NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Matt McLaughlin’s Thinkin’ Out Loud: 2012 Brickyard 400 Race Recap

The Key Moment – On the final restart with two fresh tires, Greg Biffle got to battling with Kyle Busch (on four fresh tires) for second. By the time Busch prevailed, leader Jimmie Johnson was in a different area code.

In a Nutshell – The Brickyard 400… the ultimate example of sizzle over steak.

Dramatic Moment – One lazy evening this week, I painted a model car body for a project I’m working on. Watching the paint dry was more exciting than Sunday’s “race.”

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

They’ll likely be talking about the Olympics, not Sunday’s farce of a race. How bad was this event? By lap 18, there was a 17-second gap between the leader and the 10th-place driver.

It might not have been a great race, but Indy certainly earned the award for the most ridiculous name of a race this year. The event was officially The 19th Annual Crown Royal Presents the Curtis Shaver 400 at The Brickyard Powered by Big Machine Records. Oh, and if you watched at home, thanks to our buds at ESPN they were showing the 19th Annual Crown Royal Presents the Curtis Shaver 400 at The Brickyard Powered by Big Machine Records telecast presented by Golden Corral.

Any more questions why I just call races like this “the Brickyard?” I wear out two keyboards a season as it is. (No disrespect intended towards Mr. Shaver, who is a local hero, not a brand of electric razors. Don’t know why, but the title Big Machine Records also gives me the shakes. She’s out there somewhere.)

I’ve seen more passes made at an Amish ice cream church social.

Attendance at the Brickyard 400 is officially listed as 125,000 souls. Cue up the Foreigner because I think whoever is issuing these counts has *Double Vision.*

Who says the drivers were more manly and tough back in the days of yore? Well anyway, who watched the No. 48 team lay pillows down for Johnson (and others) for them to kneel on when they kissed the bricks after Sunday’s victory lest they scrape their dainty knees. C’mon, seriously?

Editor’s Note: The pillows were part of a Crown Royal promotion. But still…

Wasn’t the new “parallel” sway bar links rule supposed to eliminate the cars “dog walking” around the track? Johnson’s No. 48 car looked like a bloodhound hot on the trail of an escaped convict.

Talk about a one-groove track! Having to restart the race in the outside lane was basically a death sentence for a driver’s chance at winning or even advancing.

Does the Brickyard 400 still matter? In this writer’s opinion, it doesn’t and frankly never has. The Indy 500 was and still is a big deal, but the track configuration has never lent itself to stock car racing. Attendance is way off at a place where the 400-miler once sold out and I’d guess that’s because of the tire debacle in 2008. The Formula 1 series had a similar tire-related disaster, one that saw most of the field pull off after the parade lap, but at least they were wise enough to know the red was done licked all off their candy and they never returned.

OK, let me get this straight. It was OK for Kyle Busch to pass Kasey Kahne at the start of Saturday’s Nationwide Series race because Kahne buzzed the tires, but it’s not OK for Elliott Sadler to pass Brad Keselowski on a late restart after Keselowski spun his tires. Where’s the logic there? I figured this issue was going to happen after Carl Edwards got black-flagged for jumping a restart at Richmond. This is what you get when the sanctioning body had a rulebook written in pencil. ESPN gave us a taste of things to come, too by hurrying off the air Saturday without as much as a follow-up interview with a clearly dejected Sadler. As for NASCAR officials, it’s one thing to have egg on your face. It’s another to wear a hen as a hat.

Details of AJ Allmendinger’s failed substance test are still emerging. Frankly, I think the PR people on both sides have bungled this one badly, letting things drag on so long. These sorts of secrets used to be easily kept in the insular garage area but the Internet pried that door open a scoosh and social mediums have kicked it wide open.

Here’s what I’ve learned during my brief foray with Twitter (Follow me @mcmatt76). Twitter, like nature, abhors a vacuum when it comes to information. In the absence of hard information, speculation and rumor flourish. In this instance, let’s say someone tweeted (Twit?) “Is it possible this was from an energy drink?” As that question hurtles from cell phone, to laptop to PC, someone will eventually say, “It might have been an energy drink,” which then morphs to, “It was probably an energy drink,” and eventually to, “It was just an energy drink.”

Fill in “dietary supplement” and repeat and retweet. So eventually, what we have is a “new truth” without a scrap of veracity to back it up. Even the mainstream media gets in on the game by writing things like, “It’s been widely speculated on Twitter that the source of the failed test was a dietary supplement.” Notice they’re not saying it’s a fact, just that some folks are saying that’s the case. So in this instance, Allmendinger would have been better served just fessing up and telling folks what he tested positive for. Supposedly, NASCAR says he was informed of what the substance was the day he was suspended at Daytona. Or, at least I think they did. I read it on Twitter, so it’s got to be so. (As it stands written in the Book of Bruce, “No Re-tweet, and no Re-sender”)

Editor’s Note: Allmendinger has tested positive for amphetamines; we just don’t know the specific type of drug that triggered that test. Could be anything from “meth” to some crazy energy drink Twitter speaks of.

One casualty of the declining attendance at Indy was the short track down the street, Indianapolis Raceway Park. That oval once hosted the Nationwide (nee Busch) and Truck Series races; while the Cup cars typically put on predictable parades at the big track, the racing at IRP was usually hot and heavy on the bullring Fridays and Saturdays. Apparently, NASCAR thought staging three races in one weekend at the home of the 500 would centralize focus and fan interest. Good luck with that. Why buy tickets to three boring races rather than just one? Like they say, “Good seats are still available.” Too bad good racing is not.

Yes, there was a horrific motorhome fire outside of Indy on Friday. No, there is no evidence it was caused by Juan Pablo Montoya hitting the coach while driving too fast in the rain-soaked parking lot trying to get to the infield. Later in the day, JPM was indeed involved in a controversial incident, competing part-time in the Rolex race and just happening to wreck out a Ford that’s a prime competitor to his team’s, Chip Ganassi Racing, overall championship title chase. Let’s just say Montoya’s brief stint in the Rolex Series was about as well received as Mitt Romney’s recent visit to the London Olympics.

Rain at Indy? Well it hasn’t rained there in seven weeks – the Midwest is stuck in a terrible drought that is decimating farmers in the area – but bring NASCAR racing to a city and it surely looks like rain.

Chevy unveiled their new entry for next year’s Nationwide races and it’s the Camaro. So next year, the Camaros will be battling it out with their longtime nemesis the Mustang and hopefully a few Challengers — if teams can be found to run them. While maintaining a lot of the styling cues of the street legal Camaro, I’ll contend that the racecar is actually better-looking with an airier greenhouse rather than the gun-turret look of its street counterpart. I’d suggest Chevy follow that lead in redesigning their next Camaro. This first car was built by RCR and they, too, missed a trick. If they’d chosen a little deeper color of blue and added yellow stripes, the Camaro would have looked like a tribute to the Penske/Donahue Trans Am racers that ran with such success from 1967-69.

The Hindenburg Award For Foul Fortune

It was a tough weekend for former points leader Matt Kenseth. He hit the wall in practice and qualifying, then got wrecked out of the main event on Sunday en route to 35th. I’m not sure about the wisdom of tossing an expensive crash helmet into a burning car, though.

Kurt Busch actually ran within the top 10 early in the event but a botched pit stop cost him a lap. In the end, it didn’t matter much because later in the day he lost an engine.

Edwards qualified for the outside pole under the watchful eye of new crew chief Chad Norris. But early in the event, the No. 99 car began losing power leaving Edwards to endure a long afternoon, finishing four laps off the pace in 29th.

Keselowski and his team were playing a strategy game in the pits, but it all went awry when Keselowski was consigned to that outside line for a restart and he slid up the track and out of contention. The No. 2 car wound up ninth, while Regan Smith (who was on the inside line for said restart) earned a one-on-one conversation filled with choice words for sometime this week.

The “Seven Come Fore Eleven” Award For Fine Fortune

Johnson and Kyle Busch made hard contact on a restart but the No. 48 car ran on undaunted – to another country.

It looked like Kyle Busch’s car had suffered day-ending failure when the No. 18 car slowed leaving pit road, belching heavy black smoke out the tailpipes. But whatever gremlin had infected the car at that point never reared its ugly head again for the rest of the race allowing Busch to finish second… though he’d have needed to find a set of binoculars to see Johnson take the checkers.

As bad as Tony Stewart’s No. 14 car ran for much of the race, he’ll probably leave Indy counting a 10th-place finish as a gift. Racers also learned that blocking doesn’t get you on Stewart’s good side.

Worth Noting

  • The No. 48 team’s win was the tenth straight for Chevrolet at the Brickyard.
  • The top-10 finishers at Indy drove five Chevys, three Toyotas, a Ford and a Dodge.
  • Kyle Busch’s second-place finish was his first top-five result in eight Cup races.
  • Biffle’s third-place finish was his best since he won at Texas. Biffle also finished third in the first three Cup races this season.
  • Dale Earnhardt Jr. has finished fourth in three of the last four races.
  • Gordon (fifth) hasn’t finished worse than 12th in the last six races.
  • Ryan Newman (seventh) has strung together three top-10 finishes for the first time this year.
  • Keselowski (ninth) has four consecutive top-10 results.
  • Kahne (12th) has only led laps in two of the last eight races. In both instances he did lead laps, he won.
  • Harvick (13th) hasn’t enjoyed a top-five finish since Dover.
  • Kenseth (35th) suffered through his worst result of the season and his first DNF.
  • Johnson joins Keselowski and Stewart as this season’s three-time winners. Johnson also has the most top-five finishes this year with 10 such results. Earnhardt, Kenseth, Biffle and Denny Hamlin have nine apiece.
  • Johnson is also tied with Earnhardt for the most top-10 runs this year. They have each posted 15 top-10 results in this season’s 20 points-paying races.

What’s the Points?

For the first time since 2004, Earnhardt Jr. holds the points lead. Kenseth is down one spot to second and fourteen points out of the top spot. Biffle, Johnson, Hamlin and Kevin Harvick hold serve in positions three through six, respectively.

Martin Truex Jr. sits seventh, while Stewart hangs tough in eighth. Keselowski and Clint Bowyer swapped ninth and 10th spots, with the Dodge driver now having the advantage.

Further back, Kyle Busch advanced two spots to 11th, albeit 55 points behind Bowyer. More importantly, he retains one of the Wild Card spots with a win earlier this year.

Edwards fell a spot to 12th in the standings. If the Chase field were set on Sunday, he’d find himself on the outside looking in. I wonder if that notion scares him more than racing a car full of clowns? (Is that thing Mel Gibson’s old ride from the Mad Max movies?)

Kahne fell a spot to 13th in the points, but would still get a Wild Card spot based on having won twice this season. Jeff Gordon jockeyed his way up two spots to 15th, but his winless streak has him on the outside looking in at any possible title hopes.

Of note: Harvick and Truex Jr. are the only drivers inside the top 10 in points who haven’t won a race this season.

Overall Rating (On a scale of one to six beer cans, with one being a stinker and a six-pack an instant classic) — Zero cans for a race enjoyed by zero fans.

Next Up – The circuit heads back to the Keystone State for Poc-o-two, the second 400-mile version of the summer races at the track. With any luck, it might be another good race there as well.

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