While it was a short week in the NASCAR world with Dover moved to Monday and Kansas run on Saturday night, there was a lot of chatter among the ranks of fans. Unfortunately, little of it had to do with racing, and a lot of what was eventually said about racing wasn’t very positive.
I’m sure a lot of you weren’t able to watch the race last Monday (May 6) due to work obligations, so let me assure you, you didn’t miss much. Martin Truex Jr. pretty much opened a can of it up on the rest of the field, leading the last 53 laps and crossing the finish-line almost 10 seconds ahead of second place Alex Bowman. Officially, there were 15 lead changes. To be honest even after reviewing the tape, I could only find two.
And, of course, there was some heated and profane comments made about why the racing hasn’t been so good as of late. Increasingly, the focus has been on NASCAR’s new rules packages introduced this year and whether they are making things better or worse. Aerodynamics and tapered spacers make up the new “packages” and the rules week-to-week vary by track length and type (and were in fact altered last week for Darlington, Pocono and Homestead-Miami, so obviously nothing is set in stone.) Rather than talking about “ducts” let’s just call the two packages the 550 horsepower package and the 750 horsepower package, ducts be damned.
Some drivers think the new packages aren’t performing as advertised. Of those drivers, Kyle Busch was the most vocal that Monday afternoon saying in passionate and in one instance notably profane terms that the new “packages” aren’t so wonderful. In fact not only do they “suck” they, F….ahem. Yes, we’ll get to that a bit later gentle readers.
But first shall we look at something that involves fast loud cars rather than bad loud-mouths. This is after all a column about racing, or it is most weeks anyway.
Busch wasn’t the first driver to express some doubt about the new packages and members of the media and some fans paying close attention have as well, albeit a bit more politely. I think it’s pretty obvious that despite the new package, stock car racing is afflicted with the same old problem. The car in the lead with clean air on the nose of his mount has a decided advantage over the car, or cars, behind him despite or perhaps partially because of those huge rear spoilers that look like the trunk mounted advertising billboards on the back of New York City taxicabs.
It’s not just the leader of course. A driver can be wheeling a car that’s 4/10ths a second a lap faster than a car a straightaway ahead of him. But when he finally runs down the car ahead and loses the clean air he can’t complete the pass or if he does it takes him 10-20 laps.
Obviously this week’s race at Kansas Saturday night (May 11) was a cut above the rest, and completely unexpected given the tracks reputation for producing total bore fests. But it seems that it was the relatively chilly temperatures on track that spiced up the action. And you’ll note that most of the country will be seeing temperatures soar seasonally over the next few months.
Oddly enough, NASCAR publishes data that claims passes are actually up dramatically leaving me feeling like those folks who watched the replay of last year’s Dover race after the rain delay that Sunday and thought they saw Harvick win. If there are more passes for the lead than ever I must be watching the wrong dang channel. Either that of I fell asleep in the grandstands and had a nightmare about a very boring race. To further add to the confusion, NASCAR had added a statistic denoting “quality passes.” I’ve been unable to find an official definition of what constitutes a quality pass in the NASCAR lexicon, but I suppose like the Supreme Court justices and obscenity I’d know one if I saw it.
This, too, seems to be an ongoing problem with NASCAR. The motto seems to be “if you can’t handle the truth or don’t like what you’re hearing, dazzle them with statistics and hope they get bored and go away.” Well they’ve been very successful with boring fans, and having them go away, but I don’t think the result has matched their intent.
It’s a lot easier to accept the stats that say there are fewer caution flags than previous years in 2019. Yellow flags bunch the field back up. When there is in fact passing during contemporary NASCAR races, it tends to be during restarts. It might sound counter intuitive, but total “passes” actually increase as the field gets strung out during long green flag runs as has happened in many of this year’s races.
Huh? Hear me out. On lap 150, the leader Ricky Racer has a three-second gap on the second-place driver and the 10th place runner is almost 20 seconds behind the leader. But Ricky Racer and his crew chief decide it’s time to pit for new tires and a fresh tank of gas. As Ricky peels off, second place Karl Cactus passes him. In fact, the other 21 cars on the lead lap also pass Ricky Racer while he’s stopped in the pits getting Goodyears, 16 gallons of Sunoco and presumably a fistful of S and H Green Stamps. But when Ricky Racer returns to the track, he’s several seconds a lap faster on fresher tires. Karl Cactus, who has assumed the lead had been hoping a timely caution flag would trap Ricky a lap down, but he can’t stay out there too long gambling on a caution as his nemesis is notably faster. He, too, peels off into the pits and 20 passes ensue as he’s in his pit box. And as a new driver inadvertently takes the lead then decides it’s time for him to pit, the total passes counter is spinning like the scorekeepers on a pinball machine. But looked at objectively no actual passes were made. No one out-fought or out-thought another driver to wrest a position from him. The driver who had been ahead yielded position without putting up a fight to enter the pits. It doesn’t make for must see TV and the crowd hardly goes wild.
Which brings us back to the new packages and if they are making the racing better or worse. At the start of the season fans were urged to be patient. There were a couple new “packages,” not just a single new one so naturally it was going to take the teams some time to adapt to the new cars and things would get better each week as they did. I am now drumming my index finger on my desk and muttering “still waiting” under my breath.
Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but I break the NASCAR season down into three parts. The first stretches from the Daytona 500 in the waning days of a wearisome winter to the World 600 which takes place in late spring and among tourist communities Memorial Day Weekend marks the unofficial start of the summer season. During this part of the season, the contenders separate themselves from the pretenders. The second part of the season — The Summer Stretch — begins after the 600 and runs through the Southern 500 on Labor Day Weekend. The chain of contenders grows gradually shorter as drivers on the tail end of the “whip” fall aside. The final part of the season goes from after Darlington to the season finale where a new champion is crowned and everyone else goes off back home to lick their wounds and hope for better things ahead in the New Year.
Yes, the playoff (and I think we’re still arguing about whether that should be capitalized) has altered things somewhat in that a driver could win the penultimate race before the playoffs begin, work his way through the elimination rounds and still leave Miami as champion without ever winning a second race that year. But I still see the season in three segments. I’m old. I don’t adapt to change very well.
We’re just about through the first third of the season and only two teams, Joe Gibbs Racing and Team Penske, seem to have gotten their hands around the new packages. The racing hasn’t gotten better as promised. Houston, we have a problem.
And a problem child as it turns out. After Dover Kyle Busch was not a happy young man. While he had in fact managed to extend his streak of top-10 finishes to start a season to a record tying 11, he was never a factor during the race itself. At one point he walled his Camry pretty hard doing a good deal of damage to the No. 18 car’s right side sheet-metal. Busch was immediately on the radio saying his car was “killed” and his day over.
Well, not so much as it turned out. He wound up 10th. He was still leading the points. So having smoked a bullet, naturally the younger Busch brother was well pleased, right? Oh, no he was not. Incensed about how hard it had been to pass during the race Busch opined that the new rules packages “sucked.” Busch felt his opinion was beyond debate adding that there’s “no f**cking question about it.”
Bazinga. While I’ve been discussing this comment this week and taking note of how some media outlets covered it, I have heard from several fans and fellow scribes that they actually liked that Busch didn’t sugarcoat things. They want drivers to be candid and honest. They want those drivers to “tell it like it is.” So if this week I’m in the supermarket and I see a morbidly obese woman adding several packages of Oreos to her basket it would be OK for me to say “Excuse me, Ma’am? You’re already a waddling advertisement for cardiac disease as f**cking fat as you are! How about laying off the cookies a few days and having a nice salad?” After all, my intent was to spare my fellow shopper disabling disease and prolonged bouts of poor health not to be needlessly mean.
Would Busch have been any less open and candid if he simply said “I think it’s pretty obvious that this new rules package sucks. There’s really no debating it. You watch the races, right?”
Because this is what I do for a living, I was curious as to how some other writers and websites (including this one) handled the quote. No, my virginal ears didn’t start bleeding when I saw that many of them included the offending word unaltered. I hung out in biker bars on, or around, McDade Boulevard during the infamous Warlocks-Pagans war, at various pool halls in sketchy neighborhoods and I’ve either worked or hung out in various auto repair shops and body shops. You want to hear language turn neon blue just listen to a guy who realizes he needs a part to get the car he needs to get to work tomorrow five minutes after the local parts house closes.
But I grew up in a kinder and gentler time. I never heard either of my parents curse. Back in those days even mild profanities were frowned upon in polite company giving way to terms like “danged,” “shoot” or the infamous “H-E-Double Toothpicks” and eventually “fudge” in place of an F-bomb.
The history of obscene language is an interesting one. In the very early 60s, stand-up comic and satirist Lenny Bruce was arrested for using such words as part of his act. He was finally sentenced to four months in the “workhouse” for his behavior. I don’t know what went on at a workhouse but I doubt it was pleasant.
Fast forward about a decade and George Carlin released his infamous Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television (which was frankly hilarious though I got grounded for a weekend for playing it for a friend). Comedians like Eddie Murphy mined that shaft for all it was worth with their acts intended to shock as much as amuse their audiences. Eventually you ended up with acts like Andrew Dice Clay who was more shocking than amusing.
Movies came with a rating system that warned potential viewers that some coarse language might be heard in the film. TV programs still have some codes that warn of potential adult content or language. Somehow even the Mecum Auto Auctions end up with a warning about “infrequent coarse language,” though I have no idea why. Eventually a Pacino movie called Scarface about the drug trade in Miami is perhaps best remembered for the infamous chainsaw murder in the bathroom and an unrelenting barrage of obscenities that actually had some patrons getting up and walking out of the theater. Not long afterwards The Bad News Bears had the same words uttered by children with great enthusiasm.
I believe the word “shit” was first spoken by Detective Andy Sipowicz on an episode of NYPD Blue and it caused quite a stink at the time. Not too long afterwards an episode of the cartoon South Park actually made fun of the use of profanity on TV complete with a little counter down in the corner of the screen tallying up the obscene words used.
In print (and print rules usually translate their way down to the internet) there have been varying strategies over the years. Most commonly, the offending word is slightly altered like “Bullsh!t” or “F**king” which you don’t have to be Vanna White to translate. The reader understands what was said without the author actually spelling it out. During the Watergate hearings when tapes made by then President Nixon was transcribed they used a slightly more elegant (expletive deleted) as in “I am not a (expletive deleted”) crook.
The informality of the Internet (or the internets according to a former president) gave rise to its own abbreviations. In “ROTFLMAO” the “F” stood for floor. WTH? gave way to the less polite but very common WTF? (Of course as an avid dirt biker back in the day we had used WFO to describe a banzai run. (Wide f**king open but what do you expect of a bunch of teenage bikers?) Internet writing tended to relax the rules of the English language perhaps out of a need for brevity as we learned to work a keyboard but I’m old school.
The issue has been raised in racing coverage before. Back in the day, the No. 3 team, aware there were some kids and more easily offended adults monitoring their scanners at the track would shortly before the race began broadcast over that scanner channel, “Today’s transmissions are rated R. They may include rough language.” One of the reasons any scanner chatter you here during a contemporary race broadcast always seems to be a little after the fact, is the networks try to catch any untoward language and bleep it out. Back when if such a scanner transmission or an occasional live interview with an angry driver does contain harsh language the boys in the booth would get all but apoplectic apologizing for the misstep. I guess that’s changing nowadays when even Presidential debates often contain words you’d never have said in front of your granny.
A couple weeks back when FOX broadcast a very happy Johnny Sauter repeating “F**k yeah, F**k yeah!” over his radio to be celebrate a win the boys in the booth just laughed like Hell, or perhaps better, like H-E-Double Toothpicks.”
Last week Kevin Harvick unveiled the new paint scheme that he’ll be debuting during the All -Star Race. He apparently has to drive the car because he lost a bet. It must have been a big bet too because that summabitch is pink (We the people hold these truths to be self-evident. No Ford Mustang should ever be painted pink).
Harvick’s pink Ford is also supposed to appeal to millennials, who I’ve noted can be a bit touchy at times, even when you try to gain a working definition of what age group makes up “millennials.” The car is festooned with decals and phrases that are foreign to me. I wasted way too much time trying to figure out what “Yeet” means. Apparently it has something to do with either sinking a shot in basketball or ejaculating. That was more info than I needed.
Seeing as how I’m staring down the barrels of 60 years of age, I don’t suppose I’m supposed to know these phrases and symbols and I won’t point fingers. I grew up in a generation that oft said aloud things like the new Tommy James and the Shondells single was so “groovy” it went beyond “boss” to “far out” or perhaps so “far out” it was “out of sight.”
Also included on the peculiarly purple Ford Harvick will drive is a decal that reads “AF.” I had to look that one up, too. From my years selling auto parts when I saw “AF” on someone’s shopping list it usually meant “air filter.” Changing an air filter was simple back in those days. It usually involved a single lugnut, two if you counted the person doing the job. Changing the AF gave grown men an inflated sense of mechanical aptitude. It turns out these days “AF” has nothing to do with air filters. It stands for “as f**k” as in, “I got little sleep last night so I am tired AF” or “the new cashier at the grocery store is hot AF.”
No, I don’t see myself adopting that one. It makes sense to me with “f**k” still a verb in my mind. I mean I’ve heard phrases like “hotter than hell,” which sort of makes sense or “tired as s**t” which does not in that I’ve never spoken to a turd about how well it slept before being deposited in the ceramic lake. Going forward, I will simply refer to Harvick’s Millennial tribute car as “Pink AF Mustang” Which can either mean the current term or “A Ford Mustang.”
The odd thing is NASCAR reserves final rights to approve any racecar paint job or decalage. They have in the past turned down some graphic designs that they’ve deemed too political, too controversial or inappropriate for a general audience. They’ve even turned down paint schemes they just felt were “too ugly.”
Also this week, NASCAR announced there will be no fines or penalties forthcoming to Kyle Busch for his language. If I were Dale Earnhardt Jr. I’d be demanding a refund. Junior was once asked in Victory Lane what it meant to be second only to his father as far as Talladega wins. Junior opined that “it don’t mean s**t” and wound up not only slapped with a large monetary fine but a loss of points if I’m recalling correctly. But perhaps my memory is failing me again. I am after all old AF.