Race Weekend Central

Matt McLaughlin’s Thinkin’ Out Loud: 2009 World 600 at Charlotte

The Key Moment: David Reutimann stayed out when a caution flew for rain. The precipitation never stopped and Reutimann reigned at Charlotte.

In a Nutshell: After 24 hours plus at Charlotte, Mother Nature turned a stock car race into a high-dollar game of musical chairs.

Dramatic Moment: Waiting to see if the weather would relent enough to allow even 10 more laps of racing which would have dramatically altered the results of the race.

See also
David Reutimann Wins Rain-Shortened 2009 Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte

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

To quote Ben Blake, formerly of SpeedTV.com, the only thing worse than rain at a racetrack is rain at a racetrack with lights. I’m getting older, Blake. Now I understand.

Folks are going to debate whether NASCAR called the race too quickly, after too long a delay or about the right time. I was looking at the radar and I think they should have pulled the plug at least an hour earlier.

Does the World 600 have to continue with its 600-mile length? Does spring have to follow winter? Does Harley Davidson really need to continue making V-twin motorcycles? Is beer best served cold? Is there still a place left for the Ford Mustang in the auto industry? Do bears bear, do bees be? Should teenage boys continue falling in love with teenage girls come springtime and occasionally make horses’ asses of themselves trying to court their desired?

There are some questions so stupefyingly stupid that they need to be answered not only with a “Yes” but with a “HELL YEAH!” Oh, but every other race on the schedule ought to be reduced to two-thirds its current length starting next week. And we need to get rid of the Car of Tomorrow and revamp the current points system real soon. Sorry, there’s nothing I feel strongly about this week, so I’ll just bang out a column about the changing color of Jeff Gordon’s hair, OK? It’s all an attempt to prove my perspicacious-ness about the sport.

There’s been some discussion as to whether NASCAR ought to start using side-by side-restarts (wherein the second-place driver starts either inside or outside the leader at that leader’s discretion while lap-down cars restart at the tail end of the lead-lap cars). This procedure was used in the Winston (sue me) last week with some degree of success. Yes, I agree with those who believe that will make for more exciting racing. Lately, the race leader tends to bog down restarts so that the second-place driver is left battling lap-down cars while that leader drives off into the sunset.

Some question whether the proposed rule would keep a driver in a fast car from making up a lap he lost due to a flat tire or a botched pit stop. (And we haven’t seen many of them lately, have we?) Well, given the free-pass rule there’d be good racing at the back of the pack while that driver tried to become the first driver a lap down… but that racing would take place without interfering with the lead pack. Better racing at both the front and back of the pack? Sign me up, Chumpie.

By all accounts, there’s going to be a crucial meeting this week at NASCAR’s research and development facility. NASCAR has all but ordered the sport’s leading proponents, team owners, drivers, and crew chiefs to assemble to discuss how to salvage what’s left of the sport by improving the racing.

I’ve got my own usually subtle solution to NASCAR’s dilemma, though my invite must have gotten lost in the mail. It’s simple: Blow this whole mother up, cancel the rest of the season and start over in 2010 with cars that are, in fact, “stock cars” racing on tracks that are real racetracks, not coliseums. And give Brian France a Rubik’s cube that’s the same color on all six sides to play with so he’s befuddled and distracted while the whole lifesaving process goes forward.

As far as improving TV coverage, I’d think a great place to start would be introducing the same “Side by Side” racing coverage IndyCar fans got to enjoy on Sunday. With Side by Side coverage, fans get to keep an eye on what’s going on out on the track even during commercial breaks. Commercials are a necessary evil, but auto racing is unique in that it doesn’t have any planned timeouts or breaks during an event. Allowing Side by Side coverage would help fans keep up with the rhythms and trends of the race while keeping their eyes glued to the screen during commercials rather than heading to the kitchen or the bathroom.

It’s sad that this weekend’s 50th anniversary celebration of the World 600 had to be marred by bickering between Bruton Smith and Humpy Wheeler, the two chief architects of the Charlotte track’s success. For fans like me, it’s like watching the fallout of an acrimonious divorce of two friends. For those of us concerned with the future of the sport, it was a lot more reassuring back when the mercurial Smith and the polished Wheeler worked side by side to reign in the worst excesses of the Brian France Regime. Together we conquer… apart we fail.

I’ll give the ever colorful Mr. Smith this much, though. When most have given up the fight and decided that this whole Car of Sorrow concept is a done deal, he’s still fighting the good fight. But it’s time for Smith and Wheeler to bury the hatchet. C’mon guys, can’t we all just get along?

Likewise, this whole Jeremy Mayfield scandal just isn’t going to go away anytime soon, as much as a growing number of fans wish it would. We’ve got an independent driver fighting to salvage his career and investment butting heads with NASCAR officials who have botched the fallout from Mayfield’s suspension so badly, the Little Rascals would be rolling in the aisle laughing at their ineptitude.

See also
Did You Notice? NASCAR's Drug Mistake? (Not Mayfield's), Keselowski Should Be Cup's Top Rookie and Johnson Plays Dead

Now it turns out the practitioner, Dr. Black, who is administering NASCAR’s drug testing might have ulterior motives. In Tennessee legislation, it has been proposed that any recipient of government assistance, be it welfare, unemployment, etc., would be subject to random drug testing. Black’s wife, a state senator, is a leading proponent of the law, and Black’s firm stands to benefit financially from it.

Well, what better way to show his firm’s competence while bidding on the drug-testing contract than to show off Mayfield’s scalp as a trophy, the first well-known NASCAR driver to be suspended for drug use in the sport’s top series? Fans, please keep your hands inside the car because this is going to be a dark ride.

On a lighter note, I can’t help but be encouraged that Mayfield’s lawyer has suddenly relegated me to second place amongst the competition for a really bad haircut on an aging hippie. In fact, this whole mess features more bad haircuts than a Foghat reunion tour. Meanwhile, France might have once again stumbled in his comments, saying that interested parties could ask him for a list of the substances banned under the new drug test program. Well Mr. France, please email me a copy via Frontstretch. After all, unlike the folks that work for NASCAR, I like to know what I’m talking about before speaking.

The NAACP would like to see NASCAR help ban use of the Confederate flag at racetracks. I, in turn, would like to see the NAACP help ban the use of violent, sexist and obscene lyrics in rap music blaring from the radios of cars beside me at traffic lights because I find them offensive.

But when it comes right down to it, I guess I’m going to have to roll up my windows, turn on the AC and tune out those drivers blaring their preferred sort of music because that’s a right afforded to them under freedom of expression; and as much as I don’t like it, I am not the final arbiter of taste. Too many good men and women have sacrificed their lives to defend our freedom of expression.

Here’s something I hadn’t realized. Because of environmental concerns, the massive amount of balloons that are released prior to the Indy 500 are now made of Latex, meaning they are biodegradable. OK, I’m sorry, but if your environmental extremism has become so hysterical you don’t dig the balloon release at Indy, you need to go the whole way and head off to the Arctic to nurse ailing polar bear cubs with a steak tied around your neck. I’ll drive you to the airport in my ’76 455 Trans Am and give you the catalytic converter I removed from the car as a keepsake.

Judging by the fans still waiting in the stands, soaked to the skin, as Chris Myers made the official announcement Sunday night’s race was postponed until Monday it would seem NASCAR told the networks about the postponement before they let the fans know. What’s wrong with that picture?

Maybe GoDaddy.com ought to go for an arranged marriage between Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Danica Patrick. They could raise a brood of well-compensated and popular kids who don’t win much of anything.

Two Pro Motor employees, Dennis Borem and Darrell Hoffman, won this week’s Engine Builder challenge, assembling an engine from a bare block and getting it to run in a mind-numbing 19 minutes and 27 seconds. I’m not quite that quick. Let’s see; a beer and a smoke before starting, five minutes; trying to remember where I left the piston rings, five minutes; calling JEGS to reorder the piston rings I lost, two minutes; another beer and smoke cussing my stupidity, five minutes; waiting for the Big Brown truck to arrive with the rings, two days; a trip to Sears to replace my missing 7/16th combo wrench, 45 minutes….

Was anyone else ready to scream listening to Darrell Waltrip’s cheerleading for his brother and his team during the final rain delay?

Do you think Helio Castroneves is going to mail the IRS a check return receipt requested on Monday once he cashes in that big check for winning Indy?

They have to do something to fill the airtime during rain delays, but the look on Chris Myers face as he confronted a table full of racecar parts was priceless. Myers looked like one of those apes staring at the obelisk at the start of 2001: A Space Odyssey. He even seemed clueless as to what a roll of duct tape might be.

The Hindenburg Award for Foul Fortune

In both of this weekend’s races, Kyle Busch had the dominant car, but bad weather ended his chances of claiming the pot metal.

Kevin Harvick’s race had barely begun when he got together with Sam Hornish Jr. Shortly thereafter, Harvick blew a tire and contact with the wall tore up the right side of the No. 29 car.

Kasey Kahne seems to have things figured out at Charlotte in May. He had a competitive car and was going for a third 600 victory in four years before the rain hit. Apparently, Kahne has everything figured out at Charlotte in May other than the weather. Poor pit strategy dropped him to eighth at the finish.

See also
The Yellow Stripe: This Bud's Not for Kasey - After Killer Start, the Only Way for Kahne to Go is Up

Earnhardt Jr.’s car was so bad that apparently the driver and the team just threw in the towel. If changes aren’t made to the No. 88 team after this week’s debacle, Rick Hendrick’s sanity must be called into serious question.

Kurt Busch had another top-10 finish going at Charlotte before lug nuts left on his Dodge dropped him to the rear of the field shortly before the final bout of rain.

Mark Martin was running solidly in the top five until a loose tire got away from his crew during a pit stop. He wound up 17th.

It was another rough weekend for Richard Childress Racing, with none of their four cars finishing inside the top 20. The way things are going for RCR, Childress might have to turn to Teresa Earnhardt for advice… and that’s a scary thought.

The “Seven Come Fore Eleven” Award for Fine Fortune

Reutimann had a win fall into his lap, but an old truism applies to this finish as well. To be the beneficiary of good luck, you have to put yourself in a position to have one handed to you.

Robby Gordon is fighting to stay in the Top 35 in owner points so he’s got a gimme into the field each week. A third-place finish is going to give that effort a major boost.

The way his season is going, I’d suppose that Carl Edwards will take a top-five finish any way he can get one.

Bill Elliott and the Wood Brothers have been struggling as of late despite their glory days in the past. Watching Elliott make his 800th career start and come away from Charlotte with a 15th-place finish was gratifying for the old-school fan.

Worth Noting

  • Reutimann becomes the eighth different Cup driver to win a points-paying Cup event in 12 races this season.
  • The top-10 finishers at Charlotte drove five Toyotas, two Fords, two Chevys and a lone Dodge. Happy Memorial Day. As it stands written in the Book of Bruce, “My Daddy come home to the Ohio Works, when he came home from World War II, now the yards just scrap and rubble, it seems Toyota did what Hitler couldn’t do.”
  • Ryan Newman (second) posted his best finish during his tenure with Stewart-Haas Racing, as well as his fourth straight top five.
  • Robby Gordon (third) managed his first top-five finish since Watkins Glen in 2007. Cue up the Boston because, “It’s been such a long time.”
  • Edwards (fourth) had just his second top-five finish of 2009 fall into his lap.
  • Brian Vickers‘s fifth-place finish matched his best Cup result of 2009. Vickers also finished fifth at Atlanta, Charlotte’s sister track.
  • Kahne (seventh) drove to his first top-10 result since Bristol.
  • Joey Logano finished ninth for the third time in the last four points-paying Cup events. He was the top-finishing rookie of the race.
  • Matt Kenseth finished 10th for the second race in a row.
  • Bobby Labonte’s 12th-place finish was his best since Vegas.

What’s the Points?

Gordon maintains the points lead and is now 44 ahead of Tony Stewart, who remains second in the standings. Kurt Busch, Jimmie Johnson and Denny Hamlin remain third, fourth, and fifth in the points respectively.

Kyle Busch and Newman each moved up a spot and find themselves sixth and seventh in the standings. Jeff Burton fell two spots to eighth, while Kenseth displaced teammate Greg Biffle to take over ninth spot.

Edwards edged out Mark Martin to take over 11th in the standings, with a difference of three points between them. Meanwhile, his win moves Reutimann up two spots to 13th in the standings, six points out of the top 12.

Further back, Earnhardt Jr. now finds himself 19th, a full 197 points outside the top 12. Put out the fire and call in the dogs, boys. This one is over.

Overall Rating (On a scale of one to six beer cans, with one being a stinker and a six-pack an instant classic): Talk about a bad case of Competition Interruptus? We’ll give this one two cups of rainwater.

Next Up: It’s off to Dover for a battle with the Monster Mile on Sunday afternoon. Hmmmm. Stock car racing held on a Sunday afternoon? It’s a radical concept, but it just might catch on. And for fans as sick of Digger and DW as I am, praise be to God, the Dover race will be the swan song for NASCAR on FOX this season.

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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