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

                                                Image result for martin truex jr 2016 dover

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.