Danny Peters · Tuesday August 13, 2013
ONE: Four to Go
Just four races and less than 1500 miles (1466.5 to be precise) remain before we begin the 2013 iteration of the Chase for the Sprint Cup.
First up, it’s is a return to Michigan International Speedway: our second visit to the two-mile circuit in just two months of what is something of a lopsided schedule. Then it’s 500 laps of intense beating and banging at Thunder Valley; a race that can turn a good day into a nightmare in short order. 500 miles on the high speed, high banked Atlanta Motor Speedway provides the penultimate test before we finish up with the cut off race at what in my humble opinion is the best track on the circuit, the 0.75-mile long Richmond International Raceway. In short, it’s a great four race stretch with the final three tracks being perhaps the best spell of racing on the entire schedule. With just 36 points separating positions 8 through 16 in the overall standings, the battle for the final Chase spots should come right down to the checkered flag at Richmond. And with Tony Stewart (and his one win) now out indefinitely after his broken leg, the picture has become even more convoluted. I know many folks don’t like the artificial nature of the Chase format but it’s hard to argue with the drama we’re bound to see unfold these next four weeks.
TWO: Tweeting Angry
In the last couple years Twitter has really given us a window into the personal lives and often fragile pysches of the denizens of the Sprint Cup garage. We’ve seen births celebrated, deaths mourned, good news, mundane news and feuds aplenty; some of which have even spilled out onto the track.
This Sunday we added another small chapter to the all-pervasive world that is NASCAR social media. This time it was Kasey Kahne who, following an on-track incident with Joe Gibbs Racing’s Matt Kenseth tweeted, “Headed to Joe Gibbs racing to talk to whoever will come out front #that’s4.”
Shortly after Denny Hamlin, the one JGR driver Kahne has no apparent beef with after three previous incidents with Kyle Busch, tweeted: “I’ll talk to you my friend.”
This seemed to defuse Kahne a little who responded with a “haha.”
The wonderful @nascarcasm handle added to the debate with a witty, “Joe, there’s a young little boy out front…”
Kahne, seeing the humor here quickly pointed out, “Hey…I’ve been doing push-ups.”
All good stuff, for sure and certainly better than canned sound-bites and sponsor platitudes we get most of the time. On a more serious note, I doubt we’ve seen the last of this particular feud and if Kahne locks up his Chase berth before Richmond (he’s looking good with a pair of wins) we might yet see some retribution.
THREE: Tough Stretch for Kenseth
After starting the season in rare form with three wins in the first eleven races, Matt Kenseth’s switch to Joe Gibbs Racing from the only home he had ever known at the Cup level — Roush Fenway Racing – looked absolutely inspired. But in the last ten weeks—with the lone honorable exception of the win at Kentucky Speedway—Kenseth’s form has dried up with five finishes of 22nd or worse, good for an average finish of 18.3.
There are, of course, mitigating circumstances. Kenseth has never finished in the top 5 at either of the road courses and has only three top-5 finishes in 28 attempts at Pocono Raceway. In addition, with the aforementioned four wins, Kenseth is safely in the Chase. This isn’t to suggest Kenseth is taking the foot off the proverbial gas, rather that the team might be experimenting with set ups a little more knowing the Chase berth is secured. The next two weeks should see a turnaround of sorts for Kenseth who finished sixth at Michigan two months ago. At Bristol Motor Speedway, Kenseth has a pair of wins, ten top-5’s and 17 top-10’s in 28 attempts and 1007 laps led. The real key for Kenseth is to shift his momentum a little over the next four weeks. It’s critical he comes into the Chase fired up and on form because we all know what can happen to championship chances with a couple of subpar races to open the big dance.
FOUR: A Fond Farewell to the SPEED Channel
This Saturday will mark the final day of the little channel that could. The Speed Channel might not garner massive ratings, but if you’re a gearhead of any shape or size I can pretty much guarantee you’ve spent many a happy hour watching. The Speed Channel – or Speed Vision as it was first known – was launched on the final day of 1995 with former ESPN President Roger Werner the driving force (no pun intended) behind the launch.
“That original channel was the most successful consumer product that I’ve ever been associated with in 40 years of being in the packaged goods and media business,” said Werner in an interview with Sports Business Journal. “That product resonated with its target audience like nothing else I’ve ever seen.”
Bought by Fox in 2001 and rebranded to its current iteration, The Speed Channel will morph into the multi-sports channel Fox Sports 1 – intended as a rival (of sorts) to ESPN – this Saturday morning. Racing will still be covered, of course, but long standing shows like Wind Tunnel and Speed Center are no more with Race Hub changed from one hour in length to just half-hour. Baseball, Soccer and College Sports will also be competing for time with the racing programming. It’s a sign of the TV terms, certainly, but it’s unquestionably a sad day for motorsports.
Speed Channel – you will be missed.
FIVE: Dillon in the No. 14
Finally this week, a quick word on Austin Dillon who will pilot the No.14 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet at Michigan International Speedway this weekend. This past Sunday amiable veteran Max Papis wheeled Stewart’s ride to a respectable 15th place so it will be interesting to see how the older of the Dillon brothers finishes up this weekend and indeed who takes the ride at Bristol Motor Speedway and beyond. With Stewart’s return, after 15 years and 521 consecutive races, still an unknown, it may be that several drivers get their chance to audition in Stewart’s car with Regan Smith being another name mentioned in the last few days.
This Sunday will be Dillon’s tenth race at the Sprint Cup level; his best finish came at Michigan earlier this year where he finished a very respectable 11th in the number No. 33 Circle Sport Chevy for owner Joe Falk. It should be interesting to see how much better he can do with top of the line equipment.
All told, though, it’s just a shame that the irascible Smoke isn’t out there because without him the sport does seem just that little blander. Get Well soon Smoke!
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