NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Happiness Is… Daytona

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Happiness Is… is a chance to offer a positive view on the world of auto racing. Criticizing the various series has become all too easy, so this column attempts to remind us of the reasons why we pay attention to these madhouses in the first place.

Happiness Is… Coming Back. During the offseason, we hopped up on enough Zoloft and Prozac to find happiness in the most desolate of places — even Michigan International Speedway. Aw, just kidding, you lovers of the Irish Hills. With the onset of the new racing season, it’s time to express all the pent-up giddiness that is begging to escape.

Happiness Is… Daytona. The past few 24 Hours of Daytona events have been excellent affairs that somehow, even after 24 hours, came down to the final laps — good stuff. If you’re a fan of GT racing, then you certainly enjoyed another such battle in 2014. But the race this year came off as a hodge-podge, with a number of wrecks messing with the overall flow. Eh, that happens.

The happiness, however, should be directed towards Memo Gidley and Matteo Malucelli who both survived a nasty crash. Malucelli got out in decent shape while Gidley suffered a fractured spine, a messed up elbow, and a broken leg. Though his recovery is expected to take a few months, he’s still with us; the other possibility is not the kind of specter one wants looming over the beginning of a season.

Happiness Is… Daytona, Again. Can we ditch calling the Daytona 500 the Super Bowl of racing? How come it’s not The Masters of racing or the Indianapolis 500 of racing? Daytona is an event that holds social capital, the one that gets drivers on talk shows and onto cereal boxes. Why can’t it just be its own thing? Comparing it to the Super Bowl is kind of funny because the numbers for that game were redonkulous, with close to 150 million watching it. I doubt that the 500 is going to draw that lofty number. There’s no disrespect in that.

This year’s iteration of the 500 is going to be a wild one; the slight changes to the cars should make driving the track just a little more “touchy.” Will there be wrecks? Do liberals and conservatives fight over just about every issue? Absolutely. If the Sprint Unlimited can come down to a race where half the field is left with still a third of the event to go, there’s no reason to believe the 500 won’t deal with some attrition. But the “long” offseason is over and it’s time to start enjoying some racing again.

Happiness Is… Daytona, Part Three: Camping World Truck Series Action. Hope you enjoy the Camping World Truck Series race Friday night, because you won’t see them in action again until March 28. Say what? It’s understandable that NASCAR wants to start the season with a big splash, getting all three series rolling at the same time, but the long layoff seems to be an example of how the Truck Series is mismanaged. Many fans consider it to be the best racing going, so to start the year and then effectively bury the trucks is problematic. Plus, after the March race, the drivers get a five-week layoff before racing again. What gives?

Well, that all doesn’t come across as happy. That’s the reason for appreciating the race even more — because from now until May 9, this series will have raced all of twice. Any longer and they would have missed the entire spring. The Truck Series should again be one to watch with its wily veterans, young hotshots and some who just haven’t let go of the steering wheel — even though maybe they should. All the more reason to soak in Friday night and remember it as best as you can.

Happiness Is… Winning Daytona. Sure, Jimmie Johnson will probably run away with the race, locking himself into the Chase — and it’s all part of Chad Knaus’ master plan so that they can spend the next 25 races goofing around and treating races as test sessions. Wait a minute, that’s an actual possibility? Strike that. Don’t even consider the thought, or that if it isn’t Johnson, that any of the other drivers from top-tier organizations might be able to do something similar.

But wait, that means to play Chase test the driver has to actually win. Happiness Is believes there’s been some misunderstanding about how hard drivers race and the malarkey making it seem like drivers don’t race hard enough. The top guys are all egomaniacal, cocksure glory hounds who want their names and pictures strewn all over the place –- and don’t tell Happiness Is that they aren’t. Even Mr. Low-Key Kenseth uses his façade of ennui to hide the competitor he really is. NASCAR didn’t need to change the points system because the drivers were stuck in third gear and looking for the next rest stop. The change does mean, however, that an early win puts you in amazing spot, and think of how that should factor into those final laps of the Daytona 500, for those few cars remaining. Should be good viewing.

Happiness Is… Daytona (One More Time!). Oh yeah, that’s right — there’s also some Nationwide race happening this weekend. The mix of drivers is the usual hopefuls and, of course, the moonlighting Cup drivers. Same as it ever was; thank you, David Byrne. For anyone who lacks interest in the Nationwide race, it’s fun to point out three things. No. 1, it’s still the start of the racing season: be happy that cars are on the track and you’re not at some quilting competition. No. 2, these cars are still going nearly 200 mph and we forget that at times. And No. 3, the mix of drivers means that something nutty is sure to happen, though we’ll hope it’s not as nutty as the end to last year’s opening Nationwide race that crushed the catchfence and injured over a dozen fans.

Happiness Is…The Other Guys. Some of my colleagues have this myopic view that the whole world revolves around NASCAR, and — more specifically — the Sprint Cup Series. Whatever. That’s just 43 dingbats going around in circles for all but two races of the season. What about IndyCar? Well, offseason testing has been going strong and the biggest story will be watching Juan Pablo Montoya’s return to open-wheel. How about those jolly souls across the pond? Ah, right, the Formula One brethren and the massive changes they’ve made to their cars. Right now, both Red Bull and Ferrari are on the slow side and there’s not too much time until the season gets going. That’s right: Happiness Is is an equal-opportunity jubilation disseminator.

Looking forward to another fun year!

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