OK. I get it, or at least this break helped me recall the allure of a summer vacation. It’s been a long time since I had two consecutive weekends off, at least prior to the winter solstice. NBC called for the timeout and NASCAR naturally granted it. NBC had after all paid huge bucks to broadcast the Summer Olympics, which were postponed from last year. So how did that work out for ya’ll?
It would seem in some quarters the ratings for this year’s Games are considered a bit of a disaster. I’m not here to say why as that is well outside my area of expertise, and not even within my scope of interest. A lot of folks seem to feel this year’s Games became too politicized. I can’t say either way. I didn’t watch a minute of the broadcasts. I will say, however, that my sisters took their annual shore vacation and watching the Olympics on the years they are held is part of the tradition. They all said they thoroughly enjoyed the Games. I get a little edgy when any sentence contains the word “everybody” as in “everybody disliked the political undercurrent to this year’s Olympics.” Some surely did but not “everybody.” And so it goes.
After an extraordinarily long break, during the regular season, anyway, the Cup circuit returned to action at Watkins Glen Sunday. Given that next week’s race will be run on the road course at Indianapolis, it will actually be over a month between traditional oval course races which make up the meat and potatoes of NASCAR’s regular season. The last two oval course races, held at Loudon and Atlanta were actually quite good. Way to lose the momentum, guys. See you at Michigan. You might want to add some of those “Go fast turn left” stickers to the cockpits of the cars by way of reminder.
Lengthy summer breaks are part and parcel of the Formula One Series. Having raced (poorly) at Hungary on Aug. 1, the F1 types don’t return to action until Belgium on Aug. 29. Hopefully, while they are on holiday, the stars of the series will contemplate whether it is at all possible that the 20 “greatest drivers in the world” can complete the first lap of an event without a major wreck that involves many title contenders.
Yep, a full month off. You’d think the F1 broadcasters would be coughing kittens. How do you maintain interest in a racing series with that long a gap between events? Don’t bother sending any F1 observers to study how NASCAR handles the matter. As I sit here discussing off-weekends, I am contemplating the growing number of former loyal and passionate NASCAR fans I know of who have written stock car racing completely out of their lives during the Reign of Terror that was the Brian France era of NACAR, pre-DUI arrest. If the much ballyhooed but seldom seen “new car” fails to live up to its promise of better racing, there’s going to a lot more former fans heading for the exeunt.
So what went on in NASCAR news while the Cup series was on hiatus? Not a whole lot. To the great surprise of absolutely nobody, Brad Keselowski inked a deal with Roush Fenway Racing to switch over from Team Penske in 2022 that will include partial team ownership of the organization. How much of a stake will Brad own? Nobody is saying.
It’s part of a process where younger owners will be claiming ownership stakes in high profile teams, a movement that includes Jeff Gordon and Denny Hamlin. Some people claim that the fact “old white guys” owning most of the teams is part of NASCAR’s perception problem. As a charter member of the “old white guys” club, I will not weigh in either way. Just recall when sending out breakfast invitations don’t forget to include some of the guys who built the kitchen by the sweat of their brows.
It’s hard for me to call Chip Ganassi an “old guy.” He is, after all, only a year older than me. Ganassi had announced he was selling the NASCAR side of his race team to Trackhouse Racing at the end of the season. It was announced during the break that Ross Chastain will drive one of the Trackouse Cup teams next year alongside his new teammate, Daniel Suarez. Chastain is one of the more personable drivers in the series and I wish them all well.
Recently, Tony Stewart went on record as blaming his drivers for the relative lack of success on the Cup side. (Presumably except for Aric Almirola who won at NHIS but had been having a miserable season up to that point.) Doubtless some resumes are being updated at SHR as a result.
While there has been no official announcement yet, Kurt Busch is widely expected to switch over to 23XI racing as a teammate to Bubba Wallace for 2022, with the team co-owned by Hamlin and Michael Jordan. Winning a race always helps with a driver’s career prospects, and the elder of the Busch brothers managed a stunning victory over his younger sibling, Kyle, at Atlanta last month.
Of course, not winning during a season doesn’t automatically cost a driver his job. While he sits second in the points standings, Hamlin is actually tied for the top spot with Kyle Larson after the Glen but hasn’t won a Cup race this year. In the event of a tie atop the regular season points, the first tiebreaker is the best finish. Larson has five wins while Hamlin’s best finish was second at Richmond. Meanwhile, Wallace is now 0-for-135 at the wheel of a Cup car. Wallace did finish third at Pocono last month.
Having some time off outside of snowy season does have some nice advantages. Freed of spending all those hours away staring at the computer screen allows one to become more aware of the outside world. The first few days of last week seemed to me to be a bit on the chilly side for August, though it has heated up nicely the last few days. It also seems that leaves have started changing color and falling a bit early this year. That’s just my observation. I am no meteorologist, but I did turn to the best weathermen in the area for some insight.
Forget the network weather forecasters and Farmers’ Almanac. I put my faith in the overalls and work boots boys down the street at the local feed and seed joint loading dock. If they’ve ever been wrong, they’re still not fessing up to it. Hey, it’s across the street from the Dunkin and I’ll often pick up a sack of pricey dog food for a friend of mine. Yep, what I reckon to be the leader of the pack noted with a solemn nod. Way too cold for August. The crickets are late. The leaves are falling early. That all points to an early and abominable winter. (Again. Let me note that last year we had an SOB of a winter with significant amounts of snow falling seemingly every other day.) While a great many people take a great deal of pleasure in discussing the weather, it remains equally true none of us car do a damned thing about it. “Everybody” knows that. Sort of like the NASCAR playoff method of selecting a champion.
There was just a touch of melancholy to this weekend’s race being held at Watkin Glen. One of the track’s favorite sons passed away Aug. 13, 1989. When NASAR returned to the Glen after a 21-year absence, Tim Richmond won the race in fine style, leading the event multiple times including the last 11 laps. That win was one of the highlights of Richmond’s remarkable late season surge of 1986. In the final 16 Cup races of that year, Richmond won fully seven of them, perhaps the most notable of them being that year’s Southern 500 in what might have been in this writer’s opinion the greatest race I’ve ever seen, As rain began pelting the area again, Richmond began reeling in probative favorite Bill Elliott. With five laps to go, Richmond took the lead and opened it up to a two-second margin of victory. It seemed heading into 1987 Richmond had to be considered a frontrunner for the title, but sadly that was not to be. While Richmond won two of the eight races he competed in in 1987 (Pocono and Riverside), he soon announced he was stepping away from the sport, at least for a while. Inside of him, Tim was carrying the awful knowledge that he was infected with the AIDS virus, which in that era was every bit as frightening as the Delta variant of COVID-19.
This coming Wednesday, Aug. 11, will mark the 30th anniversary of JD McDuffie’s fatal wreck at Watkin Glen. On the fourth lap, McDuffie’s car suffered a failed wheel spindle, and he lost all brakes as a result. While McDuffie never won a Cup race, he did score 106 top 10 finishes.
About the author
Matt joined Frontstretch in 2007 after a decade of race-writing, paired with the first generation of racing internet sites like RaceComm and Racing One. Now semi-retired, he submits occasional special features while his retrospectives on drivers like Alan Kulwicki, Davey Allison, and other fallen NASCAR legends pop up every summer on Frontstretch. A motorcycle nut, look for the closest open road near you and you can catch him on the Harley during those bright, summer days in his beloved Pennsylvania.