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(Photo: Mike Neff)

Happiness Is: Manners, McLaren & Bowyer

This past weekend brought an unusual circumstance to NASCAR as it played chicken with the weather forecast and seemingly lost.  While the 2-Headed Monster column may address how the governing body should handle dealing with the weather, this column will point out a golden opportunity that was missed.

When the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series got pushed onto Monday, the expectations regarding fan attendance and viewership had to plummet.  While the stands were littered with some committed devotees, it seems that most of the ticket holders faced the prospect of work or travel concerns or who knows what.  This scenario set up what could have been a grand experiment: weeknight racing!

It seems that both fans and pundits have clamored for races staged on other days than the weekend and Martinsville, even with its chilly weather could not have scripted a better chance to test whether or not the reaction would be positive.  

Note a few factors. 1) attendance was going to be low, and thereʻs a chance that a move to an evening race might encourage a few to return to the track. 2) Martinsville installed those groovy lights of theirs for a reason, so surely giving them a workout would be a good idea.  3) Thereʻs no MENCS race this weekend to make everyone rush to their hauler to turn things around and head to the next track. 4)The time has come

The Monday night schedule was open, as Roseanne, didnʻt make its return until Tuesday, so the competition would be rather paltry.  There are a number of factors that surely contributed to NASCAR again avoiding to test a weeknight race but how enjoyable would it have been to have Martinsville under the lights?  Maybe that would have brought out a little more from each driver, with all of them wound up from the long wait.

Too bad for us.  Oh well.

Letʻs get happy.  

Happiness Is…Manners.  Some goofball writer smarter than me wrote about the lack of cautions in the sport through the first six races of the season.  The “Did You Notice?” column asserted a number of claims and even threw out a suggestion like returning to the old manner of restarts with lapped cars on the inside.  Aside from that idea being totally problematic at this juncture, the author even made the claim that the drivers had become so concerned about the aero-dependency of their rides that they chose not to make contact for fear of the result.  The additional comment about the cars being so engineered that theyʻre now like an F1 monster was laughable, but whatever.

Perhaps keeping the car in decent shape matters for the finish, not necessarily the win but eking out the best possible one that can come about.  Itʻs still difficult to determine how much a track like Martinsville requires a clean car as it could always be argued that perhaps Clint Bowyer just had the right car setup, like so many others have had at the track (see: Hamlin, Denny; Johnson, Jimmie; Busch, Kyle).  

What if the drivers are being more cautious because racing is expensive and they donʻt want to take torn up machines back to the shop?  Yuck, that would take away the whole derring-do at-all-costs mindset that has been sold for so long.

Nah, this iteration of Martinsville was an anomaly, and in a way, it should be embraced.  

Itʻs not often that NASCAR visits that track and everyone runs clean. In fact, many fans await the trips to the short tracks for the precise reason of seeing drivers push each other around and possibly take revenge for past offenses.  This time, just super clean racing – how positively bizarre! Indeed itʻs something to appreciate. Now about the Fall race.

Happiness Is…McLaren.  For three years, the McLaren Formula 1 team endeavored to make a go of it with a Honda power unit.  The marriage was supposed to be one that harkened to their joint history, from 1983-1993, when the only won seven championships.  

Right, the pairing brought Niki Lauda his last championship, Alain Prost titles in ʻ85, ʻ86 and ʻ89, with Ayrton Senna earning three himself in ʻ88, ʻ90, ʻ91.  To say that McLaren-Honda ruled may not have been an understatement at the time. But as the sport runs in cycles, their success began to falter, Honda left the sport, citing costs, and McLaren switched from Ford to Peugeot and then Mercedes-Benz.  

In 2015, when McLaren re-started its partnership with Honda, the results were supposed to bring the team back to the fore.  And that never happened. By the midpoint of the third year of the renewed relationship, things had become testy and through peculiar negotiations, McLaren were set to begin using Renault power units this season.  

So far so good.  One race is no harbinger of a full season of results but McLaren must be thrilled to see one of their drivers near the front of the grid rather than parked in the garage – yet again.  Fernando Alonsoʻs fifth and Stoffel Vandoorneʻs ninth at the season-opening race in Melbourne Australia may portend well, but at the very least they help to wipe away three years of terrible results and frustrating circumstances.  That Toro Rosso, the team that took on Honda had both drivers retire, one with an engine failure, had to bring further relief. To have McLaren regain some form is a wonderful sight and good for the sport.

Happiness Is…Bowyer.  Most drivers are a bit prickly, and thatʻs not a shocking statement.  But Clint Bowyer brings something different, which must be the reason why so many other drivers congratulated him after he was able to end his long-running winless streak.  To use the term ʻgood guyʻ may be a bit lame, as it is cliched and most of us donʻt really know Bowyer, but there does seem to be a different kind of personality with him, and it was good to see him take the win at Martinsville, and just as good to know what heʻll be a fresh face in the playoffs this year.  

Enjoy the off weekend.

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About Ava Huston Ladner

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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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2 comments

  1. Avatar

    I believe the last weeknight race we ran was the 2012 Daytona 500 and Juan Pablo hit the jet dryer.

  2. Avatar

    Unless he is given the Marty Truex treatment by NASCAR, he will stink up the playoff’s like so many one and done’s have done. Stinking up an already seriously flawed system. IMO.