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(Photo: NASCAR via Getty Images)

Happiness Is: Controversy, Rosberg & Texas

Once again a short track on the Monster Energy NASCAR Cups Series schedule provided some of the best action.  Such a scenario is nothing new, as tracks like Martinsville, Richmond, and Bristol have made for wonderful arenas to see both skilled driving play out amongst the chaos of fender rubbing.

That Martinsville Speedway installed lights this year just added to the spectacle, providing a theater with all the spotlights needed to enjoy a show that NASCAR needed.

Clint Boywer tweeted after the race:

Bowyer also remarked that Martinsville should host a night race in the future, a comment that seemed to speak for drivers and fans alike.  Or maybe not.

The ratings for Martinsville were up, with roughly three million people tuning in.  That number is pretty decent, though some might argue how it pales to ratings from the mid-aughts.  So what’s the problem?  The issue is that races at the bigger tracks still draw bigger numbers – like the fact that Pocono had 3.7 million viewers, and Michigan, which can be a snoozefest, totaled 3.4.  

There seems to be a disconnect at times between what fans seem to be saying and what they are actually doing, with perhaps a vocal contingent providing a disproportionate of push in one direction or another.  Such a thing requires a scrutinous eye – where do we really feel we’re finding the most entertaining racing?

Let’s get happy.

Happiness Is…Controversy.  Whether or not short track racing is your thing, the race this past Sunday brought with it enough material for the talking heads to go bonkers.  The footage of Denny Hamlin driving into the back of Chase Elliot has been viewed and analyzed so much that the Library of Congress has obtained a copy to ensure that such a historical document is preserved for future generations.  Imagine how people of 2418 will dissect the video. (Oh, right, they’ll laugh, wondering why people drove such ridiculous contraptions.)

That pundits have tried to get into the psychology of Hamlin’s move while also picking apart Elliott’s confrontation with Hamlin on the cool-down lap…yadda yadda yadda.  We get it: Elliott persuaded Brad Keselowski out of the way using his car as encouragement. Hamlin dumped Elliott.  Neither won the race.  Elliott spoke his mind by driving into the side of Hamlin later.  Kyle Busch still won the damn race.  

Debate who did what and who should of done what, like Joey Logano’s crew chief calling in his driving for fresh tires after contact with Busch compromised its integrity, or feel free to consider the intent of Hamlin’s move, or how the Playoffs inspire such driving – it doesn’t matter.  Those running the sport are thrilled.

The playoffs thus far have been rather tame, but the race at Martinsville added an interesting story and one that can talked about ad nauseum.  With this story being the focus, there’s no doubt it will resonate within the echo chamber of the garage and the likelihood is high that we’ll be seeing something silly at Texas or Phoenix.  Perfect.

Happiness Is…Rosberg.  What is the reason for bringing up a retired Formula 1 champion after the sport settled this year’s title, with Lewis Hamilton making it his fourth, with two races to go?  Just to noodle Hamilton, who, of course, reads this column?  Well, yeah.  

No, the reason for bringing up Nico Rosberg is to provide a bit of reflection and perhaps better understand his 2016 title.  Hamilton, by winning his fourth driver’s championship, has proven that he is a challenger to Michael Schumacher’s seven and becoming the most successful driver of all time.  Watching Hamilton win may seem boring at times, but it is a reflection of his dominance.  Except there’s Rosberg.  

Somehow Rosberg was able to upset what would be three consecutive titles for Hamilton, and for a driver who was supposed to lack both the mettle and talent to drive alongside Hamilton, that says something.  The struggles that Hamilton’s current teammate, Valtteri Bottas, has endured showcase just how capable Rosberg actually was – and perhaps the challenger that Hamilton has claimed he wants – was there all along.  That the two were on the same team and struggled to agree on whether water is wet, is likely the reason for Hamilton’s enjoyment of battling Sebastian Vettel this year.  Hence while there should be a full salute to Hamilton’s accomplishment, it seems only fitting to give Rosberg a bit more acclaim.  

Happiness Is…Texas.  No doubt that Eddie Gossage, Track President for Texas Motor Speedway, started printing posters of Hamlin and Elliott to promote a perceived feud the moment the two got scrappy at the end of Martinsville.  That’s what he does.  The story those two provided gave him just the extra thing he needed to sell the race – alongside Kevin Harvick bobble-head day.

The truth is, however, that he doesn’t even need such a gimmick as races at Texas have seemed to bring out peculiar behaviors the last few years.  With that being noted, of course this year’s iteration will be a dud.  That’s doubtful.  While intensity can be a difficult thing to measure, it does feel as though the drivers have gotten to their breaking point, the culmination of a long season and the realization for many that things weren’t meant to be.  Seems like a good reason to tune in – well, that and the fact that the Cleveland Browns have a bye, so they won’t be putting their perfect record on the line.  

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About Ava Huston Ladner

As an editor, Ava works through some of the site’s biggest columns while writing one of her own on F1 each week. “Stranded” on the islands of Oahu in Hawaii, the aspiring college professor also helps anchor other coverage while coordinating Pace Laps, our multi-series news update.

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5 comments

  1. Seeing as how Hamilton clinched the title with two races to go, I’m sure the F1 brain trust will change the POINTS allotment to guarantee a final race (I do mean race) showdown in the future so it never happens again, just like the genius (only in his own mind) running NA$CAR has tried to do for YEARS.

    • Think you are dealing with a group of peoplle who have shown no interest in emulating nascar.

      • Maybe it’s past time for Brian to emulate F1.

        • I think you’re comparing apples and oranges. With F1 you have the FIA, Liberty, the teams, and a few others who get involved. Look at the brohaha already about the new engine regs.

          With Nascar you have the France family, not just Brian, and whoever they have to win over to get their way. Not the same thing at all.

  2. Despite his personality which takes many people outside their comfort zone, Hamilton’s talent is undeniable. Few drivers, very few in fact, can bring a car thru the field like he can. And yes Rosberg over their careers was one of a very few to be able to take the fight to Lewis consistently. Certainly Vettel hasn’t been able to.

    As for Martinsville, we shall see. I suspect that the people who watched enjoyed it, but it won’t have a lasting impact. No more people will attend or watch going forward. Maybe thats one of the downsides of having a season thats too long by 50%.