Monday, December 12, 2016

No More NOD!

Image result for nascar off season   

Okay, I've been snowed in for the last couple of days with no race to fill the monotony so I've had a lot of time to think and here's what I've decided - when Brian France finally gives it up and names me Dictator of NASCAR, I'm going to make some radical changes for the sake of alleviating the suffering of those of us with NOD.

I'm going to break the Cup teams up into two divisions, call them Group A and Group B. Each group with have 25 teams and they'll each race every other weekend. The only weeks off will be Christmas week and the first week in January. The banquet will be held in Las Vegas on that week.

The first year, we'll draw straws to see who gets to start the season in Daytona. then after that Group A and Group B will take their turn by week. The next year, we'll switch who gets to begin the season so that every driver has the opportunity to drive in all the premiere races every other year - the Daytona 500, the Brickyard, the Coca Cola 600.

Each division can have its own All-Star Race. Maybe some week night, we'll have a 20-lap rubber match between the winners.

Each team will be in 23 races. The regular season will consist of 15 races, followed by a Chase of 8 races. The next-to-last race will pit the highest two scorers from each group against one another. The championship race will narrow it down to the highest two in points in each group.

Of course, this is more races than we have now, which is the point really, so avid NASCAR fans don't have to face more than two weeks in any year without a race.No more NOD!  (I'm surprised NASCAR didn't think of this already if they really care about their fans!) So, naturally, we'll need more more tracks. I suggest adding Iowa to Cup's schedule and adding in another road course, perhaps Mid-America (though going back to Montreal would be even better).  Maybe some of you have some other ideas.

To decide who is in Group A and Group B, we'll take the prior year and the champion would be the first team into Group A, then the runner up into Group B and so on down the line so each division would have an equal number of top teams versus small, less well-funded teams.

And we'll need more teams to make up 50. I will allow each owner to have 5 teams, provided their fifth driver has been in Cup less than five years. This will encourage team owners to create more slots for up and coming young drivers.

We should start a grant fund to help new teams who want to join NASCAR with seed money and sponsorship, just to give them an initial boost and expand the pool.

Cup drivers will only be allowed to race in the Camping World Truck or Xfinity series on their off-weeks.

Okay, my plan is almost perfected. I'll be ready by the time I get my opportunity.

Once that happens, NOD will be a thing of the past!

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Onward and Upward in 2017!

                                                  Image result for the future

Some people don't like the present and dread the future. They yearn for things to be the way they used to be. Personally, I think they see the past through rose-colored glasses. There is no fantasy America where every family was like Father Knows Best. And the Golden Era of NASCAR (whenever you think that was), was no more golden than it is now.

I think NASCAR does its best to please its fans, its owners and its sponsors but, of course, it is impossible to please everyone. A fan has only two options, really. They can love the sport as it is or they can go find something they like better. Staying doesn't preclude bitching, that's is our constitutional right as fans. But the nonsense we read after practically every race about leaving NASCAR forever. Well, either put up or shut up and don't let the door hit you in the butt on the way out.

We were talking about this subject on NASCAR Nation this week. The very things I like (the Chase), others hated. The very things I don't like (the elimination part of the Chase) others thought were exciting. The group of us who were talking agreed on almost nothing, so there you go.

Of course, some things never change. Mr. Hendrick at the front table of the banquet is a sight we're used to seeing. Junior being the Most Popular Driver is another. But some things do inevitably change. Not following two of our greats, Jeff and Smoke, on the track is one big change.

So, what will the future bring to NASCAR in 2017? Well, we know the Sprint Cup Series will now be the Monster (Energy Drink) series. I don't drink any energy drink but I might have to buy a Monster now and then, even if I just pour it down the sink. The company has thrown in with NASCAR in a big way and that is thanks in no small part to Kyle Busch. They've gone from sponsoring a single Xfinity car to becoming the premiere series sponsor. That suggests they have great faith in the sport and what it will do for their brand.

It will be interesting to see what the new championship trophy will look like. Jimmie has to win his 8th championship now just so he can say he's won trophies under two different sponsors.

We know that Jack Roush will only field two cars in 2017. And didn't we all sort of see this coming? Roush fell on hard times a few years ago and just hasn't been able to pull themselves out of their slump. Sad to see. We know it's not for lack of trying on Jack's part. Biffle will be gone from the team. I don't know if he will land a spot or not. I've heard rumors but nothing for sure.

He might find a team to take him on for a few more years but face it, the future is beginning to look more and more like it will belong to the kids - Kyle Larson, Chase Elliott, Chris Buescher, Ryan Blaney, Alex Bowman - they are already competitive in Cup and I expect them all to win races next year. And there are several more coming up through the ranks of the Truck Series and Xfinity. I won't try to name them all because I don't want to leave anyone out but any older driver who isn't looking over his shoulder, isn't facing reality.

Another rumor I've heard is that Dodge may be coming back to NASCAR and oh, I so hope they do. Their cars are beautiful and it would be great to have three American manufacturer's in the sport again.

 It will be curious to see Clint Bowyer at Stewart-Haas in 2017. He sort of fell off the radar screen in 2016, which shows you how important it is to be part of a competitive team. He will be with one of the powerhouses next year. They made a seamless transition when Tony came on board and won championships early on. It will be fun to see if they can do the same when they give up Hendricks' engines and chassis and switch to Ford.

There hasn't been as much Silly Season talk as there is some years....just minor changes around the edges. Most drivers and crew chiefs seem to be staying put although we may have some surprises in store.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Straight 4 - 8

                                               Image result for nascar champion jimmie johnson 2016

I said a little prayer to God before the race - "if You couldn't see your way clear to let Hillary win the election, at least, let Jimmie claim the championship. Thank you."

Through most of the race, it seemed as if He wasn't paying attention. Jimmie had arguably the slowest of the four contending cars, with Kyle Larson having the best one of all. The 48 had to start at the rear of the field and flew up to the top five but then, while Carl, Joey and Kyle played around up front, Jimmie slogged along in 6th through 10th, well behind the other three.

"Well," I sighed to my dog and three cats, "it looks like the Drive for Se7en is going to go on for at least another year." They all gave me a sympathetic look, not that they cared about the race, but they could tell from my tone of voice that I was sad.

And then, suddenly, everything changed. Carl and Joey got into it and Carl was done. Even wanting Jimmie to win, I found that rather heart-breaking. Carl looked to be the favorite before that wreck happened. I didn't think anyone did anything wrong, they were both simply giving it all they had....that's what you do when you're going for a championship. And I'll admit that I had a bit of a piss-off toward Carl when he was at Roush. He seemed to think he was a cut above his teammates and his trick of coming back on the track after he wrecked to drive Brad into the fence was a low-life move in my eyes. But he seems to have changed since going to JGR and he certainly was a class act at Homestead, going up to Joey's pit box to wish that team well, in spite of his own disappointment.

When they went back to racing after the last caution, Jimmie was in front with Kyle Larson. I didn't think he'd be able to pass Kyle, who'd been terrific on restarts all night, but he didn't have to. He only had to finish ahead of Kyle B and Joey. But sheer willpower seem to push him ahead and when he cleared Kyle L and set sail, I knew he had it. He won his 80th race, knocked another first off his list of tracks he taken a trophy from with Homestead, winning both he race and the championship. My friend, Kathy, who lives about 45 miles from me swore she could here me screaming from there.

Ever since I've been a Jimmie Johnson fan, I've had to fight with the haters. There didn't seem to be so many of them this time. Most people seemed genuinely happy to have seen history made. You can put down a driver as much as you want but you can't really deny the talent that it takes to win seven championships. And anyway, the history books don't record comments, only achievements and so JJ joins the ranks of legends - Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt.

The other championship races were great too. It was nice to see Johnny Sauter finally pull it off in the truck series. He's definitely paid his dues over the years.

The Xfinity race was kind of a cluster at the end. People wondered why Cole Whitt's crew chief left him out on old tires but I heard it was because they didn't have anymore tires. Still, he should have pulled to the bottom and let the contenders pass him. Who knows what would have happened if he'd done that but it doesn't matter now. Daniel Suarez prevailed and that appears to have been a popular win. I saw some of the celebration in Mexico and they were beside themselves with joy seeing their hero become the first international NASCAR champion.

Now we wait....for the banquet in Las Vegas and to learn who the new Cup sponsor will be and to see where Greg Biffle lands and to look forward to Junior's return to Daytona, and, and, and.....


Tuesday, November 1, 2016

So Call Me A Hypocrite!

                                                    Image result for nascar jimmie johnson wins martinsville   

Yes! Yes! Yes!

Everyone knows sports fans are perverse. Take the World Series for, example. I'm rooting for the Cubs, not because I care so passionately for the Cubs but because my friends all do. And it's been so long since they won a Series, it would be such a heartwarming story if they took home the title. On the other hand, geez, it's been a long time since the Indians won too, not as long as the Cubs, but over half a century, so that would be a happy ending as well. Really, I'll be pretty satisfied whoever wins...because I root for the underdog and they are both underdogs.

Really, I root for the underdog in almost every instance. I'm known for that. I always want the little guy to win, the one who hasn't ever got a blue ribbon or crossed the finish line first, the horse that goes off at 100 to 1 odds. I empathize with how happy they and their teams and their families will be.

There's one huge exception to my habit of cheering on the underdog and that's in my own sport of NASCAR. Jimmie Johnson is the driver who has my heart. I always want him to win even though he has 79 trophies and six championships. The hell with the underdog! Go, Jimmie!

Back during his streak of taking home championships, people told me - "he wins too much," but I didn't think so. They told me, "it's not fair," and I said "too bad, so sad". They said, "I'd like to see someone new have a chance," but I shrugged them off.

Now he's gone a few years and those new people got their chance - Tony and Kevin and Brad and Kyle. More power to them but now I'd like to see the 48 win it's 7th championship, to tie Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt. Then I'd like to see them go on and beat the record and win an 8th.

Because sports fans are hypocritical like that when it comes to their own teams. So sue me.

Watching JGR during the Chase is sort of a puzzle. After a stellar first part of the season, the performance hasn't been there since the Chase started. I wonder if it has to do with Gibbs being the Sprint Cup team that comes closest to having team orders, a rather milder set than we usually think of, but still....

Maybe they are making it more complicated than it should be. Instead of each of their drivers going out and going for broke to try to win every race, which is the ideal in racing, they seem to have a strategy that is too precise and gets in their way. They treat each other rather gently. They courteously let one another in line. At Talladega, they forswore any thoughts of winning and simply rode around in the back and took their points. I understand why they did it that way but I think you lose something in the translation. Maybe drivers lose their edge when they deliberately try not to win. Maybe you can't divide up a championship run into four equal parts. I think maybe the driver mentality has to be "every man for himself" to get the best out of them.

It was great to see Jeff again at Martinsville. That track will hardly seem the same without him. But I'll be glad to see Junior back next year. He's looking healthy and happy. I enjoyed hearing him in the broadcast booth where he did a fine job.

The next two races? I hope Jimmie wins at Texas. Clutch driver that he is, I wouldn't be surprised to see Kevin in Victory Lane at Phoenix. Driver on points, probably Kyle Busch. Don't use me for your fantasy picks though. I'm a horrible guesser.


Monday, October 24, 2016

Talladega and the Chase

                                                    Image result for nascar talladega 2016

First, congratulations to Joey and his fans for his win this week. He offered us some comedic relief by toting his jack all the way around the track but, thanks to a timely caution, he still managed to bring home the Talladega trophy. That caution was a blessing for Denny Hamlin too, who got caught speeding on pit road....again. As it was, he tied with Austen Dillon for the final Chase slot in this round but got it because of points. Without the caution, it probably would have been Austen rather than Denny who advanced. Cautions giveth and cautions taketh away.

I'm sorry, I know some people love it, but I just don't care for restrictor plate racing. I thought it was boring when it was pack racing. I thought it was boring when they did it tandem-style. I thought it was boring when they bump-drafted and I think it is boring now that they are essentially back to pack racing except that the pack in the back never seems to be able to catch up with the leaders.

I know side-drafting takes skill. I know the leader's ability to block those behind him takes skill. But seeing people jump out of line hoping to get something going besides a long string of single file cars, only to have no one with nerve enough to follow them so they have to frantically try to find a hole to get back in line, usually several places farther back, (thus discouraging the next one whose thinking of trying it) simply leaves me cold.

Mostly what fans seem to do is wait for The Big One to see who ends up in a pile of crushed sheet metal and smoking engines and who is lucky enough to emerge unscathed. It's the "oooh" factor of cars flying and barrel-rolling down the track. "How many?" we ask when it is over. The more the better or else it isn't really The Big One. A junkyard right there on the backstretch, that's what we want.

There was no Big One at this Talladega race but the track still managed to claim its victims. Martin Truex, Jr., for one, who suffered engine failure. Same with Brad Keselowski. If I'm not crazy about restrictor plate racing generally, I especially don't like it in the Chase and that's why. To me, the goal of the Chase is to end up with the four best teams at the end. The elimination system already makes luck a major factor in the championship run and unpredictable Talladega only compounds that. There's no coming back from a disastrous race even if you win three of the final five. Is losing the 78 and the 2, a couple of the most competitive teams all season, really a positive development?

And then there was JGR, with three of their guys - Carl Edwards, Matt Kenseth and Kyle Busch - hanging out at the back. At first, announcers believed it was a strategy, as I did. We've seen it before. Stay safely in the rear to miss the wrecks, then when the time is right, come charging to the front. How many times have I heard them ask from the broadcast booth, "when will Dale Jr. make his move". And, of course, eventually he did make his move. Not to say it didn't bite drivers in the butt sometimes when they were ready to advance and there were no openings to advance into.

But this was no strategy on Gibbs' part. Well, I guess it was in a way. A strategy to stay in the back and simply do nothing else. Finishing in the 30's was good enough to preserve their Chase chances. It was probably smart but what a chicken*** way to race.

So this week, we lost Brad, Martin, Austin and Chase and now we're on to a new round with the eight still left in the running. Go, Jimmie!

Monday, October 17, 2016

One More Week to Relax

Image result for nascar jimmie johnson wins charlotte October 2016           Image result for nascar Kevin Harvick wins Kansas October 2016

I was circling my chair last week at the end of the Charlotte race, unable to light for fear of a caution, chain smoking, biting my fingernails. After all the races that have slipped away from the 48 lately, I just wanted this one to go smooth all the way through to the end. And, thank God, it did....for Jimmie...but it sure was a disaster for several other Chase teams. Luckily, it was a disaster for so many of them that there was a cluster down toward the bottom which was actually better for them than being alone at the tail end. It gave them a fighting chance to make gains on their competitors.

It was sure more fun to watch the Kansas race, knowing I didn't have to worry about Jimmie making it to the next round of eliminations....and even more than Kansas, the dreaded Talladega.

Who was surprised that Kevin Harvick won Kansas? I sure wasn't. No one is as good as Kevin about coming through when his back is firmly against the wall. He is Mr Clutch, for sure, sometimes seeming to push his car to the front through sheer will power.

So now we have Dillon, Hamlin, Keselowsi and Elliott in 9th, 10th, 11th and 12th. Logano is in 8th, above the cut line, but barely, being tied with Dillon in points.

And they have Talladega ahead of them, not an enviable position to be sure but someone has to win it. If I had to bet, I guess I'd put my money on Keselowski. If Brad was a racetrack, he'd be Talladega. Unpredictable, reckless, risk-taker, controversial. That's not supposed to be a slam, it's just his nature.

Last week, I predicted Martin Truex, Jr. was the favorite for the Chase. That's why I don't like to make predictions. I hardly ever get them right. Now Martin is 7th in the standings but 13 points above the cut-off. If it wasn't Talladega looming, I'd consider that a pretty good position to be in. As it is, one false move and it's over....

I felt the sorriest for Chase Elliott. That kid does so good and just can't seem to catch a break. We all know his success is coming but it must be heartbreaking to so often be near a win and swatch it disappear in a puff of smoke.

So, as a 48 fan, I have one more week of relaxation and then its back to stress again.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Two-Dollar Bet

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As it stands right now, I think we have to anoint Martin Truex, Jr the favorite for the Sprint Cup championship, although NASCAR is so unpredictable, especially with this new format, that I'd only lay down a minimum bet and no more. (Consider that Talladega is in the next round of eliminations). Still, over all, the 78 has been stellar and what a story it would be for the one-car, Colorado team to win (although, they are essentially an equal step-brother to JGR). After Martin, I guess I'd place Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch in the next tier. I'd much prefer to see a new winner so I'd be pleased to see Truex hoist the trophy versus a previous champion. 

Unless, of course, we're talking about Jimmie. Then, all the "new winner" stuff is out the window. "Revvin' for Seven" is, and always will be, my motto until it happens. I'd love to see Chase Elliott prevail (speaking of a fairy tale ending) but I don't think that's going to happen. He's doing great for a rookie but next year will be his year to really shine, I think. 

The one I hated to see fall out was Kyle Larson. I didn't think he'd go all the way but I at least hoped he would make it into the second round. I'm sure it was a heartbreaker for Ganassi to see both their cars out of the Chase so soon due to parts issues. Kyle was fast until that point and he'd have most likely made it in without that kick in the teeth from Lady Luck. 

But that's what I mean about unpredictable. It doesn't take much to knock you down. For the 48, which seemed like the only team that could maybe match Truex, it was a pit road penalty for a man over the wall too soon. Thank heavens, he was high enough in the points to live to fight another day in spite of that. We never expected Buescher to make it but he's got nothing to be ashamed of this year. Poor Tony, he just didn't have the car, which has been a chronic condition this year. But he made the Chase and won a race in his last year so he can leave with his head high. 

I've only been a NASCAR fan since 2008 and I have never seen a race before with only 6 cars on the lead lap at the finish. Matter of fact, I've never understood the big deal about laps. I mean I know they are important as far as trying to finish farther ahead but what do they matter in the scheme of things at the end? Jimmie finished 7th and was a lap down. So what? Seventh is seventh whether you are a lap down or not, right?  You get the same number of points. Does it mostly have to do with pride? 

I was thrilled that Daniel Suarez won the Xfinity race in Dover. He's who I'm rooting for in the Xfinity championship. He was the first Mexican to win a NASCAR race and he did it during National Hispanic Heritage Month, which made it even more special. I expect there was lots of cheering both in the U.S. and south of the border.

And now we wait on Mother Nature. Hurricane Matthew had his say and race is currently scheduled for Sunday. I hope no one dominates. It's more fun when they mix it up a little more....and when more than six cars finish on the lead lap. 

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

More Drama, Please

                                              Image result for nascar kevin harvick new hampshire

Chocolate Myers has always said the one thing he wanted from a NASCAR race was some drama (I suppose he still says it though I haven't been able to listen to the Sirius NASCAR channel as much as I used to). Drama can mean a lot of things - many cautions and chaotic restarts that stir up the field, multi-car accidents, unexpected winners, pissed off drivers, the suspense of a fuel mileage ending.

I have to think Chocolate didn't find much drama in the New Hampshire race. It was just your basic race with the usual guys up front, mostly Martin Truex, Jr and Matt Kenseth. Kevin Harvick did pull off his patented "where did he come from?" ending but that wasn't really much of a surprise as it was obvious he had one of the better cars.

Except for Kasey Kahne, who finished 9th, the rest of the top ten were Chase teams. Well, yes, they tend to be in front in most races. They are the best; that's why they are in the Chase.

So, next week we will lose four of them. Right now, that would be Jamie McMurray, Austen Dillon, Tony Stewart and Chris Buescher. With Dover yet to go, it's possible that scenario could be totally up-ended. Kyle Larson is only five points to the good. Still, I'm thinking the unfortunate four will remain the same. Kyle L. has an excellent record at Dover, with an average finish of slightly over sixth place. Jamie is probably the most likely to be able to jump over the elimination line. Meanwhile, Dover hasn't been especially good to Austen Dillon. Tony just doesn't seem to have it this year although we know he's capable to pulling off a miracle in a clutch. None of us ever expected Chris Buescher to be competitive. In his situation, he has to be satisfied simply to have made the Chase in his rookie year.

Incidentally, a personal side note on New Hampshire - I don't think living creatures should ever be trophies. Every Louden race, I hate seeing that poor lobster handcuffed and out of his natural environment for the entertainment and satisfaction of humans.

We'll probably know for sure what's going on with the 48 team after Dover. It is Jimmie's best track with 10 wins. Most all-time. He's led more laps at Dover than the next highest 3 drivers put together. If he has only a so-so run, then we'll know, they are still lacking somewhere. Even though, he'll still be there for the next round, the hopes for a championship will decrease.

Glad to hear that Junior continues to improve. He'll be on the pit box at Dover where Jeff will be driving. (Jeff will also be at Martinsville and Alex Bowman will be in the 88 in the rest of the 2016 races - and speaking of Alex Bowman, I think he's been doing a heck of a job as a relatively inexperienced stand-in).

So onward to Dover....and then there were 8.