Thursday, November 26, 2015

Reach for the Stars

I write this on Thanksgiving. I'm certainly not thankful NASCAR is over for the season but I am grateful there is always next year to look forward to fill our lives with joy and heartbreak and suspense and excitement.

We ended this year with great story lines galore. Jeff Gordon in his last year. It wasn't perfect but it was good. He was there clear until the end and that's all any driver can really hope for. The same with Martin Truex, Jr. Finally, of course, Kyle Busch won in a triumph over adversity having spent the first 11 races on the injured list before bounding past the competition when he came back.

NASCAR fans love their controversies and some fans have grumbled about Kyle being allowed to compete for the championship after missing so many races. They grouch that there should be an asterisk beside his name in the championship rolls. If that's so, it should be an asterisk that says - "winner, despite having given his competition an 11 race head start."

It was quite a season for the M&Ms driver. Not only did he win the Sprint Cup but his truck team won that championship too with Erik Jones, 2015's wonderkind, and the youngest truck champion ever.

And congratulations to Chris Buescher for earning the Xfinity series championship. Chris doesn't have that outgoing charisma some of the young guns have but he kept his cool and just drove steadily forward to victory.

I'll say, as I've said before - I like the Chase but I really don't care for the elimination aspect NASCAR added. I think it plays to other qualities besides team and driver performance but having said that, I'm old and the crowd NASCAR is trying to lure in are the younger folks. They are X-Gamers and adrenaline junkies. They have shorter attentions spans so you have to keep it constantly thrilling to draw them. Whatever NASCAR does, I'll still keep watching....even from the nursing home.

Right now, the Daytona 500 seems so very far away. I always say that but it's here before I know it. Next year will be another nostalgic season as we say good-bye to Tony. He's getting a new crew chief for 2016. I don't know what his problems have been but I hope this change fixes them so he can drive off from the front like Jeff.

In February, everyone has an equal chance. Every hope hangs out there as a bright shiny possibility. As a Jimmie fan, I will anticipate JJ's first race win of 2016 when he will match Dale Earnhardt, Sr's win total....and then the next race when he surpasses Dale. I will root and pray and hold my breath and keep my fingers crossed for Jimmie's 7th championship. For others, there may be different dreams. If they are transferring their allegiance from to Jeff to his replacement in the 24, they may be dreaming for a bang-up rookie season for Chase Elliott. Some may hope to see Danica in the top 10. Or for another new driver to take home the Cup, like Denny Hamlin or Joey Logano or heck, even Kyle Larson. Any of those things could happen. As it stands today, everyone is equal and that means we can all reach for the stars.


Monday, November 16, 2015

Anybody But Kevin

Well, that was a sort of a mixed up muddle, wasn't it? A seven-hour rain delay. Then, right off the bat, Kurt Busch got the chance of a championship taken away by a picayune matter of beating Jimmie Johnson to the start line by about a foot. That meant a pass-through penalty and going to the back on the re-start. Jimmie was in the lead then until he got caught speeding on pit road and had to join Kurt at the rear and his chance to win the race was, zip, gone.

I have to say it was exciting watching those two race their way back toward the front, as heartbreaking as it probably was for them. One or the other of them just may have made it if they'd raced to the end instead of being rained out two/thirds of the way through. As it was, Jimmie finished 5th and Kurt 7th.

Then Kevin Harvick took over and it looked like a pretty sure thing that he was going to Victory Lane until a caution fell during green flag pit stops, leaving Junior in the lead when the rains came again, stopping the race.

I was three/fourths happy with the way it turned out. I don't want Kevin Harvick to win the championship for the second year in a row, not that I especially dislike Kevin. I just appreciate the other three stories more.

My first choice is Jeff. I think it would be an incredible outcome if he won his fifth championship (and his long coveted first Sprint Cup championship) in his last year. That would be a storybook ending if there ever was one.

Almost as good would be Martin Truex, Jr. pulling it off. A one-car team, a first championship and a really nice guy who had to face a lot of personal adversity in the last couple of years and carried it off with grace. It would be heartwarming to see him prevail.

And finally, speaking of adversity, there is Kyle Busch having to fight his way back after missing the first 11 races due to a wreck that left him with a broken leg and foot. And NASCAR didn't make it easy on him. He had to win a race and climb into the top 30 in points. In fact, he won four races on his way to accomplishing that feat. He definitely earned his shot at the championship.

So my mantra next weekend in Homestead will be Anybody But Kevin although Kevin is probably who'd I'd bet on if I considered only my head and not my heart.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

JJ Crashes the Party!

                                           Image result for jimmie johnson wins texas 2015

I know I've been slacking but my heart just hasn't been in it. I've learned since becoming a NASCAR aficionado (first race - 2008 Brickyard 400) that sports fans are a strange lot, giving their total loyalty to their race teams or ball teams,  and I don't exclude myself from that. Non-NASCAR friends try to tell me - "don't get so emotional, it's just a sport, it's just a race." But, of course, it's way more than that to that us. NASCAR is an integral part of our lives.

In the beginning, older fans told me I needed to pick a driver to root for so I decided whoever won the first race I watched would be my guy. That was the infamous exploding tire fiasco in Indy which Jimmie Johnson won. I didn't know any of the drivers at the time so I had no idea that I was jumping on the bandwagon of a champion but wow, am I glad it turned out that way! Jimmie has given me so many hours of pleasure and triumph since then.

And its not just because of his winning ways. Turned out, he is exactly the kind of athlete I admire. I prefer scalpels to Bowie knives. I respect grace under pressure versus fiery-tempered passion. I lean more toward clean competition than "whatever it takes to win". As in - the finish of the Texas race. Watching two champions plan their strategy, lap after lap, at almost 200 miles an hour, without damaging either car is as good as it gets for me.

This has not been a great last half of the season for 48 fans. After four wins, the team seemed to be stuck in the 7th to 12th range while JGR, Penske and the 4 car showed phenomenal speed. Still, Jimmie entered the Chase fifth in points until the disastrous part failure at Dover did him in.

I still watch the races. I'd never quit doing that but I admit, it's not as much fun when my driver is out of the running. My other preferred teams started to fall one by one. First, it was Junior and then it was Matt. I still have Jeff and Martin Truex, Jr. though.

What a great story it would be if Jeff won in his final year. Or Martin and Furniture Row, a single car team based out of Colorado. I would thrill to either of those championships.

It is difficult to talk about the last few weeks without bringing Matt and Joey into it. I've avoided it because I'm a Matt fan but not particularly a Joey fan and I'm not sure how much that colors my thinking.

To me, Joey wrecking Matt was the opposite of the finish of the Texas race. He'd already won a race in the Contender Round so it wasn't desperation that drove him. I understand that race car drivers want to win every week. I understand that it would be irritating to be blocked by a slower car. But instead of displaying the patience of a Jimmie Johnson and waiting to make a clean pass, Joey chose to spin out his competition. He justified it because he said you do what you have to do to win.

I don't agree. You do do what you have to win...up to a point. Granted, it is a fine line but there is a line - last lap, no wins and a driving need to remain in the battle. Yes, I could understand that but that's not where Joey was. He knew he was moving on to the next round. I'm not saying roll over but I believe in Joey's position, you should fight as hard as you can but stop short of wrecking the other guy. Sometimes, honor is more important than even winning.

And what did it gain him? Another win he didn't need to accomplish his ultimate goal of a championship. And retaliation by a furious colleague who believed you'd done him dirty. A loss of respect from your fellow drivers. Now Joey has to win in Phoenix to make it to Homestead. He'd have been better off to have taken the second place in Kansas.

And as for Matt, it seems he simply decided that what goes around comes around. Was he right to wreck Joey at Martinsville?  Probably not but sometimes, the paybacks are worth the price you have to pay.

And what about NASCAR itself? I'm certainly not the first to note that in some instances, this being one of them, they are inconsistent. I remember back when Carl Edwards deliberately came back on the track 105 laps down and stalked Brad K and then wrecked him, NASCAR was in their "boys, have at it" mode then and did nothing. And that was at a super speedway whereas Matt chose a track that was less likely to cause real harm but he got a two-race suspension anyway. We've seen other instances of retaliation, some of which brought penalties and some not.

My own opinion is that NASCAR functions too much as Big Brother, not only in these cases, but in the ever tighter box they put the teams in regarding both building and setting up the cars. When it all comes down to thousandths of inches, it's over-kill.

We either want a sport that is regulated to the nth degree in all areas or we want one that allows for innovation and creativity and passion and drivers policing themselves. I vote for the latter.

In the meantime, I'm glad Jimmie played spoiler in the Chase party.