Race Weekend Central

Matt McLaughlin’s Thinkin’ Out Loud: 2009 Kansas Race Recap

The Key Moment: Tony Stewart and his team elected to change two tires on the final stop to take the lead. Stewart held off a determined late-race challenge from Jeff Gordon to score the win at Kansas.

In a Nutshell: Another McRace on another McTrack. The status quo is Toto-ally unacceptable unless you have the brains of a scarecrow.

Dramatic Moment: Early in the final run, Gordon was closing quickly on Stewart’s red Chevy.

Jimmie Johnson and Greg Biffle staged a prolonged side-by-side battle for the lead during the middle stages of the race.

There was some decent racing towards the back of the top 10.

Undramatic Moment: The whole rest of the race.

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

As good as Biffle’s car was on just two fresh tires, why did his team elect to go with four new tires late? For that matter, as good as Johnson’s car was on four fresh tires, why did Chad Knaus elect to change only two tires on the No. 48 team’s final pit stop?

If Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s stricken Chevy had in fact dropped fluid on the track to bring out the final caution, there sure didn’t seem to be a whole lot of effort to clean it up once the yellow flew. Maybe NASCAR just didn’t want another fuel-mileage snoozer finish?

There’s a lot not to like about Stewart, but you have to admire a guy who gets out of a winning Cup car and is more excited that he has a chance to run a dirt late model later that evening than at winning the big race.

For all the criticisms of ESPN/ABC’s NASCAR coverage (and a lot of it is valid) has anyone else noticed that they’re now featuring long segments of coverage without commercial interruption late in the race? The network is also doing a lot better job focusing on where the on-track action is rather than focusing the lead hypnotically on the leaders as they run several seconds apart.

I’ve been told more than once that I’m a simpleton. But I don’t get the uproar over the Nos. 48 and 5 teams being warned that their cars were “nearly” outside the limits of being legal after Dover. There are rules that dictate what’s legal and what’s not. It’s the crew chief and the team’s job, nay their obligation to push that envelope to its ripping point – without actually crossing the line – in the search for speed. “Nearly legal” is like “almost pregnant.” Either you is or you ain’t.

Gee, the most successful team on the circuit is bringing cars to the track that push the limits of the rules. Color me surprised. Somewhere, Junior Johnson is browning his overalls laughing.

Leading analysts predict Ford will sell more cars than GM by 2012. You have to wonder if Ford might win another Cup race before then. So much for “Win on Sunday, Sell on Monday.”

Ripped from the headlines: Fans can be a part of a Foreigner video at Fontana next weekend! Sure, one final act of rebellion before you get a haircut, stop dressing stupid and apply for Social Security! Hey, you know if it’s on Rhino Records, it’s going to be a class act.

It’s a pet peeve of mine I’ve mentioned before. The only racers who are really fast on “two tires” are on motorcycles. Biffle was not fast on “two tires.” I counted them. The No. 16 car had four tires, two of them fresher than the other two.

So is AFLAC paying the bills for Carl Edwards as his broken foot heals? I’m thinking a lot of repetitive ad-weary fans would love to see AFLAC serve Edwards up a heaping plate of Duck McNuggets.

Just when the whole George Gillett/RPM/Yates story seemed it couldn’t get any more bizarre, this week the possibility of an investment by a member of the Saudi royal family emerged. Remember the adage from creative writing classes in high school? Four things sell a story: religion, royalty, sex and mystery. “Oh, my God, I’m pregnant!” sighed the princess. “I wonder who done it?”

The Hindenburg Award for Foul Fortune

Saturday at Kansas worked out a lot better for Joey Logano than Sunday’s Cup event. His race started off with a spin on lap 2. Then, in trying to get back to the front, Logano ran into the back of Elliott Sadler who had checked up for a wreck in front of them.

See also
Sprint Cup Rookie Report: Brad Keselowski Ending Hendrick Tenure on a High Note

Earnhardt Jr.’s weekend started out well with an outside-pole qualifying effort. Early in the race, Junior led more laps than he has at any event since Talladega this spring. But a lost lugnut on a pit stop torpedoed the No. 88 team’s effort, while an oil pump belt failure just ended Earnhardt’s misery. Earnhardt, who turns 35 next Saturday, had better either refocus on racing soon or just settle for the wad of money he’s already earned for mediocrity and a famous last name.

Kansas was another disappointing day for Richard Childress Racing. Casey Mears finished 15th, while Clint Bowyer, Jeff Burton and Kevin Harvick struggled home 21st, 23rd and 24th, respectively.

Matt Kenseth’s Ford dropped a valve, forcing Kenseth to endure his first DNF since he lost an engine at Las Vegas.

You think the guys at Michael Waltrip’s fab shop are ready to throw an early retirement party for their boss just to keep him from tearing up any more cars?

My guess is that Kyle Busch has about had it with dominating Nationwide races only to get passed in the final 10 laps by teammate Logano. With Yoda-like wisdom young master Busch noted, “This sucks.”

Bobby Labonte and the No. 71 team lost the newest car in their fleet thanks to an accident not of their own making.

The “Seven Come Fore Eleven” Award for Fine Fortune

A timely caution flag fell perfectly for Juan Pablo Montoya, who had a tire equalizing under green.

See also
Thompson in Turn 5: Juan Pablo Montoya Has Arrived, but His Championship Hopes Are Underpowered

Biffle started 31st, but an early two-tire stop allowed him to move up into the top five, a position he rarely relinquished all day.

When Kurt Busch slapped the wall hard late in the race, it appeared his day was over. Somehow, he soldiered on to an 11th-place finish.

Given their level of support and his part-time status as a driver, the Wood Brothers and Bill Elliott can take some pride in their 19th-place run. There are a lot of teams with a lot more money that would have welcomed that finish.

Worth Noting

  • Chevy clinched this year’s manufacturer title – their seventh in a row.
  • Rick Hendrick-owned or supported teams have won all three of this year’s Chase races.
  • Stewart’s win was not only his first victory since Watkins Glen, it was his first top-five finish in that same stretch of races.
  • Jeff Gordon has only won one race this season, but he’s now finished second seven times.
  • Biffle’s third-place finish was his best since Dover this spring.
  • Montoya now has top-five finishes in all three Chase races, earning him the Stylistics “Betcha, By Golly, Wow” award for the surprise of the championship hunt to date.
  • Denny Hamlin (fifth) now has top-10 finishes in eight of the last nine Cup races.
  • Mark Martin’s seventh-place finish was actually his worst since Michigan. Shine on you, crazy diamond.
  • David Reutimann’s eighth-place finish was his first top-10 result in four races.
  • Edwards (10th) eked out his first top-10 finish since Michigan in August.
  • Martin’s seventh pole of the season breaks his previous career mark of six set way back in 1989. Incidentally, Martin won the pole for the third and fourth races of his Cup career.
  • The top-10 finishers at Kansas drove five Chevys, two Fords, a Dodge and two Toyotas, presumably without their throttles stuck to the floor by floor mats.
  • Scott Speed (27th) edged out fellow rookie Logano for the top-finishing rookie honors this week.
  • Under the old points system, Stewart would now be leading second place Gordon by 195 points, and I’d be good with that. Stewart has now won four races to Gordon’s one, and we’d be spared Alan Bestwick’s constant bleating about the Chase standings during a race. “If points were awarded now…” They’re not going to be. Shud-up-already-wouldja?

What’s the Points?

Martin held onto his points lead and is now 18 points ahead of Johnson, who remains second in the standings. (And Charlie Brown almost got his kite past the Kite-Eating Tree.) Montoya remains third, now trailing Martin by 51 points.

The race win moves Stewart up a spot to fourth in the standings, closing to within 67 of Martin. Stewart’s advance thrusts Kurt Busch back a spot to fifth, while Hamlin remains sixth, the final driver within 100 points (actually 99) of the lead.

Gordon and Biffle each moved up a spot to seventh and eighth in the standings, while Ryan Newman fell two spots to ninth. Edwards and Kasey Kahne each advanced a spot to 10th and 11th, while Brian Vickers is now the Chase’s “cellar dweller” in 12th.

Kyle Busch takes over the “Bill Murray/Meatballs – It just doesn’t matter” spot, 13th in the standings. Kenseth falls to 14th.

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 lukewarm Schlitz. It was actually somewhat better than expected (gas mileage didn’t decide the race) but we live in an era of diminished expectations.

Next Up: As it struggles to capture the hearts of fans and better TV ratings, the circuit heads off to Fontana. Wait a second: Fontana, one of the most relentlessly insipid tracks on the circuit? Jezum Crow, Pa, is this going to be the last season that Brian France allows the NFL programming honchos to draw up the Chase schedule?

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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