Monday, August 11, 2014
Watkins Glen - It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.
First, was that sick feeling in the pit of your stomach with the news of Tony Stewart hitting and killing a young Sprint driver, Kevin Ward, Jr. I haven't watched the video. I don't want to see it so my opinion is simply based on what I've read. Nothing could make me believe that Tony Stewart would ever hurt, much less aim to kill, anyone on purpose but having said that, we know he can be reckless when he's angry and those chickens came home to roost with a vengeance at Canandaigua Raceway.
Law Enforcement has said no charges will be filed and I'm glad about that but I believe Tony will be his own harshest judge and that the psychic sentence he imposes on himself might be far worse than anything the courts could do. (Not to mention that I expect a ginormous civil penalty will eventually be paid).
So, that was the dark emotion that overhung the event when it started but we were able to put those thoughts on the back burner as the race unfolded. Chocolate Myers on Sirius Radio always says that what he wants out of NASCAR races is drama and this one offered drama in spades. The class of the field from the first seemed to be Jeff, Marcos and A.J. but then, unaccountably, Jeff's car lost power and that was the end of his day. He left A. J. and Marcos to fight on.
Some of our biggest stars were sidelined by various and sundry incidents - Kyle Busch, Brad K., Jimmie, Ryan, Denny.....
NASCAR fans always declare that they don't watch racing for the wrecks but of course, there is an adrenalin rush that comes from watching cars spinning and crashing and being torn to pieces. The first thought may be for the drivers but once assured, they are all right, the residual emotion is a kind of charged-up excitement.
We had to wait out a long red flag but that was okay, at least for television watchers. I always enjoy the interviews with drivers and crew chiefs that go on during the delays.
Back to green - there was some good racing going on in the pack and a few more cautions, even another red flag, but basically, from that point on, A. J. and Marcos stole the show. Sometimes, it is the drivers who are driven - by passion and desire and heart. With the Chase being the pot of gold at the end of their rainbow, it was so clear to see how badly they both wanted it. I couldn't even pick one to root for. I was cheering them both. Either one winning would have been a great story, a happy story, a fairy tale story.
Those last laps at Watkins Glen were some of the most suspenseful I've seen in NASCAR (which is rather typical for this track, isn't it?) Two great road course drivers duking it out at every turn, first one prevailing and then the other. Bumping and rubbing until you were sure they were going to wreck (with Kurt Busch waiting in the wings in case they did) but they took it to the farthest edge without falling over through sheer skill.
And when it was over, A.J. was in Victory Lane, being congratulated by Marcos, and Roger Penske and Richard Childress and of course, his ecstatic owners and crew, the Little Team That Could. It was such a joyful occasion it sort of washed away the bad taste from Tony's situation. Americans love stories about redemption and A.J. has lived that story. This was his triumph over the past heartbreak he'd brought on himself.
I'm a huge Kyle Larson fan but damn, I was pissed at him for causing Jimmie to wreck. Ole Six-Time probably would have had a top five finish, having worked his way toward the front even after their strategy turned against them. In the end, I decided to let it go as a racing incident (funny how it is easier to do that when you like the offending driver). And for Kyle to come in fourth - a rookie who'd never raced the Glen in a Sprint car before, well, it is further proof his exceptional talent.
Honestly, I don't mind seeing the biggies like Jimmie and Jeff and Kyle and Brad getting knocked off sometimes to make room at the front for the smaller teams with so fewer resources. Think what a boost this will be for the JTGDaughtery group to have their sponsors in the Chase? (Sponsors, incidentally, who just re-upped with the 47 car).
I will admit that it is thanks to the new Chase format that I can be so sanguine about Jimmie's last several awful races.....as long as they get it together before the championship battle starts.