Michigan Round Up

Low downforce. Low downforce. Low. Down. Force.

Dear NASCAR, I cannot say it enough. Low. Down. Force.

The bigwigs from the NASCAR R+D center pegged this past weekend at Michigan and another three weeks out at Kentucky as the tracks to experiment with a different aero package. They did the same thing last year with a “high drag” package which everyone agreed was a drag. (Ha! See what I did there?) This year NASCAR went the experimental route with ridiculously low downforce.

The spoilers were cut down so much, I’ve seen more solid aero packages from hoonigan Honda Civics trolling around Rhode Island.

On the Fox broadcast, DW commented that the spoilers were cut down more than he had ever seen since he started racing forty years ago.

This is fantastic. The race was a great one.

logano wins michiganYeah, Joey Logano kind of housed the field. He led the most laps by a ridiculous margin, but it’s not exactly surprising that a Penske Ford did well at Michigan. They like to go all out for the hometown crowd. Logano led 103 more laps than 2nd place Chase Elliott. No one else led more than ten laps. The funny thing is that Logano wasn’t really keen on the super low downforce package. Guys like Edwards were super stoked to run the low downforce package. A lot of people, myself included, figured that the aero down to only 1660lbs (as opposed to 3500 just two years ago) would fall into the wheelhouse of the ex-dirt races like Larson, Stewart, and Kahne.

Speeds at Michigan topped out around 216mph on the straights and dropped to the 170s in the corners. The 40mph swing really put the race in the driver’s hands a lot more than previous years at the track. For the last couple years, races at Michigan were looking like restrictor plate races. Put the hammer down and hold on, whoever have the most oomph in the engine will win it out. That is a much different style of racing than we got this past week. I’m more than ok with that. Once the drivers got comfortable with how the cars would handle forty on track at a time, there was plenty of passing. Menard led laps after starting 32nd. Harvick finished top 5 after starting 29th. Kurt Busch spent the front half of the day in the 20s and rallied up to tenth.

So despite the dominance of the #22 team up front, the race was a good one. A very good one. I understand a single good race is not a predictor of a season of success, but I think NASCAR should take a hard look at putting a similar package in place for good.

Kyle Busch’s Summer is Not So Hot

kyle at michiganThat’s pretty close to being a weather related pun, but seriously, I’m not going there.

The defending champion has been having an abysmal few weeks. In the last four races since he won at Kansas, Busch’s best finish was a 30th at Dover. Wind at Michigan this past week dropped a lot of trash on the track and hot dog wrappers have been affecting the outcome of races for decades. Toyota engineers said the #18’s engine overheated courtesy of said trash and it blew in a fiery mess. Busch limped it into the garage but his day was done and he finished in the caboose position.

The cynical Twitternauts were saying that after putting three wins in the bank already, the Chase grid format means he can play R+D car for the rest of the season. I’m pretty cynical and there are some drivers where I might believe that… however I don’t think that would sit well with Kyle Busch. He might swing for the fences, go big or go home style, but that’s pretty much how he races anyways on a normal day. Love him or hate him, Kyle Busch hates to lose. This four week stretch at the tail end of the field is eating him up.

Buescher’s Bad Day

buescher at michiganChris Buescher went from Xfinity Champion to a Cup car that can just almost crack the top 20 on a good day. That’s pretty rough. Competition in Cup is tight. There are only 40 seats to go around and a only a dozen of those are perennial contenders. With the speculation that the Michigan aero package would fit the newer driver’s real well, Buescher was actually having a pretty solid day for the Front Row #34. He spent much of the front end of the race in the top 20 and even cracked the top 10 for a while a mid race.

His finish of 20th was actually his second best on the season so that seems good… except I don’t think he should go on twitter for a few days.

On lap 63 he got loose in the turn, as most everyone did on the day, and drifted up the track. He tagged Junior who was stuck in the back of the pack from poor qualifying. Earnhardt and the #47 of Allmendinger pancaked the wall hard enough at 180+ to ruin the day and DNF’s for both. Buescher kept going. Junior’s legions of Twitternauts rage faced. Yeah… Buescher should just not turn his computer on for a while.

Shout Outs!

tony at michiganJust one week after talking about how he’s in trouble, Tony Stewart gets the Shout Out today. This was the kind of week where Tony had his old swagger back. He was racing well and having fun, at one point he messed with his crew saying he was coming in to pit out of the blue then laughed over the radio instead.

Smoke qualified third, his best on the season, and he ran in the top ten all day. A lot of that was in the top five. The #14 got shuffled around a bit in all the cautions and restarts on the back end of the race, but he finished 7th. This is good for Tony, and this is good for NASCAR. Yes there is a youth movement going on in NASCAR not seen since the late 90s, but a jovial Tony Stewart is the best Tony Stewart.

The 7th place finish puts him 45 points off of 30th place Brian Scott. Through the first 15 races, Scott has an average finish of 27.9. Tony has a 19.4 through his seven races since he came back from injury. Let’s call it an average of a 9 point gain every week by Stewart based off the numbers we have already. There are 11 races left until the Chase. The averages are in Tony Stewart’s favor to get in the top 30 in points. With the way his car ran at Michigan, there is reason to believe that Stewart could pull off that win to qualify into the Chase. Of the 11 races left before the Chase cut off, Tony has won at 9 of the tracks. Granted, some were years ago, I was surprised to see his last Bristol win was in 2001, (Chase Elliott was in kindergarten) but he still has a W there. Darlington and Kentucky are the only ones in that stretch he hasn’t won at and Kentucky will have the same aero as Michigan. I would love to see Tony pull this off, qual for the Chase, and retire with a big shit eating grin on his face.

mcmurray mcd colorsSo that was a lengthy Shout Out/Tony Update, but I still want to flag one more Shout Out for Michigan. Jamie McMurray pulled off a stealth run at Michigan. He ran in top 15ish for the first half of the race and once the cautions started flying frequently, he fell back into the 20s. As late as lap 180, he was down in 19th place. Over the last cluster of restarts, Jamie Mac surged to the front and snuck into a 9th place finish in a classic “Where the hell did he come from?” The #1 car is sitting 14th on the Chase grid only ten points to the good above Blaney. He needs these top 10s if he wants to be in the conversation come fall.

Pit Stall 13 Update

truex at doverThe magical pit stall this week went to Martin Truex Jr in the 78 Furniture Row Team.

Truex’s finish of 12th would be good by most people’s standards, however, after the epic beatdown dished out for the Coke 600, I’m sure the team would have expected more. The fact that he did so well is a testament to his crew though. Early on in the race, Truex made contact with Bowyer’s #15 who was running a lap down. He spun but managed to not hit a thing. NASCAR penalized the team though for a flared out fender. Personally, I thought it was an iffy call since it was visibly damage from the contact, but eh, not my call, NASCAR doesn’t pay me to do it. The team rallied to a good finish and frankly, runs like that are the ones that make or break a championship season.

Charterless Update

  • 17th – #21 Ryan Blaney – Ran top 10 at times but contact with the wall dropped him back to a 17th place finish. Still in the Chase grid via points.
  • 27th – #55 Cole Whitt – Still with the swapped numbers for some reason, matched his best non-plate race and finished on the lead lap. That’s a solid day for Premium.
  • 30th – #30 Josh Wise – Ran a couple laps off the pace but not bad for a minnow car.
  • 31st – #98 Reed Sorensen – Attrition helped get them up to this spot

On to Sonoma!

Oh snap! NASCAR is going to turn left AND right next week!

The traveling circus we all love is going west to Sonoma for one of the two road course races. The sport doesn’t really have true ringers anymore when it comes to turning in both directions. Boris Said can’t get a top shelf car and compete for the win anymore when top drivers need to run every race and are much better rounded than back in the day. However…. we do get some different people in the conversation for Sonoma and The Glen than on the circle tracks.

Ambrose and Montoya are gone, but anything short of a W is unacceptable for AJ Allmendinger and the 47 team. His team’s performance has been improving across the board since he joined JTG Daughtry, but the Dinger is the closest we have to a road course ringer in modern NASCAR.

The Dinger’s NASCAR W came at The Glen though. Tony Stewart and Kyle Busch are the only active drivers with multiple wins at Sonoma. Truex won there running for MWR a couple years back and could easily win again. Still, got to throw out the advantage for Allmendinger. The JTG Daughtry team will swing for the fences and expect a home run.

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Pocono Round Up

NASCAR ran out of luck with the weather man. The fastest traveling circus around got washed out at Pocono over the weekend. I’ve sat through rain delays, watching people try to dry the track. It’s not fun, especially since I remember when it was just old tires dragged around behind pickup trucks. It’s doubly worse when the whole show gets rained out. Locals can skip out another day of work, anyone who travels in is hosed.

I’m sure there are people clamoring for NASCAR to get rain tires. Happens every time there’s a delay. Let’s not push our luck with safety. NASCAR doesn’t need rain tires. Honestly, who the hell wants to sit four hours in the rain? Track promoters have enough work cut out for them. No one needs rain tickets.

kurt wins poconoOnce the rain finally stopped and the race happened for real, Kurt Busch won his first of the year, stretching out his fuel mileage to the max. It may be his first win of the year, but continues an extremely impressive start to the year for him. We’re fourteen races into the year and only two of Kurt Busch’s finishes were outside the top ten (Fontana and Martinsville). I had to double check that stat because he’s sitting second in the points, but it’s been a very quiet second. He’s been a top ten machine even if he hasn’t been mixing it up for wins. Add that up with a pair of pole starts this year and it was only a matter of time before he was going to win again. It’s been almost ten years since he last won at Pocono, but the track has always given him solid results if not a W.

Now, I know fuel mileage races aren’t the most exciting for the outsider (or the NASCAR Twitternauts that need something to complain about), but this is a very impressive fuel mileage win. His crew chief, the old school Tony Gibson, was suspended  because of NASCAR’s omnipresent lug nut drama. The lead engineer for the team, Johnny Klausmeier, stepped in and told Busch he was two laps shy of fuel and to start saving.

That’s not just a little bit short.

He was dropping 40mph of speed in the corners and coasting through them to horde every drop of fuel he could and then put the hammer down on the white flag lap to make sure it all stuck. That’s some fancy driving and a fancy call from Klausmeier to even try to stretch it.

Keselowski and Gordon going at it again

keselowski at poconoSo Keselowski and the #2 team finished third at Pocono. That’s a sweet finish, but early on in the race, Keselowski’s team was penalized in the pits. The jackman pulled one of those hip checks just forward of the rear tire. Pops out the panel, adds more sideforce, and now the car has an aero advantage. NASCAR has been policing this a lot lately. And it may be more just a matter that they’re catching it more with the camera run pit monitors the officials use now. Regardless, Keselowski was irked.

“I don’t know what (NASCAR) saw so it is not really fair for me to say anything about that,” Keselowski said. “I can tell you that every car I saw had some body modifications on it after pit stops out there. I don’t know if ours was more egregious or even if we had one. That is for the team guys to really answer.”

Ok cool. “Every car I saw had some body modifications on it.” I’m going to call a “DUH” on this one. A crew chief, and by extension, the crew, are supposed to push the envelope as much as they possibly can. It’s part of the game. You push and push and push the limits of what NASCAR is going to allow. That’s how you get ahead. With the competition up front being so close, every little bit counts and can be the difference between a W and a 10th, a Championship and a busted season.

Conversely, sometimes the NASCAR officials are going to bite back. Does that make the #2 team a bunch of cheaters? Nope. Not at all. It’s part of the game. That’s how it’s always been in NASCAR, a constant push and pull between teams and The Rules. Like bleeding the air out of the tires last year. It’s also why NASCAR has a sliding scale of penalties. There are the gross and obvious “What the hell were you thinking” penalties and the “You pushed, but this is as far as you can go” penalties. We move on with them.

That’s a whole lot of words without getting back to the bold header of this section but it relates, I swear.

Keselowski called out Gordon up in the booth because Gordon talked about similar crew tactics from the 2 team won in Vegas earlier in the year. Fact checking later, NASCAR didn’t penalize the Penske crew for any body mods at Vegas, it was a speeding penalty on the same stop. Gordon owned up to that one later on ye olde twitter.

jeff gordon mug shotKeselowski does bring up a point about having people biased in the booth. Gordon and Keselowski have a history as drivers. Gordon has been a part owner in Jimmie Johnson’s #48 team since the start of that ride. Keselowski is saying that the commentators need to be neutral parties.

I appreciate Keselowski speaking his mind, I always do even when I disagree with him. Which I do in this case. Having a wholly objective observer sounds better on paper. Ken Squier will always be known as the voice of NASCAR. He was never a driver or team owner. Neither was Mike Joy. But a lot of the best announcers in NASCAR were former drivers. Michael Waltrip still runs restrictor plate races to this day and will do his prerace duties in his firesuit before hopping in the car and running laps. I think Brad Daughtry is one of the better prerace guys and he co-owns Allmendinger’s car. Ned Jarrett in the booth calling the race as his son passed the elder Earnhardt to win the Daytona 500 is ever going to say that was wrong. That’s a classic moment in NASCAR history, in part because of Ned Jarrett being in the booth on live TV.

Where do you draw the line of being “biased” as a commentator? Are we going to say that Rusty Wallace should never do NASCAR commentary because he used to race for Penske? Or his brother Kenny, one of the funniest and well spoken people in NASCAR, can’t talk about… well, half the owners on the track? Should we stop listening to Larry Mac because he used to work for Childress?

Oh and by the way, Ken Squire owns a race track in Vermont and Mike Joy co-owns the Sonoco racing fuel distributor in New England. Does that count?

See the thing is, all these people I’m talking about, they’re professionals in the booth. If they weren’t, they wouldn’t be doing this year in and year out. I for one, think that Jeff Gordon is very good in the booth and hope he has a long career in the booth.

It happens in every sport. Being a part of it gives you a leg up when covering the game. Many of the best sportscasters started out as players/coaches in their respective sports. No one honestly thinks John Madden should have gone his career without covering a Raiders game. Or Pat Summerall a Giants game.

Ditto goes for NASCAR.

Tony Stewart Troubles

tony at poconoI hate to say this, but it’s not looking good for Tony Stewart to go out with a swan song. He had his best starting position of the season so far this past week at Pocono and he was running in the top ten, but got tangled up in a wreck… with Danica of all people.

NASCAR is better with Tony Stewart in it. Doubly so when he is the happy, engaging, fiery, Tony Stewart. It’s been rough on the track for him since his come back from injury. Really, it’s been rough on track for Tony for a couple years now. I think a lot of NASCAR would love to see him hit that walk off home run and pull a mic drop by walking out with a championship. Very few in any sport get to do that. Finish 29 laps off the pace cause of a wreck isn’t going to get him very far. Remember, he’s going to finish in the top 30 in points and get a win for his waiver to matter. 34th place finishes aren’t helping.

Rough Day for Jeb Burton

burton at poconoNormally a 29th place finish for the raced-by-committee GoFAS #32 isn’t much to remark on. This week, however, they put a new driver in the seat for Pocono. Jeb Burton got the call to run his first Cup level race since he was a victim of downsizing at BK Racing in the off season. He got the call to run the Richard Petty Xfinity car though so we thought it was good for him. A better car, albeit in a lower tier.

Bad news though, RPM shut down the #43 Xfinity team because their sponsor decided not to pay their bills. Racing takes deep pockets, no matter who you are. Deeper pockets if you want to do it well. Petty isn’t like Penske, or Haas, or Hendrick, or Roush… he doesn’t have an extensive business to fall back on. (Although, just ask James Finch, that doesn’t always work either) Petty’s only business is racing, so when someone doesn’t pay their sponsor bills, there’s nothing left to soak up the hurt.

Frankly, I think this whole thing sucks. Burton is a very promising racer for the future of the sport. He’s got a Truck win and two top ten point finishes in that series. Given the right equipment, he could be one of the future stars to carry the sport like Chase Elliott, Austin Dillon, Kyle Larson and Ryan Blaney. Doubly so because the traditionalists love a family connection in NASCAR. He had it rough last year with BK racing, DNQ’ing for nine races and then becoming a victim of charter system downsizing. I had figured the Petty Xfinity ride would get him back in a competitive car again and get things back on track. NASCAR’s relationship with the checkbook is a harsh mistress though. I hope he can land on his feet.

Shout Outs

elliott at poconoThis first one hardly seems like a shout out because he is running so consistently, but high five to Chase Elliott. He pulled off his 10th top ten on the season so far. Everyone expected the #24 car to still run well, after all, it’s a Hendrick team that was winning races last year with Gordon, but Elliott is exceeding everyone’s expectations. Still, I have to give a shout out for Elliott leading the most laps on the day, even if he didn’t score his first W yet. Chase is constantly impressing everyone. He’s highest in the points without a win yet at 7th on a season so far. I seriously expect him to win. Soon and often.

ty dillon at poconoThe other shout out on the day goes to another guy who’s going to carry the sport into the future. Ty Dillon got the start in the Circle Sport-Levine ride as an unofficial 4th RCR car. It’s a deal that Childress has been doing with Circle Sport for a few years now ever since the former sold the owner points for the #33 to the latter. Austin Dillon did the same thing before he was officially a rookie, running a few races as an RCR flying the Circle Sport banner. Brian Scott did too when he was running Xfinity for Childress. Ty Dillon is making the most of these starts he gets. In the thirteen starts he’s made at Cup level, his best finish is 14th at Michigan last year. He didn’t top that this past week at Pocono, finishing in 21st, but he led some laps up front. Childress will get him into a Cup car in a year or two and he’ll be leading a lot more laps than that.

Pit Stall 13 Update

headshot via aricalmirola dot comAric Almirola was lucky driver to occupy the glorious Pit Stall 13 at Pocono. It didn’t translate to too much for the RPM #43 car this week though. He had a middling start in 16th and finished 20th. This day wasn’t one where just managing to stay on the lead lap was going to bring home much of anything in terms of finish. He ran as high as 14th and as low as 29th, so a 20th was right about where you figured he’d end up. They did have an “over the wall too soon” penalty pitting on lap 62 which put lost them their midpack position which the car was never fully able to recover from.

Charterless Update

  • 10th – #21 Ryan Blaney – He’s having a very good season, currently in the Chase grid on points, but is frequently overshadowed by Chase Elliott (i.e. like this week)
  • 27th – #30 Josh Wise – This is the best finish for the TMG #30 car this year finishing just one lap off the pace. This little team busts hump every race so it’s nice to see them making gains. Small steps are better than no steps.
  • 28th – #98 Reed Sorenson – The Premium Motorsports drivers swapped cars. Neither has a charter so…. reasons? Sorenson did get his best finish of the year out of it though.
  • 30th – #55 Cole Whitt – Swapped numbers with his teammate and cruised to 30th. Attrition helped.

Onward to Michigan!

Michigan is up next and I think it’s going to be a good race, unlike last year’s high drag debacle. It’s a very fast track with plenty of room to race so here’s hoping the low downforce package creates lots of passing. I think it should.

While not a plate track, this place favors teams that can put down raw speed similar to the plate tracks. I think RCR has this track circled as a place to take a huge swing and hope for a home run, especially the 31 and 27 teams. If they miss here, Newman is eyeing Daytona and New Hampshire, Menard is watching Daytona and Indy. They’ve got to take a big swing and go for a win. Newman could still point his way in, but Menard had a few races with bad racing luck and tire problems. He can’t soak those up and still point his way in. This time of year, look for the Neon Rocket, and plenty of other teams, starting to take big gambles on those W’s.

I also expect Brad Keselowski to run up front here. The best he’s ever finished at the track was 2nd during his championship year, but it really is a thorn in his side that he hasn’t won at his home track. With two wins under his belt and a spot in the Chase lined up, I expect him to go all out for that hometown crowd.

Coke 600 Round Up

So this years running of NASCAR’s longest race might not have been one for the highlight reels, but it certainly was one for the record books.

Take away the confusion of the format away from the All Star Race and you’re left with very good racing at Charlotte. Trevor Bayne’s big pass. Larson going wheel to wheel with Chase Elliott. Larson again trying his damnedest to win the whole thing over Logano. The All Star Race is a big ol’ preview of the Coke 600. Always has been.

So we, the collective patrons of NASCAR, expected something similar.

We didn’t get that.

And that’s ok. (Seriously, it really is. The NASCAR Twitternauts need to reign it in)

truex wins coke 600Martin Truex Jr had sheer and utter domination of a single race not seen in over fifteen years. Truex led all but eight laps in a 600 mile race. That’s 588 miles. That’s if I hopped in my car and drove from Rhode Island to the track in Richmond. NASCAR had one of their patented competition cautions early on in the race. Truex had taken off to something like an eight second lead by then. He started from the pole and never looked back.

The official stats say nine lead changes among four drivers but the reality is that those lead changes only happened during green flag pit cycles. Jimmie Johnson, the only driver who could even see Truex’s rear bumper, picked up five laps on two separate cycles that way. Logano one lap. Paul Menard two when he was stretching fuel in case mileage became a thing.

Cautions were minimal. Brian Scott spun and didn’t hit anything. The #32, run by Jeffery Earnhardt again this week, pancaked the wall at one point. Sweet Lady Debris was the only caution past lap 209 of 400. Truex’s pit crew and that number one pit box kept him out front.

There wasn’t a thing anyone could do versus the Furniture Row Toyota. Jimmie Johnson sniffed the lead after the Sweet Lady Debris caution and led maybe a quarter of a lap. But Truex got it back before the lap was complete so it didn’t even count as an official lead change. For much of the race, there were less than five cars within ten seconds time of Truex.

Jeff Burton's Exide colors from 96-01
Jeff Burton’s Exide colors from 96-01

The only race in my memory of watching NASCAR since the late 80s that comes close was Jeff Burton going flag to flag at New Hampshire in 2000. On the Fox broadcast, Mike Joy even dropped that reference and the other two, Jeff Gordon and Darrell Waltrip, were actually in that race. (Tony Stewart was still new back then and Junior was a rookie) Flag to flag is an amazing achievement for any racer but on reflection, I agree with Mike Joy that this was more dominant than Burton was back then. Context is why.

First of all, every race at New Hampshire has been 300 laps (for something like 314 miles because of it’s slightly bigger than 1-mile size). Or 301 because of a thing some sponsor did years ago that sticks sometimes even with a different sponsor. Regardless. It’s about half the race distance. New Hampshire is also notoriously hard to pass at. I have been witness to some amazing races at New Hampshire, but it’s no Bristol. Ryan Newman, who’s rookie season wasn’t for another two years after Burton’s feat, has said in the past that Loudon is “the birthplace of track position.” So take a flat track, add in seven caution flags taking thirteen cars out of the race and that makes for a much different race. Oh, and by the way, that was the year that NASCAR ran restrictor plates at New Hampshire.

Two drivers, Kenny Irwin Jr and Adam Petty, died at New Hampshire within two months earlier that year. It was a quick safety fix until NASCAR made more lasting safety fixes in the wake of Dale Earnhardt’s death less than a year later.

So Burton’s race back in 2000 was an achievement, but the utter domination of Truex is a lasting one for the record books. It should be viewed as one of the greatest team performances in NASCAR history, from Truex wheeling the car to his pit crew keeping him up front.

The only problem here is that people are whining and complaining about the race.

Why? I don’t get it.

I know what the people are saying, I’m not deaf. I’ve watched NASCAR for over 25 years and live tweet as many of the races that I can. I know what the NASCAR Twitternauts are complaining about.

But I don’t think they should.

harvick edwards phoenix finishI have said repeatedly in my commentary this year that NASCAR is being spoiled with epic finishes. The NASCAR media people will be stocked for years with new clips for their promo commercials. The only downside to that is people expect that every race is going to be like that.

Can you honestly tell me that you think every race is going to be like that? If you said “yes” you’re a liar. I’m not even going to say your foolish or naïve, just a liar. NASCAR is no different than any ball-and-stick sport in that aspect. Not ever sporting event will be a classic.

Look at the Super Bowl.

For every Eli to Tyree Helmet Catch (18 and one! Nuts to you Pats fans!) that everyone will remember and be on every highlight reel until the Earth collapses in on itself, there are more Super Bowls that go by the wayside in the collective memory. I remember that the Seahawks beat the Broncos a couple years ago and Peyton had that dumb missed hike to start the game, but how long will a 48-3 beatdown be remembered? Do you remember how Super Bowl XXXV went? I only do because it was my Giants that were on the wrong end of a Baltimore thrashing. So beyond the New York fans wishing they could forget and the Baltimore fans who remember the ring, no one else is going to remember a 15 year old snoozer of a football game. Or how ‘bout the 30-13 hosing the Cowboys gave the Bills. Or the 55-10 San Francisco win? I had to Wikipedia those last two to even use them as examples.

NASCAR is no different. I remember Burton going flag to flag at New Hampshire because I was there in the seat that I’ve sat in since 1993. How many of the old school fans remember what happened at that one New Hampshire race sixteen years ago? Unless they were huge Burton fans, or maybe season champ Bobby Labonte fans, I doubt many do. Or what about the Dover race I went to when I was a kid in ’91 when Harry Gant lapped the field? Sure, it’s easy to remember that Burton was the man at New Hampshire for a long string of years and Harry Gant was Mr. September, but the details fall by the wayside.

Does a baseball fan stop watching when a game is slow? Do football fans vow to never watch another game because nothing happens in the last quarter of garbage time in a huge win? That’s not how it works so I don’t see why it would work that way in NASCAR.

daytona can-am 2I am sympathetic to the NASCAR brass when this happens though. They’re trying to maintain a presence in the national sports psyche. The sport over built and got hit hard when the economy tanked. It’s not like it was back in the day when I was a kid and I didn’t know another soul growing up in Connecticut who even knew what NASCAR was, but it’s not our heyday either. NASCAR is in a tough spot. Around where I live in New England, I get people all the time asking me why I love NASCAR. One of the big things I always tell them is that the sport is like a traveling circus and a soap opera all in one. The more you know the ins and outs of the sport, the more fun it is to watch. When you know *why* a fuel mileage battle is tense or how a crew chief is able to chase adjustments or how something as simple as clouds moving in can change the track… when you know why these things affect the race, you can get more enjoyment out of what’s going on. You can see past the surface. But for someone flipping through the channels, how do you get them to stop long enough to get below the surface?

I could come up with suggestions, sure. Anyone can. But I don’t have the answers, otherwise I’d be working for NASCAR.

I do wish NASCAR wouldn’t throw down a kneejerk reaction and try to change the rules every time a race wasn’t an epic win though. Frankly, I think that’s short sighted. Let’s look at the season as a whole and as a whole, we are doing much better in terms of on track product. All the marketing gimmicks in the world can’t make up for a great product, that’s where we’ve got to start and that’s what we got.

I think that the fans with the knowledge can appreciate Truex’s win this past week for what it was, a race for the record books which may never be beaten again.

And that’s a good thing.

Shout Outs

In a race with a very distinct line between the haves and the have-nots, there are some noteworthy performances buried within the stat sheet.

newman at coke 600The first shout out goes to Ryan Newman. He didn’t run a flashy race, at no point ever did he get much in the way of TV time. Newman’s RCR car ran midpack almost the entire race, but he managed to sneak into a top ten finish at the very end of the day. It sounds like the most Ryan Newman race ever, and it kind of was. Races like that have been his MO for the last couple seasons. It’s important this week however, because heading into the summer, Newman is how within the Chase cutoff via points. That 10th place finish bumped Allmendinger out of the 16th points spot and Newman in. He’s tied on points with Blaney and only nine behind Jamie Mac. Newman keeps on churning out those quiet top tens and he can find his way into the post season. He came damn close to winning the whole championship that way two years ago.

biffle at coke 600I also want to toss out a Shout Out to Greg Biffle. The Biff, along with the whole of Roush Fenway Racing, is quietly becoming relevant again with some consistency. Biffle started well and then had a very Ryan Newman race after that coming home in 11th. I spent a lot of time thinking at the front end of this year that when Roush inevitably shook up his driver line up to help the team’s performance, that the Biff would be one of the casualties. He’s been bringing it back the last few races though. I strongly believe that NASCAR is better off with the whole RFR stable, with the Biff still as the leader, relevant and running well. This uptick in performance for the #16 team is a good thing.

I’d also like to drop a special Shout Out to whoever runs the Circle Sport-Levine twitter account. Banana and mustard sandwiches are for the win… maybe… I’ll stick with ham and cheese though.

mustard bananas

Pit Stall 13 Update

annett at coke 600This week, the glory of the 13th pit stall went to Michael Annett and the #46 HScott team. However, it was not a particularily great day for the team. Annett did not qualify well and barely finished any better in 36th, ten laps off the pace. His HScott teammate, Clint Boywer, did not perform much better, spending the day mired in the mid-20s. Now I am adding another sentence or two so I can have an excuse to make the picture big enough to see clearly at this point.

Charterless Update

  • 20th – #21 Ryan Blaney – The Wood Brothers are still getting into the swing of a full time schedule, but props for a decent enough finish in his first complete 600 (crashed out last year)
  • 35th – #98 Cole Whitt – He spent the whole night in the 30s on a night when attrition wasn’t going to help
  • 38th – #30 Josh Wise – Ctrl+C from Cole Whitt above.
  • 40th – #55 Reed Sorenson – Fell out of the race with only 200 laps under his belt

On to Pocono

So next week NASCAR heads north. Well, not “north” for real, but north to all the southerners. Pennsylvania doesn’t count as the north to anyone who actually lives up north.

It’s the first trip there this year and always down for a good show since it’s such a unique track. Kenseth won last time NASCAR went to Pocono and Truex won the race last June. So Truex wasn’t running a Toyota last year, but with the Gibbs Toyotas already dominating and Truex riding high after this latest win, I would not be surprised to see him go back to back.

The other big story line to watch is Kyle Busch. He was never really a factor this past week at Charlotte, but Pocono is the other track on the circuit that he has never won at. I did just talk about in the paragraph above that the Gibbs Toyotas are the team to beat at any and all tracks this year. Love him or hate him, Kyle Busch is driven to be the same conversation as Petty, Earnhardt, Gordon, and Johnson as Best Ever. He has his championship and he really wants to score that W at ever track.