Tuesday, June 16, 2015
Bitching, bitching, bitching on the Sirius NASCAR channel. They called it too soon; they didn't call it soon enough. As always, NASCAR was damned if they did and damned if they didn't. I don't know what more people expect. They tried to run as much of the race as possible. As it was, they put almost 6 hours into it. The forecast didn't look any better if they'd waited to try again. At any rate, Michigan doesn't have lights and when the final drenching downpour came, they probably couldn't have got the track dried before dark even if it had stopped (which it didn't). And the forecast was no better for Monday. My God, some teams had two inches of water in their haulers! Fans were sloshing through the mud to get to cars that were stuck as it was.
Be thankful for the Air Titans. Without them, we wouldn't have gotten to halfway and a completed race. What a magnificent piece of technology those machines are.
Congratulations to Kurt Busch and Tony Gibson and the 41 team. They put themselves in position and when the red flag flew to end the race, they were the winners. And yes a rain-shortened race counts for just as much as any other. You still have to be up front to collect the trophy. Your crew chief has to figure the strategy right to make that happen.
I'll admit that my heart was with Kyle Larson. I was hoping Mother Nature would make him the winner but he was three laps shy on gas. That's the risk you take when you play the weather game.
I don't think this race portended too much for the future. The usual suspects ended up in front - Kurt, Martin, Junior - even with all the mixa-moxa (my mother's term) that occurred during the race. Jimmie and Kevin suffered some bad luck but you'll have that sometimes in big time auto sports. It won't hurt them any in the long haul.
Kyle may still have the smallest hope of making the Chase if everything goes perfect from here on out but if I was going to bet, someone would have to give me some pretty high odds.
He did win the Xfinity race though and I was glad to see him back at the top of his form. I will only give him the benefit of one race though. Starting next week, I'll be back with my incessant complaining about Cup drivers snagging the wins from Xfinity regulars.
I'm sorry but I just find it much more satisfying to see young Cole Custer win the truck race at Gateway than to see Kyle or Kevin or Joey or Brad hoisting yet another Xfinity trophy.
But, we'll see, won't we, what kind of audience this coming weekend's stand-alone Xfinity series race and Camping World Truck race garner without any Cup stars? If the turnout/viewership is dismal, then I guess I'll have to bow in the admission that their presence is required to draw a crowd.
Speaking of bitching, I heard some about Danica in the booth for the Xfinity race. Myself, I enjoyed her commentary and perspective just as I have Clint's and Kevin's and Brad's and Jeff's. She disagrees with me, incidentally, about Cup drivers in the Xfinity series, believing it is a benefit to young drivers to test themselves against the best. All I know is that we always say that winning is what it's all about in NASCAR and, if not for Kyle, Chase Elliott would have been standing in Victory Lane holding a trophy.
Tuesday, June 9, 2015
I paced during the final laps of the Pocono Race with my fingers crossed, scared to death that once again, bad luck would intervene to keep Martin Truex, Jr. from taking the checkered flag. We'd watched it so many times before - having one of the fastest cars, leading the most laps, coming heartbreakingly close and having victory snatched away at the last minute. A caution, strategy that played out the wrong way. Truex began to seem like the living embodiment of the old adage about nice guys finishing last, or at least, not finishing first.
He'd certainly paid his dues in the deserving it department. He got screwed after the fiasco in Richmond when, he, the innocent one in the whole mess, lost his sponsor and his ride, when his girlfriend, Sherry Pollex, was diagnosed with cancer (for which she's still undergoing treatment), when Furniture Row seemed to backslide compared to Kurt Busch's year with them when they made the Chase.
Compared to that, 2015 has been nothing but up. Fast cars every week. Top ten after top ten. He would have made the Chase on points even if he'd never made it to Victory Lane. But still, those ever-elusive wins continued to slip through his fingers and for race car drivers, wins are the be all and end all. He didn't want to be the guy who made the Chase without a win. He had something to prove. He wanted the trophy and the confetti and the hat dance and the "winner" sticker on his car.
And we, the fans and the garage as well, wanted the fairy tale to play out. The story of the little team that could. The one-car team from Colorado taking it to the big boys. Barney Visser competing and winning against Rick Hendrick and Joe Gibbs.
So, the fans erupted as he crossed the finish line and driver after driver and crew chief after crew chief and owner after owner sought them out to congratulate them. And those of us who watched on television sat back with a sense of contented satisfaction. It was the kind of joy that sports only delivers now and then....which is a good thing because we'd start to take it for granted if it was too common.
And speaking of joy in sports: here's another face of it. Jimmie Johnson brought Beau Smith, one of his biggest fans to Pocono to be an honorary crew member, spinning a few hours of a child's life into a time of pure of pure happiness.
And finally, off the NASCAR topic but staying with the theme of the joy sports can deliver, here's the last one. American Pharoah winning the Belmont Stakes and the Triple Crown after a 37 year drought.
Horse racing fans my age were beginning to wonder if we would ever see another Triple Crown champion in our lifetimes. But, finally, there was American Pharoah flashing across the finish line to the mighty roar of an ecstatic crowd.
All in all, a thoroughly wonderful weekend in sports.
Wednesday, June 3, 2015
I recently went back to work, which means I'm once again spending lots of time in my car, which means I'm once again listening to hours of the NASCAR channel on Sirius radio, which means I'm often irritated by what I hear.
This week was typical. On The Morning Drive, Pete Pistone picked first, then the producer in the booth named his choice, then it was Mike Bagley's turn. Mike chose Jimmie, not because he thought Jimmie would win, he hurried to say, but simply to keep the fourth guy, who was in the lead, from being able to take the 48.
There is a ho-hum factor about Jimmie that I've never understood. You'd think people who make their living analyzing NASCAR would know better but it often seems that they don't. Is it because they've grown so tired of having to talk about him? Is it because Jimmie just goes quietly about his business of stacking up the stats? Does excellence get boring when it goes on too long?
This year I've heard much about Kevin Harvick, ("consistently has the fastest car on the track!") not that he doesn't deserve it, and I've heard much about Martin Truex, Jr., ("top ten after top ten after top ten!)" not that he doesn't deserve it. I've heard about Joey Logano ("he's mastered the art of qualifying up front!") I've heard about Denny Hamlin. I've heard about Kurt Busch. I've heard about Kyle Busch.
Not that they all don't deserve it - but it seems that Jimmie is barely in the conversation. You'd think he was having an off-year, just limping along as best he can, probably not much threat for the championship in 2015.
But if that's so, then how has he pulled off winning four times only halfway through the regular season? That's twice as many trophies as anyone else. How does he manage to end up in front of Harvick's consistently fastest car (every time Jimmie has won, Kevin has been second) and Truex' reliably top ten car and Joey's front-row-starting car?
Granted, the 48 definitely needs to step it up on Friday. Their qualifying efforts have been fairly dismal - which makes their wins all the more impressive. Jimmie didn't make it to the line in time to qualify at all in Atlanta and still came from the rear to take the checkered flag.
This win at Dover was Jimmie's tenth at that track. Only four other drivers have ever won ten times at the same track, and they were all legends of the sport (Petty, Pearson, Earnhardt, Waltrip). He lacks one lap of having led 3,000 laps at Dover. Leading that many laps at one track is another feat only a few of the best have ever managed.
Dover was Jimmie's 74th win, which makes him only three short of matching Dale Earnhardt. And, of course, he lacks just one championship to put him on the top of the NASCAR mountain with Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt.
With four wins already, of course, Jimmie is a lock for the 2015 Chase. He's the only driver who has made the Chase every year since its inception. He has won at least two races every year of his Sprint Cup career. He's a lock for the Hall of Fame the first year he's eligible. I could go on.
I guess it really doesn't matter if reporters and radio hosts give him less recognition than he deserves. I guess it really doesn't matter if many NASCAR fans hate him for whatever reason.
I guess, in the end, his accomplishments can speak for themselves.