This past Sunday Jimmie Johnson locked himself into the next round of the Chase, avoiding any kind of pratfall that might befall him at the super scary, oh no, Talladega, the roulette-wheel track. For Johnson and Co. the move is exactly the one they needed to make to progress in the current Chase format. Points race the opening round. Then nail one of their tracks with tremendous statistical success, breathe easy, move on, then begin work on the Martinsville and Texas cars. If you don’t think Chad Knaus had Charlotte circled as the the place to bring every possible update, then you forget the mastermind that is Knaus.
The bigger question now is whether or not Johnson becomes one of the favorites for the championship. That’s not to say that he wasn’t already, but has he moved into an even better position? In many ways, he’s looking like it.
Whatever Hendrick Motorsports was sitting on all summer has been unleashed, and the team is now matching Toyota on speed – as can be seen by Johnson’s runs as well as teammate Chase Elliott, who has been hovering at the front.
Now that Johnson can basically start-and-park at Talladega, he’s cleared the biggest hurdle, for now, and can be a happy observer and watch how things shake out.
If HMS has returned to the front of the field, then Johnson should feel confident heading to Texas in the next round. And he’s like, pretty good, or something, at Martinsville – with perhaps his biggest competition coming in the form of his teammate, Jeff Gordon, when they get there.
So for you Johnson fans out there, you should be feeling good. For everyone else, right now should be another moment to look at the No. 48 team and have the theme from Jaws lingering in the background. Oh boy.
Happiness Is… Messy. The race at Charlotte this past weekend turned out to be a wild one with regard to how things fared for the Chase drivers. OK, Kyle Busch may have had things go his way, but he worked amazingly hard to make up for his front end looking like an ad for BearBond. Carl Edwards also seemed to recover from whatever was plaguing him to take a solid finish, but for some other drivers, Charlotte turned into a place of misery.
That’s just what the organizers want! Kevin Harvick and Joey Logano both suffering through terrible races? Perfect. Those two are serious championship contenders, but now, probably not so much. If the whole point of this Chase format is to provide entertainment and make the storylines more interesting, then these are the races that NASCAR begs for. Not only does it make the race at Charlotte fascinating, but it then makes the next two races more compelling. Can any of the drivers that are sitting outside the cut-off line snag a win and thus dig themselves out of a massive hole? Possibly. But there’s a lot more pressure on those drivers sitting eighth on back than there is ahead of them, because the points gap is substantial. That just means that Kansas might once again provide some proverbial fireworks, as it did last year.
Happiness Is…Hamilton. As many of you might know, the Broadway musical Hamilton has earned rave reviews and found an important place in American culture. Based on the biography of Alexander Hamilton, the musical takes a look at one of the …oh, wait, wrong Hamilton. Last weekend at the Japanese Grand Prix, Lewis Hamilton made more noise off the track than on it. He did so by showing his boredom at the opening press conference and sending out Snapchat pictures with various animal faces. The press reacted as would be expected and, for the most part, vilified the treble world champion driver. In response, Hamilton then proceeded to offer a rebuke to the press at the next meet-up, then proceed to leave without answering any questions.
What Hamilton did not only showed a sense of personality (and some would posit lack of respect) but he also highlighted how dreadful and uninformative so many modern press conferences are. Unless there is some kind of specific announcement, many of these press conferences offer nothing new, with press agents throwing softball (bland) questions and the drivers responding with typical (seemingly canned) answers. Hamilton may have taken the wrong route to show the silliness of these media contrived get togethers, but at least he was willing to show his true feelings about them. It’s a rare moment, but one to be savored.
Happiness Is…Lights. Yes! Martinsville Speedway announced that it will be installing LED lights at the track over the offseason and will have them ready for 2017. The use of LEDs is an interesting move and will be the first noted use at a racetrack. Speedway President, Clay Campbell, noted that Jeff Gordon’s win last year in autumn, came as the daylight faded to night, and should another caution have occurred, that the race may not have finished under green.
While Campbell may be indicating that the lights are for a more precautionary measure, the more likely outcome is that Martinsville will host a night race in the future. For a track that is not as dependent on aero sensitivity or changing track conditions for its races, this change could be fantastic. Even better, such a move might make the night race at Martinsville what the night race at Bristol used to be. Fingers crossed.
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