There were seven cars running when the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race resumed for the final time last weekend at Talladega Superspeedway. Oh, right, it only seemed like seven, and of those left on the track, only four seemed like they had any chance at winning. Such is how things can go at the 2.66-mile track in Alabama, though this one matched the lowest total of cars running at the end since the second Reagan administration.
One of the reasons for the number being exceptionally low is the rule that teams who can’t fix their cars in five minutes are done for the day. But that doesn’t really matter because when was the last time that a car spent 10 minutes getting repairs then returned to the track to take the win? So a better question to ask: did everyone forget how to drive?
It doesn’t seem to matter. With Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s last ride at the restrictor-plate track and the broadcast on NBC, the race gained a decent viewership rating as well as approval from fans. That Earnhardt still had a chance to win certainly played a major part in the the positive numbers, but note Jeff Gluck’s less-than-scientific polling:
Was Talladega a good race? 80 pct said Yes, making it the best race since Kansas in May. Full chart of results: https://t.co/KlCZI7w8NV
— Jeff Gluck (@jeff_gluck) October 17, 2017
Whatever anyone may feel about the sport, having a moment to be happy is good for everyone so that watching NASCAR doesn’t make one suffer bitter beer face.
— 90sManiax (@90sManiax) September 7, 2017
Happiness Is…Conspiracies. For those who have posited that Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus have figured out every loophole in the sport and exploited it on their way to winning seven championships and every third race on the schedule, there should be a particular joy from this week. Before addressing that aspect, it’s important to once again point out the perceived favoritism that the No. 48 team enjoys, which seemed most apparent after the race at Charlotte.
It was at Charlotte Motor Speedway that Johnson drove out of the pit box with a loose wheel, stopped, then had a crew member tighten the lug nuts of the loose wheel – while in a different team’s pit box – incurred no penalty and then went on to finish wherever. The NASCAR infractions department decided that their actions warranted no further penalties, as the loss of positions from the miscue was enough. To be critical of the decision was basically to have the ability to breathe, and it’s possible that some corpses may have taken umbrage.
So was this week at Talladega some kind of retribution? In the ballyhooed Big One, Johnson got plowed into by Kyle Busch and was saddled with an non-competitive car that would have to be retired. Before doing so, the team went to work and drove for a lap to gain positions vital to grabbing points. Apparently, however, the team began work under the red flag, which led to NASCAR parking Johnson and sliding him back two positions.
Johnson has enjoyed all kinds of favorable rulings in his career, and this negative one is hardly anything disastrous. The more peculiar aspect is that it seems to smack of NASCAR attempting to take a position that showcases its hard-assery, making sure that the previous week’s decision isn’t called into question. Theorists might wonder if Rick Hendrick’s check hadn’t gotten to NASCAR HQ or if Toyota offered more money. Those are funny thoughts, and what it points to is that even in a year when the No. 48 looks like it isn’t running up front, it’s still a major threat, and that makes things fascinating.
Happiness Is…Texas. While NASCAR will be doing its thing in Kansas, Formula 1 bounces stateside to visit the Circuit of the Americas outside Austin, Texas. The track has been up and running since the F1 debut in 2012. and Lewis Hamilton has made it his personal playground, winning four of the five races there. This year looks to be no different, and with a 59-point lead in the driver’s championship, Hamilton can pretty much put away the title with a win.
That does not mean the race isn’t compelling, as there are a number of storylines in play. For starters, Carlos Sainz makes the jump from Toro Rosso to Renault, a move that is the equivalent of early 2018 testing that allows both driver and team to get acquainted under race conditions. Taking his seat will be New Zealand driver Brendon Hartley, who may best be known for his 24 Hours of LeMans win this year. Then there’s the continued battle between Red Bull and Ferrari for second place in the constructor’s title, one that looked like an afterthought a couple months ago and has turned into a major storyline as Ferrari has faltered late in the season.
Happiness Is…One. “Is it getting better, or do you feel the same?” Sure, Bono may not have been thinking of NASCAR when he penned the lyrics for “One,” but that opening couplet serves well to take stock of the Cup Series as it reaches its next cut-off race. So the question is legitimate, are things getting better or does it just feel like the same ol’, same ol’. With Johnson holding down the safe spot in eighth, it feels like the overall mood is becoming more tense, especially as Kyle Busch sits seven points back.
What is really happening is that the drivers in positions sixth through 11th, and more realistically, 10th, are going after one another in hopes of moving on to the next round of the playoffs. Chase Elliott, Ryan Blaney, Johnson, Busch and Matt Kenseth are all separated by 10 points, meaning that the most entertaining aspect of the race will be those four going after it – as Martin Truex Jr. cruises to another win (kidding). But having those four get wound up for the race is exactly the reason for this end of season shenanigans, please let it be wild.