Monday, October 7, 2013

Caution is Out!

Phrase of the day on Sunday was: "caution is out!" New tire, new track surface, changing temperatures - they all threw drivers for a loop. It seemed as if the field barely got going until another yellow flag slowed them down again. Of course, as fans, we hate races (a la Dover) that are almost caution free with long boring green flag runs and one driver staying in front throughout most of the race. But, equally, we hate races that are one caution after another. We're like Goldilocks. Our porridge is either too hot or too cold.

This race disproved the adage that you simply can't make mistakes in the Chase. Everyone makes mistakes but some are just better at overcoming them than others. Matt Kenseth got a speeding penalty and came back for an 11th place finish. Jimmie Johnson got caught out on pit road by a caution and had to go around the second time, losing the lead and a ton of track position, yet came back to finish sixth. It isn't that the best teams don't make mistakes, it more that they are skilled enough to minimize the mistakes they make.

It also proved that, as always, the lucky horseshoe plays its part in the outcome. The 48 car was losing an engine on the next to last lap. Jimmie had to let one car go by but he nursed his ailing race car across the finish line in 6th position. If that had happened a few laps earlier, it could have been disaster for the 48. I expect JJ gave the horseshoe as extra affectionate rub on Sunday night. 

This race was a game changer to some degree. The two at the top are the same. Jimmie is now within 3 points of Matt. But below them, Kyle Busch is probably done. As they say on ESPN - "stick a fork in him." And it's not that he'd necessarily have to be done. It is possible, although unlikely, that he could come back but I just don't think Kyle has the ability to put it behind him to focus, laser-like, on what's ahead instead of what's happened in the past. 

Kyle's whole weekend was chaos. It started when he wrecked his primary car and continued in the Nationwide race when, as he so often does, he lost sight of the big picture, getting caught up in the heat of the moment. So, I think his mind was already somewhat scattered during the Cup race, with a predictable result. 

Meanwhile, Kevin Harvick and Jeff Gordon improved their situations. They are now in doable territory, although they have to hope that Jimmie and Matt each have a disastrous race befall them (and Talladega is looming on the horizon). 

I got to thinking about the Nationwide series and the drivers who will very likely be coming to Cup in the future. Quick, which of these things is not like the others - Chase Elliott, Jeb Burton, Corey LaJoie, Ryan Blaney, Austin Dillon, Kyle Larson, Ty Dillon? If you answered that only one of them didn't come from a racing family that gave him a glide path to his chosen career, you'd be right. Only Kyle Larson's parents essentially said, "we can't afford to help very much and we don't have any racing contacts, you're going to have to do this on your own." 

It's not that I blame the Richard Childresses and the Randy LaJoies and the Ward Burtons and the Bill Elliotts and the Dave Blaneys. Heck, I'd do exactly the same for my kids if I was in their situation but when it comes to rooting for someone to make it big, my heart will be with the one who had to scratch and scrape to get where he is. In politics, I'm predisposed to siding with the poor against the rich and I guess I'm the same way as a race fan.

On another unrelated issue, people ask me, usually sort of sneeringly, "well, what do you think of your girl, Danica now?" And what I think is that she is probably having a somewhat normal first season in Cup, especially for someone who didn't even get in a NASCAR race car until a few years ago (think: Marcos Ambrose, Juan Pablo Montoya, Sam Hornish, et al). I think the learning curve is steep and she's struggling with it. I think Stewart-Haas is still struggling with the new car too. They've had some successes but they've also had a lot of races in which they were mediocre at best. Mark Martin and Ryan Newman didn't exactly have stellar races in Kansas either. So, am I still a Danica fan? You bet. Am I willing to give her more time to prove herself? Yes, I am. Maybe she'll make it and maybe she won't but I'm in her corner until she's had a fair shot at it.

And, lastly, positive thoughts and best wishes to Dario Franchitti after his wreck. Hoping he'll be as good as new in a relatively short period of time.