NASCAR Race Weekend Central

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

The Key MomentMartin Truex Jr. made one last concerted charge at Denny Hamlin with three laps to go but lost grip and slid in behind the No. 11.

In a Nutshell – Well, it was nowhere near as bad as Texas… but it wasn’t very good either.

Dramatic Moment – Hamlin spent 20 laps stalking and running down Truex before passing him with 31 laps to go. Truex kept things interesting and Hamlin honest in the waning laps of the race.

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

They’ll probably be talking about the Secret Service scandal, the NHL playoffs, and the strange and occasionally violent weather this spring but not many people are going to be talking about NASCAR. Our sport is in some sort of fugue right now it just can’t escape.

There were three cautions at Kansas and the event probably could have run yellow flag free. The first caution was for Clint Bowyer’s harmless spin onto pit road, the second was for debris that wasn’t even shown, and the third was for Juan Pablo Montoya’s brushing the wall. If they threw a caution for every incident like JPM’s at Darlington they’d never be able to run a green flag lap there.

As noted there were three cautions on Sunday and only two at Texas last week. Only one yellow flag flew at Fontana earlier this year. Kansas wasn’t quite as bad as Texas or Fontana, but it was pretty damned bland. So where’s the action the fans are expecting, the sort of drama that put stock car racing on the map? I’ve identified four factors I think contribute to the Smurf’s picnic like quality of racing today. First of course is the Chase points system. Last year Tony Stewart showed you don’t really need to be on your game until the final 10 races. Secondly, the mix of tracks that makes up the current schedule deprives us of the sort of action we used to see at Rockingham, North Wilkesboro, and Labor Day weekend at Darlington. Thirdly, the tires just seem too hard and don’t give up the way they used to. (You could make a valid argument stock car racing hasn’t been as good since the radials replaced the old bias ply tires.) Finally, given the state of the racing economy and the tenuousness of sponsor agreements, some drivers are avoiding talking much less driving in a way that might provoke controversy. Call it the residual fallout of the Busch Brothers effect from last season. They are both on a short leash and other drivers don’t want to join them in the pound. What do you think? What am I leaving out? That’s what the comments section below is about.

So what’s going to fix the malaise that grips NASCAR? I’m normally not really into dreams, omens, portents and the like. Then normally I don’t have pepperoni and onions on a hot dog roll for dinner like I did late Saturday night during the blackout. In the dream, Taylor Swift signed on to do a NASCAR-related moving picture and her first request was I not be allowed to attend races. Did I mention I’m on Chantix again?

Once again I’m getting asked what my standards are between deciding what’s a lousy race and what’s an acceptable one. When the 10th place driver is 20 seconds behind the leader by lap 110 and nobody within the top 10 is within eight car lengths of the driver ahead of them, that’s a lousy race. This sort of lack of side by side battling is what once dropped American open wheel racing from its preeminent spot in U.S. auto racing.

I still don’t get the connection between NASCAR and Earth Day. It’s like the NHL supporting an anti-bullying initiative. Was this white paper NASCAR released on the issue even printed on post-consumer paper?

After Saturday’s race at Kansas the truck series doesn’t run again until May 18th at Charlotte. Who the heck came up with that schedule?

Oh, the subtle irony of FOX producing one of their features in front of the “Catastrophe Awareness Center.” That pretty much sums up their average race broadcast. Yes, indeed, the FOX network, dumbing down and dirtying up American popular culture for 25 years now.

The Hindenburg Award For Foul Fortune

AJ Allmendinger started the race from the pole and prepared to turn Kansas City into Dodge City early in the event but a lousy pit stop, fuel pickup and engine issues left him 32nd in the final rundown.

Nobody wanted to win at Kansas more than native son Bowyer, but a spin and a dying engine thwarted his early strong run. (Bowyer wound up 36th in line at the pay window.)

Jeff Gordon had a reasonable run going Sunday and was flirting with the top five when engine issues slowed his pace. NASCAR eventually black-flagged him for failure to keep pace and Gordon wound up 21st. For those keeping score, that was Gordon’s second engine failure this year compared to just one in all of last season. (Ironically enough that 2011 engine failure was also at Kansas.)

Kurt Busch and his still un-sponsored team had a solid top 10 going much of the race before engine problems (that’s another HMS engine by the way) dropped him to 17th.

Mark Martin also endured engine woes on his way to a 33rd-place finish after running in the top 10 much of the day.

I’m not asking for sympathy, but there’s nothing tougher for a writer than trying to write something interesting about a boring race. And besides, Taylor Swift hates me.

The “Seven Come Fore Eleven” Award For Fine Fortune

Truex was probably upset about finishing second in what had been such a dominant car but at least he didn’t lose an engine like his two teammates managed to do.

Jimmie Johnson was probably also imagining some strange noises coming from under the hood of his car after Gordon’s engine blew.

Kevin Harvick ran out of gas early in the event but the car re-fired and he was able to finish sixth.

Kasey Kahne also ran out of gas and had an agonizingly slow coast to pit road. He still managed an eighth-place result.

Worth Noting

  • Four drivers have now posted multiple wins in NASACAR’s top three touring divisions this season. Hamlin won his second Cup race Sunday. Stewart has also won two Cup races while Ricky Stenhouse Jr. won two Nationwide Series events. James Buescher won the Nationwide race at Daytona and Saturday’s truck series race at Kansas.
  • Hamlin’s win was his first top-five result since he won at Phoenix.
  • Truex’s second-place finish equals his best since he won the rain-delayed Dover race in 2007. (Truex also finished second at Bristol last year and at both Michigan races in 2007 after his Dover win.)
  • Johnson’s third-place finish raised his average finish to 10.5 this year. And he’s still seventh in the points! Must be that danged 25-point penalty… oh, right. Never mind.
  • Teammates Matt Kenseth and Greg Biffle have five top-five finishes this year. Johnson has four.
  • Biffle, Truex, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Johnson lead the way with six top 10 finishes in this year’s eight points races.
  • The top 10 finishers at Kansas drove three Toyotas, four Chevys, and three Fords. Brad Keselowski finished 11th in a Dodge.
  • Gordon failed to lead a lap for the first time this season.
  • After a terrible start to the season, Kahne (eighth) now has back to back top 10s, his only such results this year.
  • Carl Edwards finally led a lap this season. OK, it was just one lap and it was during a green-flag sequence of pit stops, but it’s a start.
  • Juan Problem Montoya finished on the lead lap for the first time since Bristol.

What’s the Points?

Two drivers (Hamlin and Stewart) have combined to win half of this season’s eight point races, yet they are in fifth and eighth place in the standings? Did I mention that I think the new points system is stupid? Add more points for winning a race, a significant amount of points, and we can start fixing what ails this sport without the assistance of Ms. Swift.

Biffle retains his points lead. Biffle now leads Truex (who moved up two spots to second in the standings) by 15 points. Former number two man Matt Kenseth falls a spot to third, four points ahead of Earnhardt, who also fell a spot to fourth in the standings. His win propelled Hamlin forward a spot to round out the top five.

Harvick (-1), Johnson (+1), Stewart (-1), Edwards (+2) and Newman (-1) round out the top 10 in points.

Kyle Busch is now 13th in the standings, just three points out of 12th place. (That position is currently held by his teammate Joey Logano.)

Paul Menard drops out of the top 12, down two spots to 14th.

Gordon’s ailing engine dropped him a spot to 18th in the standings.

Martin has sat out two races this season, but he’s still he’s still seven points ahead of Kurt Busch. Pass me the mushrooms, please, Alice.

Overall Rating (On a scale of one to six beer cans with one being a stinker and a six-pack an instant classic) I’m sitting on the fence between two and three beers for this one. (That’s not the only place I’ve been sitting all day. Did I mention what I had for dinner last night?) I’ll give it three lukewarm cans of generic stuff, because just last week Texas redefined how bad a race can be.

Next Up – The series heads off to Richmond, perhaps the best track left on the circuit, for a Saturday night short track event.

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