Race Weekend Central

Matt McLaughlin’s Thinkin’ Out Loud: 2011 World 600 Race Recap

The Key Moment: Dale Earnhardt Jr. ran out of gas exiting the fourth corner on the final lap, allowing Kevin Harvick to streak by and claim his third win of the season.

In a Nutshell: I don’t think Moe, Larry and Curly could have done a worse job of officiating a race than NASCAR did tonight. But then NASCAR has a lot more than three stooges.

Dramatic Moment: Waiting to see who was going to run out of gas on those final two laps.

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

You have got to be kidding me! Yeah, NASCAR could use an Earnhardt Jr. win. In fact they need Junior to win. But the fact no caution was thrown after the melee that followed the final restart just because Junior would clearly have run out of gas during another GWC segment was a case of blatant favoritism. Earlier in the race the same officials had thrown a caution for a beer can laying on the track and the No. 2 car was losing chunks of metal a lot larger than one of those. It was just another huge step towards reducing the credibility of the organization to that of the WWE.

See also
Bowles-Eye View: Almost Just Doesn't Cut It - The Missed Opportunity 600

Speaking of which, Kasey Kahne was clearly out of fuel before he ever even reached the green flag. With that entire pack of cars behind him, should the restart have been waved off to allow him to get out of the way?

By the rule book pushing a teammate is legal until the final lap of a race. But you have to wonder if Harvick might not have run out of gas too had not two of his teammates been pushing him under the final caution.

It’ll be interesting to see if a “language” fine is handed down to Chad Knaus later this week for his now infamous “F-bomb” after Jimmie Johnson’s engine expired as broadcast live on national TV. A similar but slightly less profane term uttered by Earnhardt in victory lane at Talladega once cost him a ton of dough and even points. Maybe there’s an ancillary rule to “Boys Have At It” that states, “Kids say the darnedest things.”

NASCAR made the headlines again all this week though not perhaps in the manner the Daytona Beach politburo would have preferred. Kyle Busch took a Lexus LFA (a high-dollar, high-speed car that Lexus intends to compete with the lower-line Ferraris and Lambos… though it might sell a bit better if they hadn’t had a Japanese cartoon anime animator design it) for a little spin and got pulled over by the law running 128 mph in a residential area. Many area residents were outraged the Cup star wasn’t hauled off to jail (and presumably beaten within an inch of his life) after being apprehended.

I can say from personal experience as a 17-year-nobody I was pulled over at triple-digit speeds the same night, on the same stretch of lonely highway near the Shore by the same cop twice (and then compounded my problems by earning a third ticket smoking the tires leaving the second stop) and I wasn’t taken to jail. I was just advised by the trooper with a decidedly less than sunshiny attitude that I should kiss my license goodbye before I slipped it back in my wallet.

I wasn’t a celebrity but I was asked for my autograph three times, just like Tony Stewart was when he got caught late one night buzzing across a Florida bridge at triple-digit speeds in his Ferrari a few years back. The cop had me sign all three citations. Stewart got a warning and let go. I got grounded for a month.

I guess it’s because of Busch’s career-long antics that people want to see him hung at the nearest stout branch while Nationwide Series driver Michael Annett’s far more serious DUI arrest earlier this year barely caused a ripple in the pond. I’d guess in my lifetime I’ve driven over 50 cars at triple-digit speeds ranging from a twin turbo ’78 Corvette, a couple Boss Mustangs, a couple Buick GS Stage cars and even Mom’s old 318 Aspen woody wagon, but as I grew older I learned my lesson. Helping carry your best friend to his final resting place after a high-speed late night accident will do that to a fellow.

Perhaps as part of his rehabilitation Mr. Busch would like to spend a day with one of my best friends, Andrew’s son, who was a passenger in a friend’s BMW when the driver decided to check out the capabilities of the car a year and a half ago. The car hit passenger side first into that tree. Adam is making decent progress relearning to walk, talk, feed himself and such and even cut the front lawn for the first time last weekend on a riding mower, but he’s got a lot of challenges that still lay ahead before he is the vibrant, funny, talented, athletic young man he once was before a diffuse axial brain injury.

When you’re up here for Pocono next month, Mr. Busch, stop by. I’ll introduce you two.

Paul Menard is the latest addition to the list of Cup drivers injured in bizarre circumstances. Menard took 20 stitches to his right foot (the one that holds the gas down) after stepping on a piece of metal entering his dock. Let’s see. Johnson fell out of a golf cart. Carl Edwards got hurt playing Frisbee. Trevor Bayne is still down and on the side with a mysterious (and worrisome) illness still undiagnosed but thought to be related to a bug bite. When did the men of steel of yore get replaced by these china dolls?

Maybe we’re getting her by default. According to all the open-wheel writers and even her sponsor (the website hosting venue with the cheesy commercials) Danica Patrick will make the jump from Indy cars to Cup racing next season. In somewhat frank terms the open wheel journalists seem glad to see her go as it will allow the other drivers, and Indy racing is chock full of colorful personalities, a little time in the limelight at long last.

They are worried about the sport’s highest-profile figure leaving for the greener pastures of NASCAR and its effect on the TV ratings but you can’t base a racing series on one driver. Ms. Patrick remains coy on the issue of her future saying no decision has been made yet, but surely the opportunity to lose 36 races a year rather than 17 and still make more money doing it has got to have its appeal with her stated intentions to retire before 40. As her sponsor rep noted; “She doesn’t exactly work for minimum wage.”

Am I the only one who thinks there’s some disconnect between the audio and video feed on the SPEED channel’s Speedcenter program? Commentators lips are often moving for several seconds after the audio stops. It’s like watching a really bad Kung-Fu movie on a Saturday afternoon back in the days of UHF and Panama Red.

A note to the folks at FOX: Despite what a soda company may have told you the official start of summer is on June 21st, three weeks from now.

The Hindenburg Award for Foul Fortune

I’m told some Earnhardt fans exited the grandstands in tears after the race thinking they’d been about to see the redemption of their hero. Don’t worry Earnhardt Army, Junior will win one soon. NASCAR will find a way to hand it to him.

Kyle Busch emerged seemingly out of nowhere later in the race thanks to the varied pit strategies employed all evening. But two unforced errors spinning out ended his chances after he briefly led the race with the final incident putting him out of the event.

Jamie McMurray had his best run in ages before losing an engine around midway through the race.

Kahne never even made it to the final green flag before running out of gas.

You have to feel both for Earnhardt and Steve LeTarte. It was a gamble worth taking but ultimately it didn’t pay off. For the want of a teammate to push him a half lap under caution….

The heartache of the day award has to go to Indy 500 rookie JR Hildebrand, who was one corner away from winning at the Brickyard but somehow managed to stuff his car into the wall in the final corner. Even with his right front suspension grinding into the wall he was able to coast across the finish line in second, but nobody remembers who finished second.

See also
Frontstretch Breakdown: 2011 Indianapolis 500

The “Seven Come Fore Eleven” Award for Fine Fortune

Listening to Harvick gripe about his car earlier in the event, you’d have thought he’d be lucky to keep it in a 50-acre briar patch much less win the race.

Denny Hamlin thought he had an engine expiring midway through the race, but the team diagnosed the problem as a malfunctioning carb. They were able to replace the Holley under caution without losing a lap and miraculously Hamlin drove on to a 10th-place finish.

Joey Logano narrowly avoided two wrecks and was given two lucky dog passes when he was a lap in arrears to the leaders. He went on to finish third.

David Ragan had one of the better runs of his career and dodged the mayhem there at the end to finish second.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. had a credible debut in the Cup Series, finishing 11th despite having put himself into the wall three times.

There’s signs of life for the Petty teams again with both Marcos Ambrose and AJ Allmendinger acquitting themselves well and rising in the standings.

Kurt Busch overcame another loose wheel to post a fourth-place finish.

Worth Noting

  • Ragan’s second-place finish was the best of his Cup career.
  • Logano (third) scored his first top-five finish since Phoenix last fall.
  • Kurt Busch’s fourth-place finish was his best of the season.
  • Allmendinger’s fifth-place finish was his first top-five result of the season.
  • Ambrose (sixth) has posted top-10 finishes back to back for the first time in his career.
  • David Reutimann’s ninth-place finish was his best of the season.
  • Hamlin (10th) has top-10 results in three of the last four points races.
  • Edwards’s 16th-place finish was his worst since Martinsville.
  • Jeff Gordon (20th) is now mired in a four-race drought outside the top 10. He’s averaging a 22nd-place finish in those four events.
  • Jimmie Johnson’s DNF was his first since Daytona last July and the No. 48 team’s first engine failure since the ‘08 600.

What’s the Points?

Edwards stays atop the standings. His third win of the year propelled Harvick three positions forward into second, 36 points behind Edwards.

Johnson slipped a spot to third but is just one point behind Harvick. Earnhardt holds serve in fourth (43 points out of the lead) and Kyle Busch fell two spots to fifth.

Kurt Busch had a good points night, advancing three spots to sixth.

The wreck he got caught up in really cost Ryan Newman in the standings. He dropped three spots to 10th.

Hamlin re-enters the top 12, advancing a spot to 12th.

Allmendinger now finds himself 13th, just four points out of the top 12 and 18 points out of a locked-in playoff berth.

Mark Martin fell three spots to 14th.

When Gordon won a race, everyone assumed he was locked into the Chase. Maybe not. Gordon fell another two spots into the standings and is 24 points ahead of 21st-place Martin Truex Jr. To earn a wildcard slot a race winner has to be in the top 20 and the No. 24 team is clearly struggling right now.

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 four cans. If nothing else it was unpredictable.

Next Up: After a brief vacation at home in Charlotte, the Cup series heads west for the summer. Kansas City, Kan. is the next stop. Hey kid, you wanna see the big top?

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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