So for a brief moment there, Kevin Harvick created a bit of a stir when he mentioned that he thought that the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series schedule was stagnant and one of the things holding the sport back. The reaction, from postings and chatter, was that Harvick was both spot on and an idiot. That seems like the typical reaction to just about anything these days. Like for example: Hey, do you want some free money? Response 1: Hell yes, gimme, gimme. Response 2: What the hell makes you think I need free money? Get outta my face.
Back to Harvick’s assertion. With fan numbers continuing to be in question, Harvick brought up one of the very things that could be a problem. For years the schedule has been comprised of, with some exception (North Wilkesboro, Hickory, Las Vegas, Chicagoland and Kansas) the same tracks. Though the annual schedule release is something that brings excitement, it tends to be followed by a yawn as little change is made.
For many sports, the schedule is something that changes drastically on a year-to-year basis. It’s one of the aspects that brings interest. But for team sports, the ones that tend to dominate the sporting landscape, there is also much more in the way of turnover, players, coaches and management. The sport of NASCAR racing doesn’t have that same rate of change. Look at the top drivers and the names all feel familiar, like they’ve been the same for the past 10 years (even if that might not be the case).
So the schedule becomes an easy target, and deservedly so. Harvick’s comments, however, go beyond the schedule and the focus should have been on the notion that there is something stagnant with regards to NASCAR. No one decided to debate that aspect and rather they chose to focus on the race dates. If a driver, an actual participant who is fortunate to drive one of these monstrous machines, is pointing toward something being stale, then there must be something. The question that’s left to answer is: if it’s not the schedule, what is it?
Happiness Is… The Return. It had to happen at some point, so it’s really no surprise, but with the release of goodies with his name and the 600 emblazoned on them, it looks like Kyle Busch will be back in the No. 18 by the end of the month. If his injury sustained at Daytona did anything, it reinforced the need for SAFER barriers everywhere around a track (somehow Jeff Gordon’s ability to hit every non-SAFER wall on the planet wasn’t enough). Almost as if to second the notion, Brad Smith crashed into the SAFER wall at Talladega in the ARCA race last weekend and merely broke his right ankle and sustained ligament damage in his left in a wreck that looked like it could have been catastrophic.
Busch’s return was a foregone conclusion at some point this season – though Happiness Is has suggested sitting out the whole year to recover fully. For fans of the sport, his appearance behind the wheel should be welcomed. For detractors… well, they were probably happy with him shopping for baby strollers with his pregnant wife. Regardless of which camp in which you might set your tent, it is still a good thing that a driver who endured his wreck will still be able to compete.
Happiness Is… Know-How. In another move that surprised exactly no one, NAPA will be accompanying Chase Elliott when he moves to the No. 24 in Cup next year. All parties could have announced this one in the middle of last year and still no one would have been surprised. With NAPA’s penchant for making silly commercials – signature dipstick, you know you’ve made it when you got one of those – get ready to see Elliott’s face more and more. Is Martin Truex Jr. happy or sad that he no longer has to be a part of that nuttiness?
Happiness Is… Nope. Edgar Guest penned the lines, “’Tis better to have tried in vain/Sincerely striving for a goal/Than to have lived upon the plain/An idle and a timid soul.” That’s a rather eloquent way of stating that in trying the species is at its best. So credit Richard Childress & Co. for continuing the good fight against NASCAR’s punishment panel in their effort to further reduce penalties related to bleeding the tires on Ryan Newman’s car at Fontana. The organization made its latest – and final – appeal and was rewarded with… exactly nothing.
That RCR had the initial penalties reduced came across as a bit of a favor, but to think that another appeal would further lessen the damage was a bit overly optimistic. Its efforts to do so supports its sense of innocence, but one might wonder if the team should have been putting more energy into making its cars run faster in a way that doesn’t bring about the NASCAR hammer.
Happiness Is… Rain. Looks like it will be one of those weekends when the DVR will have to work overtime. That also means lots of interviews with drivers and crew chiefs who get to inadvertently play the role of a weather forecaster. Both the Truck and Cup series races are set to deal with precipitation at Kansas going into this weekend. Will it be another scenario where the Cup race moves to the common Sunday start time? On Mother’s Day? In Indiana, the IndyCar Series is looking at much the same situation, with Saturday bringing a soaked track. At least the series won’t be battling the prospect of qualifying on Sunday as that is schedule for the following weekend. All of the scheduling matters little when compared to the fact that Kansas is facing the very potential for tornadoes. Do crew chiefs have a plan for that?