NASCAR Race Weekend Central

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

The Key Moment – The gamble by the No. 2 team to stay out during the fourth caution period paid off in spades. That track position allowed Brad Keselowski to cruise to a third victory this season over Kasey Kahne.

In a Nutshell – If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all. Well, um, the traffic was a whole lot better than last year during a weekend of three tiresome and tepid races.

Dramatic Moment – There was a protracted and well-driven battle between Jimmie Johnson and Denny Hamlin around the two-thirds mark of the race, one that eventually went the No. 48’s way.

Kasey Kahne’s headlong rush to the front in the waning stages was fun to watch, even if a lot of drivers were letting him by because they were worried about having enough fuel to finish the race.

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

OK, Bruton Smith. You fixed Bristol, you fixed the Kentucky traffic disaster, can you maybe fix this mess of a racetrack too?

I can’t say if it’s aerodynamics, the tires, or drivers running for points rather than racing but I can say that events like Saturday night’s are eventually going to reduce NASCAR “racing” to a historical footnote. Whoever had the lead had such a clear advantage in “clean air” that by the halfway point, there was a 16-second gap between the leader and the 10th-place car. (My rule of thumb is once there’s a 10-second gap within the top 10, the race is officially boring.) I mean, come on, the fire engines will be running closer together than that at this week’s Independence Day parades.

Looking at the grandstands it became apparent that a lot of folks who got caught up in last year’s epic traffic disaster decided not to return. Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me.

Apparently, Ryan Newman is upset with Joey Logano. Prior to the incident most people saw on TV, Newman contends that Logano lost control and slid up the track in front of him. Further contact was made, bumping that sent the No. 20 right into Clint Bowyer’s No. 15 Toyota. Newman then left the track pledging to teach Logano some manners in the near future if necessary. Um, Joey, ask Juan Pablo Montoya how that typically works out. Maybe Newman’s just ticked he didn’t get the ride in the No. 20 car next year…

That soft whimpering sound you heard after the race were the last dying gasps of Jeff Gordon’s chances of making the Chase this season.

Jack Roush expressed shock, even bits of anger and hurt at Matt Kenseth’s decision to leave the RFR team at the end of the season. So where’s Kenseth heading: JGR in the No. 20 car, JGR with a fourth team or a newly formed Michael Andretti Dodge outfit? I don’t know, but Jack, like a steam locomotive rolling down the track, he’s gone, he’s gone and nothing’s going to bring him back.

Monday Richard Petty, the King, will celebrate his 75th birthday. Unfortunately, it will also mark the 48th anniversary of Fireball Roberts‘ death. Roberts had suffered horrific burn injuries in that year’s World 600 and finally succumbed to them on July 2nd, 1964.

The brutal wildfires ravaging Colorado (and many other western states) have forced the organizers of the annual Pikes Peak hill climb to postpone the event. Thoughts and prayers go out to those affected, particularly those who have lost their homes.

Think penalties for reckless driving are tough here in the States? You might want to avoid Saudi Arabia. During an informal drifting demonstration there, a driver lost control and went into the crowd, killing two people and injuring others. So he’ll get his license suspended, right? Nope, he is scheduled to be beheaded. Well, there’s one way to reduce recidivism…

NASCAR fans have finally really united. The next time that Mac and Cheese/Mashed Potatoes and Gravy ad runs there are going to be KFC restaurants burning coast to coast. Thanks for some very amusing emails on this issue, folks. My vote? Sorry, I’m allergic to potatoes and lactose intolerant. My idea of a perfect side for an original recipe breast is a brew.

The Hindenburg Award For Foul Fortune

Greg Biffle squandered a potential top-10 finish when he pitted late with what he thought was a flat tire, slipping to 21st. Only problem was, the tire wasn’t flat.

Tony Stewart’s car started cutting out on him only 29 laps into the race and he was forced to go to the garage area, where a defective sensor in the fuel injection system was diagnosed and repaired. (As hot as it was in Kentucky, it’s a wonder that more teams didn’t suffer electrical problems.) Stewart wound up finishing 32nd, but that was still two positions ahead of teammate Newman, who lost an engine and hit the wall after sliding in his own oil. All in all, it was yet another miserable evening for Stewart-Haas Racing.

The No. 99 team endured a horrific night on pit road. A strategy call to leave Carl Edwards out on the track, hoping a few more caution laps would allow him to finish the race without refueling backfired and he was forced to pit late for a splash of gas. That dropped last year’s title runner-up from a potential top-five finish to a 20th-place result.

Austin Dillon drove to a dominating win in Friday night’s Nationwide Series race, but his car was found to be too low in the rear during post-race inspection. Expect heavy financial penalties and a possible loss of 25 driver and owner points to be announced Tuesday.

The “Seven Come Fore Eleven” Award For Fine Fortune

Keselowski wiped out his primary car in the first lap of Friday’s practice and had to go to a backup. Prior to the race, the padded section of his steering wheel came free of the hub. During the race, he actually ran out of gas, forcing him to coast to pit road. Yet he still ended up in Victory Lane…

Kahne was forced to the pits when a tire was left loose on his car. Despite falling a lap off the pace at that point, he was able to rally back to a second-place finish.

Hamlin finished third despite having a tire that was deflating during the final laps of the race.

Johnson had to overcome a pit stop that could have been timed with a sun dial during a race where he appeared to have the fastest car on the track. After the final restart, Johnson got sideways several times and felt he had a tire deflating, too. But the Goodyears held up and he was able to drive on to a sixth-place finish.

I’m not sure which category to classify Kyle Busch’s evening under. He had a very fast car and led a lot of laps before putting himself sideways into the wall. The No. 18 team was then forced to change a broken rear shock under caution but did so quickly enough to keep Busch on the lead lap. A 10th-place finish isn’t too bad, considering the above but it had to leave the mercurial driver wondering about what could have been.

Worth Noting

  • Keselowski is the first driver this season to post three Cup wins.
  • Johnson now leads all drivers with nine top-five finishes in seventeen points-paying Cup events this year. Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr. lead the pack with 13 top 10s in those races.
  • Kahne’s second-place finish was his best result and first top five since he won at Charlotte.
  • Hamlin’s third-place finish was his eighth top-five result of the year. Last year, he managed only five such finishes.
  • Earnhardt’s fourth-place run dropped his average finish this season to 8.1.
  • Gordon’s fifth-place outing was his third consecutive top-10 result.
  • Johnson’s sixth-place finish ended a streak of four straight top-five performances.
  • Kenseth (seventh) hasn’t finished worse than 13th since Fontana.
  • Martin Truex Jr.’s eighth-place finish ended a run of three straight races without a top 10, the longest such streak he’d had this season.
  • AJ Allmendinger’s ninth-place run was his second best of the season to date and the first time he’s posted back-to-back top-10s in 2012. He finished second at Martinsville back in April.
  • Kyle Busch’s tenth-place finish was his first top-10 result in five races.
  • Edwards (20th) hasn’t managed a top-five run since Fontana.
  • Biffle’s 21st-place struggle was his second worst run of the year. He finished 24th at Pocono.
  • The top-10 finishers at Kentucky drove two Dodges, four Chevys, a Ford and three Toyotas.

What’s the Points?

Kenseth remains atop the points standings. He’s now 11 ahead of second-place Earnhardt and 23 points ahead of third-place Johnson. Earnhardt and Johnson both advanced a spot, pushing former number two points man Biffle back to fourth.

Hamlin leapfrogged up three spots to fifth in the standings. Kevin Harvick is sixth while Bowyer now sits seventh, the best he’s been all season. Truex moved back up a spot to eighth.

Look out below! His fuel injection woes dropped Stewart four full spots down to ninth in the points, while Keselowski sits in 10th. Edwards, still winless in 11th drops down to 34 points out of a postseason spot.

If the Chase were to start right now, Kyle Busch and Kahne would occupy the two “wild card” spots. As odd as it seems 17 races deep into the season, Kahne, Newman and Logano have all scored 463 points total. All three drivers have won a race and thus are in contention for a “wild card” berth, the 12th and final spot in the Chase. Right now, based on the tiebreakers Kahne has the edge by virtue of his second-place finish Saturday night. As our buddy Ancient Racer might say, Boy Howdy!

Overall Rating (On a scale of one to six beer cans with one being a stinker and a six-pack an instant classic) — I have to give this one a single can of skunked warm generic beer with an aftertaste of wombat piss.

Next Up — The series heads off to Daytona for the Firecracker 400. Does anyone else wish they’d change the Fourth of July holiday to Independence Day and hold it on the first Monday in July?

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