Sunday, April 27, 2014

More Questions Than Answers

Sb Nation Animated GIF on Giphy

Good old Saturday night short track racing! Ya' gotta love it. Not only were Casey Mears and Marcos Ambrose angry with one another when it was over but Matt Kenseth, as well as a few others, were mad at Brad Keselowski. Brad thought Matt stole the win from him by pushing him up the track but I didn't see anything Matt did that was so wrong. As he said, he was protecting his spot and was no more aggressive about it than others going for the win would have been. And there really is no excuse for using a car as a weapon to show your displeasure after the checkered flag has flown as Brad did. Will NASCAR be assessing any penalties on Brad and Marcos for throwing punches, with or without a car?

So, in the end, Joey Logano won his second race this year. Joey Logano is my least favorite driver and I couldn't even begin to explain to you why that is. That's the thing about personalities. They affect people differently. You are automatically drawn to certain people and turned off by others....for no particular reason except that they rub you the wrong way. It not hate...not like some fans feel for Jimmie or Kyle Busch. I wouldn't wish for anything bad to happen to Joey but I don't root for him.

I was looking forward to seeing how Kyle Larson handled starting on the pole. That didn't last long since he got spun out by Clint Bowyer on the first turn of the first lap and ended up at the back of the field. He did deal with that pretty well by just patiently making his way back to the front, finishing 16th. Even at that, he was still the highest finishing rookie, 5 spots ahead of Justin Allgaier.

I was hoping Jimmie, or if not Jimmie, then Jeff or Matt would get their first win. Jimmie was out early with tire problems. So much for that. But it really looked like Jeff might do it. He nailed the restarts, which has been one of his weak spots....until the last one. Then it looked like Matt might do it until he got bollixed up with Bad Brad. As far as I'm concerned, the more drivers with wins, the more exciting the Chase will be. Although, if you notice, 1 and 2 in the standings have yet to win a race.

I will say the Hendrick Team is hell on getting those second place finishes! Kasey Kahne came in 14th. Why is there always one car in the Hendrick stable that doesn't perform as well as the others?

And how can Kevin Harvick do so well while the other Stewart-Haas cars struggle? We know Tony is a great driver. Ditto Kurt Busch but, while they have an occasional good race (Kurt has won one, after all), they mostly seem to plink along in the middle of the pack. Is it the difference in driving style? Is it the crew chief and how he sets the car up? Whatever, it seems as if Kevin Harvick is always the fastest of the bunch although bad luck has kept that from showing up in the standings.

I love Martin Truex, Jr. but he's ranked 27th right now in the exact same car Kurt Busch put in the Chase in 2013. Is that misfortune or simply a matter of Busch's superior skill as a race car driver?

There are more questions than answers so far in this year's NASCAR season.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

That Lady is No Lady!


I lost count of the number of Darlington stripes about two-thirds of the way through Saturday's race but let's just say that the Lady in Black left her mark on a lot of cars, more than once on many of them. Most of the rookies learned about Darlington the hard way although she nailed some of the veterans too. There were 11 cautions, lots of passing and more lead changes than last year. There were grumpy drivers and grouchy crew chiefs.

But through it all, Kevin Harvick sailed along, always able to get back in the lead, untouched by the mayhem behind him.  The supposedly too-tough-to-tame race track rolled over in Harvick's capable hands and purred to have her belly rubbed.

 In the end, the cream rose to the top in the Bojangles Southern 500. The top five were all drivers you'd expect to be there - Harvick, Dale Earnhardt Jr, Jimmie Johnson, Matt Kenseth and Greg Biffle. It was pretty much the same with the top ten, except perhaps for Kyle Larson, who was the highest finishing rookie in 8th.

Kevin Harvick deserved to win the race, having arguably the best car all night and, God knows, after the bad luck he's had in the last few races, he needed a big turnaround. Winning the Southern 500 definitely meets that criteria. If anything, it was even more fun to watch champion drivers, Jimmie Johnson and Matt Kenseth, who'd both qualified poorly, work their way to the front. Jimmie, in particular. His car was out to lunch in the first part of the race. He tooled around in the back racing with the likes of Parker Kligerman and Cole Whitt until Chad Knaus was able to work his magic and get it turned around, whereupon he began moving steadily forward.

Strangely, in the point standings, only two of the top five (Earnhardt and Edwards) have won races while three have not (Gordon, Johnson and Kenseth) so winning at this point is not necessarily indicative of how your season is going.

At Darlington, 2014 continued to be the season of rookies with Chase Elliott (an 18-year-old high school student!) winning back to back races in the Nationwide series, a phenomenal accomplishment, considering how many Cup drivers he had to beat to pull that off. Hit that siren, Dawsonville!

Meanwhile, Kyle Larson was top five in the Nationwide race and top ten in the Sprint Cup race. Austen Dillon is also doing well in his first year in Cup. NASCAR has got to love these kids and what they portend for the future of NASCAR.

Elliott and Larson both seem to be that rare combination of daring cool-headedness. They make aggressive moves and take calculated risks but not foolish ones. That daring may bite them now and then but it sure makes watching them entertaining.

And next week, Easter, and a week off. Easter is not a big deal at my house and, personally, I'd rather race, but I expect the drivers and teams look forward to some time to catch their breath and evaluate their season so far after hard back and forth treks across the country.  So, I'll wait... impatiently....for Richmond.


Tuesday, April 8, 2014

"We've Seen Fire and We've Seen Rain..."


One of the things I love most about being retired is not caring if the races are held over until Monday! I actually got a lot done Sunday thanks to the pent-up energy of waiting, waiting, waiting to see if the rain would stop in time to dry the track and race. I cleaned my refrigerator (no more two year old jars of jelly!) and organized my cupboards (now all the soups are together as are the cans of vegetables). Whenever I do this, I ask myself why I am a spice fanatic. There are about a half a dozen spices I use with any regularity so why do I have Peppered Bacon Salt and Sazon seasoning (whatever that is)? I can never bring myself to get rid of spices, just knowing, the very next day, I'll find a must-make recipe that calls for Rubbed Dalmatian Sage (is this better than the regular kind?) 

Anyway, Monday, it was and, right out of the box, several of the favorites experienced catastrophe. Dale Jr. clipped the grass and caught on fire. Bam - gone.  Debris from his car hit Jimmie's car and he ended up three laps down trying to repair his wounds. Bam - his day was ruined. Kevin Harvick had an engine failure almost immediately. Bam - gone. Cars were damaged by the air from the jet dryers. There were blown tires, spins and speeding penalties. 

Up at the front, cars came and went but it appeared the Penske cars were the class of the field from the git-go and sure enough, in the end, it was Joey Logano standing in Victory Lane. He is now the only driver to have made the final cut in every round of qualifying so far. I bet every night when Joey says his prayers, he sends up thanks for letting him go to Penske Racing. He is finally showing the potential everyone thought he had back during his rookie days.

Even though Joey won the race, Jeff Gordon is now the points leader. How satisfying it is to see Big Daddy back at the top!  Go, Jeff! Of course, for every winner, there's a loser and this week it was Dale, Jr. who slid down thanks to his early out.

For me, the most fun part of the race was once again, watching young Kyle Larson handle himself like a pro, finishing fifth. (He is now 15th in the point standings). This kid is going to make watching NASCAR exciting for years to come. I hope the Youth Movement in NASCAR brings fresh new eyes to the sport. The Dillons, Chase Elliott, Ryan Blaney, Dylan Kwasniewski (geez, I only learned to spell Keselowski a couple of years ago!) - surely they all have their own fan bases who will translate into young race fans.

Still, having said all that, the top ten in points are: Gordon, Kenseth, Edwards, Logano, Kyle Busch, Earnhardt Jr, Johnson, Keselowski, Vickers and Menard. No huge surprises there and I expect those last few spots will trade back and forth several times before the end of the season.

To insert a small note of politics, it may have been that Mother Nature was pissed that this race was the Duck Commander 500. I don't suppose Mom is especially enamored of people who made their name and fortune killing her ducks. Might want to think about that the next time, Eddie Gossage!  If you really get off on controversy, you might try calling your next race the Wendy Davis for Governor 500 - ha!ha! I doubt if the NRA 500 or the Duck Commander 500 kept many liberals from watching the race but I bet conservatives would stay away in droves from the Wendy Davis for Governor 500 - the right being way more intense about these things than us lefties.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Drama - A Half Mile at a Time

Gotta' love it! Two of our most aggressive drivers banging around on one another on the track. Followed by provocative statements of future paybacks. Kurt Busch, joyful winner of the race, didn't really want to talk about downer subjects on the day of his triumph so he tried to shame ESPN for harping on it. (Kurt was correct but is the media embarassable?) But still, he indicated that retaliation for Brad Keselowski's "punk-ass move" would be considered when the time was right.

Keselowski, meanwhile, was more than willing to spill all about his unhappiness with Kurt and how he ruined what Brad thought was a win-capable car. I didn't really see it that way myself. I think what happened was simply a product of Martinsville's narrow and difficult-to-negotiate pit lane but in Brad's view, it was all Kurt's fault.

Will this feud continue? Oh, I hope so! Both Brad and Kurt are champion drivers. Both are daring, testosterone-driven drivers. Both tend to hold a grudge.

Over all though, I think Kurt might be willing to let it go. He's spent most of his career embroiled in controversy. It has cost him good rides. Gene Haas stepped up and gave him his last, best chance to win another championship. He was holding the trophy, well, not exactly holding, more like hugging the grandfather clock, for the first time in 84 races.

It has to feel great to be able to reward Gene Haas for his faith. Haas had said he just wanted to see a car with his company's name on it in Victory Circle and there it was, only 6 races into the season. And to match the performances of your teammates. And to give your team the thrill of a win. And to have your girlfriend's young son share the excitement with you. And to beat Martinsville's best, clean and straight-up.

If he lets a pissy little fuss with Brad Keselowski over-shadow all of that, he hasn't learned as much from past experience as I think (and hope) he has.

It was another near-miss for Jimmie Johnson but how bad can you feel when you dominate a race, lead the most laps and your car just doesn't quite have what it takes to overtake the winner in the last few laps? I'm sure he was disappointed but as in California, it wasn't as if he wasn't running well. Onward and upward, Jimmie. Maybe Texas will be your time.

Dale Junior came in third and went back to the top of the point standings. Matt Kenseth is still in second. I guess I haven't been paying attention to how consistently he has been running - not setting the world on fire with top fives but evidently he hasn't had any really terrible results either...which is typical of Kenseth.

Danica has been qualifying dismally but running decent in the races. This week she qualified 10th but ran dismally in the race. Now, she needs to put them both together!

Another good finish for Richard Petty with a top five for Marcos.

Denny Hamlin needs to stop boasting in advance. He ought to know there are so many factors in a race that you simply can't predict that you'll win. It makes you look foolish when you do, then finish 19th. Just keep your mouth shut and do your bragging afterwards.

For those who like drama with their racing, there was drama a'plenty at Martinsville. Now we head west to see what Texas has to offer.