NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Five Points To Ponder: Keselowski Rivalries, Titans, And Short Track Success

ONE: WE’RE OFF TO A GOOD START

Six races down, 30 to go and it’s fair to say we’re off to an excellent start in 2014. Three of the races have been classics — the Daytona 500, last Sunday’s race at Martinsville and the previous week at Auto Club Speedway — while Las Vegas and Bristol were both very watchable, exciting events. So far, only Phoenix was a stinker — unless of course you’re a fan of Kevin Harvick.

We’ve also seen six different winners and six different pole sitters in six races, not to mention a win in the Great American Race for the most popular driver in the sport and a shift in mindset from 2014 winners so far given the new Chase qualification procedures this year.

Sunday’s race at Martinsville was yet another insert into the canon of thrilling races in 2014 at the Sprint Cup level.
Sunday’s race at Martinsville was yet another insert into the canon of thrilling races in 2014 at the Sprint Cup level.

Of course, there’s also the swift rise of Cup rookie Kyle Larson and a solid start to life in the famed number three car for fellow rookie Austin Dillon. Throw in a few rivalries like Bad Brad vs the Outlaw (more on that below) and Aric Almirola hilariously reaming out Brian Scott and it’s been an entertaining start to the 2014 season. Yes, we may have seen lower than expected TV ratings (although not that much lower) but the truth is NASCAR has been really fun to watch and part of me feels like I’ve not thought that for a while. Long may it continue.

TWO: BUILD MORE SHORT TRACKS

Another short track, another fabulous race.

There is a reason why Martinsville Speedway is a charter track for NASCAR and why it has remained on the schedule since the sixth race of the inaugural season: it falls, quite simply, under the old adage of it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

If the words “cookie cutter” were permanently removed from the NASCAR lexicon it would be a fine thing in my humble opinion, but sadly that isn’t going to happen: at least not any time soon. Once again, just as it nearly always does, the little paper clip that could put on a compelling, edge-of-the-seat type event, from the first-lap wreck to the epic late-race battle for the win and the grandfather clock between two champions, Kurt Busch and Jimmie Johnson.

It’s fair to say that not every race on the half-mile flat track has been a classic, but more often than not it doesn’t disappoint and Sunday was no exception. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: there isn’t much that ails NASCAR that can’t be fixed with a trip to the slowest, shortest and very often best track on the Sprint Cup slate.

THREE: THE OUTLAW VS BIG BAD BRAD

If there is one thing that always fuels NASCAR, it is a good driver rivalry. Nowadays, though, with the close proximity of the drivers in their multi-million dollar coach lots, the stringent demands of sponsors for drivers to toe the line and private jet sharing, rivalries tend to be few and far between. There was Denny Hamlin vs. Joey Logano for a while last season, but that essentially ended with Hamlin’s broken back at Auto Club Speedway.

This season, though, we might just be seeing the makings of a new conflict between Kurt Busch and Brad Keselowski — or then again, perhaps not. The 2012 champion said on Twitter today (Monday) that “we will both move on. That’s short track racing,” and in response to another question about the incident, “yes, I’m over it and moved on already.” But what else is he going to say on social media? He’s hardly going to tweet that he will wreck Busch the first chance he gets, is he?

Interestingly, just last week Keselowski wrote an excellent article on his long-standing (now over) rivalry with Carl Edwards. It’s a fascinating piece and well worth a look as it helps highlight the inside story behind what was a longtime feud. While both Busch and Keselowski will play it down with two such feisty and strong-minded characters involved, I wonder if this is the last we’ve seen of this particular contretemps.

FOUR: AIR TITAN 2.0 IS A GAME CHANGER

The weather has certainly hampered races this season — and in every past season since 1948, to be fair — with both the Daytona 500 and the Bristol race enduring long delays from torrential downpours. But help is at hand in the form of the Air Titan 2.0, a genuine gamechanger for NASCAR and fans throughout the country.

Back in 2012, NASCAR chairman Brian France tasked the Concord, N.C.-basedNASCAR Research and Development Center with developing a way to shorten rain delays. The result was the Air Titan, a system that dramatically improved the previous jet dryer method but wasn’t, in 2013, available at every track.

Mandated in 2014 at every event, the Air Titan’s 2.0 upgrade is anticipated to bring a 25-50 percent improvement in track-drying time. Not only will it be quicker, it will also consume 78 percent less fuel per hour and emit 80 percent less CO2 per hour.

“It’s faster, more agile and eco-friendly,” France said. “The new Air Titan creates the ultimate win-win-win for our sport, our fans and our environment.”

Now this might not, I’ll agree, be the most glamorous of topics considering the raft of changes in the sport this year but over the longer term the Air Titan 2.0 (and other future iterations) will be a huge benefit to the sport, the fans watching on TV and up in the stands.

FIVE: NEXT UP, TEXAS

Next up on the slate we head to the Lone Star State and the lightning-fast Texas Motor Speedway for race number seven of this nascent season. In the bigger picture, the speedway is an absolutely crucial track since it also plays host to the third last race of the season, race eight of the 10 race 2014 Chase. The mile-and-a-half quad oval will play host to its 27th Cup race this Sunday, a streak that stretches all the way back to 1996 when Jeff Burton won the inaugural event driving the No. 99 Exide Batteries car for Jack Roush. Incidentally the last place finisher that day was Darrell Waltrip, who was swept up in a massive first lap wreck.

Making a race day debut this weekend will be the world’s biggest HD TV screen known more colloquially as the “Big Hoss TV.” Measuring some 218 by 94.6 ft. (or 66.4 by 28.8 meters if you prefer) and weighing in at 108 tons, the Panasonic-made TV will be visible to every single fan in the grandstands. The screen covers a surface area equivalent to that of seven Olympic-size pools and you could fit two commercial airlines or 373 race cars on it if it were laid flat. Let’s hope the screen has action worth showing. I rather suspect, judging by the way things have gone this year, that will be the case.

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