With the Chase now set to begin (finally) this Sunday at Chicagoland Speedway, the focus can shift from who’s making the playoffs to who’s going to win the championship. The hype and hoopla surrounding this newer format of NASCAR’s postseason has been with us this entire season. In fact, it feels like it’s been all Chase all the time.
Clint Bowyer wheezed out at Richmond, failing to make the fun times, while also showing how off Toyota and Michael Waltrip Racing have been this year. For MWR, much of the focus has been on the organization losing its NAPA sponsorship, and its third car, while also living under a cloud that has hovered since the 2013 fall race at Richmond (it’s not Spingate – why does every scandal get a -gate attached to it? Ugh.)
One of the things that hasn’t really been mentioned that might be a bigger aspect of the demise of MWR was its loss of crew chief Rodney Childers. Sure, losing sponsor dollars hurts, but Childers seems to have been quite the asset. He did bring Brian Vickers a win last year, and now with Chevy/Hendrick power he’s got Kevin Harvick consistently running up front.
One team’s loss, another one’s gain, as it looks like Harvick will likely be a driver in the Fast Four at Homestead, provided that pit crew thing works.
Let’s get on with it.
Happiness Is…Change. Is it possible, that for all the speed he shows, that Kevin Harvick is just one of those guys that will never win a championship because his personality burns down people. Might he be like the Kevin Spacey character in the film Horrible Bosses, just a nightmare to work with/for? It’s not like he didn’t do the same thing while at Richard Childress Racing, continually berating his pit crew and creating a rift between he and Gil Martin.
But for all his douche-osity, Harvick is in a prime position to win his first championship. His talent has never been the issue, but his equipment has. Now with top-notch gear he’s good to go, except for the pit crew that he burned down over the course of the regular season. Hand it to whoever is pulling the strings at Stewart-Haas Racing, because switching the crew with that of Tony Stewart’s was a good move. Of course, should the new crew falter, all holy hell with probably break loose in the No. 4 pits.
Happiness Is…Being Invited. Marty Smith of ESPN wrote a preview piece on the Chase and compared it to the NCAA basketball tournament. Does that mean 65 cars should be invited to the race at Chicagoland? Just kidding.
What he intimates is that in NASCAR there is a divide much like in the tournament between small (read: underfunded) programs versus the juggernauts (read: rich). No surprise there, as there’s ostensibly been a tiered system in NASCAR for a while now, with Hendrick holding steady at the top.
The goal was to remark that drivers on the small teams, AJ Allmendinger and Aric Almirola, are just happy to be there. Ah, so that’s what NASCAR’s got going for it now, inviting people to the big show just to be friendly. The real upside for these drivers and teams is the exposure, even if they don’t make it out of the first round of the playoffs. That exposure leads to those all-important sponsor ducats. In every Chase group photo, there those drivers will be, probably beaming smiles more brightly than any of the others. If this kind of scenario helps to close the gap between the top and the middle even just a skoche, then maybe the new format of the Chase is a good thing.
Happiness Is…Lameness. One of the more intriguing teams in the Chase this go round is Carl Edwards. Edwards has all the talent to be there, and usually is, but this year is different. For starters, he somehow eked out two wins with an underperforming Roush-Fenway Racing Ford (heck, for that he should be under consideration for driver of the year). Those two wins are just as many as the underperforming Joe Gibbs Racing organization had as a whole, but that’s of little consequence.
Edwards is on his way out, which means he’s the familiar story of the lame-duck driver. The frequent narrative has been that a driver in his position will have a crew with less enthusiasm and the driver will place poorly in the final standings. But Kevin Harvick botched that scenario with his final Chase run with RCR. Edwards adds a different element as his crew chief is also in lame-duck status, set to end his career atop the box. That makes for a duo on a final hurrah go-round. Sure, they’ll both be professionals and business-like, but it’s also possible they might have a devil-may-care attitude and be willing to embrace chance. It’d be a refreshing change.
Happiness Is…Idiocy. So one of the stories surrounding the Richmond race last weekend was the fan who climbed the catchfence and then perched there. The moron was, of course, caught and later arrested, and his name eventually emerged and it turns out that it was his birthday and that he had likely had a few, etc. etc. etc. The easy comments focus on that lack of a thought process that would lead someone to do such an act, to how dangerous the situation was, to even how NASCAR and the track would handle the situation if he had fallen onto the track.
But here at Happiness Is, we’re going to take a different angle and ask, was the race at Richmond so boring that climbing the fence was the best way to liven up that guy’s night? The photos that were strewn about the ol’ Interwebnet all show a guy who is sitting with his back to the track. So he’s not even watching the race! Egads. Let that be all the incentive NASCAR needs to bring a tire that actually loses some performance over a run to the track next year, because apparently watching a single-file parade leads drunks to do some really stupid things.
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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