This past Saturday night featured the annual summer return to Daytona for the 400 mile event. This Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series (oh yes, it never stops being fun to type out the full title for the Cup series, as goofy as it is) race, was an interesting collage of strategy, fast cars, driving acumen, strange tire issues and luck. At the conclusion, with about only eight cars circling the track, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. had earned his second Cup win of his career.
The best comment about the win may have been: Danica Patrick goes to Victory Circle for the second time this year. Ha ha. Because Stenhouse is her boyfriend and she went to congratulate him. Too funny. Oh thank you the web of social media.
But it’s this same push to be heard that also avowed that Stenhouse had shown his plate-racing prowess, and how he is showing his plate-track mastery, and how he’s also demonstrating his maturity after wrecking nearly everything in XFINITY a few years ago.
Stenhouse is, indeed, becoming a better driver. The fact that Roush Fenway Racing is giving him better equipment is helping. But does anyone really have some kind of magical skill on restrictor-plate tracks?
These races are in no way indicative of how a driver has progressed or how an organization is flourishing or any real barometer for anything. That’s part of what makes them so damn entertaining. But can we chill out on anointing Stenhouse as some kind of RP savant at the moment. Until he wins at Talladega in the fall.
Happiness Is… New Voices. They’d been sitting on the sidelines the first half of the year but you knew their engines were revving, ready to get to work. Thus it came to be this weekend when NBC took over from Fox and began their half of the NASCAR season. With the change comes the return of Rick Allen, Jeff Burton and Steve Letarte, a grouping that NBC is continuing to stick with.
The change from the one network to the other is always striking. Those in charge at Fox have always pushed for an angle of keeping the broadcast fun – something that can frustrate many fans as they look for more substance in the product. At NBC, there seems to be a more buttoned-down type approach but whether or not the voices may work for the fans is interesting – as this group also enjoys its fair share of detractors.
What is bad about the whole thing is that, basically, fans are stuck with two groups of three for the whole year. Consider that sports like football, baseball, hockey and soccer all feature various groupings of announcers, though there are number one groups that get more airtime than others. But in NASCAR, the variance is minimal.
The positive outlook here is that, well, it’s new voices and new takes. Allen, Burton and Letarte have been watching the season unfold and have likely been itching to get going. Will they bring fresh perspectives? Different information? Different attitude? Maybe. The hope is that at the very least this group is able to bring some new energy and spirit. Part of the fun of the sport should be being able to enjoy the broadcasts, and if BOTH Fox and NBC have missed the mark, it doesn’t help anyone. Maybe the peacock will surprise.
Happiness Is… Communication. Shortly after the first few practices, independent NASCAR reporter Jeff Gluck tweeted out a positive comment about the switch to NBC for NASCAR. He didn’t necessarily poo poo Fox but rather made it known that he was enjoying the shift. Seems all right.
The replies to his comment were, of course, wild and far-reaching. Some cheered, some jeered, some attacked Gluck, some attacked others that had cheered while other jeered those who jeered. Find a permutation of the relationship between any of those and you’ll fill the void; and then throw in a few funny, non-sequitur, or stupid comments to round out the whole deal.
That Gluck got such a reaction isn’t really all that surprising. What is surprising is how many people feel the need to chime in on these types of things. Take for example, NPR tweeting out the Declaration of Independence on July 4th, a practice they have done for a number of Independence Days. Most people just hit the heart button to signify that they liked it and moved on.
But a host of people responded to NPR by, in essence, claiming the organization was going after President Trump and had some kind of agenda. It’s the f*(^ing Declaration of Independence! What such an example shows is that everything will endure its fair share of scrutiny, no matter what. Trolls, Russian bots, bored teenagers with no better to do, the negative spin is never far away. But what’s everyone so mad about?
Watching NASCAR is about a love for the sport, warts and all. It’s about being able to enjoy a rather silly sport that can be wonderfully dramatic and disastrously dangerous. The politics that surround it may be irksome and angering but they shouldn’t be the only focus. After all, Jimmie Johnson still has that eighth championship to win this year.
Happiness Is… Buffet. This weekend marks another one that is full of racing. The Truck, XFINITY and Cup series will be racing on consecutive nights starting Thursday. They’ll all be hanging out in Sparta, Kentucky, racing at the Kentucky Speedway. While Kentucky may have botched the initial Cup race, they’ve been trying to rebound and the re-surfacing prior to last year’s race was an attempt to improve the product for the long term. Regardless of your feelings toward the track, at least there’s back-to-back-to-back racing to keep your mind off of other things, like the heat or something.
For the pinky-out crowd, there’s two events this weekend to hit your fancy. In Europe, Formula 1 will be racing at Spa, a historical track with a long sweeping corner that tends to encourage driver imbecility. The last race, two weeks ago in Azerbaijan, might best be described as a beautiful calamity, one of high-stakes drama and unimagined outcomes – especially as Sebastian Vettel bonked Lewis Hamilton during a safety car period. Stateside, IndyCar will be racing at Iowa, a track that has frequently produced solid races for every series that visits. Scott Dixon earned his first win of the year a couple weeks ago and extended his points lead but Iowa can produce unsuspecting results.
What it all means is: enjoy the weekend.