NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Four Burning Questions: Stormy Days and Peer Sympathy

*Does Watkins Glen determine the Chase field?*

Up until the wild card shake-up that was Pocono Raceway, I was sure that the 12 that were in “as of now” would stay that way until the points were reset after Richmond. Jeff Gordon seemed too far gone to make it happen and no one else was competitive enough to beat Kyle Busch or Kasey Kahne.

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Jeff Gordon’s win at Pocono scrambled up the Chase picture, something that didn’t seem possible. It make Watkins Glen more of a question mark this week.

However, some bad luck on Busch’s part and a breakthrough victory for Gordon was all it took to change the Chase picture. Gordon is in, Busch is out and there needs to be yet another dramatic change for either of those two wild cards to swap positions either with each other or someone else.

Oh, and by the way, they’re racing at Watkins Glen this weekend. While Watkins Glen is no Talladega, it’s still a crapshoot in the sense that it brings a new element to the game. The twists and turns typically bring in some new players that you don’t normally see up front on a week-to-week basis and lately have replaced the short tracks as a source of temper tantrums and roughed up sheet metal. While, yes, _any_ track could have a significant impact on the Chase, the fact that so much changed last week before heading to a road course is reason enough to keep an eye on key players like Gordon, Kahne, and others.

*What should we expect from Dodge teams from here on out?*

If we’re being honest with each other, the official announcement that Dodge was leaving the sport came as no surprise. Heck, with Penske switching to Fords next season anyway, Dodge was already practically irrelevant.

How ironic would it be, however, for a Dodge team to end up winning a few more races before the year is out? The only realistic player in which that could happen is Brad Keselowski, barring some rain or fuel mileage races. While Keselowski isn’t known for his road racing prowess, stranger things have happened and he has some good tracks coming up.

Also, I think Keselowski is a great dark horse runner for this championship. Now wouldn’t _that_ be a water cooler conversation at Dodge?

On a related note, Dodge leaving the sport isn’t reason to panic. The other three manufacturers are going strong and have plenty of competition to go around. Even if Dodge flat-lines through the end of the season, it’s no big deal. If anything changes with Penske Racing next season—either positively or negatively—I highly doubt it will be due to the change in manufacturer. It’s just another cycle in the sport and I wouldn’t be surprised to see them return again down the road.

*How will the lightning strike deaths impact what happens from this weekend on out?*

A quick check of the forecast in Watkins Glen shows “scattered strong storms” are expected on Friday and chances of rain spread out throughout the weekend. A week after one fan was killed and several others injured following a lightning strike in Pocono, I can imagine that the folks at WGI are somewhat concerned about how to handle things in the event of a severe storm.

This goes beyond Watkins Glen, however. I would imagine that nearly every racetrack, if not all of them, took a lot at their own weather safety plans—if they had them at all—to squelch the possibility of a repeat.

With all due respect to the victims and their families, however, it’s a little bit of an overreaction. While every track (and NASCAR) should always do everything they can to make sure their spectators are kept safe, they can’t physically stop fans from walking out from under the grandstands while there is lightning in the sky. You can issue all the warnings and have every able-bodied employee of the track telling fans there is lightning in the area. When all is said and done, the fans themselves are responsible for whether or not they heed these warnings.

This comes from some personal experience. I’m a Kansas native, which is dead center in tornado alley. A few years ago, I was attending a Truck Series race at Kansas Speedway when a severe and tornadic thunderstorm worked its way through the area. There was a ton of lightning and rain, and the racetrack had an announcer over the loudspeakers keeping everyone updated. It didn’t stop several spectators from literally walking out from under the grandstands towards their cars when most of us were heading for the nearest shelter in the restrooms.

Lightning struck the ground relatively close to the track a couple of times, and again the track issued warnings. It didn’t matter. Once it was announced the race had been moved to the next day, fans continued to venture outside to their cars regardless of the dangerous storms. Keep in mind that many of these fans actually are from the area and are used to these dangerous storms, but they decided it wasn’t that big of a deal.

It would be no different anywhere else. The track and NASCAR can be absolutely emphatic to their fan base whenever lightning is within a 10-20 mile radius, but ultimately it is up to the fans to protect themselves. While I hope all goes well this weekend at Watkins Glen, if any of you are going, don’t be stupid. Keep yourself safe until the danger is past if there is any at all.

*Will Allmendinger lose respect among his peers now that the truth is out?*

Well this is at least what we know to be the truth based upon interviews Allmendinger has given. Long story short, he took a random pill that he shouldn’t have taken. In other words, all those “Just say no” campaigns fell upon deaf ears with Allmendinger.

Up until this point, competitors have been generally sympathetic (his own teammate Brad Keselowski notwithstanding). Most didn’t pretend to know what happened and expressed more concern with the drug testing process rather than a potential problem with Allmendinger.

Now that Allmendinger has admitted fault, it’s hard to say. Though some drivers have already given their take on Twitter, no doubt the ones who haven’t are surely going to be asked about it this weekend. My guess is the sympathy and the doubt have now disappeared, but will they echo the harsh words that Keselowski dished out a couple of weeks ago? Keep an ear out.

*Connect with Summer!*
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