NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Happiness Is: Kyle Larson’s 2017 Success

Happiness Is… Larson.  Kyle Larson took a rather tepid race at Michigan International Speedway and hijacked it.  On the final restart, he split the middle and powered through to become the surprise winner.  While he may have been lurking around the top at points, Larson never seemed to be a true threat for the win, especially as Martin Truex Jr. appeared to be taking over and notching his fifth win of the season.  

While we have Larson to thank for making the race somewhat more interesting, what his win really shows is how he is an asset to the sport.  Wins get headlines, and backed by his sterling maneuver, Larson looks all the better after Michigan.  But there appears to be more to it.

One of the enjoyable aspects to the ending was hearing the crowd at the track cheer after he’d gotten out of the car on the frontstretch.  Often times it is difficult to judge how popular some of these drivers are, and the insular worlds they tend to keep themselves in doesn’t help the matter.  The reaction at the track sure seemed to indicate a solid connection between he and the fans.  For his relatively young career, that’s somewhat surprising.

What makes Larson’s story all the more interesting is that he’s not driving for one of the mega-teams.  Chip Ganassi Racing may be decent but the last few years had been lean, as the team sat behind the likes of Hendrick, Gibbs, and Penske.  Larson has invigorated the program.  Or maybe the program was on the upswing and he’s the beneficiary.  Regardless of the chicken/egg debate, both Ganassi cars are more near the front than they had been.  With Larson behind the wheel they’re putting together a solid operation… one that might just challenge Truex et al. at Homestead for the title.  

Happiness Is… Wednesday.  But Wednesday was yesterday.  What’s so special about Wednesday other than the hump day jokes?  Well, not sure, really.  Oh wait, NASCAR did that thing when they ran a Trucks race on Wednesday again.  As this column is written before the race started, there may be a likelihood that Kyle Busch ruined the race and ran away with it, possibly lapping the field or something.  Then again, Busch hasn’t enjoyed his frequent sense of luck in the series in a little while so maybe that scenario didn’t play out.  

What matters here is that having races on week nights is still one of the major changes that NASCAR needs to embrace.  That the sport is now moving to two-day schedules at many tracks feels like it should be a harbinger to such a move, but the governing body has consistently said that they’re not interested in moving Cup races off the weekend schedule.  But how wonderful would it be to have a Cup race to come home to on a Monday night?  One of the reasons that Monday Night Football is the game offers a pleasant distraction to starting the work week, and fans are a captive audience.  The Wednesday night truck race might not bring in huge viewing numbers, but it should be the beginning of a trend, not just a one-off treat.  

Happiness Is… Bourdais.  This week, IndyCar announced that driver Sebastien Bourdais has been cleared to race again.  Such an announcement comes after his rehabilitation from wrecking during qualifying for the Indianapolis 500 in May.  Wreck seems a little tame.  

https://youtu.be/E-UxZJpiDUM

To anyone who’d forgotten, that accident sure looked like it had bad news written all over it.  That Bourdais survived was enough of a feel-good story after watching his unintended destruction of self.  That doctors then said he should be able to recover and be able to race again was a surprise, but the timetable tended to focus on the end of the season or next year.  Thus his return to action is quite the accomplishment.  

Bourdais is a fortunate soul and his story follows the return of Robert Kubica this year and James Hinchcliffe last year and numerous others who have had their career threatened – aside from their very life.  This column continues to point out how improved the safety aspects of motorsport are but these individuals, and others like them, are also the manifestations of the best in medical and rehabilitation efforts.  As with many things in the sport, they will trickle down to all of us in time.  

Happiness Is… Break.  Formula 1 is still off this weekend, as those involved with the sport enjoy their summer break.  That such a popular sport schedules time for everyone to vacation and/or check out for a few weeks is one of the remarkable, if not continued surprises in the sport.  That they take as much time off as they do and the sport remains unaffected makes one wonder if NASCAR could stand to have some sort of summer break – as letting everyone breathe for a moment might be their best interests.  It’s doubtful to ever happen, but a thumbs up to F1 for keeping the tradition.  

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