Race Weekend Central

Matt McLaughlin’s Thinkin’ Out Loud: 2008 Kansas Race Recap

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 100 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. In addition to being an actor almost without parallel (Nobody’s Fool’s Sully was my favorite role for the legend), Newman was a noted philanthropist whose Hole in the Wall camps inspired Kyle Petty’s Victory Junction Gang.

In addition, Newman was pretty handy at the wheel of a racecar. At the age of 70, he was one of the team drivers who won a Rolex 24-Hour sports car race. Teams he co-owned with Carl Haas won numerous open-wheel races and championships; and during the Great Schism, Newman was a passionate advocate to see the two open-wheel series in America reunited. I for one am glad he lived long enough to see that happen.

Many people might be surprised to learn that Newman won two Trans Am races at an age when most drivers are left running in the fast lane of a Florida interstate at 45 mph with their left turn signal on heading for the local Olde Country Buffet. More important than anything, he accomplished was the way Newman did things.

His accomplishments in life are too great for me to enumerate here, but whatever he did and however those efforts fared, Newman lived life with grace, humility and good humor, never losing sight of the common man nor the plight of those less fortunate. Good on ya, Paul. Godspeed. My guess is you earned an express ticket to your final reward.

So now it’s down to a three-man race for the title involving Johnson, Edwards and Greg Biffle who finished 1-2-3 on Sunday… right? Not so fast, Cowgirl. Next week, the Cup boys race at Talladega; and at Talladega in the plate era, it doesn’t matter how fast your car is or how well a driver competes.

It all comes down to luck, and if you’re in the wrong place at the right time, a competitive car can be reduced to a smoking pile of junk in the blink of an eye – a car so badly damaged all the King’s horses and all the King’s men can’t piece it back together again. Let’s wait and see who survives Talladega before postulating guesses about this year’s title winner.

Am I the only one who thought the video clearly showed Clint Bowyer was still a half-car length behind Kyle Petty when they took the green flag?

Juan Pablo Montoya won the pole Sunday. Oh, wait a second; no he didn’t. The team was caught with rear shocks whose gas pressure was above the mandated allowed pressure. But after being caught cheating, the No. 42 team was still allowed to compete in the event. That confuses a lot of casual fans and non-fans and I can offer them no credible explanation as to how that works.

My standard reply these days is, “This is NASCAR. It’s not supposed to make sense.” It’s as if a rider were found to be doped before the Tour De France and he was still allowed to compete but was penalized by having to ride with a wicker basket full of kittens strapped to the handlebars.

If things remain as they are on pit road, reporters are going to start demanding combat pay to interview Kyle Busch after a race. Given their recent work on pit road and in the garage area, one has to wonder if Jamie Little or Shannon Spake can see Russia from their houses, too?

Some folks would like to see Kansas get a second date, noting the facility will soon have a Hard Rock Café and a casino on site. Yeah, too bad they didn’t invest that same money into fixing the track. Those who want to see a second date at Kansas remind me of the sort who would go to the dentist and ask to have root canal done on a healthy tooth without anesthesia. Sunday’s race was good; but it was the exception, not the rule.

Busch says, despite his statements to the contrary, he hasn’t given up on winning this year’s title. In other news, Dale Earnhardt Jr. says he hasn’t given up on Tony Eury Jr., Jeff Gordon says he hasn’t given up on Steve Letarte. NASCAR says they haven’t given up on the Car of Sorrow and everything is going to be just fine. I’m reminded of the tagline from that Pepsi Super Bowl commercial that has recently come out of hibernation: “WAKE UP, PEOPLE!”

See also
Happy Hour: From 207 Points Up to 74 Points Down; What's Wrong With NASCAR's Picture?

Three previous Cup champions – Gordon, Tony Stewart and Matt Kenseth – remain mathematically alive in the Chase, yet still haven’t won a Cup race this season. Go figure. Kevin Harvick is also in the Chase but hasn’t won a race yet, either. If NASCAR ran the NFL, the Detroit Lions might be in this year’s Super Bowl at this rate…

Does anyone else think it’s time for Michael Waltrip to swallow his pride, hang up his helmet and put AJ Allmendinger in the No. 55 car for next season to contribute to the longterm health of his team?

I’m reluctant to dabble into politics even as this great nation reaches a crossroads where nobody seems to know which way to turn. But I am, after all, a car guy. As such, I find it somewhat amusing that one pair of candidates for the presidency want to be known as the “Mavericks.”

As a car guy, the term “Maverick” still first and foremost denotes Ford’s misshapen, mutant and unsuccessful attempt at an economy car, one of Dearborn’s greatest disasters. Yeah, I once owned a primer gray Maverick with a worked 351 and 4.10 gears that was pretty successful on Front Street, but then, I once owned a Pinto Cruising Wagon too. I wouldn’t have wanted to try to pass a drug test in that era, either.

Yesterday, Philadelphia area stick and ball sports fans celebrated the Phillies clinching the National League East title. (Phat lot of good that will do them. The Phils winning the World Series? Waltrip will be an eight-time Cup champion first.) But Sunday, Philly area race fans got the latest slap to the face from WPVI, our ABC affiliate. In place of the pre-race show, fans got live coverage of the Puerto Rican Day parade instead.

Yeah, yeah I get it. Cultural diversity, sensitivity and pride. Well, as a proud Irish descendant, I wouldn’t expect my local channel to pre-empt coverage of an NHL playoff game to show the Saint Patty’s Day parade live featuring adorable little Irish middle school girls dancing jigs in short green dresses. Once the market leader, WPVI seems to have lost touch with their viewers since hiring the Anti-Christ to be their head weather bunny. Please join our organization, ABC (Anybody But Cecily) and take up our battle cry: “She’s a witch… burn her!”

The Hindenburg Award for Foul Fortune

Busch suffered through his third straight mechanical issue and lousy finish, and fans endured Busch’s boorish post-race interview as a result. Maybe there’s something to this “leaving the track without comment” routine after all.

Stewart’s high speed lawn-mowing in the infield ended his chances at a good finish.

As a result of a terrible three-week stretch, Joe Gibbs’s three championship-contending teams now find themselves in the basement of the Chase – 10th, 11th and 12th.

Joey Logano might be the next big thing, but a 39th-place finish isn’t going to have him inducted into any Halls of Fame anytime soon.

Earnhardt Jr. started the event quick, but faded later in the race. Haven’t I seen this Looney Tune before?

Martin Truex Jr. ran in the top 10 for much of the race, but ended up the only driver who managed not to finish (43rd) after he tore the shifter out of his car. In retrospect, DEI’s decision to run shifters built by Playskool rather than Hurst to save money might have been an error.

The “Seven Come Fore Eleven” Award for Fine Fortune

While Johnson might not have had the fastest car, he clearly had the fastest pit crew. Edwards would pass Johnson out on the track, but Johnson’s team consistently returned him to the lead on restarts.

Edwards‘s trip up into the wall on the final lap could have dropped him to the last car finishing on the lead lap, but he held onto second place. The fact he survived two pit-road collisions to emerge at the front late is amazing enough.

The way most of his season went, the fact Biffle is disappointed with a third-place finish says something.

By his own admission, Gordon was sicker than he’s ever been climbing into a racecar at the start of Sunday’s race. But he not only completed the event but finished fourth, which had to go a long way towards making him feel better.

If Allmendinger is auditioning for a ride next season, a solid top-10 finish in what might be his final ride in the No. 84 looks good on his resume. After all, in a field of thoroughbreds Allmendinger was astride a lame mule.

See also
Side by Side: Did AJ Allmendinger Get the Shaft at Red Bull?

Kenseth went spinning off the bumper of the No. 5 car and almost lost a lap – but he rallied back to a fifth-place finish.

It just didn’t look like it was meant to be a good race for Jeff Burton Sunday. The tach in the No. 31 car failed prior to the race, and after repairs were made, Burton had to start shotgun on the field; yet, he somehow still managed to post a top-10 finish.

Worth Noting

  • The top-10 finishers at Kansas competed in four Chevys, four Fords, one Dodge and a Toyota.
  • Patrick Carpentier in 29th enjoyed the best finish by a member of this year’s sorry-ass Rookie of the Year contenders.
  • Johnson scored his 38th career Cup win in 248 starts. Do the math. That means Johnson has won once for about every 6.5 races he’s started. Johnson has won three of the last five Cup races and finished second in another.
  • Edwards (second) has top-10 finishes in nine of the last 10 races. He’s won three of those 10 events.
  • Biffle (third) has finished within the top three in four of the last five Cup races.
  • Gordon (fourth) scored his first top-five finish since Bristol in August. Maybe they ought to give him flu shots prior to qualifying on Fridays. Not the sort of flu shots that prevent a patient from getting the flu… the kind that cause it.
  • Kenseth (fifth) has posted back-to-back top-five finishes for the first time this season.
  • Harvick (sixth) has now managed nine straight top-10 Cup finishes.
  • Harvick’s teammate, Burton (seventh) has strung together four straight top 10s.
  • David Ragan (eighth) managed his first top-10 since Bristol in a Cup car.
  • Allmendinger’s ninth-place run eclipsed his previous best career Cup finish, a 10th at this year’s Brickyard 400.
  • Elliott Sadler (10th) managed his first top-10 finish since Michigan in August. He hadn’t managed to finish better than 24th in the five races since.
  • Bowyer has finished 12th in three of the last four races.
  • Give a shout-out to Bill Elliott’s 25th-place finish, the third best by any Wood Brothers entry this season (Elliott posted a 20th-place finish at Pocono this summer while Marcos Ambrose posted a third at Watkins Glen). Elliott managed a credible seventh-place starting spot on Friday, and might have finished even better were it not for a pit-road speeding penalty during the race.
  • And while we’re at it, let’s not forget Morgan Shepherd’s unheralded 24th-place finish in the Racing With Jesus Dodge in Saturday’s Nationwide race. Shepherd went to high school with Moses and his team has less funding than most little league ball teams, yet he finished ahead of such noteworthys as Busch, Mark Martin and Kenny Wallace.

What’s the Points?

Johnson wrested the points lead from Edwards, who now trails JJ by 10 points. Biffle remains third in the standings, 30 out of the lead. Burton and Harvick remain fourth and fifth but now trail Johnson by 121 and 136 points, respectively.

An ailing Gordon moved up two spots to sixth in the standings. All drivers behind Gordon are now at least a full race worth of points out of the lead.

Stewart took the biggest hit in the standings, dropping four positions to 11th – and falling a seemingly insurmountable 255 points behind. Bowyer fell a spot to seventh in the standings as well.

Three drivers were able to move up a spot in the standings this week. Earnhardt now finds himself eighth, Kenseth ninth and Denny Hamlin 10th.

Out of view and outside the Chase, Ragan claimed the 13th position in the points from Kasey Kahne, who now trails Ragan by seven points. Ryan Newman is in 15th but lags 215 points behind Kahne. This is the fellow that won the Daytona 500 this year, right?

Now, the professed reasoning for the Chase was that it ensured that eight and nine drivers would be competing for the title, right? Under the old points system it was only two or three drivers who’d be in contention when it came down to the money races. Gee, after three races it sure does appear we’re down to a three man title competition even with the special change – but like I’ve said, I’ll reserve judgment until the smoke clears after Talladega next week.

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 four and a half cans of well iced domestic stuff. Like most Cup races this year, it dragged in the middle sections but the closing laps were worth the price of admission.

Next Up: It’s off to Talladega for the latest edition of the “temporary” restrictor-plate madness which will doubtless leave a smoking pig pile of wrecked cars and appeal to the Least Common Denominator types – while leaving real race fans cold and sick to the stomach. I’ve said it before, but I’ll repeat myself here: having a plate race in the Chase is like scheduling a bar fight as part of the NHL playoffs.

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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