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!