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.