Friday, July 28, 2017

Musical Chairs and Nit-Pickery

Image result for Denny Hamlin wins new hampshire                     Image result for Kasey Kahne wins the Brickyard 400

Well, Joe Gibbs finally won one in New Hampshire with Denny Hamlin. It's hard to believe but this was their first win of the season. Of course, I was rooting for Kyle Larson as I always do when he's one of the front runners. But, oh, well, 2nd is better than 41 other drivers did. Do you think the Louden winners really eat those lobsters? I don't think I'd have the heart. I'd probably let mine go back into the ocean.

Then the next week was my home track, Indianapolis. I've been to the race three times but to be honest, I much preferred Homestead, both because of the weather and the view all the way around the track. It is Indy's history that makes it so special, not its amenities.

The Brickyard began to seem like the never ending race by the time it was over. A rain delay, the Kyle and Martin Show until they wrecked each other out and then crash, crash, crash. In the end, Kasey Kahne was the last man standing. Hurray for him! He's in the Chase! (Do we still call it the Chase?)

I'm usually pretty neutral about Kyle Busch. He's not one of my favorites but he's not one of my unfavorites either. I'll tell you though, I'm beginning to feel sorry for him. It has to be torturous to be so good in so many races yet never make it to the checkered flag first. We know he's had some of the best cars and we know how good of a driver he is but he just seems to have a black cloud following him around. I want him in the Chase so I hope he wins one of the next few.

Silly Season has arrived with a vengeance. We found out last week that Alex Bowman will be taking Junior's place in the 88 car next year. I'm glad for that. He's worked for HMS for quite a while and he did a fine job as Junior's replacement. I think he deserves the chance to pilot the 88 into the future and I'm glad Mr H. was loyal enough to give it to him.

Also Ryan Blaney will be going to Penske and Paul Menard will head over to the Wood Brothers. I think that the Blaney/Penske pairing is a match made in NASCAR heaven. Penske will have three young, aggressive drivers and I think they'll rack up a lot of wins in the next few years.

As for Paul Menard, he's always been pretty much a middle-of-the-pack driver. Is that because he's never been with a really top-notch team? We've seen what Blaney has done with the Wood Brothers car so I guess next season will tell the story.

Erik Jones will take Matt Kenseth's place at JGR. I can see the philosophy behind grabbing onto new young talent but wow, tossing away a champion seems sort of harsh, even if this hasn't been Matt's best year. It hasn't been the best year for the rest of the Gibbs team either. I haven't heard where Matt's going or if Furniture Row is going to continue with two cars or go back to one so there's still some suspense to play out.

I'm getting sort of tired of the nit-pickery that is going on in NASCAR. The cars that don't qualify because they can't get through inspection because they're a millionth of an inch too high or 10,000th of an ounce too heavy. When it comes to lasers versus humans, lasers are always going to win the precision war. Drivers getting black-flagged because they beat the leader by a 1000th of a second. Geez, just fly the green flag and let them go. I don't think Joe Gibbs should have suspended two of the 78's crewmen for arguing with the 18 crew. Nobody got hit; nobody was hurt. It was just a typical case of tempers flaring in a stressful situation. At one time, during the "boys have at it" era, that's what we said we wanted.

Now we expect the cars to be perfect and I guess we want the drivers to be perfect too. Too much perfection is boring.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Different Strokes for Different Weeks

Image result for ricky stenhouse jr wins daytona          Image result for martin truex jr wins kentucky

Two different weeks - two totally different kinds of races. Restrictor plate racing isn't usually my favorite but last week's Daytona 400 was an exception. It was exciting. It seemed as if the drivers were edgier, and more aggressive than usual. There were chills and spills and 15 cautions. Kyle Larson went flying up in the air....again. The cars up front kept changing thanks to the leaders being taken out. In the end, Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. prevailed and I was glad to see it, both for Ricky's and Jack Roush's sake.

The last few years, it seemed like we were seeing the withering away of the Roush organization. They went from fielding five top cars to only two, piloted by rookies. Their wins grew farther and farther apart but Jack persevered. He didn't give up and it is beginning to pay off. Ricky has two wins. He'll be in the Chase.

In Kentucky, it was just the opposite. Who would have thought several years ago that the Furniture Row team would be the powerhouse it is today?  A one-car team from Colorado? But Barney Visser had the same kind of determination as Jack Roush. We saw the first signs of real potential when they hired Kurt Busch to drive for them. I think having a championship driver with a passion to succeed behind the wheel gave that whole organization new hope and optimism. Their trajectory was up from there and they've just kept going with Martin Truex, Jr.

Of course, I have to say, it makes for a rather boring race when the leader is 13 seconds ahead of the pack.  NASCAR fans are always bitching about unnecessary debris cautions but I admit, I was freaking praying for a debris caution. A caution finally came at the end. It didn't change the outcome of the race but at least there was a lap of suspense. More power to Truex though - he swept the first two stages and the win. He now has more stage wins than all the other organizations combined!

The most thrilling thing about the Kentucky race was watching Kyle Larson slicking his way through the field - twice! He made 90 green flag passes over all. He started at the very back and got to the front lickety-split. Then he got nailed for speeding and went to the back again and flew forward again. He finally ended up second after all of that. Pretty cool.

What indefinable something causes teams like Roush and Furniture Row go up and down? Does a brilliant engineer come up with a unique new idea about building a car? Does a crew chief think of innovative new set up? Is it a driver who instills dedication into his crew? Is it just the right combination of personalities that result in everyone's best performances. No one really knows for sure but it is what they all strive for.

We learned this week that Matt Kenseth won't be back with JGR next season. That doesn't surprise me much. Joe Gibbs always has had a penchant for the young bucks, rather than the old troopers. I've heard he wants to snatch up Erik Jones before he loses the chance. Well, that's what happened to Rick Hendrick when he let Mark Martin stay on another year and lost Brad Keselowski to Roger Penske.

The other rumor about this particular situation is that Matt Kenseth will be taking Junior's place for at least a year while Rick grooms a rookie (and I've honestly forgotten who. Alex Bowman?) I always thought Kenseth would be a perfect match for HMS. He's low-key, not a gloryhound, always gives 100 percent, all-around good guy. (Yes, I know he's had his moments). Of course, there's also Kasey Kahne, who future is uncertain. He just never hit the ground running at Hendrick like everyone thought he would.

And so it goes in the ever-changing world of NASCAR.