Ah, another weekend of racing. You better soak them in now, because in four more weeks it’s all over. It seems like just yesterday the Gen-6 car made its debut at Daytona. With all of the hype to start the season, there was hope that it would be a panacea to all of the ails in Cup – but as we all know, nothing will ever fix all of the problems in the sport (though most fans agree that getting Brian France out of the leadership position would help).
The first weeks at Daytona were also the site of the horrendous Nationwide crash that sent what appeared to be about half of Kyle Larson’s car into the stands. That opening race seemed a portentous way to start the season and further showed the problems that exist with restrictor plate racing. Through a lot of luck, nobody involved endured serious injury and everyone involved could go on believing that plate racing isn’t all that bad. Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t. But it is a spectacle, and as a whole, we’re conditioned to enjoy spectacles at this point. And there’s some happiness in that.
With the return to Talladega came the inevitable discussion of the ‘Big One’ and how it would impact the Chase and how it might shake up the standings and how it would be just what other drivers needed to close in on Jimmie Johnson and Matt Kenseth. So what happens? Well, in a way, not all that much. Aside from an early engine failure and a mix-up between Marcos Ambrose and Juan Pablo Montoya, very little happened for most of the Cup race. That’s not to say that the drivers weren’t ‘up on the wheel’, as the intensity certainly got thick from about lap 120 on, but just that everyone was able to keep their car pointed forward. Until the last lap.
On that lap Dillon the Elder got punted like a flat football, took to the air, landed, and somehow drove back to the pits. Maybe the drivers in the Truck race the previous day wrecked enough equipment for the whole of NASCAR as what – 4 trucks were running at the finish? Kyle Busch exited his truck and sat against the inside retaining wall trying to catch his breath after that race. So what are we to take from the Talladega races?
That everyone went home safe. None of the drivers incurred any serious injuries, and the fans got away unscathed (save for the two fans who got carbon monoxide poisoning in their RV). Anymore it feels like restrictor plate racing requires fans and competitors to participate with their mental fingers crossed. The trick worked this week. And a sigh of relief could be heard.
Happiness Is…Safety Part II
Ever since Dan Wheldon’s demise on October 16, 2011, at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, there has been a sense of trepidation about racing IndyCars on high-speed ovals. The series wisely removed Vegas from the schedule, but they couldn’t take away all of the ovals. Hence Auto Club Speedway has hosted the season finale for the past two years. Last year, the track hosted a race with a tight points battle, and Will Power washed out, handing the championship to Ryan Hunter-Reay.
But IndyCar had a new package for this year and there still seemed to be some lingering worries about whether they should even race at tracks like this one. Much like restrictor plate racing is to be debated in stock car racing, high-speed ovals remain a question mark in IndyCar. It’s difficult to determine a verdict from what occurred in California this past Saturday night. And maybe that’s ok.
The fact that only nine cars were running at the conclusion is not because the drivers couldn’t handle the track, but because the track didn’t want to handle the cars. A number of vehicles faced mechanical problems due to the track creating excessive tyre klag and the combination of sand and dirt. But there was a wreck that took out six cars and sent Justin Wilson (who has never loved ovals and sat out last year’s finale at the track) to the hospital with a pelvis fractured in three places. Wilson is slated to make a full recovery. So twice this weekend race fans could exhale with the feeling that racing is dangerous and everyone dodged what could be big problems.
Happiness Is…Kyle Busch
With his Halloween-themed M&M’s car, Busch held strong, coming back from his truck race to finish fifth in the Cup race and cut the margin to the leader to only about half a race. That’s still a lot of ground to make up with just four races to go. Consider, however, that each year Busch has made the Chase he has flamed out like a dud firework shot out on the 4th of July. This year, not only has he not dropped below fifth in points, he’s overcome things that would previously have seen him detonate on the ground, rather than actually becoming an appreciable driver under pressure. While it’s likely he won’t catch Johnson, he is strong at three of the final four tracks. One hiccup…oh whatever, apparently not too many fans would be all that happy with Busch being that close to a championship. (Though some would.)
Happiness Is…Kurt Busch
If only. Kurt Busch continued his career renaissance by doffing his car with his second Talladega Nights paint scheme in as many years. If only he’d won! Setting aside the fact that he finished a mediocre 18th, Busch should still be appreciated for being the one driver who’s been able to escape the corporate bureaucracy and to bring some fun back to watching a car. For a guy who has lashed out and seemed lost at times, the Talladega Nights schemes are an interesting way of showing that he does have a sense of humor. Let’s hope that he’s got a Cole Trickle scheme in mind for next year.
Happiness Is…Scott Dixon
Finally, congratulations are in order for Scott Dixon who won his third IndyCar championship.
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