Who… gets my shoutout of the race?
There need to be a pair of shoutouts this weekend! The Truck Series honor goes to Nelson Piquet Jr., who ran a solid race on Friday night for Kevin Harvick Inc. and finished second, making him the highest-finishing series regular on Friday. Piquet didn’t come by that finish easily, either. He had to pass truck standout Timothy Peters as well as four-time series champion and teammate Ron Hornaday Jr. in the final three laps to lay claim to the runner-up spot. If anybody was still wondering why KHI hired the former Formula 1 driver, the talent Piquet showed on Friday is why.
On the Nationwide side of the weekend, the honor goes to a CWTS driver, too. In just his eighth Nationwide Series start (and his first at Nashville), Austin Dillon came home a very respectable seventh. That’s four spots better than Dillon finished on Friday in the series where he’s currently a title contender, sitting seventh in driver points. The future at Richard Childress Racing is looking bright.
What… was THAT?
If I were in charge of such things, and I heard a driver and crew chief making a somewhat cryptic call to switch ignition boxes on the radio on the final restart of a race, I’d have inspectors all over that racecar like white on rice looking for traction control. It’s not unheard of for drivers to switch boxes during a race, as the rev limiter is often set differently in each box, allowing for higher rpm in certain situations. However the cryptic nature of the transmission (“What do you want to do here?” “Let’s go with 2” instead of, “Hey, dude, change ignition boxes to see if we can get some more power on the restart”) coupled with an unbelievable restart should have resulted in a bolt-by-bolt teardown in Concord. If that’s done and nothing is found, fine. But it sounded suspicious, especially coupled with a restart that so easily outstripped the king of restarts. Things that make you go “hmmmmm….”
Where… did the polesitter wind up?
On Friday night, the polesitter wound up in victory lane after out-jumping Hornaday on the final restart and riding off into the sunset while Hornaday battled with Piquet and Peters before settling for fourth in a race that far outshone that of the race winner. Who, incidentally was one half of the duo making the cryptic radio call noted above.
Saturday afternoon’s Nationwide Series polesitter didn’t fare quite as well, finishing fourth. He had a strong car all day, and if he didn’t win, he did beat every series regular in the field, losing out only to his Sprint Cup peers.
When… will I be loved?
There really wasn’t a clear-cut villain in either race this weekend, so I’m going to take a different track. Online voting for the Most Popular Driver award for the Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series doesn’t usually start until midsummer, but I’m wondering: will drivers ineligible for points in these series also be ineligible for this award? If fans can vote for the Cup drivers in either lower series, then NASCAR will once again be the villain for allowing the bullies to steal the little kids’ lunch money. If they leave those ineligible for points off the popularity ballots, then they deserve kudos for asking fans to think outside the Cup box and choose someone truly worthy.
Why… didn’t I mention a single Sprint Cup Driver by name in this column?
That’s an easy one. It’s because they already get too much credit from the rest of the media for their minor-league feats. I’m not going to spend this column glorifying unsportsmanlike conduct when I can use it to promote the drivers who don’t get to race on Sunday as well.
How… accurate is the argument that fans wouldn’t show up for Nationwide or truck races if the Cup interlopers weren’t there?
I’m not a market researcher, so I’m not going to tell you the secret formula for figuring this out. I can, however, share a story. I was traveling with a friend, also a longtime race fan, to western North Carolina early on Saturday for a day of shopping. The topic of the race came up, and I said to her, “you know, we could make the Nationwide race if we drove straight to Nashville,” We gave the idea some thought; we could be home by midnight or so and the weather was perfect.
But then my friend said, “You know, if I didn’t already know who was going to win, I’d do it. But the Cup drivers ruin the show for me. I don’t want to pay to watch a Nationwide race with those guys in it.” So, in the end, there were two people who didn’t buy a ticket precisely because the Cup guys were in the race. That’s in direct contradiction to NASCAR’s claim. It was just two people. But perhaps, just perhaps, there are more people like my friend and me out there, people that NASCAR is losing ticket sales to. We had a wonderful day at the Biltmore estate, incidentally. They make great wine and the gardens are beautiful this time of year…