Monday , January 26 2015
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Thinkin’ Out Loud

Thinkin’ Out Loud: Talladega-1 Race Recap

Thinkin’ Out Loud: Talladega-1 Race Recap

*Key Moment* - NASCAR used all of the tools at their disposal to restart the race and run it to the advertised distance of 499 miles, plus a few more, rather than calling it when the red flag flew for rain on lap 124. That threw out a ho-hum finish, turned it wild and gave the Davids a chance to beat up on Goliath. *In a Nutshell* - Talladega once again proved that restrictor plates are the great equalizer as Front Row Motorsports pulled off the improbable. With car owner Bob Jenkins entering the race with just two top-5 finishes, in 403 career starts David Ragan and David Gilliland ended the day 1-2, as if they were born contenders while several Sprint Cup superstars spent the night scratching their heads. Read More »

Thinkin’ Out Loud: Richmond-1 Race Recap

Thinkin’ Out Loud: Richmond-1 Race Recap

*Key Moment* - Brian Vickers spun in turn three on lap 396 to bring out the final caution flag of the night. It brought most of the field to the pits, scrambling the running order and cost Juan Pablo Montoya his first win on an oval. *In a Nutshell* - They only pay money to the leader on the last lap. One of the three laps that Kevin Harvick led was the last one. *Dramatic Moment* - After the checkered flag flew not one, not two, but three former Cup champions were running into each other on the track. Read More »

Thinkin' Out Loud: Las Vegas Race Recap

_Editor's Note: Mike Neff is writing Matt's column this week._ *The Key Moment* - On the penultimate caution of the race, Matt Kenseth took fuel only while Kasey Kahne, who appeared to have the dominant car, took two tires and had to check up exiting his pit box. As a result, Kahne restarted sixth, had to fight his way to the front and ended up without enough ability to stick on the bottom and pass Matt Kenseth. That left the driver of the No. 20, in just his third race with new team Joe Gibbs Racing taking the checkers on his birthday. *In a Nutshell* - The drivers mixed it up, from top to bottom on restarts until the tires heated up; then, it was single-file racing. There was some on-track passing, which might be a little more than we used to see, but there is still plenty of work to do with this new car. *Dramatic Moment* - Kasey Kahne got to second place with 26 laps left and was making ground in the high lane. As he came up on Kenseth, eight circuits later, everyone was holding their breath for fireworks. But as Kahne prepared to make a bid for the lead, Kenseth moved up and took the lane away. We didn't know it then… but that was all she wrote. For the remainder of the race, Kahne made every run he could, lagging back, pushing hard, driving on the apron, but none of them gave him enough of a run to pull alongside the leader. Kyle Busch made a hairy, three-wide move on a restart with 100 laps remaining to both take the lead and earn consolation prize in this category What They'll be Talking About Around the Water Cooler on Monday* *After the senseless, $25,000 fine of Denny Hamlin,* for speaking his mind about the difficulty in passing with the new car at Phoenix, almost every driver nearly threw their backs out Sunday, bending over backwards to compliment the new car. Let's not fool ourselves after freedom of speech was no longer guaranteed to earn the drivers a healthy paycheck. As Sunday showed, despite some promising moments the first few races with a new car will be a challenge until the teams figure out how to make them fast and how they'll respond to mechanical adjustments. Until then, NASCAR, please let the drivers speak their minds again. Fans have begged and pleaded for them to have a personality; instead, as soon as one emerges NASCAR makes a habit of jumping down their throat. Hamlin was the latest case in point. *Goodyear is back to the rock hard tires again.* Kasey Kahne kept his left sides on for the last 106 laps of the race; Kenseth won with right sides 42 laps older than his closest competition. We heard talk of the fuel mileage card being played before the fourth caution of the race Sunday; why? It's because teams can keep tires on forever. Phoenix was headed in the right direction, despite what most fans thought with tires wearing out and actually giving a benefit to those who took four tires versus two or none. This weekend, with a track that has lost some grip thanks to the harsh heat of the Vegas environment, Goodyear could have gone softer and made conservation key; that would have helped cause a dropoff in speed, leading to more passing over those long, green-flag runs. Instead? They opted for the Flintstones again, throwing NASCAR back into the stone age unnecessarily… With all that said, despite much criticism over NASCAR's Gen-6 car *the moments of brilliance we saw gave us hope. On lap 148, Martin Truex, Jeff Gordon, Jeff Burton and David Reutimann went four-wide at a 1.5-mile oval.* The car can obviously do some passing when someone is obviously faster than the car in front of you; now, if we can just get to happen when the car is only _slightly_ faster. *We all know that NASCAR is embracing Social Media.* Well, that's great and all… but do we really need to shove sponsorship into that mess? During the beginning of the Kobalt 400 at Las Vegas, our friends at FOX showed the Kobalt Tools Social Media Command Center. Seriously?!?!?! How about the Kobalt Tools community aid center? Or the Kobalt Tools center to assist unemployed craftsmen? It would go a lot further for a sponsor to spend some money on helping people instead of enabling the ability to Tweet. There's no question this new car is a work in progress, but one thing is still never mentioned which would make the biggest difference of all. *The problem with cars behind other cars, in the Sprint Cup Series is they don't get enough air to the nose.* That is primarily because there is no air coming from underneath the car in front. My solution would be to raise the nose of these cars so they can't get closer to the ground than three or four inches. You do that and the entire \"aero loose\" principle disappears like magic. One more note on the Gen-6: *The cars are really fast.* That's right; race cars should be fast. That's the point. Some folks are suggesting that we slow the cars down to make the racing a little better. Just a thought… isn't that was we do with the restrictor plates? Yes, having throttle response would help but if you slow these cars down to 170, they're going to go flat out every lap and we'll be watching high-speed parades where cars can't get away from each other. *Week three of the NASCAR Sprint Cup season and it's the third week of hearing how tough it is to get on Pit Road.* Note to FOX broadcasters: it is always hard to slow a car down from 190 to 50, or 120 to 50 when you're going from \"as fast as you can\" to near school zone speeds. Let's just acknowledge slowing down a 3,300-pound stock car really fast is a bitch and just move on. *Three races in, each manufacturer involved in the sport has won.* NASCAR loves to trumpet parity and, at least in Victory Lane this year, mission accomplished for Ford, Chevy, and Toyota. *Pit road penalties set back some of the front runners during the race… but we don't have the evidence as to why.* That gaping hole in the process, for fans and even other teams needs to change, ASAP. We have the technology to show little balloons above the cars and display telemetry for how fast cars are traveling. So let's get into the 21st century and use GPS technology, enforcing the speed from one end of the pit road to the other with data visible to all teams. This voodoo science of timing loops and average speed is getting old. *Sam Hornish, Jr. put his Nationwide ride in Victory Lane ahead of Kyle Busch on Saturday.* Guess they should cancel the press release that announced Busch won every single race he entered in 2013. Yes, there's no question Busch will win his fair share, now that he's back in Nationwide with the support of dominant Joe Gibbs Racing. But 100 percent Cup drivers, all the time in that series? Absolutely not going to happen. *Caution flags were all but non-existent during the first half of the race.* Just a suggestion to NASCAR officials, though; make sure the cars actually wreck before throwing the yellow rag. Marcos Ambrose got all kinds of sideways in turn four trying to make it to pit road, saved the car and kept on going. But NASCAR threw the yellow, taking advantage to bunch up the cars because Ambrose _almost_ spun. C'mon, folks; let's be a little more judicious than that. *As long as Michael Waltrip is in the booth, there is hope for every person in the world who can speak some form of English to be a race announcer.* *Hindenburg Award for Foul Fortune* *Ryan Newman* started the season with a fifth-place finish at Daytona. That seems like eons ago. One week after a _Talladega Nights_ fire scene at Phoenix - running from his crashed vehicle he strapped in Sunday and missed a shift. A blown engine now leaves him with two DNFs in three races, a reminder of no contract for 2014 and hopefully no extra Vegas gambling debt. ... Read More »

Matt McLaughlin’s Thinkin’ Out Loud: 2013 Daytona 500

Matt McLaughlin’s Thinkin’ Out Loud: 2013 Daytona 500

*The Key Moment* – Jimmie Johnson made the most of his 400th career start, edging ahead of Brad Keselowski just as the final caution flag flew. That gave the No. 48 entry the preferred outside groove for the final restart, where it was all over after that. (Finally.) *In a Nutshell* – Dang, I’ve seen more passes made at the local geriatric center’s Valentine’s Day party. Was it a steep learning curve and getting acclimated to new equipment, or is this car going to earn the nickname, "Generation Sux?" *Dramatic Moment* – There were damn few of them as the drivers drove lap after lap in a single-lane, processional parade. Read More »

Thinkin’ Out Loud: NASCAR’s Budweiser Duel 150s

Thinkin’ Out Loud: NASCAR’s Budweiser Duel 150s

*The Key Moments* *Duel One* - *Kevin Harvick* thought it was time to go, prior to the first green-flag pit stop of the race and he went, blowing by Trevor Bayne on Lap 37. That was pretty much all she wrote. The field spent the rest of the day simply trying to lap up Harvick’s beer exhaust, the Bud Chevy in another time zone just like the Sprint Unlimited Saturday night. *Duel Two* - Jeff Gordon led. Then he sped… on pit road, so Kyle Busch pretty much took control from there. Kasey Kahne tried, and failed on the last lap to make a charge as teammate Matt Kenseth served as sacrificial lamb for Busch’s second career Duel victory. Read More »

Thinkin’ Out Loud: Sprint Unlimited And Daytona 500 Qualifying

Thinkin’ Out Loud: Sprint Unlimited And Daytona 500 Qualifying

*Key Moment* -- On lap 16, Tony Stewart attempted to change lanes and make a move on race leader Matt Kenseth. While he wasn’t cleared by his spotter, Stewart chose to shift down low which resulted in his left rear corner making contact with the right front of Marcos Ambrose. Stewart’s car got out of shape, made contact with the apron and sent a shower of sparks over several cars that were pursuing him. Jimmie Johnson checked up in the high line, which caused Denny Hamlin to make contact with the five-time champ, turning him down in front of the oncoming pack and ultimately taking out one-third of the field. The accident eliminated defending champion Kyle Busch, two-time Unlimited Champion Jeff Gordon, 2006 winner Denny Hamlin and 1999 winner Mark Martin. Just like that, the field was reduced by one-third, many contenders sat idle in the garage and the drafting - along with the racing - became a shell of its former self. Read More »

Thinkin’ Out Loud: Homestead Race Recap

Thinkin’ Out Loud: Homestead Race Recap

*Key Moment* - Jeff Gordon was among the drivers who pitted on a quick caution on lap 155. In the end, it resulted in the No. 24 having enough fuel to make it to the finish when Kyle Busch and Martin Truex, Jr. had to pit from the front of the field. Gordon ended the night taking the first win for Hendrick Motorsports at Homestead-Miami Speedway while his teammate Jimmie Johnson sat in his car in the garage, having lost the championship due to a faulty rear end. Read More »

Thinkin’ Out Loud: Phoenix-2 Race Recap

Thinkin’ Out Loud: Phoenix-2 Race Recap

*Key Moment* - Jeff Gordon intentionally wrecked Clint Bowyer, collecting Joey Logano and Aric Almirola as the field was coming to the white flag. The result was a green-white-checkered finish, one that saw Danica Patrick wreck on the first of two laps, lay down a large amount of oil on the track, then cause a complete melee on the front straight as the cars came to the checkered flag. The final wreck tore up over half-a-dozen race cars while the incident between Gordon and Bowyer set off a rumble in the garage, one reminiscent of the Tide team vs. the Kodiak crew at the 1989 Winston. *In a Nutshell* - For Phoenix, the word "wild" doesn't do it justice. For NASCAR officials, some controversial moments that will be argued well into the coming week. For the championship? Perhaps the moment Brad Keselowski sealed the deal. Read More »