The Frontstretch: Happiness is... Pulling The Positives Out Of NASCAR's Weekend In Sin City by Huston Ladner -- Monday March 11, 2013

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Charles Schultz, the creator of The Peanuts, crafted a line of books that followed the idea of: Happiness is…

Each page depicted different things from which a person should find – guess what? – happiness. The overall concept showed how the emotion comes in many forms, blah blah blah… this idea is not one that requires any kind of advanced degree.

Well, Sunday’s race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway should, like Schultz’s book serve to bring a little bit of happiness to everyone that follows NASCAR. Was the race outstanding? No, but it was not terrible either. For the first time, perhaps this season the racing the Gen-6 car provided gave fans at least a few solid nuggets of hope to hang their hats on.

Let’s get the negatives out of the way first, ones we’ve heard too often in recent weeks. First, by lap 35, the gap between first and tenth had already grown to ten seconds, which would hardly establish competitive racing. Even worse, by lap 60, half of the field had already fallen a lap behind. Maybe that is growing pains with the Gen-6 car, or maybe something was amiss, but any time half the Sprint Cup grid is already down a lap, a quarter into the race something is problematic.

And then, almost by script, the mysterious debris caution arrived at lap 66. Any fan could have predicted this occurrence – they are as routine as Christmas, Easter, Independence Day, and taxes. Or the sun rising in the morning. To the surprise of no one, the magical debris failed to be shown.

No need to mention the caution on lap 160 – just another reason to bunch the field, even though not only did Marcos Ambrose not spin, but blended back into traffic. Whatever.

So where’s the good stuff, the happiness? Glad you asked.

Happiness is…
Darrell Waltrip. Thank you, Darrell Waltrip. You gave us another one. With “Boogity, Boogity, Boogity” as stale as a bag of marshmallows opened in 1998, you gave us another word to add to our lexicon. On lap 127, Waltrip referred to a gaggle of cars that impeded the leader Jimmie Johnson as a “debalacle.” The spelling may not be right, but any time viewers get treated to a mix of debacle, diabolical, and bottleneck all in one word, then everyone has gained something. What that something is – yet to be determined. Feel free to impress everyone by using debalacle in your conversations.

Oh, right, there was racing.

Happiness is…
Matt Kenseth and Kasey Kahne battling to the end. Kahne looked like the proverbial “class of the field” all day, and when the green flag dropped on those last laps, Kenseth appeared to be nothing but a stepping stone on the way to Kahne’s victory.

As Lee Corso would be happy to deliver – not so fast, my friend. Kahne could not muster the speed to pass Kenseth, even though the two of them ran within car lengths the final 20 laps. Was it good racing? The easy answer is yes. The more philosophical answer is: well, it wasn’t bad.

Happiness is…
The third and fourth place cars of Brad Keselowski and Kyle Busch battling for position. Fans have indicated that they want to see more racing on the track and with dual battles for the top 4 spots, there’s reason to believe that some of what fans have been looking for might be showing up at the track, more consistently soon.

Setting aside the fact that first and second had run away from the field, there’s a sense of encouragement to be gleaned from a weekend in Sin City. The cars in the top 10 all raced with a certain amount of competitiveness; Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and Martin Truex, Jr. also were side-by-side at the end for seventh. One of the intentions of this car was to encourage this type of racing, on intermediates once again. It is possible, that even with a modicum of success they might have found something to work with down the road.

Happiness is…
Tires not being a factor. Kenseth drove to the victory on old tires and there was nary an issue throughout the race. After the problems that many faced at Phoenix, having their treads last so long allowed for crew chiefs and drivers to opt for varying strategies.

Of course, the flip side of this notion is that Goodyear still has yet to make a tire that degrades in a way that provides tactical decision-making. But hey, it was better to watch drivers actually turn laps rather than waiting for one to pound it into the wall with another right-front blown like last week.

Happiness is…
Keeping your mouth shut. What’s that you say, Denny Hamlin? NASCAR showed its totalitarian rule by muzzling Hamlin and sending a message to all its drivers. With a программа, or program, straight out of the Cold War, the “powers that be” again showed a lack of vision. Isn’t the United States the country who established that whole freedom of speech idea? That may be the case, but it does not cover criticizing NASCAR. Tsk tsk, Denny, didn’t you know?

Happiness is…
Watching the cars a lap down have to race each other. Though FOX focused on the leaders, and for this race, with some good reason, many of the position battles in the back of the field were competitive. Overall, this notion indicates that while some teams may have nailed the Las Vegas set-up, that those still figuring it out are all in the same situation and will be fighting each other race by race.

The monster organizations like Joe Gibbs, Hendrick, Roush, and even Childress are all going to sit in the front, as the past two races illustrate. The fluctuation, however, between those outside of the top 10 might be some of the more interesting competition as the season progresses.

Happiness is…
Looking forward to Bristol. Enjoy – or you don’t like warm puppies.

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Joe..
03/11/2013 02:43 PM
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Happiness is a well written article, much obliged Huston.

DoninAjax
03/11/2013 08:20 PM
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Happiness is…Carl passing Jimmie during the last run to the checkers. Too bad nobody saw it.