NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Happiness Is…Parc Ferme

This past weekend, Kyle Busch continued to show that he is one of the elite drivers of the series by knocking out a win at a track that has vexed him ever since the series began racing at Kansas Motor Speedway.  Busch now is two tracks away from holding Cup victories across the board.  That’s a rather remarkable feat.

Of course, in the aftermath of the win, Busch’s car was found to be light a lugnut and he now faces a race without his crew chief and his front-tire changer. What this infraction raises is the issue concerning race-winning cars and what happens to them after the race.  Sure, there’s a chance that the Joe Gibbs Racing crew may have figured out a way to play funny business with the lugnuts but there was another aspect that gained a modicum of attention after the checkered flag flew.

Busch, in his exuberance, proceeded to burn down his race-winning ride.  Many times it’s no big deal, but Busch showed an emphasis in practically turning his car to a hot unusable mess.  This ritual harkens back to other drivers busting up their cars in jubilation.  Remember Jimmie Johnson making sure to tag his No. 48 into the wall after some cryptic communique from Chad Knaus?

The celebratory aspects of a race win have become a ritual.  Cross the line first, do a lap, then do doughnuts to the heart’s content.  But is that really the best thing to do?  Sure, the spectacle of the celebration entertains the fans and provides wonderful images that highlight the conclusion of the event.  

Yet at the same time, having the winning driver mess about on the track creates a weird variable to the examination of the race-winning car.

In Formula 1, the winning driver brings his car to the paddock after a victory lap and slight celebration and parks it.  The area, known as parc ferme, is one where the stewards perform their scrutineering of the winning and podium vehicles.  The rules are rather tight and don’t allow for drivers to manipulate things much.  In fact, the most that drivers tend to do is drive through the built up marbles around the track to get them to adhere to the hot tires to give the car a slightly heavier weight when being measure.

In NASCAR, there are no such rules.  Perhaps it’s time for NASCAR to look at how they handle winning cars.  Seeing as how the organization is terrified by the prospect of ever taking a win away, having the driver bring the car home with little to no post-race damage might be a good thing. 

OK, let’s get happy.

2016 Kansas I CUP Jimmie Johnson II Nigel Kinrade NKP
Who, me? I’m Jimmie Johnson, all I’ve done is win. (Nigel Kinrade – NKP)

Happiness Is…KyBu.  Yep, he won this past weekend at Kansas.  Sure, there’s controversy surrounding his victory.  Heck, Busch won the championship last year and many people aren’t willing to accept that as a true measure of anything considering he did so after missing nine, or thirteen or thirty-five out of the thirty-six races of the year.  Basically, Busch is a lightning rod for criticism with some of it self-inflicted, some warranted, and some just schadenfreude.  

But you know what?  All Busch is doing is taking the mantle from Jimmie Johnson.  In fact, they’re starting to look like different sides of the same coin.  Johnson has endured his share of scrutiny with some cars that haven’t matched templates, with a crew chief who’s bent the rules, and by creating an antagonistic fan base by winning all the damn time.  

Kevin Harvick may have had his moment in the sun two seasons ago when he won the title, but this season looks like it’s shaping up to be one between Johnson and Busch.  They’ve both weathered all of this hoopla and criticism before, so it looks like they’re evenly matched.  Perhaps the joy is in discovering that there is someone out there that can finally tug on Superman’s cape.  

Happiness Is…Optimism.  Our Tom Bowles continues to try to sell high on the notion that Tony Stewart is going to make the chase.  His latest bit of fan gush can be found here.  With Stewart’s 12th-place finish at Kansas, he’s now just 59 points out of the magical 30th place spot in points that helps gain him entry to the play-offs.  That’s all fine and good.  But Stewart still has to win.  

Getting into the top 30 is one thing, but it’s the win that matters.  Since 2014, Stewart has exactly zero victories.  Going back one more year, Stewart has a grand total of one.  The statistical realism tied to Stewart indicates that he just isn’t likely to win to gain entry to the Chase.  But those hoping for a good story can still see the potential that Stewart may just steal that one win and help to write a little bit of a fairytale ending.  Nothing wrong with that for one of the sport’s better drivers.  

Happiness Is…Indy.  The new aero package in the Cup series is beginning to stratify the competition.  It looks like Gibbs and Hendrick have a good feel for it, while Penske is getting there and much of the rest of the field is playing catch up.  That just means that Jimmie Johnson is going to cruise to his 332nd win at Dover and everyone else will make for a pretty parade behind him.  Kidding.  There’s still a good chance some other driver will challenge him at the track even if it feels like that hasn’t been the case much over the past few years.

So if you’re looking for something a little different, be sure to tune in to the Grand Prix of Indianapolis this Saturday.  There aren’t a lot races on the schedule this year and Simon Pagenaud is tearing it up.  This race will be the third time the series has raced the Indy road course, with Pagenaud having one of the two victories.  Whether or not he can keep up his torrid pace is just one of the reasons to watch.  At the very least, tell the DVR to do its job.  

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