Another week, another sense that the sky is falling on NASCAR. The stands this past weekend showed a less than stellar crowd in attendance. Whether that can be credited to the threat of rain and overall gloomy weather, the popularity of football, or the fact that Dover is not what it once was, it doesn’t really matter. There seems to be a pervasive sense that things are not well.
Should the governing body have switched to the low-downforce rules package that had been tested twice this season? Well, yeah, it seems that way. One of the things that made the race at Dover problematic was that it turned into a high speed parade, and that doesn’t make for dramatic entertainment – no matter how much Chase aspects influence the storyline.
The rules package has become the mitigating factor in much of NASCAR’s woes. In many ways, the sport used to be about the cars – who could design something faster than the other competitors. But in the need for races that didn’t have one driver running away with the trophy laps ahead of the field, rules kept getting added to close that margin. Now, the rulebook is so onerous that all the gains are made by a team of engineers looking for millimeters here and there.
In comparison, Formula 1 is happy to have some open areas. The nose of each car is something unique to each team, something not found in NASCAR. That just the start, as other aspects of the body are also open to engineering interpretation. As for the engine, that’s a whole different monster. The result of these freedoms is that sometimes a team nails it.
Mercedes has been perched atop the sport for the past two years, and before that Red Bull held the same position for four. Does it make for some boring races at times? Sure does. But it’s also interesting to see a team like Ferrari scrap to keep up and make inroads in doing so. For another storied team like McLaren, watching its attempted resurrection is a drama in and of itself.
So the question that ties things together is this: Have the rules in NASCAR actually backfired? Would the sport be better off seeing mechanical geniuses like Chad Knaus, Ray Evernham, Cole Pearn, Paul Wolfe, Rodney Childers and the like having more freedom rather than being strangled?
Happiness Is… R.A.S. That’s the acronym of the week and it’s possible it’s not even a real one, but for now, it works. Rear Axle Seal. Estimated cost: $5. Having Jimmie Johnson knocked out of the Chase in the first round: Ostensibly priceless. Here are actual texts from my brother:
Knock knock. Who’s there? Chase. Chase who? No Chase for you, Jimmie!
I look into my crystal ball… and I see the future… I see… a winner… he’s celebrating… and he’s not Johnson. The future is bright!
No. 48 Team meeting: Chad Knaus: “OK guys, we’re racing for fifth.” Hahahaha
Johnson: “Chad, can we go out for ice cream?” Knaus: “No Jimmie, ice cream is for winners.”
There are a whole bunch more and this has been going on all week. At this point he could do a full HBO comedy special with nothing but Johnson and Knaus jokes. Surely he’s not alone in being elated at the fact that Mr. Six-Time will not be progressing toward Homestead with another championship there for the taking.
If re-doing the Chase meant to make it more difficult for the No. 48 team to keep accumulating championships, then it looks like the plan has worked. Johnson got knocked out last year before homestead and this year didn’t make it out of the first round. And this year it all came down to the R.A.S., a failure that must be driving Knaus crazy. As for the rest of us, the Chase just got that much more interesting.
Happiness Is… Regulars. Someone should make a film called The Regulars. They’re the drivers heading to the tracks each week who help keep the sport afloat by consistently running, sometimes earning a solid finish, but rarely winning. Owing to various monetary aspects, the big Cup meanies keep dropping in and drinking their milkshakes. This past weekend brought a change to what has seemingly become a normal story. It’s hard to compare the Truck and Xfinity races.
For John Wes Townley, his win at Las Vegas serves as his breakthrough moment. Better known for crashing at almost every track he’s ever raced, Townley finally did what he should have done a while ago. A clean, smooth race coupled with some smart decisions from his team got him in the front and from there he held on to win. Consider that he had led just four laps in the past two seasons, and those at Talladega, and the win looks even better.
For Regan Smith, the win had a two-fold sense of importance. First, it helped keep him in contention for the NXS championship. He may still be a long shot, but he’s at least got a chance. The second notable aspect is that he beat both Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch, from that Gibbs juggernaut, to take the win. This part actually seems to be the most surprising point. Way to roll Townley and Smith.
Happiness Is… Sochi. The Russian Olympics have been over for a while now, but this weekend Sochi is a place of interest as it hosts the fourth Russian Grand Prix and the second consecutive at the track (it should be noted that the first two RGP were held in 1913 and 1914). Is Lewis Hamilton likely to just put himself further out in circling the F1 constellation? Probably. If Nico Rosberg has any chance to cut into Hamilton’s lead, he better get going. The race should also be interesting in determining what Ferrari has going forward. For other teams, do these final races become glorified test sessions? Oh, the intrigue.