Tuesday, March 24, 2015
Sunday's race was not my favorite kind. Restarts are fun on a track like Auto Club Speedway where the cars can spread out, even down on the apron, going three and four and even five wide, but once things leveled off, it was pretty predictable in that the cars that we expected to be the best were the best - and that was Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch.
I guess I'm unlike many NASCAR fans because I don't find it boring to see the fastest car finish in front. I think that's the way it is supposed to be. May the be best man/car/team combination win. If one driver dominates, so be it. In the case of the California race, there were two, seemingly evenly matched team mates, so the contest was in seeing which of them would prevail. There were others who ran decently but all things being equal, it was the Kevin and Kurt show.
Until the green/white/checker, that is, which turned everything on its head and allowed Brad Keselowski to slick to the front with his four fresher tires. I know, I know....you can tell me that pit strategy is part of it and Paul Wolfe gambled and won. I know that. I just don't like the kinds of endings that replace a 400-mile superior performance win with a last minute roll of the dice.
There are already enough opportunities for luck to rear its ugly head in NASCAR races - part failure, being bumped by another car, paper on the grille, etc. without G/W/C's making it even more a game of chance. I actually would have preferred to see it end as a fuel mileage race. Those are at least based on a calculated willingness on the part of crew chiefs to take a risk.
And its not that I'm questioning NASCAR about the call itself as so many people did afterwards. They have umpty cameras directed at the track from every angle and I have one 52-inch television screen so I think they have better resources on which to base a decision than I do.
The finish makes you wonder if Kevin Harvick questioned himself since Rodney Childers had called for a four tire stop, like Keselowski, but Kevin himself aborted that decision and left the pits after only two had been changed.
Other thoughts about the week:
- Your heart has to go out to Brian Vickers. The last couple of years has placed him in a series up gut-wrenching scenarios. He's up and then he's down, up and then down. And he's handled his situation with so much upbeat grace. I hope he gets to come back to racing but it may not be in the cards with his condition.
- I haven't written much about the Xfinity series so far this season. That's because, though I turn the race on, I only halfway watch as long as a Sprint Cup driver is leading. Eric Jones, Bubba Wallace, Chris Buescher and Chase Elliott all looked good in this week's race but the fact is, Kevin Harvick led 100 of 150 laps and therein, lies the tale of the Xfinity series.
- The drivers seem to have their pit stops under control as speeding penalties are down but the pit crews sure are having lots of problems controlling their tires. Are they doing something different than they used to or are they simply trying too hard?
- I am really looking forward to seeing Chase Elliott in his first Cup start next week at Martinsville.
Wednesday, March 18, 2015
Stewart-Haas Racing is the Hollywood team with an all-star cast and the most compelling NASCAR story lines
First is Kevin Harvick, starring as the Winner. He consistently has the fastest car. He leads practices, qualifies for poles and wins races. Everyone expected him to cruise to victory in the Phoenix race and he did. The some-time bad luck that plagued the Four car last year is seemingly gone. The Golden Horseshoe that Kevin once attributed to Jimmie Johnson now rests safely in Kevin's, um, well..........
Then we have Kurt Busch as the misunderstood Bad Boy, arguably, the most controversial driver in Cup. He came back after three lost weeks thanks to his legal problems, with a vengeance, garnering a fifth place finish at Phoenix. The Outlaw, as he proudly calls himself, is a man out for redemption. (A part he's played before).
I always have to laugh at those comments about Danica only being in Cup because her sponsor loves her. Well, why is that any different than Kurt? Two major owners have kicked him to the curb for his lack of self-control. Fortunately for Kurt, Gene Haas, who is something of an outlaw himself, admires those qualities in his driver and is willing to support him in spite of all the headline-garnering baggage that might cause another owner to think twice.
And speaking of Danica, she's the Groundbreaking Pioneer, the only woman in NASCAR's top series, beloved of female fans and little girls with race car dreams but held in contempt by the hater crowd. They give all kinds of excuses for their antipathy - her willingness to trade on her sex appeal (though that never shows on the track), the feisty way she sticks up for herself and the best one, she taking a slot from some deserving young driver who can actually drive. Yeah, as if a third of NASCAR drivers don't have their seats because they inherited them or Daddy could afford to buy them or, like, Danica, they have a sponsor who is willing to front them the money to finance a team. Personally, I think most of the anti-Danica sentiment boils down to pure, plain sexism....and yes, women can be sexists too, in fact, they are some of the worst. The Danica-deniers all swear, dontcha know, that they would love some other worthy female like, well, name any of them, but let's see how they do if they ever have to prove it.
And lastly, Tony Stewart, playing the role of the beloved but struggling Old Man. Our hearts hurt for him as we root for him to succeed. Yes, he had a couple of bad years but during none of that did the three-time champion forget how to drive a racecar. He has all the resources that money can buy, the same ones that Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch have, so it is a conundrum why is Tony having the worst start to a season of his entire career.
In the Phoenix race, Kevin won, Kurt finished 5th, Danica finished 26th and Tony finished 39th and that's about the way its been going for him so far this year. His cars aren't fast and he always seems to be stuck back in the back. It is a mystery and I'm sure it is one that has him, well, scratching his head if probably far too mild, more like tearing out his hair.....or someone else's hair.
So, there they are - the Winner, the Outlaw, the Female and the Old Man. No wonder they are so often the focus of NASCAR attention.
Thursday, March 12, 2015
Well, we're off and running with three races under our belts and so far, we know that Kevin Harvick took up right where he left off last year and so did Joey and Junior. We know that Jimmie seems to have a new lease on life and that Martin Truex, Jr. and A. J. Allmendinger are doing great, both of them in the top ten in points so far. I hope they can keep it up.
Kurt Busch will be back this week. What an ugly mess this has been for him. The experience could make him even more angry and bitter than before or it might have made him realize that he probably won't get any more chances if there's another incident of any kind so he'd better go the extra mile to stay out of trouble.
Tony let us know that he doesn't like this new 2015 rules package that has the Cup cars closer to the Xfinity cars. NASCAR had talked about this for quite a while and I always worried that doing so would give the drivers who often run in the Xfinity series too much of an edge. Of the top five in Cup right now, Kevin and Joey frequently compete in that series. It will be curious to see what happens when Kyle comes back since he also wins a lot in those cars. Maybe we'll see more Cup drivers wanting to race Xfinity for the extra experience.
So far, Ryan Reed was the Xfinity feel-good story at Daytona but since then, the winners have been two cup guys - Kevin Harvick and Austen Dillon. I hate that but I expect to see it continue for the most part.
What in the world is going on at Stewart-Haas? Of course, we didn't expect great performance from the 41 without Kurt and Danica probably isn't going to suddenly start winning multiple races but the 14 car's results have been dismal while Kevin excels. How can that be? Granted, I know different drivers like different set-ups but how can Kevin consistently have one of the fastest cars on the track while Tony languishes in the back? It doesn't compute.
Good to see the tweets from Samantha Busch of a smiling Kyle. He looks to be getting better and maintaining a positive attitude. I think the difference between the Busch brothers results from their choice of women. Kyle chose someone totally supportive who softened his rough edges while Kurt took up with one who aggravated his, something of an outlaw like himself.
It was also heart-warming to see Brian Vickers back on the track after all he's been through health-wise. Sometimes when you're young, you take first chances for granted but when you almost lose your dream, you're more appreciative the second, or in Brian's case, the third time around. Kudos to Michael Waltrip for sticking with him.
I wished for a smooth year for Jeff his last season before retirement but so far, it's been rather a mixed bag. He's still achieving goals - one being a pole in Las Vegas where he'd never won a pole before - but his on-track luck hasn't been so good and once more, he found a part of the track where there was no SAFER barrier. Come on, NASCAR, time to get this taken care of once and for all.
So, next is Phoenix and the weather report is perfect. Sunny skies and the debut of deep-fried peanut butter and jelly sandwiches sprinkled with bacon! Somebody let me know how that turns out.
Monday, March 2, 2015
Okay, maybe I'm jumping the gun a little here. It is only the second race of the season. But, face it, for JJ's fans, 2014 was a mediocre year compared to what we're used to. Sure, Jimmie won four times and made the Chase but he ended up 11th in the championship points. Eleventh! Five spots below where he'd ever finished before. So, us 48 fans came into 2015 holding our breaths a little about where the team would be.
Not to worry. Jimmie won the outside pole for the Daytona 500, won his Budweiser Duel and finished fifth in the 500. And then came toAtlanta and won despite missing the opportunity to qualify so that he had to start 37th, which also resulted a terrible pit box selection that lost him spots on every stop until he passed Carl Edwards and Joe Nemechek went down a lap.
I was so happy, I even welcomed all the haters on the NASCAR sites this morning. If they are in full song, that must mean things are going right for the 48.
I thought the race was exciting myself but I read quite a few comments this morning about how boring it was or how it put watchers to sleep.
Really? It makes you wonder just what it is these people want from a race. This one had several champion drivers having to work their way to the front after the brouhaha that was qualifying - Jimmie, Jeff, Matt, Tony and, also Kevin because of a blown engine. Except for Tony, who was rather pathetic throughout the race, they all did it. I watched them going high, going low, splitting cars to go through the middle, dive-bombing slower cars. So, obviously, there was lots of passing since they had to pass 30 or 40 cars to get to the front.
The speeds were just as fast as before NASCAR took some horsepower away - although that was a big controversy among NASCAR fans last year.
There were a couple of big wrecks for people who enjoy that sort of thing.
And it's not like any one team, totally dominated. There were comers and goers throughout the race, as some hit on a set up that matched the track conditions, while others fell behind. Joey himself said his car was perfect in the first third or so of the race, then other cars "got faster and we didn't".
We got to see restarts and champion drivers racing each other hard but clean.
Yes, the top five were all the usual suspects - Jimmie, Kevin, Dale, Joey, Matt. But we had the pleasure of rooting on Martin Truex, Jr. (6th), A. J. Allmendinger (7th) and Bret Moffat sitting in for Brian Vickers in the 55 car (8th) so it's not like the smaller teams weren't included near the front.
If anyone thinks that anything NASCAR does is going to turn the sport upside-down so that Joe Nemechek finishes ahead of Jimmie Johnson and J. J. Yeley finishes ahead of Kevin Harvick in anything except a fluke, they are wrong.
Underdogs are called underdogs because that's what they are. They are fighting the odds but they are never going to consistently beat the favorites although it is a thrill when on rare occasions, they do.
You can watch NASCAR all year long and most of the time you're going to see the same guys duking it out at the front. If you don't like that, you'd probably better find another sport....although I'm not sure what sport that would be.