Well, the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race at Phoenix, proved one of the adages that is supposed to accompany every sport: anyone can win on any given day. Isn’t that what people want? Or maybe that’s not what they want. Maybe it just depends on the winner. But hey, at least it was interesting.
OK, let’s get happy.
Happiness Is… Filling Fast. Four races into the season and four playoff spots have been filled. That stat, in some ways is surprising and points to the unpredictability of the sport. That would seem to be the case. But the truth is that this year is consistent with the trend of the past few years.
In 2016, the first four races saw four different drivers win, while in 2015, it took five races to get to a fourth winner. Then in both 2014 and 2013, it was four for four again. That would indicate that the early part of the season is the biggest time period for erratic results. The reason for that the trend also pushes that by the sixth or seventh race of the season, a repeat winner will have emerged – if not two of them
That makes this early part of the season some of the more interesting racing, as teams shake down what they’ve got while a team usually starts to show itself as the leader in the garage. But in addition, this is the time to capitalize before a team does figure out how to dominate. The new rules package hasn’t seemed to bring too much change to the racing but it certainly adds to the tinkering and it won’t be long until a team finds the sweet spot.
Happiness Is… Monster. There’s a little blit of a piece about NASCAR in the latest Car and Driver (April, 2017). If you’re thumbing through with any alacrity, there’s a good chance you’ll ignore it and continue on to the reviews or whatnot. The piece, however, by Josh Jacquot is an interesting one. What makes it amusing are a few things.
From one perspective, Jacquot is attempting to equate Monster Energy drink to a new form of moonshine – basically intoning that the rebellious attitude the new title series sponsor brings hearkens back to the grand ol’ days of moonshiners being part of the field. It would be an interesting connection if it weren’t so laughable because Monster may sell a rebellious image, but that’s part of their marketing campaign and they’re still a big company – who is paying a sport in an effort to reach more fans. But hey, Monster does bring a different image with it, and that is the more important point.
Steve Phelps, one of those NASCAR execs with a title as long as the Pocono frontstretch, notes that “there are brands that would have paid us more, but they lacked the right fit.” Whether or not this comment is subterfuge is of no matter, apparently NASCAR is happy with what they’ve got. The question that will come with Monster is what they’re happy with and might bring to the races, because right now, they’ve done nothing wild.
Happiness Is…Hammer Time. The rules violations for the week came out on Wednesday. And a sad day to many of you fans out there, but Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus weren’t on it. It’s almost a strange trend not to see them touching base, almost like Bart Simpson’s visits to Principal Skinner. Instead, Paul Wolfe and Rodney Childers suffered the ignominy of joining the list.
Wolfe, Brad Keselowski’s crew chief, got hammered to the tune of a three-race suspension while the team faces a loss of 35 points. (Do the points matter all that much if you’re locked into the playoffs already?) What’s interesting about this penalty is that it’s starting to look like Wolfe is the new consistent transgressor in the series as this smackdown isn’t his only one.
For Childers, and Kevin Harvick, the punishment is a bit lighter, with a one-race suspension and the team losing 10 points. That doesn’t seem like too steep a hole for the team to climb from. These suspensions, however, do point to a stronger enforcement of the sport’s rulebook (even if the rulebook seems written in chalk).
Happiness Is…Lights Out. For those of you with space on your digital device and are looking for something different, set the machine to record for 3 a.m. ET on NBCSN. That’s when the 2017 Formula 1 season goes lights out and all of the offseason stories meet actual racing. While there are a number of things to consider, from driver changes, to the retiring of last year’s champion Nico Rosberg, to other fun kinds of drama, the focus here should be on the cars. That may seem like a silly concept but there’s change this year.
The series is debuting a number of modifications to the cars: new noses, different overall styling, the introduction of wider tyres, different engine response. The goal is to make the product more appealing and also make the cars harder to drive. While the first race of the season can, and has, been a disaster before, this one provides the first look at how these cars will work from a competitive standpoint. And perhaps Ferrari and Red Bull are finally nipping at the heels of Mercedes.