Huston Ladner · Wednesday July 10, 2013
Jimmie Johnson cruised home to victory at Daytona, much to the dismay of his non-fans. Johnson’s continued success, earning his 64th win, now acts as a target for most followers of NASCAR. Some journalists encourage that they are watching greatness. Those who pull for the No. 48 enjoy success that is rarely seen. As for everyone else, there’s nothing but a lingering bad feeling and a portentous recognition that Johnson is most likely to capture a sixth championship this year. There seems little new in the story. But Saturday night showed something different. Once considered a hazard at restrictor-plate tracks, Johnson took a dominant car and bored all non-fans with a stellar outing. Yes, Hendrick cars have typically been strong at Daytona and Talladega, but a driver still has to get there, and Johnson noted in interviews that he drove a mistake free race. So now that he’s got restrictor-plate racing down, all that’s left are restarts. Oh my. On to the happiness…
Yep, a lot has already been stated about IndyCar’s return to Pocono. The triangular track has long been somewhat of a snoozefest for NASCAR fans. With its recent repaving, the track seemed ripe for hosting the open-wheel cars. In many ways, it did not disappoint. The high speeds of the cars is an example of one of the very elements that made racing popular in the first place. Though passing appeared difficult, something confirmed by drivers in post-race interviews, it was still an intriguing event – though how much the sheer novelty of it influences that notion is up for debate.
What really made the Pocono race a positive were the fans. Though the stands weren’t packed as they might be for a Cup race, they were hardly empty. While IndyCar has struggled at times in getting people to the track, they must have done something right to get people there. Of course, as with everything, there are still questions. When IndyCar returns to the track, will the turnout be as good or was this a one race aberration? And one funny question – can they figure out a way to get cars moved on pit road so that a caution doesn’t last for seven laps? That was baffling. That’s just nitpicking. The better question is, will IndyCar continue to find oval, or oval-like tracks, that work for its schedule?
The word historic is bandied about with a careless sensibility anymore. Like the words awesome and epic, historic is just another marker for something cool that happened and is likely to be forgotten as soon as web pages, Twitter postings, and Facebook statuses are updated. But over in that quaint little place called Europe, they have a bit of a different sense of history, and Sunday provided them with two ostensibly historic moments.
This is a racing site but here is an ‘atta boy to Andy Murray who became the first British man to win Wimbledon in over 70 years. Tennis may not resonate in the States like it does on the other side of the Atlantic, but his victory was indeed big. Travel a little farther east and you’ll find Sebastian Vettel doing his Jimmie Johnson impression in F1. With his win at Nurburgring, Vettel now has four on the year and is positioned much like Johnson to win another championship. But Vettel, with 30 victories and three championships, had never won in his home country. Now that he’s checked that ignominious mark off his record, he seems poised, just like Johnson, to challenge another driver with seven championships, Michael Schumacher. Quite the feat—and he’s only 25. Will the European crowds development the same attitude towards Vettel as many have towards Johnson?
For all the safety measures enacted in motorsports over the years, it is impossible to counter every possible peculiar scenario. The F1 race is a testament to this notion. Mark Webber had come in to the pits for a tyre change. His team mistakenly released him before the right rear wheel was on. As such, when he mashed the pedal the tyre spun off and positively clobbered a cameraman. The footage is wild. Though he sustained some fractures, the cameraman walked off on his own accord. Later in the race, after retiring with an engine failure, Jules Bianchi pulled his car over and walked away. And then the car decided that it didn’t like its parking spot and rolled back on and across the track. No one was injured, but it was a strange occurrence indeed.
NASCAR was not immune to safety concerns this past weekend. With many already questioning if Denny Hamlin should take the rest of the season off and get back surgery, he again endured a rough hit. He walked away again, though. The more problematic concern came as the cars crossed the finish line in that race. With the usual melee happening near the checkers, debris shot from one of the cars and into the No. 22 pit area, nailing one of them in the wrist. Crew members often deal with some issues, like flying lugnuts, but debris flying off a car at over 150 mph is different, and everyone can release a bit of a breath that it didn’t hit him in a more vulnerable place, and that no one else was injured.
Say what?! Well, here’s a way to think about things. With Jimmie Johnson bent on winning his sixth championship, and a quiet silly season, there isn’t much to get giddy about or pay attention to. Kurt Busch and Ryan Newman seem to be the only big players in that market. So now that everyone is tired with Cup, they can focus their attention on the other series. Tongue-in-cheek aspect aside, the Nationwide Series and IndyCar both have good battles going for their respective championships. And the Eldora Truck race is coming up soon. All good cures for any malaise.
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