Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Hendrick Teamwork Pays Off at Dega

I’ve ready many pieces written about Sunday’s Talladega race, in which Jimmie Johnson pulled a rabbit out of his hat and won the Aaron’s 499.  Not only was the finish basically the closest in NASCAR history, the way in which it came about was a story within itself.  Talladega and Daytona are truly races that can’t be won without teamwork.  On Sunday, the teamwork that seemed to matter the most was provided by four teams who reside under one corporate umbrella, which is of course Hendrick Motorsports.

All day, it was the 88 pushing the 48, or vice versa, and the 5 and 24 doing the same.  They stayed together all day, and in the end, it paid off with a win for Jimmie Johnson, as well as Rick Hendrick, who’s four cars all finished in the top 8.

Various pieces I’ve read have been critical of the 2 by 2 racing that has become prevalent at the restrictor plate tracks this year, and I can’t say that I blame them.  The 2 car mini packs are certainly different from anything we’ve ever seen before.  To be honest with you, I didn’t much like what I saw beginning at Daytona practice, and in the Daytona 500 itself.  I suppose I didn’t like the 2 by 2 style because at first I didn’t really understand it.  Leave it to the true experts in the field to figure it out, and by that I mean the best drivers in the world who actually have to make a living at 200 miles per hour, and not the pundits, much less the self appointed pundits, much like me, who spout opinions about it

Strangely enough, the drivers themselves seem to be divided on the issue as well.  Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s dislike of the 2 by 2 packs has probably been the most publicized.  Other drivers, including his teammate Jeff Gordon, didn’t seem to have much of a problem with it.  It’s a learning experience for all of them, as well as for the fans and the people who write about the sport, and the jury is still out on whether 2 by 2 is a good thing or a bad thing.

About halfway through Sunday’s Dega race, I decided I liked the 2 by 2 tango.  The cars still draft, but they’re not in huge packs like they used to be.  This has been something that NASCAR has tried to accomplish for years, and I daresay they might be onto something with the current car and tire package.  The fastest way around Talladega and Daytona is in 2 car packs working closely together.  And I mean closely.  NASCAR is a fluid sport, as witnessed by the last 10 years or so probably more than any other time in the sport’s history.  If there’s one thing you can say for Brian France, it’s that the sport has probably seen more changes under his leadership than at any other time in NASCAR’s history.

One aspect about the new style of driving at the plate tracks is that I’m not very happy with the pusher being basically the co-pilot to the lead car.  That’s the only way it can work though.  Were the cars pushing the leaders to the finish on Sunday all giving up all chances to win?  Did they think they might get a chance to get to the front in the last second or so?  All’s fair in racing, especially in the last turn.  I suppose that any of the top 8 or so drivers theoretically had a chance to win, but in practice, it took a tandem of cars driving low, too low, some people thought, to get the checkered flag.  The car pushing the winning car of Jimmie Johnson was the car of Dale Jr.  Jimmie finished first, and pressed to his back bumper was Dale Earnhardt Jr.  Dale finished 4th, even though he was denting the winning car’s bumper.  That’s how close it was.

Until NASCAR changes the aero package or the engine rules themselves at the plate tracks, the 2 by 2 tango is probably what we’re going to see for the foreseeable future.  I don’t think it’s a bad thing, it’s just different.  To me, Talladega was a different race this time.  There were multiple car wrecks, but really no routine ‘Big One’ as has often been seen at the plate tracks for years.  I think that’s probably a good thing.  I know some of the drivers, such as Dale Jr. like the old style big packs, and it’s exciting to watch, but at the same time, I hate seeing so many good drivers taken out of the mix by someone else’s mistake.  That happened at Dega on Sunday, but fortunately, not as many drivers were taken out as were in recent years.

Sometimes different isn’t all that bad.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Why Martinsville Endures

Kevin Harvick won at Martinsville today.  Dale Earnhardt Jr. came in second, narrowly beating out Kyle Busch for the spot.  Juan Pablo Montoya came in 4th, and Jeff Gordon finished 5th.

This was Martinsville at its best.  Good racing, good finishes, and the oldest track on the NASCAR circuit keeps putting people into the stands.  I don’t think today was a sellout by any means, but for a track in a town rather off the beaten track in southern Virginia, Martinsville never ceases to please.

Several years ago, after Dale Earnhardt died, I figured that eventually we would see Earnhardt Jr. and Harvick racing for wins against each other.  This isn’t the first time, obviously, but for me, at least, it was a win-win situation.  Nothing can be better than to see two of my favorite drivers fighting for the lead with laps to go at a track like Martinsville.  The drag race to the finish line with Dale Jr. just edging out Kyle Busch put the icing on my race day.

It’s not that I don’t like Kyle Busch.  Not as a racer at least.  I know that Kyle is one of the toughest drivers out there, and he’s smart as well.  As far as talent, Kyle Busch has it all.

I’m still working on the personality part of the Kyle Busch equation though.  He seems a little more calm so far in 2011, and I like that.  His mostly reasoned responses to media question make him better received than his old snarky personality made him sound.  If indeed Kyle is really coming around, I welcome him to NASCAR.  Be aggressive as you want to be on the track, just don’t whine about it when it all blows up in your face later.  Maybe that was just the old Kyle Busch.  The new Kyle I’ve seen lately is a lot easier to take, especially on a full stomach.  I’m not sure that I like Kyle yet, but I do respect him more.

When Martin Truex Jr.’s throttle got stuck open and he hit the wall, taking Kasey Kahne with him, I gained a lot of respect for Martin when he jumped out of his car and went to check on Kasey.  To me, that showed character as a driver.  Martin didn’t need to do that, but it was obviously important to him to make sure that a fellow driver was OK after a pretty bad wreck.  Fortunately, Kasey was, but Martin what I wish some other drivers would do in the same situation.  Go check on the other guy if you’re OK.  That’s the old school thing to do.

Martinsville, from it’s bright pink hot dogs down to it’s great racing epitomizes what racing ought to be.  Small tracks, small towns, tasty eats, and good hard racing.

What could be better?