Huston Ladner · Wednesday July 24, 2013
Ahh. That’s the sweet relief from a weekend that had almost no racing. We all got to avoid Jimmie Johnson winning another race; to not lambaste the questionable race coverage; to call out the mystifying cautions that change the tenor of a race; to wonder who would make yet another empty threat; and maybe best of all, to just ignore the television a bit. Here here. Never has the 36 race calendar looked so bloated when a break comes during summer and gives everyone a chance to breathe – and actually miss on-track action. But it’s time to get started again. The Camping World Truck series gets things started with its dirt-track experiment at Eldora. That race is sure to enjoy widespread attention. Let’s applaud NASCAR for doing something different, whether it’s great racing or not. Now here’s some other things to be happy about…
Happiness Is…Speed Channel is Dead, Long Live Speed
When Speed announced that it was morphing into Fox Sports 1, many motorsports enthusiasts saw the change as the death of good racing programming. The way that Speed and ESPN have treated racing recently, placing it in the frequent position of afterthought, has done nothing to change many of these sentiments.
And along came the NBC Sports Network, formerly Versus. They’ve held IndyCar rights for the past few years. But last year they made a bold swipe, taking Formula One coverage from Speed. The two open wheel series have been treated well on the network, with extended coverage and excellent telecasts.
Then news came this week that NBCSN had outbid ESPN for the second half of the NASCAR schedule. Add it all up, F1+IndyCar+NASCAR (Nationwide + Cup) = New Speed. In a relatively short amount of time NBCSN has become a home to motorsports in a way that Speed should have been, and in a way that ESPN never cared to. Apparently FOX and ESPN don’t see the same value in these contracts, or more to the point, they’re really just focused on football and baseball. Fans should thank NBCSN for making it the new go-to for racing action.
Happiness Is…Silly Season
There aren’t any top-flight rides open right now. Hendrick, Gibbs, Roush, Waltrip, and Penske seem content with how things are set up for them for next year. Then there’s Childress, who has one seat open and has intimated that they could possibly, maybe create a fourth team. With Vickers off the market, Ryan Newman and Kurt Busch are the biggest names that might be moving to new homes.
So if this Silly Season is so lame, why be happy about it? Because there’s always something peculiar that can happen. When the options appear limited, there’s always a chance that someone is thinking in a way that no one anticipated. How interesting would it be to see Kurt Busch sign with Gibbs and drive a Monster Energy drink backed car? That’d certainly be a bold maneuver. How about Ganassi making a brazen decision to dump one of his drivers in favor of bringing Kyle Larson to Cup? Let’s hope someone does something interesting.
The race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway is sure to be something of a failure. The enormous crowds that used to greet NASCAR have waned. The 2008 tire disaster and the recession the country has endured have acted as a two-prong assault to dissuade people from caring about the race. Throw in the fact that passing at the flat track is difficult and the result is that the substance doesn’t match the hype – regardless of the historical implications of racing at the venerable track. To be blunt, it’s likely that the Sunday affair will be lamentable, and Juan Pablo Montoya will probably be in position to win and somehow fail again.
That’s a whole lot of bashing for a column that is supposed to be happy. Sure is, and it could probably go on for a while. But here’s the happy part. As people lose money on the event, they find ways to make things better. There’s no way the track gets changes, but it’s possible that another race with lackluster attendance figures will encourage something like lights to be added. Or maybe everyone realizes that the marriage between lumbering stock cars and the track is not the best fit and it loses its place on the schedule – creating an opportunity for another track, like Iowa, Road America, or Circuit Gilles Villeneuve. Change is good.
In every series other than Cup, there are decent battles for the championships. Though Seb Vettel has won just about every race in F1, Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen are keeping close just looking for a slip up. In Trucks, Matt Crafton has almost a one-race lead in points, but has been fortuitous and avoided any DNFs. With half a season to go, the next four drivers are all within 14 points of each other. Regan Smith had gotten out to a one race lead in the points, but has been reeled in and the top five are all within 22 points of each other. And then there’s IndyCar, with Helio Castroneves and Scott Dixon holding tight in the top two spots with but six races to go.
Maybe this year, however, is the one to thank NASCAR for having the Chase (no, no, no!). Jimmie Johnson is 56 points ahead of everyone – quite the difficult margin to be made up when they are running so well. Realize that the driver in 5th, Dale Earnhardt Jr., is 118 points behind – almost two and a half races worth of points. Incredible. Maybe hitting the reset button for those final ten races might help. Or maybe it won’t matter as Johnson cruises home to #sixpack. We need new hashtags.
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