Frontstretch Staff · Wednesday October 2, 2013
Is it October already? With the leaves turning brown, at least on the East Coast these days it’s clear the Fall season is entering full bloom. And, along with it comes a sobering reality: there’s just a limited number of racing weeks left to go.
Sure, the last month or two has been a difficult time for motorsports. You have “Spingate” in NASCAR, Sebastian Vettel running away with a title in Formula 1 and IndyCar losing its title sponsor. But at least, this Sunday all three of them are going to have cars going around the track. There’s hope, with those races that some sort of exciting news will happen to get us talking Monday morning. That can’t happen during winter, when the only racing going on is your 5-year-old playing make-believe with two cars on the kitchen floor.
So savor what’s left of this season, however rough the recent news may be. Because before you know it, the colder months will come and the roar of “start your engines!” will be coming to a complete stop for good.
Here’s some things we’ve found this week to make you smile…
Happiness Is… Swan Songs
No, there’s no official word Mark Martin, Jeff Burton, and Bobby Labonte are retiring … yet. But with seven races left, it’s important to start recognizing this trio for their long list of achievements in the sport. And, at least in Burton’s case, stand up and recognize the strong performance by this non-Chaser as he looks to leave Richard Childress Racing on a high note.
Burton, at age 46 has been solid as of late, with runs of 14th, eighth, and 14th to start the “playoffs.” Only Jamie McMurray, among the non-Chasers has been better through the first three postseason races. Not bad for man who’s a “lame duck,” set to leave the No. 31 Chevrolet for points unknown after this season. Claiming he’ll run just one more full-time schedule, max finding a ride in Burton’s case has been difficult to impossible, meaning the chances left to win at this level can be counted on two hands down the stretch. A strong restrictor plate racer, as of late can he wow us one last time at Talladega?
Next, there’s Martin, whose tenure in the sport may be wrapping up with some less-than-stellar finishes subbing for Tony Stewart. To date, he’s just got one top-10 result in a car that he’s manned since mid-August. But that doesn’t take away from how this 54-year-old has defied Father Time for so long. Second in the standings, at age 50 he’ll forever be known for five runner-up finishes: 1990, ’94, ’98, ’02, and that fateful ’09 with Hendrick Motorsports. Stepping in as a super sub, treading water with Stewart-Haas Racing under difficult circumstances – with their co-owner on one leg – epitomizes his Hall of Fame leadership qualities. Like Burton, the chances for wins are running out; could this team put it all together one last time at a place like Charlotte, giving the intermediate specialist one last chance at Victory Lane?
Labonte, last on the list only has a handful of starts left in the No. 47 Toyota. The 2000 Cup Series champion, at age 49 it’s looking likely 2014 will offer a spot on the unemployment line. Will it really be the end for a driver whose career resume, despite all its brilliance hasn’t included a victory since 2003? It’s a tragic loss for the sport if true; the Texan, quiet yet consistent is a strong connection to the sport’s heyday in the 1990s and early 2000s. JTG-Daugherty Racing has been showing a spark, with AJ Allmendinger as of late; perhaps it will carry over to one of the remaining races, allowing this veteran one last shot at contending with the top drivers he once ran wheel-to-wheel with, week-to-week.
Happiness Is… Open-Wheel Silly Season
Juan Pablo Montoya back to open-wheel with Penske Racing? Tony Kanaan partnered with Chip Ganassi? Top drivers, with big followings heading back to strong IndyCar rides can only mean good things for the sport in 2014. Kanaan, who won the Indy 500 this year still has a championship pedigree; he just needed championship equipment. Montoya, by comparison is a bit of a “wild card” after leaving the IndyCar ranks for his NASCAR career. But the trademark aggression hasn’t toned down one bit; you better believe, next season he’ll be rubbing wheels with someone to the delight (or possibly disappointment) of race fans all over the country.
These are the types of big moves that used to define NASCAR Silly Season, bringing big eyes and good-natured debate to the sport well into the winter months. With NASCAR still battling “SpinGate” public relations, combined with some rather public sponsor departures the IndyCar executives have to be smiling. They’re losing the war, by a country mile… but they’ve won this short-term news cycle battle.
Happiness Is… A True Title Competition
Never, in the ten-year history of the Chase has a championship been more defined, this early. It’s Matt Kenseth, Jimmie Johnson, and “wild card” Kyle Busch… for all the marbles these next seven weeks. In a new school system, it’s an old school way of choosing a champion, as many full-season title Chases came down to just two or three. And in a sport where there’s so much talk about more emphasis on winning, what more can you ask for from these guys in contention? We’ve had three races so far, in the postseason, and each one has been taken by the “Big Three.” Heading to Kansas this weekend, where Kenseth won this Spring he’s the heavy favorite to make it four-for-four.
Can this threesome sweep all ten races in the Chase? No… but they can sure come mighty close. Mr. Johnson, on a hot streak simply owns Charlotte, Martinsville, and Phoenix. Kenseth should be strong at Texas and Homestead. Only Talladega is a “wild card,” like Busch in this title fight. So snap those belts tight and hold on for these next few weeks; what you’re going to see is a bunch of heavyweights throwing punches. They all want to come out on top… but only one will truly smile after the checkered flag flies on the season mid-November.
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