Race Weekend Central

Thinkin’ Out Loud: 2010 Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma

Editor’s Note: Matt’s on vacation for the next two weeks. For this edition, good buddy and our Voices From the Heartland writer Jeff Meyer fills in, with Tom Bowles adding in a few odds ‘n’ ends to round things out.

The Key Moment: Marcos Ambrose slipped out of the pits on lap 80 just ahead of Jimmie Johnson – who pitted one lap earlier – giving him the track position edge on the No. 48 and setting the stage for an absolutely crazy and heartbreaking finish.

In a Nutshell: A surprisingly refreshing, right-hand turn change of pace from last week’s ultra-snoozefest.

Dramatic Moment: Ambrose pulling aside and stopping as he followed the pace car, slipping from first to eighth for failing to maintain speed during a caution with seven laps to go.

What They’ll Be Talking About Around the Water Cooler This Week – Jeff M.

Other than the fact that Jeff Gordon looked as if had gone insane behind the wheel on numerous occasions, most people will be wondering what possessed Ambrose to shut off his car in an attempt to save fuel during a late-race caution. Ambrose claims he was “told to do it.” Now, I’ll be the first to admit, I like Marcos, but I don’t buy that routine. Maybe there was a communication problem, maybe Aussie ears hear things in a different way over the radio… but there was simply no reason for him to have to worry about saving fuel!

Last pitting with 30 to go, he had more than enough to make it to the end. If anyone has a plausible explanation for his actions, please let us know here at my Frontstretch main office. I’m not saying that Marcos is lying, but geez… maybe the radio message said, “You don’t have to worry about fuel,” and he missed those first two words!

“If you want to find Ambrose right now, he’s standing on the Golden Gate Bridge” was perhaps the tackiest thing an announcer has said all year. Not saying it probably wasn’t far from the truth, Wally Dallenbach, but a bit crude nonetheless.

What the hell was up with Jeff Gordon today? He certainly wasn’t making any new friends out there at Sonoma. In fact, he may have made several enemies that may serve up a dish of payback at an inopportune time in the future. At least he owned up to his actions in the end, but I would still love to be there as he tries to convince Martin Truex Jr. that he “didn’t mean to do it.” Too bad Jeff was never able to work his way up to his teammate Johnson!

See also
Fact or Fiction: Will Dale Jr. Make the Chase? & Other Hendrick Motorsports Topics

“Juablo” was another one out there that looked like a mean-spirited bully Suday (June 20). While that is not totally unexpected, a visit from Tom Logano may be in the crazy Colombian’s future.

Hats off to Robby Gordon for his fine second-place finish. My only wish, as was his, was that those Goodyear tires had been just a little fresher. Maybe then, we’d have seen a finish with much different results.

Two races in a row now that I have not been nauseated by “Kyle Busch this” and “Kyle Busch that”! I could get used to this new routine!

What They’ll Be Talking About Around the Water Cooler This Week – Tom B.

There’s controversy popping up all over the ‘net about NASCAR’s call to put Ambrose back to eighth. Just don’t get all bent out of shape along with them: officials made the right call. Many have claimed there’s inconsistency here, because Greg Biffle was allowed to keep a win at Kansas after crossing the finish line third, slowing down while running out of gas. But there’s a difference between 15 mph and zero, which is what Ambrose was running for several seconds in violating NASCAR’s rules to “maintain a cautious speed.”

If anything, the sport made a big mistake in letting Biffle keep the win back then; would you like them to do it again, setting precedent while lighting the rulebook on fire along the way? Prejudice against Johnson can cloud some viewpoints, I know, but to me this is like the World Cup “foul” against the U.S. – I just have a hard time believing the other side even has a leg to stand on.

Carl Edwards won at Road America Saturday, meaning the Nationwide Series ended their standalone portion of the schedule with all Sprint Cup drivers in victory lane. Brad Keselowski also continues to lead the championship standings by well over 200 points, while Paul Menard acted like a giant wrecking ball in bouncing off a handful of Nationwide-only cars late.

Now, the return of Danica Patrick is matched by about 10 more Sprint Cup regulars at Loudon. How many times will they lap her? Two? Five? That may be the only guessing game left in a “AAA” series that’s slowly inching towards life support.

You have to laugh over Michael Waltrip‘s “sponsafier” car failing to make the starting lineup. That might have been the worst follow through on a marketing idea I have ever seen.

The “Seven Come Fore Eleven” Award for Fine Fortune

This week’s award undoubtedly goes to Johnson. As the announcers were so adamant to point out, no one has had a race handed to them in that fashion since Mark Martin pulled into the pits on the last lap at Bristol! Seems that horseshoe has been found after all.

Jeff Gordon gets a nod, just for the fact that the race ended before anyone got fed up and gave him a dose of his own medicine!

Boris Said for, well… just being Boris! Always good to see Boris end up with a top 10!

Biffle got penalized for speeding on pit road early in the race. But timely cautions and exceptional gas mileage got him back to seventh by the finish.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. had a car that was out to lunch for much of the race’s first half, so much so he was nearly lapped. But after keeping his nose clean and staying out of trouble, when the smoke cleared from that wild ending the No. 88 Chevy was sitting 11th.

The Hindenburg Award for Foul Fortune – Jeff M.

You mean, besides poor old Ambrose? Anyone who Kyle Petty said anything good about! Was it just me, or did anyone else notice that as soon as Kyle would go on about how good a particular driver was doing, moments later that person was spinning wildly. Please, Kyle, if I’m ever a contestant in anything you are announcing for, forget that I exist!

The Hindenburg Award for Foul Fortune – Tom B.

It was bad enough Truex Jr. got spun out in a banzai move by Jeff Gordon. But that put him at the wrong place at the wrong time, sitting in the back of the pack when a chain-reaction wreck broke out in front of him. Five minutes later, he was sitting in the garage, out of the race in 42nd.

Besides Truex, Kurt Busch, Clint Bowyer, David Ragan and Elliott Sadler will spend their Mondays returning all the baby gifts they got Jeff and Ingrid. The No. 24 Chevrolet turned a potential top-10 finish for each into a nice little trip through the spin cycle.

Bobby Labonte got nabbed for pit-road speeding not once, but twice, wasting an eighth-place qualifying effort with a No. 71 Chevy that spends half its time starting and parking. He wound up 23rd.

Denny Hamlin said it best, tweeting after the race he hit everything but the lottery. At one point, the hood on his No. 11 Toyota flew up in the air on-track, necessitating a green-flag pit stop that dropped him seven laps off the pace and slumping to 34th.

Worth Noting – Tom B.

  • The top-10 finishers at Infineon drove five Chevrolets, three Fords and two Toyotas. The top-finishing Dodge was JJ Yeley (yikes!) in 26th place.
  • Johnson’s win was his first on a road course in a nine-year Cup Series career. It was also his 51st overall, breaking a tie with Ned Jarrett and Junior Johnson for 10th on the all-time list.
  • Robby Gordon (second) had his first top-five finish since a third at Charlotte in May 2009.
  • Kasey Kahne (fourth) has back-to-back top-five finishes for the first time all season.
  • Despite the disappointing ending, Ambrose (sixth) had his best finish this season. He also led laps for the first time all year.
  • Said (eighth) had his first top-10 finish since this race back in 2007.
  • Earnhardt Jr. (11th) now has back-to-back top-11 runs for the first time since Michigan and Bristol last August.
  • How bad has Sadler’s year been? Even after getting punted by Gordon, 17th is still his best run since Talladega last October.
  • Swede Mattias Ekstrom has now led more laps (seven) than Edwards (two) in Sprint Cup this season. Ja.
  • Kevin Conway was not only rookie of the race but scored his best ever finish (28th), running every lap for the first time in his short Cup career.
  • Both Penske Racing and Joe Gibbs Racing had all three of their entries finish outside the top 30. For Gibbs, it was their worst day on paper since the team expanded to three cars before the start of the 2005 season; Joey Logano, Hamlin and Kyle Busch ran 33rd, 34th and 39th, respectively.
  • Truex Jr. (42nd) hasn’t had a top-10 finish since Richmond.

What’s the Points?

Kevin Harvick still stands at the top of the heap, with a lot of shuffling beneath him. Johnson jumps up to second, 140 points back after the win. Kyle Busch drops a spot to third, with Hamlin slipping to fourth. Jeff Gordon moves up two spots to round out the top five.

Further back, Kurt Busch and Matt Kenseth drop two positions to sixth and seventh, respectively. Jeff Burton and Biffle remain eighth and ninth, while Tony Stewart crawls inside the top 10 for the first time since Phoenix in April.

Martin jumps up a spot to take 11th, while Edwards clings on to 12th, dropping like a rock after a late-race spin left him 29th. Just behind Edwards in this top-12 battle is …hold on to your hats… Earnhardt Jr.! He’s just 57 points out of the Chase, with Bowyer and Ryan Newman rounding out the top 15.

Overall Rating (On a scale of one to six beer cans, with one being a stinker and a six-pack an instant classic): I’m no Matt, and I may not judge as harshly, but I’d give this one a 40-ouncer of Busch Light. Hey, what can I say? I rarely buy my beer by the can!

Up Next: Next week, we are off to New Hampshire. Matt will be back the week after that to “remind you all of the inherent evil of plate racing,” and I can go back to drinking during the race! We appreciate your patience!

About the author

The Frontstretch Staff is made up of a group of talented men and women spread out all over the United States and Canada. Residing in 15 states throughout the country, plus Ontario, and widely ranging in age, the staff showcases a wide variety of diverse opinions that will keep you coming back for more week in and week out.

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