Danny Peters · Tuesday October 29, 2013
ONE: Smoke vs. Carl, Part II
Back in 2011, we were treated to an example of just how the Chase concept should work. In the end, the two main protagonists – Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards – battled down to the very final lap at Homestead-Miami Speedway, with Smoke picking up a third championship on the strength of having the most wins after the two drivers tied in overall points. With the way things are progressing this season, Johnson and Kenseth — who are level themselves, with the latter owning the tiebreaker with more wins — are poised for a repeat. Indeed, it looks like this year’s title battle might just go down to the wire once again.
Statistics would back me up, too with Johnson and Kenseth appearing to be a virtual lock in form at the upcoming final three racetracks. This, though, is the stage of the season where any mistake can prove to be absolutely crucial. So, as much as both will want to run well, it’s also about minimizing errors and avoiding costly miscues that can crush nine months of hard work in an instant.
Jeff Gordon (-27 pts., 3rd), Kevin Harvick (-28 pts., 4th) and Kyle Busch (-36 pts., 5th) are all still in the mix, but they’re very much clinging on at this point. It’s not impossible, but at the same time it’s not likely they can overhaul Johnson and Kenseth’s lead. Three to go and there’s all to race for. That, as fans, has to be what you want at this stage of the proceedings. It should be fun to watch.
TWO: It’s a Family Sport
Midway through last season, when Kevin Harvick announced he would be leaving Richard Childress Racing, the only home he had ever known at the Sprint Cup level, to go drive for his friend Tony Stewart in 2014, plenty believed it would be the start of some serious fireworks and a “lame duck” type season.
That, until Saturday’s shenanigans between Harvick and Ty Dillon in the truck race, hasn’t proven to be the case. In fact, the relationship has been harmonious with Harvick still in contention for a first ever Cup crown, which makes what happened these last few days that much more disappointing for both sides.
“We’re going to give him everything humanly possible to win that championship,” Childress said post-incident. “I’m committed to him for four more races, just like I committed to him the day that he said he was leaving. I shook his hand and committed I’d give him 100 percent, and I’m going to do it. But I’m not going to be backed into a corner.”
The corner Childress is talking about is Harvick’s comments about “punk ass kids” and “rich kids” following the incidents in the truck race with Ty Dillon. On the one hand, this level of animosity is what makes Cup racing so compelling. Racing isn’t croquet, after all, folks; we want to see raw emotion. On the other hand, Childress is absolutely right to take Harvick to task. The Dillon brothers might be family, but they’ve earned their spots with wins and solid finishes in the developmental series.
“I’ll never apologize for giving my grandsons an opportunity, just like the France family, the Earnhardt family, the Wood Brothers,” said Childress. “You go down the list of the people that have been given opportunities. All of them didn’t make it. You’ve got to go out and earn what you’ve got, the opportunity in life to succeed. And these boys earned it.”
My sense is with Harvick’s apology of sorts, the matter is closed, but one thing is certain: the end of this on-track marriage can’t come soon enough for Childress and Harvick.
THREE: Vickers Needs a Strong 2014
For the second time in his career, blood clots have taken Brian Vickers out of the car — in this case, for the rest of the 2013 season. It’s a tough state of affairs for the affable Vickers, who won the first of two Loudon races, back in July and was looking forward to finishing up the year strong. Next season, riding full-time in the Michael Waltrip Racing No. 55 Toyota Camry, he will attempt his first full season at the Cup level since 2011, when he drove for the now defunct Red Bull Racing outfit. With a bit of luck and the proverbial prevailing breeze, Vickers will be a threat for a Chase berth.
For now, though, he has to concentrate on recovery and get himself ready for Daytona.
“I feel like I could drive a race car, I just can’t. I feel great. Still training, still exercising. I can’t complain,” said Vickers at Martinsville. “I’ve got a great life and family and friends. I’m frustrated and I’ve been bummed since obviously all this happened again. I’m just kind of looking forward. Things happen in life — that’s part of it. You just keep fighting and have faith. That’s all you can really do. I’m going to be out for three months and back in time for Daytona to race for a championship.”
In a season when too many drivers have missed races through injury (Denny Hamlin, Tony Stewart, Bobby Labonte) let’s hope this is the last such incident, with Vickers making a full recovery in time for the Daytona Speedweeks.
FOUR: Vettel Makes It Four In a Row In Formula One
Just as with NASCAR, three races remain in the 2013 Formula One Series. But after his victory in the Indian Grand Prix this past weekend, his sixth straight win, Sebastian Vettel has wrapped up his fourth straight World Championship, becoming just the fourth driver in F1 history to win four.
Michael Schumacher leads the way, with seven overall titles followed by Juan Manuel Fangio with five and Frenchman Alain Prost, who also won four crowns. Vettel, don’t forget, is still only 26 years old so time is very much on his side. Vettel’s stats over the last four years are incredible recording 31 wins, 38 poles and 50 podium finishes in 74 races – good for an average finish of 4.2. The knock on Vettel is that he’s had the best car, but as we’ve seen endless times in motorsports, you still have to finish even if you have top equipment.
New regulations for 2014, including a new engine formula and more powerful energy recovery systems, might change the picture for Vettel and the chasing pack. But for now, it’s a tip of the cap to the German on an absolutely dominant season and, frankly, half-decade.
FIVE: Next Up: Texas
Next up is the third-to-last race of the season on the high banks of Texas Motor Speedway. In the first trip there in mid-April, it was Kyle Busch who won on the day with Martin Truex, Jr. in second place. For the record, Johnson was fifth and Kenseth 12th in a race that was dominated (in laps led) by the winner Busch and the runner-up Truex. Taking a look back at the overall summary of Mike Neff’s Frontstretch review of the race and you can see where the problem lay.
“After California, it looked like the new car had found its groove and the racing was going to be great,” wrote Neff. “Texas slapped the fans in the face and reminded them that having a car with the nose planted on the ground is most likely going to cause the car in front to be too much better than the cars chasing. The end result is the lead car running away from the pack and that is what happened again at Texas.”
So, will we see anything different this Sunday? Probably not, but this race has been a classic in the past — keep that in mind. If nothing else, watching the chief protagonists battle it out for the title will be captivating viewing.
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