NASCAR had rain, sunshine and wild racing while flirting with the darkness at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Sunday. It also had wrecks, a lot of wrecks. Which brings the question of if there are a lot of wrecks, does that make it good racing? That’s sure to be a hot topic this week.
I had been reasonably sure for most of the season that Kasey Kahne’s days as a winning racing driver were done. Kahne had not competed at all for a victory this season and was well out of the points picture to have a chance to make the playoffs this year. But as is often the case in sports, you can never say never. Kahne broke a 102-race winless streak with his restart in the dark Sunday night giving him a coveted playoff spot.
The win was not only important for him this year, it also could play a role in helping him gain sponsorship and full-time Cup series ride for next year. It didn’t hurt Tony Stewart tweeted after the race that Kahne has a lot more wins left in him. That’s a pretty big endorsement, and for those of us who like to speculate about a driver’s future landing place, those kind of words from an owner like Stewart can only help Kahne’s future. As for the here and now, Kahne is playoff bound and no one can take that away from him.
Just because there are wrecks doesn’t mean it was a good race, even if there are a lot of those wrecks late in the race like we saw on Sunday. I would much rather see passes for the lead on every other lap then caution after caution just because of accidents. Fortunately, with all the in-car safety improvements in the last decade and the SAFER barriers being in at tracks, the injuries have not been as serious in recent years. You wonder too if that gives drivers a bit more security, whether it be a false sense of security or not, so they will make more daring moves. Yes, accidents happen for any number of reasons. But remember a lot of accidents doesn’t guarantee good racing.
Then there are times though that accidents happen as a result of good racing. There were two primary examples of this on Sunday. First, when Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. were on the front row for a restart with 50 laps to go, they decided to forego the gentleman’s agreement they had of letting the leader have the inside lane in Turn 1. Of course, it’s because they both wanted to win and that is especially the case for Busch who hasn’t won yet this year. But Truex got a little loose and slipped up into Busch causing the accident that eliminated both of them.
While Truex took the blame, it was a case where no one was to blame. It was just a matter of two drivers racing for the same spot. Then, late in the race, Jimmie Johnson, with smoke coming from under his car, still had plenty of power and took the low route into the turn, making it a three-wide situation with Kahne and Brad Keselowski. That doesn’t work at Indy, and Johnson ended up in the wall and out of the race this time. But it was clear he was going for the lead and the win unless the engine blew. An accident causer, for sure, but a pure racing move as well, too.
It was almost a great day for two real underdogs in the Cup Series, but it turned out to be heartbreaking. As you may well know, racing is no respecter of potential sentimental stories. Trevor Bayne was going to go for the win on fuel mileage at first, only to have that hope dashed by the first of what seemed like 206 late-race cautions. Still, Bayne was sitting in third on a late restart, only to have an accident and see a possible second career Cup win expire. Just behind Bayne on a late restart was Michael McDowell. He was running fifth when pushing Bayne on the restart before he got caught up in the resulting crash. Either McDowell or Bayne winning would’ve been a real Cinderella story, but midnight came in the form of a DNF for both of them.
While the on-the-track result was not good for Dale Earnhardt Jr. again on Sunday (he finished 36th after a mid-race crash), there was some good news for him and NASCAR fans on Monday. NBC signed Junior to join its television broadcast, and that’s good news for everyone. During his guest announcing appearances, Earnhardt has shown the ability to communicate with intelligence, yet also be relatable to the everyday viewer who just might not be a NASCAR expert. Junior has handled tough media situations with class throughout his career and also understands the business due to his experience in commercials. He’s just a natural fit and the signing to NBC is great news for TV viewers.
While it looked like Clint Bowyer was going to be in position to make the playoffs this year, he was in fact the biggest loser in the standings after Sunday. With Kahne, who sits 20th in points, winning, he and Austin Dillon, who is 21st in points, will knock out the first two winless drivers in the top 16. Those would be Bowyer and the encumbered Joey Logano. Bowyer is now one spot out of the playoffs and sits 33 points behind Matt Kenseth, the next winless driver, with six races left in the regular season. With that kind of gap, Bowyer now joins Logano in the win or miss the playoffs scenario.
The Cup Series heads to Pocono for the second time this season. While it would be easy to pick the driver who won the first time there this year, in Ryan Blaney, I’m going with Kyle Larson this time around. The deep sleeper underdog who you might not think about pick is Danica Patrick, who has potential to fare well on these big 2.5-mile ovals. And before you laugh, my deep sleeper underdog pick at Indy was… Kasey Kahne.
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