The Frontstretch: Happiness Is...Timing, Cherubic NASCAR, Safety, and Anticipation by Huston Ladner -- Wednesday July 3, 2013

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Rain played havoc with the Cup race this past weekend. Rather than watching racing, fans were given the opportunity to watch the Jet Dryer 400 brought to you by KFC and TNT. Or something like that. What Saturday evening highlighted, however, was the weird stalemate that is happening between NASCAR and the Bruton Smith tracks and the new Air Titan track drying system. Geoffrey Miller goes into more depth on the issue, but as long as NASCAR charges tracks to use the Titan it is a failed endeavor. It is understandable that NASCAR would look to recoup some of the cost it put into the Titan’s development, but sometimes things have to be done for the good of the sport (though NASCAR has erred in that idea a number of times). The development of the Titan is supposed to be boon for the sport, not yet another arguing point for the well compensated millionaires to gripe over. Unleash the Titan, it should be at all tracks. This kind of silly infighting is just another example of the reason that fans are feeling indifferent towards the sport. So enough squabbling, time to look at the sunny side…

Jeff Gordon got burned by green flag pit stops just prior to cautions flying at Kentucky, but he was one of the few.

Happiness Is…Green Flag Pit Stops

Did anyone else notice the rather comical aspect that occurred on Sunday? Every time that cars were scheduled to come to pit road, a caution flag flew. Yes, a few times, cars had already begun making their stops, with Jeff Gordon being the unfortunate victim of pitting just prior to two caution flags that made his day a whole different hassle. But for the majority of the field, the caution flags came just as their window for pitting had opened. How convenient.

There’s nothing NASCAR can do about cars wrecking at certain times. But there is a strange little thing that does seem like it should be policed. If there is going to be a competition caution at a prescribed lap, then one of two things should happen. Option A: All cars must take on four tires. If the whole point of the caution is to check tire wear on a green track, then make it a conforming concept. Option B: If it is a mandated caution, something for which drivers and crew chiefs have no responsibility for, then the way they run when the yellow shows should be the way they line up. There’s something screwy about competition cautions and it’s time that someone gave them a little more thought.

Happiness Is…No Arrests

Former New England Patriot’s tight end Aaron Hernandez has been in the news for all the wrong reasons for the past few weeks. He’s been the trendy topic throughout the internet and anyone who has his eyes or ears open will undoubtedly come across some kind of update, development, or commentary about the alleged murderer. At this point, it can probably be assumed that most people are just tired of hearing about the guy and what he may or may not have done. None of what was just written is earth-shaking. So why bring it up?

What the Hernandez case has illuminated is how everyone involved in NASCAR seems to be staying out of relative trouble. Yes, there was a scuffle between Nelson Piquet, Jr. and two crew members out of the Richard Childress camp back at Dover. And there’s the occasional DUI or substance violation, but let’s face it, not everyone is an angel. But for the most part the sport keeps itself off of the police blotters. Jeremy Mayfield may be the exception, with his strange case, but otherwise, it’s kind of ironic to think that a sport that boasts a history of one coming from running moonshine is one of the cleanest out there.

Happiness Is…Safety

The Formula One race at Silverstone (England) featured what amounts to a total rarity in the sport: five tyre failures. The first occurred during practice. The other four tyres all blew out during the race in spectacular fashion. In the NASCAR world, when a tire blows it rips apart the body and destroys all it can find in close proximity. On an open wheel car, though, it sprays shrapnel everywhere as there’s no body to contain it. Oddly enough, three of the cars that had failures sustained little damage. The show of watching the tyre blow and shower the track was wild.

The fortunate thing is that no one was injured – or even wrecked due to the failures. Fernando Alonso was riding meters behind one that blew and was able to safely evade trouble. For open wheel racers, hitting speeds of up to 200 mph at Silverstone, flying tyre debris is a relative nightmare and could easily shoot towards a driver’s helmet. That no one sustained any injuries is great. That F1 made the right decision to deploy a safety car to clean up the track is just as good. Of course, Lewis Hamilton, who lost a tyre while leading, probably isn’t all that thrilled – but he still finished fourth.

Happiness Is…The Upcoming Weekend

Though Americans enjoy far less vacation time than the rest of the first-world countries, many are still able to enjoy Independence Day, or make it a long weekend. Ideologies and country attitudes aside, this is a great weekend for motorsports fans, and one that makes for good use of the DVR, Tivo, the web, or however you may want to pirate your racing signal.

The races at Daytona start the weekend, with Nationwide on Friday, and Cup on Saturday. The Cup race brings a couple of elements of intrigue with it as it will be the third race on a restrictor-plate track with the Gen-6 car. Whether or not NASCAR has hit a sweet spot with the car and the tracks has yet to be determined. The second aspect is the jostling for Chase positions, and with 10th through 17th separated by 22 points, the competition is tight. Of course, the usual big wreck will mess things up for at least one driver.

Sunday is open wheel day. Formula One will be at Nurburgring, with Pirelli confirming they will have a different tyre for the cars. Perhaps the most interesting race of the weekend closes out the schedule as IndyCar tackles the track with triumvirate of turns. It’s been a long time since they’ve been there, and the cars were lapping at more than 15 seconds faster than a Cup car, which likely means that things will look more racy. Let’s hope IndyCar’s foray to Pennsylvania is a showcase of speed, challenge, and compelling racing. Seems weird to think that Pocono might be a place for that.

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Today on the Frontstretch:
Beyond the Cockpit: Alexis DeJoria On The 300 mph Women of the NHRA
A Swan’s Broken Wings Equal NASCAR’s Next Concern?
Thinkin’ Out Loud – The Off Week Season Review
Pace Laps: Swan Racing’s Future, Fast Females and Dropping Out
Sprint Cup Series Facilities Can Build Upon Fan Experience by Looking to Their Roots


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Carl D.
07/03/2013 11:04 AM

Another thing the Aaron Hernandez case illustrates is that no amount of money can buy brains or class.

07/03/2013 01:04 PM

I don’t think the Air Titan would have made a difference at Kentucky on Saturday. It sounded like it was raining pretty good there when they called it. I agree though that NASCAR should be working better with SMI on developing the technology. I assume it is something that still needs to be perfected and used on a variety of track types with different lengths and banking.

I also think the “competition caution” is being over thought. NASCAR gives them the opportunity to check tire wear, it’s up to the teams decide whether or not to use it. I think the bigger issue is Goodyear bringing a rock hard tire to a track that shouldn’t need it.

Bill H
07/03/2013 01:06 PM

It probably should be mentioned in terms of “fewest criminals” that NASCAR also has very few drivers. The sport has, what?, maybe 50 drivers of national note, while the NFL has 1,696 under contract during the regular season.

JD in NC
07/03/2013 02:53 PM

True Bill, but you can also think of the driver as the “quarterback” of the race team. If you include all the other team members, you are well into the thousands.

07/03/2013 02:55 PM

I don’t think they need to change the competition caution deal – a tire compound that allows better racing would get my vote.

Yeah NASCAR drivers aren’t angels, but even with the smaller group to sample from – I am very happy to know there is less of things like with Hernandez (thank goodness)in the sport.

It is a pain when it rains at the track on race day – for everyone – the fans who traveled and took time off, the drivers and crews, etc. but even the super duper water scooper can’t help if there is a deluge.

Old farmer
07/03/2013 04:24 PM

Competition cautions are silly.let the drivers and crews make their own decisions as to pitting or not. I agree that if NASCAR does make drivers pit, the starting order should be the order of the cars when the yellow is thrown.

07/03/2013 09:55 PM

Happiness is…Jimmie in second on a restart. Get ready for the whining.