Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Zero to Hero

                                               Image result for 2015 nascar richmond

Well, hurray for Kurt....I guess. Amazing how winning can suddenly make you a hero. Since I've been a NASCAR fan, I've watched Kurt Busch cycling up and down like and back and forth like a washing machine agitator. Getting hired; getting fired. In trouble with the law for possible Drunk Driving (breathalyzer malfunctioned) and being a royal jerk to the officer. In trouble with the law for possible domestic violence. Cussing out the media. Cussing out his team. Kurt Busch, as we all know, has long-standing issues but each and every time, he is saved by his incredible talent behind the wheel of a race car. Some owner will always take a chance on a driver with Kurt's superior skill level.

And the public, generally, is willing to give him chance after chance when they watch him put those mad skills into practice. Getting a one-car team like Furniture Row into the Chase against all odds. Come back after a three-week suspension and and few short weeks later, he's standing in Victory Lane being showered with champagne.

I listened to the callers on Sirius NASCAR radio lavish Kurt with praise on Monday after the race. "You won, all is forgiven!" I'm not sorry he won and I give him kudos for his performance but, cut the fawning, please. Hoisting a trophy doesn't turn an asshole into a saint. The two things don't necessarily have anything to do with one another.

And speaking of assholes, Tony Stewart has been racking up A-hole points lately too. Blaming Junior for his bad luck at Richmond was one of them but there have been others. And I understand that he's probably frustrated beyond imagining by the start of his season, particularly when two of his drivers are winning and even Danica has shown marked improvement. Who or what does he blame? It doesn't appear that he puts the onus on his crew chief because we know Tony doesn't hesitate to fire even championship-winning crew chiefs if he believes they aren't doing the job. Obviously, he can't blame Hendrick Engines because they are the same ones Kevin and Kurt are running. So, is he blaming himself for not being able to adapt to the new rules package? Hard to know where his head is at these days.

It was fun, as it always is, to watch Jimmie come up through the pack to finish third...and the same for Kasey. Still, qualifying so poorly is a real disadvantage when the competition is as tough as it is. You can't always count on being able to pass most of the field in a timely fashion or not getting caught up in a mess while running mid-pack. Those two teams need to seriously up the ante in qualifying.

Good, solid effort for Chase Elliott in his second Sprint Cup start - running all the laps to finish with a clean car in 16th place is something to be proud of for the rookiest of rookies.

I got called away in the mid-point of the Xfinity race and never went back to it. After I read about it, I was glad I didn't waste my time watching another Sprint Cup driver and team dominate. People have said, "well, ignore the leaders and watch the good racing behind them." No, I don't want to watch the good racing behind them. Winning is what NASCAR is all about - Victory Lane, trophies, champagne. I want to see the regulars garner those honors (and the money and recognition that go along with them). Yes, I know we get to see Erik Jones duking it out with Brad or Kyle or Kevin every now and then. That's not good enough. I want to see them win more than every dozen or so races.

Talladega comes next - as always, that is a race I face with equal parts anticipation and dread.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

The Good, the Sad and the Ugly

Image result for nascar steve byrnes

I have to start with Steve Byrnes. I came late to NASCAR - 2008. When I first began watching the races and the various pre and post-race programs, Steve quickly became my favorite broadcaster. He was informative and funny and there was just something so likable about him that you couldn't help warming up to him immediately. As one to whom he was special as a person on a television screen, my deepest condolences to those to whom he was beloved as a family member and friend.

Bristol was a hard slog for everyone - for t.v. crews and team members whose day started early and ended late, for fans who stuck it out for hours in the cold and the wet and even those who kept up with what was going on via the television screen.

It looked like a hard slog for drivers too - stopping and starting and track changes and accidents and cautions. The heck with Darlington stripes, most of the cars this week had Bristol ended up broken and beat up, battered and bruised. The cast of characters in the front and the back and the middle of the track traded places throughout a marathon of a race that was meant to be a day race but ended up under the lights.

Bristol had a little bit of everything. There were four rain delays and 11 extra laps with a green/white/checker finish after nine hours of racing. Streaks of long duration came to an end - the end of consecutive top tens for Kevin Harvick, Martin Truex, Jr. and Joey Logano. Of course, on a more positive note, Matt Kenseth's winless streak of 51 races ended too. The Penske Fords wrecked practically at the drop of the green flag but some drivers who needed a good finish got one, most notably Tony Stewart  and Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. Danica came home 9th for her second top ten in three races. Justin Allgaier got the best finish of his Sprint Cup career. Kyle Larson looked like a champ, running strong, leading 90 laps and holding off the field, until he was forced to pit. Jimmie Johnson limped home second after qualifying 28th, then having to start over from the back again after a crash. Denny Hamlin got out of the car due to neck spasms, allowing Eric Jones to step in for some Bristol experience.

All in all, I thought it was a great race and well worth the investment of time. Unlike its little brother in the Xfinity series in which Joey Logano led every single lap....yuck. Sorry, but I think that stinks.

So, NASCAR experienced the good, the sad and the ugly this week. And next week, it is Richmond, another short track of which there can't be too many to suit me.



Monday, April 13, 2015

Green Flags and Blue Bonnets

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I'll start first with the Xfinity race. I'm always bitching about the Cup drivers snagging all the wins from the series regulars so it was great to see 18-year-old Erik Jones prevail in this one and it definitely wasn't a fluky victory either. He flat-out earned it. Congratulations to Erik! I will say, it is something to be proud of when you can go toe-to-toe with the best, like Brad Keselowski and Dale Earnhardt, Jr., and come out on top.

And, wow, NASCAR already had an abundance of youthful riches coming up through the ranks with Kyle Larson, Chase Elliott, the Dillons, Bubba Wallace and others. I don't think I have to worry about any lack of racing entertainment clear through my years at the Old Folks Home!

Now to the Duck Commander (ugh!) 500. It was an enjoyable race. Well, I admit, any race that ends with Jimmie doing a burn-out is an enjoyable race for me, but even beyond that, Texas is a fun race to watch with lots of spreading out from top to bottom. Pit stops continue to take their toll on different teams. Now that NASCAR isn't monitoring lugnuts, it seems that crew chiefs might want to emphasize to pit crews should behave as if they still do. Better to take that extra second or two to get all five than cause your driver to have to come back again.

NASCAR will hear Richard Childress Racing's appeal this week on the tire tampering allegation. The two teams that rumor had it might be doing this were Ryan Newman and Kevin Harvick's teams. It would have given credence to the allegation if they'd both finished far behind their normal result but Kevin was 2nd and Ryan was 12th so obviously if they had been doing it and now they're not, it didn't hurt them much.

I was glad to see the race end without a green/white/checker although that happens fairly often in Texas. I prefer to see the race play itself out normally and not with a sudden up-ending of teams at the very end. That happened anyway to some extent with tire strategy but there were enough laps left for those who'd had the best cars for most of the race to get back to the front, not like when a g/w/c short-circuits the natural finish.

I am really starting to miss Kyle Busch and I hope he returns sooner rather than later. There is something elemental missing when he's not there. Not that I don't think David Ragan hasn't been doing a good job in the 18 because he has.

So, Kevin and Jimmie are even now at two apiece. I think those two along with Junior and the Penske Fords and maybe Jeff will probably be the dominant cars most of the season. (I'd like to add Kasey to that mix but he just hasn't shown it yet).

I'd so love to see Martin Truex, Jr. win a race and make it into the Chase. Maybe he'll be the Ryan Newman of 2015 and get there due to consistency. He's now finished top 10 in all the races so far. I'd rather see him with a big fat W in the win column though.

I'm sorry but I still see Danica and Ricky as the Odd Couple. I don't understand what she sees in him, not that it is any of my business, of course, but that never stops a writer from opinionizing!


Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Keep Your Politics To Yourself

           Image result for jeff gordon easter white house                                  Image result for jeff gordon easter white house

Some off-week thoughts....

- Oh, please, NASCAR fans. Do you have to turn everything ugly? Jeff Gordon took his family to the White House to hunt Easter eggs and meet Barack and Michelle Obama. What a memory for his kids! I believe any patriotic American would be honored and thrilled to be invited to the White House for a personal visit with a President and a First Lady, any president and first lady. The Gordon children have experienced lots of exciting events due to their father's fame and this is one of them.  It doesn't mean Jeff endorses every action by this president. It doesn't mean he supports him or his party or that he voted for him. It is simply a recognition that he is our president and the White House is our house. If ever you get this opportunity yourself and deny your children for partisan reasons, you are a fool.

But some of the comments on the NASCAR sites were vile and over-the-top. Some people said they'd never root for Jeff again because he appeared with Obama. Some of them said he should have spit in the president's face....and on and on. Blah, blah, blah. What a sad commentary on how mean so much of our society has become. And this was Easter....if ever there is a time when hate is inappropriate, Easter would seem to be that time. WWJD, indeed.

I consider myself a progressive so I'm mostly opposed to the Richardson family's politics. Therefore, I don't find the name of the Texas race, The Duck Commander 500, to be appealing at all. Does this mean I'd refuse to accept the opportunity to go to the race if I got it? Heck, no! I'd be there with bells on, name or no name! I don't take these things personally.

- As I write this, no date has been set for a hearing on Richard Childress Racing's appeal on their penalties for tire-tampering. I'm generally for NASCAR giving crew chiefs a little more leeway for creativity but if RCR did what NASCAR has alleged, then they weren't working in the "gray area", they were blatantly cheating. I feel a little bad for RCR because you assume that they weren't the only ones, perhaps not even the first ones. Nevertheless, they were the ones who got caught so NASCAR burned them to make an example of them and to discourage any other teams from trying the same thing. It's the luck of the draw and Childress was "it".

- ZZ Top at Charlotte - yes!

- I'll be glad to see Kyle Larson back on the track at Texas. I really respect this young driver and I'm glad his fainting spell turned out to be dehydration and nothing more serious. 

- I'll be rooting for Danica to have another solid run in Texas. This is also an area where the haters are on display. They can't wait to tell us why her finish as Martinsville was just a fluke and not really a deserved outcome at all. And they don't hesitate to say it in the coarsest way possible.

- I loved the picture of Kyle and Samantha Busch with her tummy painted like a big Easter egg ready to "hatch". These two really seem to have a great sense of humor. Funny, I never really noticed that about Kyle until Samantha came along. 

- Bacon-infused chicken wings at Texas. What else can be said about that?  


Wednesday, April 1, 2015

You've Been Warned

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We'd been hearing and reading speculation about teams manipulating tire pressures by drilling tiny holes in their tires to "bleed" them for several weeks. NASCAR took tires back to the R&D Center from several teams after the race at Auto Club Speedway, including the cars of Ryan Newman, Paul Menard, Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch. They were then sent for a further independent study.

NASCAR warned crew chiefs about messing with tires, saying tire offenses were some of the most serious in the NASCAR rule book and violators would be dealt with harshly.

And I guess they meant it. Ryan Newman's 31 car was nailed for tire alteration with NASCAR fining his crew chief, Luke Lambert, $125,000, suspending him for 6 races and putting him on probation until the end of the year. A tire technician and an engineer on the 31 were suspended and put on probation as well. Both Ryan Newman and Richard Childress were docked 75 points each. That knocked Newman from 6th in the point standings to 27th. It doesn't necessarily end Ryan Newman's Chase hopes but it is a real deficit to crawl out of, not to mention, a morale blow to the team.

RCR has announced that they will appeal the penalties so it is still possible they will be overturned.

What I wonder is whether this was really a more common practice than just Richard Childress Racing and my guess would be that it was. You might have suspected that it would be Kevin Harvick or Joey Logano, two of the cars that appeared to be consistently faster than anyone else at the track, that were getting a boost from tire pressure manipulation. Did some of the other teams just dodge a bullet as they watched Newman's team get burned? Could be. Kevin Harvick still did okay, coming in 8th, but the race ended a long stretch of top 2 finishes.  Joey Logano came to the checkered flag in third. So, neither were far off their usual performance.

I'm not trying to impugn anyone's honor here but I can't help being curious if this was a shot across the bow by NASCAR to warn all the teams to knock it off.

As for the race itself, it was action-packed as Martinsville always is. There were lots of hard-fought battles going on throughout the field and quite a few lead changes as teams came and went. The ending was intense with Denny Hamlin and Brad Keselowski chasing each other at the end. It might be that Denny was lucky that Brad already had a race win in his pocket. If he hadn't, it likely would have turned out differently. Would Brad have turned Denny if it had meant a ticket to the Chase?

My drivers all went down one by one for various reasons. Jimmie finished laps down; Junior finished laps down; Chase Elliott finished laps down. Jeff was leading until he got a speeding penalty on pit road but, although he raced through the field like a maniac afterward, there wasn't enough time to make it up. He ended up finishing 9th. The bright spot for me was Danica coming in 7th, highest of the Stewart-Haas cars....not that it will make any difference to her haters but it made me happy.

And my other editorial comment about the weekend is: "damn, when there is no Xfinity race, Joey Logano comes down and steals the truck race".