This past weekend brought all three NASCAR series to life at the same track, which seemed like a rare event. The summer months often bring a scattershot sense to the sport as the series can go their own ways, notably at tracks like Iowa, Kentucky, and Canadian Tire Park. Now, as the season races to a close, having all three series play in the same sandbox seems to add to the intensity – everyone is around, and all eyes are on the track.
While that fervor may be noticeable, it seemed that the races at Texas lacked any, well, significant drama. There may be a couple factors at play. To start, racing on a 1.5 miler does not inherently lend itself to wild action – even if it’s been seen at the track in the past. It’s hard to make any kind of crazy moves and let’s also recognize that the thing everyone loves is problematic: aero push.
Then there’s the fact that Texas was coming after the messy Martinsville cup race that brought with it all kinds of fun storylines. Matching that madness could not be easy. Hence when Kevin Harvick drove away from everyone for the final few laps, he capped a tame kind of weekend.
He did, however, set up what should be a fun time in Phoenix.
Happiness Is…Phoenix. Kevin Harvick’s win at Texas has made for one of the best storylines possible going into the race at Phoenix, that being five drivers potentially doing something stupid to gain to make the championship race at Miami. Kyle Busch earned a spot with his win at Martinsville, while Martin Truex Jr. totaled enough points that he barely even had to start any of the races to secure a chance to race for the title. In fact, NASCAR may as well have issued a playoff bye to the final round for Truex as he had put himself so far in front of the field during the ‘regular season’ that he could have been getting pedicures during this home stretch and it would not have mattered. (Side note: with the ‘regular season’ that he had, how far ahead would Truex be if the sport still used the season-long points method for determining the champ? Neither Jayski nor Racing-Reference offer old-points tallies anymore.)
Phoenix offers a wonderful setting for the last of the championship contenders to get funky because of the following reasons: 1. Denny Hamlin lost his #%&@ there in 2010, blew his 15-point lead and then lost the title by 39 points the following week, so there’s no bad juju or anything; 2. Brad Keselowski is just as apt to drive a stellar race and claim the win as he is to say something stupid and get distracted, but no one will put him in the wall (perhaps); 3. Chase Elliott and Ryan Blaney bring with them so much enthusiastic blindness that neither one of them may be feeling any pressure but there’s a good chance that a team member or two might be.
Then there’s No. 4(8). Call him the vampire, because once he’s been invited into the playoffs he seems like he never leaves unless it’s after he has sucked all the life from his victims, or other playoff drivers. In conjunction, every time Jimmie Johnson seems like he’s been written off for dead, he comes alive and proves that unless it was a stake to the heart (or broken axle) he’s should not be ignored. They’ve been slow this year. Still won three races. They’ve been sloppy. Still made it to the penultimate race. They’ve looked out of sorts. And that means that they’re ripe for ‘one of those’ races.
The mixture of these drivers, and manufacturers, as Ford has proven to be reinvigorated during the playoffs provides wonderful theater. That drivers can do a little bumping here and there at Phoenix just adds to the fun. The only thing to hope for is that his race isn’t better than the one at Homestead for the title.
Happiness Is…Brazil. With both the constructor’s and driver’s titles settled, there’s nothing to race for in Formula 1 anymore. Just shut it down. Liberty Media should be following the NASCAR model to ensure that these final two races are more dramatic and that…um, what? Hell no. Even if the titles are settled there’s still a lot going on in the sport, especially as Max Verstappen attempts to assert himself as a contender to go wheel-to-wheel with Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel next year.
While that may all be fine and good, one of the major stories to watch is what is surrounding the sport as it begins to focus on the future – specifically regarding the powerplants. In what is is supposed to be a move to cut costs and establish fewer barriers to new teams looking to join, the strategy has backfired.
A team like Haas-F1 recognizes the potential for cost-saving but they lease their engines, but teams like Ferrari, Renault, and Mercedes see this move as something that may leave them all building new engines from scratch in move against the current hybrid era. Such a construct would have those teams engaging in a new engine war, with the whole idea of financial responsibility being thrown in the dumpster. As such, Ferrari has already made its claim, something that happens every other year or so, to quit the sport. Such a storyline will likely make the headlines in Brazil. As will Felipe Massa’s departure from F1 at the end of the season.