So the early off-week in the motorsports calendar has now passed and it’s time to get ready and energized for racing to resume. This weekend is another one that’s fun-filled and action-packed, or at least that’s how it’s supposed to be. But to play the game that Tom Bowles does every week, let’s hit upon a few things.
Did You Notice? That practically nothing happened during the off week and no one seemed to care? Comments were down not just here at Frontstretch World HQ but on other sites as well. Does that mean that fans were happy to get away for a week or that what little news was announced that no one seemed to care? One of NASCAR’s biggest problems has been its staying power of late (insert Extenz joke here) and this weekend illustrated that issue.
Did You Notice? That Danica Patrick continues to be a focal point in ways that drive fans nuts? First, it was the fact that she finished seventh at Martinsville and is now the woman driver with the most top 10s. It’s something fans didn’t see as spectacular, especially as it took Patrick more races to accomplish the feat than the previous record holder, Janet Guthrie.
Did You Notice? That Patrick sits way ahead of her boyfriend Ricky Stenhouse Jr.? That circumstance makes for compelling discussion, oddly enough. We all know Roush Fenway Racing is out to lunch, but is Stenhouse that bad, is Patrick actually improving, is it the car, the driver, or the crew chief? Is Stenhouse out of a job after this year? Which came first, the chicken or the egg? So many mysteries.
There are, however, reasons to be happy that there’ll be racing this weekend, and not just because it works as a way to avoid chores or to be some kind of fix.
Reason 1: The Masters. When you’ve had enough of the hype and hyperbole that surrounds a bunch of guys in slacks walking around hitting a small ball on beautifully manicured lawns, then racing looks pretty good.
Reason 2: There’s no conflicts in the racing schedules this weekend, making it easier to catch the races without taping them. Of course, using the DVR does allow for that most wonderful of things – skipping the commercials.
See, and that’s just getting started. Let’s get going.
Happiness Is… Texas. The Cup race at Texas will serve as a good litmus test to figure out what is going on with the new aero package and separate the chaff from the proverbial wheat. While Las Vegas is also of the cookie-cutter mile-and-a-half variety, the track near Dallas provides a better indication of what is and what is not working. Of course, a few here at Frontstretch would note that night races are a terrible way to gauge anything because the racing is not as good.
That’s exactly why this race is worthwhile. If the new package is as awful as it seems – because if its intent was to bring about passing, it has failed – then Texas will serve to showcase just how bad the racing can be with the leader out front with a ten second cushion and everyone else just messing around behind. But what if the racing turns out to be decent?
Happiness Is… Tony. Tony Stewart has been in a sour mood since the season began. His behaviour at Daytona when he got black flagged and had to hit the NASCAR scales set the tenor when he got all surly and began barking at officials. And his mood hasn’t improved since then. Some of the pundits thought that this attitude was merely ‘Tony being Tony’ and that it would translate to Stewart being more like his old self.
Instead, Stewart has struggled and does not look like the three-time champion that everyone is accustomed to. The new rules haven’t quite fit his style, and at one point he was heard griping that if he wanted to drive a car like this he’d do it on Saturdays – referencing how the cars are now more like the Xfinity Series. So this weekend becomes an interesting one for Stewart now that he had a week off. Will he actually return to form or might Terrible Tony go ballistic and show that things are that far off?
Happiness Is… New Track. The last new track added to the Cup Series was Kentucky, and in many ways that wasn’t exactly a new track as the other series had been using it for a while, so many drivers and fans were already well acquainted with it. New tracks are kind of a big deal because they bring the unknown. This weekend, IndyCar will be racing on what will a newly christened track just outside of New Orleans. While the series still struggles to gain back its audience, initiatives like this one show that it still has a chance. What it needs now is for the racing to be entertaining. The fast, flat road course should provide a capable environment for doing just that. And the race isn’t on against the Cup event for a change.
Happiness Is… Communism. The People’s Republic of China continues to sell itself as communist but really that’s not the case. The tentacles of capitalism have been reaching into that country for some time now and this weekend is another chance to see that spirit in action when Formula 1 hits the Shanghai International Circuit. Sebastian Vettel scored what was seemingly an improbable victory for Ferrari at the last race in Malaysia so watching how Mercedes responds will be the big story. Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg have already commented that they will be bringing the fight to Ferrari, which is good news for the sport, because from an overall competition standpoint, there needs to be something more going on up front. Hmm, seems a little bit like Cup racing.