NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Happiness Is… Bonus, Charlotte & Engines

So that’s that.  The Chase field has been whittled to 12 in Cup while the Trucks and XFINITY series will be looking to do some pruning of their own in the upcoming weeks.  In Cup, no team had a worse Dover race than Chip Ganassi Racing.  The likelihood of having both of their drivers advance may have been slim, but there were better than 50-50 odds that at least would pull through to the next round of the Chase.

Instead, everything fell apart for both teams, and in wildly disparate manners.  First Kyle Larson found difficulty with a battery issue, then a pit road violation in the form of having too many crew members over the wall, and then, basically, things never got better.  For Jamie McMurray, the issue came in one grand moment as his engine detonated and he then parked his ride. It seems like ages since a Hendrick engine has blown up like the one at Dover.

What does it all mean?  Well, for Ganassi & Co., it means that we won’t see and hear from those two drivers for the rest of the season because they’ll just be a distraction to Chase coverage.  (Kidding… maybe.)  It also shows how a season can go wrong in just one race, and that’s what NASCAR has hoped for.

That’s not to say that NASCAR had hoped for the two Ganassi drivers to fall out of the Chase in unspectacular fashion, but rather that the governing body hopes that the Chase format brings these kinds of surprises and that unpredictability is still a major component in the sport.  Consider Jimmie Johnson’s part failure at Dover last year and how it wrecked a solid season.  

In the Chase, the win is the only guarantee, everything else is chance.  Points racing for some may, in theory, be a good idea, but all it takes is one bad pit stop or one bad part or one ‘wrong place wrong time’ incident and sayonara Chase.  “Which is the way he wants it, well, he gets it.”  

(Photo: Nigel Kinrade/NKP)
That’s Kyle Busch wondering what he may have gotten as the regular season champ this year (Photo: Nigel Kinrade/NKP)

Happiness Is… Bonus.  It’s only taken the governing body of NASCAR about forever to think about the driver who finishes atop the standings at the end of the regular season.  Finally, it’s looking into the idea of how to reward that driver.  This concept is one that should have been implemented from the get-go, both to incentivize the field but also to add another element to the Chase to make it more interesting.  

While feelings remain mixed regarding the efficacy and enjoyment of the Chase, the regular season champion has enjoyed no bonus or even special attention.  But this driver is one who is leading after 26 races, so he must be doing something right.  There have been different ideas thrown about as to what this driver should receive, a free pass to round 2 of the Chase, the first pit stall throughout, and other possibilities, and it’s likely that NASCAR may come up with some strange way of rewarding this person, though it shouldn’t matter.  The key here is that finally the sanctioning body is looking into something it never should have ignored in the first place.  

Happiness Is… Charlotte.  The Cup and XFINITY series both return to what for many is home this weekend when both take to racing Charlotte Motor Speedway.  Both series are scheduled to run under the lights, though Hurricane Matthew is challenging the possibility for Friday’s XFINITY go-round.  The return to Charlotte in October always seems to be a bit bittersweet.  Sure, there are still six more Cup races after this one, but it seems to signal the beginning of the end of the season, the last glimpses of the sport and the onset of autumn.  

It’s also a return home, a comforting feeling that brings with it a sense of familiarity.  There’s no song like “Sweet Home Chicago” for the Queen City, and its faced its challenges of late but getting back to this track, ramping up championship expectations, and watching the pressure set itself on the drivers often makes for some enjoyable racing.  Now if Martin Truex, Jr. just promises not to run away with the show like he did last weekend, all will be good.  

Happiness Is…Engines.  While many of you may have enjoyed the NASCAR double-header this past Sunday when rain forced the XFINITY race to be an opener for the Cup event, you may have missed Formula 1 providing something other than its usual parade.  When the lights went out at the Malaysian Grand Prix, Lewis Hamilton made a strong start and raced ahead of the mayhem that unfolded behind him between the closest three drivers.  Sebastian Vettel out.  Max Verstappen through.  Nico Rosberg sent spinning and into 17th position.  That’s the type of silly stuff that sometimes accompanies standing starts in the sport.

From there out, the race looked to be a typical one of Mercedes controlling the front position in what looked to be a race win for Hamilton, one that would have likely put him atop the driver’s standings again.  Then with about 20 laps to go in the race, Hamilton suffered a rare engine blowout and retired, essentially gifting the race to Daniel Ricciardo while allowing Rosberg to extend his lead.  Over the past year Mercedes has done a fantastic job to make their engines more reliable which made watching Hamilton’s let go all the more surprising.  For followers of the sport, it will make the driver’s title that much more of an intriguing story with six races to go.  Here’s to reliability.  

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