Yesterday, fumata bianca wafted from the NASCAR headquarters in Daytona Beach, Florida, indicating that this year’s Hall of Fame class had been selected. With six persons, en totem, assuming their spots in the hallowed halls, there was little in the way of suspense. Rick Hendrick. Richard Childress. Mark Martin. Raymond Parks. Benny Parsons. H. Clay Earles. All worthy enshrinees as ambassadors and pioneers of the sport.
The biggest problem with the Hall at this point, however, is the collective yawn that seems to accompany the announcement. Of course these people were going to get in, if not this year, then next. There’s little in the way of surprise here. Although it is worth commenting that Mark Martin is the first ‘modern’ driver to make his way into the Hall without a championship – though 40 wins and being a five-time runner-up in the championship looks like it was enough, plus all those Busch/Nationwide Series wins. The better question this column has about Martin is whether or not he had actually been retired for five years – seems like he raced just a couple years ago. Oh wait, Terry Labonte is already in, so that doesn’t matter.
Everyone on the list was sure to gain entry at some point, and that seems to be the reason for the decision not garnering much in the way of interest. The first few ceremonies should have been ten people each to clear out the list of essentials so that the Hall and its electors could move on to people where an actual debate might be held. The arguments for and against are what make the inductions of certain people interesting. That may mean that some years have only a couple entrants while others there is a logjam – and that’s a great thing to have.
The Hall is a great endeavor but it still hasn’t done anything to make a splash. It feels as though it has maintained a conservative status quo and that is setting a disappointing precedent. Will it change? Perhaps when things move to the modern era there could be quite a difference, but at this point, it’s not there yet.
All of this criticism, however, ignores the fact that Hendrick, Childress, Martin, Parks, Parson and Earles should be feted. Congrats to them for making their way in – Annuntio vobis gaudium magnum!
Let’s get happy.
Happiness Is…Best Day in Racing. The Daytona 500 may be the “Super Bowl” of the NASCAR calendar as winning the race brings with it a level of prestige and notoriety. On Sunday, however, one of the other jewel’s of the NASCAR schedule brings a close to the best day of racing of the calendar year.
Things get going with the Grand Prix of Monaco. Sure, there’s little in the way of passing and the race can be somewhat frustrating – but watching the drivers rip through the narrow streets and the tunnel sure do make for interesting watching. Having the scenic views of the area accompanied by a bunch of yachts in the harbor doesn’t hurt either. A few hours after the champagne is sipped congratulating the winner, the Indianapolis 500 goes green. Pardon: The 100th running of the Indianapolis 500. Think about that, 100th. History is a screwy thing, and the fact that the automobile has been in existence for roughly 130 years, shows how quickly the race came about and the permanence the race has.
To cap the day, or to chase down the customary milk celebration, NASCAR rips 600 miles off. In a foggy haze of 1,267 miles of racing, the 600 winner can fluctuate between an expected driver or a surprise. Did you remember that Casey Mears won this race not all that long ago? It doesn’t matter if you don’t. The day is a reason to celebrate all three series and the drivers that put their lives at risk to entertain us.
Happiness Is…Sponsorship. With the news that Matt Kenseth will now be seeking sponsorship after Dollar General announced they’d be leaving his ride, there has to be a collective shudder going through the garage. How many times do organizations like Joe Gibbs Racing, Hendrick Motorsports, Penske, and the like, have to keep piecing things together to make the dollars work? If the mega-teams seem like they keep using duct tape to fill out the year, there seems to be a problem – nevermind that it feels that it’s increasingly difficult to follow one driver by knowing a paint scheme.
Then it seems like a bit of a surprise for Fastenal to be re-upping with Roush-Fenway Racing and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. Sure, there may be a big dollar difference between dealing with Gibbs and sponsoring Kenseth versus suring up things for Stenhouse, but there’s also a reason for optimism. Fastenal may believe that they’re latching onto a driver who is on the rise and is getting him on the cheap – win, win. Now only if Stenhouse could go out and get that first win.
Happiness Is…Close. Over the past couple weeks, Kyle Larson has shown all the talent that got him his Cup ride. At Dover he battled Matt Kenseth to a thrilling finish, taking second while holding off Chase Elliott. At the All-Star shenanigans, Larson continued his ways, leading laps but ultimately driving so hard that he ran into the wall and ended his day. Since he began his Cup drive there has been a strong sense of belief that Larson will be a breakout driver.
At this point, Larson has to be feeling almost nothing but frustration. Even though he drives for a lesser-funded team in Chip Ganassi Racing, he’s still got Hendrick power under the hood. All of these near wins has got to be taking a toll on the young driver and one has to wonder what it may be doing to his psyche. The one thing to embrace, however, is that he is at least getting to the front, something many drivers are unable to say. So perhaps the time really is coming. Perhaps. Nothing like a 600 mile race with all kinds of varying strategy to afford him another shot at his first trophy.
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