Race Weekend Central

Matt McLaughlin’s Thinkin’ Out Loud: 2008 World 600 Race Recap

The Key Moment: Tony Stewart cut down a tire with three laps to go, allowing Kasey Kahne to streak by him for the win.

In a Nutshell: It might sound like damning it with faint praise, but the World 600 was nowhere near as awful as last week’s All-Star Race hinted it might be.

Dramatic Moment: Stewart looked to be cruising to the checkers when he began slowing dramatically, handing the race to Kahne.

With the new car making passing so difficult, every restart caused an all-out land rush for positions in the first five laps after the green.

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

Does anyone else think that with this new car, the World 600 ought to be run as two full, points-paying 300-mile events?

NASCAR keeps saying they’re going to crack down on the driver in the lead if he brake checks the field coming to a green flag, but they continue to swallow their whistle even when a driver does exactly that – like Stewart did Sunday.

What’s it going to take for stock car racing fans to be able to enjoy the same side-by-side coverage during commercial breaks open-wheel racing fans get?

Is there anything more frightening than watching a tire/wheel combination separate from a racecar and head into an area populated with fans? Once again, we dodged a bullet Sunday night.

Is anyone else hearing increased rumors Sprint would like to bail on NASCAR?

Farewell and thanks to Humpy Wheeler, the sport’s leading prophet and visionary, not only an extraordinary businessman but an extraordinary gentleman as well. Wheeler’s decision to leave came about awfully quickly, and there’s rumors of some sort of discord between Wheeler and his former boss, Bruton Smith. But I doubt that discord tells the whole story. Wheeler has always been blessed with a clear vision of where our sport is heading. It may just be the prophet sees what’s coming down the road and doesn’t want to ride along for the downhill slide.

Speaking of Smith, ol’ Bruton raised some eyebrows this week with the purchase of the Kentucky Speedway. Before the ink was even dry on the contract, Smith told those on hand he planned to hold a Cup race there – potentially as soon as 2009. Not so fast, NASCAR officials responded, claiming no such race is in the cards. But what Bruton Smith wants, Bruton Smith typically gets.

Smith is also allegedly interested in purchasing two of the last three independent racetracks to hold Cup races – Pocono and Dover – and is said to still be interested in opening a track in the New York City area. Hmm… seems to me with all the racetracks this guy owns, he could conduct his own stock car racing series very easily and not have to go to NASCAR and the France family looking for race dates.

I’ll say this for Danica Patrick: She sure does know how to throw a major-league hissy fit. Nobody is even suggesting that Tony Kanaan might switch to stock cars, but this Memorial Day weekend he gets the nod for showing class in the face of overwhelming disappointment.

Team owners and drivers have pleaded with NASCAR officials for some changes to the new car to make them handle better and improve the quality of racing. But NASCAR officials have refused to budge, stating the car “is what it is,” and it’s up to those teams to find a way to make them handle better – there weren’t going to be any rules changes.

So, some teams found that messing with the rear wheel alignment made their cars faster and handle better, even if they did look a bit odd dog-trotting down the straights. So, what do NASCAR officials do? They go ahead and change the rules, like they said they wouldn’t, to limit the off-kilter rear alignment. You know, maybe a new stock car racing series isn’t such a bad idea after all.

See also
Bowles-Eye View: Bad Luck Bug Still Keeping Tony Stewart From Closing the Deal

Stewart was forced to get rid of his pet monkey recently, as the animal was growing more aggressive (like owner, like pet, I guess). Hey, who knew primates made poor pets? But now, can we say Stewart finally has the monkey off his back?

Some people ask me why I keep commentating on this sport when it so clearly annoys me sometimes. My landlord and buddy showed up Sunday at the wheel of a Grumman Kurbside step van he won on eBay this weekend. Johnny, you are now officially insane (and need to get that roach coach out of my yard). Being a race fan keeps me out of trouble.

The Hindenburg Award dor Foul Fortune

Dale Earnhardt Jr. led 76 laps and was leading the race when an apparent cut tire put him hard into the wall.

Jimmie Johnson led the race with less than 100 miles to go, but lost an engine in dramatic fashion while running second.

Brian Vickers clearly had one of the fastest cars in the first half of the race, but a broken wheel on lap 185 put him hard into the wall. David Gilliland was unable to avoid the loose wheel and wrecked as well.

Carl Edwards ran out of gas on the final lap and had to coast to a frustrating ninth-place finish.

Kurt Busch led laps early in the race, but saw his chances at a win evaporate when he and the wall had a close encounter of the wrong kind.

The “Seven Come Fore Eleven” Award for Fine Fortune

With a win in the All-Star Race and the World 600, it was a pretty good week for Kahne.

Kyle Busch had electrical problems and made an unscheduled pit stop mistakenly thinking he had a flat tire – but still managed to pull off a third-place finish. Apparently, Busch also had to dodge several beverage cans thrown at his car; even if you loathe the guy, that crap has got to stop.

When Earnhardt Jr. slapped the wall, it looked like his night was over – but fuel strategy in the final segment allowed him to escape Charlotte with a top-five finish.

Jeff Gordon’s car looked like a garbage scow once again, struggling to stay on the lead lap for much of the event – but he left Charlotte with the fourth-place check in his pocket.

Worth Noting

  • The top 10 drivers piloted two Dodges, two Toyotas, three Chevys and three Fords.
  • Sam Hornish Jr. in 13th was the best finishing ROTY candidate.
  • Kahne’s win was also his first top-five finish in a points race this year. The victory was his first since Charlotte in the fall of 2006.
  • Greg Biffle’s second-place finish was his best result of 2008.
  • Kyle Busch (third) has compiled top-three finishes in the last four races.
  • Gordon (fourth) enjoyed his third consecutive top-10 finish.
  • Earnhardt Jr. (fifth) managed his ninth top-10 finish in this season’s 12 Cup points races.
  • Jeff Burton hasn’t finished outside the top 12 since Daytona.
  • Elliott Sadler (eighth) scored his first top-10 finish since the Daytona 500. And as Johnny Mathis might say, that’s a long, long time.
  • David Reutimann’s 10th-place finish was his best of the season, and just the third top-10 finish any member of Michael Waltrip Racing has managed in the team’s history. Pathetic, isn’t it?
  • Bobby Labonte’s 11th-place finish matches his best of the season. Labonte also finished 11th in this year’s Daytona 500.
  • Hornish’s 13th-place finish was his best in 14 career Cup car starts.
  • Kevin Harvick has scored just one top-10 finish in the last seven Cup points races.
  • Johnson failed to finish a race for the first time since last year’s Brickyard 400.

What’s the Points?

Kyle Busch maintains his points lead, and is now 94 ahead of Burton, who remains second in the standings. Actually, the top five hold serve with Earnhardt, Denny Hamlin and Clint Bowyer maintaining their positions.

Johnson’s blown engine cost him big time in the points standings; he fell three spots to ninth. Behind him, David Ragan fell out of the top 12, dropping a spot to 13th behind Kahne.

Harvick advanced two spots to seventh in the standings, while Edwards moved up a spot to sixth. Matt Kenseth moved up four spots to 16th.

Kyle Busch is now at least a full race worth of points ahead of everyone from fourth-place Hamlin on back. If the new points system costs Busch a title, it might just be NASCAR’s last chance to get the fans to Embrace the Chase.

Michael Waltrip really needs to step things up at Dover next week. The No. 55 team only has a three-point advantage over the No. 77 outfit clinging to 35th place, which guarantees teams automatic entry into each race.

Overall Rating (On a scale of one to six beer cans, with one being a stinker and a six-pack an instant classic): Frankly, I thought this was going to be an incredibly putrid race, but it was only a minorly putrid race. A lot happened over the final 10 laps, so I’ll give it four cans of icy cold Colorado Kool-Aid for exceeding expectations.

Next Up: The series heads north for a race at Dover next Sunday afternoon. Racing on Sunday afternoon! What will they think of next? Maybe Harley Davidson will develop a motorcycle with a V-twin engine?

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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