Matt McLaughlin · Monday March 4, 2013
The Key Moment – Carl Edwards seemed to be cruising to an easy win when Ken Schrader wrecked with three laps to go, drawing the caution flag. On the green-white-checkered restart, Brad Keselowski in third gave Edwards a nice shove into the lead and he cruised on to win after all while Keselowski, Jimmie Johnson and Denny Hamlin waged a spirited battle for second in his mirror.
In a Nutshell – The new logo for the Gen-6 car apparently ought to be “No Passing Zone.”
Dramatic Moment – During that final lap Hamlin, Johnson and Keselowski battled for second, side by side. It seemed the first time all day any driver actually seemed to care about advancing his position.
What They’ll Be Talking About Around the Water Cooler This Week
Truthfully, most folks will be talking about some upcoming NCAA basketball tournament, which teams should be part of the contest and even devising imaginary ladders. What almost nobody will be talking about is stock car racing. After the glamour and drama of Daytona, there’s been a dearth of stories about the Cup Series, this week that involve the actual racing itself. I mean, come on… when the big story is Junior is on a diet, it’s back to reality. (Prune juice. Really?)
Of course, the residual big story that continues to garner headlines was the continuing recovery of the victims injured in the grandstands on the last lap of the N.W. race. Earlier this week, Frontstretch ran a column by my esteemed colleague Jeff Meyer blasting some of those injured fans for deciding to sue NASCAR and the track. I respectfully disagree. Saturday wasn’t an unforeseeable accident. Many writers, myself included, have been predicting it for over a decade. No, the carnage wasn’t as bad as it could have been but it was still life-altering for those injured in the tragedy. They’re going to have medical bills. They will miss time for work. Their friends and family had to pay for extended lodging to be with the injured. There are out-of-pocket expenses coming at a time of reduced income. I feel NASCAR should bear those costs, if not for legal reasons then for compassionate ones. One single mother had her leg broken and Achilles tendon torn. She then had to endure a 13-hour ride home in agony seated in the backseat of a pickup truck. (Because of the swelling, they hadn’t even been able to put a cast on the shattered leg.) C’mon. How many aircraft does NASCAR or the ISC have at their disposal? They couldn’t have flown her to an airstrip near her home?
At Daytona, the drivers said they couldn’t pass because the spoilers were too short. This weekend at Phoenix, the same drivers said they couldn’t pass because the spoilers were too tall. It behooves NASCAR to quickly figure out at what spoiler height is their “Goldilocks moment” as in “just right.”
The Toyotas are clearly very fast this season, but their power trains are proving to be fragile as well (see: Martin Truex, Jr.‘s broken rear gear, plus engine changes pre-race for Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch). Expect the midnight oil to be turning at TRD this week.
On a brighter note, it’s nice to know it’s 80 degrees and sunny somewhere in the world. Those of you who live in the northeast are probably as tired of rain, gray skies, cold temperatures and biting chilly winds as I am.
Another Nationwide race and another win for a Cup driver. (In this case, Kyle Busch putting on an absolute driving clinic. Busch got caught speeding on pit road and dropped to 23rd on the restart. 45 laps later, he was back in the lead.) The last time a full-time N.W. driver won a race in his own series was Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. at Kansas last year. Guess what he’s doing with his Sunday afternoons now…
Jimmie Johnson laughed off claims that that he’d purposely destroyed the front end of his car doing doughnuts to celebrate his Daytona 500 victory. Oddly enough, the No. 48 car struggled mightily to make it through pre-qualifying tech inspection this weekend, requiring three trips through the barn before it was labeled kosher. When that happens, so soon after that it just adds to the image of the this team as being cheaters. Then again, if you’re not trying to push the envelope, especially with a brand new car you’re probably not doing your job…
But wait… there’s more… rumors are circulating that NASCAR’s new high-tech laser based inspection system for the cars’ bodies might be at fault with some of the teams struggling to pass pre-race tech. It is said that the normal jostling around of moving the equipment from track to track is effecting the system’s accuracy. If that’s the case, it behooves NASCAR to have three cars, one from each manufacturer competing built to comply completely with the rules being enforced. Use those three prototypes to ensure the accuracy of the measuring devices weekly.
The team calls Landon Cassill’s ghastly paint scheme “camouflage wildfire.” Well, that was my second guess. My first one was it looked like someone had gorged themselves on pasta and Mad Dog 20/20 while dropping acid, causing him to puke.
Sharp-eyed (no pun intended) readers who commented on last week’s column pointed out something I saw but deleted from that column which had already swollen to epic length. After Tony Stewart’s Holden was wrecked, at Daytona he joined his team in trying to make repairs to get it back out on the track. But while using a die-grinder, Stewart overlooked basic air tool safety by not donning eye protection. My guess is good vision is essential to race car drivers and that a bit of red hot metal piercing your eye isn’t going to help vision any. Besides, it smarts something awful…
It’s a brave new world amongst the decimated ranks of the NASCAR media. This year, NASCAR is determined that there will be a more positive tone to coverage of the sport. As such, they are trying to spew out positive storylines, one after another which some elements of the press are regurgitating undiluted. Take, for instance the breathless headlines that last week’s TV ratings for the Daytona 500 were up roughly 30 percent over last year. Hmmm. What do I recall about the 2012 Daytona 500? Well, for the first time in the event’s history Sunday’s running of the race was rained out. Attempts to run the event Monday afternoon were also hampered by weather issues, so the race finally ran on Monday evening against primetime programming. During the course of the event, fans still awake had to endure the delay caused by the jet dryer explosion, one that led the race to conclude in the wee hours of Tuesday morning. And ratings were up over that? No crap. The highest-rated Daytona 500 ever remains the 1979 running of the race, the first broadcast flag-to-flag on network TV. With much of the nation socked in by a blizzard and only three channels to choose from, that 500 earned a rating of 10.5 — higher than Sunday’s 9.9.
As long as we have Darrell Waltrip and Larry McReynolds in the booth, fans will continue to be reminded that there’s no such thing as a bad Goodyear tire — just bad teams that do bad things to their tires.
The Hindenburg Award For Foul Fortune
The afterglow of Daytona faded as quickly as fog on the lawn in the spring at sunrise for Danica Patrick. She was never up to speed in any of the practice sessions at Phoenix and qualified 40th. During the race, she struggled to run in the 20s before popping a tire, clobbering the outside wall, then getting hit so hard by David Ragan it sheered off most of the left side sheet metal on the No. 10 car. As I’ve said, the Daytona 500 is the chrome and neon trim of the sport. Starting Sunday, we’re seeing the nuts and bolts and it appears the No. 10 team is in need of some Loctite.
Ryan Newman lost a right front tire and slammed the wall Sunday – twice. After the second incident Newman, who wound up 40th ran from the car as if afraid someone would tell him they could fix it so he could return to the race.
Kyle Busch’s Sunday didn’t start well with an engine change, sending him to the rear of the field. He then spun out trying to work his way forward and struggled just to get back on the lead lap (he wound up 23rd).
Finishing fifth isn’t awful. In fact, there are have been months-long periods during his career Dale Earnhardt, Jr. probably would have soul-kissed a mule for a top-5 result. But Sunday, it appeared the driver of the No. 88 car had a shot at a win until he spun the rear tires starting on the outside on a restart and he faded backwards.
Mark Martin won the pole, then led two practices this weekend at age 54. He dominated the early stages of the race, looking like a threat to become NASCAR’s oldest winner but fell victim to a wheel left loose during a pit stop.
Clint Bowyer’s day also went wrong in the pits. Bowyer thought his team was going to change two tires when, in fact they planned to replace all four. To add a little icing to the cake, Bowyer then found himself blocked in his pit stall by the car ahead of him (Travis Kvapil).
The “Seven Come Fore Eleven” Award For Fine Fortune
The only thing that went wrong for Carl Edwards all of Sunday was a stuck landing on his backflip. The Russian judge gave him a 4.
Jimmie Johnson’s season is off to a positive start with a first and second-place finish to date.
Denny Hamlin had to start from the rear of the field after his team had to replace yet another blown engine in his Toyota. He managed to charge forward well enough in the final two laps he was able to wrest third from Brad Keselowski.
How close did Keselowski’s team come in judging their fuel mileage? He ran out of gas while crossing the finish line in fourth.
AJ Allmendinger’s return to grace continues apace with a solid eleventh-place finish.
- Edwards won a Cup race for the first time since Las Vegas, the third race of the 2011 season. He also led laps for the first time since Bristol last August.
- Earnhardt, Johnson and Keselowski have top-5 finishes in both this season’s points-paying events. No other drivers have even two top 10s.
- The top-10 finishers at Phoenix drove five Chevys, three Toyotas and two Fords. Like General Francisco Franco, the Dodge Cup program continues to struggle valiantly to remain dead.
- Johnson has now won three of the last six Cup races.
- In the last thirteen Cup races, Keselowski has missed the top 10 just twice.
- Jeff Burton (10th) earned his first top-10 finish since Talladega last fall.
- While it feels like a the fall race at Phoenix was a long time ago, there have only been three points-paying Cup races run since then. (Including Sunday’s race.) Well, the only driver with a top-5 finish today and in last year’s penultimate event is Denny Hamlin. The only other driver with a top 10 in both races is Brad Keselowski.
What’s the Points?
Johnson leads the standings, eight markers ahead of Earnhardt and Keselowski who are tied for second. Bowyer and Hamlin are tied for fourth, 18 points behind Johnson. If the Chase were to start right now, NASCAR would save us months of watching frustratingly boring races.
If you’ve already gotten your panties in a wad over the points, I have to ask if you have even the barest semblance of a life. When the last time you talked to mom, walked the dog (or had the dog take mom for a walk), pointed out the constellations to children, hugged an endangered species, or went out on a date with a partner that wasn’t inflatable? Life… it’s not just a breakfast cereal anymore.
Overall Rating (On a scale of one to six beer cans, with one being a stinker and a six-pack an instant classic) — We’ll give it two cans of lukewarm generic stuff. At least this week, all the fans left on their feet.
Next Up – The Cup series is leaving for Las Vegas. Yawn.
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