This past Sunday, Denny Hamlin did his best to slay whatever dragons are wreaking havoc in the Joe Gibbs team complex. His win, the first of the year for the team, locked him into the playoffs while also making him the 12th different driver to win this season in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series – though only 11 of those drivers are qualified for the playoffs as Joey Logano’s encumbered win doesn’t count.
The question, as has been made before, that arises is: how come Hamlin’s win isn’t considered encumbered? After winning at New Hampshire, Hamlin made sure to burn his ride down, blowing out the tires and in doing so, blowing out the rear quarter-panels. It’s pretty hard to check tolerances on a car after it’s been purposely trashed.
Whether you may be a fan of Formula 1 or not, they still get this aspect of the regulations right. At the conclusion of the race the cars return to parc ferme so that they can be scrutineered to avoid any issues. There’s no wild burnouts. No backing the car into a wall and lighting up the tires. Just a victory lap and park the car.
There’s been no aim to change anything about post-race practices and no reason to believe any are coming. Oh well, there’s probably bigger things to worry about.
Happiness Is… Head Games. One of the hot topics this week in the social media-sphere was the debate over 3 pm EST start times, with someone in the sport positing how it benefits the West Coast market, while fans from all over the country voiced their preference for more 1 p.m. green flags. Dale Earnhardt Jr. sarcastically posted on his Twitter feed that NASCAR needs to consider 5 a.m. times to cater to the Russian market. Har har. But something of significance did come from the Jr social media world this week.
His wife, Amy, stated that Earnhardt shouldn’t take the risk of racing in the Advance Auto Parts Clash on February 11, 2018, a race comprised of pole winners from the previous season. Such an announcement is an interesting one, and in many ways a solid position.
While the sport would surely love to have Earnhardt in the race, there’s no reason to further risk his health for a race that would mean little in any regard. Basically it’s a situation of all downside with minimal upside. While Earnhardt has hinted at possibly running the Daytona 500 if things come together, racing something like the Clash is all folly, especially for a driver who seems to have a case of the yips lately.
This kind of attitude is also a display of the heightened sense toward driver safety. As concussion research continues to develop and show statistical significance of how brain trauma has lasting and detrimental effects, the trickle-down in sports is manifesting itself as athletes take better care of themselves. Any fan watching the Cup Series at this point has to question Earnhardt’s presence on that track at all anymore – it’s just a sense of compassion.
Happiness Is… Shake Up. On Tuesday, NASCAR announced that Brandon Igdalsky, former president and CEO of Pocono, was taking over the position of Managing Director of Event Marketing and Promotion at NASCAR HQ. In addition, Evan Parker will be the new Managing Director of Content Strategy, while Scott Warfield is taking on the role Managing Director of Digital and Social Content, and Jeff Wohlschlaeger the position of Managing Director of Series Marketing.
That’s a lot of turnover in the organization. Stealing Igdalsky away from Pocono is the real coup of the situation as he has turned around the fortunes of the track in a major way over the past 10 years. The hope that he might be able to do the same for other tracks or determine ways to bring fresh ideas and energy is what NASCAR pegged him for. The hope that he will succeed as he moves from a localized position to a national one.
The other hires are also an indication that something wasn’t working in how NASCAR is presenting itself in the digital world. Whether it be the content, access or overall presentation, such a move seems to establish that they are not doing enough.
These are all good things as these persons should be able to inculcate themselves as new voices in the groupthink at Daytona. Whether or not they will make way on some of the fan concerns regarding how the playoffs work or things like start times or even minor aspects like the delays between stages is probably questionable but it may offer hope.
Happiness Is… Advertising. For being a former champion and still driving at a high level, Matt Kenseth sure seems to be pounding the pavement to get a job. His recent press conferences and interviews have all been sure to assert how he’s actively looking for a ride for next season. Good for him, rather than keeping it behind the scenes he’s all out about it.
Kenseth’s situation is a far cry from those of recently retired drivers Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart, who were both able to walk from the sport on their own terms. His is a reminder that even champions have a sell-by date, especially when it comes to finding compatible sponsors – and it should be noted that part of his problem may be that sponsors may see a short-lived arrangement at best. For fans of the robotic Kenseth, the hope has to be that he can land at a decent spot to conclude what should be a hall of fame career.
About the author
As a writer and editor, Ava anchors the Formula 1 coverage for the site, while working through many of its biggest columns. Ava earned a Masters in Sports Studies at UGA and a PhD in American Studies from UH-Mānoa. Her dissertation Chased Women, NASCAR Dads, and Southern Inhospitality: How NASCAR Exports The South is in the process of becoming a book.