It appears we are in the Summer of the Gas Pump. Nobody went anywhere over Memorial Day Weekend, as prices approaching $4 a gallon just seem to seal our wallets shut. And so we turned to more accessible forms of entertainment, instead of heading out to the beach, mountains, lake or what have you; we enjoyed weekends filled with cars going round in circles, friends over for a fire and BBQ and a little bit of liquid lubrication all come together. Not too bad.
Unless you are forced to watch four-hour marathons highlighted by green-flag pit stops and sightings of water bottles on the apron. Sunday’s STP 400, while it did present us with a winner not usually seen in victory lane (Brad Keselowski), was somewhat of just another day at the track. Been there. Done that.
But I’m not going to blame the ho-hum afternoon or lukewarm celebration at the end on the gas mileage. You’d think I might… but no. The Coca-Cola 600 and Saturday’s Nationwide STP 300 should have helped to banish any misgivings we might hold in our hearts about one of the more tepid ways to grab a trophy in NASCAR.
If you can tell me, honestly and truly, that you were not teetering on the edge of your couch in the closing laps of the Coca-Cola 600 as Dale Earnhardt Jr. appeared to be heading for his first checkered flag in like, forever, you need to have your pulse checked. Don’t care if you love him, hate him, or could care less, you couldn’t help but wiggle a little as yet another storied finish of the season was panning out. And then it didn’t.
Earnhardt slowed coming out of turn 3, and then Denny Hamlin slowed, too, leaving that black No. 29 (I do love that new paint job) to roar across the finish line, to the stunned amazement of all.
I kind of shook my head. That was one of those gas-mileage races and it was awesome.
Fast forward to another mile-and-a-half cookie cutter track located in Joliet, Ill. and we watched a fairly interesting battle — without all of the usual suspects shoving the Nationwide Series regulars into oblivion. Well, mostly.
It’s true, Carl Edwards was out front more often than we cared to admit. But the No. 2, piloted by series leader Elliott Sadler, snared some prime television coverage by keeping Cousin Carl in the rearview mirror. Other names like Trevor Bayne, Ryan Truex, Danica Patrick, Brian Scott and yes, even Morgan Shepherd were bandied about. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. looked to be reverting back to his old ways, early in the race… but no. His white No. 6 was bandaged up and sent back out.
Still, the afternoon waned and so did my patience. It was happening again. Another gas mileage test. Damn. I mean you couldn’t hope to duplicate the tension that came with Junior’s almost victory. Could you?
I watched the last lap with minimal interest. Edwards still held off a fairly determined Justin Allgaier. The half-second between them wasn’t vanishing.
And then the No. 60 car stopped. It just stopped! Right there in the middle of the turn, the red No. 31 cruised past the leader.
And then the No. 31 stopped!
If you didn’t watch the cars approaching from the rear at an alarming closing rate, you would’ve never known that the Backflip Specialist and L’il Gator were coasting to the finish! No power. No gas. They maintained the 10-car length distance between their bumpers to the checkered flag.
For the second time in two weeks, I was speechless, stunned and pleasantly surprised. It’s one of my favorite things about this sport. That fat lady gets a work out on a regular basis. You can leave the track 30 laps early and miss the entire race.
While a certain driver, who seems to remain at the center of every kind of controversy possible for a NASCAR personality, continues to distract our much abused attention spans with more wins, misbehavior, and general hullaballoo, he can’t take some very basic things away from NASCAR.
Only one thing holds true, no matter the series that’s pacing the track: First one to the checkers wins. How that happens is not dictated by the rulebook (at least to my knowledge… it is a closely held secret, after all, buried in a hermetically sealed mayonnaise jar behind Mike Helton’s house).
You might be the fastest, the only one with an engine that doesn’t detonate, or a set of tires that lasts just that bit longer. There might be a crew chief with a little something up his sleeve that Mr. Helton might want to know about… or you just might have a smidgeon more gas available to you in the closing laps.
Those were great races. I was thrilled to see Dale Jr. almost make it and ecstatic that Allgaier did. The sudden twists of fate reassured my badly bruised faith that it’s not always the same guy pulling into victory lane.
Next week comes the strange configuration of Pocono, and it’s ever quixotic events. You run out of gas in the Tunnel Turn, and your day is toast. Will it happen? There’s only one way of knowing. I’ll be cranking up the barbeque. How ‘bout you?
About the author
The Frontstretch Staff is made up of a group of talented men and women spread out all over the United States and Canada. Residing in 15 states throughout the country, plus Ontario, and widely ranging in age, the staff showcases a wide variety of diverse opinions that will keep you coming back for more week in and week out.
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