The Sprint Cup race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway turned out to be a rather decent one. One of the themes of the weekend, owing to the race’s locations, was the notion of gambling. Now’s not the time to go into the wacky world that is gambling but more to recognize the contextualization of the activity with the race.
In that regard, the announcers, drivers, and crew chiefs all had fun referencing the idea of taking chances, of going for it, and also going all in. None of these ideas are remarkable, and in many ways they shouldn’t stand out for any of these people.
It does raise the question of whether or not the drivers and crew chiefs are willing to take chances at other tracks. Are they playing it safe elsewhere? Is LVMS a track where they feel obliged to take risks that they might otherwise not take? And if that is the case, then what’s going on?
Sure, most of it is hype. And a look at the previous week when Jimmie Johnson won at Atlanta actually shows that Chad Knaus took the type of risk that one would expect at Vegas. But what seems to be the case is that there aren’t a lot of teams out there that have the capacity to think in terms of really going for a contrarian strategy.
For the No. 48 team, the risk isn’t as much in comparison to a team like Greg Biffle. Johnson and Co. feel they’ll win at some point anyway. But for Biffle, who’s been languishing, every solid finish is needed. Too bad, that Biffle suffered with a pit road penalty and finished 20th on the day. But Johnson can basically throw away races every now and then in the hopes of winning when perhaps he didn’t have the best car.
Now it’s on to Phoenix. Get ready for a lot of talk about the desert.
Happiness Is… Errors. Mistakes happen – sometimes through negligence, sometimes because of bad calculations, other times just because. The reason they happen is probably a list that no one would bother to write so there’s no reason to go looking for other aspects. At Las Vegas, Kurt Busch led the charge in what turned out to be a error-plagued event, mainly on pit road. Busch, the pole-sitter, botched his pit road speed and then ranted (as one might expect) about NASCAR and pit road limiters. That being noted, putting pit road limiter in cars, or even speedometers, might make for a safer pit road, but hey, whatever.
Busch rebounded to pull off a ninth-place finish. Not too bad. Brad Keselowski, however, popped for the same penalty, managed to rip back through the field and then eke by for the win. Not too shabbey. Other notables not adhering to the pit road speed were: Austin Dillon, Greg Biffle, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Kyle Larson, Regan Smith and AJ Allmendinger. Dillon (fifth), Stenhouse (12th), and Allmendinger (14th) turned what could have been disappointing days into solid ones.
Over the first three races penalties are trending up. There’s a few ways to see this aspect as a positive. First, if teams are getting penalties, then they’re definitely pushing the limits of the rules. Second, it means that the team members are showing how valuable they are, perhaps more now than ever – which means that maybe they’ll get a little more face time and we’ll get to know their names. A third way of looking at it is that it makes for interesting storylines. Watching the fast cars roar from the back, or not, is fascinating because it allows us to see not only how good or bad a car is but also the mentality of the driver.
Happiness Is… So Far, So Good. After two races using the 2016 aero package, it looks like it’s working out half decently. There’s been that thing called passing which hadn’t been seen for a couple years. There’s also been that thing called tire wear, or tire management. Can we call this set up a raving success? Not just yet. But it does feel like this one aspect of the sport is in a better spot than it has been in ages. Now only if we didn’t have to live through the first iteration of the Car of Tomorrow. Happiness here then is looking out the windshield and not the rear view mirror.
Happiness Is… IndyCar. Perhaps because IndyCar does not begin its season with its biggest race like NASCAR does, the opening comes in a quieter kind of way. That the two networks that cover the sport haven’t put out anything resembling a season preview does nothing to help raise awareness. With the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500 set for May, the lack of any media attention is rather, well, bizarre. That’s too bad, because this season looks like it should be a decent one.
While the season gets started on a course that doesn’t quite scream, “Wow!” – St. Pete has shown itself to be a good course, and one that has spots for passing (something that often seems a rarity on road/street courses). Of course, the season is also opening as most of the sports world will be focusing on college basketball and the impending March Madness, which means that it may get further forgotten. So while ABC/ESPN may be broadcasting the race on Sunday, if you look for highlights later, you may blink and miss them. Regardless, it’s good to have IndyCar joining the motorsports fray this weekend.
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