This version of the column is a little different this week, as I was fortunate enough to attend Sunday’s Sprint Cup race at Martinsville as a fan. So here goes.
Burnouts (On Fire)
Yes, for once, let’s give the winner of Sunday’s race, Denny Hamlin, some kudos for his post-race burnout. Sure, you can watch it at home on TV and it looks kind of cool, but when you get to see it in person it’s just a reminder that it’s probably the coolest traditional victory celebration in sports. And this time, Hamlin, since he was on a half-mile track, did his burnout in turns 3 and 4 and then all the way down the frontstretch. And he almost wrecked his car in turns 1 and 2, sliding down and clipping the grass. And finally, Hamlin literally burned the rear tires off his No. 11 Toyota during the burnouts. It’s not to say that athletes in other sports haven’t done cool things, like give away jerseys or bats after games, but the burnout that occurs every week after a NASCAR win, you just can’t beat it, especially if you’re at the race to watch it.
The live experience of attending any sporting event can be fun, but it also allows you to pick up on nuances that are simply impossible to see on TV. That is especially true for short-track racing in NASCAR. You visibly can see which cars have better acceleration or grip when coming out of a corner and you know they are going to be good all day. Hamlin, after leading early in Sunday’s race, had to go to the back of the field because of a tire getting loose and rolling out of his box during a pit stop. But to be able to watch him gradually work his way up to the front again, that just can’t be duplicated through TV. You know he’s coming to the front long before it catches the attention of the TV announcers. And finally, even if you’ve got the best sound system in the world when the TV does its “Crank It Up “ segment, you just can’t feel the power of so many cars running so fast and so close together unless you are at the track. It’s like the power comes right up off the track up through the stands, through your feet and up into your body. Those of you who have been to races know what I mean. So, if there is any way you can get to a race, especially if you’ve never been to one, I would highly recommend it.
Tire Rubs (Warm)
For years and years I had heard about the famous Martinsville hot dog. First, it’s true the price is right at $2. Most professional and major college sporting events charge at least double that for a hot dog. The fact I could buy food for two at Martinsville for $15 total was quite remarkable and appreciated for sure. But throwing out the cost factor, the hot dog itself was just OK. Would you rather pay $4 or $5 for a bigger hot dog or not? That comes down to personal preference. I’m just saying while the one I had Sunday at Martinsville was good, it wasn’t so good that I had to go back and get another. But if I get another chance to go back to Martinsville and watch a race, you can bet I will do it.
One other thing became apparent on Sunday, that maybe you could only realize when you watch the race live: I don’t care what Kyle Petty says, Danica Patrick is a legitimate racecar driver. She finished seventh after being a lap down. And she did it by passing several cars along the way with no tricky gambles in the last 50 laps to gain track position. Also, in her pre-race radio conversation with her crew chief and team, Patrick almost foretold her race, saying even if she gets a lap down early, to not be discouraged, as she had finished 11th there before when that had happened. So, kudos to her for helping her team be mentally prepared. Finally, and this has happened in several races, Patrick has proven she is one of the best drivers out there at avoiding accidents. I’m not sure how she missed the spin directly in front of her Sunday, but she did. It’s not the first time she’s been able to do that either. She’s actually quite good at avoiding the mishaps in front of her.
In The Cooler (Cool)
This comes with sort of a double-meaning. Yes, it was cool, in a sense, to see Dale Earnhardt Jr. drive around much of the second half of the race in a car that resembled the hoodless modified stock cars that we all love. And it was also cool to know that there is part of Junior who enjoyed going out and trying to compete at least a little with a car that looked that way. The other part of is that Junior was involved in accident that caused the team to take the front bodywork off, which means he was running in the back of the pack as he finished 47 laps down in 36th place. That’s not the kind of cool that Junior wants to be associated with.
Parked In The Pits (Cold)
Just one thing here, which is not directly related to drivers. Probably partly due to the new pit-road enforcement system, the number of tires to roll out of the pit box and cause violations is already nearly at the same number after six races as it was last for all of last season. The number of wayward tires reached 20 Sunday, and there were 21 of those violations all of last year. There’s all kinds of things happening with the crew when the driver is in the pits. Maybe one thing NASCAR could do it soften its rule a bit here is only give a penalty if a tire clearly rolls away from a pit stall with the potential of it being hit by another car or interfering with an adjacent pit crew. If a tire is barely over the computerized line, but not actually out on pit lane where the cars come in or out, there should be a little leniency there.