Race Weekend Central

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

The Key Moment: Kyle Busch ran out of gas with two laps to go, handing the lead to his brother Kurt Busch, who used extraordinary mileage to drive to his second win of the season.

In a Nutshell: Terrible television timing, Busch brothers battle, Jimmie Johnson in a jam, fans feel frustrated, NASCAR necessitates No-Doz. (Or, if you prefer: frustratingly unwieldy cars keep torpedoing historically interesting sport. Someone help! It‘s terrible.)

Dramatic Moment: I dunno. I guess watching racecars run out of gas just isn’t to my liking. With the Brothers Busch leading all but 13 laps, and the leader and second-place drivers often separated by a straightaway, I was nearly lulled comatose Sunday. But, like they say, your mileage may vary.

See also
Bowles-Eye View: Fuel-Mileage Finishes Adding Fuel to NASCAR Fans' Fire?

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

Those of you who follow what I do for a living know I don’t take this sport or myself too seriously. After all, ultimately it’s just a pastime that provides us with a few thrills and chuckles. But one thing I do take seriously is the sacrifice of our men and women in uniform to protect the freedoms most of us take too much for granted. By coincidence, this week’s racing took place a couple hours down the pike from Fort Hood, where 12 soldiers and a civilian were killed with many others wounded in a barbaric attack earlier this week.

Whether they died on foreign soil or here at home, though, these patriots died protecting our freedoms. They were killed not for anything they did, but simply because of the uniform they wore and the sacred tri-colored flag they wore on their shoulders.

At times like these, it’s easy to give in to anger. The deranged shooter in this instance was a Muslim of Palestinian background. But what fewer people consider is the amount of Muslim-Americans who have sacrificed their own lives in defense of our freedoms. Some folks born under the harsh rule of dictatorships in the Middle East appreciate the freedoms our heritage afford us more than most of us who’ve had it all our lives. So, don’t hate. Extend your love to the families of those who have died and your prayers to those who paid the ultimate price this week.

It’s Chapter XXXIIIX in Tony Stewart’s stormy and sometimes contentious relationship with the media. (Though, to his credit, he hasn’t actually assaulted a reporter lately. Ritalin is a beautiful thing.) Sayeth Mr. Stewart, the racing is really exciting these days and the fact fans think it’s boring is because that’s what the media is telling them.

This whole “boring race” thing is just a myth. Without meaning to, I’m sure, once again a NASCAR driver is insulting the intelligence of the very fans that support him. He’s insinuating that fans are too dumb and ill-informed to form an opinion until they read what one of us demigods of the media write about the race. That’s odd. After Talladega, before I’d committed a single word to paper (or giga-whatever these computers use) my email box was flooded with notes from fans protesting what a boring race Talladega had been and urging me to let NASCAR have it with both barrels.

Message boards where fans interact absent the media were also stuffed with less than kind critiques of the race. So if anything, the media might be guilty of taking cues from the fans. And wasn’t it the driver of the No. 14 car who said over the radio at Talladega the concession stands should be selling “No-Doz?” (Which I’m sure had to delight the race’s title sponsor, AMP Energy Drinks.) Stewart is pretty good at this driving a racecar deal, but he’s never really understood the fans or the media… and in this case, he’s badly myth-taken. The races are boring.

I can’t help but wonder about the safety of clipping the front half of the No. 48 front end together again mid-race. So, how come they can’t replace the engines anymore?

What are you doing out there, Jimmie? Wrecking, Chad, wrecking. By the way, there’s a problem for NASCAR with the technological glut fans have available to them these days on their computers and even their cellphones. It was readily apparent Johnson and the No. 48 car weren’t meeting minimum speed through such technology, but no black flag was thrown.

Honestly, was anyone surprised when Jeff Gordon was seconds from going a lap down and all of a sudden a debris caution flew at the halfway point? They’re so desperate to promote some sort of title fight, NASCAR doesn’t even try to hide their motives anymore. The WWE would have been blushing with shame.

Economy got you down? Would a few free drinks help you out? Find out where Brian France and ABC executives are taking David Reutimann and Sam Hornish Jr. for dinner this week. Brian ought to be buying rounds for the house after the lap 3 incident at Texas. Just make sure not to accept a ride home in his Lexus!

A note to NASCAR and track general managers everywhere: in this day and age, it’s simply an embarrassment that there are any concrete walls left not protected by the SAFER barrier. Anytime you’re sure there’s no way an out of control car can hit a certain part of the wall, some driver will prove you wrong.

The ratings are in the toilet, fans are leaving the sport in droves, sponsors are leaving as well and there are vast swathes of empty seats in the grandstands. The Chase has failed to grab the general public’s attention and the COT may be the most loathed vehicle since Pontiac rolled out the Aztek. But hang in there everybody, everything is going to be all right! Danica’s coming, Danica’s coming!

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What's Vexing Vito: Enter the Era of DaniCAR - Patrick to Join JR Motorsports in 2010

That’ll fix everything, even if Ms. Patrick intends to keep her day job in the IRL and just dangle her tootsies in stock car racing. Reportedly, Ms. Patrick will get paid $50-$100,000 to compete in each stock car race she lends her good name and stellar image to. That’s a pretty nice payday, especially considering Kyle Busch won $68,270 in purse money by winning Saturday’s Nationwide race (and Texas is actually one of the better-paying tracks on the circuit.)

Yep, Danica’s coming. Maybe. Remember when everyone was all atwitter on their twitters that Ashley Judd was coming to the NASCAR garage area? Anyone seen Ashley lately? How about Dario Franchitti? Jacques Villeneuve? By and large, with the notable exception of Juan Pablo Montoya and the certain exception of myth buster Stewart, these open-wheel sorts haven’t amounted to much in stock car racing lately. But at least Danica’s arrival will signal that the NASCAR driving ranks are open to women.

You have to give a pat on the back to ABC for their Wiley Coyote-like persistence in the face of repeated failure. These late-afternoon start times have typically yielded horrid ratings, and my guess is they will do so again over the course of the next three weeks.

A Canadian gentleman by the name of Rob Brush claims he’s invented a better mousetrap, or in this instance a better track-drying truck. Rather than blowing hot air on the track to dry it, Mr. Brush’s truck sucks up the water like a giant mobile shop-vac. He claims eight of his rigs could dry Daytona in under an hour. I have a few questions, though. How much water can the storage tanks contain? It would seem to me they’d need to be emptied near constantly after a heavy rain.

And wouldn’t all that water sloshing around in the storage tank make such a truck prone to rollovers at a place like Daytona? Absent more information, I’m not buying the vacuum truck concept. We already have enough things in this sport that suck.

Wow. Brad Daugherty does a commercial for a grocery store during NASCAR Countdown. Nah, that couldn’t possibly be a sign that the networks have too little material to fill an hour-long pre-race show.

Miller Lite being served in what looked like a Nestle Quik bottle in victory lane? I’m not buying it. Anybody else remember the joke about why Miller Lite is like making love in a canoe?

Did anyone else note that absent the decals and paint, the front end of the new cars (like the No. 48 Sunday) look more like a mid-’80s BMW 7 series two-door than anything the Big Three produce today?

Mike Skinner, who finished 43rd, was officially listed as 328 laps off the pace but finishing the race “in pit.” Damn, that is one long pit stop.

The Hindenburg Award for Foul Fortune

Kyle Busch certainly seemed to have the race in hand prior to running out of fuel with two laps to go. Oddly, he left the racetrack without comment after the race and his flirtation with history, leaving his new crew chief to handle the post-race comments. Welcome to the Bigs, Mr. Rogers.

Three laps into the race, Johnson tangled with Reutimann and Hornish. He almost caught the car but then nosed in hard to an unforgiving and unprotected section of the concrete wall, reducing the No. 48 car to scrap. Johnson has now gone from an insurmountable points lead to a probably not surmountable points lead, but ABC/ESPN is going to ride this nag for all it’s worth and claim we’re at the rodeo.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. cruised comfortably inside the top five most of the race, only to run out of fuel in the final laps of the race and have trouble re-firing the car. He finished all of 13 positions ahead of Johnson as a result, who spent over an hour in the garage area to wind up 38th.

Gordon and the No. 24 team squandered a major opportunity to make up some serious ground on the No. 48 bunch Sunday. You have to kick ’em while they’re down to beat the Big Boys… and while Gordon made up a few spots in the final laps as other drivers ahead of him ran out of gas, whatever was wrong with the No. 24 car, that dog just wouldn’t hunt. Hellfire, what did they do, give Gordon one of the No. 88 team’s cars?

Wow. Brian France admitted this week he couldn’t comment on the ABC booth crew’s less than stellar opinion of last week’s Talladega race because he didn’t watch the whole thing. If he can’t endure watching the tedium, why should the fans?

Marcos Ambrose was having a good day, mate, when he entered the pits third and left 19th. Right then. Can’t be helped.

The “Seven Come Fore Eleven” Award for Fine Fortune

For Pat Tryson, who is leaving the No. 2 team, a victory borne atop the box had to be sweet.

How close was Kurt Busch on fuel? In the end, his team ended up pushing the winning car to victory lane.

Mark Martin and the No. 5 team used a strategy more conservative than Rush Limbaugh, but left Texas with a fourth-place finish.

Despite being the primary cause of the lap 3 melee that ABC set a record for re-showing Sunday, Reutimann drove on unscathed to a 16th-place finish. Hopefully, he was also able to drive unscathed to the airport before Chad Knaus caught up with him, or the “The Franchise” might have ended up “The Fractured.”

Denny Hamlin’s Camry got out from underneath him and he slapped the wall hard. That forced him to run just slowly enough that he had enough gas to drive to a second-place finish.

Kevin Harvick ran out of fuel and fell from second to fifth on the final lap, but the way his season is going, that was actually a finish for the highlight reels. I guess it beats having another car land on your hood.

AJ Allmendinger finished 10th at the wheel of a car that bore some passing if casual resemblance to a Ford Fusion out of the RPM shops. I just couldn’t get my mind around the Ford logo in the center of the hood of what looked like one of the STP Dodges the King drove with such success in the early ’70s. Holy Juxtaposition, Batman!

Jeff Burton drove from a 42nd-place starting position to a ninth-place result.

Worth Noting

  • Kurt Busch won for the first time since Atlanta, the fourth race of the season.
  • Hamlin finished second for the fourth time this season.
  • Over the course of the last seven races, Matt Kenseth (third) has finished second or third followed by two lousy finishes. On a brighter note, he only has two more races to finish lousy in this season.
  • Martin’s fourth-place finish marks the 33rd time this season he’s finished a race on his tires rather than on his roof.
  • Harvick’s fifth-place finish was his best since Atlanta 10 races ago. Is it time to rename RCR “SOS Racing?”
  • Burton (ninth) has posted back-to-back top-10 finishes in points paying races for the first time this season. SOS, SOS.
  • Allmendinger’s 10th-place finish was his first top-10 result since Dover. Have you driven a Ford lately?
  • Ryan Newman (12th) hasn’t enjoyed a top-five finish since Charlotte in May, though doubtless he enjoyed finishing right side up at Texas.
  • Johnson’s 38th-place finish was his worst of the season.
  • Do you remember where you were Aug. 22 of this year? It sure was a long time ago, but gas receipts indicate I was in Carlisle on my Harley at 1:14 that afternoon. That evening, Earnhardt Jr. posted his last top-10 finish to date this season. All the leaves are brown, and the sky is gray, I’ve been for a walk, on a winter’s day.
  • The top 10 finishers at Texas drove a Dodge, a Toyota, three Fords and five Chevys.
  • Joey Logano, or Jo-Log as I like to call him to make myself sound like a hopelessly hip Hollywood gossip columnist, was the top-finishing rookie at Texas. This year’s Rookie of the Year contest has been the closest battle since the U.S. military invaded Grenada.

What’s the Points?

You might find this hard to believe due to the amount of times ABC replayed Johnson’s wreck, but he’s still leading the standings. His gap over second place Martin is down to a still considerable 73 points, but if you’re willing to bet the farm against the No. 48 team – leave the keys in the combine.

Gordon remains third in the standings, but is doubtless polishing off any hope for a fifth title after the way he ran at Texas Sunday. Kurt Busch’s win propels him up two spots to fourth. Montoya’s unforced error drops him two spots to sixth. Stewart occupies the spot between them.

Further back, Greg Biffle sits seventh in the standings. Hamlin rocketed up three spots to eighth while Newman fell a spot to ninth. He is the last driver to have a mathematical shot at winning this year’s title. Of course, he’d have to win the next two races and lead the most laps in each, while Johnson would have to finish 43rd in both events. (Pssst… I don’t think that’s going to happen.)

Kasey Kahne fell a spot to 10th. Carl Edwards fell a spot to 11th, as last season’s most prolific winner still hasn’t won a Cup race yet this year.

Finally, like that unemployed uncle who wears a tin foil-lined colander on his head to keep space aliens from reading his mind, Brian Vickers remains in the cellar of the Chase, emerging only occasionally in stained underwear and a threadbare robe to filch a six-pack from the fridge.

Thirteenth-place Kyle Busch is now 32 points ahead of 14th-place Kenseth. But they mean nothing to you, and I don’t know why.

Under the old points system, Johnson would now be 93 points behind Stewart with two races left to go. That’s a bigger gap than we currently see in the Chase, but it would still feel more legitimate, and it would be the second time in two weeks the lead would have changed hands. Gordon would be a single point behind Johnson in third.

Overall Rating (On a scale of one to six beer cans, with one being a stinker and a six-pack an instant classic): About what I expected but I wasn’t expecting much. We’ll give it three cans because nobody ended up on their lid this week.

Next Up: It’s off to Phoenix for the penultimate race of an ultimately bad season. (Pssst… don’t tell Tony I told you you have to feel that way. Or that I think his comments this weekend indicate he‘s dumber than a sack of hammers.)

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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