The Frontstretch: Happiness is... What Happened This Weekend In Racing by Huston Ladner -- Monday March 25, 2013

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Happiness is... What Happened This Weekend In Racing

Huston Ladner · Monday March 25, 2013

 

Call it a full weekend of racing. With F1, Nationwide, IndyCar, and the Sprint Cup series all burning rubber, motorsports ripped off an impressive couple of days. Too bad that the Camping World Truck series can’t figure out a better sense of scheduling, because then things would have been complete. So let’s focus on the American side of the these things with a return to… Happiness is.

Happiness is… The Unknown
The Nationwide race on Saturday did not portend to what would transpire on Sunday in Cup. With the field spread out during long green flag runs, Kyle Busch took his dominant car to Victory Lane with a sense of ease and lack of incident. Had his teammates, Elliott Sadler and Brian Vickers, not endured their issues, the race might have been more interesting, but it seemed that Busch had things in control.

With everyone else battling for second place, and say what you want about Busch again dropping to the minor league and dominating, the race featured little in the way of dramatic passes or risky maneuvers. Kyle Larson, however, again showcased his talent and his potential to be a burgeoning star. And even Pastrana held on for a decent finish.

Happiness is… An IndyCar Green Flag
James Hinchcliffe opened the NBC Sports Network telecast in style. When asked what it would take to win, Hinchcliffe responded by saying that peeing in Will Power’s gas tank was the best method. As it turns out, having J.R. Hildebrand run over Power’s car during a caution period served as an acceptable substitute.

Power, who had shown strong pace all weekend, did not match expectations after the first segment, and seemed relegated to a third-place finish. But one of the intriguing aspects of sports is the bizarre and no one could have foreseen Hildebrand’s strange move. Then again, watching Dario Franchitti pound his Ganassi ride into the wall was another unlikely occurrence. Maybe Ashley tinkered with the car in a post-marital spat? Just joking…

Happiness is… Gremlins?
Sure, gremlins are cute and fuzzy and talk in a pseudo baby babble, but get them wet or feed them after midnight and who knows what will happen. For Sunday, it seems that giving the gremlins petrol (in whatever compromised Ethanol formula it might be) constituted the demise for many.

Many drivers in IndyCar faced some kind of mechanical or technological gremlin. Ryan Hunter-Reay, Graham Rahal, Tristan Vautier, Oriol Servia, and others all faced torment from the hands of evil little gremlins mucking with the cars. The beginning of a new season can often bring these kinds of hiccups, and gives teams an opportunity to learn what needs to be fixed. At the same time, watching drivers drop off the grid because of them brings disappointment to the racing. Servia may well have been a contender, and it always sucks to watch a driver drop out because of things beyond his or her control.

Then, there was Fontana. Timmy Hill’s engine gremlin that leaked oil on the track made for one of the dramatic aspects of the race. The track in Fontana is not known for hosting compelling racing, but Hill’s issue was one of the things that made for an interesting event. But it also kept drivers like Kasey Kahne, for example who was outstanding in Vegas from putting themselves in position to challenge for victory.

Finally, Clint Bowyer would be happy to avoid talking about whatever gremlin got into his motor, which seems to be the same one that has plagued Toyota this year. Same for Brad Keselowski, who burned up not one but two engines on the weekend.

Happiness is… Innovation

IndyCar made a couple decisions during the offseason that while not substantial give a nod to contemporary concepts. One of the notable aspects is the development of the anti-stall device on the cars. Far too often IndyCar races have languished as cars parade in a single file manner as a car waits to get help in re-starting. But during the St. Petersburg Grand Prix, some cars that spun out were able to get going again. Finally! Of course, because it’s IndyCar, some still had troubles, but this move is still a smart one.

The other change, and a simple one, is that teams are no longer able to scramble their radios. That every other racing series allowed for open communications apparently took a while to reach IndyCar, but whatever. After all, this series is still one that seems to take forever to clear a track of a wounded car. Did anyone else notice that it often took 5 laps to get things clear to continue racing? That’s something that certainly needs some attention.

Happiness is… Hinchcliffe
Aside from his comments on what it would take to win, Hinchcliffe drove an impressive race and may be showing that he is a championship contender. The personable Hinchcliffe gave GoDaddy something they had never experienced before – a victory.

Hinchcliffe drove a smart, aggressive race and gave notice that both he and Andretti Motorsports will be strong. One race trends do not make for whole-season indicators, but IndyCar would benefit from the gregarious Hinchcliffe finding success.

Happiness is… Fontana?
Yes, the final laps of racing at Auto Club Speedway will be detailed, but overall, the racing there was surprising. Did the Gen-6 finally deliver on its anticipated promise? Possibly so.

Looking at the final 30 laps or so, many drivers raced side by side which was the whole point of its creation. The wide lanes in Fontana allowed for drivers to take different lines on the track and race wide open.

Joey Logano and Denny Hamlin engaged in a wild battle for the final laps because of tire strategy and the ability to run different lines. No one wants to see a driver get injured, and indications are that Hamlin is OK after his foray into the wall without SAFER barrier at speed, but watching the two go at it for the win is the reason for watching racing.

And Kyle Busch is more than happy to thank them for their duel.

Happiness is… Jimmie Johnson & Kurt Busch
C’mon, it’s fun at this point to watch Johnson struggle, and at Fontana, he did. For anyone who follows the Cup Series, there’s an expectation that Johnson and Chad Knaus will figure out whatever is ailing them and come home with a top-5 finish. But in California the super duo seemed off and unable to overcome their issues. No doubt the Force will come back strong with the two of them.

And how about Kurt Busch’s run? A lap down midway through the race, he ran through the field and wound up with a fifth-place finish. Impressive? You bet.

Finally, Happiness is… Racing
This weekend gave the best reasons for enjoying motorsports. With the NCAA basketball tournament taking over much of the sports world, the races this weekend showed why racing can be a wonderful product. Who needs last second shots when Helio Castroneves is nipping at Hinhcliffe’s bumper, or Kyle Busch steals one while Hamlin and Logano are banging into the wall?

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