Huston Ladner · Wednesday August 21, 2013
The shadows creep in just a tad earlier. School has begun at most places across America. Labor Day is but a couple weeks away, serving as a definitive mark to the end of summer. Is it really over already? Well if it is, that means it’s time for football! What’s that, this is a racing site? You mean Frontstretch hasn’t been absorbed into a media conglomerate in the hopes of reaching bigger numbers by drawing people in with more football coverage? In September, Gregg Easterbrook, a notable writer, will release a book titled The King of Sports: Football’s Impact on America. Maybe a book that should be written is Football’s Impact on NASCAR. This year seems like one that will be a marking point for how NASCAR competes against football – the hope is that the governing body gets smart and recognizes that though they’re a fighter, they’re not in the same weight class as the champ. The funny thing…as a sporting entity NASCAR still draws what should be considered respectable numbers. It’s tough to remember that sometimes with the prevalent attitude that the sport got too fancy (thanks for that, Humpy Wheeler). Let’s keep the optimism going…
Happiness Is…Michigan International Speedway
Ignore the fact that the crowd at MIS was, well, not great. Just a reminder, NASCAR isn’t releasing attendance figures this season. The results of the race provide two interesting reminders. First, MIS is a Ford track. The blue oval just seems to run well there no matter how their season has been going – and really, they haven’t been having a strong year. Joey Logano’s win not only puts him in strong Chase consideration but also may be evidence that Ford has found something.
Here’s what is confounding: MIS and Auto Club Speedway in Fontana are siblings if not twins. Roger Penske built Auto Club to mirror the Michigan track. So explain how Jimmie Johnson can be so good at one and struggle so much at the other? Or all of Hendrick Motorsports for that matter. It’s an interesting conundrum. But with that being noted, much of the field probably wishes that they raced at MIS more often.
Much has been made about road course racing of late as it has ostensibly become the new version of short-track racing with the permissiveness of cars banging on one another. Whether or not NASCAR takes notice and includes more of these tracks is up to them. And here, let’s be quick to note that Cup will not be going to Mid-Ohio; it just doesn’t have the infrastructure. But that doesn’t mean it’s not a good track.
Both IndyCar and Nationwide have held races there in the past month and both events were solid. It’s paradoxical to think that the open wheel drivers completed the race without a caution, while those in Nationwide came nowhere near such a feat. But the track, having been renovated in 2006, looks like a great facility. Both series need to keep the course as one they visit regularly. It’s great to see the track come into great shape on its own – and it surely helps that the fan turnout at both races was excellent.
For most of this Silly Season there’s been little in the way of a Wow Moment. Kevin Harvick going to Stewart Haas Racing, yawn, everyone knew about that one back at Homestead last year. Brian Vickers to drive the No. 55 full time – oh my, really? Pretty sure that Ray Charles would have seen that one coming. And then AJ Allmendinger to the No. 47 – again, nothing really moving there.
In one week, however, things have changed. Earnhardt-Ganassi dumped Juan Pablo Montoya, opening a decent ride. And now Kurt Busch has been given an offer to drive a fourth car at SHR. Now things have the potential to get interesting. The sad part is that none of the moves that have happened nor will happen are anything that will change the world, but that’s no different than any other sport. The happiness comes from the fact that something is getting shaken up, and that’s something NASCAR needs as much as anything.
But wait, there’s more…NASCAR isn’t the only one benefiting from a suddenly changing silly season as IndyCar also gets a changing world. Montoya has already been given an offer from Andretti, contingent on sponsorship. While Andretti has stated that they can move to a five-car team, that seems unlikely and would probably put the likeable James Hinchcliffe out of his ride. That one driver being released could shuffle things in two different racing series is fantastic, and not to mix metaphors, but it will be interesting to see how the dominoes fall.
Happiness Is…Tony Stewart
Too often there is an overwhelming need for an athlete to return to a sport when injured. Many rush into action without healing properly. NASCAR is no different. Some might say that Dale Earnhardt, Jr., should have just canned his season last year after his concussion. Many people have debated whether or not Denny Hamlin should be in his No. 11 as he deals with back issues (which have certainly affected his results). Pundits purport that the drivers rush back due to sponsor commitments, and not wanting to let the team down, and other malarkey.
With word of Tony Stewart calling an end to his season, NASCAR has found a primary example of common sense when dealing with injuries. Stewart was likely going to be unable to drive anyway, but coming out and stating that he’s done is a solid move. Sponsors are aware that racing is a dangerous sport and can’t be all that surprised that drivers get injured. In fact, if FedEx has a long-term commitment with Hamlin, wouldn’t they be wise to encourage him to fix his ailing back so that he better represents them next year? Ah, but then common sense has never really been NASCAR’s forte. Thank you Tony Stewart for possibly helping them along.
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