For most of Sunday’s Cup event at Kansas, things were about par for the course. Matt Kenseth clearly had a dominant car, able to pass at will on a track where passing was at a minimum. We’ve all become accustomed to this sort of racing on the cookie-cutter mile-and-a-half tracks with the current aero package which is headed for the scrap heap next year. Unlike many recent races, things did come to a boil there at the end when Joey Logano began running down Kenseth in the waning laps. At long last Brian France got one of his coveted game 7 moments. Kenseth encountered some lapped traffic that broke his momentum and Logano pounced. Kenseth moved up half a lane to block his faster rival, Logano chose not to lift and… Katie bar the door, NASCAR finally had a race that would be mentioned in the first 20 minutes of SportsCenter. Given there wasn’t much else to talk about, this topic might already have been discussed to death. Your take on whether the incident should be blamed on Logano or Kenseth is probably based on which driver you like better or perhaps whether you prefer Ford to Toyota. Since your minds are already made up I won’t try to sway your opinion. But there are a few points I’d like to make anyway.
Back when I was a student at Villanova many, many years ago, one topic that came up in English Comp I struggled with was precision in writing. Obviously, I struggled with the concept given my “Stream of consciousness” (some wags might prefer “Stream of unconsciousness”) writing style which mimics my conversational style. I’ve had friends call long conversations with me being like being lost in a Halloween corn-maze when they had only asked what I’d been up to. But I still have enough brain synapses firing off occasional warning volleys that I’m confused by people claiming Logano “wrecked” Kenseth. If there was a wreck there I sure didn’t see it. Kenseth got his Camry sideways and did a masterful job catching it with smoke streaming off of the tires. The actual damage done to the No. 20 car could have been fixed with a quick rap of the lower palm and a little Dupont No. 7 rubbing compound. Kenseth never hit the wall or another car out on the track, so it’s hard to accurately call it a wreck. Other writers have said that Logano “spun” Kenseth. I didn’t see that either. Not to go Bill Clinton on ya’ll, but define spin. I’d put Kenseth’s trajectory at somewhere around 70 degrees off course. As I see it a “spin” is 360 degrees. I’ll debate whether a driver who got turned around 180 degrees spun, but I never saw Kenseth spin on Sunday.
I’m also amazed by some journalists (especially those highly trained TV types) who have all of a sudden developed the amazing ability to read the drivers’ minds. I haven’t seen such an amazing display of ESP since the last time I was in a seashore bar checking out young pretty women all of whom seemed to know exactly what I was thinking. Yep, some journalists climbed in Logano’s helmet and decided while wheeling a race car at 180 mph he decided “I must eliminate Kenseth now because I fear he’ll wrest the title from my grasp at Homestead if I let him advance to the next round.” Other journalists got inside Kenseth’s helmet and decided he made up his mind that he had to win that race or his slim title hopes were over. His “entire season” hung in the balance.
Perhaps more realistically as two professional and experienced race drivers, Kenseth was thinking “I’m leading this race and I’d sure like to win it” and Logano was thinking “There’s one car between me and the lead, there’s seven laps to go, I’ve got a tenth a tank of gas, it’s dark out and I’m wearing sunglasses. Hit it!” Or course that’s conjecture on my part. Perhaps Kenseth was thinking “If I win this thing I sure hope there’s a porta-potty between the track and Victory Lane. I have to pinch a loaf so bad my molars are brown” and Logano was thinking, “That Chinese takeout we had last night was great but I wish I’d tried the Moo Goo Gai Pan. I wonder if I radio my spotter right now if they’d deliver to my airplane before we take off.” Hopefully not, but you never know. Hopefully both drivers were just thinking about winning the race and letting their crew chiefs and team owners fuss over the points when Logano laid the chrome bumper to him. (“Chrome bumper” is a charming anachronism equivalent to calling your fridge an “ice box” or your computer monitor a “CRT.” There’s not enough chrome left on modern cars to redo the grille of a ’50s Caddy.)
Some fans (probably Logano and Ford fans) have taken the attitude that after being blocked twice, Logano, in his rightful wrath, smote Kenseth. Blocking is dirty pool! It’s against the rules, or if it ain’t it damn right ought to be. Trust me, you don’t want to go there. “No Blocking” rules have been part of other racing series, particularly the Indy cars and F1. They have rules that say a driver may make one move to block an opponent, but if that other driver changes tactics, the first driver may not change course again to prevent it. It’s a judgement call in which race official and commentators get to decide whose “corner” it was as if there was a deed to the real estate. The outcomes of races and even championships have been altered by those “balls and strikes” calls. The penalized driver invariably adopts the “3-year-old” defense; “Everybody does it! He did it first!” No thanks, I’d prefer not to give the boys in the towner another tool to manipulate race outcomes. Their track record is pretty clear to those of you paying attention.
But while we’re discussing rules changes it’s kind of hard to overlook that Kenseth’s momentum was broken when he came up on a pair of lapped cars. Thus teams and drivers that had no chance at a win once again helped decide a winner even if they didn’t crash with five laps left to go as usual. I’d like to see a rule where with 20 laps to go any car more than three laps down exited the track. With five laps to go any cars running two or more laps down would head to the garage and get out of the way. Call me suspicious, but it seems sometimes those laps down drivers actually slow up trying to get themselves in the same frame as the leaders in hopes of getting their sponsors some TV airtime, those much coveted moments with decals in clear and sharp focus. To expedite the process, NASCAR can simply decide that all finishers 35th and back get zero points.
You don’t have to be a journalist to spout nonsense opinions, it just gives you a wider audience to spout them at. I was thoroughly amused by one Twitter writer who said Kenseth had “cost himself” the championship by not yielding to Logano’s faster Ford and settling for second rather than 14th. The difference between first and 14th wasn’t 13 points. Had he chosen to settle for second (for the second event in a row after Saturday’s NXS race) Kenseth would be 22 points out of the lead, probably an insurmountable deficit to overcome in one race at Talladega. Had he won he’d have his golden ticket to the next round. We’re not talking about a single point lost here. Already in bad straits after a disastrous day at Dover, Kenseth put all his chips down and rolled the dice. That’s why casinos make so much money. (While we’re on that topic, does anyone else think there’s a geographical disparity in “the Hollywood Casino” being in Kansas? Or for a bunch of “Kansas City” being in Missouri for that matter?) Yep, it’s just to the west of someplace called the Cerner Continuous Campus. Some of my nieces and nephews have apparently adopted that Continuous Campus approach to avoid having to get a job.
What we’ll have to wait to see is if Kenseth does miss the cut after Talladega if he’ll go out of his way to make sure Logano doesn’t win the title either. The circuit heads to Martinsville the week after Talladega. Yep, one fatal flaw in the Chase system is the drivers and teams that get eliminated are still in the game. In the NFL, if a team cheap-shots the opposing team’s quarterback late to win, they don’t have to worry about payback the next weekend. If, in fact, Logano’s thought process involved removing a key-contender from championship contention (and I surely do hope that’s not the case), team orders are likely to intrude to further muddy the waters. “Well, if Kenseth can’t win the title Logano isn’t going to either. Or anyone in a Ford, or a Chevy, for that matter because we want a Toyota to win!” If I could crawl into someone’s brain and heard that, I’d be headed for the nearest exit.
TV or not TV… I’ll admit it. I don’t know how televisions work. The TV is just another appliance. If the fridge keeps my beer cold I’m satisfied. If the TV shows the programs I want to see I don’t need to know about photons and protons and pixels. Because they fascinate me, I know how cars and other motorized vehicles work. I know how to brew beer in case of a Zombie Apocalypse. But TVs? Better I not ask. It’s like planes. If you know what gets those massive things airborne you’d be less likely to board one. Like most toddlers, I once thought there were people living in the back of the TV ready to put on a show when summoned. I stole a few glances through the back of the thing hoping to see what they were up to. All I saw was a dizzying array of glass tubes glowing a pretty orangish color amidst a lot of heat and a strange ozoney smell. I don’t think they build TVs like that anymore. Better I not know.
Nor do I know how TV networks function. But even a Luddite like me is left scratching his head considering the calls NBC is making next Sunday. As you are doubtlessly aware, next weekend’s Cup race is at Talladega. The race will be broadcast on NBCSN (and if there were people living in the back of the TV, the NBCSN folks would live in the ghetto on the wrong side of the tracks) starting at 2:30 p.m. ET. Oh, there’s hours of pre-race programming available prior to the race if you can stomach that sort of crap and fluff. I find myself better informed and entertained reading old Kurt Vonnegut novels until the green flag drops. How does this driver feel about his chances of winning the race? Well, I reckon like every other driver he feels he’s got a good shot at it. Who do the experts think might win? They’re throwing darts at a dartboard. They’ll find out like the rest of us once the racing commences.
Meanwhile over on the mothership, NBC proper, the programming geniuses have decided to show…. well auto-racing. Not only that, they’ve decided to kick off the race at… ummm… 2:30 ET. Now how can that be a good idea? The number of folks who routinely watch auto racing is a pie of ever decreasing size. Why compete against yourself for their attention?
Watching F1 races is a busman’s holiday for me. I generally miss most of them because they’re on at unholy early hours on Sunday morning. And to be truthfu,l F1 in recent memory has been boring. Whoever gains the lead going into the first corner typically goes on and wins the race. You’ll see more passes made at the Oakville Senior Center’s Halloween brunch blowout. Yet, I am assured while Grand Prix racing (F1 cars, not sporting luxury Pontiacs) is the most widely watched form of auto racing in the world, easily eclipsing NASCAR racing. F1 is said to be hugely popular in Europe, Asia, Africa and South America. Even a lot of Canucks and Mexicans can’t get enough of the stuff. That doesn’t surprise me. Those people can watch soccer. Anything has to be a thrill compared to soccer. A valid argument can be made that NASCAR racing has become almost as boring as F1 racing, but that hasn’t enticed to the foreigners to start watching. It’s just provided those of us here in the U.S. with ever increasing chances not to watch soccer.
One of the reasons the powers that be think U.S. fans don’t watch F1 is that there haven’t been any US based teams or drivers for a long while. That changes next year when Gene Haas begins his F1 team. If funding a NASCAR team is like burning cash in a barrel, funding an F1 team is like shoveling large denomination bills into a nuclear reactor. I don’t know if it’s still the case, but a British acquaintance of mine says the steering wheel in Grand Prix car costs more than a Cup engine. Again, I can’t vouch for that, though I did have a 1973 Grand Prix 455 winter-beater and it did have a really nice steering wheel. Apparently the execs at NBC are deciding to bet the bank on Haas’s team drawing American viewers to the sport, as they show most of the F1 races these days, though most are consigned to the NBCSN ghetto. I’m sure old Gene will beat the bushes until he finds a driver accused of beating up his girlfriend and a halfway decent looking but hapless female driver for his F1 team too.
This weekend’s Grand Prix is in the United States, or just across the border from the U.S. in Texas. That’s apparently why it got the bump to the big-league network. I’d planned to watch it (maybe I am a xenophobe?) but obviously now that’s an issue. I guess NBC is betting the bank on all of us watching one of the two races and DVRing the other, which is sort of like Kenseth thinking (and I don’t actually know what or if he was thinking) “Aw, I’ll just move up half a lane, I’m sure Joey will back off and give me a little room.” For the record, the spring Talladega race was the second-highest rated race of the season behind only the Daytona 500. Sunday’s Kansas race earned a 2.2 rating, about half of the Talladega event. The height of the preposterousness was when NBCSN was promoting the F1 race on the mothership during the NASCAR race though that event will be running at the same time. Maybe NBC felt the Kansas race wasn’t going to be very good and decided, “Boring? You think this is boring? We’ve got something even worse for you next week!” Having found they’ve bought a pair of pigs in a poke with NASCAR and F1 maybe they’ve just decided “aw… what the Hell”. Check your local listings!
Say what now? Something bizarre happened in Daytona Beach this weekend. No, Brian France didn’t drive his Lexus home drunk as concerned citizens called 911 to report a reckless driver again (at least not that I know of). As part of the city’s Biketoberfest (a hopeful attempt to replicate the traditional Bike Week in February) a series of motorcycle races were staged at the track. During the seven-lap Superbike race things got a little crazy at the end. While it’s not much a factor in stock cars anymore, drafting is a big part of the strategy for the motorcycles at Daytona. Three bikes that had dominated the race slowed down enough fighting over who would be last that three more bikes caught them. A wild six-wide scramble for the checkers ensued.
Scott Stall (awkward name for a racer, huh?) took the checkered flag. At that point he rode his bike to victory lane and told race officials his bike was illegal. The tires and rims didn’t meet the rules. Stall and his team had only planned to use the race as a test run to get ready for next year’s Daytona 200. They hadn’t planned to win. Yep, let’s visit the inner-thoughts of a racer again. Obviously Stall should have been thinking, “I can’t win this race. We’re going to get blown out of the water in post-race tech and suffer untold amounts of humiliation!” But it would appear with a race on the line, he wasn’t thinking of future implications. His racer’s instincts took over, he saw a shot at the win and he took it. The second-place finisher, also on a Yamaha, was promoted to victor once Stall admitted his bike was illegal. (Compare and contrast that to how many times NASCAR race winners fail post-race tech but get to keep the win anyway.)
Why would anyone just ‘fess up to cheating rather than hoping the inspectors missed the rules infractions after the race? Well, perhaps it’s because of an arcane principle called “honor.” And almost assuredly it’s because the money racers get paid for these Superbike races is pocket change compared to the numbers in NASCAR. It’s sad but true. There is no form of motor racing so good that a massive influx of money won’t eventually destroy it.
I don’t know what was laying on the track that bought out that one caution flag in Saturday’s Xfinity Series race was, but I know what it looked like to me. For you more, ahem, mature, readers of mine doubtless you’ll recall the good old days of 8-Track tapes rather than cassettes and CDs. Invariably those 8-track tapes (even your favorites by Three Dog Night and the Lovin’ Spoonful) would jam up and become unwound in the player. Sometimes you could save them by unscrewing the two halves, carefully winding the tape back up and making repairs with scotch tape at the break. Invariably though, they’d jam up again and out of frustration you’d toss them out the passenger side window. Those tapes would lay on the roadside for months, brown ribbons dancing in the wind like wraiths until the snowplows got them in the winter. Maybe the debris was something else, but that’s what it looked like to me.
And speaking of throwing things out the window, Matt Crafton apparently smoked a bullet after getting caught on camera preparing to throw a piece of rollbar padding out the window to draw a caution flag at Las Vegas the last time the trucks raced. Perhaps NASCAR was just being fair. After all they throw unnecessary cautions all the time.