That’s just the way it is
Some things will never change
That’s just the way it is
Ah, but don’t you believe them –Bruce Hornsby
Just some ramblings, inconsequential and otherwise, in the wake of Sunday’s Daytona 500:
It’s Just the Way It Is
Some things in life just have to be endured because it seems unlikely they’ll ever change. That constantly barking dog next door whose owners won’t take it inside even when you have people over for a BBQ. People in near-luxury imported SUVs who seem to have mistaken your quiet, curvy country roadway as a racetrack. Yep, even the sight of terrified children fleeing a school building while black-clad SWAT team members hurry in. You look, you shake your head, you sigh then you say: “Pass me the salt, would ya, Karen?”
That pretty much sums up plate racing. There were a huge amount of wrecks during Speedweeks, and no one was surprised by the carnage. It’s just the way it is. Pass the salt, Babe. In most cases, how the fans feel about a wreck has more to do with who got wrecked than who wrecked him. If it was your driver who knocked someone else out of the way, well then, that’s just racing. If, on the other hand, it was your driver who bounced off some other SOB’s front bumper into the wall then that offending driver ought to be black-flagged, banned for life and flogged with desert thorns.
And heck, sometimes you can’t even tell who the villains are until they wreck one of the good guys. Kyle Busch got what he deserved with that blown tire because his team had obviously cheated up the rear suspension geometry, some folks tell me. Jimmie Johnson was just a poor innocent victim with Darrell Waltrip’s ultimate absolution; he just didn’t have anywhere to go!” (That pedal in the middle still slows a car down, right?)
One of the less colorful and thus printable emails I got last night after Austin Dillon went out and got a tattoo on his ass to celebrate his Daytona 500 was that the RCR driver ought to have had an ass tattooed on his face instead. Did Dillon cross the line? Nah. That’s just the way it is. Pass the salt.
We’ve had this debate before. Remember last year when Denny Hamlin knocked Chase Elliott out of the way when the younger driver seemed poised to take his first win at last? Lawd Almighty, did Hamlin get beat up in the court of public opinion. That was dirty driving, dagnabit. Now, had Elliott knocked Hamlin into the cheap seats, almost certainly fans would have accepted that as just good hard racing and a “never say quit” attitude.
It’s ironic that some people will excuse any on-track barbarity, even on the first lap as forgivable because that’s the way “Dale Earnhardt the Original” would have done it. Oddly enough my recollections are a bit different. More than once Earnhardt called out another driver for needlessly causing a wreck and in Darrell Waltrip’s case at one point even demanding NASCAR suspend Ol’ D.W.
Then you had that infamous night at Bristol in what history had dubbed the “rattle his cage” wreck with Terry Labonte. Earnhardt just flat out parked Labonte that night and the crowd reaction was swift and near universal. Earnhardt was still grinning in victory lane but he was grinning rather sheepishly as the crowed lustily booed his tactics, the normally taciturn Ned Jarrett in the booth called the move “the dirtiest thing” he’d ever seen at a stock car race, and Jimmy Spencer admitted had he caught the No. 3 car he’d have wrecked him in retaliation for what Dale did the No. 5 car. A somewhat confused Earnhardt claimed he hadn’t meant to wreck Labonte. He just meant to “rattle his cage a little.” As to the crowd reaction, Earnhardt finally shrugged and said “if they ain’t cheering they better be booing.”
Of course we can’t ask the man if his opinion has changed any since that night. In addition to having been the 20th Anniversary of Earnhardt’s sole Daytona 500 win, Sunday was also the 17th Anniversary of Earnhardt’s fatal wreck on the last lap of the 2001 Daytona 500, another plate race. But that’s just the way it is. Pass the salt, wouldja?
TV or Not TV
If you were to ask a fair amount of NASCAR fans (and there’s supposed to be 80 million of you out there, NASCAR says. They may have to have a role call soon.) if they saw the end of the Sunday’s Daytona 500, they’d likely reply with a bare minimum of irony, “No, I watched it on FOX.” Yes, the commercial load towards the end of the race was stupefying and made following the flow of the race nearly impossible. At one point after a commercial break we were treated to a review of the race to that point from the Hollywood Hotel, followed by another commercial break.
Fans were left wondering who the heck had finished second and third as they saw someone crashing into the wall in the background but weren’t sure on which side of the start/finish line the incident had happened. Nor did anyone know where Aric Almirola had ended up finishing after he got booted out of the way. But man did we get a good look at Austin Dillon trying to blow out his rear tires doing doughnuts. Perhaps not unexpectedly his team and crew members were pleased that Dillon had won. Who would have thunk? But to the victor goes the spoils and we got to hear Dillon’s reaction to winning the big race right out there on the front stretch. (no relation to this site) an ill-considered strategy NBC started last year. Yep, a winner interview is a standard part of the program, god bless their pointed little heads. But then less than five minutes later the winner gets interviewed again in victory circle to see if in fact he is still happy about having won the race. Oddly enough he usually is. And he’d like to thank the same sponsors he thanked on the front stretch. Meanwhile everyone is sort of wishing that they’d at least show the top 10 finishers in that tough to read text-box on the left side of the screen. Note to FOX. Stock car racing fans are a graying population. You might want to up the font size up a notch and ditch the gray on black graphics.
On a more positive note, the FOX broadcast of Sunday’s Daytona 500 annoyed a lot less fans than their previous efforts. In fact the Daytona 500, oft proclaimed at the Super Bowl of the sport, received an overnight rating of 5.1, a dismal result that has to cause great concern. (For comparison’s sake the first Daytona 500 FOX broadcast drew a 10.0 rating in 2001 and the event’s ratings peaked at 11.3 in 2006 on NBC.) To be fair, Sunday’s race was up against the Olympics this year and it seems fans of the Olympics have been given more reasons to hate NBC than race fans have to hate FOX. At least FOX did get the winner right on Sunday as opposed to that one skiing event on NBC. (We also learned that folks from the Netherlands are such good skaters because they commute to work on ice skates daily. So they must be pretty good swimmers too to get to work during the summer.
But were the Olympics enough to torpedo the Daytona 500 ratings beneath the waterline? What else changed over last year that caused ratings to drop 22%? Well, obviously Dale Jr. has retired though he was on hand for the festivities. And of course last year’s race started a couple hours earlier which fans seem to prefer. Even West Coast fans. And we found out just how much the Koreans enjoyed being occupied by the Japanese for half a century, a factoid that had escaped me and in fact a good many Koreans.)
The Olympics alone can’t be blamed for the ratings drop. Not only did the 2014 Daytona 500 have to compete with the Winter Olympics it featured a six hour and 22 minute rain delay. During that delay the stands had to be evacuated due to a tornado threat. Still that race managed a 5.6 rating.
That historically low rating the 500 earned has to be some cause for concern. It is in fact the lowest rated 500 as best I’ve been able to research. (Oddly enough a lot of sites that once posted historical ratings no longer do.) But then the highest rated Daytona 500 was held way back in 1979, the first Great American Race ever broadcast flag to flag. And that record will never be broken because back in those days by and large TV viewers only had three channels to watch, CBS, NBC and ABC. Add to that, the fact an epic blizzard had most of the eastern half of the country snowed in and desperate for any sort of entertainment. (Or an excuse to put off going out and shoveling the driveway.)
So class, what did we learn from yesterday’s Daytona 500 that will help predict how this stock car racing season will turn out? That’s, right. The same as every year. Absolutely nothing. Because of its nature, the Daytona 500 isn’t even a very good indicator of this year’s other three plate races, another here at Daytona in July and the two Talladega races.
The Fords seemed strong all week but that wasn’t unexpected. Toyota had a new car last year and Chevy has its new Camaro this year. (A couple notes here; Despite what you heard repeatedly Sunday, Toyota did not dominate in the early events of last year. Martin Truex, Jr. won three of the first 18 Cup points races in his Camry. Joe Gibbs Racing, Toyota’s big guns, didn’t win a race until New Hampshire, the 19th race of the season. All of us in the media spent a lot of time in the first months of last year wondering what the heck was wrong with JGR. The Toyotas did in fact come on strong later in the season. It’s surely a coincidence that the Toyotas came alive right about the time Toyota actually released the street version of the same Camry they’d been racing all year last fall. And a note to Jimmie Johnson: It’s actually the Chevy Camaro ZL1, not the LS1. An LS1 is probably what your gardener has in his pickup truck.
It seems counterintuitive, but having the oldest body style has turned out to be an advantage for the Fords on the plate tracks. The newer Chevys and Toyotas were designed to increase downforce, giving them an advantage at the intermediate tracks that dominate the schedule while serving as a hindrance at the plate tracks. So don’t expect to see the Fords dominating at Atlanta, the first of countless 1.5 mile moderately banked ovals which have taken over the NASCAR schedule the way dandelions take over a suburban front yard in the spring.
But Darrell Wallace, Jr. proved he was the real deal, correct? He’s ready to join the legions of the sport’s superstars. Wallace did in fact have a strong run Sunday and that’s encouraging. But if you look at the team he drives for (Richard Petty Motorsports, not Petty Engineering which went away in 2008) their last win was scored on a plate track by Aric Almirola and their last five top 5 finishes have all occurred at plate tracks. Remember when Brian Scott finished second driving for RPM at Talladega in 2016? No, I didn’t think so. I wish Wallace good luck just as I wish the best for all the new drivers coming into the sport and even the guys who’ve been here seemingly forever. But in this case, Wallace’s strong run Sunday is almost definitely one of those “Past performance is not always indicative of future success” disclaimers on an investment prospectus.
It’s not just a Hall and Oates earworm of a tune anymore. Danica Patrick has in fact packed her bags and quit the NASCAR side of racing. In a move worthy of a country song of its own, she left her boyfriend behind but took the dogs with her. There was no word on who got the truck and who got the shaft.
In 191 career Cup starts, the final results show Patrick scored zero wins, an equal number of top-5 finishes and all of seven top-10 results. Perhaps most notably in her years along the Magical Mystery Tour, Ms. Patrick won the pole for the 2013 Daytona 500. Her best points finish in the season standings was 24th, twice. Coincidentally enough her career average Cup finish was also 24th. Five and a half years is a long career for any driver with that sort of journeyman statistics but Patrick was one of the most recognizable faces in the sport especially in her early years.
In politically correct terms suited to the situation Patrick at least hinted her team had given up on her at some point. Car owner and former fellow competitor Tony Stewart went on record as disagreeing that was the case. His assessment of the situation was that based on his and Greg Zippadelli’s infinitely more in depth knowledge of the sport, he wanted to pair her again with Tony Gibson as a crew chief. Patrick disagreed and wanted a crew chief with more of an engineering background like she’d had in Indy-Car. Stewart said in that regard Patrick was her own worst enemy. (Stewart also noted he’d been keeping that opinion “under his belt” which A) is an incredibly awkward thing to say B) is probably as big in circumference as Martinsville.) To be fair and try to find some semblance of a positive takeaway in the modern era no former open wheel driver has come into NASCAR racing and set the joint on fire either even some with a career record more enviable than Patrick’s. (Jacques Villeneuve had an Indy 500 win and a F1 title before attempting unsuccessfully to race in NASCAR.) And in her final Cup start let the record show Ms. Patrick finished better than seven time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson. Hey, before you go, Danica, can you pass the salt please?
Weed, Whites and Wine
The ever irascible Denny Hamlin was at his best again in the days leading up to the Daytona 500. The well-known comedian/driver bought down the house on an internet blog, Pardon My Take, stating that he felt somewhere around 70% of NASCAR drivers used Adderall to increase their focus while they’re racing. Somewhere, Jeremy Mayfield and AJ Allmendinger were falling out of their chairs clutching their sides, so great was their mirth. Even NASCAR officials were so incredibly amused that they called Hamlin to their trailer to thank him for a good chuckle. Because right now in this country what’s funnier than pharmaceutical drug abuse? Perhaps Hamlin can next direct his wit towards what the funniest form of cancer is or how child abuse victims are such whiners and ought to grow up. Obviously Hamlin’s remarks were only made in jest. What he really intended to say was that NASCAR fans might need to take some sort of amphetamine to stay awake for 70% of this season’s races. Look for Hamlin on Kimmel in the years ahead or actually as soon as Joe Gibbs can find another younger driver with a lower price tag.