Race Weekend Central

Matt McLaughlin’s Thinkin’ Out Loud: 2011 Texas Fall Race Recap

The Key MomentTony Stewart was able to pass Carl Edwards on the final restart. The outside move wasn’t as impressive as passing Johnson on the outside at Martinsville, but it was still pretty nifty.

In a Nutshell – If you were watching today’s race as one tenth of the Chase, having the top two in points battle up at the front of the pack with the hunter gaining on the hunted was all you could ask for. If you were watching Sunday’s race as its own unique event, it was a long, tedious afternoon.

Dramatic Moment – Um. Well, let’s see. Waiting to see if (when) Jeff Burton ran out of gas there at the end. Sorry, there weren’t many dramatic moments to choose from. Who knew that the speedway’s “No Limit” theme was going to translate into “There’ll be no limit on how bored you’ll get watching yet another mile-and-a-half cookie cutter parade?”

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

All right Kyle Busch fans (both of you who are left), try to defend his actions wrecking former points contender Ron Hornaday Jr. under caution during Friday’s truck race. I cut the punk a little slack after the uproar when he got caught doing triple the speed limit on a public road earlier this season, but wrong is wrong. For a Cup competitor running to stroke his own massive ego in a Truck Series event to destroy a respected long-term member of that series’ chances at a title was not only inexcusable, it was the most despicable thing I’ve seen occur on a racetrack in at least a decade. The Hell with parking Busch for the weekend; I feel the bad-tempered little piece of sh*t that is Kyle Busch should be suspended for the rest of the season from all three series. I’ve been asked to try to be a little more politically correct. That, my friends, is the politically correct version of what I thought about Busch’s actions Friday. Want to send along a note to the folks at Mars, the parent company of Busch’s Sunday sponsor M&M’s, to let them know what you think of that meltdown and ask them to disassociate themselves from him? Here’s the link.

Let’s see. As noted above, Kyle Busch isn’t a particularly good corporate spokesperson for a candy company that caters to kids. David Reutimann is very good with kids. He rarely has a harsh word to say about anyone. The only incident I can recall where Reutimann went into a full meltdown mode was when none other than Kyle Busch wrecked him last year. How talented is Reutimann as a driver? That has yet to be seen, given he’s been running for the hapless MWR organization in substandard equipment. Reutimann needs a job. Am I sensing a good match here and a quick way to solve a major headache for Joe Gibbs?

I’d also guess that Jack Roush’s people were on the phone to Mars Saturday letting them know they are looking for backing for Matt Kenseth, a driver every bit as competitive as Busch and a guy who has won a Cup title to boot. Plus, as an added bonus, Kenseth isn’t even psychotic.

The racing community was spared yet another tragedy this week when Rick Hendrick, his wife and their pilots escaped an aircraft incident with relatively minor injuries. (The plane’s brakes failed upon landing in Key West.) Most of you will recall that Hendrick lost his son, brother, two nieces, several employees and friends to a plane crash outside of Martinsville a few years ago. Longer-term fans will recall that Curtis Turner, Davey Allison and Alan Kulwicki also perished in aircraft accidents while Lesa France Kennedy lost her husband in a fiery plane crash that tragically also cost folks on the ground their lives. More recently, Jack Roush suffered serious injuries and lost an eye to an airplane crash last year. It seems such tragedies strike our sport disproportionately until you realize how many airplanes are put into service for every weekend’s race; heck, some airlines don’t have that many planes in the air at any given time. Meanwhile, if I were Hendrick, I think I’d be studying Amtrak schedules real carefully. People are always telling me I’m safer on a plane than I am on the drive to the airport. That might be so statistically, but if somebody sideswipes me on I-76, I’m not going to end up falling 10,000 feet ablaze screaming my lungs out into some farmer’s field.

I felt it was a classy gesture for Edwards to walk out on pit road to congratulate Stewart, but there was probably also a mind games aspect intended as well. Edwards was acknowledging a hard-driven win by Stewart but showing he wasn’t rattled by it. The other thing I noticed after the race was that Edwards looked like he’d been sitting in a recliner all afternoon while Stewart was clearly physically exhausted to the point that he was barely able to get out of the car. It’s been a long season; with two races left to run and all the commitments that go with being a title contender, Edwards’ outstanding physical conditioning regimen compared to Stewart’s habit of shoveling down sacks of slop from Burger King might be the ace the No. 99 driver has up his sleeve.

The debate goes on. Does winning races carry enough of a reward in the points standings? Elliott Sadler, who is second in the Nationwide Series championship, hasn’t won a race in that series this season. Until he ran out of gas or had a fuel feed issue at Texas Friday night, James Buescher was a serious contender for the Truck title despite not only not having won a race but earlier this season failing to even qualify for the Phoenix spring event. Edwards currently leads the Cup points standings, but he’s only won one race. Meanwhile Stewart, who won his fourth race in the Chase Sunday, is still trailing Edwards. (Though not by much. Didn’t I tell you those positions Edwards left on the table playing it safe at Talladega were going to come back to haunt him?)

Wow, I didn’t see that one coming. It was made official this week that Reutimann is out at Michael Waltrip Racing after this season. Reutimann is, of course, the only driver in MWR history to actually win a race (two, actually) in one of the sorry nags the team prepares. Apparently the sponsor, Aaron’s, insisted a change be made. That strikes me as odd considering how heavily they used him (and even his daughter) in their advertising campaigns this year. Yeah, good old silly looking Reutimann, always the second banana at Aaron’s to his team owner Michael Waltrip. (It’s hard to call Waltrip a “has been.” To borrow a line from Kurt Busch, Waltrip is a “never has been.”) Suddenly that advertising angle isn’t so funny, huh?

Reutimann’s replacement will be none other than Mark Martin, another perennial underdog though doubtless an immensely talented one and a future Hall of Famer if, indeed, the NASCAR Hall of Fame has a future. Martin will run 25 races for MWR, including next year’s Daytona 500. Waltrip himself will serve as a rolling hazard at the other three plate races in 2012, along with driving at Kentucky. Drivers for the other nine or so races are yet to be announced. I just wonder what direction the Aaron’s advertising is going to take next year. I have an immense amount of respect for Martin, but I can’t be the only one who thinks with each passing week he looks more like Yoda.

Ut-oh, junko. (OK, Ancient Racer, explain that obscure cultural reference.) On Friday night, Kevin Harvick not only won the truck race, he clinched the owner’s championship in that series and the manufacturer’s title for Chevrolet. But at the end of this season, KHI will quit the Truck Series. What does that tell you about the series’ future? KHI might also have been celebrating a driver’s championship at Homestead if not for the dastardly actions of a certain, jug-eared 24k-plated rectum at Texas Friday night. Rectum hell, he damn near killed him.

Note to TMS head honcho Eddie Gossage: in the future, you might want to avoid scheduling the race against a Dallas Cowboys home game. Those grandstands were mighty empty for a track that once reliably sold out.

When is NASCAR going to stop insulting the intelligence of fans? Rather than calling phony debris cautions like the one on lap 112, just admit it’s a “Promoter’s Option” caution to spice up a race that’s become a processional parade.

Hmm. You think Ryan Newman was told to get up there at the end of the race and run Burton hard to ensure the No. 31 car ran out of gas and Newman’s team owner Stewart won? That was a three-point swing when Burton ran out of fuel with five laps to go. Newman’s team had been communicating over the radio that they intended to try to finish the race without pitting as well, which was clearly a ruse.

Editor’s Note: There’s conflicting information on Newman. Our Managing Editor Tom Bowles, for one was listening to his radio channel and crew chief Tony Gibson was consistent the No. 39 was going to pit with 11 laps to go. So, either ESPN (and others) were listening to a different channel, Tom was hallucinating, or things weren’t quite so dramatic.

The Hindenburg Award For Foul Fortune

So Kyle, other than the Truck race, how was your weekend trip to Texas?

Brad Keselowski got boxed into his pit stall and backed into Denny Hamlin trying to escape. A potential top-10 finish evaporated into a 24th-place result; to Keselowski’s credit, he took full responsibility for the incident after the race and tried apologizing to Hamlin afterwards.

All three of the Joe Gibbs Toyotas were off-song from the drop of the green: Hamlin and Michael McDowell were 20th and 33rd, respectively while Joey Logano added the frosting to his cake with a blown engine.

Jimmie Johnson worked his way steadily into the top 10 and even the top five before an unforced error sent him sliding through the infield grass (he wound up 14th). When it’s not your year, it’s just not your year but when it has been your year for five straight years, it’s tough to bitch too much about a bad one.

Jeff Gordon also worked his way towards and into the top five and possible contention for a win before dropped lug nuts during a pit stop forced him to battle back to a sixth-place finish.

Dropping from first to 27th, Burton’s team was off by a full five laps in their calculations on fuel mileage. Only an extended caution flag period in the final 20 laps would have made that strategy work. Maybe the No. 31 team ought to throw out their coal-fired calculators?

The “Seven Come Fore Eleven” Award For Fine Fortune

Yowza. Between Kyle Busch’s cranial meltdown, the Hendrick plane incident, Jeremy Mayfield’s arrest, and Reutimann’s surprise firing, Brian Vickers‘ thuggish behavior last week at Martinsville is old news. Poor Vickers had to wreck Geoff Bodine just to get on TV Sunday.

Edwards just about got wrecked out late in the race when Regan Smith’s car got out from underneath him. He still salvaged second.

At one point Martin Truex Jr. fell a lap down, but using the wave-around rule he was able to get back on the lead lap and charge forward en route to an eighth-place finish.

Worth Noting

  • While Edwards has won just that one race, his second-place finish Sunday was his fifth runner-up result of 2011.
  • Kasey Kahne (third) has top-10 finishes in five of the last six races.
  • Greg Biffle’s fifth-place performance was his best since New Hampshire.
  • Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s seventh-place finish gives him back-to-back top-10 results for the first time since Kansas and Pocono in June.
  • Truex’s eighth-place performance was his best since he placed second in the Bristol night race.
  • Keselowski’s 24th-place result was his worst since Loudon in July.
  • The top 10 finishers at Texas Sunday drove four Chevys, four Fords and a pair of Toyotas. Keselowski’s 24th-place finish was the best by a driver wheeling a Dodge.
  • Trevor Bayne’s improbable Nationwide Series win Saturday sealed the manufacturer’s title for Ford.

What’s the Points?

Edwards maintains his lead in the standings, but his margin over Stewart is now just three points. Harvick maintains his third place position but is now 33 points out of the lead. Kenseth moved up a spot to fourth, five points behind Harvick. Unless Stewart and Edwards wreck each other out on the first lap at Phoenix (or Kyle Busch gets mad at both of them early in the race), Harvick and Kenseth’s title hopes are over.

Keselowski fell a spot to fifth in the standings, more than a full race’s worth of points out of the lead. Johnson is sixth in the points, but five-time sits 55 markers out of the top position. No joy of six this season. Earnhardt and Gordon each moved up two spots in the standings and are seventh and eighth now, respectively. Kurt Busch, who struggled all weekend at Texas now sits ninth. Hamlin, Kyle Busch and Newman round out the Chase field, in order; they are now all mathematically eliminated from title contention this year.

Clint Bowyer maintains his “Best of the Rest” position (13th in the standings). Bowyer is now 18 points ahead of Kahne and 19 points ahead of Biffle for the spot.

Overall Rating (On a scale of one to six beer cans, with one being a stinker and a six-pack an instant classic) — Two cans of lukewarm Lone Star served up by a cowboy dying of lung cancer on the back of a Greyhound bus headed for Toledo.

Next Up – And then, there were two. The series heads off to Phoenix where a newly repaved track surface awaits. Nobody is quite sure what to expect, so they’re calling this a “wild card” race. Of course, they called Talladega and Martinsville “wild card” races as well…

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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