From one specialty to another, that is what the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series is embracing as it moves from the left coast and returns to its home in Daytona this weekend. The race last Sunday at Sonoma is an enjoyable outlier on the Cup schedule, a race that encourages more road courses be brought to the schedule while also being in a locale in which the sport rarely asserts its ties.
One of the ironic aspects about racing Sonoma is that compared to Florida, or North Carolina even, the state is producing more drivers, and yet just two races are held in the Golden State and one of those a road course. There’s some kind of funny comment to be made there or perhaps some kind of deeper realization to be felt, but whatever.
This week is a return to the madness of restrictor-plate racing at Daytona. While a number of writers will discuss different aspects of the track, and two of ours go at it debating whether the July event should be held on the road course, here’s a different thought.
For as much as pundits may state that plate racing is an equalizer, has it gotten to a point where teams realize the vast cost in the destruction of their vehicles and don’t bring the best rides in July? The thinking there being: why tear up a beautiful car in a race where the statistics indicate it will get eaten by the wreck monster. Just a different thought.
None of that takes away from what has become an enjoyable night race that should be welcomed after a day in the sun, or working, or whatever you may be up to.
Happiness Is… Farewell. The upcoming Daytona race marks the last time that Dale Earnhardt Jr. will be spinning his wheels at the track. For now. Earnhardt has mentioned that he could return for the Daytona 500 if the situation presents itself, which is kind of funny considering he’s Dale Jr. and the likelihood of him having any trouble getting backing for a 500 is laughable. If Tom Cruise can somehow keep making films, Earnhardt should have no problem getting a ride, should he want.
So, for now, this race is the last time that Earnhardt will be gracing the track at Daytona and the fan reception will assumingly be monstrous. Though as he continues through the rest of the season, hitting some tracks for the second time on this season’s schedule, this track, alongside Talladega, represent places where his fandom hits its apex. But this race, however seems all the more important.
It is at Daytona that Earnhardt faces his best chance at a win. If you’ve been paying attention, he’s not been having a good season, and it seems like it’s not trending in a positive direction, regardless of how he finished at Sonoma. Yet he tends to be at home on the RP tracks, and there’s no doubt that Hendrick Motorsports is going to do all they can to get him up front.
A win at Daytona would be storybook, like when he drove the No. 3 Wrangler car, decked in blue and yellow, and won the XFINITY summer Daytona race in 2010. A win and he’s in the playoffs and gets to race out in a fashion like Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart, with some chance at a title. No doubt this kind of thinking will get fans juiced and makes this race and adds more intrigue to the race.
Happiness Is… Winners. Kevin Harvick added his name to the list of winners for the 2017 and in doing so assured himself a place in the playoffs. That makes 11 winners this season, though Joey Logano’s doesn’t count for the playoffs because of its encumbered status. Heading into the weekend there are 10 races to go until the playoffs begin and the rest of the field begins thinking about next year.
There is some peculiarity in how the field is shaping up right now. To start, four of the top 10 drivers in points do not have a win, meaning they’re holding things down on points. The fact that Kyle Busch and Chase Elliott, who are in the top six without wins, is becoming one of the fascinating storylines as both have continued to put themselves in position to win and just haven’t been able to breakthrough. To think that they both might go winless seems faulty.
Then there’s the fact that the entirety of Joe Gibbs Racing seems unable to grab a win, and Busch’s frustration doesn’t seem so strange. That rookie driver Daniel Suarez may not have won is not surprising but the rest of the organization sitting on an egg is just surprising.
The real battle seems to be shaping up between Matt Kenseth and Clint Bowyer, who are both winless and near the bottom of the playoff standings on points, and you may want to throw Logano into that mix. A win and the pressure is off for any one of them, but otherwise, they’ll continue to race with a sense of pressure the rest of the mix won’t be feeling. Isn’t that the type of thing NASCAR was hoping for?
Happiness Is… Branding. There’s a story happening in Formula 1 that is kind of interesting, though it has little to do with anything regarding NASCAR. The race team Sahara Force India Formula One Team is seeking to rename itself in a way that will increase brand marketing ability. The belief is that their appellation is too local and does not draw in worldwide interest, read sponsorship, in a way that helps the organization succeed. Hence this week, the team began tagging names that could work moving forward.
First thing to note is that most of the names, like Force One, continue to use the force moniker. But what could make the name change fun is all the derivations that could include Star Wars references. George Lucas is a big F1 fan, perhaps he’d like to buy a small stake and ease the marketing aspect. Maybe Yoda shows up on the livery. Kidding, but it still has funny consequences.
The second thing to note is that this is a somewhat successful team that feels the need to remake itself to attract sponsors. As so many NASCAR teams hold personal nameplates this kind of move would be a decidedly different thing to do but it does bring the question of: would it be a worthwhile thing to do? This change for Force India may pay huge dividends and could prove to be a model going forward.
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