Tuesday, June 24, 2014

If Ifs and Buts were Beer and Nuts


First to get THE question out of the way - yes, NASCAR should definitely have a road course in the Chase, even if that means adding another to the regular schedule as well. It is a completely different style of driving that a championship driver needs to master. Turning right, shifting, braking, maneuvering elevation changes, discovering that sometimes two tires on the track are better than four. Not to mention that they are fun to watch, causing as much bumping and blocking and anger among drivers as short tracks.

Second, let's do away with the phrase "road course ringer". Maybe there was such a thing at one time but there is no more. Great thanks to people like Boris Said and Ron Fellows for teaching our regular drivers to be road course aces but you did your jobs so well, we don't need you any more. On the other hand, no one has dominated the road courses either, even Marcos Ambrose - ten different winners in ten races at Sonoma. So it isn't just the "same old, same old" in Victory Lane.

Okay, now if I'm Matt Kenseth, I'm starting to get stressed. He's far from out of it but a win would sure makes things a whole lot more relaxing. In fact, I'd think the whole JGR shop would be getting stressed at not performing up to the level of previous years. You have to wonder if the rumors about Carl Edwards coming over in a fourth car aren't stirring the emotional pot at Gibbs. I see Carl Edwards as a divisive figure. He was divisive at Roush and I think he'll be divisive at JGR. It was bad enough when you can piss off a low-key guy like Matt Kenseth but super egos like Kyle and Denny? Seems like trouble ahead to me. Of course, I worried about that at Stewart-Haas too and they seem to be doing all right.

Speaking of Stewart-Haas, Tony has always been somewhat short-tempered but he seems to be turning into a crabby old man. Is it a combination of the responsibilities of ownership, driving a car that often seems to be under-par, still recovering from a terrible injury or just getting older and less patient. Or maybe all of the above.

Once again, Kevin Harvick looked to have one of the best cars on the track, only to be un-done by pit road problems....again. Also, Kyle Larson was having a great run until he lost his power steering...definitely not good on a road course. A. J. Allmendinger might have been a contender if not for his run-in with Dale, Jr. But that's the thing about racing, isn't it? You can't say "so-and-so would have won if not for"..... Yeah, and if ifs and buts were beer and nuts, we'd have a hell of a party. Although I plead guilty at doing this myself sometimes - "Jimmie would have won that race if not for that blown tire!" Well, maybe.

Shout-out to Paul Menard and the 27 team....the class of the RCR field this year. Paul's reputation is for doing well early in the season before fading later. Hopefully, that won't happen in 2014.

It was a Hendrick Motorsports day, even though they didn't win - all four cars in the top seven is quite a achievement, as unpredictable as road courses can be.

I was actually hoping for another first time winner at Sonoma but I'm not surprised that didn't happen. I expected to start seeing more repeat winners about midway through the regular season. I'm okay with Carl though. I'd truly like to see the Roush organization regain their prominence among the best performing teams. I prefer to see all the teams and manufacturers having a kind of rough parity. I think it's better for the sport when that's the case - although, of course, I may root against them in individual races.


Monday, June 16, 2014

Shrinking Bucket List

As a writer myself, I can easily imagine a writer's hopes. First, it would be - "if only I could write a book", then "if only I could find a publisher, followed by "if only some people would buy my book". If you accomplished those things, you'd dream of being on the New York Times best seller list and having your book made into a movie. There wouldn't be too much to wish for if all those things happened, except doing it all again.

It's the same for a NASCAR driver. They want to climb the ranks, then if they reach the Sprint Cup level, they just want to win a race! - then multiple races, then make the Chase, followed by claiming a championship and at some point in the future, being inducted into the Hall of Fame.

When you reach Jimmie Johnson's sphere of success, there aren't many items left on your bucket list. Well, yes, there are, hopefully, championships seven and eight hanging out there to tie or exceed the very best in the sport but that is a few year's down the road, if they happen at all. The more immediate achievement possible is finally conquering the few tracks that have so far defeated you.

And, of course, that's what happened in Michigan. That track has broken team 48's heart several times. They've run out of gas, had mechanical problems, blown tires...all while leading. Afterwards, they simply had to pack up their hopes and go home, disconsolate once again.

To top off Jimmie's triumph, it happened on Father's Day and his wife, Chandra, and daughters, Genevieve and Lydia, were there to celebrate with him.

Now he has four tracks left that he's never won on - Chicagoland, Watkin's Glen, Kentucky and Homestead. It will be fun to see if he can get them all before he hangs up his helmet. Ditto, Jeff Gordon, who only has one more left on his list.

As a writer, I am similar to a mid-packer at a local track. I have had a minor success now and then but I can't even imagine what it must be like to be J. K. Rowling (of Harry Potter fame). Still, I enjoy watching people reach  pinnacles of achievement. It has to be a perfect storm of luck and talent and drive to get there and stay there. I'm not as familiar with the details of J. K. Rowling as I am with Jimmie but I assume her life was partly about being in the right place at the right time, hooking up with the perfect publisher and editor, innate ability and single-minded determination. The qualities are the same, no matter the profession.

I think Kyle Larson may have all those qualities too although time will tell. He made another good showing at Michigan and it probably would have been better if he hadn't had to work his way from the back toward the front twice, thanks to mistakes made - but those are all part of the learning curve of being a rookie.

Congratulations to Bubba Wallace, Jr. on his second Truck win! It's so much more fun to watch the young guns go at it when they aren't overpowered by Cup drivers and Cup teams.

Okay, if I'm Matt Kenseth, or any JGR driver, I'm beginning to get a little disgruntled.

Off of the subject of NASCAR, we can be warily hopeful about Michael Schumacher who is now out of his coma and has been transferred to a rehabilitative facility. Of course, being out of a coma isn't necessarily an indicator of long-term damage but it is at least a step in the right direction.

So, it's onward to the west coast to wine country. Sonoma is one of my favorite tracks. It sometimes mixes up the running order so maybe we'll get another first-time winner in 2014.



Monday, June 9, 2014

Two Wins Equal Less Stress...for Fans and Drivers

Dale Earnhardt Jr. celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Pocono 400.  (credit: Jeff Curry/Getty Images)

I have to say that if you're a fan of a driver who has two wins, it is much more relaxing to watch the races. The sense of urgency is gone. Naturally, you'd still prefer it if your guy won but you can be more generous-hearted in sincerely congratulating the driver who did. And my congratulations are sincere. I like Dale a lot (and that's because of Dale himself. His father was before my time). It's always fun to see how happy it makes a driver to cross a track where he's never won off his bucket list. I hope Jimmie can do that at Michigan and/or Kentucky.

As a Jimmie Johnson fan, because of his two wins, I can sit back and enjoy the show without as much stress. I actually like to see Jimmie come from behind, picking off one car after another, when there isn't so much on the line. I actually like seeing the 48 do its thing....repairing a torn up race car and grinding out a good finish anyway.

On the other hand, now that drivers are beginning to repeat (which you knew was bound to start happening), I'd be getting anxious if I was a Matt Kenseth supporter. Not that I don't think he'll make the Chase or go the rest of the season without a win. But I'd be antsy for it to happen sooner rather than later just for the relief it would bring. And I know I got sick of hearing about Jimmie's winless "streak" and now all the focus is on Matt and it's bound to be irritating to both him and his fans.

Poor Kasey Kahne - if he didn't have bad luck, he wouldn't have any luck at all. He's probably starting to wonder if the racing gods have it in for him. And that applies to all the Stewart-Haas cars too. At times, they are brilliant, especially Kevin Harvick, but just about the time, they are flying high....boom, their lucky horseshoe abandons them. Maybe it's just a new little horseshoe and hasn't perfected it's technique yet. (They need to send it to Hendrick to be tutored by Jimmie's horseshoe).

And my boy (well, not just my boy, he's a lot of people's boy), Kyle Larson comes in fifth! Great finish for him but not that surprising. He won the ARCA race this week in his first outing at Pocono. I truly believe he will be NASCAR's next great star....although he might have some serious competition from Chase Elliott.

And we switched from Fox to TNT. Some people bitch about all the different networks but I think they all do a pretty good job. I like Kyle Petty although I don't always agree with him, still I enjoy his occasional forays into controversy. A little independence from the "party line" is a good thing. He and Wally work well together explaining things. Ole Larry Mac is the indispensable man of NASCAR. He's everywhere - races, pre-race shows, post-race shows.  I worked for years for elected officials and it was the same way. After every election, some of us lost our jobs when the new leaders brought in their own people but a few of our co-workers had those qualities required to be retained by administration after administration.  We called it the ability to "dance on the head of a pin".

I'm sorry but I just simply can't get into the truck races. Part of that is Kyle Busch winning all the ones he races in but beyond that, none of the drivers have managed to capture my heart (and perhaps Kyle Busch turning the rest of them into afterthoughts is part of the reason why).

Finally, a shout-out to Scott Speed for winning gold in the X-Games in a dominating fashion. I always liked Scott Speed but off-beat little character that he was, he was pretty much turned into a laughingstock in NASCAR. Glad to see him get the last laugh.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Dover is Over

Wow, Myles the Monster was in an even more diabolical mood than usual. He tried something new to attack Sprint Cup drivers - puking up concrete and spitting it at them. Poor Jamie Mac was the victim of that particular maneuver.

Despite Myles' efforts though, JJ the Monster Tamer, came through again and won by a knock out. He now holds the record for Dover wins with nine.

The 48 looked like one of the strongest cars from the beginning but it seemed that Harvick would have given him a run for the money if he hadn't been plagued by bad luck once again. Jimmie appears to have his own horseshoe well in hand (or wherever) but Kevin needs to find one of his own...and pretty quickly. They have the car, the driver, the crew chief and the speed but they need to find a level of smoothness so that everything works together.

And who knows what might have happened if Kyle hadn't been caught up in a wreck early on? Obviously, he had a fast car and was riding a wave of momentum from winning both the Truck and Nationwide race earlier in the weekend. He lacks JJ's smoothness too. Not in the same way as Harvick from glitches in team performance but more with a kind of tendency to push too hard. Kyle crawls into his truck or Nationwide car like he's going to own the track and usually he does. Does he have a bit of a mental block when it comes to confidence in Cup, do you suppose?

Matt Kenseth looked good at the end of the race but, once again, he just couldn't quite grab that brass ring. That has to be getting frustrating. They need to get that no-win monkey off their backs. He's in fine shape being first in the points but still, until you win, it's like a psychic weight holding you down mentally.

Brad finished a pretty strong second. He indicated in his post-race interview that if he'd had another 50 laps, he'd have overtaken Jimmie but I don't think there is any way. If he couldn't do it on a restart, he couldn't do it at all. But let him think it, if it makes him feel better.

Another good run for my boy, Kyle Larson.

Smoke looks to be heating up. We know what he's capable of if he gets on a roll.

For the rest, it was a fairly mediocre race.

What in the heck is wrong with Kasey Kahne? They show signs of competitiveness and you think, "okay, here they go....they're going to live up to their potential...finally," and the next thing you know, they are back in the middle of the pack.

Martin Truex, Jr. and the 78 team aren't showing the performance they did when Kurt Busch was behind the wheel but then, Kurt Busch isn't showing the performance we expected of him when he went to Stewart-Haas either.

Another average race for Danica - 22nd. Damn, I wish that girl would get hot!

And another blah race for Roush. Something definitely has to give there and what that might be was talked about a lot by the t.v. announcers but I don't have a clue. I think Ford will move heaven and earth to keep Carl but I'm not sure at this point in his career, money is nearly the motivator that a possible championship is. And, honestly, I think the Biff's hopes for a trophy are out the window. He'd just as well stay at Roush and mentor the young'uns for the balance of his career. Although, on the other hand, he can see the example of Matt going to Gibbs as what can happen with a fresh start and a new outlook.

So, Dover is over and its onward and upward to TNT. Usually, I get used to the network that's showing us the races and miss that group when they leave but then I get used to the next bunch and miss them when they leave until I get used to the newest crew. Next year, we'll only have to do this twice.