ONE: NASCAR All-Star Lack of Luster
Next up on the schedule, it’s a pause in the regular season for the 2018 All-Star Race, a misnomer of a race title if ever there was one. Unlike other major sports, we actually see less competitors in NASCAR’s version not to mention a series of often wildly shifting rules for each different iteration.
In the past there have been telegenic, unforgettable moments that keep fans talking for days (and years) like the “Pass in the Grass” ….
…. or “One Hot Night.”
Sadly, those moments appear long gone amidst confusion about what exactly the format is in any given year and a general level of apathy. What the race really needs most is a new location and it should be one that rotates each year from track to track.
Moving the race could be an excellent opportunity to visit tracks that are looking for a Cup date like Iowa Speedway, for example. Or, they could opt for something altogether different — how about a spin on the high clay banks of the half-mile Eldora Speedway or a trip to Wisconsin and the awesome Road America circuit?
All of this criticism isn’t meant as a “diss” on Charlotte Motor Speedway which hosts the Cup season’s next and longest race – the Coca-Cola 600 – on the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend. And I get for a sport with as relentless a schedule as NASCAR, why two weeks in home base is a good solution but I just can’t help but feel change is sorely needed for an event that has truly lost its luster.
NASCAR needs to revive its showpiece non-points race and a new and rotating venue might be just the way to do it.
TWO: Chevy Woes
Pre-race, there was a fair bit of talk about it being a “big race for Chevy” with the number of mile-and-a-half circuits still to run on the 2018 schedule – not least in the Chase. Ford (and more specifically Kevin Harvick) has dominated this season with seven wins to Toyota’s four and Chevy’s sole victory (albeit a big one) for Austin Dillon in the Daytona 500.
The standings don’t make for good reading either with Kyle Larson the first of the bow tie brigade in eleventh place overall. In fact if the playoffs started today, only three other Chevy drivers would join Dillon and Larson in making the field and all sit toward the back end of the playoff standings – Jimmie Johnson (13th) Alex Bowman (15th) and Chase Elliott (16th).
And yet just for a moment on Saturday night at Kansas Speedway, it looked like Kyle Larson was going to grab an important victory. The six-year, 159-race Chip Ganassi Racing wheelman led a race high 101 laps and won the second stage but late race contact with Ryan Blaney ended his chance at the win.
In post-race interviews, Blaney admitted it was his fault but his contrition does little for Larson and even less for his manufacturer. There’s still plenty of races to be run but after a full third of the season the evidence suggests 2018 could be a long uphill climb for Chevy.
THREE: Delayed Watching
I ended up watching the Kansas race on Sunday afternoon. From the drop of the green flag on Saturday evening until I’d caught up, my goal was to stay away from any of my usual NASCAR sources and for the most part I was successful, with one exception when I clicked open Twitter, somewhat reflexively on Saturday evening.
Before I had time to close the app, I noticed only one tweet from Jeff Gluck that read….
Omg. Huge bad wreck.
— Jeff Gluck (@jeff_gluck) May 13, 2018
I managed to shut down Twitter before I caught any other updates so as I watched the race on Sunday afternoon, the one thing I knew was a big wreck was coming. I just didn’t know exactly when — given Twitter’s timeline algorithm and the way you see tweets.
But with the exception of the competition caution and the flags to end the two stages the race ran green for 237 of the 267 total laps and it wasn’t until the big wreck with 14 laps to go that I realized I’d got to the tweet in question. It certainly made for interesting viewing and given how many times I’ve had a result spoiled it could have been much worse!
FOUR: 200th IndyCar Win for Roger Penske
Will Power’s victory at the Indianapolis Grand Prix Circuit, the fifth race of the 2018 IndyCar Series season for Team Penske marked a significant milestone even by the Roger Penske’s own very high standards. Power’s victory was open-wheel win number 200 for the Captain.
“I’ve never driven so hard for an entire race. I was 100 percent the entire time,” said Power, who had a 2.2443 second margin of victory in his No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet, “I’m exhausted.”
For the 11-year, 162 race Aussie veteran, it was career victory number 30. Power won his, to date, only series title in 2014 but has finished second in the championship standings on four separate occasions (2010, 2011, 2012 and 2016).
As for number 200, the team owner Roger Penske noted “To do it here at Indianapolis is terrific…This gives us tremendous momentum going into the 500.” Power, one of four Team Penske entries, has never won the Greatest Spectacle in Racing in ten attempts while his boss has won an incredible 16 times including on three occasions by Helio Castroneves who will race in his 18th 500. Both will be drivers to watch in the 102nd running of arguably the world’s most famous race.
Finally, this week, a quick word on a different sport altogether. Growing up in England, it was all about football (soccer) and for my family in particular, the fortunes of the famous old North London based team – Arsenal – a team I wrote about for over a decade before I came to NASCAR.
This past weekend, as the 2017-2018 season concluded, the Arsenal manager Frenchman Arsene Wenger presided over a record 1,239th and final match of an epic 22-year reign, following the club announcement a few weeks ago that he would not be returning for the final year of his contract.
Now, it’s fair to say there have been ups and downs a spell of management that began in 1996 with newspaper headlines asking “ARSENE WHO?” but it also encompassed some of the finest football England has ever seen. Yes, the first half of his time in charge was more trophy-laden but his impact on the club, the Premier League and the game in general has been massive. It’s fair to say we’ll never see another manager quite like him and although it is time for him to move on, I’ll always be grateful for the many brilliant memories that have dotted such a large portion of my life.
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