t very good, but at least it was over quickly. (And what guy doesn’t want to hear that?)

Dramatic Moment – The race itself was almost totally and completely devoid of drama, so I guess I’d have to say the real drama was waiting to see when the rain would start falling. Prior to that, it was just another single file processional parade at Fontana.

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

So why are we discussing tearing up Bristol and not this mess of a racetrack? For those who were counting competitive passes for the lead, there were two. Kyle Busch passed Denny Hamlin on lap 2 and Stewart passed Busch on lap 85.

Isn’t it funny how there’s no debris cautions when NASCAR is trying to get a race to halfway with threatening weather moving in?

Why wasn’t Jimmie Johnson black-flagged when his car began spewing oil during those six final caution laps? Yes, the race was under caution but it was also raining and oil and water make for a slick mix.

Well, there certainly was no issue with the restarts at Fontana this week. There were none.

It seems every driver has his own opinion on returning Bristol to the old track configuration. Count Dale Earnhardt Jr. as one of the drivers who feel it’s unnecessary. Junior opined that the perceived problem with the “new” Bristol racing is easy to fix: just have Goodyear bring a softer tire that that loses grip more rapidly than the current rubber. I’d go a little further than that. I’d insist Goodyear bring bias-ply tires back at least to the three short tracks and Darlington.

Danica Patrick’s frustrating season continued at Fontana Saturday. She completed just 63 laps and finished 35th after a punctured radiator and loss of coolant caused her engine to seize. Ms. Patrick’s expert analysis of the failure noted that the water in her cooling system “went away.” As such, “there was no steam to heat the engine up.” Yeah, well, um, you’ll have that… in Narnia. And this woman used to be paid to endorse a brand of antifreeze?

That loud whirring sound you were hearing outside of Kannapolis last week was the late Dale Earnhardt spinning in his grave after his son apologized for wrecking Jeff Gordon out at Bristol and vowing to engage in “damage control.”

There is absolutely no truth to the rumor that the New Orleans Saints have asked John Middlebrook to hear their appeal on the sanctions the NFL hit them with recently.

Nor is there truth to the rumor that Joey Logano’s PR people are selling t-shirts dubbing Logano’s season, “The Drive to Keep Kurt Out of my Seat in 2013.”

Great moments in measurement: Commenting on the extraordinary width of the Fontana track, FOX’s Larry McReynolds boldly predicted drivers would “use every ounce of that width.”

Night Ranger… no, really?

The Hindenburg Award For Foul Fortune

Hamlin had a strong car and was consistently in the top three, but a very questionable call to the pit when the rain began left him with an 11th-place finish. I’m not sure what Darian Grubb was thinking. There are states in this Union that aren’t as big as that green blob of precipitation over the track on the radar.

Gordon drove from a 21st-place starting spot to place himself solidly in the top five for much of the race. But Gordon was penalized for removing equipment from his pit (let’s face it, he didn’t just leave with equipment, he left with his gasman too). Gordon finished 26th, two laps down.

Kyle Busch had perhaps the only car that could run with Stewart’s all day. He in fact led 80 laps. But incidental contact with the wall apparently knocked the steering on the No. 18 just enough askew he could only watch Stewart drive off at will.

Problems in the pits, including lug nuts left loose, left Jamie McMurray 32nd in the final rundown.

The “Seven Come Fore Eleven” Award For Fine Fortune

Stewart is lucky neither Kevin Harvick or Hamlin decided to wreck him after he pulled slide jobs on them both charging towards the front.

Had the race resumed, however briefly, Johnson would have had to drop out with mechanical failure. Instead he finished 10th.

After running in the teens early in the race, Carl Edwards got his car underneath him and timed his drive to the front perfectly. He’d just entered the top five when the rain began falling. Edwards finished fifth.

A decision not to pit when the rains began falling allowed Kurt Busch and Phoenix Racing to leave Fontana with their first top-10 finish of the season (ninth).

15th place isn’t great but at least Kasey Kahne didn’t wreck this week.

Worth Noting

  • Stewart, who typically doesn’t start firing on all eight until the weather gets hot, won his second race of the season. (Another bit of weird fallout from this freakishly warm spring?) Going back to last year, he’s now won seven of the last 15 Cup points races.
  • Greg Biffle and Johnson lead all drivers with four top-10 finishes in the season’s five Cup points races. Biffle leads all drivers with three top fives in those five races.
  • The top-10 finishers at Fontana drove six Chevys, two Fords, and two Toyotas. The top finishing Dodge pilot was AJ Allmendinger in 16th.
  • Kyle Busch’s second-place finish was his best since he also finished second last fall at Charlotte.
  • Earnhardt’s third-place finish was his second top five of 2012. In all of 2011, he had only four such finishes.
  • Edwards’ fifth-place finish matches his best of the season. (He was also fifth at Las Vegas.)
  • Kurt Busch (ninth) scored his first top 10 since he won at Dover last fall.
  • Gordon’s average finish this season has been 24th, ironically enough. That’s got to leave some bruises.
  • Perhaps most importantly, Landon Cassill’s 36th-place finish combined with David Reutimann’s 27th means that they swap 35th and 36th spot in the owner’s points standings. So what? Well that means that Cassill has to qualify on speed next weekend at Martinsville, the first race to use this year’s owner’s points standings rather than last year’s. Reutimann is guaranteed a spot in next weekend’s race and needs to keep that car in the Top 35 in owners points if Patrick is to be guaranteed a spot in May’s Darlington Cup race.

What’s the Points?

Biffle stays atop the heap, now seven points ahead of second place Harvick.

Earnhardt moves up three spots to third in the standings. Race-winner Stewart also moves up three spots to fourth. Matt Kenseth rounds out the top five, down two positions from last week.

Martin Truex Jr. (-2), Hamlin (-2), Johnson (+3), Clint Bowyer (-1) and Ryan Newman (+3) round out the top 10, in that order.

If you add the three positions he picked up today to the six spots he advanced after the points penalty for the No. 48 was rescinded Tuesday, Johnson actually moved up nine spots this week.

Edwards moves up three spots to enter the top 12 after a slow start to his season. Though he’s 49 points (more than an entire race’s worth) out of the lead, Edwards says the plan is to enter the Chase leading the points. Yeah, and I’d like it if the spigot in the backyard spewed cold beer too.

I’d say the biggest surprise in the points to date is Kahne, up four spots this week but still mired in 28th. Gordon in 25th is a close second as far as shockers go, and he’s still looking for his first top-five result of the season.

Overall Rating (On a scale of one to six beer cans with one being a stinker and a six-pack an instant classic) — Do you ever have one of those late evenings when you’re sure you still have one last beer in the cooler but when you go to get it turns out one of your friends drank it? Fontana Sunday is that missing beer.

Next Up – It’s off to a track that mirrors the sport’s roots… the tiny flat half-mile track at Martinsville.

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