Category: Views

Daytona Qualifying Disaster

There is an old saying that what drivers hate, fans will love. Sunday afternoon’s qualifying for the starting two position of next week’s Daytona 500 proved that saying wrong. Both fans, drivers, and media alike classified the knockout qualifying rounds as “idiotic,” “dumb,” “the worst,” and “not even entertaining.” The only group that seemed to enjoy it was the FOX broadcast team who had to enjoy the ratings as fans watched in horror at what the Daytona 500 qualifying has become.

Just one year ago, and many years prior, this day was single car qualifying which saw the fastest two drivers be reserved for the front row of the Daytona 500. There was much prestige to be felt by drivers and crews because this was the culmination of an entire offseason of trying to build the fastest car. This year, to spice things up, NASCAR brought in their knockout qualifying format that it had used with success last season (minus the fall Talladega race, another restrictor plate track like Daytona).

This format saw the field split into two groups, with the top 12 in each group advancing to the second round. Then the top twelve of that group would advance to the third and final round, with the fastest car in that session becoming the pole sitter for the “Great American Race.”

The problem with this scenario is a few things, first instead of filling out the entire field, this spectacle was used for the first two spots. In four days there will be two races run to determine order of the field, which feels redundant to put it kindly. The second problem is each round has a three minute clock, but drivers do not start until half the time has passed. This would allow a fast first lap for some, while others might not have had enough time to attempt theirs or would not have enough time to knock you off. So basically for over a minute, cars just sat on pit road waiting. The third problem was exactly what we saw in the first round, which was a multi-car wreck (typical of restrictor plate racing) that not only put some drivers in a bad spot qualifying wise, but in Reed Sorenson’s case, unless his team can rebuild his car in four days, he won’t be able to even try to make it into the race.

Clint Bowyer, who was caught up in the Sorenson wreck after the two made contact, did not hold back in his interview with FOX after being released from the care center. “It’s idiotic to be out here doing this anyway. It makes no sense in being able to put on some cute show for whatever the hell this is, then you have a guy out there in desperation doing this crap like this. There’s no reason to be out here. These guys have spent six months working on these cars, busting their asses on these cars to go out there and have some guy out of desperation do that crap, but it ain’t his fault. It’s not, it’s NASCAR’s fault for putting us out here in the middle of this crap for nothing.”

Other drivers weighed in with similar thoughts as Bowyer, including last season’s Rookie of the Year Kyle Larson. “I think they need to go back to single-car qualifying. I think that’s about it; for Superspeedways anyway, because this is pathetic.” Team owner and driver Tony Stewart took to Twitter to call out NASCAR for what went on today. Keep in mind that all four of his cars did not advance past the first round, but I think the frustration was beyond that.

In my opinion, AJ Allmendinger’s assessment of the day was spot on. “Honestly, I could have cared less how I qualified. I just didn’t want to wreck. Restrictor-plate qualifying; it’s going to be boring or dumb, no matter what, honestly. It’s the nature of it. It’s pretty cool for a race team to win the Daytona 500 pole. That’s prestigious and that’s important. But the rest of the speedway qualifying doesn’t really matter. You could just draw out of a hat for Sunday and that would be a lot easier.”

Naturally the cheerleaders of what we saw were the FOX broadcasters Darrell Waltrip, Mike Joy, and Larry McReynolds. Also joining that bandwagon was ex-driver Kenny Wallace, who works for FOX, and current driver Michael Waltrip, who works for FOX. Waltrip went so far as to say he had fun in his car out there trying to qualifying for the 500. I understand they have to keep things positive, but just another reminder of why I don’t mind turning down the volume on the TV while races are on.

The lone positive in this whole debacle was Jeff Gordon picking up the pole for his final Daytona 500. The final round of qualifying almost saw half the field running not even being able to register a time as they played chicken waiting for someone to leave pit road. Had Martin Truex, Jr. just waited a few more seconds, he could have been the lone driver to make a time and collect the pole. Instead, it was Gordon and teammate Jimmie Johnson creating an all Chevrolet front row for the season opening race. “This is one of the most gratifying poles here at Daytona that I have ever had,” commented Gordon.

I just hope for all the complaining that drivers and fans did today NASCAR will learn from their mistake and not do this again. The realist in me, though, believes NASCAR will fine drivers like Bowyer (whose whole rant was epic) and Stewart for speaking out in order to send the message that they need NASCAR more than NASCAR needs them. I hope Thursday is not as much of a shit show as today was.

Sprint Cup Series 2015 Season Preview

One year ago it was chaos for NASCAR fans as the announcement came through there was a new version of the Chase for the Sprint Cup, one that put emphasis on winning, had eliminations, and an expanded field. Many, include me, thought this was the dumbest idea ever and no way would it work. Sometimes I can admit when I’m wrong, and judging by the tempers that overflowed and nail biting season finale at Homestead, this was the correct move for NASCAR to make.

This offseason leading into the 2015 was supposed to be a calm one without much waves being made. Heck, what could top last year’s circus atmosphere to start the season? Only one thing, that being Jeff Gordon announcing this year will be his last in the Sprint Cup Series. Bombshell for sure and now that’ll be what everyone will be talking about, not only to start the season, but over the course of the 36 race trek across the United States.

It would make sense to start with Gordon, so let’s do that. I’m still in disbelief that he is calling it a career after 23 years. You almost think he would race forever, and at age 43 he will walk away many years before some of the stars that came before him. Gordon was in the thick of the points battle until that fateful night in Texas where his title hopes got dashed after a run in with Brad Keselowski. The fight and fire you saw that night, I believe, will carry over into his final season. He should go out with a bang, rather than a whimper, which is why he’s calling it quits now. Last season he won the most races in the previous seven season, had the most top-5s and top-10s in the past five seasons. It’ll be hard to beat those numbers he put up, but anything will be possible for this team and driver determined to leave on top.

After 11 years with Ford, Carl Edwards makes the jump to the “dark side” of Toyota with Joe Gibbs Racing. He’s been putting up decent numbers with Roush Fenway Racing, despite that team going through a decline of sorts. I’m not sure how Gibbs’ organization will handle being a four car operation, as only Hendrick Motorsports has figured that balance of four cars out. And even then, it’s taken them nearly a decade to perfect it. Many expect Edwards to have the sort of jump in his step that former and now current teammate Matt Kenseth had when he joined the organization for the 2013 season.

Thanks to NASCAR’s subjective rules, Trevor Bayne will not be able to run for rookie of the year this season. Despite not having run a full season, he’s done enough in prior years (including a Daytona 500 win in 2011) to be deemed experienced. Never mind he’ll still have a yellow stripe on his car, he’s not rookie according to NASCAR. Thanks to BK Racing picking another rookie to run, we will have a Rookie of fhe Year award winner. That is Jeb Burton. Not finding sponsorship in the Truck Series was the best thing that’s happened to him. Unless he talks to Ryan Truex, then it might be the worst thing that happened to him.

Welcome back to the Cup Series Ron Hornaday, Jr., he gets the nod in the new TMG Racing #30 Chevrolet as the “primary driver.” Not sure about the wording on that about primary driver, but whatever. I assumed Hornaday’s career was done when he got screwed over by the Turner Scott Motorsports fiasco, but instead will try only his second full Cup season. The other was in 2001 running for A.J. Foyt in the #14 Conseco Pontiac, remember that car? It’ll be nice to see the 56 year old Hornaday back, I would have trusted him to do more in the Truck Series than Cup, but if the goal is to finish and not tear up cars, then Hornaday’s your guy.

Also coming back to the Cup Series is Sam Hornish, Jr., who took his lumps and learned how to race in the XFINITY Series the past few years. I’m rooting for Hornish to do a lot better than he did in his first Cup go around, especially because he’s learned not only how to win in a stock car, but also run for a title. I think that is what he needed when he first came to NASCAR in 2008.

Other moves over the offseason include Michael Annett moving to HScott Motorsports (the only cool part about this is now he’s running the 46 and his teammate Justin Allgaier runs the 51, Days of Thunder anyone?), Mike Bliss, Bobby Labonte, and Boris Said will run the 32 Ford for Go FAS Racing (lame name), Alex Bowman joins Tommy Baldwin Racing replacing Annett (you won’t really notice much out of performance improvements with him in there), JJ Yeley becomes the “lead” driver for BK Racing (whatever the heck that means, more Whoppers?) who have yet announce anything else, and Landon Cassill returns to the 40 of Hillman Racing.

New Chase and a title for Kevin Harvick? You could say he loves this format. While the expectation is for Harvick to slow down in his bid to go back to back, the scary part is how many races the team let go during the course of the season last year. Part failures mostly bit Harvick early in the season, and when it was all sorted out, there was no stopping him from the title. He can only improve, and that will be a big task considering how good his season was.

After nearly pulling up a major upset by winning the title without a win, I hope Ryan Newman comes into 2015 and wins a bunch of races. Not only would it stick it to all the fans who called him out as not being title worthy, but I’m due as a fan of his to see him win again. After winning eight times in 2003, Newman has won seven times since and not more than two times since 2004. He’s due, check that, beyond due to win some races.

When it all shakes out I expect the usual suspects up front once again. Jimmie Johnson, Keselowski, Gordon, and others will go for the title. The hard part is figuring which Cinderella stories get into the Chase through fluke wins and which usual suspect gets shut out. Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards should have solid seasons, but I’m putting my early money on ol’ six time champ Jimmie Johnson to win his seventh title.

Gordon’s Impact On NASCAR Immeasurable

There it is, the official word is out that Jeff Gordon is done as a full-time NASCAR driver at the close of the 2015 season. Thus ends the speculation and questions that have been building since the 2009 season.

We should have all seen it coming, especially in the cryptic language of recent sponsorship announcements. Especially when 3M came on board, the emphasis was sponsorship of the team, not driver. Add in rising star Chase Elliott needing a place to go, this opens the door for him and keeps Hendrick Motorsports from losing another champion in the making.

Looking over his career, where do you start to put his time in perspective of NASCAR’s greats. Easiest place would be his stat line. Coming into his final season, Gordon has started 761 consecutive races (11th all-time), has won 77 poles (3rd all-time), has won 92 races (3rd all-time), collected 320 top-5s (3rd all-time), has 454 top-10s (2nd all-time), led 24,664 laps (6th all-time), and of course there are those four championships (1995, 1997, 1998, and 2001). The argument could be made that had the Chase not be developed, we’d be talking about a five or six time champion at this point.

Gordon also represents the last link to what many fans consider the best years of racing, the 1990s. He was the kid who came out of nowhere (well Pittsboro, IN to be exact) to challenge the great Dale Earnhardt and won. His youthful image and business prowess redefined NASCAR superstars. Not only was he a changing of the guard, he was an overall game changer for NASCAR. His rise to fame was something of a storybook, being nicknamed Boy Wonder.

Take away his statistics, he was able to rewrite NASCAR history without doing anything on the track. He had the eye to saw something in Jimmie Johnson that no one (including Johnson) saw. The result has been five championships and 70 wins for Johnson since 2002 as a teammate to Gordon.

The future, like many press releases before, is unknown and cryptic. On paper it says “last full-time season,” which indicates we might see Gordon run some races in the future. I’m thinking Hendrick might go the route it went with Terry Labonte, letting Gordon run a fifth car at tracks of his choosing. I hope that is the case because I think he has a lot left in the tank at age 43.

I’m sure the motivation is to be able to spend more time with his family. Another factor has got to be that nagging back injury that almost had Gordon call it quits in 2009. Instead of backing down, he came back and proved he was still an elite driver.

We have 36 more races to see Gordon, a walking legend. I just hope fans appreciate exactly what Gordon has done for the sport. I’m confident in saying it would not be at the levels it is without Jeff Gordon.

The Sad State Of NASCAR Journalism

As with anything in life there are always two sides to a story or situation. For me, it is the ever changing world of NASCAR journalism. On one side, I am eternally grateful for what I’ve been able to accomplish and do by creating this NASCAR blog. On the other side, with so many blogs out there not only has the intelligence of each dropped, but it is starting to seep into mainstream media.

Take a quick look on Google and you’ll find blog after blog of people writing about the sport they love, NASCAR. Some are done quite well, having built into something reputable. Others are either not maintained regularly or the content is borderline crazy. In this world many have built themselves up to be celebrities, when in fact, they are nobodies. I was guilty of this for a bit, thinking that my next post would have all the major networks knocking at my door to sign me up.

It is great that people have outlets, which was exactly why I started this blog; but come on folks, you’re not beat writers for NASCAR. You’re fans who might have been able to get “connected” through Twitter or some other way with people in racing. There has to come a time when people realize that the world of NASCAR beat writers is ever shrinking, with credible published writers filling those positions when they come along.

Then we come to what is considered the mainstream media’s coverage of NASCAR, which has gone from thoughtful articles and breaking news to a dog and pony show. The two offenders that spark this opinion are NBC’s MotorsportsTalk, which reads almost like a TMZ/gossip column with “articles” being written about tweets from drivers, footage of drivers doing things (for example Jeff Gordon’s tricycle race at a Washington Wizards’ game, that screams stop the presses right there), and other assorted garbage. If it is not posted on their sites, it is Twitter which leaves me wondering what is going on. When Cam Newton was hurt in a car accident, Motorsports Talk was quick to tweet out NASCAR driver’s tweets about the situation. Are you kidding me? I’m so glad we have Austin Dillon’s well wishes to Cam Newton to read.

Today was another Twitter related post that is taking down the Sporting News. Keith Olbermann and Jimmie Johnson traded barbs over Twitter. This sort of thing happens a lot with drivers and nobodies, but I guess since he’s on ESPN Olbermann can be a somebody today. The Sporting News wrote an article about this, plastered that original link and an updated one (“with Olbermann’s response!”) over and over on Twitter. Again, this is not breaking news. Correction, this isn’t news. It’s nothing, actually. Nothing at all.

While new technology, Twitter for example, has made life easier for non-traditional journalists to try and get a foothold in the journalism world, but it has dumbed down real journalists to a TMZ sort of level to grab hits. Splashy headlines and playing into fans’ obsession with their favorite drivers is how to play the game now a days, and that is just sad.

NASCAR All-Star Races Are A Joke

Like most things in NASCAR, something that started as a simple concept has spun out of control and needs to be stopped. The two all-star events for NASCAR, the Sprint Unlimited run at the Daytona International Speedway, and the Sprint All-Star Race run at the Charlotte Motor Speedway have ran their course and should be retired.

All-star events are cool, but when you take away the factor of meaning (points, win/loses) behind them, they always seem to lack something. This point is not a NASCAR exclusive issue, other sports like hockey, basketball, and famously football have seen their all-star events called into question because of a lack of interest by participants and fans. Baseball had to respond to declining interest by awarding the winning league of the game home field advantage for the World Series, aka give the event some sort of meaning, but that has been met with mixed results.

The Sprint Unlimited was originally created to honor drivers who won poles the previous season. After it was realized that there, on average, were only 10-15 drivers who won poles the rules started to be adjusted to add more cars. Especially at Daytona, where pack racing is king, only having 10 cars (extreme low example) makes for nothing short of terrible racing. This week it was announced how the 2015 field would be made up and that is how I know this event has “jumped the shark.”

To get into the 2015 Sprint Unlimited you need to have won a pole in the previous season (like how it all began) and be running the full 2015 season (I call that the Brian Scott rule). It doesn’t end there, because if that didn’t get you in and you made last season’s Chase for the Sprint Cup, you’re now in this event. Because part of the new rules say a minimum field of 25, the next way to get into the field is to have previously won a Daytona 500 pole and are running the full season (I call that the Danica Patrick rule). And finally, if 25 drivers can’t be found that way, they’ll round out the field with the highest placing drivers in the last season’s point standings who are not already in.

The interesting part about how this field is made up is how often it was emphasized that it was a minimum field of 25 drivers. That means, in NASCAR’s favorite scenario, we could see 30 or more drivers compete in the race. This was add excitement to a sometimes bland event, but at that point how is it an all-star race and not just a normal race?

Let’s take a quick look at the Sprint All-Star race. That was created originally to honor race winners of the previous season and up to that point in the current season. Again, great concept, but they found out early that there weren’t that many drivers winning, especially back in the late 80’s and early 90’s. The solution was a race prior to the event to allow a few drivers (typically five) the ability to race their way in. That worked for some time before additional one off races and additional rules were added.

To make the event exciting, segments were added with the possibility of field inversion to keep drivers from running away with the race. The problem with this is every year the rules have been adjusted so much that most (drivers, crews, fans, etc.) don’t know the rules until the day of the race how the race is to be run. That should have been a red flag right there that gimmicks were needed to keep fan interest on TV and in the stands.

Besides the dilution of the honor of getting into these races, I think the biggest issue, and why I feel so strongly about dropping these races, is there is nothing that different going on from any other race. Sure there’s segments and mandatory pit stops, but the cars are running at the same tracks they always run at.

For me, if you’re going to do an all-star race, make it something unique and different. Other sports do this, be it playing in a different city from normal like football or how the teams are made up of players from all different teams. In NASCAR it’s the same drivers with the same teams running the same cars. They should just call these test sessions for the teams that have the money to run them and go all out.

My suggestion is ditch the Unlimited, there is already almost three weeks of practice at Daytona there doesn’t need to be anymore. NASCAR sort of agreed by ending preseason testing in January there because it is honestly ridiculous how much time they have on track for this race. You keep the all-star race though, but don’t run it at the Charlotte Motor Speedway, instead run it at the little dirt track across the street. Then you don’t have the drivers run their Cup cars, instead have them run late model cars.

This would be an instant hit, just look at what Eldora Speedway’s inclusion in the Truck Series schedule has done for that facility and the Trucks. While a smaller venue, the dirt track would be packed to see the NASCAR stars do something different. Then you can do all the segments and tweaks the race already has, but it would make more sense being on a small track setting. And most importantly, you’re going back to the roots of the sport in one of the most historic cities for NASCAR.

If NASCAR won’t go to a different model for their all-star events, they might as well make those two weekends additional races that pay points. We are closing in on a time when nearly everyone makes these special events and takes away from them being special. Change is needed and if they keep with the status quo, I’ll not hesitate to find something better to do with my time on those Saturday nights.

Ford EcoBoost 400 Observations

The call of a championship raised the performance for all four of the drivers going for the Sprint Cup Series title on Sunday. That was evident by all four being in the top-5 at multiple times during the race. Statistics and history was thrown out the window for the most part, but those pointed to Kevin Harvick winning, and that’s exactly what happened.

It wasn’t overall surprising to see Harvick capture the crown, given that the team has been fast every week. The only thing they could not get going was luck on their side, but they did it the correct way. Get all the bad luck out of the way early, then execute for the title. Interesting that the pit crew for Harvick was able to pick up their second championship, the first being with Tony Stewart in 2011.

Ryan Newman made a big statement in his second place finish that he did not luck his way into this battle. His team even improved up their performance as the race went on, going from losing Newman spots to gaining him spots on pit road. That was key to getting him close to the lead for the final stretch of restarts. This team has a lot to build on and I’m hoping there is not second place hang over.

For the team of Denny Hamlin, they showed a lot of guts making calls late to put them in a position to win. It was just worn tires were not his friend and the nail in the coffin was spinning his tires on the second to final restart. That made him loose track position he could never get back. It will be interesting what Joe Gibbs does with his crew chiefs, as a major swap seems evident.

While Newman’s crew came through at the end, Joey Logano’s team failed him at the end. Well, you can’t blame the crew too much for the side of the car giving way, but because of that, the car fell off the jack, and a lot of valuable time was lost trying to get it back in the air. He will be left with dwelling on what could have been had that executed as planned, but there is always next year.

This new format really puts the television producers in a small box for their finale coverage. Luckily I had a vested interest in two of the final four drivers, so I didn’t mind the extremely bias coverage of them. I could see how someone who was a Jimmie Johnson fan, for example, could get frustrated with the coverage. That said, it is the title and that is more important than whatever position Johnson (for this example) could have gotten. Tough spot for NASCAR and ESPN, but based on the early numbers, I don’t think many are complaining.

Congratulations are in order for Brad Keselowski, who is the first loser. He was able to rise to fifth place and with Jeff Gordon can just think about what could have been had they made it into the finale. Well, just hopefully they don’t think about that together, because that could get ugly.

As much as I would like a Super Bowl like feel of moving the season finale among many tracks, Homestead does provide a lot of action and options for drivers. You can run high, low, middle, and even push it four wide, and we didn’t see many big accidents because of that. The racing was hard and fast, just the way it needs to be for the title.

Looking at the history of close point battles, you could put this one at the top because of the one point difference between Harvick and Newman. Realistically that was fabricated by the rules, so I would throw that out on that level. Looking overall I would rate this as the top four best season finales: 1992 when Alan Kulwicki out smarts Bill Elliott, 2004 the first Chase where Kurt Busch, Jeff Gordon, and Jimmie Johnson all went neck and neck with Busch prevailing, this title fight, and the 2011 Tony Stewart/Carl Edwards duel that ended with Stewart rising the occasion.

Newman Ready To Be Spoiler

When the Chase for the Sprint Cup rule changes were announced before the start of the 2014 season, there were two things that would have been unbelievable. The first would be that a winless driver would be in the final four drivers for the championship, and one of those drivers would be Ryan Newman.

Here we are just days away from the start of the Ford Championship Weekend and Ryan Newman is playing the role of the underdog. He will contend against Joey Logano (five wins this season), Kevin Harvick (four), and Denny Hamlin (one) to fight for the title. Though he does not have a win under his belt this season, that is not going to keep Newman from being confident this weekend.

“It doesn’t matter to me. I mean, in the end it really doesn’t matter…the fastest car may not win, the best car on a restart may not win. You just never know. It could come right down to fuel mileage and three of the four of us could be coasting on the last lap. You just never know,” commented Newman after Sunday’s race at Phoenix.

How this team has performed should not have surprised anyone, it was former driver Jeff Burton who gushed about how close the team was just one year ago. “We’ve got really, really good people on that team, and we’re starting to perform. Truly, I’m walking away from it when I believe we’re about to blossom. I can feel it. I can see it.”

The Homestead-Miami Speedway has not been the best track for Newman in his career. His best run was a third place effort in 2012; beyond that it has been a sixth place in 2002, and a pair of seventh place finishes in 2005 and 2001.

That said, this year is different from his past few years. Consistency has been Newman’s best friend this season. This can be seen by exactly how he has found his way into the Chase. Comparing last season with Stewart-Haas Racing, to this season with Richard Childress Racing, his numbers are much better on intermediate tracks. Last season he had one top-5 and seven top-10 finishes, this year it is two top-5s and seven top-10 finishes.

The difference is the average finish, one year ago it was 16.50 and this season it has been dropped to 10.38. He’s completed 99.98% of the laps run this season versus 95.06, thanks to finishing every race versus two DNFs last season. Another big stat is he has spent 74.63% of the laps run in the top-15 this season versus 52.44% last year.

While the numbers don’t look great compared to the others going for the title, Newman has exposed one crucial side of himself this past weekend: he will do anything to put himself in contention for the title. As Newman said, “that’s part of the intensity of this Chase. It’s racing, man. That’s what we’re kind of supposed to do.”

And that is what they will do this Sunday in the Ford EcoBoost 400. Fans can catch the action at 3 PM EST on ESPN when the 2014 Sprint Cup Series championship will be determined after 36 grueling weeks.