Race Weekend Central

Happiness Is… Comics, Geeks and a Prelude to a Big Weekend

The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season is 11 races old, nearly a third done already. So it’s worth mentioning that this stretch is the latest Jimmie Johnson has gone in a season without winning since, well, he invented the sport.

Where has the golden horseshoe gone? It’s hard to argue that it’s been lost, as Johnson still benefited from a timely caution at Kansas to launch him from the teens to a near-upset race winner. Johnson’s laps led total (527) is actually second-best on the circuit to Kevin Harvick. Still, something seems like it hasn’t gelled with the No. 48 bunch thus far.

He’s not the only former champion who is struggling. Apparently, whatever is afflicting Johnson is the same thing that’s got Matt Kenseth. Neither driver is having a terrible season, but neither is showing the speed to take home the trophy, either. Perhaps last year’s title fight between the two of them drained them mentally, physically, psychologically and spiritually. Or not; maybe the new rules package is something that’s still coming to them.

Matt Kenseth isn’t having a terrible season, but after the highs of last year, it’s hard not to be a little underwhelmed.
Matt Kenseth isn’t having a terrible season, but after the highs of last year, it’s hard not to be a little underwhelmed.

But then there’s that ornery other champion who seems a bit lost this year. Tony Stewart’s been all over the map; he’s got four top-10 finishes, but he’s also got five disasters in the 20s or worse. His year is the most perplexing of all.

With the new Chase format, however, all it takes is that one win. The likelihood is that all three drivers will have figured things out and make the playoffs, but right now, they’re making their seasons pretty interesting.

Happiness Is… Comics. Apparently, Stewart had it wrong when he compared the sport to wrestling a few years back. His assertion that NASCAR was fixing or manipulating the races is one that sticks with the sport, but he was relating it to the wrong idea. With Hendrick Motorsports signing a new pact with Warner Bros. and DC Comics (the rich get richer, eh?), they are asserting a new mode of thinking about things.

Instead of wrestling, the tie to superheroes brings a new element of good versus evil and a quest for world domination. The level of irony here will be fantastic as superhero-themed race cars are denied victories by the villainous organization known as NASCAR. Oh, right, but isn’t Hendrick the very same organization who, at times, seems to have taken over the sport? What the signing really shows is that the concept of sport and entertainment is nonexistent.

Happiness Is… Geeks. The sport is moving towards the future. This week, NASCARannounced that it would be switching to a technology-driven officiating system for the 2015 season by having automated pit road technology. Basically, pit road will be watched like the NSA does the rest of the country and NASCAR will dole out penalties from the footage it culls together.

Usually, NASCAR is ripe for some snide remarks whenever the concept of officiating comes up. But in this case, it’s a forward-thinking move that deserves some amount of respect. For the sanctioning body to move to adopt more technology is a good thing and the kind of thinking that should be incorporated elsewhere. With that being noted, it is NASCAR, so there’s bound to be a way to screw up something somewhere along the line — kind of like the sport did when it charged tracks for use of the Air Titan.

Happiness Is… the Prelude. This weekend is somewhat of an interesting one for auto racing. Both IndyCar and Formula 1 are off, probably sunning themselves while they drink martinis with models hanging about. For NASCAR, the Trucks get the spotlight on Friday night as they warm up Charlotte Motor Speedway for the All-Star Race the following night. The Nationwide Series will be making its visit to Iowa Speedway on Sunday.

But really, this weekend is the time to get some stuff done in anticipation of next weekend’s Super Sunday of racing. That’s right, 1,261.85 miles of racing will fill the slate next Sunday; all key events. For racing junkies, the Monaco-Indy-600 trifecta is like a happy present to signal the onset of the summer months. More Happiness Is on this one next week.

Happiness Is… Kurt Busch. Oh boy, bringing up his name again. Well, it’s deserved; Busch continues to rack up miles in the open-wheel cars at Indianapolis, and now, he’s starting to move up the time sheets, registering ninth in practice on May 15. For a driver with so little seat time in IndyCar, his efforts are notable. The statistics support the notion that Busch will likely endure a less-than-winning day, but it’d be wild if he did do something like earn a top 10 and then make the jump to Charlotte.

Happiness Is… Passing a Test. Sticking with IndyCar for another moment here. James Hinchcliffe suffered a concussion at the Grand Prix of Indianapolis last weekend. The coverage of the incident wasn’t very good, but reports came out stating that he was OK, just needed rest and all that stuff. The next issue that began to arise was how significant his injury may or may not be and whether he’d miss the 500.

Suddenly, Hinchcliffe proclaimed on Twitter Thursday, “Vacation over, back to work!” He was cleared to return to the track and all tests read normal. It’s great that he recovered and will be able to make the race. But will that actually change his horrid luck?

Coming back doesn’t automatically increase on-track performance. To further indicate what kind of season Hinchcliffe has endured: While E.J. Viso was shaking down Hinchtown’s car on Thursday, he blew the motor. No big deal; they usually swap out motors for Indy anyway, but it’s amazing the kind of luck he’s had.

Happiness Is… Not having to write about Mercedes kicking the crap out of everyone in F1. Enough said.

Happiness Is… New People. For those Roush Fenway Ford fans out there (all 19 of you), you have reason to be happy this week. With Penske supplanting RFR as the top Ford organization, there’s been a sense that something has needed to change.Happiness Is never wants to celebrate anyone losing a job, but RFR fired lead engineer Chip Bolin this week. It’s quite possible that Bolin is nothing more than a scapegoat, but the move does show the company’s aware it’s slipping behind and that changes must be made. Fans of the Blue Oval should be pleased. Of course,Happiness Is hopes Bolin is able to find work.

About the author

As a writer and editor, Ava anchors the Formula 1 coverage for the site, while working through many of its biggest columns. Ava earned a Masters in Sports Studies at UGA and a PhD in American Studies from UH-Mānoa. Her dissertation Chased Women, NASCAR Dads, and Southern Inhospitality: How NASCAR Exports The South is in the process of becoming a book.

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