The Good, the Bad and the Intolerable
I bid you welcome gentle readers, and of course a warm and cordial Howdy to whomever is reading on behalf of NASCAR today. We’ll do our best not to confuse or abuse you, but sometimes things just happen. I’m not surprised by anything!
This scribe would be remiss by starting this week’s column with anything but heartfelt congratulations to Ryan Blaney and the entire Wood Brothers team. The young driver gave fans a textbook example of how to win a race against the best on the track, and it was awesome to watch! I don’t believe I’ve enjoyed a race that much since Dale won the Daytona 500 in 1998… and that, gentle readers, is some rare air to be in.
The icing on the cake had to be Brad Keselowski, donning earphones and carrying a mic, coming to interview his “sorta, kinda” teammate after his first win in the Cup series. If that doesn’t make sense to you, then you weren’t watching the Xfinity series race on the previous day. FOX kicked the regular crew to the curb and turned the entire broadcast over to “All Drivers.” That meant that it literally was all Cup drivers, in the booth and in the pits for the Xfinity race. On Saturday, Ryan was the pit reporter that interviewed Brad after he won. Come Sunday, Brad returned the favor and came to “interview” Ryan on his first win. It was one of those moments that made one reminisce about pleasant interactions between other drivers, such as Richard and David, or Dale and Rusty. It was just a happy moment that put smiles on a lot of faces. Our sport needs a good deal more of that and a whole lot less of mic tossing or cussing out fans that ask for autographs… or RULES!
Last week, we discussed all the “interesting” things that happened at Dover. Well, this week we were at Pocono, a 2.5-mile, platter flat triangle situated in the middle of nowhere, near the thriving metropolis of Long Pond, Pennsylvania. It’s also located in the middle of the beautiful Pocono Mountains, a place that should be on everyone’s bucket list, whether there is a race or not. At times, this old girl can cure your insomnia, but then in the next moment, she’ll awaken you rudely with some of the nastiest wrecks you can imagine. I’ll not regale you with videos today, as I want to remain in the good mood I woke up with this morning, but this is the track that ended Bobby Allison’s racing career in 1988 and almost took his son Davey’s life in 1992. In 2002 Pocono gave us a heart-stopping moment when Steve Park and Dale Earnhardt Jr., both then driving for D.E.I., crashed together into an inside guard-rail situated behind a long expanse of grass. That wreck continued to happen as both cars flipped, twisted and turned several times each, ending with Earnhardt right-side up and Park upside down.
Sunday’s race was relatively quiet, but the old girl sometimes can’t resist reminding us of what she is capable of doing to racecars. At lap 95, Jimmie Johnson lost his [expletive deleted] brakes, went to the grass, which sent him straight back up the track and hard into the waiting SAFER barrier on the outside. As the cameras followed Johnson’s slide for life, Jamie McMurray wasn’t having a great time behind him, as his car was semi-demolished and on fire. Speculation has it that Jamie either ran over debris from the #48 or possibly slid in brake fluid from that car. The day was markedly over for both. Oh, and lest I forget, Dale Jr. was already waiting for them in what the Lady in Black would call the “Lounge.” He’d been there since lap 58, when he gave a reprise of the bad shift with which he killed his engine in practice the day before. On Sunday, he got the same result.
On the entire day, there were only 4 caution flags waved, and two of those were for the “Stage” endings. The 4th and final one was for Kasey Kahne’s brake failure and subsequent meeting with Mr. SAFER on lap 141. That one set up a restart with 13 laps to go, and I’d have paid twice to see that, as it made a fan forget the rest of the day. We had Kyle Busch on the pole, with worn tires. The rest of the field all had new ones. Due to a fortuitous pit stop just before the caution waved, it was Brad Keselowski on the other side of the front row. When the green waved, Kyle got away smartly but Brad slid back in the running order with a poor start.
Then came a so-far unheard from Ryan Blaney, working his way through traffic, past Keselowski and then fighting his way past a “Freaky fast” Kevin Harvick and setting sail for the leader. Busch did everything one would expect him to do… he blocked high, low and in the middle, even offering to give Blaney a sample of agricultural racing through the Pocono grass, but the young driver was not to be denied. He kept pushing and Busch kept working those old tires, which at last gave up on him and Blaney took the lead. Behind him, Kevin Harvick had been lurking, watching the two battle it out up front. Now, he was closing the gap quickly. He caught Blaney with a couple laps remaining, but couldn’t find his way around him. Ryan Blaney took the checkers and the crowd went wild as the saying goes. Much celebration followed the popular win as mentioned at the start of this article. Heck, they’re probably still celebrating today, and it’s Wednesday as I type.
But wait just a cotton-picking minute here! Yes, the race at the end was awesome, and the fact that no one wrecked during it attests to the skills these racers possess… all of them. But then one looks at the points awarded and they tell a different story. Call me old-fashioned, because I proudly am, but to my way of reckoning, the guy that wins is called the winner… but no more! Gimmicks, gamesmanship and stupidity have combined to make a mockery of the word “winner.” Of the first NINE cars in the finishing order, the “Winner” beat two of them by a single point. The other six all outscored or tied the “Winner.”
1. Ryan Blaney 40 points
2. Kevin Harvick 51 points
3. Erik Jones 39 points
4. Kurt Busch 40 points
5. Brad Keselowski 44 points
6. Martin Truex 39 points
7. Kyle Larson 47 points
8. Chase Elliott 40 points
9. Kyle Busch 47 points
Well, isn’t that special? Gentle readers, that young man raced his heart out, as Mark Martin used to say, and obviously he got no thanks for it. I’m sorry, but I’m afraid NASCAR has lost this old fan. I still enjoy watching the cars on the track, and though I’ve never been a fan of playing games with the final 10 races on the schedule, whatever the name du jour might be, I’ve stayed around, taking it just one race at a time. Now, they’ve even killed my enthusiasm for that, because the winner is no longer the winner in reality.
For many years, I acted in the capacity of a nationally accredited referee in AAU/USS Swimming. Life was so simple then, and got even more so with the advent of electronic timing. He or she that touched the wall first was the winner. No games; no nonsense; no gimmicks… just a contest of speed. That, Mr. France, is the quintessential definition of a race and is what this fan wants to watch. It wounds my sensibilities to enjoy a race on Sunday only to see the winner disrespected in such blatant fashion on Monday. That is not racing Sir, and I feel I have the credentials to call that as I see it.
For years, I have stood tall in favor of your “Wave around” rule, even though it’s constantly abused and often misused today, simply because I believe that the “leader” should always be the leader. Words do have meanings… even though you keep attempting to change the parlance of racing on an annual basis or even more frequently if possible. Under your “leadership”, we went from tweaking the rules to an entire shake-up of the last 10 races of the season… which to date I have simply discounted, whether you choose to call it “Chase”, “Playoff” or “Tiddley-Winks.” Now, you’ve gone and killed the pleasure of even the weekly race and you keep right on grinning and assuring fans that everything is just great! Really Sir? Really? Oh well, believe what you will. I’m not surprised by anything!
Time now for our Classic Country Closeout, and I do hope you all are enjoying the series we’ve been following the past few weeks. Here then is another installment of “Stars of the 1950s.”
Be well gentle readers, and remember to keep smiling. It looks so good on you!