Last week, this column made a silly comment about Kyle Busch running away the Truck series race, and that it might be something that would spoil the rare Wednesday night event. The main point was that weeknight races seem like a wonderful opportunity that NASCAR is failing to embrace. It still seems that way, as there has been barely a pip in pushing any XFINITY or Cup races away from the weekend.
Much of the worthiness of the mid-week race and how it may open up discourse of change was mitigated by the fact that Busch, did in fact, earn the win. His driver from the back after a penalty demonstrated his talent but also exemplified the distaste many feel for the Cup drivers running outside their own series.
But the real problem for fans, was the rain. That aspect of racing has always been a difficult one, well, for NASCAR. The question that one starts to wonder is whether or not the sport should develop better contingency plans or a policy regarding rain delays.
Should there be a two-hour cap to getting a race started? Should fans have certain expectations going in? Do things like this even matter if the ticket has already been bought? There’s something about profoundly empty stands that does nothing to increase positive optics regarding the sport. Just a topic worth wondering about.
OK, let’s get happy.
Happiness Is…Bristol. Is Bristol back? That question is flat out dumb. It never left. The track has not moved from its place in the Tennessee mountains, nor did it leave the schedule for the past few years. The draw of Bristol Motor Speedway is where there’s been some question.
Changes to the cars on track are part of the issue that has dogged the racing at Bristol, while in conjunction track adjustments have seemingly taken away something that people believe was fantastic. So there’s a battle between the then and now, with nostalgic sentiment overriding positive commentary. But you know what? The Cup racing this past weekend was pretty damn good.
The addition of track glue to the bottom groove to give it traction that allowed those taking that line to be competitive with those in the upper line. Sure, those at the bottom were screwed during restarts but almost every track has a lane that works better than the other. That Denny Hamlin tried to turn pit road into a personal game of shenanigans to get the preferred lane just added an element of silliness to the overall race proceedings.
Was this past race a Bristol classic? Most people would answer no, just because KyBu won, or that Toyotas seemed to rule the track. But from a different perspective it was quite decent as Busch, Erik Jones and Martin Truex Jr. battled toward the checkered flag. The track also seemed to be a virtual playground for Busch, who seemed to make no bad move.
The real positive, however, was noticing that the fans were starting to return. The track appeared to have regained some of its fans as it looked fuller than it has in years. In this age of NASCAR, where watching the viewing numbers and the track attendance has become as much of the sport as the races, the meter moved to the good. The ‘it’s Bristol, baby’ slogan may be a bit lame, but the night race looks to be regaining some of its lustre.
Happiness Is…Scheduling. The Cup series currently visits two road courses during the year, and next year will be adding a third when the Charlotte ‘Roval’ joins the mix during the Chase, er, Playoffs, or whatever it will be called in 2018. That seems pretty OK as the road courses have been a whole different animal with regard to strategy and racing. But this weekend, as the Cup drivers go spend time on their yachts or chilling in their private movie theatres, the XFINITY peeps will be racing at Road America. Is that strange to anyone else?
So in the past few weeks, XFINITY has raced Watkins Glen, Mid-Ohio, and now Road America. Cramming all three tracks into a quick summer swing seems like overkill. In the same vein, XFINITY is doing the very thing that Cup should, and is unable.
Contract provisions prohibit Cup from hitting places like Road America, or Circuit Gilles Villeneuve – two tracks that XFINITY has visiting frequently. While it may be a disappointment that the big series is missing out on these things, having the second series give them a go does allow for a little ‘what if’ while providing an enjoyable sense of entertainment.
Happiness Is…Yin-Yang. While the cup series may be taking the weekend off (slackers) Formula 1 returns to action after its long summer break where everyone likely got tanned and enjoyed drinking some wine you’ve never heard of from crystal glasses. It’s fun to tease but the work stoppage is something that every industry could learn from.
The series will be visiting Spa-Francorchamps for the Belgian Grand Prix. While Sebastian Vettel scored the last win before the break and looks like he may be navigating his Ferrari to his fifth driver’s championship, the betting money is still behind Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes. Much of that thinking comes from the fact that Ferrari has struggled to even be near the front for the past, egads, decade, that there is question as to whether they’ll know how to maintain their position. Pit that perspective against Mercedes, who’s been lording over the sport for the past few years and there’s reason to believe the bettors. This race should go a long way as to indicating who may have the upper hand for the second half of the season.