ONE: The All-Star Race
I’m not going to lie here, I had no idea what the 2017 All-Star race format was for this go around until I looked it up just now. And I’m someone who writes a weekly column, watches every race, reads the press coverage vociferously and loves me some NASCAR Twitter — so therefore I should have at least a modicum of knowledge on this topic. But like I say, I don’t. To be honest even after reading the rules I was still a little confused but after a second reading, to paraphrase a line from that classic Tom Cruise late eighties movie Cocktail: Light dawned on Marblehead. Look, on one level, I suppose I should not be surprised. They’ve been futzing with the format on this extra-curricular race for some time now; why should this year be any different? But it would be really great if a quick glance at the format was all that was needed. Truth is, I’ll probably still be wondering what the rules are midway through Saturday evening’s extravaganza. Formats aside, what really needs to change for the All-Star race is the location. I get that it’s great for teams to have time at their home base (well, except for the Colorado based Furniture Row team) but this race would be so much better served by spreading the wealth as far as venue goes. What about Martinsville under the (newly installed) lights? Or, something completely different like a visit to Road America or even a tilt on the dirt at Eldora Speedway. Either way, something needs to change and a four hundredth new format is not the answer. I hope fervently to be proved completely wrong but I’ve got no great expectations for Saturday night. We’ll see what happens.
TWO: Get Well Soon, Aric
Thoughts and more importantly prayers are with Aric Almirola this week as he begins what will likely be a lengthy journey back to full health. The Richard Petty Motorsports veteran suffered a compression fracture to his T5 vertebra; a result of a fiery three-car wreck on lap 199 of this past Saturday evening’s race at Kansas Speedway. Also caught up in the wreck were Joey Logano, who triggered the wreck through no fault of his own with a right front parts failure — a second straight vicious hit after his wreck at Talladega Super Speedway the previous weekend. The other unwitting participant was Danica Patrick and more on her below. Denny Hamlin, who himself suffered a wreck induced back injury – an L1 compression fracture – back in 2013 at Auto Club Speedway, took to Twitter to give his thoughts:
Feel bad for @aric_almirola. What makes this injury even worst is he will feel ready to return to racing before his body will allow him to.
— Denny Hamlin (@dennyhamlin) May 14, 2017
Almirola is currently listed as being out indefinitely and the likelihood is that this injury will see the driver of the #43 Ford miss all on-track action for several months. We wish him the best with his recovery and look forward to seeing him grace the track again sooner rather than later.
THREE: Staged Out
So a quick perusal of the latest and greatest NASCAR news this (Monday) morning reveals yet more format tomfoolery. This time around NASCAR is adding an additional stage to the Coca-Cola 600 and I quote directly from the press release: “[bringing] an update that will provide fans with yet another opportunity for a memorable moment in a season already filled with them.” Right then. Simply put, this is a move that smacks just a little of desperation. Yes, we all know last year’s 600-miler was the definition of a snoozer with Martin Truex, Jr., eviscerating the field leading 392 of the 400 total laps. Okay, sure for Truex it wasn’t boring, but for the rest of us it was like slugging a double dose of Ambien. But is another stage really what we need here? And why announce it now? Surely this wasn’t something the powers that be came up with on a cocktail napkin in the bar after the Kansas race? One of the major criticisms from longtime fans is the raft of endless changes. This just adds copious fuel to an already combustible mix. One final thought here: what if someone dominates again like Truex did this time last year. Could those extra stage win points make a difference at the sharp end of the season? And would that be fair? We’ll see, I guess is the answer here, but I for one am not a fan of this new move. Not a fan at all.
FOUR: Is Danica Done?
There was, to put it politely, a fair bit of reaction to Danica Patrick’s post-wreck media interview at Kansas Speedway with Jamie Little of Fox Sports. “I feel absolutely horrible, I just don’t understand why so much bad luck happens,” said Danica. “I was having a really good night and that’s what makes me most mad. Every time I’m doing better something stupid happens. And…it’s just killing me.” It was, to be fair, a candid, forthright interview conducted before she really had a chance to debrief on what actually happened on the track but it’s indicative of her mindset and also perhaps of her results. All told, Danica has no wins, no top-5’s, a measly six top-10 runs and just 57 laps led in 165 races across six seasons. Put another way, her results don’t match her level of equipment – not by any stretch of the imagination. “One of these times these accidents aren’t going to go good for me,” continued Danica. “They are all big. I’ve been very fortunate so far. But one of these times it’s not going to go well.” My overwhelming takeaway to what was, to be fair, a “heat of the moment” response? This will be her last season. She already has sponsorship issues and given her average finish this year is 28.1 – compared to 28.3 in her first ten Cup races – you have to say she hasn’t shown any real sign of improvement. At some point, it’s better to just walk away and for Danica that time might come at the end of the 2017 season.
FIVE: The 2017 Champion?
Another week and another win for Martin Truex, Jr. – his second in just eleven races in 2017 so far. Truex has begun the season in fine fashion with two wins, three top-5’s, seven top-10’s, a series best 536 laps led and an average finish of 10.5. Truex sits second in the overall standings, 44 markers behind Kyle Larson but if I was a betting man (which I’m not) I’d be putting some serious coin on money on the Mayetta, NJ native for the title this season. Truex won twice early in the Chase and was for many the favorite (the first race at Chicagoland Speedway and the third at Dover International Speedway) but was eliminated at the second cut following a 40th place blown engine at Talladega Superspeedway. Of course we all know anything can happen in the Chase but with a smidgeon of luck at the right time Truex could pick up an inaugural title in 2017. He’ll be one to watch every step of the way, that’s for sure.