Huston Ladner · Tuesday March 12, 2013
After a two-race swing, far away from home the Sprint Cup Series leaves the golden hues of the western states behind and returns to its more noted environments this week. The upcoming race at Bristol, one of NASCAR’s most popular ovals will be the second since the latest tinkering of the track, its first run with the Gen-6 car. Concerns like aero push should fall by the wayside, replaced with the beating and banging that many hope for may, in fact, actually happen. But as we tackle Five Points To Ponder this Tuesday, wrapping up Las Vegas while beginning to look ahead, one enduring theme of 2013 shines through: predictions on the health of this car are tricky business.
ONE: Bristol Might Be Tame
Yes, the newest “repave” has left half-a-groove less, at least for drivers to navigate Bristol’s high banks. That’s led to a high level of anticipation for Sunday; the August event, sprinkled with wrecks gave a glimpse of how Thunder Valley used to strike. But with the drivers and crew chiefs still figuring out what makes the Gen-6 car tick, it would not be surprising if there were long green flag runs at Bristol Sunday. That doesn’t mean that the race will be lame or that nothing will happen, but many might use a good portion to simply “learn how” with this chassis and what to adjust. Throw in the notion that the drivers are still working with the latest changes and there’s potential for some good ol’ follow the leader conservatism.
A second reason why some drivers may be hesitant to stick their proverbial noses into any messy situations is that teams are still building these cars. Roush may be a rich organization, but even it has to be stung by losing five chassis before the second race of the year. Remember, too that some of the small teams, like Front Row Motorsports, Phil Parsons Racing and others are facing cash flow parts problems of a different sort, either through tearing up equipment or simple lack of availability. Those issues, as the season progresses seem to be lessening but that doesn’t mean organizations have the full complement of autos in their arsenals yet.
TWO: More, Please
The use of the thermo-cam at the Las Vegas race was tasty. It offered a different way of looking at the cars and also gave some insight about an aspect of competition that is often mentioned but hard to describe: temperatures. FOX should not be shy about using this device in the future, the latest twist towards a surprising new theme for them this season: creativity. With the incorporation of the gyro-cam and now this one, there has finally been some innovation with regards to the race broadcast.
One of the things that has made the television coverage stale (and there’s many), has been the lack of change. The most information that seems to be given are lap times, but how about 10-lap averages? Or how about showing how drivers choose different lines and how they make up or lose time? It’s the information age and it’s time to start inundating viewers with it; the thermo-cam is a move towards this idea.
Chevrolet, Ford and now Toyota have all won races this year. That’s not bad, three for three. With Dodge no longer running, there’s no chance to go four for four. Oh well. It has, however, been good to see that one organization and manufacturer has not gone out and won all the races. Had that occurred, there’s a good chance that someone would be complaining that one make has an inherent advantage due to its body style. For right now, that can be ignored.
But for those who thought that the Gen-6 might bring some parity… p’shaw. One look at the Las Vegas results shows that the top organizations are right where they want to be. The highest ranking small team finished 20th, with Kurt Busch driving for Furniture Row – though that’s pretty much a Childress car. So how about Austin Dillon driving for Finch at 21st? That works, but shows how far the gap is. You’d think a new set of rules will make things closer, but instead, the opposite is true: the guys writing the biggest checks with the best opportunity to develop equipment will get ahead of the curve.
Not the tire talk already. Um, yup. The race at Phoenix showed some issues with the Goodyears. But the race at Las Vegas shows that NASCAR’s only rubber supplier still has some fiddling to do. When taking on four proves to have no advantage over someone who took two, then something is clearly not working.
The real problem with this issue is in-race strategy gets mitigated by these tires. Drivers don’t have to manage their wear and crew chiefs are put in a box with making decisions. Bottom line, if Goodyear develops tires that wear out both parties automatically become more important. No one wants an Indianapolis debacle, but the engineers back at the shop shouldn’t have all the fun with fixing a car to go fast.
FIVE: Who’s Got Something On His/Her Mind?
FOX will be sure to sell the Bristol race as one of beatin’ and bangin’, how tempers will flare and all that crap. Yippee. The problem in doing so is that the perception isn’t reality. The feud that received much of the offseason and preseason hype, Jeff Gordon – Clint Bowyer, has gone quiet (of course, expect FOX to push for those two to tangle). In their place, no one seems to have any beefs with anyone yet – unless we’re talking with the sanctioning body itself.
That’s perhaps an unintended consequence of Denny Hamlin’s fine on Friday. Even if someone had an issue with another driver, would anyone find out? People had become PC enough before Hamlin was muzzled by the mother organization; now, it seems worse. That just means that everyone will continue to toe the company line and we’ll all be the worse for it.
Perhaps it was fitting that The Robot, Matt Kenseth, won this past weekend after all…
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