The Great American Race, version 2015, is upon us. The offseason has finally given way to throttled-up engines and strapped-in drivers and it’s time to enjoy NASCAR’s biggest spectacle.
With Daytona’s surface in good shape and no Juan Pablo Montoya in the field, there’s a good chance that nothing wildly extravagant will happen on par with the track coming up or a jet dryer exploding.
Of course, no one anticipated either of those things happening either.
At the way things are happening, with qualifying and practices, there’s a good chance that half of the field will be lined up at the back of the field in backup cars to start the race. Don’t let the wordiness of the sentence fool you; it really shows how much of Speedweeks (now just a week and a half long) comes down to being fortunate. With Danica Patrick getting clipped in practice and taking out Michael Annett and Jeb Burton, it just adds to the growing list of cars already destroyed. But that’s part of the show, right?
That’s what it all comes down to, and this Sunday NASCAR will have the early stage all to themselves – won’t even have to worry about a Puppy Bowl-like event stealing viewers. (But they better get race finished early because Academy Awards coverage will get rolling.)
So here’s to the beginning of another season, one full of changes, ranging from the cars to drivers on new teams, to one saying farewell to the sport. A little bit of a fresh outlook never hurt with bringing the Happiness.
And we’re off.
Happiness Is… Listening. Qualifying for the Daytona 500 fell apart like bad Lego creation. The group format, introduced last year, had worked well at other tracks and turned something that was usually a bit snooze-inducing into something entertaining. But restrictor plate tracks are a whole different thing. Hm, that seems familiar. In fact, it’s so different that some fans question whether it is actually racing, something that was demonstrated in the qualifying debacle when cars attempted to draft to gain their speed advantage.
As teams tried to find ways to exploit the format at Daytona it fell apart. Clint Bowyer now turns to a back-up ride to race his way into the 500 and let his feelings be known on Twitter (apparently the source for everything these days) about how things transpired. Tony Stewart and Kevin Harvick chimed in, as did the fans. In a rare display, their seemed to be a united front disgusted by group format qualifying at the plate track.
Then the shocker: NASCAR made an announcement Wednesday that the format would be changed for the Truck and XFINITY qualifying sessions. This NASCAR is the same one who seems not to notice criticism. The same NASCAR that took the whole offseason to finally make a rule about the flaring of side skirts.
So for a change, NASCAR actually listened and did something right.
Happiness Is… Livery. That little series over in Europe – well, stationed in Europe but racing globally – made an interesting announcement this week. No, it’s not ditching the V6 engines that debuted last year. Instead, the governing body, the FIA, announced that drivers would not be able to change the designs on their helmets during the year. The one a driver starts with is the one a driver stays with. Take that, Sebastian Vettel.
The first thing that comes to mind is: Doesn’t the FIA have more important things to worry about than the paint jobs on helmets? Yes. But the move seems to be one that might have come from sponsorship pressure, the helmet being an identity marker and brand significant. Having just 19 races, ensuring brand exposure is consistent is an important thing. However, taking away the chance for the drivers to express themselves, like Jenson Button has by wearing a pink helmet in tribute to his father, is disheartening.
Pippa Mann offered a different take, insinuating that the helmet is akin to a coat of arms and is one that should be stable and defended. Not a bad take, though perhaps a bit medieval. In the NASCAR world, however, something like that is never to unfold – between different causes and sponsorship interests that seem to change weekly, it’d be impossible to pull off. Tale of two different corporate climates.
Happiness Is… Midseason Form. Usually the offseason works as a kind of reset button. Drivers have time to step away from the sport and let things go a bit. This time period works for columnists and fans alike and is supposed to bring with both an anticipation for the sport’s resumption in conjunction with an appreciation for its existence.
Whatever. Everyone is already acting like the season’s been going a while.
The best example of this behavior is watching Kevin Harvick and Joey Logano renew their beef with one another – because of a psuedo All-Star race! Sure, Harvick gets wound up easier than a greyhound that’s been pent up for a week but that doesn’t mean anything. The two drivers are already exchanging barbs and having at it, even if Harvick did look silly approaching Logano while still wearing his helmet after the Unlimited. But hey, the season hasn’t even begun and there’s already entertainment.
Add Harvick’s boss to the mix. Tony Stewart got his dander up by being black-flagged for not weighing in. So either Stewart really wanted to test out his car or he’s sensitive about his weight. Or perhaps, maybe Stewart just wanted a little extra publicity. No matter the reason, he looked like he’d already weather his Stewart-scowl into midseason form – whether or not it leads to better racing from him this season is yet to be known.
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