1. Farewell, TC
If you live in the Northeast, you already know the impact Ted Christopher had on racing. If you don’t, you might be wondering what the big deal was. Christopher was a racer, plain and simple. If you want to know what people mean when they say a driver is a “real racer,” he was the epitome of that. He raced – and won – in just about anything. It wasn’t uncommon to go to a NASCAR weekend at Loudon and have Christopher contend for wins in a Modified and a K&N East race and then, for good measure, in an XFINITY Series race. One weekend in 1999, Christopher finished in the top 12 in all three series.
But TC was a short track racer, and most of his legacy was built there. His NASCAR achievements include the 2008 Modified Tour title, a 15-year streak of top-10 points finishes in that series, 42 career Modified wins, 10 K&N East wins and six Southern Modified Tour Wins. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
You loved TC or you hated him… there was little middle ground. He had a three-hit policy: one shot to the bumper meant he was there, two meant you might want to give him the lane, and three meant he was taking the lane by force. Letting it get to three was probably a bad idea.
That’s not to say Christopher didn’t try to pass clean. He certainly did and he could pass like quicksilver, but he wouldn’t apologize for using the front of his car as a means to earn a position either.
I wasn’t lucky enough to see Richie Evans or Jerry Cook race in person, but I did get to see Christopher and Mike Stefanik at their best, and it was some of the best racing I’ve seen.
There was talk last week about whether Danica Patrick belongs in the NASCAR Hall of Fame, but Christopher is who we really should be talking about for that slot.
2. Dominoes are falling
Silly Season 2017 has been a long one, beginning with rumblings in the spring, building through the long, hot summer, and still hitting the headlines even as the playoffs take center stage. The closing of the No. 77 and sale of its charter – I’d bet to Team Penske, but there are others in the mix – closes one door, and Kasey Kahne’s signing at Leavine Family Racing fills a seat that wasn’t really quite empty, leaving Michael McDowell a possibility for any team considering a change.
There’s still the No. 10 to officially fill (probably with Aric Almirola), the fate of Richard Petty Motorsports and BK Racing, and then postseason crew changes, so this is really just getting good. Stay tuned, but strap in, because there’s still some silly left.
3. Thanks… now here’s your replacement
For the second year in a row, though, Silly Season has seen a team drop a driver who was there for the start and the growing pains like a hot potato once someone with more money came along. Yes, money drives the sport when all is said and done, but it just feels wrong to kick a driver to the curb just when things are looking up for a team that he’s largely responsible for bringing to that point.
Last season, McDowell had to share the seat with Ty Dillon, who then took over the seat of the No. 13 from Casey Mears. Like McDowell, Mears brought that team along only to be replaced by Dillon when money and performance came together
McDowell did everything right this season and the No. 95 team improved by leaps and bounds. Good enough, it turns out, to attract Kahne.
In actuality, McDowell did everything right except be Kahne. The latter will bring more money because he’s popular, but while he did make the playoffs this year, here’s less popular reality: Kahne’s 2017 is just one position better than McDowell’s, and in 27 races, Kahne has finished ahead of McDowell just 15 times. Take away that Indy win, and you wind up with two pretty equal drivers, one of whom brought the team to the point where it could sign Kahne, the other who’s posting only marginally better numbers despite having much better equipment.
Brad Keselowski’s remarks about Toyota having a marked advantage may or may not be true. I suspect to the average fan, whether or not you think Keselowski is full of hot air or onto something, is directly proportional to how you feel about the Toyotas or their drivers right now. However, the manufacturer’s dominance brings back shades of the late 1990s when teams complained constantly about others’ advantages, got a concession, and then the other teams complained incessantly about the advantage they just got.
To a degree, questioning what makes others tick keeps the sport on an even keel as long as NASCAR polices accordingly. When it gets to be a problem is when people jump on the bandwagon that “this and that need changes” and “so-and-so is cheating” and NASCAR responds by tightening the rules too much. The Car of Tomorrow (and thankfully now of yesterday) was in part a response to the cries of “no fair” from competitors and fans. So, it’s a delicate balance of hue and cry and going overboard as a result or making quietly sure there is no real advantage. NASCAR does need to be on that.
If there is an advantage, it needs to be phased out. It is important for many reasons to keep things level. But getting too bent out of shape serves nobody in the end.
I’ll have to admit, though, the Twitter war between Keselowski and Kyle Busch was pretty funny.
5. Hey, champ, can I have your autograph?
The Verizon IndyCar Series wrapped up 2017 this past weekend with an incredibly tight championship battle, by the way, despite not having any playoff system. Huh.
One thing that stood out was that, just like every week, every driver was available to fans for autographs. Every driver. IndyCar might not draw the crowds that NASCAR does, but NASCAR and its stars need to do better when it comes to finding ways to be more accessible. Q&A sessions to huge crowds and no autographs after seems weak, and surely each driver could spare an hour at some point.
If NASCAR is going to continue to condense race weekends, there’s even less reason not to have everyone out there at some point. IndyCar has had that one right all along. Along with their title battles.