Race Weekend Central

Matt McLaughlin’s Thinkin’ Out Loud: 2007 Phoenix Fall Race Recap

The Key Moment: With 24 laps to go – how ironic – Jimmie Johnson on new tires muscled his way past Martin Truex Jr. on worn tires and drove off into the sunset at Phoenix – putting himself in perfect position for a second straight title.

In a Nutshell: Lately, races have started off slow, then gotten exciting at the end. Sunday’s race started slow and then petered out all together. It’s Johnson’s world… we just live here.

Dramatic Moment: The restart after the 10th caution period featured the only real racing of the event, with Johnson and Matt Kenseth battling to get by Truex to take the race lead.

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

Of shoes and ships and sealing wax, of cabbages and kings. Or just about almost anything but the pending Chase finale. This year’s version has failed to grab the attention of the general population like few things other than that TV show Cavemen. Few people bother to acknowledge its existence, and those chosen few who have been exposed to it don’t much care for it… with the exception of some zealots you wouldn’t want dating your daughter.

Mathematically, it isn’t over; but the Fat Lady has laid aside her Cornish Hen feast and is starting to warm up at the opera. It’s Johnson’s title to lose now.

Chase architect Brian France said this week he sees proof that the Chase format is working. He notes how hard Johnson worked to win the race at Texas to lay claim to five extra bonus points. In fact, France says he was so impressed with Johnson’s effort, he called him this week to congratulate him. Which leads me to believe Jimmy Johnson, former coach of the Dallas Cowboys, is still confused about who that babbling idiot that called him in the middle of the night was.

Richard Petty raised a few eyebrows this week saying that the Jeff Gordon/Johnson points battle wasn’t good for the sport. As per the King, having two drivers from one team race for the title just isn’t good; he went a bit further, claiming that Johnson and Gordon are so similar that they are “the same person with a different name.” Unfortunate, since nobody could ever make that claim back in the era when the King and Bobby Allison seemed to be scrapping over the title at the end of each season.

See also
Bowles-Eye View: Out with the Old, In with the New, Jeff Gordon Wondering What Might Have Been

Did Gordon’s own frustration doom his title chances? His car seemed slower after the bumping match with Kevin Harvick. The bump Gordon gave Harvick seemed to take the No. 24’s front end out of alignment.

Should they put Kasey Kahne on suicide watch tonight? His frank interview after his wreck sure did make it sound like he was giving up.

Phoenix (and some other tracks) needs to look at adding the SAFER barriers to the inside walls. Andy Lally took a savage hit in Friday’s Truck Series race. The impact was so hard that the pit wall was actually cracked. Dale Earnhardt Jr. spun out in Sunday’s race and made hard contact with the inside wall.

Looks like the Truck Series title has come down to a two-man battle, with Mike Skinner having a 29-point lead over Ron Hornaday going into the series finale. And oddly enough, this tight points battle has occurred without monkeying with the points with 10 races left to go in the CTS season.

See also
Tracking the Trucks: 2007 Casino Arizona 150 at Phoenix

Home electronics big box retailer Best Buy has announced they are changing their sponsorship from Haas CNC Racing to a Gillett Evernham team. Based on this year’s results, that’s a bold leap from the frying pan into the fire.

Here’s an odd statistic. According to SPEED TV, Mike Bliss led 54 laps at Phoenix in Friday’s CTS race. Those were the first laps led by a Dodge driver this season. For the record, prior to this year Dodge drivers had won two of the last three Truck Series titles. So far this season, Toyota drivers have won 11 races, Chevrolet pilots have scored eight wins and Ford drivers have won five times.

In the Busch Series, Chevrolet has claimed 21 wins to Ford’s seven, Dodge’s four and Toyota’s two victories.

Maybe it’s just been a long frustrating season for some of them, but it surely does seem that drivers a lap or more down aren’t showing the leaders much courtesy these days.

Was Jacques Villeneuve trying to send a less than subtle message to someone? He chose the middle finger of his left hand to scratch his eye while being interviewed after his wreck, with his other four fingers drawn into the palm.

When it comes to playing hardball, Bruton Smith could teach Curt Schilling a thing or two. When Cabarrus County voted to block construction of the new drag strip at the Charlotte Motor Speedway complex, it seemed a no brainer. Local citizens were upset by the noise a drag strip would cause. Across the nation, even existing drag strips are constantly under fire by folks who moved into new developments near the track and many are being shut down or seeing their use severely restricted. (At which point, with no drag strip to race at, kids start racing in the streets, causing a whole new level of havoc.)

But in Smith’s case, he told those politicos if he wasn’t welcome he’d just move his entire racetrack complex elsewhere, costing the area over $100 million in lost tourism revenue. The whispered cost of a tax incentive program to calm Smith and make him stay in Concord is now said to be approaching $75 million in taxpayer funds.

The Hindenburg Award for Foul Fortune

Carl Edwards started from the pole and dominated the race, leading the first 86 laps. He was dogging Truex for the lead again when his engine expired.

It seems like old times. All three of the Michael Waltrip Toyota entries failed to earn starting berths for Phoenix.

If Earnhardt Jr. is going to win a race this year to keep his six season winning streak alive, he’s got one more race to do so. At Phoenix, Earnhardt lost control and hit the wall hard… but hey, at least he wrecked before the engine blew up!

Tony Stewart might have had a car strong enough to make a run on Johnson, but his efforts were hampered by uncharacteristically sloppy work on pit road by his team.

The “Seven Come Fore Eleven” Award for Fine Fortune

Kyle Busch had a career weekend with wins in Friday’s truck race and Saturday’s Busch Series event coupled with a top-10 finish on Sunday.

Despite the bumping match with Gordon that could have put them both into the wall, Harvick came away with a sixth-place finish at Phoenix.

Considering how hard he hit that wall, Earnhardt Jr. was lucky to walk away frustrated but on is own two feet.

Worth Noting

  • The win was Johnson’s fourth in a row and his 10th of the season. (Prior to this season, the most events Johnson had won in a year was eight in 2004.) Johnson and Gordon have combined to win the last six Cup races on the circuit.
  • Greg Biffle (second) had his best finish since his alleged and irregular victory at Kansas. Harvick (sixth) also scored best finish since Kansas.
  • Kenseth (third) enjoyed his fourth straight top-five finish.
  • Stewart (fourth) had his best finish since Loudon at the beginning of the Chase.
  • Ryan Newman (fifth) has top-five finishes in three of the last four races.
  • Kyle Busch (eighth) has top-10 finishes in four of the last five races.
  • Jeff Burton (ninth) has three consecutive top-10 finishes for the first time since Bristol, Martinsville and Texas early this spring.
  • Gordon (seventh) has now tied the modern era (post ’72) record for top-10 finishes in a season with 29.
  • Earnhardt Jr. (43rd) finished dead last for the first time since Pocono last July. This was his ninth DNF of the season; for comparison’s sake, he has just seven top-five finishes in 2007.
  • The top-10 finishers drove seven Chevys, two Fords and a Dodge. Brian Vickers in 21st was the top-finishing Toyota pilot. The top-five drivers in the points all wheel Chevys, too.
  • Juan Pablo Montoya in 17th enjoyed the best finish earned by a rookie.

What’s the Points?

Johnson continues to lead the points, and needs only finish 18th next week to clinch the title. Gordon remains second, and is the only driver with a mathematical chance to catch Johnson. Clint Bowyer remains third but is mathematically eliminated; Kyle Busch remains fourth, but is 147 points behind Bowyer.

Kenseth had the best day in the points, moving up four spots to sixth. Edwards had the worst points day, falling four spots to ninth.

Stewart moved up a spot to fifth in the standings. Kurt Busch fell a spot to 10th.

Harvick took over seventh in the points from Burton.

Hamlin displaced Truex to take over the bottom spot in the Chase, buoying Truex up to 11th.

Newman took over the “Best of the Rest” spot (13th) from Earnhardt Jr., who falls a spot to 14th. Junior trails Newman by 58 points heading into Homestead.

Biffle’s second-place finish moves him to 15th place in the standings while Casey Mears drops to 16th.

Kahne fell two spots to 19th, allowing Jamie McMurray (17th) and Bobby Labonte (18th) each to move up a spot.

Overall Rating (On a scale of one to six beer cans with one being a stinker and a six-pack an instant classic): We’ll give this one two cans of flat generic stuff that leaves a bad taste in your mouth.

Next Up: The great lumbering ungainly beast that is this year’s Cup tour staggers into Homestead listing badly to port, spewing smoke, and dented beyond recognition of its once former glory. While Homestead still isn’t one of the greatest tracks on the circuit, it wins Most Improved honors after the latest recreation with variable banking and it might provide for a nice sendoff for a badly wounded sport. One way or another, after next week it’s over. And the huddled masses let out a jubilant “Hosanna!”

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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