Race Weekend Central

Matt McLaughlin’s Thinkin’ Out Loud: 2010 Michigan Spring Race Recap

The Key Moment: Denny Hamlin got a huge jump on the final restart, then drove off into the sunset like the rest of the field was on tricycles.

In a Nutshell: A pathetic if predictable parade. Almost utterly devoid of any moments that could cause even mild amusement.

Dramatic Moment: Waiting to see if it was going to rain.

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

When the race leader admits he’s slowing down in the final laps to save his tires, knowing there’s going to be a bogus debris caution to amuse the fans, we have a real problem. NASCAR is there to officiate, not orchestrate a race. The fact a driver who lost a nine-second lead to a bogus debris caution seemed more amused than enraged is a telling sign of where we are with this issue.

In a sad irony as the stock car circuit visited Michigan, the home of America’s Big Three automakers, Toyotas swept the ARCA, Truck and Cup races. (A Toyota also won the Nationwide race Saturday at Kentucky.) Once fans get over celebrating somebody is finally beating the Hendrick cars, maybe we need to focus on whether Toyota’s recent dominance is good for the sport?

Front Row Motorsports received a $100,000 fine, a loss of 150 owner and driver points, and a 12-race suspension for the crew chief and two other team members in the aftermath of last week’s bleeder valves discovered on the car after a Pocono rain delay. (Isn’t it odd the No. 2 team also got penalized for a missing valve stem cap?) Yeah, the fine seems pretty draconian, but it’s in line with precedent. There are four things you don’t mess with in NASCAR racing: tires, fuel, engine displacement and the drug policy.

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Bubble Breakdown: Travis Kvapil’s Penalty Breathes New Life Into Top-35 Battle

When we get back, we’ll start up the injuries…” Perhaps the most unfortunate slip of the tongue in pre-race programming ever.

Already, the NASCAR message boards are buzzing (and the tom-toms will grow louder as fans who lulled off for a nap wake up). Their general consensus about the Michigan race? It was terrible. I wonder how many folks would have liked it better if there was another huge wreck on the final (unnecessary) restart? Don’t count me among those who would have preferred to see a big wreck. We’re looking for our Goldilocks moment: Pocono was too hot and Michigan was too cold.

What I’d have loved to see was the Nos. 9 and 2 teams make great adjustments on that final pit stop, enough that Kurt Busch and Kasey Kahne could run side-by-side with Hamlin off the fourth corner, drag racing to the start/finish line on the final lap. You’re not always going to have that sort of finish, though. Sometimes a driver just stinks up the show; but that doesn’t mean I have to like it.

Sometimes, you’ve got to wonder if there was any sense in spending all those billions of dollars bailing out General Motors. This week, apparently the brain trust at GM felt that one key to marketing their products was to have folks (at least internally) refer to “Chevys” as “Chevrolets.” No sale here at Eyesore Acres. Don McLean drove his “Chevy” to the “levy.” (Had McLean written “drove my Chevrolet to the ballet” the song would have lost its purity.)

Bruce Springsteen street-raced a “’69 Chevy with a 396.” (Though he did, in fact, haunt those dusty old beach roads littered with the frames of burned out “Chevrolets.” ) Bob Seger used to get it in his fabled “’60 Chevy”. Let’s face it. It’s Coke, not Coca-Cola. Folks want to go out to the “old ball game,” not the “Major League Ball Game.” “Chevy” as a noun has become an affectionate and accepted term, and it’s always going to be “Chevy” for car guys just as it’s always going to be “jeans,” not “dungarees.”

In fact, General Motors would probably have been wiser to drop the “Chevrolet” and make a name change to “Chevy.” After all, it’s ’55 Chevy and 1980 Chevrolet Citation. Let the call of freedom ring out through this land… this is our Chevy.

OK, so let’s see here. Joey Logano doesn’t like Kevin Harvick. Jeff Gordon doesn’t like Jimmie Johnson. Matt Kenseth doesn’t like Gordon. Kyle Busch doesn’t like Hamlin. Hamlin doesn’t like Brad Keselowski. Neither does Carl Edwards. In fact, nobody likes Keselowski. Or Kyle Busch. And Kyle Busch doesn’t like anybody.

Tony Stewart is hot with unnamed “idiots on restarts” and is looking to make the highlight tapes soon. Kahne doesn’t like AJ Allmendinger. AJ says he’s terribly sorry about what happened, but he’d do the same thing all over again, which has got to have Richard Petty tearing his hair out. The King doesn’t think much of wrecked racecars. Somewhere in this mess, we just have to have the seeds for a genuine rivalry.

While watching the Audi and Peugeot diesel prototype cars race for the top spots at Le Mans, it occurred to me that maybe this is a way to breathe some life into the increasingly comatose Truck Series. Imagine the green accolades for having the teams switch over to Power Strokes, Duramaxes and Cummins.

The catch would be the teams could build all the power they wanted from their diesels, but they would have a set allotment of fuel for each race. Run out of diesel fuel and you’re out of the race. Talk about racing technology leading to more powerful and economical street vehicles. What’s that, you say? Toyota doesn’t manufacture diesel-engined trucks? Oh, rats. I guess they’d just have to leave the series.

We’ll give the Ford FR9 engine a solid B in its first full-field rollout. Kahne was stout and there were four Fords driven to top-12 finishes without a single mechanical DNF.

So what do you think Logano is going to get his dad Tom for Father’s Day next weekend… a restraining order?

I’m no fan of stock car racing on road courses, but I will admit I’m intrigued by next week’s Nationwide race at Road America, one of the best road courses in this country. Just don’t listen to the misinformation being disseminated that it will be NASCAR’s debut at Elkhart Lake. On Aug. 12, 1956, Tim Flock won the equivalent of one of today’s Cup races at Road America in a Stroppe-prepared Mercury.

It was sweet revenge for Flock, who had recently left the all-conquering Carl Kiekhaefer Chrysler team. In another historical footnote, the majority of that event was run in the rain on street tires, with windshield wipers flailing wildly about. Yeah, back in 1956 NASCAR was still “stock” car racing.

Kudos to TNT for a well done pre-race piece on Davey Allison, one of the most respected and beloved competitors in this sport’s rich history. It’s hard to believe that come July 13, it will be 17 years since Allison’s fatal helicopter wreck. That’s longer than some of you reading this have been alive, but the pain and shock of that day are still vivid in my memory, occasionally releasing a few tears. But then every morning, when I get out of bed I see that diecast of the black, white, red and gold No. 28 Havoline car on the shelf in my office. (I still think that was the best-looking Cup car ever to compete.)

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Remembering Davey Allison - Part 1

If they’re really going to switch to fuel injection in the Cup series for 2011, shouldn’t there be running prototypes and some specifications for the teams to start working on by now?

Having circular-filed the rear wings fans so despised, NASCAR is apparently now studying the possibility of getting rid of the cattle-catcher front splitters that fans also aren’t very fond of. Ford is at least hinting that if they put a little more “stock” back in stock cars, they might replace their Fusion racecars with Mustang-appearing entries. No offense to the Fusion, which I’m sure is a very fine street car, but I’d welcome that idea like a $2 prime rib and Corona dinner at Burger King.

The Hindenburg Award for Foul Fortune

David Ragan was solidly in the top 10 when he suffered a pit-road collision with Casey Mears as he exited his pits at halfway. He ended the day two laps down in 34th.

Kyle Busch’s race started out poorly when he was forced to start from the rear of the field after an engine change. It got worse when he tagged the wall, and Busch struggled home to a 20th-place finish after that final caution.

It’s hard to decide whether to classify Harvick’s day as good or bad luck. Harvick was never up to speed all day, but he still finished ahead of Kyle Busch (19th) and maintains his points lead.

Jamie McMurray was unable to capitalize on a second-place starting position, dropping back right from the start. He struggled home to a 24th-place result, one lap off the pace.

The “Seven Come Fore Eleven” Award for Fine Fortune

While pitting under green early in the race, Hamlin’s car stuttered leaving pit road because he’d been so low on fuel before stopping. But the car cleaned itself out in quick order, and Hamlin easily drove from fourth back to the lead.

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Holding a Pretty Wheel: Is a 4-Time Champ the Underdog for 5? Why Denny Hamlin's Become the Favorite

Kahne’s engine looked like it was overheating most of the event, especially in the pits, but the new FR9 powerplant held together long enough for the No. 9 team to finish second. She’s real fine, my four speed, positraction, FR9.

Gordon slapped the wall early in the event, but didn’t bend anything vital. While he could never run with Hamlin, Kahne and Kurt Busch, Gordon remained in the top five most of the day and ended it a strong fourth.

After an awkward week, Logano did manage to come away from Michigan with a top-10 finish (10th). That was nine spots ahead of his buddy Harvick.

Worth Noting

  • For the record, Joe Gibbs Toyotas have now won seven of the last 10 races, with Hamlin scoring back-to-back victories for the first time in his career. The scoreboard season-to-date reads seven wins for Toyotas, six for Chevys and two for Dodges, with Ford still in their winless slump.
  • His second-place finish was easily the best of Kahne’s 2010 Cup season. His previous best was fourth at Atlanta.
  • Gordon’s fourth-place finish was his best since Darlington, where he also finished fourth.
  • Stewart (fifth) has posted back-to-back top-five finishes for the first time this season. Stewart has only one other sequence of back-to-back top-10 results this year. (Fontana and Las Vegas)
  • Johnson (sixth) has managed consecutive top-10 finishes for the first time since Phoenix and Fort Worth.
  • Dale Earnhardt Jr. (seventh) enjoyed his best result since Bristol.
  • Jeff Burton (eighth) has top-10 finishes in five of the last six Cup races.
  • Maybe there’s light at the end of the tunnel? Allmendinger is averaging a 12th-place finish in the last four Cup races.
  • Marcos Ambrose (15th) finished a race for the first time in four events.
  • Kyle Busch (20th) endured his worst finish since Martinsville.

What’s the Points?

Harvick maintains the points lead and is now 22 ahead of Kyle Busch, who holds on to second in the standings. Hamlin remains third, but really narrowed the gap on the drivers ahead of him with his victory. He trails Harvick by a mere 47 points.

Kurt Busch and Kenseth swapped fourth and fifth spots, with Busch now having the advantage. Johnson, Gordon and Burton held on to sixth, seventh and eighth, all well over 160 points clear of 13th. Teammates Greg Biffle and Edwards swapped ninth and 10th places in the standings, with Biffle having the advantage.

Stewart advanced two spots, into the top 12 and up to 11th. Mark Martin fell a spot to 12th, while Clint Bowyer fell a spot to 13th. Earnhardt Jr. moved up two spots to 14th, and is now 87 points out of the top 12.

Overall Rating (On a scale of one to six beer cans, with one being a stinker and a six-pack an instant classic): I wouldn’t trade you a cup of warm mule spit for that sorry excuse of a race.

Next Up: Jiminy Crickets, it’s off to Sonoma… and then Loudon. You know what? I’m going to take the next couple weeks off to prepare the Trans Am for the Guthriesville car show. I’ll be back for the Firecracker to remind you all of the inherent evil of plate racing.

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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