NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Beside the Rising Tide: All the Leaves Are Brown

“All the leaves are brown, and the skies are gray” –John and Michelle Phillips

Say what you want about the 2016 NASCAR season, good or bad, but one fact is undeniable: in about a week’s time (weather permitting) it will finally be over. So in the place of your regularly scheduled column, instead this week I offer some random thoughts and musings of limited to no consequence at all. Naturally, I want to clean off my desk, as in less than a week’s time I’m headed off to my annual long winter’s nap and a friendlier lifestyle of old cars, older friends and lifelong dreams of better weather.

I’m not sure how it works because I’m new at this but it seems as one grows older, minutes and hours grow shorter while the NASCAR season grows longer. The season began nine months ago with the northern hemisphere still in the grips of winter. The first tendrils of the vine blossomed in the spring and the buds that were to be grapes appeared. During the summer, they grew pregnant on the vine and in the fall they were harvested. Those grapes have now been trodden and fermented into a unsavory result. The grapes of wrath have yielded a bitter vintage that sets one’s teeth on edge, makes you glum and troubles the heart. And if you think I’m not just talking about the NASCAR season but another notable occurrence last week, at least give me credit for trying to be subtle to the point of indecipherable.

Lately How important was Joey Logano’s win in Phoenix Sunday? Well, the No. 22 Ford Fusion will be the only Blue Oval entrant among the 12 drivers and teams competing for titles during what’s officially NASCAR’s Ford Championship Weekend. No Fords from XFINITY or the Truck Series made the cut.

23 Skidoo I’ve often written NASCAR really needs to tighten up the start time of their races considerably. If a race is slated to start at 2 p.m., by 2:05 there ought to be loud, angry cars driving fast in circles. Otherwise, casual fans might just be tempted to switch over and see what else is on.

But sometimes, folks try to take it just a bit too far. According to Sunday’s official schedule for the opening ceremonies, a moment of silence and the invocation were to start at 2:30… and 20 seconds, to be precise. Said moment of silence and subsequent prayer were to conclude by 2:30… and 45 seconds. Yep, that totals just 25 seconds for the invocation.

The Star Spangled Banner was to come next, starting at 2:31 and ending at 2:32 and 45 seconds. One minute and forty five seconds for the national anthem? I’ve heard some vocalist barbarians drag out the word “free” for longer than that.

Aw, Crap Any post-incident interview, especially one when a driver has just effectively been eliminated from title contention, is a crapshoot. But some pit reporters are more focused on stirring things up rather than gathering information. For example, Darrell Wallace, Jr. had a tough week emotionally, having lost his beloved grandmother. During the race, he was wrecked out through no fault of his own while running strong in an admittedly quixotic attempt to make the XFINITY Series championship round. While clearly distraught to the point of tears, Wallace attempted to remain classy though the question posed him was obviously intended to draw an angry response concerning the driving of Blake Koch, another driver trying to make the final round who had clearly erred in cutting hard left into Wallace’s car.

Absent the angry words and threats of retaliation he wanted, the reporter (NBC’s Mike Massaro) pressed ahead with another question, or better perhaps, the same question asked in different words when the correct course of action would have been to withdraw and allow Wallace to go off and regroup. In his second response, Wallace used several soft profanities (nothing we haven’t heard on the presidential campaign trail this year) not to describe his competitor but his own team’s luck this season. I hope NASCAR isn’t going to see fit to fine the driver for those words which would just add salt to an obviously still fresh wound.

(Photo: NASCAR via Getty Images)
Elliott Sadler was one loose lugnut shy of losing a shot at the title…so what happens if someone wins the title with three loose? (Photo: NASCAR via Getty Images)

Oh, Pooh Someone is going to have to help me out here. I am, after all a bear of very little brains and long words bother me. Like “contradictory,” for instance. We all know NASCAR has long said they will not take a win away from a driver even if his car is found to be illegal after a race. The stated reason is they don’t want fans who attended seeing one driver win only to find out afterwards another claimed the victory. In the old days, that stunning announcement would have been made in the Monday paper.

But as we’ve discussed previously, given texts, Facebook, Twitter and all that other nonsense these days, fans leaving the track would know about the disqualification and new winner likely before they made it out of the parking lot on their way home. Through the years, NASCAR’s stuck to their guns but I’ve never been able to explain to my non-fan friends and family members how exactly a competitor gets caught cheating but keeps his win.

That leads me to the post-race tension surrounding Elliott Sadler’s JR Motorsports NXS entry Saturday night. After the Phoenix race, two lug nuts were found to be loose on the car. Since time immemorial (well actually earlier this year, after Tony Stewart kicked up a fuss) one lug nut left loose earns a $10,000 penalty. Two lugs left loose earns the team’s crew chief a weekend off. Three lug nuts left loose draws a 35-point penalty. So, for the sake of argument let’s say there was a third lug nut found loose here. Would NASCAR have fined the No. 1 team 35 points? If so, wouldn’t fans who left the race thinking that they’d seen Sadler make the cut for the Championship 4 at Homestead find out after the fact he’d failed to make the grade?

Let’s say next weekend a driver claims the Cup title by five points, winning the race but afterward it’s found he has three lug nuts loose. (Before anyone asks, the penalty for having four or more lug nuts loose is NASCAR takes your kids’ pets and sells them to the Korean meat market.) In losing those points, could that driver lose the championship but be allowed to keep the race win?

The Rule of Unintended Consequences, Take MCMLXXI The stage is set for the Championship 4 showdown in next Friday’s Camping World Truck Series finale. Among the drivers who won’t be competing for the crown under the new Chase format is William Byron. All Byron did this year was win a series-leading six CTS events while posting 15 top 10s in 22 races. Those six victories Byron managed are more than the four drivers who did make the cut have accumulated this year between them. Timothy Peters, for example is championship eligible despite not having won a single race this year.

Yeah, yeah, I know. In the NFL, the Philadelphia Eagles could win all 16 regular season games (as if that’s ever going to happen) and lose the Wild Card game. But there’s a key difference. Byron went out and beat all those other teams week after week, leading 696 laps in the process which is roughly 22% of the total laps run this season in that series.

So nothing against Peters, of course, but let’s give some overdue props to Byron for a stellar rookie year. I wish him success in the future and I hope someone convinces him to lose that damn Bobby Sherman haircut. (No matter how much hairspray you use on it, they’ll still make you wear a helmet, Willie.) Meanwhile, dare I suggest an automatic bid in the Championship 4 for whichever driver wins the most races in a series every season? No, I will not push for such a thing. To do so would invite making modifications to the Chase, not scrapping it completely as is needed to Make NASCAR Great Again.

Meanwhile, On Another Planet Much Warmer and Nicer Than Ours At a family-run business conference this week in Phoenix, NASCAR CEO Brian France opined that the Chase format “has led to the most dramatic racing in years.” Is there nothing else that shows BZF’s grasp on reality is so tenuous? Someone ought to tie a string to his big toe and anchor it to a sturdy post to keep him from floating off into the ionosphere.

The Joy of 666 Rumors circulated Sunday morning (started by my old buddy Jayski) that Monster Energy Drink might be in the running to become NASCAR’s new title sponsor (Monster is distributed by our old pals at Coca-Cola). It’s said that Monster Energy Drink controls 39% of the market but that must be a regional thing. Around here, most of the folks I see drinking it are middle-aged or older guys with John Lennon-style glasses and leather sandals driving Subaru Outbacks with a bunch of bumperstickers on the back.  That subspecies that as a whole seems to have fallen into a funk since last Tuesday. Red Bull bills itself as the original energy drink, though my guess is a lot of older folks would give that credit to what we used to call “coffee.”

Monster Energy is involved in sponsorship in NASCAR already, sponsoring Kurt Busch’s No. 41 entry while also backing the Mercedes Formula One team.  They’re involved in a lot of other sports, most of which fall under the umbrella of “extreme.” We’re talking stuff like professional bull riding, motocross, monster trucks, BMX, snowboarding and skateboarding. They’re also involved in some quasi-sports like the UFC and sponsor someone by the name of Ronda Rousey in that, um…form of competition. Interestingly enough, Monster also sponsors the racehorse American Pharoah. I’d never head of a horse being sponsored before. Hopefully, they do up the jockeys outfit rather than tattooing their brand on the horse’s quarterpanels.

A lot of those sports appeal to a younger generation, the sorts infamous for their short attention span. After all, a successful bull ride is shorter than the invocation at a NASCAR race. Those so-called “millennials” that Monster markets to are the same folks NASCAR has been trying to court unsuccessfully by most accounts. If it happens, we’ll see if the pairing works or if we end up with the Daytona 50 by 2018.

Also, in researching who these folks are, I also found that some folks claim the Monster Energy logo is three of the Hebrew letter “vav.” “Vav” is the sixth letter of the Hebrew alphabet so some say it’s code for “666,” the number of the beast. (Some folks say that. Not me.) As it turns out, Monster Energy is notoriously litigious. It gets a bit silly sometimes. Apparently, they own the rights to the letter “M” (which I suppose makes me “Att cLaughlin.”), the word Beast (uh-oh) and the word Monster, even as applied to a microbrew, not an energy drink. (The beer was bottled in Vermont and called “Vermonster.”)

(Photo: Stewart-Haas Racing)
Will the next paint scheme mock-up for Monster Energy be as the title sponsor of NASCAR’s top series? (Photo: Stewart-Haas Racing)

We’ll see if the rumors are true and, if they are, whether there’s a good fit here. Either way, you couldn’t help but feel bad for NASCAR at this point. They were all dressed up with no place to go, nobody to escort them to the marketing ball despite a nearly two-year search that ideally would have culminated early this fall. Despite having their best duds on and their hair combed right straight numerous suitors backed off, perhaps repelled by the Facial Flesh Rhino fungus of the sport’s TV ratings or the weird sucking, whistling, clicking noise in their breath that is track attendance lately.

Ask Not Who’s Bells Are Rung I missed out on weighing in on NASCAR’s concussion protocol last week but I do have a few thoughts to add to the debate. Firstly, asking a driver who took a hit to the head if he’s OK to drive is like asking someone who just downed a 12-pack of Budweiser if he’s OK to drive. Likely the affected person will swear they’re fine and, in their mind at least, truly believe it. As for me, I had a hard and fast rule: if any one of my friends asked if I was OK to drive, I surrendered my keys.

Secondly, I read earlier this year about a device the NFL (at the forefront of the head injury debate at present) is using to access players after a hard hit. From what I read it’s a fairly simple device, two square tiles a player (or driver) stands on. Measurements are taken to access that person’s balance. (I don’t know if the tiles move or not.) Due to the variability in measurements each player (or driver) had to have a base test done preseason. Results of that test were then compared to the post-impact readings and a decision can then be made as to whether the athlete is ready to compete. The device is apparently fairly simple and even some college football teams have them on the sidelines for use during their games. It sounds like a useful tool to me.

An American in Paris You learn something new every day. Fireball Roberts, one of NASCAR’s earliest superstars, ran in the 1962 24 Hours of Le Mans. Paired with car owner Bob Grossman in a 1962 Ferrari (not Pontiac) GTO, Roberts managed a second-in-class finish, sixth overall in that prestigious race. That same car is now for sale at an eye-popping 56 million dollars.

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kb

Brian has no reality or pulse regarding fans. “The Chase” sucks, always will suck, until it is eliminated. Monster Energy drink, from what I see in my part of the world amounts to basically a non contender. Good.

Bill B

” Scrap the chase and make NASCAR great again”. You may have something there Matt. That just could work.

janice

i know myself i stay way from those hyper caffeine drinks as they send my b/p into the stoke stratosphere. but na$car will take whoever whats to pony up the money the need to put on the show for all these weeks. will the trophy next year be a huge can of monster energy drink?

i think the most interesting thing i can think of as we head into the winter hibernation is whether or not earnhardt jr will be back driving next year. he says he will, but i don’t know. i can’t help but remember ricky craven coming back and then getting in a wreck and that was the end of his career in the driver’s seat. if jr can’t come back, or does and gets hurt again, that will be the kiss of death. na$car’s young kids don’t have the star power to pull in money that na$car so loves. i think jr. being out half the year has hurt na$car in obtaining a title sponsor. with no earnhardt running, sorry jeffery, gordon gone, stewart gone, harvick still there to fight with the busch brothers, but not a money draw like the others, na$car will see less people watching. i can already hear the na$car hype if jr is allowed to come back in feb…what a marketing dream…anyone want to bet who will be on the pole for the 500 if he does come back in february?

loved the momma’ and the poppa’s. now i have california dreamin’ in my head for the day.

happy thanksgiving everyone. be safe and remember to give thanks for all you have and for the life we’ve been given, good, bad or indifferent. our life is still a precious gift.

Bill B

I agree Janice. I question Jr’s sanity if he comes back next year. Too much like playing Russian Roulette at this stage in his life. One bad hit and BOOM, messed up for life. He doesn’t need the money, he doesn’t need the fame, he has made his mark whether he ever wins another race or not and he has a lot of things to look forward to in his life beyond racing.

LOL… at having California Dreaming going through your mind. Me too. Although that song is never far from my mind. I was on a hike Sunday morning and that song popped in my head as I observed the changing season.

PattyKay Lilley

OK! You got me at the “Korean Meat Market!” That age/time inversion thing gets worse as you get older until pretty soon, there’s no time for anything, but the good side of that is, you don’t give a whatever Wallace said in his interview. Instead of buckling down and writing your own column for your own website, you wander over to another site and spend 45 minutes reading the work of an old friend. Remember, I could easily have birthed you… well, not “easily”, but… you know what I’m trying to say… I’m older than dust, which preceded dirt. Stay young as long as you can. ☺

I did know about Fireball racing at Le Mans. “Fir Boll!” “Fir Boll!” In 1962 I’d been married for 4 years already. Guess I won’t be bidding on the car though. This Internet deal doesn’t pay all that well these days. I’ll spare you much discussion of our fearless but floating leader, except to say that while John Daly had him on an island, I’ve always had him floating on a little pink cloud… something that was obvious the very first time I laid eyes on the man, standing at the back of the room, lower jaw hanging slack and staring off into space at nothing I could see. All that was missing was the lolling tongue. That was at the last Winston Cup Awards Banquet. Somewhere in my vast but almost useless library of VCR tapes, I have that recorded, but in truth, never want to go there again.

Almost time to regroup… Holidays are coming fast… there is money to be spent, food to be eaten and potables to be drunk… lots of each! Then… there’s January, which defies definition, though I’ve tried for years to paint it as the only month containing 90 days. By the time Daytona looms on the horizon, it will at least temporarily look like the sun rising in the East. Let’s all look forward to that feeling, which no longer lasts much past the 24-Hour race, but where there is life, there is hope. Me? I hope I live to see Daytona, though I may turn it off at mid-race. I hate restrictor plates, and tapered spacers too.
Happy Thanksgiving, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year my friend. I’d send cards but you have this phobia about viruses in cards. Instead, I’ll send you hugs! {{{{{MATT}}}}}

JT

I wonder if Coca Cola isn’t planning to use the Monster Energy brand as a way to reserve title sponsorship rights at a bargain price, with the option to switch over to the “mother ship” branding a year or two from now. Pepsi products’ sponsorship deals with Rick Hendrick have shrunk down to just a handful of races and are probably nearing their final season in 2017 or 18. With Pepsi likely gone soon, Coca Cola can avoid the sponsorship conflicts similar to those that Nextel once had with AT&T, Verizon and Alltel when took they over Cup title sponsorship back in the last decade.

Steve

If Monster Energy is the new series sponsor, one good thing will come of it. All the cell phone companies will be back in play for sponsorship on these cars. They are one of the few entities that have the money to sponsor a car for the full season or at least a good many races. That is assuming that Nascar hasn’t locked one of them down as “the official……..of Nascar” preventing this.

Old_Timer

I have to keep telling myself that same thing over and over again … … “No, I will not push for such a thing. To do so would invite making modifications to the Chase, not scrapping it completely as is needed to Make NASCAR Great Again.” … … LOL!!

Also … down here in Georgia … it is Subaru FORESTERS with lots of stickers that we middle-agers drive — some of us even in leather sandals and John Lennon glasses … LOL!! … … … One of us drives a Forester with lots of stickers — along with a “Georgia Stock Car Racing Hall of Fame” specialized license plate on the back!! I do have several female friends who wear flannel shirts and hiking boots a lot who drive Outbacks, though … … LOL!! Don’t make fun of my “Bernie” sticker, either!!

Hey Mama PattyKay … … you do know Matt is my “cousin from another aunt,” right?!? Speaking of you being old enough to birth him!! Yeah … friends that have read his column through the years have more than several occasions swore it was actually YOURS TRULY writing the columns and submitting them under the Non De Plume of “Matt McLaughlin” — as if a Scotsman would ever use and Irish name … LOL!!! No offense, Matt!!

Speaking of the NFL … I am sure you (and Mama!) are familiar with THIS … but, perhaps not many readers … … http://www.sghelmets.com/about-sg-helmets/ … … yes, football helmets designed by Bill Simpson and Chip Ganassi — gentlemen who know something about concussions … … … …

Speaking of the 24 Hours of Daytona … why is there such a gap between it and the rest of Speedweeks now?!? It used to be perfect — the 24 Hours… followed the next weekend by the ARCA race and 500 qualifying — and then track activity everyday through the next weekend with the Daytona 500 … … …

HAPPY THANKSMASYEAR’S DAY, MATT!!!

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