Well, here it is again, that time of the year when winter doldrums set in allowing us all a moment of reflection and to… whatever. This column isn’t seeking to be any kind of philosophical rumination about life – at least not this time. Nope, this space is for thinking about hyper-colored automotive blurs, whizzing by at silly speeds with lunatics behind the wheel. It’s time to get back to racing.
The funny thing is that there’d already be the smell of Sunoco in the air had NASCAR not banned Daytona testing. But perhaps that was for the best, and that’s not a nod to all the super-teams who have the resources to run dynos, seven-post shakers and all kinds of computerized simulations to crunch the data they need. No, maybe the test ban was good for all of us because it added a little bit more time to the offseason, making racing’s return all the better.
Or perhaps it was a time to think about the past season and craft a whole vat of fresh vitriol to serve to the powers that be in this sport and those foolish enough to cover it. Happiness Is would like it served in a rocks glass, neat, with Kona Wailua Wheat to wash it down. Cheers.
Happiness Is… Jeff Gordon. So the dude’s had a good career. And he had a pretty good year in 2014. And etc. etc. etc. There are writers here that will be looking at Jeff Gordon’s final season and offering all kinds of thoughts throughout the year. Happiness Is will refrain from doing that this week, though at some point it will be addressed in some fashion.
Gordon’s retirement means that the links to the likes of Dale Earnhardt, Sr., Rusty Wallace, Ricky Rudd (and so on) will no longer exist but that’s OK, as this generation now sits as the evolutionary link from Gordon onward. Ch-ch-changes.
But you know who’s happy about Gordon’s retirement? The answer is not Brad Keselowski, Clint Bowyer or any of the walls without SAFER barriers that Gordon has somehow missed. The correct answer is NASCAR.
Gordon just saved the season whether he wins the Chase or not. He becomes an immediate sentimental favorite while also becoming NASCAR’s cash cow. Tracks will fill as fans look to see him there one last time, and the ratings should see a slight uptick as they tune in for final remembrances. Sure, his farewell tour is a one-season stopgap, but it works.
Happiness Is…Money. How many teams decided not to run in the Sprint Unlimited this Saturday night? It seemed that the last count showed four. That’s kind of discouraging, especially with each withdrawal indicating that they did not have sponsorship to run the race.
Another idea may be that these teams didn’t want to see a speedway car get destroyed knowing that there’s still practice (good for a wreck or two), the Duels (also good for a wreck or two) plus the actual Daytona 500. That means that over the course of a week, a team could blow through four cars and have nothing to show for it.
Maybe not racing isn’t such a bad idea for the smaller teams.
Happiness Is…Side skirts. Finally. It took NASCAR nearly the full offseason to take care of something that should have been done late last year. Teams had gotten far too adept at pulling out the side skirts on the car in attempts to improve downforce, making them look like they’d been in a wreck instead of battling for first. It seemed like it wouldn’t be too long until a team had pulled it out so far that it resembled a wing (and I’m not talking Buffalo Wild Wings). Chances are that Penske’s teams would have been the first, since it seemed like it was having a lot of fun playing with that sheet metal.
Well, the side skirts can be manipulated no more. Ignoring NASCAR’s traditionally slow approach to doing almost anything, their move was much needed. Now teams that mess with these side skirts will be brought back down pit road to readjust them accordingly; otherwise, officials will come down hard. As the teams have been warned, it’s unlikely that there will be flagrant violators, but will NASCAR’s new automated pit road technology policing system be able to catch a minute change?
Happiness Is… Technology. With NASCAR switching to its new pit road system that employs fewer officials, there has also been a slew of changes there. One that has stuck out is with regards to the lug nuts. The keen-eyed officials had become good at noticing who hadn’t fastened all five lug nuts properly. Now, it seems, nailing all five won’t matter as much.
That’s problematic on a couple of levels. First, isn’t one of modern NASCAR’s caveats to provide safe racing? It seems difficult to do if they’re not mandating a Step 1 book in the safety manual: checking all five are tightly bolted and preventing a potential loose wheel. Second, aren’t the crew chiefs salivating at another way to save time and get their cars back on track? The likes of Chad Knaus and Paul Wolfe probably tested new methods for banging out the pit stops faster with lug nut fastening changes. This idea may seem out there, but when does NASCAR just switch to a single lug nut, a la IndyCar and F1, and quit messing with this old-fashioned concept?
Happiness Is….Waiting. The NASCAR season begins in earnest next week, stealing the racing spotlight all for itself. Will the engine changes bring something different? The in-car track bar adjustments? New officiating? The Sprint Unlimited works as a pseudo-test session for those very things and should be interesting to watch unfold.
When March rolls around, the other motorsports goofballs will start up, too and then schedules really get rolling. Perhaps the biggest thing to watch over the course of this season in all motorsports – NHRA, INDYCAR, Formula 1 and NASCAR – is team finances. Either the sport has priced itself out of its own livelihood or someone needs to start thinking of funding in different ways.
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