Race Weekend Central

Matt McLaughlin’s Thinkin’ Out Loud: 2010 Chicagoland Race Recap

The Key Moment: On lap 213, David Reutimann finally prevailed at Chicagoland after a protracted battle for the lead with Jeff Gordon.On lap 213, David Reutimann finally prevailed at Chicagoland after a protracted battle for the lead with Jeff Gordon. Reutimann drove on to an easy win while Gordon faded to third.

In a Nutshell: Well, there’s one way to waste a perfectly good summer’s Saturday night (July 10). Maybe they should have called this race the Lifeless 400.

Dramatic Moment: In an otherwise uneventful three hours, I guess that battle between Reutimann and Gordon was the best action of the evening, hard-fought but clean. Unfortunately, the key pass occurred while fans at home were watching commercials.

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

They made a good move shifting Joliet to a night race. Now, to make things less tiresome for fans, NASCAR should just run the event with the lights out. Turn out the lights, I don’t want to see anymore… Mama told me not to come.

Does it seem Jimmie Johnson and the No. 48 team are beating themselves more this season than their competition is beating them?

OK, I’ll admit it. When I saw Reutimann passing Gordon to take the lead in a Cup race, I was wondering what was in that tea Alice and the Mad Hatter were serving before the show. I was wagering with my buddies on what lap NASCAR would throw another unnecessary debris caution to tighten up the action (the over/under was with eight laps to go). However, it turns out officials seem a bit more circumspect about these mystery cautions lately – especially since a certain race winner called the sport out on them on national TV.

See also
The Cool-Down Lap: Score 1 for the Underdogs, a Breath of Fresh Air Sorely Needed in NASCAR

Oh, yes indeedy TV race broadcasters, Goodyear makes the best tires in the whole wide world. But something was bad wrong with that right front excuse for rubber that put Jimmie Johnson into the wall, and it wasn’t a matter of camber or suspension damage from the previous spin. That was just ugly.

A note to my old bud Robby Gordon: You might want to review yellow-flag protocol. You’re supposed to hit the brakes, not a competitor.

Color me confused. In Friday night’s Nationwide Series race, Joey Logano was leading coming to the final restart. He chose the inside lane, as is the leader’s right to do. Brad Keselowski was second, so he was to line up to the outside of Logano. Kyle Busch was posted as fourth, so he was to line up behind Keselowski. Unfortunately for the Brad-barian, he finally ran out of gas and coasted down to the apron dead-stick heading to the green flag.

So for the restart, Busch lined up to the outside of Logano, pinched him down in the first corner and took the lead. I get that part. What I’m wondering is why the third-place driver restarted the race ahead of the second-place driver? I know that’s how they do things at the start of a race if a driver has to drop out of line because of using a backup car or engine, but it seems counterintuitive to hand anyone an advantage like that with two laps to go.

I understand another driver suffered misfortune late in the caution period, but it would have made more sense to see NASCAR call off the restart to sort things out. After all, they’ve done so numerous times to settle important arguments like which driver is going to restart 26th and which driver is 27th. If they did, I feel there’s no question they’d realign the field so the driver restarting second was on the outside of the front row. Also, keep in mind if Keselowski had stalled out on the apron, he would have been in harm’s way during a green-white-checkered finish, as evidenced by Daytona last week.

Of course, if any of us could get a copy of the NASCAR rulebook or review it online, we might know if proper procedures were used for the restart… but alas, that’s not possible.

So the Toyota Cup teams have a new intake manifold that increases both power and torque? It’s odd I don’t recall reading anywhere such a piece had been approved by NASCAR.

What a week for uber-star/celebrity spokesperson Danica Patrick! Not only did she finish better than anyone of her chromosomal makeup (and Danica without makeup is Eddie Munster in a green flame-retardant jumpsuit), in Friday night’s race she was a mere two laps off the pace at the end. Her home-state fans, who failed to show up in droves on Friday, could not have been more proud, particularly those of them who derive their income directly or indirectly from the Danica-mania freight train.

Not only that, but Friday she managed to avoid hitting not only stationary but also moving objects hard enough to render her car beyond repair, a trait shared with many legendary and successful race car drivers over the decades – and one loudly lauded by race team owners everywhere. As I see it, at New Hampshire Patrick finished five laps down. This week, she was only two laps down. Statistically speaking, that means next time out, she ought to finish the race a lap ahead of the field. It’s time to cash in your 401K and buy up Danica Patrick diecasts, t-shirts, caps and coffee mugs.

A decade down the road, they’ll be going for zillions on eBay when Patrick wins her eighth Cup title. It’s in the cards. Now, look at the first three letters of “title;” let’s just say that could make you very, very, rich with little effort or talent, like a certain female racecar driver I could name. Seriously, it’s interesting that Sam Hornish Jr., who won three IRL titles and not just a fuel-mileage race overseas, is a mere asterisk on most Cup race broadcasts. If Danica Patrick was Daniel Patrick, you’d never have even heard of him.

Is there going to be anyone left to drive for RPM next season? Kasey Kahne and Elliott Sadler are gone, while AJ Allmendinger is looking for gainful employment elsewhere. I’m figuring it’s time the King rings up Bobby Labonte and arranges a homecoming.

See also
Beyond the Cockpit: AJ Allmendinger on Turning It Around... on the Golf Course?

The Hindenburg Award for Foul Fortune

Johnson had the dominant car at Joliet, prior to missing the pit-road entrance during a green-flag sequence of stops, spinning out on a restart, then finally blowing a tire and hitting the wall. When the smoke cleared, a possibly winning car wound up 25th, one lap off the pace. At least he has his new daughter, Genevieve, to head home to and ease the pain.

Kurt Busch has been on a bit of a roll as of late, but Saturday night in Joliet his car was awful enough the crew even tried swapping the front shocks on a pit stop to see if they could keep the No. 2 car from getting passed by its own shadow. It didn’t work, leaving the Miller Lite Dodge languishing in 26th.

Kevin Harvick’s RCR entry suffered fuel delivery issues, taking him behind the wall and leaving the No. 29 car 34th in the final running order.

Greg Biffle sounded confident going into this weekend’s event and ran well for much of the race before the engine expired to leave him 35th.

Joliet wasn’t a particularly impressive outing for the Joe Gibbs team. Kyle Busch qualified poorly and could never really advance. He wound up 17th. Logano appeared to be floundering out there all evening and finished 19th. A month ago, the Gibbs team seemed to have the Hendrick outfit’s number, but not so much on Saturday night.

The “Seven Come Fore Eleven” Award for Fine Fortune

Nobody is ever going to be able to say Reutimann lucked into his second Cup victory. He passed no less a driver than Gordon to take the lead and drove on. It should also be noted that during previous races where Reutimann was running strong, his efforts were negated by slow stops in the pits. Saturday night, his crew rose to the occasion every single time.

Saying Carl Edwards needed a good run is like saying perhaps Lindsay Lohan could use a couple weeks in rehab. He got it with a strong second-place finish, but admitted wistfully he might have been able to get up there and make a race of it if he didn’t have to worry about points so much.

Worth Noting

  • Who would have believed Reutimann was going to snap his winless streak before Mark Martin, Gordon and Edwards?
  • More than halfway through the season, Ford is still winless in the Cup Series.
  • Edwards (second) scored his best finish since Pocono last June. Edwards was also runner-up in that race.
  • Gordon (third) is on a roll with a fifth straight top-five finish.
  • Clint Bowyer (fourth) drove to his first top-five finish since this year’s Daytona 500.
  • Jamie McMurray (fifth) returned to the top-10 finishers list for the first time since Charlotte. He’d led just one lap in that stretch.
  • Kahne (sixth) has top-10 finishes in four of the last five Cup races.
  • Denny Hamlin’s eighth-place finish had to be a relief after he’d averaged a 24th-place effort in the last three races.
  • Since Talladega in April, Tony Stewart (ninth) has led just 20 laps.
  • Martin Truex Jr.’s 11th-place finish was his best since Richmond. If Reutimann is “the Franchise” at MWR, Truex is apparently “The French Fries” as in, “you want fries with that?”
  • David Ragan’s 12th-place finish was his second-best result of the season.
  • Matt Kenseth’s 13th-place finish was actually his best since Charlotte.
  • Martin (15th) hasn’t enjoyed a top-10 finish since Charlotte. Call this the Summer of his Discontent.
  • Kyle Busch (17th) has missed a top-10 result the last five times out in the Cup series.
  • Like General Francisco Franco, Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s career continues fighting valiantly to remain dead. He slumped to 23rd, never a factor with handling problems.
  • Harvick’s 34th-place finish was his second worst of the season. Harvick finished 35th at Martinsville.
  • It’s a dubious distinction, but let the record show Joe Nemechek, who has 18 official DNFs this year and one failure to qualify for a race in 19 events, drove just 20 laps at Joliet before parking.

What’s the Points?

Harvick retained the points lead, but after an off-song night his margin dropped to 103 over second-place Gordon. Johnson remained third, while Hamlin moved up a spot to fourth in the standings. Johnson and Hamlin, it should be noted, have five wins apiece this season. Harvick has two, while Gordon has none – his winless streak is now at 48 races, the longest of a 17-year Cup career.

Kurt Busch fell a spot in the standings to fifth. Brother Kyle held steady in sixth, while Jeff Burton moved up a spot to seventh. Kenseth dropped a spot to eighth and Stewart stayed ninth after his ninth-place finish in the race.

Further back, Edwards’s second-place finish moved him up two spots in the standings to 10th, giving him 74 points worth of breathing room over the Chase cutoff. Biffle fell a spot to 11th after his DNF, while Bowyer advanced two spots, back into a Chase berth in 12th. He’s now got a narrow 15-point margin over Earnhardt Jr., who drops a spot to 13th.

Overall Rating (On a scale of one to six beer cans, with one being a stinker and a six-pack an instant classic): Give it a beer and a half, decidedly lukewarm, then pack the cooler and head for the Jersey Shore. We’ve got an off week ahead. Ocean City, N.J., the Anchorage (actually in Somers Point), V-twin motorcycles and girls in their summer clothes earn a six-pack every time.

Next Up: What’s this? A week off in the Cup schedule. This gives NASCAR’s marketing types a two-week period to try to (probably unsuccessfully) whip up some PR hysteria about the upcoming Brickyard 400. The Brickyard is a perennial winner of the Clara Peller “Where’s the Beef?” award – a whole lot of sizzle with not much steak.

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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