Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Kiss Those Bricks, Baby!

                                                  Image result for indianapolis motor speedway brickyard 400

Well, I can't say I noticed too much difference at Indianapolis with the new down force package. Maybe a little, but it looked pretty much like an average Brickyard 400 to me. 

And I will admit that the crowd looked a little sparse even though they said ticket sales were up due to it being Jeff Gordon's last visit to Indy as a driver. And I think some people were probably discouraged by the weather. I can testify that it is freaking hot in Indianapolis at the end of July!

Don't take any of this as a complaint though. As a Hoosier, I revere the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. What it lacks in racing drama and ideal weather, it more than makes up for in history and spectacle and prestige. 

A lot of fans were griping on NASCAR radio that stock cars don't belong at the Speedway and NASCAR should bail on the track but I don't agree and I don't think many drivers would either. They see kissing the bricks as one of the great achievements of a driving career and I do too. 

Okay, first, I'm going to say that I totally acknowledge Kyle Busch's spectacular run. I have rooted for him to make the Chase all along and he is more than proving himself qualified to compete for the championship. 

But, having said that, I am getting a little tired of the over-the-top kudos he's getting from fans and the media alike. It is the unique circumstances of his situation that make his success so special. If he hadn't missed the early races so that he had to win and get into the top thirty to compete in the Chase, we wouldn't think that much about it. It's not as if he's accomplishing something that has never been done before. According to Jayski, 22 drivers in the modern era have won 3 races in a row; eight of them won 4 in a row. 

Here's what gets me about what I so often see and hear. The Bleacher Report listed NASCAR records that probably won't be broken. The ones that have to do with drivers are: Richard Petty - 200 total wins in his career, Richard Petty - 27 wins out of 48 races for most wins in a season, Herb Thomas - 21+% equals the highest win percentage of any driver, Richard Petty - most second place finishes at 157.

You notice what they left out? Yeah, that would be five championships in a row by Jimmie Johnson, which, maybe its just me, but this seems like one of the most incredible stats in NASCAR. And its things like this that make me a little disgusted when I hear fans and reporters go on and on and on about Kyle Busch. Yes, let's give him all the credit he is due - and that's a lot - but let's not go totally off into the ozone layer of over-hype.

Ah, poor Jeff....I was so hoping he'd win this one or at least have a great finish but it wasn't to be. In fact, none of the Hendrick cars distinguished themselves at a track where they are expected to excel. What's up with that?

Another one I felt sorry for was poor Ryan Blaney - when Kyle snatched the victory from him at the very end. Oh, well, he's young and he'll get other chances. I expect that one will hurt for a while though.  Damn, I'm pulling for Kyle in the Cup series but I think he and Gibbs are trophy hogs in the Xfinity series.

Anyway, we'll see how long Kyle can maintain his streak. Will he win at Pocono? 

Thursday, July 23, 2015

The Good, the So-So and the Not-So Good

Image result for 2015 eldora truck race                      Image result for 2015 New Hampshire Nascar race

First, I gotta' say that racing the trucks on the dirt at Eldora is one of the best ideas NASCAR has had since I became a fan. Now, that was a fun race! And it was great seeing two newbies (at least in the world of NASCAR) chasing each other - hell bent for election - pulling off slide jobs, pushing everyone else out of the way, crashing into the wall. In other words, doing everything they could possibly do to try to win.

Congratulations to Christopher Bell (age 20) and Bobby Pierce (age 18) for putting on a hell of a show that ended in a green/white/checker finish with Pierce .761 seconds behind Bell. Great going, Guys! And welcome to the new generation of NASCAR young guns. The abundance of up and coming young drivers we have now make it exciting to look toward the future of the sport.

I was not quite as thrilled with the Cup race, probably because none of my favorites were fighting for the lead most of the day. I don't dislike any of the drivers but I'm somewhat lukewarm about some of them. I haven't looked up the statistics but my perception was that we were back to the leader being almost untouchable in clean air.

Having said all that, I was happy to see Kyle win because I think it makes an almost fairy tale story for someone who missed the first eleven races to battle back against such long odds to try to get in the Chase. It's not as if NASCAR made it easy on him. Winning even one race and climbing back up to 30th in points is something I think only a few drivers could accomplish. And now he's won three, second only to Jimmie Johnson with his four wins. He's 35th in points so he has to gain five more spots. It's still not a given but I really hope he makes it.

His daring pass to get back on the lead lap was the move of the race as far as I'm concerned. And, yes, luck played a part too, as it always does,but Lady Luck often favors those who help themselves and Kyle has done that for sure.

Another Xfinity race with the Cup guys stealing the show. It ended with Austen Dillon in a snit about Denny Hamlin's driving style. I'm not a driver so I don't know the protocols of clean racing. It didn't seem to me as if Denny did anything wrong but maybe drivers have a different view of it. Not that I cared that much one way or the other which of them won. I was rooting for either Chase Elliott or Erik Jones.

Now you all come to my state for the Brickyard 400. I've been to this race twice and truthfully, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is not the greatest track for watching a race. The cars are almost out of sight for much of the time. You hear the "swoosh" of them going by and then they're gone.

Still, I don't think you'd regret a trip to Indianapolis. There is something rather magnificent about the old track. There is an aura of history that you can almost feel - the pagoda, Gasoline Alley, the yard of bricks. It is sort of like Churchill Downs or Wrigley Field - it is an honor of our heritage as much as a place.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

A Solid "A" for NASCAR

Image result for NASCAR rain in Kentucky

Yes! I think NASCAR is on the right track with their new rules package. That was a very good race, certainly the best one I've ever seen at Kentucky. Twenty-two lead changes which is about twice what there were last year and 3 times as many as the year before. Green flag passes were up 130 per cent. Fast cars could run down the ones ahead of them and then make the pass. More like that, please.

It will be fun to see what Darlington brings when Goodyear has time to build a new tire to match the package.

Of course, it was all made even more interesting because Mother Nature had her way with Kentucky, denying teams the opportunity to qualify and very little practice time to dial their cars in so it was all a crap shoot from the git-go.

I loved the battle toward the end with Kyle and Joey going at it tooth and toenail, trading the lead. I loved watching Brad charging up through the field because of bad pit stops...three times. I loved seeing Jeff Gordon pull off an old school maneuver on Kyle Larson. (Take note, Kyle!)

Congratulations to all the Kyle Busch fans. I was glad he prevailed at the end. He's up to 35th in points and he has to make it into the top 30 to have his wins count toward the Chase. It's not a done deal yet but I hope he does it. His situation has added an interesting story line since his his return.

I waited until the second week to confirm my view that the NBC crew is doing a terrific job under rather trying weather circumstances for their first two races. They were heroic at Daytona, sticking with NASCAR through the entire delay. Then again at Kentucky, they had to work around drawn out delays but they did just fine. I think the combination of Rick Allen, Steve LeTarte and Jeff Burton are excellent. Rick is the consummate professional and it hasn't been so long since Steve and Jeff were active so they add great insights to their reporting. So do Krista Voda, Ned Jarrett and Kyle Petty and the others. It seems that NBC has really thrown itself into building a superior NASCAR program.

Tony's press conference was just, well.....sad. He sounded so disconsolate and dis-spirited. Nothing at all like the brash, smart-ass Tony we know and love. I begin to wonder if he will ever bounce back. He is 44 and that is getting rather long in the tooth for a race car driver but I'll really hate to see him go out on such a downswing. He hasn't won and right now, he wouldn't even make the Chase on points. Losing our edge happens to all of us eventually but I don't think Tony will take it well.

Oh, please, People, stop with the Danica must be PMSing talk. Yep, she was angry and frustrated and she over-reacted and we all know that would never have happened with a man, right? Because they don't bump cars and throw helmets and start fights. They don't get emotional like the female of the species. Give me a freaking break!

It was certainly a great week for JGR - all four of their cars in the top five. Joey Logano was the only spoiler. Even Ford seemed to take a step forward while Chevy took a step back. I don't expect all that to last but we'll see what happens in New Hampshire.

Fans so often give NASCAR hell but everything they do but I'm ready to give them kudos for Kentucky.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Of Kings and Flags and Crashes and Rules....and Buddy Baker

                                           Image result for nascar 2015 daytona july                            Image result for nascar 2015 daytona july                     Image result for nascar 2015 daytona july

Some things we know after Daytona.

- Junior is back to being the Restrictor Plate King! Hell, yeah!

- For all the progress NASCAR has made in safety, stock car racing will never be completely safe. Drivers know the risks they willingly take to do what they love to do. Fans should know the risks they willingly take if they want to get up close and personal with the catch fence. The only way to eliminate those risks completely is to race Sherman tanks with the audience so far away, the vehicles look like Match Box cars....but then it wouldn't be stock car racing, would it....and probably not too thrilling either. Having said all that, thank God, Austen Dillon came out of that wreck unscathed. That was a very scary crash. 

- There will continue to be hold-outs, of course, but the era of the Confederate Flag is winding down. Ironically, it was a pro-white supporter of the flag who caused it to happen by perpetrating a massacre in a black church, illustrating that the flag is a racist symbol, at least for some. 

I don't know if it is true or not but I read that after the Civil War, a woman asked General Robert E Lee what she should do with her flag. He told her to fold it up and put it away. And that is what should be done now. That doesn't mean it can't still be a source of pride for those who consider it part of their heritage and their history but there's no place for a public celebration of a symbol that is also a very hurtful part of African-American heritage and history. 

- I'm really looking forward to moving on to Kentucky with a bunch of different changes to the rules package - not only Kentucky, but Michigan, Indianapolis, Charlotte and Darlington. Fans continue to say they want more passing and an end to the leader getting into clean air and taking off. And NASCAR keeps trying to fix that problem. We'll start to see in Kentucky if the changes make a difference....and if so, which teams adapt to those changes the quickest.

- I expect there were a lot of people like me who went into work on Monday morning feeling like a zombie. I had to get up at 5:00 a.m. because Monday is the day of my long commute. I kept telling myself I should go to bed but then I kept on watching. I usually love Mother Nature but I was cussing her as I sat groggily over my keyboard. Was it worth it though? Absolutely. I was amazed at how many of the fans stayed.

- Finally, my best wishes go out to Buddy Baker. I came to NASCAR long after his career as a driver was over but I learned to love him as one of the co-hosts on Sirius radio. Such a great story teller! If you haven't heard, he's retiring because of inoperable lung cancer. He expressed no resentment or self-pity, only appreciation for having lived a charmed life. He asked for no tears but only smiles when we think of him. I will smile but I can't say there won't be a tear or two as well. 


Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Some Went Up, Some Went Down, Some Went All Around

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Great race! I gotta' say, I love road courses. Yes, I'd like to see one in the Chase or even just another in the regular season. If I got to choose, my vote would go to Montreal but I don't get to make those decisions and I'm glad I don't because I realize the logistics of adding, removing or even just moving races is a nightmare scenario. Chicagoland is probably one of my least favorite tracks. I don't think the city appreciates NASCAR as much as many other places and there is no way I think it should be the first race in the Chase but, oh, well, as I said, its my opinion but not my decision.

I enjoy the fact that road courses offer a bit of everything - ups and downs and rights and lefts and tight curves and a lot of passing by means of picking just the right time and place to set up your competition. Add to that, flaring tempers and spin outs and strategy pit stops. It all makes for an exciting race.

Of course, as always, I was rooting for Jimmie as my number one and without that last caution, I think he might have pulled it off. But once that hope was over, then I was all for Kyle overcoming the obstacles he's faced and ending up with the trophy. I hope he goes on to get up to 30th in points to be in the Chase.

Some fans didn't like NASCAR's decision to give Kyle a waiver but I think it was totally fair. It's not like they just let him in on a whim. He he has to win a race AND get into the top 30. He's done the first but he still has an uphill battle to accomplish the second. I think he has to average something like a 13th place finish in the rest of the races to make it. If he manages to pass all those other teams with 10 fewer opportunities than they had to score points, then he absolutely deserves to be in the championship run. So, I say, "go, Kyle!"

More bad luck for Jeff Gordon. I don't think this is turning out to be the last year he had in mind. The regular season is winding down for drivers that still need a win.

I was on the road back from Florida during most of the weekend and barely got home in time to watch the Cup race so it was only later that I heard that Erik Jones swept the Xfinity and Truck races. (I have Sirius radio in my car and I usually listen to NASCAR but the friend who went with me to Florida isn't a fan so I didn't force her to listen to NASCAR over 24 hours of driving). That was too bad for me because I so enjoy seeing the young drivers shine without the Cup guys hogging the wins.

So this coming week, I'll have to get used to watching on NBC rather than Fox and learning the broadcasting styles of a whole new cast of characters. That will be sort of interesting. I will miss Darrell Waltrip (but not Michael). I know a lot of people aren't DW fans but as a comparatively new devotee of stock car racing (2008), I felt like I learned so much from Darrell over those years. He explained a lot of things that I didn't have a clue about and showed me what to watch for that would have gone over my head without him. He's a great "splainer" for someone starting from scratch.

So, onward to Daytona. Who will be our next new winner, I wonder?