With the Sprint Cup Series having left Daytona after two weeks to kick off the year, it headed west to the desert of Arizona for the first “real” race of 2011. By real I mean, handling, downforce and the lack of somebody pushing your car forward deciding the ultimate outcome of the event. While Daytona is an animal of its own, it can also serve as an anomaly to rest of the Sprint Cup season, and this past weekend was no different.
A downforce desert race has a way of putting things in perspective after a plate race. The focus this past weekend in Phoenix went from pressure relief valves and grille openings to brake cooling and handling. And in some instances, brake failure. On Friday afternoon one lap into practice, Trevor Bayne went hurtling into Turn 3 with no way of stopping, other than boring himself into the wall, which hopefully when the track is rebuilt will have a SAFER Barrier behind it – the same goes for the areas of the track where nearly every wall that was impacted this past Sunday.
While the Wood Brothers team was able to rebound and prepare a backup car – which too was eliminated it after Bayne didn’t quite clear Travis Kvapil heading into Turn 1 on Lap 51. A week of ice cream and POTUS calls from the White House were replaced with ice bags and calls to the white walls of PIR.
Ford certainly was celebrating their 1-2-3 finish at the Daytona 500, they were likely lamenting their lack of a top 5 car at Phoenix, while prime contender Carl Edwards went Colt Seavers in his No. 99 Subway Fusion on Lap 60, eventually dropping to 12th in the new points system. The top finishing Ford at the Subway Fresh Fit 500 was A.J. Allmendinger in ninth, and suddenly finds himself only 11 points out of first in the points standings. David Ragan had another weekend go sour, and may be in the process of sealing his fate in the No. 6 car at Roush Fenway Racing.
Likewise, Brian Keselowski, one of the great feel good stories to come out of Daytona (as opposed to the feel sick to your stomach one involving our own Tom Bowles), was the only car not to qualify for the event. Keselowski made mention during the Daytona 500 that he was not sure if he would be able to make it out to have a legitimate shot to make the field at Phoenix, but made the trek anyway, buoyed by his winnings from his 41st place finish in the Daytona 500, but the will and determination that has seen him run on shoestring budgets his entire NASCAR career. Unfortunately he fell short of making the field by about half a second.
*Don’t Get Short With Me*
NASCAR has made quite a few strides over the course of the last year and a half to get back to its roots, and rekindle what had worked so well to propel the sport to the stratospheric levels of growth it enjoyed during the 1990’s and first half of the new millennium. Part of this is apparently trying to pass of a mile long track as a short track.
News Alert: It is not a short track. Short Tracks are defined as tracks that are less than 1.00-miles in length. Phoenix is 1.00 mile – however NASCAR still lists it as a Short Track on their website: http://www.nascar.com/races/tracks/
With the CoT, anything under 1.5-miles seemingly drives like a short track now since you can plow into a wall with it and still end up winning the race; i.e., Jeff Gordon on Sunday. The last two weeks at Daytona and Phoenix, we have seen cars with noses comprised of Bare Bond running competitively, in position to win, or in victory lane, with squared off sides and collapsed bumper braces. Long gone are the days when a bent in fender or scraped up quarter panel would doom your chances at a top 10 – let alone a shot at winning.
That being said, as interesting and unpredictable as this year’s Daytona 500 was, what NASCAR needs are more short tracks – real short tracks that are under one-mile in length. I know that is something many longtime fans of the sport and those of us that pine for the days of old (am I allowed to say that, or is that “applauding” something?), running the tracks with the style of racing that made it so popular in the first place.
The gang of _Top Gear_ (the original British version, not that abomination on The History Channel – though Rutledge Wood does an admirable job) kicked off this season by racing a Ferrari 458 Italia, Mercedes SLS, and a Porsche 911 GT3 around North Wilkesboro. That’s about three-quarters of a Million Dollars in hardware running out there, so it is still serviceable, and I can bet you it wouldn’t cost nearly as much as it is to reconfigure Phoenix.
Which no matter what anybody says after the fact, is still not going to be a short track.
*Poor Choice of Words*
This next week is traditionally one of the most difficult stretches during the 36-week NASCAR season. No, not because of the cross-country back and forth that makes dying of dysentery on the Oregon Trail seem like a reprieve from the Almighty, but because of the endless, stupid, clichés that we will hear with regards to racing in Las Vegas. It’s already started this week, with references to gambling and betting on what is usually an uneventful race. If I hear the term, “Sin City” one more time, I am going to put it all on black and fire my remote through the Hitachi.
For a sport like NASCAR that has tried to emphasize it’s focus on family, can we maybe hold off on extolling the virtues of gambling, legalized prostitution and alcohol consumption at 4:00 am to promote a stock car race? Yeah, I know…what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, I’ve seen the television ad and have been there for work about nine times, it’s really great.
How about we find something else to reference for a change? After 13 years of the same tired analogies and references, might somebody be up to the challenge? Nellis Air Force Base and the US Air Force Thunderbirds perhaps? The natural beauty of the Spring Mountains? God help us when we go to Texas in a month and everybody is suddenly incapable of constructing a sentence without a reference to the Dallas Cowboys or how everything is bigger there.
Don’t get me wrong; I’m not knocking Texas, Texans, Texas Motor Speedway, or the race that Eddie George and his team put on. Actually, I like everything that goes on surrounding the race there. I love the fact that every time you win something there you are presented with a new firearm to pose with. Maybe at Bristol the following week if you qualify on the pole, you receive the pride of Murfreesboro, Tennessee, a Barrett M82A1 .50 BMG rifle. Win Atlanta, you get a Glock from up the road in Smyrna, Georgia.
Sorry, I just don’t get Las Vegas and glorifying people throwing their money away, porn conventions or sitting in front of a slot machine like a zombie for four hours with three inches off ash dangling from an Ultra Light.
While Phoenix served as a bit of a wake up call from Daytona, Las Vegas will be the pallet cleanser that lets teams really know where they stand. The lack of off-season testing at “real” NASCAR tracks left a bit of a question mark as to how the cars would perform with their new noses and air dams, which are much stiffer and no longer feature the suspended splitter. With intermediate tracks comprising the lion’s share of the schedule, the 1.5-mile D-shaped oval, Sunday will answer a lot of questions as to who is a contender and who is a pretender for the 2011 season.
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