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Thinkin’ Out Loud

Matt McLaughlin’s Thinkin’ Out Loud: TUMS Quik Pak 500

Matt McLaughlin’s Thinkin’ Out Loud: TUMS Quik Pak 500

*The Key Moment:* Jimmie Johnson got an excellent jump on that final Green-White-Checker restart and kept Dale Earnhardt, Jr. off his rear bumper. *In a Nutshell:* Stock cars running belly to the ground, bumper-to-bumper into the fading sunlight of an autumn afternoon. It just doesn’t get any better. *Dramatic Moment:* Well, it's not the Chase, is it? Dale Earnhardt, Jr. seemed to have Johnson’s number late in the race, but a series of cautions ended his chances. *What They’ll Be Talking About Around the Water Cooler This Week* What has *Jimmie Johnson figured out about Martinsville* nobody else can pick up on? For that matter, what has the entire Hendrick organization figured out about Martinsville? Read More »

Matt McLaughlin’s Thinkin’ Out Loud: Bank of America 500

Matt McLaughlin’s Thinkin’ Out Loud: Bank of America 500

*The Key Moment:* Jeff Burton and Jimmie Johnson waged a spirited battle for a few laps after the final restart before points leader Johnson apparently decided discretion was the better part of valor. *In a Nutshell:* Wasn’t this new car supposed to end the era of cars up front with clean air on the nose running away from the field, with previously fast cars mired in traffic unable to pass anything but the time? Newsflash: It didn’t work. Film at 11. *Dramatic Moment:* There was some good racing back in the pack and after every restart, with track position so key and passing so difficult. The short-lived Burton / Johnson battle probably takes top honors. *What They’ll Be Talking About Around the Water Cooler This Week* Maybe they ought to add some *reverse light decals* to the rear of the 48 car because Jimmie Johnson seems to want to back his way into this championship. Read More »

Matt McLaughlin’s Thinkin’ Out Loud: Amp Energy 500

Matt McLaughlin’s Thinkin’ Out Loud: Amp Energy 500

*The Key Moment:* The race was decided in NASCAR’s control room almost a minute after the event itself ended. *In a Nutshell:* Yogi Berra once said, “It ain’t over until it’s over.” Apparently sometimes it’s not over even when it is over. *Dramatic Moment:* With fifteen laps to go Carl Edwards got Greg Biffle’s car sideways and set off a field decimating wreck that may have doomed a lot of contenders’ chances at a championship. *What They’ll Be Talking About Around the Water Cooler This Week* Yes, there’s a rule that states *a driver may not advance his position* at the plate tracks by passing under the yellow line. There’s also a rule that states a driver may not force another driver “out of bounds.” And more than once NASCAR has stated a de facto “anything goes” policy on the last lap of the plate races. Should Stewart have been penalized? Should Smith have been given the win? If Smith had lifted out of the gas to let Stewart back by and drifted back up on the track it might have set off another huge wreck and likely we’d have seen only one car, the 20, finish the race. After the Daytona truck series race, a NASCAR spokesperson defended Johnny Benson’s “below the line” pass to take second by saying, ’ if you can see the checkered flag on the last lap, anything goes.” Anything but passing the driver of the “Official Home Improvement Center of NASCAR” it would seem. Read More »

Matt McLaughlin’s Thinkin’ Out Loud: Camping World RV 400

Matt McLaughlin’s Thinkin’ Out Loud: Camping World RV 400

*The Key Moment:* Carl Edwards sailed his Ford into the final corner in a kamikaze attempt to pass Jimmie Johnson. Edwards did get by the No. 48 car, but momentum carried him into the wall -- allowing Johnson to retake the lead. *In a Nutshell:* The race might have been a hundred miles too long but two laps too short. *Dramatic Moment:* With passing extremely difficult, the pack raced hard three-wide after every restart. That last lap will be remembered for a long time. *What They’ll Be Talking About Around the Water Cooler This Week* Let me join in those sending *condolences to Paul Newman’s family* and his myriad of friends and fans. Read More »

Matt McLaughlin’s Thinkin’ Out Loud: Camping World RV 400

Matt McLaughlin’s Thinkin’ Out Loud: Camping World RV 400

*The Key Moment:* With eight laps to go, Greg Biffle finally got around the outside of teammate Matt Kenseth to take the lead. *In a Nutshell:* If you surfed away to catch a local football game, you missed the greatest finish to a Cup race this season -- the stuff of legends. *Dramatic Moment:* The last 45 laps were gripping stuff, with three and sometimes as many as five drivers going after it hammer and tongs for the lead. There were fenders banging, tires smoking, and fans on their feet... if only the magic could have lasted for the final five laps. *What They’ll Be Talking About Around the Water Cooler This Week* So, how come *disgruntled fans still tune in every week* if they’re so dissatisfied, some of the newer fans want to know? A day like today is why. Read More »

Matt McLaughlin’s Thinkin’ Out Loud: Chevy Rock & Roll 400

Matt McLaughlin’s Thinkin’ Out Loud: Chevy Rock & Roll 400

*The Key Moment:* Tony Stewart ran down Jimmie Johnson with 10 laps to go, but Johnson found enough speed in the upper groove to prevail over the No. 20 car in a battle of the home improvement centers. *In a Nutshell:* Against all odds, on a nearly perfect day at a nearly perfect race track, the Cup series put on a nearly perfect race. *Dramatic Moment:* There were nearly 400 laps worth of them, with two and even occasional three-wide racing for the lead to go along with side by side racing throughout the pack. There’s no doubt that the most popular moment of the race for the fans on hand was watching Junior send Kyle Busch spinning. Junior clearly slammed on the brakes to stay off the No. 18 car but from the cheap(er) seats, it must have looked like a little payback for the Richmond Spring race. *What They’ll Be Talking About Around the Water Cooler This Week* OK, so Johnson made his point Sunday. It’s *no longer a two man race* for this year’s title. Carl Edwards and Kyle Busch are going to have to contend with Johnson as well. Oh, I know someone will say it was contractual, but it’s hard to understand why *ABC covered the IRL season finale,* bumping the delayed NASCAR race over to the ESPN outlet. Yeah, there was a good title fight in the IRL, but ratings numbers suggest the Mother Ship should have gone with the bigger event. Still, combined with an exciting F1 race Sunday morning and a thriller at Chicago with the IRL, this was a stellar -- if long -- day to be a race fan. Read More »

Thinkin’ Out Loud Like Matt McLaughlin :  Pepsi 500

Thinkin’ Out Loud Like Matt McLaughlin : Pepsi 500

*Key Moment:* Pole Qualifying on Friday. Johnson's pole winning run set the tone for the rest of the weekend. *In a Nutshell:* I can describe the race in eight words or less: Johnson came, he saw, he kicked butt. *Dramatic Moments:* With such a dominating performance by Johnson, the biggest excitement on the track was caused by falling caution lights. Not one, but two yellows were thrown because of them. Read More »

Matt McLaughlin’s Thinkin’ Out Loud: Sharpie 500

Matt McLaughlin’s Thinkin’ Out Loud: Sharpie 500

*The Key Moment:* On lap 469, Carl Edwards used his bumper to nudge the 18 car aside and do something nobody else had done all night, pass Kyle Busch. *In a Nutshell:* Kyle and Carl put on another clinic with Busch dominating, but the race is not always to the swift…. *Dramatic Moment:* Edwards “bump and run” on Busch was surgical but the two drivers saved the fireworks for the ironically named cool down lap. It wasn’t until then the massive Bristol crowd finally really got into the game. *What They’ll Be Talking About Around the Water Cooler This Week* *Was Edwards brushing Busch aside fair?* Hey, if they ban that sort of move they might as well stop the sport of stock car racing. Compared to the revered Dale Earnhardt’s pass of Terry Labonte late in the 1998 race, that was a church square dance. Were Busch’s post-race antics understandable? Hell, yeah! You lead 415 laps and get brushed aside late in the race and its natural to be angry. Edwards had no choice but to retaliate to let Busch know he wasn’t going to be pushed around especially with the duo heading into the Chase as the favorites. The altercation took place at slow speed and involved two drivers belted safely in their race cars, not on pit road with innocents at risk. If either driver is fined or penalized, I might just quit the sport. We need more of this, not less. In fact I wish the two drivers had continued knocking into each other until their cars wouldn’t move anymore and then gotten out and brawled to settle things. Even if the post-race antics were subdued by the standards of the ’79 Daytona 500, the best part is the “To Be Continued” comments expressed by both combatants post-race. Read More »

Matt McLaughlin’s Thinkin’ Out Loud: 3M Performance 400

Matt McLaughlin’s Thinkin’ Out Loud: 3M Performance 400

*The Key Moment:* Once Carl Edwards' pit crew returned him to the track with the lead after the final pit stop, it was his race to lose. *In a Nutshell:* Carl Edwards and Ford score one for the home team just outside the Motor City -- a place that could use some good news right about now. *Dramatic Moment:* I don’t care how talented a driver is or how good his car is, this year you just don’t want Kyle Busch running second behind you with a handful of laps to go; just ask Jimmie Johnson. A flurry of late race cautions gave Busch several chances to overtake Edwards. *What They’ll Be Talking About Around the Water Cooler This Week* I think what we saw Sunday is *a foreshadowing of this year’s title run* with Busch and Edwards, the winningest pair of drivers this year, competing for the honors right up until the end of the season. Read More »

Matt McLaughlin’s Thinkin’ Out Loud: Centurion Boats at the Glen

Matt McLaughlin’s Thinkin’ Out Loud: Centurion Boats at the Glen

*The Key Moment:* Dale Earnhardt, Jr. pitted under caution on lap 66, handing the lead to Kyle Busch -- who would never come close to relinquishing it. *In a Nutshell:* Kyle Busch once again spanks the field handily, offering fans a chance for a nice late summer nap. *Dramatic Moment:* Unfortunately, the only high drama Sunday was as a result of Michael McDowell sending David Gilliland spinning out of turn 11, triggering one of the nastiest wrecks of the season. *What They’ll Be Talking About Around the Water Cooler This Week* Over the weekend, *Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson tried playing some head games with points leader Kyle Busch,* downplaying his chances at a title given his recent “slump.” My guess is they’ll be a bit more circumspect on that topic this week. It would seem like his JGR teammate, Tony Stewart, Busch tends to drive faster when he’s angry or annoyed. It’s easy to use the media to send a message to another driver in the garage area, but it’s a lot harder to make your statement out on the race track. Read More »