Huston Ladner · Tuesday June 25, 2013
Congratulations to Martin Truex Jr., for snapping his streak of not winning a race in 216 attempts. That’s SIX years, and with a number of frustrating second-place finishes to compound his misery. And a congratulations to A.J. Allmendinger for winning at Road America, and in doing so pouring out his emotions to the camera. (When was the last time a driver kissed the camera?) And then on the open-wheel side, James Hinchcliffe continued his ascent in the IndyCar standings by winning at Iowa. All three of these races bring to mind some things that should be considered. Here we go:
ONE: No Hurry
Road course racing continues to gain favor amongst fans of NASCAR. Mike Helton has even remarked that having a road course in the Chase would be a good idea. Unfortunately, Helton also mentions that NASCAR is in no hurry to do such a thing. This comment seems to strike not only as a confusing statement towards adding a road course, but also NASCAR’s indifference towards its fans.
What is going on here? Though NASCAR made continual changes to the car, especially with regards to plate racing (tandems, no tandems), the organization persists in ignoring fan interests in a number of things. The main one here is the schedule. Of course, part of the reason is the NASCAR – International Speedway Corp marriage, which means that they would regard taking a race away from one of their tracks as heresy of the highest order. But hey, whatever, keep giving fans a product they don’t want, and maybe they won’t go to those tracks either.
TWO: Michael Waltrip Racing
Sure seems like it’s been a long time since Michael Waltrip was caught trying to use rocket fuel in his car at Daytona in 2007. And then there was his decision to use chrome wheels in an effort to bring more attention to his cars. Oh, and let’s not forget that MWR was on the brink of folding before they were able to get an outside investor to keep them afloat.
With Martin Truex Jr., winning on Sunday, the team can now boast that both of its full time drivers have wins in the past calendar year. Both drivers are almost locked in to make the Chase this year. Clint Bowyer’s runner-up finish in the standings last year also indicates that this team is one that now can race with the so-called elite of Gibbs and Hendrick. The point to ponder here is, that even during the economic meltdown, Waltrip was able to build a successful team – how come no one else has been able to do that? Is he that good of a salesman?
THREE: Brad Keselowski
The reigning Cup champion is having a strange year. His cars have frequently been fast, but he doesn’t really have the finishes to show for the effort. He’s had his crew chief suspended, and still performed relatively well. He’s had his knuckles rapped by Helton and Hendrick, yet he keeps spouting what he wants. He’s 9th in points, but having not won yet, he could easily miss the Chase as drivers like Jeff Gordon and Kurt Busch are only 20 points or so back.
So what’s the deal, is he a contender or not? Has the transition to Ford and the allegiance with Roush made it difficult for him to get going? Note that his teammate, Joey Logano, is only 15 points behind Keselowski. Perhaps things have settled down a bit now that Sonoma is out of the way, and he returns to a track, Kentucky, where he’s had some success. This weekend serves as a benchmark as to whether Kes and Paul Wolfe are going to be contenders this year. Keep an eye on the deuce.
FOUR: A.J. Allmendinger
Last season, Allmendinger got caught doing a banned substance, was suspended, lost his ride, and seemed destined to be another driver out in the cold. But he followed the rules, acted contrite (step 1), went through the Road to Recovery program (step 2), then hung around the garage and did whatever he could (step 3), finally getting some time with the about-to-fold James Finch #51 team.
On Saturday, Allmendinger won at the Nationwide race at Road America in a Penske car. Congratulations to him. The program worked, he’s rehabilitated and NASCAR can show that if you do what you’re told you’ll get back in the sport. But does the program really work or is Allmendinger just fortunate enough to have worked for Penske, who has peppered him with IndyCar and Nationwide rides? Allmendigner is the pioneering test case in NASCAR as to whether or not a driver can resuscitate his (or her) career after a substance issue. In a way, NASCAR needs a success story to show that it works, but one also has to wonder if he was just in the right spot.
NASCAR fans may have forgotten, ignored, or been indifferent to IndyCar running at Iowa on Sunday (at the questionable time that went head-to-head with the Sonoma race). This column is not going to espouse that the IndyCar race was the best race ever in the history of mankind and that everyone who missed it should now go contemplate the meaning of his or her life. No, that would be, as my niece says: ridiclious.
But what Iowa showed again is how broken the racing is on 1.5 and 2 mile tracks. With both Nationwide and IndyCar having raced there in the past month, there was the chance that one them could be a dud, but both featured wheel to wheel racing through much of the field. As much as there is a drive to deservedly add another road course to the schedule, there should also be a push to tear down one of the cookie cutters and build another pseudo-Richmond. But as you know with all things NASCAR, there’s no rush.
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