NASCAR opened the drivers’ meeting to race fans at Las Vegas, and while it gave those fans a glimpse into what goes on behind the scenes, many drivers think NASCAR took this one one step too far. The intent of the meeting – to go over safety information or rules updates for the upcoming race, to give a few necessary warnings, and for teams to air any questions they have has become more of a media circus in recent years, where more time is spent on introducing celebrities in attendance than on making sure the teams understand their race procedures. Is it time to return to the days when only drivers and crew chiefs are privy to the meeting?
Two races into the season is hardly enough time to make a lasting prediction for the remainder of a long regular season that will stretch till September. But no matter how early in the season, Sunday was a very big day for the No. 11 team and driver Denny Hamlin. Two races in, Hamlin sits atop the point standings; in six previous full-time seasons, he’s averaged 20th in points by now. It was a second straight convincing showing that had the No. 11 among the class of the field, demonstrating that the learning curve between driver and new crew chief Darian Grubb may well be a short one.
Brad Keselowski beat Jeff Gordon off pit road during the race’s final caution, blew by two-tire Martin Truex, Jr. on the final restart and made the rest of the Bristol field look like they were the ones driving drunkenly impaired on Miller Lite. Gordon tried to catch him, but alas, Bristol is the new half-mile Fontana: fresher tires made little difference while aero and track position took center stage – even at 15 seconds a lap.
There are two sides to every story, and this week’s “huh?” actually goes to both sides of the same issue: pit road timing. After Jeff Gordon was beaten off pit road by Brad Keselowski on the final stop, he complained that Keselowski had taken advantage of a somewhat antiquated system of timing the cars’ average time between marked segments on pit road rather than by actual speed at any given point.
Kyle Busch chose the outside lane on a green-white-checkered restart to keep Jimmie Johnson at bay. He cleared him within the first 10 seconds under green and… that was it. The outside line is now the preferred line on speedways, just so long as the car in the right lane clears the inside one before he gets sucked around. Add in a little aero push for Johnson, some horsepower under the hood for Busch and the No. 18 cruised to Victory Lane.
Joey Logano was so close to victory he could smell it, and it smelled a lot like rain on a humid summer day. Unfortunately for Logano, who had grabbed his third career pole on Saturday, the rains let up, the race ran its complete distance, and the third-year driver faded to a disappointing 26th. For Logano, who is breathing a sigh of relief now that Edwards is no longer a threat for his ride, Silly Season isn’t quite over until other potential replacements like Clint Bowyer, Brian Vickers and Mark Martin have contracts somewhere else. Good finishes still have extra importance for the No. 20 right now.