Sometimes not a whole lot happens during a race. Sunday’s running of the Autism Speaks 400 was a fine example of such a Sunday pastime. For 400 laps we watched the usual cast of characters spin around in circles with a fairly expected outcome to the end of the day: Jimmie Johnson hoisting a trophy after burning up his tires on the frontstretch.
Still after spending four hours in front of your television, there had to be something happening of note, wasn’t there?
I’ve avoided commenting on Kyle Busch’s return to the Cup series weeks ahead of rumored original ETAs. However, there is no doubt in my mind that his presence in the car and at the Gibbs shop and garage has lit a fire in the organization. That No. 18, regardless of the paint job on its doors, is one hot machine with its customary pilot back in place. Meanwhile, the cameras seem to be picking up the No. 19 and No. 20 more often since the All-star race. You could say that it just took four months for the shop to get this year’s setup figured out, but there’s a fine example across the infield of another team that is running without a captain, and it shows.
While Greg BIffle does all he can to talk to the media and convince them that he’s working hard to bring the Roush cars up to speed, there is simply not the results on-track to make me believe in him. That has always been a problem as a fan with The Biff. He’s a nice guy! I know he could put me in the wall without blinking, but he just doesn’t have that special spark that turns heads when he walks in the room. His younger teammates are desperate for a leader—Trevor Bayne and Stenhouse Jr. lack experience and maturity when it comes to pushing the Champions of the Cup Series out of the way. Without a success story at the top of the organization, it’s going to be a long haul before the Cat in the Hat is going be the Top Cat again.
Meanwhile, new baby-daddy Kyle Busch is eager to scramble his way into the Chase. His excitement about getting behind the wheel immediately translates onto the track. The No. 18 in the playoffs? I think I’m a begrudging believer that it can be done. Cousin Carl and Kenseth have already grabbed their spots. What’s stopping Kyle? A crowded rush hour, but he knows how to take care of that.
However, Miles the Monster wasn’t ready to help Kyle, was he? Ah, you know despite Sunday’s relatively sedate competition at Dover, it is a great track to watch a race from the stands. It’s sort of like watching a Bristol on steroids. There’s not a terrible seat in the house—although the horse track does block the frontstretch if you’re in Turns 2 and 3. The ongoing construction in removing seating actually makes a lot of sense at the facility. Almost every track I’ve visited in the last four years has been doing something similar.
Obviously we are never going to return to the days of seating over 100k at a NASCAR race, except possibly at Daytona. One by one, sections of seats across the nation are being replaced by premium trackside parking for RV’s or even party patios. Both options provide upgrades for those of us who will be attending races for the foreseeable future. It’s actually reassuring to know that our sport is attempting to change with the tide, rather than decide their track is the Mecca of racing and needs no updates. Fabled Fenway Park in Boston benefitted from a little modernization even as die-hard baseball fans in the 90’s staunchly agreed it needed no improvements. Well, sell-out after sell-out in the new century says staying current pays off. Glad to see there will be new things to visit when I return to Dover.
And finally, ten whole freakin’ wins at Dover. We can complain that there are boring races, that it’s not fun to have the same guy win all the time, and then you can stop for a minute and realize that it takes some kind of combination of genius, talent and luck to rack up the kind of stats the No. 48 team does on a regular basis. We are living through racing history. Be in awe.
2006 Pocono 500
Jeff Gordon didn’t win. He did’t finish. He wrecked…hard. Since this impact, Gordon has done a dance with the media often denying his back was slowing him down, and then admitting that without constant physical therapy, there are days when getting up in the morning is difficult. This was not an injury that was immediately apparent, but it has undoubtedly altered how he approaches his career as a race car driver. Nobody who has been running this sport for most of his life drives uninjured. Further proof of the iron will a four-time champion possesses.
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