Race Weekend Central

Matt McLaughlin’s Thinkin’ Out Loud: 2009 Texas Spring Race Recap

The Key Moment: Jeff Gordon emerged from the final round of pit stops with the lead as Carl Edwards‘s No. 99 team fumbled the ball badly, dropping their boy to 11th.

In a Nutshell: Gordon won for the first time in 47 races. You knew it was coming eventually – just not at Texas.

Dramatic Moment: Jimmie Johnson did his damnedest to keep Gordon honest in the final 10 laps, but came up short.

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

“Wide Open Spaces” makes for better cowboy songs than races. The gaps between even drivers in the top 10 often seemed eternal at Texas.

Does it seem like the only side-by-side, fender-banging racing we see these days is during commercial breaks? If the racing was half as good during the events themselves as it is in commercials, these drooping ratings would take care of themselves.

All cars and drivers seem to benefit from “clean air” when they’re running in the lead, but does it seem the No. 24 car is in a league all its own in that regard?

I’ve been a race fan for almost all my life and a rabid one at times. This is what I do on Sundays from February to November. But I can’t be the only one lately who watches a beautiful spring afternoon pass by outside my window and thinks that there’s got to be better ways to spend my time.

Does it seem like 2009 is offering up a record number of transmission and clutch failures? Maybe some of these guys need to start running C6s.

Matt Kenseth seems to be like that little girl with a curl in the nursery rhyme. When he’s good, he’s very, very good; but when he’s bad, he’s awful.

Maybe they need to put a cold bottle of beer at the end of Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s pit-road pole. There’s one thing the guy isn’t going to miss.

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Holding a Pretty Wheel: For Dale Earnhardt Jr., Does Fun Trump Having It All?

A record number of lead changes? And a record lack of cautions. Do the math. Green-flag pit sequences shuffle the drivers at the front of the pack as the sequences play out, but it’s not the sort of passes for the lead fans get excited over. (Though to be fair, the increasingly desperate Earnhardt Nation did go nuts when a two-tire stop put the No. 88 car into the lead.)

You know, sometimes these dumb SOBs just seem to be trying to shoot themselves in the foot – no pun intended. One of the coolest trophies in NASCAR racing (way behind the Martinsville grandfather clock, of course) is the Beretta guns the race and pole winners are awarded at Texas. But on a day when a psychotic went on a shooting rampage in Binghamton, N.Y., killing at least 14 innocent souls, do we really need to see David Reutimann grinning like a Jack-o-Lantern as he aims a shotgun into the grandstands?

Hell, I’m a “cold dead hand” gun rights constitutional amendment sort who happens to feel that enforcement of current gun laws is going to solve a whole lot more problems than new ones – but that made even me wince. You never point a weapon, even one you are certain is unloaded, in the direction of an innocent person or persons (even if it only was media members within shotgun range.) Why give the loyal opposition that much more ammo? (Again, no pun intended.) I guess when they outlaw guns for good, outlaws will beat us over the head with grandfather clocks instead.

It is rumored (to the point of fact, I’m certain) that this year’s Cup awards banquet will be moved from New York to Las Vegas. The banquet, which was originally held in Charlotte, moved to New York in 1981 to try to drum up some interest on Wall Street and attention in the mainstream media. Yeah, it’s a long flight to Vegas, but it’s perfect. Vegas is fake, showy, tacky and crude, just like our sport has become. The odds favor the house: yesterday, today and forever. Folks arrive in Vegas hoping to get rich but end up broke just like new team owners in NASCAR – and the house always wins.

Like the founders of the Vegas strip, NASCAR is a mob unto itself, with its unholy alliance between NASCAR and the ISC that tends to rub out those who cross it. (But like the Boss used to sing, Baby, everything dies, that’s a fact, but maybe everything that dies, sometimes comes back… I’m still here.)

So what we’re likely to see is a NASCAR banquet long on flashing lights, hype and lies but with all the substance of a South Park Cheezy-Poof. An awards banquet in Vegas is the ultimate kick to the sack to a sport born in the Buckle of the Bible Belt from our friend, Brian France (Vegas does, after all, proudly dub itself “Sin City,” right?). On a brighter note, maybe Penn and Teller can stage a magic act that makes Dear Brian disappear… and not come back.

Expect an announcement this week that Richard Petty Motorsports will try to field a car for this year’s Indy 500 with John Andretti at the wheel. Yeah, with all the stellar success they are enjoying to date this season and all those race wins, a little distraction can’t hurt them any, right? How about running Kyle Petty as Andretti’s teammate at Indy? I hear he’s looking for work.

Stop the presses. Despite long odds, track owner Bruton Smith will be inducted into the Texas Motorsports Speedway Hall of Fame. I’m sure Frances Ferko will be next.

Bruton Smith angrily denied that his chain of Sonic new and used car dealerships was heading into bankruptcy, despite a report in the Charlotte Observer that quoted Smith’s son who runs the company. Mr. Smith says that his dealerships are making lots and lots of money – tons of money, in fact – in a sign that the troubled U.S. economy is turning around. He does admit that last year the company gave away $560 million towards “good will,” however. Good will? Is my check in the mail? I figure as a U.S. citizen, I ought to be worth at least $10 right there – but I’ll settle for a used Challenger RT Hemi, black on black please.

Smith (and I love when he hosts race weekends because he gives me so much to write about) went on to say that NASCAR needs to skew the race purse more towards winning than a consistent finish to spice the racing back up. I agree, but I do so with my usual site-enforced decorum. In comparison, here’s what Mr. Smith had to say about drivers commenting on a good points race. “Well, I had a pretty good day. I finished fourth. That’s pretty good points.’ Well, that’s bullshit. That’s what we don’t need. We’re not in the points racing business.” Editors, break out your black magic markers and “s**t,” please.

Uh-oh. NASCAR is said to be “putting out feelers” to find a replacement title sponsor for Camping World for the Truck Series. Who’d have thunk? In this economy, with all the focus on gas mileage and environmental sensitivity, you’d think selling RVs that cost more than the homes many of us live in would be a license to print money, right?

If Earnhardt Ganassi racing does shut down the No. 8 team after this weekend’s race as rumored, Martin Truex Jr. technically becomes a free agent. His contract and that of Bass Pro Shops with the team stipulates that the organization he drives for will run three fully-funded and sponsored competitive cars. I wonder how Truex would look in orange and white?

Oh, boy! The return of a Digger cartoon and Jeff Hammond dressed up like an extra from Brokeback Mountain! Apparently, director Artie Kempner wants to make sure that fans’ blood pressure remains unhealthily high during the off week ahead. Isn’t it odd that while Kempner was on hiatus, the damn gopher was as well?

Department of Corrections – Fictional Facts. A note to our old friend Larry McReynolds: Earnhardt Jr. did not win his first Nationwide Series race at Texas. He won his first Busch Series victory. Nor did Earnhardt win his first Sprint Cup race at Texas. He won his first Winston Cup race at TMS. Stick to mangling the English language – not the facts.

I guess the editors don’t want me to do any more political editorializing no matter how benign or bipartisan, but I feel sad that three Pittsburgh police officers were killed in the line of duty and all those poor folks lost their lives in Binghamton this week.

The Hindenburg Award for Foul Fortune

Edwards lost if not race wins at least a solid shot at contending for two wins in the pits on Saturday and Sunday.

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The Yellow Stripe: Is Roush Fenway's Slow Start a Case of Short Track-itis... Or a Sign of Something Else?

Reutimann started from the pole and ran up front early, but a miscue in the pits ended any chances of scoring his first win. Note to all crews: When those NASCAR officials in your pits start waving their hands over their heads and getting all bright red in the face, you might want to take a second and see what those fellows’ concerns are.

Kyle Busch got annoyed with Andretti and showed his displeasure by ramming into the side of Andretti’s car. It wasn’t a wise move, as in the end it cut down a rear tire on the No. 18 car and dropped him off the lead lap.

Marcos Ambrose had a solid run going until a terminally expired engine announced by an epic amount of smoke ended his afternoon.

I wouldn’t want to be a member of any of the Roush pit crews this Monday when the owner calls them together for a team meeting. If Charlotte is Johnson’s House, Texas is supposed to be Roush’s tree fort.

Hopefully, the No. 29 team packed Kevin Harvick a nice picnic basket, because his Chevy was clearly out to lunch on Sunday.

It can’t be easy to be Earnhardt Jr., watching another win by one of his teammates while he slunk home 20th. Earnhardt’s cause was greatly hindered by problems in the pits. And who runs that pit crew? Oh, right, we’re supposed to back off that guy. Forget I said anything.

The “Seven Come Fore Eleven” Award for Fine Fortune

Johnson barely avoided Sam Hornish Jr.’s spinning Dodge en route to a second-place finish. And you know there’s a lot of pit crews who’d like to steal that magic wand of Chad Knaus’s that turns a hopelessly slow car early in the race into a contender late out of the No. 48 team’s toolbox.

Kenseth overcame problems in the pits to rally back for a fifth-place finish.

Tony Stewart’s tenure as a driver/owner could hardly be off to a better start in even his wildest fantasies.

Don’t shovel any more dirt into Juan Pablo Montoya’s grave just yet. Recently, there seems to be a pulse within the No. 42 team.

Paul Menard had a solid run in the best ride his father’s millions can afford him on Sunday.

Worth Noting

  • Homestead is now the only track that currently hosts Cup races where Gordon has yet to win an event. Gordon has now scored four consecutive top-five finishes; in those same four weeks, Johnson has managed top-10 results.
  • Greg Biffle’s third-place finish was his best of the season and matches his best result since Kansas last fall.
  • Mark Martin’s sixth-place finish matches his best result of 2009. Martin also finished sixth at Bristol a few weeks back.
  • Montoya’s seventh-place finish was his best of the season and his best Cup finish since Watkins Glen last year.
  • Menard’s 13th-place finish was his best since Talladega last year.
  • Joey Logano’s 30th-place finish was the best by a declared Rookie of the Year candidate. Of course Scott Speed, the only other real dog in the fight, failed to qualify for the race. (Max Papis finished 35th, but is running only a limited schedule of 20 races which makes winning the award virtually impossible).
  • The top-10 finishers at Texas drove six Chevys, three Fords and a Dodge. Reutimann in 11th enjoyed the best finish of any of the Toyota drivers.

What’s the Points?

With everything going on in the world right now, if you’re truly worried about the points at this stage of the season you’re just not paying attention.

Not surprisingly, race winner Gordon remains atop the standings. If he shows up at Phoenix (and my guess is, he will) he’ll still be leading Johnson after the race as Johnson, now second in points, is 162 off the pace.

Within the top 12, Kenseth had the best points day at Texas, rebounding three spots to ninth. Stewart moves up two spots to fifth in the standings, while Clint Bowyer took it in his not inconsiderable chin at Texas, dropping two spots to fourth.

Jeff Burton eased up a spot into the top 12 this week, taking over that coveted 12th-place spot. Montoya finds himself sitting 13th in the standings, just 16 points behind Burton. Behind him sits Harvick, who fell four spots from 10th clear down to 14th.

Biffle had a solid points day at Texas, moving up eight spots to 15th. Martin was another beneficiary of a strong run, as he moved up nine spots to 18th.

On the other hand, Michael Waltrip continues his Three Stooges-like plummet down the points ladder, falling another four spots to 21st. Why, you, I oughta…

Oops. Don’t look now, but “Sliced Bread” Logano finds himself perched precariously in 35th in the standings. I’m sure he’s got talent, but right now watching this kid at the wheel of a Cup car is like watching a man drown. Only Aric Almirola has made all seven races to date this season and is lower in the points than Logano. And Almirola likely won’t be back at Phoenix.

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 three cans of somewhat chilled domestic stuff. Just another McRace at another McTrack a lot longer on hat than cattle.

Next Up: The circuit takes a weekend off as Christians worldwide celebrate their most sacred solemnity, the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, and our elder brothers in faith celebrate their Passover and liberation as a people from slavery in Egypt. Racing, or some tepid facsimile thereof, resumes at Phoenix on April 16. Meanwhile, be sure to pay your taxes… AIG executives are counting on you.

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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