Race Weekend Central

Matt McLaughlin’s Thinkin’ Out Loud: 2007 Kansas Race Recap

The Key Moment: Clint Bowyer was trying to reel in Greg Biffle when Juan Pablo Montoya slapped the wall and blew a tire, forcing the race at Kansas to end under caution.

In a Nutshell: Grand Theft Auto Race. Biffle was unable to maintain the pace car’s speed but was still awarded the win.

Dramatic Moment: Two field-decimating wrecks badly damaged the title hopes of several championship contenders shortly after the race restarted following the second rain delay.

It’s been a few weeks since we’ve seen three drivers racing hard for the lead, but that happened several times earlier in the race. Hmmm… they run the old cars and fans see some good ol’ racing. There’s got to be a correlation there.

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

How on earth could NASCAR say Biffle won that race? Apparently, he was out of gas and unable to maintain the pace car speed. Yet, as recently as the Montreal Busch Series race, NASCAR ruled that Robby Gordon was not the leader despite having been up front when the caution flew because he spun (off the front bumper of Marcos Ambrose) and didn’t maintain the minimum required speed. What a farce.

You’ve got to be kidding me! After fans sat out two lengthy rain delays and monsoon-like conditions, NASCAR decides they won’t restart the race after the final caution. They said it was too dark. Well, how much darker was it going to get in the two minutes required to complete two more laps? I’m surprised there wasn’t rioting in the grandstands.

I guess it’s easy to be a Monday morning armchair quarterback, but the decision to leave Tony Stewart out with a badly damaged left-front fender was clearly a poor one in retrospect. My guess is Carl Edwards would agree.

The next high-income job in the garage area, team meteorologist.

OK, this is getting ridiculous. Edwards wins the Cup race at Dover but doesn’t pass post-race inspection. Ryan Newman takes the outside pole at Kansas, but his car fails post-qualifying tech. Kyle Busch wins the Busch event at Kansas, but his car is found to have an illegal (or to be politically correct, unapproved) intake manifold in post-race tech. Whatever credibility NASCAR has left is rapidly eroding away, and a series of slaps on the wrist doesn’t seem to be doing the job.

It’s time to start disqualifying drivers and teams whose cars are illegal and sitting them out for a week. In the Busch race Saturday afternoon – with the finish between Busch and Matt Kenseth so close – any performance advantage that manifold gave Busch clearly determined who won, even if it yielded only one or two horsepower. At this rate, something tells me this year’s title won’t be decided on that final Sunday in Homestead, but rather on the following Tuesday once NASCAR hands down more penalties…

When there’s threatening weather in the area, why not move the starting time up? It would make sense to get the race underway before both the NFL games and this weekend’s ball games that will determine the National League East began.

Wait a second! NASCAR is allowing Jacques (That’s French for Jack) Villenueve to attempt to make his first Cup start at Talladega? Several drivers, notably Jeff Gordon and Kyle Busch, have expressed their dismay at the idea. Frankly, I can’t disagree with them; you don’t toss a lad into shark-infested waters to teach him to swim. The problem at Talladega is one rookie driver’s mistake caused by inexperience can set off a field-decimating wreck that sweeps up title contenders in its wake.

See also
What's the Call? Jacques Villeneuve - Boom Or Bust?

In the past, NASCAR always mandated drivers make their first starts on short tracks, then work their way up through the intermediate speedways before getting approval to run at the plate tracks. But NASCAR says since Villeneuve won the Formula 1 title and the Indy 500, he’s ready for Talladega. Which, if you think about it, seems to say “If you can make it in those leagues, you’ll be just fine here in hick racing.” It would seem that NASCAR is so desperate to try to win Canadian fans to bolster sagging TV ratings that they’ll nod, wink, and hope for the best in this case.

According to Gordon, these new Cars of Horror (the ones with the wings) flex enough during the normal running of a race, the sides of the car need to be completely redone after each race so that they fit the templates before competing in the next event. Tell me again how the new car is supposed to save teams money?

A lot of fans like Stewart’s fiery personality and his willingness to speak his mind. On the other hand, he is a highly compensated athlete who knows there are standards that have to be met. Look at it this way: a race team spends enormous sums of money to build cars capable of winning a race and a championship. To take a car that is capable of finishing sixth and turning it into a race-winning mount, or to give a driver equipment good enough to claim a title, not just make the Chase, costs hundreds of thousands, if not millions of dollars.

Teams hire new engineers, buy those seven-post shakers and spend countless hours in the wind tunnels improving their cars. But if Stewart had lost 25 points this week because he can’t open his mouth without cussing and he went on to lose the title by less than 25 points, he’d have just blown millions of Joe Gibbs’s and Home Depot’s dollars by his childishness. Maybe it’s time Tony takes a hard look in the mirror and ponders how his actions affect others working hard and spending the big bucks on his behalf.

Luckily for Smoke, NASCAR won’t fine Stewart 25 points for cursing. They say the curse wasn’t clear enough on nationwide TV, yet another decision that goes against precedent. Who is running the sport right now, the Three Stooges?

There are no big changes to next year’s Phone Company Cup schedule… other than the fact it will be branded by another phone company. The Chicagoland date will move from Sunday to Saturday night, with new lights installed at the track.

Repeat after me: we hold these truths to be self-evident, no stock car race should be held on a day other than Sunday, and the event should go green about noon so as to have it end if at all possible by 4:00 ET, with the fading hours of sunset in the fall that would allow fans to still have enough time to go for a 30-mile putt on their Harleys after the race and prior to sun glare and white tail deer’s suicidal road crossings in the pursuit of life, liberty and happiness.

Weren’t NASCAR officials saying one of the key benefits of the Car of Tomorrow was the fact the boxier cars would eliminate the need for the pileup plates at Talladega and Daytona. Yet, when the CoT debuts at Talladega next week, they’ll be running slightly larger plates, not sans plates. Color me surprised. If the CoT has achieved any of its intended design goals, I am not aware of them. It’s the least successful new car rollout since Malcolm Bricklin’s Yugo.

Three drivers – Gordon, Kenseth and Kurt Busch – are running three-wide for the lead, and ESPN decides to go to commercial? Something is terribly wrong there.

Within a week of John Force‘s horrific accident at Texas, the NHRA community was dealt another terrible blow. The founder of the NHRA and the grandfather of organized drag racing Wally Parks died in California this week from complications involving pneumonia. Parks was one of auto racing’s true pioneers and the guy who turned kids drag racing hot rods in the streets into an organized sport. He was also involved in the founding of Hot Rod magazine, a staple of my misspent youth.

The Hindenburg Award for Foul Fortune

It’s pretty hard for a lot of us to think Bowyer didn’t get robbed tonight.

Had the rains continued, Stewart would have won the event. As things turned out, he got into the back of the No. 1 car during the big wreck and badly damaged the front end of his own No. 20 car. Not surprisingly, a tire blew shortly after racing resumed – Stewart wrecked, and he wound up 39th.

Edwards was caught up in the mess when Kurt Busch was unable to avoid the rapidly slowing car of Stewart.

Martin Truex Jr. had to claw his way back up through the field after hitting the wall on lap 32 and blowing a tire. He did just that… only to get collected on the first lap of green-flag racing after the rain delay.

Kyle Busch got run into from behind on the straightaway and put hard into the wall. I have no idea what Junior was thinking.

Jeff Burton probably didn’t realize ESPN had a camera trained on him when he decided to try to adjust his fender under caution; he got caught with his hand in the cookie jar and lying about it afterwards. But it didn’t matter much in the grand scheme of things, as Burton later lost a fuel pump drive cable.

The “Seven Come Fore Eleven” Award for Fine Fortune

Jimmie Johnson had to start at the back of the field after wrecking his primary car in Happy Hour. He rocketed to the front of the pack, but was caught a lap down when rain started falling shortly after he pitted. He still finished third, or if you prefer, second among those cars able to maintain minimum speed on the final lap.

Kevin Harvick just missed the big wreck en route to a sixth-place finish.

Gordon would have had a miserable finish if the rain never restarted, but he left Kansas with a fifth-place result.

Contrast the No. 20 team’s decision-making with that of fellow Chase contenders Kurt Busch and the No. 2 team. Busch bent up the front end of his Dodge (ironically enough, plowing into the back of his old buddy Tony’s car) and the team decided to pit for emergency repairs and to replace four tires. Busch left Kansas with an 11th-place finish.

Ray Evernham had a pretty decent day, with all three of his drivers finishing 13th or better.

Worth Noting

  • Biffle was awarded a win for the first time since last year’s series finale at Homestead. It was just his fourth top-five result of the season, with two of them coming in the last two races.
  • Johnson (third) has top-five finishes in four of the last five races.
  • Casey Mears (fourth) has top-10 finishes in the last three races. He hasn’t managed that since the first three races of 2006.
  • Harvick (sixth) managed his second top 10 in the last nine races.
  • Reed Sorenson (seventh) drove to his first top-10 finish since the Brickyard.
  • Elliott Sadler (eighth) scored his first top 10 since the Daytona 500.
  • Kasey Kahne (ninth) has top-10 finishes in four of the last six races. So does Dale Earnhardt Jr. (10th) for that matter.
  • Scott Riggs (13th) had his best finish since Martinsville.
  • Kyle Busch (41st) suffered his worst finish of the 2007 season.
  • Kenseth has finished 35th in the last two races.
  • The top-10 finishing drivers competed in six Chevys, three Dodges and a single Ford. Dave Blaney in 15th was the top-finishing Toyota driver.
  • David Ragan in 16th was the best-finishing rookie contender on Sunday.
  • The win was the sixth for Ford this season. All six of those wins have been scored by Roush Fenway entries, with Edwards accounting for three of those victories.
See also
Full Throttle: Roush Fenway Racing Done Playing Catch Up with the CoT

What’s the Points?

Johnson moves up two spots into the points lead, while former points leader Gordon is just six points behind Johnson. Bowyer moves up two spots into third and is nine points out of the lead. Stewart’s problems dropped him two spots and 117 points out of the lead. Harvick moves up a whopping four spots to fifth, but is 126 points back.

Elsewhere in the top 12, Kurt Busch moved up two spots to ninth. Kyle Busch fell two spots to sixth, while Burton fell two spots to 10th. Edwards, Truex and Kenseth all fell a spot; they are now seventh, eighth and 11th respectively.

Also, all drivers from ninth-place Kurt Busch on back now trail Johnson by more than a full race’s worth of points.

Outside the top 12, Biffle moved up a spot to 14th, while Mears moved up a spot to 15th. Newman fell two spots to 16th.

Overall Rating (On a scale of one to six beer cans with one being a stinker and a six-pack an instant classic): I’ll give this one four cans of Colorado Kool-Aid a bit diluted by torrential rain waters. If nothing else, we’ll be talking about this one a while. And I have to admit, as the asphalt ages Kansas is providing a lot better quality of racing. Now, if only the weather didn’t suck today!

Next Up: It’s off to Talladega for NASCAR’s version of high-speed roller derby. Sooner or later – it’s a stone-cold fact – 43 ride out and only 42 ride back.

About the author

Matt joined Frontstretch in 2007 after a decade of race-writing, paired with the first generation of racing internet sites like RaceComm and Racing One. Now semi-retired, he submits occasional special features while his retrospectives on drivers like Alan Kulwicki, Davey Allison, and other fallen NASCAR legends pop up every summer on Frontstretch. A motorcycle nut, look for the closest open road near you and you can catch him on the Harley during those bright, summer days in his beloved Pennsylvania.

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