Monday, February 23, 2015

A Spectacular Start!


                                              Image result for 2015 daytona 500 joey logano winner

Well, this has been quite a momentous couple of weeks at Daytona for NASCAR fans. It started with Jeff Gordon winning the pole for his last ever Daytona 500. That was a feel good story, for sure. Then Matt Kenseth won the Sprint Unlimited, getting his year off to a positive start after not winning at all last season. Dale Junior won his Duel race and Jimmie Johnson won far, so good for Hendrick in 2015.

Things took a turn for the dark side when Kurt Busch was suspended indefinitely by NASCAR after the judge's ruling was revealed in full regarding his girlfriend's request for a protective order...the evidence proving that it was more likely than not that Kurt had engaged in domestic violence. Then Kyle Busch hit a concrete wall at full speed in the Xfinity race and broke his leg and his foot so he is out of the Sprint Cup for we don't know how long.

I thought the race itself was more exciting all the way through than most Daytona 500's. No long train of cars ever rode around lap after lap. Few drivers spent most of their time hanging out at the back until near the end. There was always action going on somewhere, often at the front. We got to watch several great drivers work their way through the field after receiving pit road penalties sent them to the back. We got to see cars that looked pretty evenly matched, like Jimmie and Junior and Joey, trading the lead. We got to see some heartbreakers....once again, it wasn't to be Smoke's turn to win a Daytona 500....and Brad went up in smoke.

The last 30 or so laps before the final green/white/checker was hyper-intense with three rows wide back through the field, 200 miles an hours, inches apart, cars moving around, lap after lap. We got to see exactly why these guys are called the greatest drivers in the world.

In the end, of course, Joey prevailed and congratulations to him for running a great race. He was near the front during most of the 500 laps and capitalized when it counted.

Meanwhile, the kids showed off earlier in the week with Tyler Reddick (who?) winning the truck race and Ryan Reed winning the Xfinity series. Hurray for them!

All in all, it was a thorough satisfying two weeks of racing after a long, boring off-season.

Some side notes:

-  I was personally glad to see Jimmie start on the front row, win his Duel and finish fifth in the 500. Daytona does not a season make but after his worst one ever last year, it bodes well for what's to come. He's off to a great start.

- Ditto for Matt Kenseth and Junior and his new crew chief, Greg Ives, and Carl Edwards and his new team. I was happy to see Martin Truex, Jr. showing signs of strength after a not very good 2014. It was also nice to see both Regan Smith and Johnny Sauter have good runs after having to step in at the last minute to fill in for the missing Busches.

- For some women, me included, it is a little creepy to see a female arguing with a man as he puts his hands all over her. I know Denny didn't mean anything by it but there is just something patronizing about it. ("Now, now, just settle down, Little Lady") I don't think he'd have handled, say, Kevin Harvick's anger in quite the same way he handled Danica.

- On the other hand, there were many hateful comments about Kurt Busch's girlfriend, Patricia Driscoll. I guess we'd like to believe that she is a witch who took poor, innocent Kurt for a ride. Except it is Kurt Busch! If he'd been kind and gentle Kurt right up until this incident, then maybe....but his reputation for lack of self control and anger management problems has preceded him for years so it is a little hard to believe in pure-as-the-driven-snow Kurt now.

Both these incidents with Denny and Danica and Busch and Driscoll reveal that an ugly kind of sexism is still alive and well in the sport.

- I think this will be the Jeff Gordon farewell tour throughout the entire season and that's fine, Jeff deserves all the accolades he'll be given.

- It's too bad that another driver had to be badly hurt but maybe the NASCAR tracks have finally got the message. There need to be SAFER barriers on every bit of the wall a driver can possibly hit!

And so, next week Atlanta, what some of us think of as "real" racing. Oh, man, NASCAR, I'm so glad you're back!


Monday, February 16, 2015

Ready for the Full Meal Deal

                                                 Image result for nascar daytona qualifying

Finally, "Drivers Start Your Engines!" Finally, "Boogity, boogity, boogity!"  Finally, NASCAR gets the new season started!

The Sprint Unlimited was a wreckfest. Well, that's no surprise. The only result that counts is winning, so crew chiefs tell their drivers to go for broke. "Don't bring anything back but the steering wheel,"  they say, and some of them didn't even get the steering wheel back!

In the end, it was Matt Kenseth in Victory Lane. He was fast and he made some exciting and daring moves to go to the front. So, cheers to Matt for putting a check mark in the win column after going all of last year without a win. Maybe that's a good omen.

If you're looking for a balancing bad omen, look no farther than poor Clint Bowyer, who was wrecked in the Unlimited and wrecked again in qualifying. Two times on the track, two cars destroyed. Well, maybe he's getting all his misfortune out of the way early.

Clint spilled his guts about his opinion of knock-out qualifying for the Daytona 500. He's definitely not a fan. Neither am I. I think the fastest cars should qualify up front, not the drivers who are the luckiest about being able to put themselves in the right position. I don't like seeing the cars sit at the end of pit road until there's barely enough time to make a lap. But, of course, you could say the same about restrictor plate racing itself. It is always more about positioning than anything else.

Having said that, I was happy with the final results. Jeff Gordon winning the pole for his last ever Daytona 500 seemed like serendipity and having his teammate, Jimmie Johnson, right beside him makes it even better for me.

Carl Edwards is going to make it into the race based on speed even though he's starting with no owner's points. That's good. Carl is one of the best drivers with one of the best teams. It would be a shame if we didn't get to see him compete.

And we already saw hard feelings galore, most notably Joey Logano and Kevin Harvick. What a surprise. Take your helmet off, Kevin!

Seeing the field without him makes me realize how much I will miss Marcos Ambrose. I hope he does spectacularly well back in Australia. He is one of a kind.

This is a personal snit of mine but I will not be rooting for Kurt Busch. Seems to me that he is Gene Haas' pet and Danica's team was raided to give Kurt her crew chief, Tony Gibson, and her pit crew. Of course, I'll have to eat my words if she does better with the new bunch....and I hope that happens.

Life is hard for NASCAR fans. Not only do we have to remember new numbers and paint schemes and crew chiefs, we have to memorize all the new names resulting from the baby boom that has been going on, and continues to go on, in the sport. Regan Smith is currently on baby watch and Baby Busch is due in May, I think. Since NASCAR tends to run in families, we already have a whole new crop of drivers for the next generation.

So, we've had a taste of racing this weekend - just enough to whet our appetite. Now it is onward to the Great American Race!  

Thursday, February 12, 2015

I Don't Want Them To Go To Hell For Me!

Image result for darrell waltrip prayer breakfast

Our NASCAR boy, Darrell Waltrip, gave the keynote address at the recent National Prayer Breakfast in Washington D.C. with guests from all over the world, including the Dalai Lama. From what I've read, he did a pretty good job. He was funny at times but also sincere. He shared his own testimony about how he became a Christian. All that is pretty standard fare for this event. He also said that if you don't accept Jesus Christ as your savior, you are going to hell. Well, okay, if that's what he believes, that's fine. I don't suppose the Dalai Lama was offended. He surely knows most Christians feel this way.

What I found odd was that on several right-leaning websites, the introduction to their stories went something like - "standing only a few feet from Obama, Waltrip declared that "you are going to hell if you haven't accepted Christ," - the implication being that this was a personal message directed at the president.  

I doubt if Darrell meant it that way and I doubt if Obama took it that way since he has always firmly avowed his own Christian faith although I know many conservatives refuse to believe him. Anyway, the president thanked both Darrell and his wife, Stevie, gave a few humorous remarks of his own and that was that.

Here is what does bother me about all this though - NASCAR bills itself as the most pro-military sport. There are always a large number of soldiers in the crowd at races, many having been provided free tickets by sponsors and teams and drivers and tracks. Sometimes, the very races themselves are named after individual soldiers. Groups like Paralyzed Veterans of America and Fisher House and the Wounded Warriors foundation have funded cars.

Pre-race ceremonies open with an honor guard, the national anthem, a prayer and a flyover. That prayer almost always includes a special mention of the people who are serving their country in the nation's military. The camera pans the crowd to all the uniforms in attendance.

So far, so good but, the fact is, not all soldiers are Christian. They may be Jews, Muslims, Buddhists or atheists. We send all of them into harm's way, knowing they may not return. So, sadly, if we are Christians who believe as Darrell Waltrip believes, we are willing to put them in a position where they could die, even though that would mean condemning them, often at a young age, younger than Darrell Waltrip was when he made his decision to be saved. to suffer eternal damnation.

Hey, I don't know about you but I don't want to be responsible for that outcome. If that is truly how we think, then we should send no young person who isn't a Christian off to war. I don't want any one's child to suffer unending hellfire to protect me.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

The Missing Man Formation

Well, this year will be the end of an era in NASCAR with Jeff Gordon leaving. I didn't come to NASCAR until 2008. Gordon's glory years were over by then but it didn't take me long to realize that he was the gold standard of NASCAR drivers.

I remember going to the Brickyard, my first live racing experience, and seeing that the Jeff Gordon gear was omnipresent, far and away out-stripping everyone else, even NASCAR's most popular driver, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. And while the cheers for Junior and Tony Stewart were loud, the crowd literally roared when Jeff was introduced.

During every NASCAR controversy, I waited to see what Jeff would have to say about it because I thought of him as the nominal spokesperson, the Grand Old Man, of NASCAR.

Of course, he wasn't above creating a little controversy himself but don't we want that in our drivers? If Jeff had not still been as passionate as ever, willing to get out there and mix it up when he felt wronged, I doubt he'd have stayed so respected for so long.

So, this will be his last year. I'd love to see him win the championship and go out on the ultimate high but even if that doesn't happen, his legacy is secure. His opinion will still be solicited regarding every NASCAR issue. He will go into the Hall of Fame as soon as the rules allow. I expect that Jeff will follow in the footsteps of the Jarretts and have an equally successful second phase of his NASCAR career as an announcer and analyst.

And we know we will see this happen again and again because that's the way of life. Eventually, Junior will retire and Jimmie and Tony - all of our old faithfuls who have given us hours and hours of entertainment - all those we've followed through their triumphant wins and painful losses, through marriage and babies and personal tragedies. And as they leave the track, I expect we'll feel the same way the fans of Rusty and Darrell and Dale Jarrett and the rest felt when they bowed out.

So, here's to you, Jeff, for all you've done and all you've been. You were been some fans' driver for as long as they've been watching the sport but when you leave, it will be time for them to pick a new favorite driver.

And fortunately, the new kids are coming along just in time to give us an abundance of talent and personality from which to choose.

I've already selected Kyle Larson as my next driver when Jimmie goes (although I hope that is a long time from now). I think Kyle's style is exciting...he's too daring sometimes and it bites him in the butt but it makes him fun to watch.

The obvious choice for Gordon fans will be Chase Elliott, who will take over the number 24 car. He has certainly been impressive in Nationwide and if he can maintain that same level of performance in Cup, he'll be a force to be reckoned with.

And there are the Dillons and Ryan Blaney, and, and, and. It seems like most of the up and comers have familiar names - Burton and Nemechek and McReynolds and LeJoie so if you followed their Dads and Grandpas, you'll probably have a soft spot for them too. Maybe Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. and Trevor Bayne will hit their stride in the next few years.

No, I don't think we'll have any lack of drivers to choose from....which isn't to say, a hole won't remain that is the place where Jeff Gordon used to be.