NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Happiness Is… NASCAR Fans, FOX, Kasey Kahne, and Phoenix

The Daytona 500 has become a strange affair over the past few years. Rain delays. Pot hole issues. The famed jet dryer incident. And now, another rain delay.

The Frontstretch’s staff has debated whether or not the race was compelling — but hey, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. won! — and then the viewership numbers came in and indicated that “walkers” and “biters” are more popular than cars going around in a circle at 200 mph. (Note: The Walking Dead never uses the word zombies.) But hey, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. won!

A number of articles espoused how good it was that the guy in the No. 88 car, whatever his name is, won and how it would have a great impact for NASCAR and that everything would be better, and how the national debt would be fixed and how there would be peace in the Middle East. The reality is that Earnhardt, Jr.’s victory is a great story and one that gives the sport a little bonus exposure but not a whole lot more than that. There’s still another 35 races left on the schedule. The season may have started well, but there’s still a lot of laps to log.

Happiness Is… NASCAR Fans. It’s good to know that while the season has just begun, the fans are in top form already — that is, they’re already voicing their complaints with vitriol. The biggest target right now is also one of the easiest: FOX. The issue? The ticker. In its sagaciousness, FOX has switched away from the scroll across the top of the screen to a goofy new box format that looks like someone is trying to play virtual tic-tac-toe.

It’s one thing that FOX took away important information — like, you know, lap times — but it’s another that it also felt the need to take away space on the screen. This two-fold act of genius has been met with the requisite derision, but fans shouldn’t get their hopes up about any changes. Let’s face it: it took years for Digger to start slipping away, and there’s been no movement to take Darrell or Michael Waltrip off the broadcasts even though many beg for it. There’s been no comment as to why FOX got rid of showing lap times, but it probably has to do with something about keeping people in the dark.

Happiness Is… NASCAR Fans, Pt. 2. OK, this one may come across as mean, but that happens. “Happiness Is” often defends the sport to those non-fans out there who view it as nothing more than a bunch of fools driving around in circles. Any sport, however, can be reduced to silly platitudes. Here’s football: A bunch of guys clanging into one another while wearing plastic armament and trying to move a ball around. Or basketball: a bunch of guys dribbling a ball and trying to put it through a hoop. Making fun of a sport is easy!

The problem is that NASCAR often carries with it the stereotyped perception of its fan base. And here’s where the silliness sets in for this week: for as many NASCAR fans have taken to all forms of technology, it’s still amazing that so many of them thought that FOX’s re-broadcast of the 2013 Daytona 500 was a live event and that Jimmie Johnson had won. (And seriously, we all know that Johnson let Earnhardt, Jr. win this race just to show what a good guy he is.) So when fans are unable to distinguish between previously recorded and live, it plays into the whole backwater-hicks-that-can’t-read stereotype. Ugh, go figure.

Happiness Is… Kasey Kahne. Kasey Kahne is an interesting driver. He seems to have the talent to succeed — and do so on a regular basis — but he also seems to have a brain that just clicks off every now and then, almost like he has some sort of computer glitch. When he first came into the league and “Happiness Is” had an informal NASCAR pool with friends, we set up a special weekly bonus, which was picking the “Kasey Kahne Crash Lap.” The fact that he wrecked so much was a testament for having the bonus, though he’s been much more steady over the past couple seasons.

But alas, Kahne delivered one of the worst Daytona 500 performances among drivers, even though only one part was sort of his fault. Though he spun out coming off of pit road, it’s hard to blame him for overestimating the grip on the slick exit. So that one can sort of be placed on him. But then, he was caught up in two wrecks and he had nothing to do with them. It wasn’t bad enough that Kahne got out of the first wreck and his car was in relatively decent shape — nope, the second wreck had to finish the job and leave him with a 31st-place result. Kahne has to be hoping that the beginning of this season doesn’t mirror the one from last year.

Happiness Is… Leaving Daytona. Many writers will purport that once NASCAR reaches Phoenix this week, the real season begins. That’s right, what you watched last week was the imaginary season. (Har, har.) But Phoenix isn’t the best place to figure out who has the best stuff right now, either. The flat-track configuration only matches a couple others, say Richmond or maybe New Hampshire. And with its relatively new pavement and one-groove racing, it’s difficult to gauge much from the results.

The happiness for leaving Daytona and heading to Phoenix rests with the fact that we’re not likely to be watching as many cars nail the wall or sitting around in anticipation of the “Big One.” You know, it’s kind of more like actual racing — and if it’s actual racing, that means it’s probably time for Jimmie Johnson to win. (It’s too easy this week.) The group who is probably most looking forward to Phoenix is Stewart-Haas Racing; things have got to go better for them there than at Daytona, right?

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