NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Happiness Is…Marketing, PR & the Weekend

Check Kyle Larson’s name off the list.  He is, depending on how you group drivers, the first of the latest generation of  take the checkered flag in the Cup series.  His win last Sunday at Michigan validated what everyone has seemingly said about him – that he’s got all the talent and that his break will come.  When fellow youngster Chase Elliott spun his tires, that time happened.  

Like Larson, Elliott will get his win, and likely soon.  There’s some funny things about Larson though.  He’s driving for a decent but not top-notch team in Chip Ganassi Racing.  Their cars have been pretty good but nothing spectacular.  And to use an F1 kind of marker, Larson does not always finish better than his teammate Jamie McMurray but he has frequently outpaced him.  That means that Larson is getting something from the car that McMurrary isn’t.

That seems to be the difference between Larson and the other young bucks, as he’s finding speed for an underfunded team.  A driver like Elliott has everything at is disposal at Hendrick Motorsports.  He has driven well but he’s still not quite there yet, and perhaps Larson’s extra couple of years help him there.  One could argue that Hendrick isn’t hitting their marks right now, and there’s truth to that, but it had been 99 races since Ganassi had reached victory circle.

Those things being noted, Elliott and Austin Dillon have still been closer to the front than the back of the field and they look to be growing into the Cup series.  That’s definitely a good sign.  The latest isn’t always the greatest, but right now this crop looks like it’s making good strides and should be a part of the series for years to come.  Even better, if some of these whipper-snapers are actually able to beat old fogeys like Jimmie Johnson, Matt Kenseth, and the like while they’re still around, all the better.  

Darlington
Darlington…one of the originals on the Cup schedule

Happiness Is…Marketing.  The good folks at Darlington have really figured out something over the past couple years.  The retro paint schemes that the cars will once again be sporting is another way to make its race unique.  For a race that at one point may have been shunted, then had to deal with scheduling around Mother’s Day, then had even that taken away from them, credit Darlington with finding a way not only to remain relevant but to make themselves one of the must-watch events just from the cars alone.  

There are a number of questions surrounding this aspect however.  One of the big ones is: how come no other tracks have figured out such a clever way to sell their race(s)?  Shouldn’t some of the tracks with attendance concerns also be establishing something that makes them unique or interesting?  (Looking at you, Dover.)  One other question that looms is how long Darlington can keep this going?  It seems like it might be a good idea to set up the idea like specific time periods for the retro cars.  Who doesn’t want to see a retro Mello Yello?!

Regardless of how things play out with this interesting element of entertainment, it is good to see tracks trying something different.  Humpy Wheeler, once the track president at Charlotte, used to be the king at promoting his races and he’d surely find solace at seeing what Darlington is doing.  Let’s get these types of things to spread.  

Happiness Is…PR.  One thing that NASCAR struggles with, among the many, is how they deal with race-winning cars that fail post-race inspection.  The mindset within the sport is not to take the win away from the driver but that the penalties can vary.  This week, IndyCar avoided the whole mess thanks to Graham Rahal winning the delayed race at Texas.  But just .008 seconds divided them from just such an issue, as James Hinchcliffe’s second-place car failed inspection and he took a 25-point penalty.  

The racing at Texas may not have been superb as Hinchcliffe stole the show but the finish was one of the best in a while.  Races on high-banked ovals can be a hit-or-miss prospect and it appeared that Hinch was going to lap the entire field should cautions not change things.  The cautions did change things, and all for the better, as the racing changed in intensity and drivers started making wild moves.  Those changes kept IndyCar from looking bad had Hinchcliffe won in a car that the announcers openly questioned during the race as to whether it would pass scrutiny after the race.  So all in all, things turned out just fine for IndyCar…for a race that started two months ago.  

Happiness Is…Weekend.  This weekend is a wonderful one, well, if you’re not battling hurricanes.  Oddly enough, however, there is no racing action this Friday night.  The fact that all the major touring series will be letting loose this weekend is peculiarly juxta posed against an open night.  In fact, even Saturday is light on actual competition, with just the XFINITI series getting things started at Darlington as three races remain until the inaugural Chase.  

Then there’s Sunday.  Or more like: SUNDAY! SUNDAY! SUNDAY!  It’s one of those full days.  A lovely day to close out summer in the northern hemisphere.  First there’s the Formula 1 Italian Grand Prix, where Mercedes and Red Bull will attempt to make Ferrari look silly in their own backyard.  Then there’s the Camping World Truck Series racing at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, and just a little while after that gets started IndyCar will join the fun by racing at Watkins Glen, the second to last race of the season.  And finally, after you’ve soaked in enough exhaust, tire klag, and bad commentary, there’ll be the Cup race at Darlington.  That’s a whole lot of motorsports and a fantastic reason for the DVR to exist.  Enjoy it all at your own peril.  

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