Defeat Snatched from the Jaws of Victory
I bid you welcome gentle readers, to another edition of what begins each week as a document known only as “Working Title” with vast spaces to fill in. For our NASCAR spy… Oops, I mean assigned reader, stay tuned because the old lady is going to light a fire or two today… or maybe put one out.
Let’s begin with the Cup race, run in the beautiful Irish Hills of Michigan. It was Michigan, wasn’t it? That’s what all the signs said, but on Sunday it raced like an entirely different track. At “My” Michigan, cars could run 4-wide and not crash, or be “side-drafted” into walls. Your scribe has not heard that anything foolish was done to the track, so apparently the culprit is the new “low downforce” set-up. (I refuse to call it a package. That’s something you bring home from the store or is delivered by the postman, or other more costly delivery services)
It started out with a debris caution on lap 8, which proved to be a large black plastic garbage bag… the 30+ gallon size. Who brings a lunch that large to a race track? Oh well, at least it was big enough to be found by one of FOX’s vast number of cameras. That would change later on.
Oops… back up for a moment. It should be noted that when NASCAR jumps on a new horse, they ride it into the ground, every time. The fad du jour seems to be sending cars to the back. Sunday saw 7 sent to the rear for varying reasons… some even legitimate. Jeffrey Earnhardt apparently chose to be back there. He qualified 35th on the 37-car starting field, so the trip was a short one in any case. Thirty seven cars! Elevator going DOWN↓↓↓
Once the plastic bag was conquered (that took 3 laps), boredom took center stage, interrupted only by three competition cautions, two of which masqueraded as “Stages”, but this old fan is no fool. I recognize a competition caution when I see one. I’m not even sure why the first one was called, but it’s listed as lap 27. Strange, but whatever you say Mr. Miller. We all know that NASCAR always has a good reason for the things they do. The next thing to interrupt what had by then become a strung-out version of a parade gone wrong was young Ryan Sieg, in his first Cup series start, testing out where the high groove used to be and instead, spinning into the SAFER. No harm, no foul; but it did bunch ‘em up for a restart.
The next competition caution, masquerading as debris of unknown origin, came with less than 20 laps to go. They restarted with 13 to go and they didn’t get 2 laps completed before someone “side-drafted” Clint Bowyer into the wall. Another caution and of course another restart ensued. That one lasted only one lap when it hit the fan another time. If memory has this correctly, they were four-wide and young Bubba Wallace in the #43, tried to make it five. He tagged Blaney, which drove him up into Suarez, who spun off the wall and into Danica Patrick, whose car took a speedy ride into the inside SAFER. Somewhere in there, Kevin Harvick also sustained damage. It was one of those Brian France “Moments.”
The last 5 laps ran without incident, as Kyle Larson racked up another win on one of the big Intermediate tracks… 2 at Michigan and 1 at Fontana.
There was an after-race Brouhaha over that last “Debris” caution, caused by caustic remarks from both Tony Stewart and Dale Earnhardt Jr. on 50 shades of why it wasn’t necessary and just happens too darn often. No apologies were forthcoming from NASCAR. As cited earlier, they are always right. I’d like to thank NASCAR on behalf of my Fantasy racing team. Four drivers… Kyle Larson (1st), Kevin Harvick (14th), Daniel Suarez (24th), Ryan Blaney (25th). All were running top-ten at the time of that “Debris” deal. Wrong sort of “Moment” for this lady.
The Xfinity series, also at Michigan, was a typical race for that series, in that Cup drivers led 88 of the 125-laps. Your scribe seldom follows that series any longer because unless it’s a stand-alone race somewhere far from the Cup race, that is the norm. After the last of seven cautions, 3 for debris and 2 competition cautions disguised as “Stages”, they took green with only 2 laps remaining. William Byron led them until the final turns. Denny Hamlin got alongside the youngster and as a friend described it, “Side-slammed” him out of the lead. Hamlin called it side-drafting of course. Young Byron wasn’t fazed by the rough treatment, and came back to within about an inch of winning. Reportedly, it was the closest finish in Xfinity history. Defeat snatched from the jaws of Victory! This scribe just wishes it had gone the other way.
I have one last comment on the Xfinity series. With all of the sponsorship (or lack thereof) problems that plaque that poor series, it’s kind of comforting to see 75-year-old Morgan Shepherd still wheeling a car whose hood proudly bears the words, “Racing with Jesus!” He has the best sponsor anyone could ever want.
And then… there was the Truck race last Friday night at Gateway Motorsports Park. I purposely held this one until last, even though it ran first. Despite not having a full field, which has become the norm for the red-headed step-child of NASCAR top series, and the obvious fact that “start and park” is alive and well in the trucks, this was probably the best race of the weekend.
You can check out the entries and laps run by clicking right about here. It’s also my understanding that the 30-car field was only reached after 4 late entries, #1, #50, #57 and #87. Smells a lot like “someone” is paying for field fillers again. This race was uninterrupted by anything resembling debris and ran its course with only three cautions, and two of those were planned. The final one flew when Josh Reaume, one of the late entries, parked on the track. The race restarted with just 8 laps to go and ran to its end without incident. At the end, the pylon showed John Hunter Nemechek as the winner, followed by Chad Briscoe, Johnny Sauter, Matt Crafton and Grant Enfinger.
Now, gentle readers, we get to the real reason I’ve chosen to include the Trucks in my weekly offering. While the race was on, I received Twitter contact from whoever hides behind the pseudonym, The SAFER Barrier. Folks tend to contact him because of that name, and he always tags me in his answer if it’s about SAFER. A couple of fans were complaining about the lack of it on the inside frontstretch. That made me start watching the trucks less and the walls more. Almost immediately, I wasn’t liking what I was seeing, so next morning entailed a visit to Google Earth and a map of Gateway. It was dated 2017, though without exact date, but it correlated exactly what I thought I saw.
Gateway has SAFER barrier installed ONLY on the outside of both turns… nothing on either front or backstretch and NOTHING on the inside, anywhere. Mr. France, Mr. Helton, Mr. O’Donnell, Mr. Miller… why are our trucks even racing on that track? That doesn’t meet anyone’s standards of safety in racing today! Why aren’t crew chiefs complaining? Why aren’t officials working that race complaining? Or maybe they are, and no one is listening. The trucks, which were always such fun to watch in years gone by, truly have become that red-headed step child, and this is further proof.
I’d asked my Partner, Jim Fitzgerald, to make me a map of the SAFER at Gateway. Alas, Jim is on vacation this week and Google Earth isn’t available at the beach, so please bear with what I’ve constructed. Your average 6 year old with a box of Crayolas could probably do better, but I have to make dots and connect them, as I’ve never mastered that “snap” thing that turns a straight line into a curve. I didn’t even try for the red where there are none. What you see in green is all there is, and it’s simply not acceptable.
Gentlemen, if you don’t care enough about this series to ensure that the tracks on which they race are safe, then put the poor series out of its misery and take it off life support. To have a race where only 18 trucks are on track, and none were removed due to accidents or wall contact is beyond sad, but… even those 18 deserve to be racing with SAFER protection. Gateway Motorsports Park should be placed on something akin to your 5-minute repair clock. Either they get the SAFER up or the trucks don’t return.
Just one final reminder. John Hunter Nemechek, who turned 20 on June 11, was named for his uncle, John Nemechek, Joe’s brother. John died as the result of hitting a concrete wall with his truck at Homestead-Miami Speedway in 1997, just 3 months before John Hunter was born. Let’s be sure that it never happens again!
Time now for out Classic Country Closeout, and as we’ve been doing, this week we’ll share another in the series Stars of the 1950s. There are always beautiful memories in these presentations and it’s my pleasure to keep them alive in our hearts and minds.
Be well gentle readers, and remember to keep smiling. It looks so good on you!