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NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Matt McLaughlin’s Thinkin’ Out Loud: 2012 Texas Spring Race Recap

The Key Moment – With 31 laps left to run, Greg Biffle made a banzai pass on Jimmie Johnson for the lead. Johnson had been struggling with lapped traffic, most notably in the person of one Ryan Newman which gave the driver of the No. 16 car the opening he needed. The pass caused such a stir amongst the nearly dozens of fans left awake in the grandstands it woke up several others in their respective rows. 16 laps later, Johnson slapped the wall to all but seal the deal for Biffle.

In a Nutshell – I’ve seen better racing contests between amphibians. Putrid, utterly and relentlessly putrid to a degree that redefines putridity.

Dramatic Moment – Biffle slowly stalked and ran down Johnson over 30 laps by a tenth or so a circuit before making that final pass. Other than that, it was just waiting to see if the lights would go out again in turn three or if the track would be hit by hail the size of softballs.

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

Any more questions as to whether these 1.5-mile cookie cutters are destroying a once exciting sport?

Humpy Wheeler, NASCAR visionary and ex-head honcho at Charlotte, spoke about his own unique ideas on how to fix the racing at the intermediate tracks this week. Wheeler proposed that the field compete in several heat type races with the best finishers heading to the main event, a format used at most local short tracks. (And, of course, a “consolation” race for those not qualified for the main after the heats.) Run the main event for a short distance for all the marbles and let them have at it, basically ensuring four or five good races at an event rather than one long boring one like Saturday night’s debacle. I’m not sure how that would work as far as the points system, but I’m willing to try anything to avoid another “race” as monotonous as what we endured Saturday. Feel free to agree or disagree in the comments section below.

There were two caution flags during Saturday night’s entire race and one of them was because a ball cap ended up out on the track well above the groove where any of the drivers were running anyway. No, come on, seriously? I guess with all those high winds, a car hitting that ball cap could have sent it spinning like a Frisbee into the grandstands and put somebody’s eye out.

What is up with Richard Childress Racing? The team’s three drivers (Kevin Harvick, Paul Menard and Jeff Burton) have combined to score just three (of a possible 21) top-five results this season. That equals the top-five count of Joe Gibbs Racing’s trio. By this point last season, the two organizations had combined to win three of the 2011 schedule’s seven races.

Rick Hendrick announced this week that the infamous No. 48 car from this year’s Daytona 500 and last season’s fall Talladega race has been “retired.” Hendrick said he didn’t want to risk another 30 days of “agony” if the car was found suspect again at Talladega next month. Well, there’s that… and the fact the car in question was destroyed in a lap 2 wreck during the 500. Oh, and coincidentally I’m sure NASCAR announced this week they’ll be debuting a new C-pillar template at Talladega too. If the template don’t fit, you must eject it.

So what happens to a retired race car like that No. 48? It now resides in Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s outdoor museum of wrecked race cars he refers to as “lawn art.” “Lawn art,” huh? If I call some of my project cars, tractors, trucks and field cars “lawn art” think my obnoxious neighbor with his delicate sensibilities will leave me alone?

Well, thank goodness it was windy at Texas Saturday night. If not, the FOX announcing team would have been rendered virtually mute for three quarters of the race. Not that silence would have been such a bad thing in retrospect… I particularly liked DW’s insane notion that wind resistance in the pits was to blame for all the mistakes the crews made Saturday. So what was actually worse, the breezes at Texas or the hurricane of idiocy emerging from Waltrip’s mouth as he kept right on talking after having run out of anything to say?

The Hindenburg Award For Foul Fortune

Marcos Ambrose had a solid top-10 run going before running out of gas on the last lap and falling to 20th.

Tony Stewart’s weekend was over almost before it began. Very early in the first practice, he wrecked his primary car. While the team painted a brave face on the situation, stating the backup was actually a better mount prior to the race, the “new” No. 14 ran like one of Ward Burton’s “three-legged lambs” in the main event. He wound up 24th, two laps off the pace.

Early in the race, it appeared that Harvick could run with anyone, but a fumbled pit stop (dag-nab those gusty breezes) set him back in the field and he could only recover well enough to finish ninth.

I feel for any fan who paid good money for a ticket and traveled a long distance to see Saturday’s race. I can sympathize with your pain. I once bought a Chiklet blue Edsel Bermuda woody wagon at a bar thinking it would be a cool surf-rod. It was bad “lawn art,” as I recall.

For the second time this season, fuel pickup problems related to the new fuel injection system hampered the efforts of Brad Keselowski and the No. 2 team. Keselowski was in the top 10 when his Dodge began cutting out on him. He struggled home 36th.

It didn’t appear that it was going to be Kyle Busch’s night, anyway but a miscue in the pits that dropped the right front tire on the tire changer’s air hose sealed the deal. (Maybe the wind blew the hose under there?) Busch went on to finish 11th.

Pole-sitter Martin Truex Jr. showed a lot of strength during the Texas event. At this point last year, a solid sixth-place finish would have been seen as a miracle for the MWR team, but getting trapped in his pit combined with the Herculean effort needed to pass a single car derailed his effort.

The “Seven Come Fore Eleven” Award For Fine Fortune

Johnson parked the right side of his car fairly hard into the outside wall with 15 laps left to go. But he was able to drive undaunted, if not un-dented, on to a second-place finish, a decided improvement over his result at Martinsville a couple weeks ago.

On a night where passing seemed all but impossible, Jeff Gordon started 34th and rallied his way to a fourth-place finish.

Carl Edwards did pretty well making passes, too. He made an extra pit stop thinking the crew had left lug nuts loose during the second caution period (they hadn’t) and he fell back to 30th for the restart. Somehow, this season’s “Invisible Man” rallied back to an eighth-place finish.

Matt Kenseth also mistakenly thought his team had left lug nuts loose (I don’t know if you heard, but the No. 17 crew was battling wind resistance in the pits) and was ready to fix it when the potentially deadly ball cap brought out the first caution. That saved him from potentially going laps down en route to a fifth-place finish. (Did anyone see if that mystery ball cap had a No. 17 on the lid?)

While they’re still searching for that elusive 200th win, the four HMS Chevys finished in the top 10 Saturday. So did all three Jack Roush Fords.

Worth Noting

  • Biffle won for the first time in 49 races. As an added bonus, the circuit now heads off to Kansas, the last track where Biffle had scored a Cup victory.
  • Biffle and Kenseth now each have four top-five finishes in this season’s seven points races. Biffle, Earnhardt, Truex and Johnson each have five top-10 finishes in those seven races, the most of all drivers.
  • Gordon’s fourth-place finish was his first top-five result of 2012 and thus, obviously his best of the season.
  • Kasey Kahne’s seventh-place result was his best of the season and his first top 10 with HMS.
  • While still winless, Johnson came home second for the second time this season.
  • Mark Martin’s third-place finish was his best since he ran second at Dover last May.
  • Edwards still hasn’t led a single lap this season. That’s a potential of seven bonus points he’s left on the table which could haunt him come the Chase.
  • The top-10 finishers at Texas drove five Chevys, three Fords and a pair of Toyotas. AJ Allmendinger in 15th was the top finishing Dodge driver.
  • Stewart’s 24th-place finish was his worst of the year.

What’s the Points?

Naturally, with a win Biffle remains atop the championship standings. He’s now 19 points ahead of both Kenseth and Earnhardt. Kenseth is listed as second in the standings because of his win in the Daytona 500.

Truex moves up two spots to take over fourth in the points. Harvick remains fifth. The top 10 is rounded out by Denny Hamlin (+1), Tony Stewart (-4), Johnson (+2), Newman (-1), and Clint Bowyer (-1).

Edwards is 11th in the standings, while Menard is 12th, up two spots compared to last week. But if the regular season were to end now, Keselowski would start the Chase 12th based on his victory at Bristol. Of course, if the regular season were to end right now, there’d be a bunch of confused fans at Kansas next Sunday wondering where the Hell everyone else was.

Among other notables, both Gordon and his HMS teammate Kahne advanced four spots this week. Gordon is now 17th in the standings while Kahne is mired in 27th. Yikes. They don’t print your picture on ball cards for those sort of stats.

Whither the brothers Busch? Kyle is up two spots to 14th whilst Kurt holds steady at 26th. Meanwhile, David Reutimann’s 26th-place finish moves the No. 10 team up two spots to 34th in the standings, with a four-point gap over 36th. Who the heck cares, right? Danica Patrick.

Finally, for all the doomsday critics who feel Johnson will win this year’s title because of the 25 points restored to him by John Middlebrook’s surprise overturning of the Daytona penalties, here’s the 411. Johnson is eighth in the points; absent the penalty reversal, he’d still be 12th. Like Bill Murray taught us in Meatballs, “It just doesn’t matter…”

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 race one can of tepid Lone Star you have to share with a dying cowboy in the backseat of a Greyhound bus out of Abilene. (Few people outside of Texas may realize that Lone Star is the only product to be marketed both as a beer and a paint thinner.)

Next Up – The Cup circuit heads off to Kansas, where they’ve opened a new casino. So what’re the odds that the race itself will be another big bore-fest?

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