As usual, everything is wrong with the sport of NASCAR. The best race of this past weekend happened at Iowa on Saturday night at a time when no one was watching. The truck race got besieged by the Cuppers, with Kyle Busch stealing another win from the little guys. And the headline of the weekend, the Cup race at Pocono, was a tale of two races, with the first half a consummate mess while the second half became one of those spited things in racing – a contest of who could save the most fuel.
That’s just the action that everyone had the opportunity to watch. The behind-the-scenes drama seems to be the place where things are really happening. Let’s touch upon two things.
NASCAR is playing a game with modifying the cars to bring the packs closer together and to encourage passing. So far, one of these experiments, at Kentucky, seemed to sort of work while the other, at Indianapolis, came off like a dud. The big story that gets disseminated is that at Kentucky the cars featured a shorter spoiler and splitter (still one of the more silly NASCAR designs) and that these changes lowered the downforce. For Indy, the cars ran with a higher downforce and drag package thanks to a seven-story tall spoiler with a wicker that brought drag. Not only did the spoiler look meh, but it hearkened back thoughts of the wing from the much beloved Car Of Tomorrow.
The main story for both tracks was that the governing body was at least acknowledging the fans and recognized that they needed to do something about the racing. That’s a good thing. The bad thing is the costs that are associated with making such moves – something that NASCAR hasn’t seemed willing to fund.
While the obvious aspect could be found in the extra test sessions and the higher number of team personnel crunching data, well, at least at Indy, there’s a forgotten component to this mess: the engine.
Though the cars may have to all fit certain templates and the engines have to conform on their own, the maestros behind these engines have to try to figure out how best to make them perform, and this formula changes from track to track. Doug Yates, who supplies to Penske, Roush and Petty, has noted that his organization is already $3 million over budget for the year owing to these changes. If you have a second, give Lee Spencer’s article a read, it goes into detail on how the engine builders are working with these changes and what it takes to succeed.
While the engine tuners are doing their best to make sense of things, it is even more difficult to determine just what Rob Kauffman is up to. As the money man at Michael Waltrip Racing, he seems to be moving in a new direction toward a possible merger with Chip Ganassi (which would add one or two more cars to the Hendrick engine juggernaut) while at the same time playing games with the Race Team Alliance. At the heart of things is money, but after that it seems that Kauffman may actually care about performance.
Kauffman may yet to have announced his intentions but maybe he might become a nuisance to everyone’s favorite person, Brian France, in a way that none of the current big-name owners have done. Maybe that would lower some costs.
Let’s get on with it.
Happiness Is… KyBu. The younger of the Busch brothers, seemed to own the month of July. His three wins not only kept his name in the headlines, put him in a position to make the Chase, but also catapulted him up through the overall standings. At this point it’s a foregone conclusion that he’ll be in the playoffs, because with five races to go, Busch is not racing the likes of Jimmie Johnson, Kevin Harvick or Joey Logano, but really is racing David Gilliland, Cole Whitt and Justin Allgaier. To think that he shouldn’t be able to outrun them is abusrd.
The fun thing about KyBu is all the vitriol he inspires. Whether you like him or hate him (and there seems to be a lot of people in the latter group), Busch is good for the sport. He’s not some cardboard cut-out speaking like a factory drone. In fact, some of the things he does are not really all that different than the crap that drivers like Brad Keselowski or Harvick do or have done, he just may do it in his own neon-colored way.
Happiness Is… Hamilton. Lewis Hamilton may or may not be dating Rihanna; this after he dated Nicole Scherzinger of the Pussycat Dolls for quite a while. That’s a fun way to remark that Hamilton earns a lot of attention from the British press and others and his love life is always something of scrutiny. With Formula 1 enjoying its three-week mandatory break, the double world champion recently gave an interesting interview that had a particular caveat of note.
Seems that the Brit is interested in giving NASCAR a shot at some point. Awesome! We can only hope that it plays out like Talladega Nights, with another round of pinkies-out snobbishness versus ham-handed brashness. Of course, it’s not likely to happen, as Hamilton is signed for another couple years, and really, open-wheel drivers haven’t taken too well to NASCAR in recent history. But hey, just like having Fernando Alonso race in the Indy 500, we can all enjoy another dream sequence of Hamilton trying to whip a NASCAR ride around one of the road courses.
Happiness Is… Safety. Jeb Burton and Kasey Kahne may not have been happy with themselves but they should be thanking the advances in safety that allowed them both to walk away from their wrecks. As for pit road, the wall did its job and that’s what matters. All in all, not bad.
But then there’s Keselowski popping two of his crew and sending the tire out of the pits as a result. Pit road is a dangerous place, no doubt, and it’s a good thing everyone over the wall is mandated to wear helmets, but Kes seems to need some pit coaching. Perhaps NASCAR might want to start having drivers serve drive-through penalties not just for equipment violations, but for nailing their crew members. Because right now, taking equipment out of the box brings a penalty but popping one of your team means nothing. Kind of a strange valuation system.
Happiness Is… the Glen. Welcome back road-course racing. Aside from the fact that the pitting sequence is flipped there won’t be a lot of NASCAR bringing anything different. No new car package or testing out something else. Driver skill will be a focus, and that’s a good thing to return to as it seems not to have gotten much attention over the past few weeks. Now if only fuel conservation doesn’t become a factor…