The Frontstretch: Happiness Is ... Status Quo by Huston Ladner -- Wednesday May 8, 2013

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Happiness Is ... Status Quo

Huston Ladner · Wednesday May 8, 2013

 

Ryan Newman gave a scathing review of racing at Talladega Superspeedway, something that seemed an adrenalized version of earlier criticisms of the track. Since restrictor plates were added to the cars to reduce horsepower, racing at Daytona and Talladega has evolved into, well, take your pick: equalizer; crapshoot; fake racing; 150 laps of racing with a big crash to thin the herd; or an immensely entertaining race product. It doesn’t matter which option you choose, or if you go with a mixture of some of them. Restrictor plate racing is its own entity, and one that sits outside the normal parameters of racing where a talented driver with a strong car can distance himself from the field.

But there’s a simple fix to all of this and something that the proverbial powers-that-be refuse to consider. How about putting smaller engines in the cars – for every track? Is 900 horsepower really necessary? Seriously, how do those engine specs translate to anything that resembles a street car? There’s no doubt that the engineers, with an offseason to develop them, could figure out the power band that would still deliver the same speeds with 100 fewer horses. A change like that might actually change the nature of racing at Talladega and Daytona. Of course, ideas like these are a reminder that, for NASCAR’s developments, it still struggles in the notion of innovation. With that, let’s get on with it…

Would reducing horsepower allow us to see less of this at Talladega and Daytona?

Happiness Is…Small Teams

Hey Hendrick, Gibbs, Roush, Childress, Waltrip (really?), Penske and Ganassi: take that. Say what? Wait a moment and stick with this one. David Ragan’s squeeze play to capture the checkered flag at Talladega proved that every now and then, the little guy can rise up and win. Now, the Superspeedway in Alabama may be a form of artificial racing, and the entirety of the race featured Matt Kenseth, Jimmie Johnson, and Carl Edwards in a position to once again prove that the big teams rule, but sometimes the script gets a rewrite.

In IndyCar this week, Takuma Sato almost pulled off a similar feat for the second time this year, driving for single-car A.J. Foyt Enterprise, but got pipped on the last corner. Even with his second-place finish, Sato now holds the points lead. With Oriol Seriva and Josef Newgarden also posting top-5 finishes from small teams things look rosy. So what does it all mean? In truth, very little. The big teams still have the resources to make changes to their cars and progress in a way that the less well-funded teams can. The thing to appreciate is that these small teams can still be a frustrating presence to the monoliths, and though their success may be mere blips to the powers, we all benefit. After all, isn’t the underdog story part of the American mythos?

Happiness Is…Denny Hamlin

Hamlin is now in his ninth season in Cup and has earned 22 wins. His eight wins in 2010 almost netted him the championship. It’s difficult to argue against the fact that he’s a decent driver. One could even him place him in the top 10 among the current stars, but that is more of a moving target. But really, and no offense to Hamlin, has all the chatter about him been warranted? From all the coverage between his back, his twitter ramblings, and his roof hatch this past weekend, one would almost think that he is a multiple-time champion.

There are a couple problems at play here. First of all, if Hamlin is considering back surgery, as has been reported, why not wipe the season, get the surgery, and be a new man for 2014? For all the debate about him possibly making the bally-hooed Chase this year, let’s face it: He’s not. Where is someone with half a brain telling him to get fixed and get right and race hard next year? It’s a freakin’ back! Nerves, support, muscle, spine – ya know, a lot of important stuff. Who’s to say he doesn’t wreck at Darlington and cramp that thing up again? Maybe walking without a cane is overrated. Spare any discussion of toughing it out and being a competitor blah, yeck, meh.

The second problem is the fishbowl that is NASCAR. Hamlin has been such a big story for the past couple weeks, because other than suspensions, it’s one of the only storylines in the sport. Silly season? Practically non-existent. Changes to the schedule or tracks? Nada. Even the chatter about the Gen-6 car has been tamped down. So there it is, fans get weekly medical updates. It’s kind of weird when the sport is so vanilla.

Happiness Is… Seven Hour Races

Nothing screams to a young market of fans like a race that just won’t end. In today’s short-attention-span-theater world, the 18-35-year-olds just aren’t going to bother sticking with a race that features a 3-hour rain delay (no matter how many Red Bulls or 5 Hour Energy Drinks they consume or whether they’re on Ritalin or not). Hell, that last sentence was so long that I checked out while writing it. What was I writing about? Oh yeah, a full day spent with Talladega.

These issues go to one of the core factors of how NASCAR is losing viewers. First, save a couple marquee events, the races should be no longer than two and a half hours. Formula One figured this aspect out a long time ago, and has nailed their events to just under 2 hours – doesn’t seem to be hurting them with fans. The second aspect that NASCAR must consider is more night races. Oh my, it’s a beautiful Sunday, sun out and all that – yeah, it seems like a great time to be indoors watching cars go in circles. Not so much. Night races, however, provide a perfect complement to grilling out, drinking whatever your favorite cold beverage is, and closing the day. People, not just one specific demographic, just aren’t likely to park themselves on a Sunday to watch racing, there’s just too much to do.

Happiness Is…Darlington

Enjoy the action at the odd egg-shaped track. One of the most storied and unique tracks on the schedule.

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