USG Sheetrock 400 News and Notes
Re: USG Sheetrock 400 News and Notes
Matt McLaughlin's Thinkin' Out Loud : Chicagoland Race Recap
Matt McLaughlin · Monday July 16, 2007
The Key Moment: Matt Kenseth got a good run on Tony Stewart with 38 laps to go, but Stewart held off the challenge…it was clear sailing for the No. 20 after that.
In a Nutshell: McRacing at McTrack. Perhaps the worst damn race of the season.
Dramatic Moment: Honestly, I simply don’t recall any. I guess the race was less boring in the first few laps after a restart. With passing at a premium, some drivers took insane chances.
What They’ll Be Talking About Around the Water Cooler This Week:
Before we get started on the race, I need to take a personal moment to thank all of you who emailed me your condolences or offered your prayers for my family in the wake of my Mom’s passing on July 7th. Yeah, it was a tough week, especially Wednesday when we laid her to rest, but I am blessed with four very fine women as my sisters. The five of us all got through it…together, and knowing so many people were thinking of us during such a difficult time helped. Now that we have grieved her death, we will celebrate Mom’s life and live it as she would have wanted us…we’ll keep on living, keep on loving, and keep on laughing. And in my case, I’ll keep it floored in the fast lane. Anne McLaughlin didn’t raise her only son to eat dust. As usual, in times of sadness I have found comfort in music, so I’ll close with a quote from a classic country music song:
I said to that undertaker
Undertaker please drive slow
For this lady you are carrying
Lord, I sure hate to see her go
Will the circle be unbroken
By and by, Lord, by and by…
Naturally, I also have to take a moment to express condolences to the France family and their friends, as well as the families and friends of the victims on the ground following this week’s tragic plane crash that claimed the life of Dr. Bruce Kennedy, along with four others. Kennedy was the husband of Lesa France Kennedy, CEO of the ISC, a sister corporation to NASCAR and the entity that owns racetracks like Daytona, Darlington, etc., as well as the website I used to write for. Special prayers go out to the surviving victims who were so badly burned; I’ve been through skin grafts and believe me, I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. Of course, that was only my leg, not 90 percent of my body; I can’t imagine the pain these victims must be going through. In the midst of such tragedy, I find it deplorable that lawyers are already lining up to stake their share of potential lawsuit revenue. At times like these, people should stop pointing fingers and start holding hands.
Did that NASCAR official really tell Tony Stewart not to climb the fence? How far will these folks go to eliminate any spontaneity and fun from the sport?
After mouthing off at Daytona by claiming he was on the outside looking in as a lame duck at Hendrick Motorsports, Kyle Busch continued his tirades this week, swearing he will not work with his teammates any further this season. Asked if his comments and attitude might cause more fans to dislike him, the young driver who shoots fast from the mouth but slow from the cranium said, “My perception has been horrible since I came into this sport, so it doesn’t really even matter any more.”
Even if he was mangling the English language to try to make his point, young Master Busch has neatly nailed the problem here. It is indeed his terrible perception of what is expected of a big league stock car racer that has made him so unpopular with fans. And it doesn’t really matter anymore, because he’s headed for the exits down the road. Busch is a talented driver, no doubt; but a hand grenade with a loose pin isn’t going to last long in this sponsor-friendly atmosphere any longer.
NASCAR is a sport where the elevator from the outhouse to the penthouse is an express. Last week, Jamie McMurray scored an emotional win at Daytona. This week, he wrecked his car and finished 38th. Coincidentally, last week Tony Stewart finished 38th after a controversial wreck with his teammate Denny Hamlin. This week, he won.
Budweiser and Junior are splitting up? This might be the most public divorce since Prince Charles and Diana parted ways. (Of course, longterm fans may recall folks were equally shocked when Darrell Waltrip decided to leave Junior Johnson and Bud back in 1986 to drive for Rick Hendrick in a Tide-sponsored car.)
It wasn’t a great day for race fans trying to convince the Sport Illustrated types our drivers are athletes. Stewart was clearly exhausted after scaling the fence – so exhausted, in fact, he forgot all about that Coca-Cola deal and drank an unlabeled bottle of water. Over on the other end of the garage, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. was asked if he planned to work out to get in better shape after struggling when his power steering went out. He replied that he was planning to go home, sit on the front porch, and drink beer. (Tellingly, he didn’t say he planned to drink some Buds).
Well, TNT’s midsummer sojourn into NASCAR race broadcasting ended on Sunday. In an attempt to focus on the positive, let’s look at some of the good points. The nearly commercial-free broadcast of the Daytona race was an exciting new concept I hope will be expanded. For a rookie, Kyle Petty did a fine job as a race analyst; he’s not in love with the sound of his own voice, and he added some great insights. (Of course, the “in-car analyst” thing at Sonoma didn’t go so well. The fact that profanity was allowed to slip through not live but in replay seemed emblematic of TNT’s “not quite ready for prime time” coverage. Also, on a minor note, when it comes to the shirts Petty wears on air, Opie Taylor called…he wants his wardrobe back). On the production side, TNT consistently did some well-put together pieces on the history of NASCAR and the legends of the sport, clearly their finest moments during their six-week stint.
Beyond that, there were still some kinks that need to be worked out. I will admit TNT’s race coverage was hampered by some bad weather, something which can’t be blamed on a network. But Bill Weber’s self-aggrandizing style is only forgivable in that he’s nowhere near as loathsome as DW, and some of the pit road talent left something to be desired. All in all, I will take into consideration the size of the network and their relative newness to the sport, so I give them a B minus. If I were in charge, I would ask Dr. Jerry Punch if he’d like to warm up for the ESPN segment of the season next year by being lead analyst, and I’d ask Kyle Petty to return. Then, I’d make sure all the races ran “flag to flag” like the Daytona coverage. Also, while diversity in the pit reporter lineup may be important, I’d try to find women reporters whose voices didn’t sound like they were trying out for voice parts as an animated mouse in a Disney cartoon. Now, excuse me; I have to get back to preparing not to watch “Saving Grace”.
Could the flatbed crew for Sunday’s race have taken any more time to load up the stricken No. 48 car? What did they have to do, consult the owner’s manual for instructions on how to operate the rig?
Some people have called for a second date for Chicagoland, noting the city of Chicago itself (about fifty miles away) is the third biggest market in the country. Of course, I figure these are the same folks who schedule root canals for healthy teeth just because they like to suffer.
The Hindenburg Award For Foul Fortune
Jimmie Johnson clearly had a fast car, and it showed; he dominated major portions of the race. Unfortunately, a cut tire put him hard into the wall and left the No. 48 car in 37th place.
Dale Earnhardt, Jr. was running in third when he lost his power steering and began losing positions quickly. In fact, it wasn’t a good weekend for the whole DEI squad with Martin Truex, Jr. and Paul Menard also suffering mechanical problems. Come on, guys; just because it says Bud on the car doesn’t mean you have to drink Bud while working on the car.
Ward Burton simply had nowhere to go when Dave Blaney lost a tire and spun directly in front of him, another hard blow for the struggling team of Larry McClure.
The “Seven Come Fore Eleven” Award For Fine Fortune
It was a pretty fair weekend for Matt Kenseth, who finished second in Saturday’s Busch race and second again in Sunday’s Cup race.
Clint Bowyer overcame a pit road speeding penalty but still finished eighth.
Kurt Busch had to start shotgun on the field, but drove through the pack early and often to finish sixth.
Race winner Tony Stewart almost got caught up in the Blaney – Burton wreck…but slid by unscathed.
Stewart’s victory in Chicago was his first win since Texas last Fall. It was also his first Top 10 finish in three races. But the second half of the season has started, and this is when Stewart typically makes like Frampton and comes alive. If I were Joe Gibbs, I’d have the calendars in the No. 20 rig turned to July at Daytona come next February.
Matt Kenseth (2nd) now has three straight Top 10 finishes.
After hitting a rough spot in the road, Kevin Harvick (3rd) has rebounded with four Top 10 finishes in the last five races. Kurt Busch (6th) has also scored Top 10s in four of the last five races to bring himself back up to fourteenth in points.
Jeff Burton (7th) has Top 10 finishes in three of the last four races.
Jeff Gordon’s eleventh place finish was his worst since he won at Pocono.
David Stremme had his best finish since Charlotte.
Jimmie Johnson suffered his third DNF of 2007. In all of 2006, Johnson had just one DNF.
The Top 10 finishers drove six Chevys, two Fords, and two Dodges.
The top finishing Toyota pilot was Jeremy Mayfield in 26th.
Juan Montoya in fifteenth was the top finishing rookie yet again.
What’s the Points?
Jeff Gordon continues to lead the points, now 303 markers ahead of Denny Hamlin in second and 346 ahead of Matt Kenseth, who remains third.
Of the contenders, Jimmie Johnson took the biggest hit, dropping three spots to seventh in the standings. That allowed Jeff Burton, Carl Edwards and Tony Stewart to advance one spot each to fourth, fifth, and sixth, respectively.
A little further back, Kevin Harvick overtook Kyle Busch for eighth in points once Busch had a tantrum lite and ran into the No. 8 car late in the race. Clint Bowyer overhauled Martin Truex, Jr. for tenth, while Dale Earnhardt, Jr. remains in twelfth place with a thirty point cushion over Ryan Newman, who is thirteenth and first in line for that final Chase spot should someone falter. Kurt Busch in fourteenth is 77 out of the Chase, and fifteenth place Jamie McMurray needs to make up 111 points in the next seven races to get into the big dance. To do so, I’d suggest he win a few more races and hit a few less walls.
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 one lousy warm skunked can of Iron City. I’ve had more fun cases of the flu.
Next Up: The Cup circuit takes a rare weekend off. Enjoy it; it’s the last one until the end of the season. Racing, or some semblance thereof, resumes in two weeks at Indy. Maybe this Mindy chick that Gene Simmons is always singing about will be there?
Re: USG Sheetrock 400 News and Notes
July 15, 2007
Thoughts, observations and a few questions following the USG Sheetrock 400 at Chicagoland Speedway:
• After a 20-race winless streak, Tony Stewart gets his first win of the season out of the way – and all he can think about is heading out on vacation and drinking a case of Schlitz beer.
And now that Smoke has the monkey off his back, the rest of the field had better start worrying about him going on a winning streak. It looks like this team's intermediate program is right on the money.
• While Stewart was saying in his postrace interview that his victory drought wasn't that big of a deal to his team, his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Denny Hamlin was telling a different story.
When asked how it felt to see Stewart finally score a win this season, Hamlin said, "I know they were kind of stressed-out like we were to finally get a win."
Hamlin scored his first victory of the season two weeks ago at Loudon.
• Stewart said the media made a bigger deal out of the rift between himself and Hamlin than it really was. If that was so, Tony, then why did team owner Joe Gibbs make a special trip to Chicagoland on Saturday to speak to both of you? Just to give you both a pep talk?
• Stewart and Kasey Kahne flew to Stewart's Eldora Speedway in Ohio following Happy Hour on Saturday for the World of Outlaws "King's Royal" event that night. Both Stewart and Kahne own WoO teams. Kahne's driver Joey Saldana finished fifth, while Stewart's driver Paul McMahan finished sixth.
By the way, expect to see Budweiser on Kahne's No. 9 Dodge next season.
• All three RCR cars finished in the top 10. Kevin Harvick was fourth, Jeff Burton finished seventh and Clint Bowyer was 10th. Both Burton and Bowyer struggled for the first two-thirds of the race, and Bowyer even went a lap down. Harvick led 54 laps and looked almost unbeatable at the midpoint of the race.
They may not be winning every week, but the RCR cars have more than their share of finishes in the top 10 since the start of the season. You can expect all three will be in the Chase come September.
• Just when we're all ranting and raving about how well DEI is doing, its three teams all had a miserable weekend.
Paul Menard blows an engine during practice and Martin Truex does the same during the race. Then Dale Earnhardt Jr. has his power steering fail, relegating him to a 19th-place finish.
I doubt if it will sway Kyle Busch's opinion about signing with DEI. Most observers expect that announcement to come in a couple of weeks.
• Juan Pablo Montoya once again was the highest-finishing rookie (15th). He leads the ROTY points over David Ragan, Paul Menard, David Reutimann and A.J. Allmendinger.
• Despite his somewhat disappointing ninth-place finish, prerace favorite Jeff Gordon remains the points leader by 303 over Denny Hamlin. Gordon's average finish in 19 races this season is 6.6, and he has finished in the top 10 a whopping 17 times.
• Once again, it was the same familiar faces running near the front and the same set of names at the back. The gap between the haves and the have-nots has reached a critical stage. Less than half the cars that started the race (19) finished on the lead lap.
• Can someone please tell me why Kurt Busch can't win a race? The 2004 champion's winless streak dates back to the spring 2006 Bristol race. Has he forgotten how to drive? I doubt it.
• I wonder what keeps Greg Biffle going every weekend, especially when he's had to endure two consecutive mediocre seasons, including this one. Surely he too hasn't forgotten how to drive. And how in the world is he ever going to make it through his lame duck season at Roush Fenway next year?
• As Chicagoland races go (they’re usually pretty boring), this one was one of the best. Now that this so-called cookie-cutter track has some seasoning, there are two distinct racing grooves, making it a much better race track.
• Kyle Busch, Earnhardt Jr. and a handful of other drivers used the high line to their advantage all afternoon. Even after Earnhardt's power steering failed, he continued to flirt with disaster, running a mere six inches from the outside wall. He had a top-10 car until his mechanical failure.
• Maybe Goodyear could have brought just a slightly softer tire to this race and it would have made the racing a whole lot better. Drivers struggled with a slippery race track, and getting close to another car made it even more treacherous.
• Will someone please find a lucky charm for Bill Davis' No. 22 Toyota team and deliver it ASAP? Dave Blaney finally has got this Nextel Cup deal figured out and now all he needs is some better luck to win one or two races.
• Has Mark Martin's part-time schedule finally caught up with him?
• Jimmie Johnson led 82 laps and may have been the only driver that could have challenged Stewart, but a tire failure ended his day. It dropped the defending Cup champion down to seventh in the points. It was his third DNF of the season.
• Didn't TNT's "five and five" race coverage for five of its six races make for the worst television broadcasts you've ever experienced? It was absolutely unwatchable.
I will miss Kyle Petty's analysis. He's been a real treat. If you think he's great to listen to on television, believe me, he's an even better interview at the race track.
• OK, ESPN. It's your turn with the Cup broadcasts. Please don't disappoint us.
The Nextel Cup teams get a well-deserved weekend off next weekend, their final one of this season. Then it'll be the Allstate 400 at the Brickyard, one of NASCAR's "majors."
History tells us that the winner of that prestigious race often wins the Nextel Cup title the same year.
Re: USG Sheetrock 400 News and Notes
Who's Hot / Who's Not in Nextel Cup: Chicagoland Edition
Chicago is known for football, deep dish pizza, shopping and the Sears Tower; sadly it’s not known yet for great racing. There was at least one driver though didn’t think things at Chicagoland were so bad. That would be Tony Stewart who celebrated the end of his 20 race winless drought with another climb up the fence at the end of a weekend where he got a lecture from the coach about playing nice with others. Smoke wasn’t the only one celebrating though. Richard Childress Racing put all three drivers in the Top 10; while pole sitter Casey Mears led the way for Hendrick Motorsports. But there were plenty of sour faces at the end of the day too. Jimmie Johnson saw his chance at victory blow up along with his tire with 45 to go and Dale Earnhardt Jr. had to muscle home his Chevy to a 19th place finish with no power steering.
So what other drivers left Chicago in a good mood heading into the final break of the year and which drivers will have their vacations tainted by poor performances? Read this week’s Who’s Hot and Who’s Not to find out.
Carl Edwards: It seems like Edwards has become a whole new man in the last eight races. He went ten races into the season leading just three laps in one race and since Darlington; has went on a hot streak leading laps in all but the last two. With five Top 5s in that span he has moved from 11th to fifth in the standings and is giving Matt Kenseth a run for his money as the top Roush-Fenway driver.
Jeff Burton: In the last four weeks, we have seen the old Jeff Burton back at the track. Gone are the DNF’s and sub par performances and he’s gone back to scoring Top 10s to solidify his position in the Chase standings. He scored his best finish of the year since his win at Texas at Sonoma with a third place finish and has backed it up with two seventh place runs at Loudon and Chicago. But Burton isn’t doing it alone; the entire RCR team is heading up as the laps wound down in the regular season.
Kevin Harvick: After winning Saturday’s Busch race, Harvick came up three positions shy of pulling off the weekend sweep. But all is not lost for Happy Harvick and his fans. His fourth place finish marks his fourth in the last five races and keeps him eighth in the standings; a clear distance from the dogfight for 12th. While he’s yet to capture win number two this year; he is making positive strides in the right direction; leading laps (54) like he did at Chicago and racking up Top 5s.
Greg Biffle: The Biffle roller coaster continues in what could be his penultimate season with Roush-Fenway racing; but at least for now he’s seem to have found a level part of the ride. In the last four races, the No. 16 team has scored two Top 10 finishes and an 11th place run at Chicago helped to keep the momentum rolling in the right direction. Perhaps this new found consistency has come too late in the season. Just seven races are left before the Chase field is set; currently sitting 185 points behind 12th place, it appears that once again Biffle will be on the outside looking in.
Kurt Busch: Like his former Roush-Fenway teammate, Kurt Busch has had his share of ups and down this season. Luckily for Busch, his downs haven’t been as long lasting or as extreme and he still has a shot at making the Chase in 2007. Back to back Top 10s have helped put him back to 14th in the standings and in the middle of the fray for one of the final Chase slots. One thing Busch would like to see end, is his winless drought which hit 50 after his sixth place run at Chicago.
David Gilliland: It’s pretty obvious that Gilliland has taken a liking to the restrictor plate tracks, earning his only two Top 10s at Daytona and Talladega this year. But in recent weeks, he’s found some amount of success on tracks where it’s not white knuckle racing for 400 miles. Case in point was his run at Chicago on Sunday where he came from 42nd place to end the day in 16th, his best non-plate race finish of the year. He’s not setting the world afire, but currently settled in 27th in the standings he is doing the one thing he needs to do most; finish races.
David Stremme: It’s been a tale of two seasons so far in 2007 for Stremme. In the first nine races of the year, Stremme had scored a pair of Top 10s and was 14th in the standings. The next ten races have brought plenty of frustration, three DNFs and a drop to 25th in points. It would be easy to blame the two engine failures on his downfall, but his performance has taken a decided downfall. His best finish in the last ten races was a 17th place run at Charlotte; which also gave him his best qualifying effort (10th). In what looked like a possible breakout season for the second year driver, it would seem that Stremme has fallen victim to the dreaded sophomore slump.
Kasey Kahne: Kahne’s Chicago blues continued this weekend with another exasperating 32nd place finish, his seventh finish of 30th or worse this season. After scoring an unexpected Top 10 at Daytona; the No. 9 team was unable to feed off any momentum and struggled with an ill-handling car that got them a lap down early in Sunday’s race. If there was any magic potion that would turn this season around for the team, you could bet team owner Ray Evernham would be washing the cars in it every week. But the frustration continues to mount for the team that won six times last year and is staring a 25 race winless streak in the face when the series heads to Indy next week.
Tony Raines: Raines has yet to put anything but a goose egg in the Top 10 column this year; but earlier this season he was managing to notch solid Top 15 and Top 20 finishes. But in the last six races, even those have become few and far between. Raines was taken out of the No. 96 in favor for road course ringer Ron Fellows, who scored a 15th place run to help the team keep their 25th place standing in the owner points; but that has been their only bright spot as of late. With just one DNF this year, the team has done an impressive job to put dependable machines under Raines; however the finishes are still suffering. With a solid position in the Top 35, there isn’t much excuse for this team not to focus on stronger race set-ups to get Raines back into the Top 15 or Top 20.
Scott Riggs: In what has become a disturbing trend, Riggs missed his second race in the last three weeks Sunday at Chicago. That’s not to say that everything was rosy when he was making races either. Strong performances at Martinsville (8th) and Talladega (11th) have to seem like a lifetime ago to the third car in the struggling Evernham Motorsports camp. His last two finishes have been 33rd at Michigan and 41st at Daytona, where engine troubles sidelined him early. Climbing back into the Top 35 in points will be difficult at best, meaning this team will likely be behind the eight ball for at least part of the year in 2008.
Paul Menard: While his job at DEI is secure, for now; lady luck hasn’t been kind to Menard this year. After a strong qualifying run on Friday when he qualified 15th at Chicago, things quickly turned sour when his second engine of the weekend started to smoke; putting him in the garage and 42nd in the finishing order. If it’s not one thing, then it’s the other for Menard; who has failed to qualify for three of the last eight races. Luckily for Menard his sponsor isn’t likely to lose faith and drop him; but like other struggling drivers, this year’s problems will be following him for months to come.
Brian Vickers: Things have taken a drastic downturn for the driver who gave Toyota their first Top 5 and Top 10 finishes in the Nextel Cup Series. After making five races in a row, Vickers once again finds himself struggling to make it to Sunday; missing three of the last four events. Should the sudden decline continue, it will quickly overshadow the positive results that Vickers has put in this season.
This weekend the Nextel Cup series takes their final weekend off of the 2007 season. Will new BFFs Tony Stewart and Denny Hamlin spend some quality time together? Can Ray Evernham find his teams’ missing mojo and come back to run strong at the Brickyard? Will Joe Gibbs be called in to counsel the Hendrick Motorsports team so Kyle Busch and the others will play nice the remainder of the season? We’ll have to wait two weeks to find out Who’s Hot and Who’s Not in the Nextel Cup season.