Tag: Charlotte Motor Speedway

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.

Commentary: Defending Keselowski

Bank_Of_America_500_14_Charlotte_Brad_Keselowski_Denny_HamlinTempers and the pressure of the Chase got to a few drivers last night unlike any that we’ve seen in recent times. Brad Keselowski tried to pick fights with Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Matt Kenseth and Denny Hamlin, which inadvertently involved Tony Stewart in some post-race fireworks. Many fans on Twitter have taken to calling out Keselowski for his actions, but I am here to defend him.

Because I had picked Keselowski to win last night, I made it a point to listen to his in-car audio throughout the duration of the Bank of America 500 from the Charlotte Motor Speedway. Coming to the first run-in with Kenseth, after it happened, Keselowski and spotter Joey Meier tried to figure out what happened. Eventually Meier concluded he might have missed Kenseth, but there was no room up high anyways.

As the race continued on, an event happened that no one in the reporting world (on Twitter at least) noted until it was mentioned at the end of that race. Kenseth had gotten the lucky dog pass, and as he made his way on the high side around the field to get his lap back, he turned into the side of Keselowski’s Ford. This damaged the right front and relegated them to “junk” as Keselowski put it.

At that point, Keselowski began suggesting he would pay Kenseth a “friendly” visit after the race to discuss what happened. Again he, crew chief Paul Wolfe, and spotter Meier went back to the original incident to recall if they had been in error, coming to the same conclusion.

On the final restart Keselowski scrapped with Hamlin and there was no talk of retaliation on that front. My opinion is Keselowski was dead set on getting to Kenseth, but before he could do that on the cool down lap, Hamlin brake checked Keselowski. An already mad Keselowski then added Hamlin to his hit list; trying to spin out Hamlin, without much success.

Then it was on to finding Kenseth and I’m going to deviate for a second here. What got Hamlin and Kenseth so fired up was that Keselowski hit Kenseth’s car while he had his seat belts undone. That is inexcusable in itself and NASCAR should review the cool down lap procedures. When a driver is in a vehicle going around the race track, going five mph or 200 mph, he should be belted in.

On Twitter I got some flack, with people saying “it is a known procedure to loosen belts on cool down laps,” which is a terrible defense. That’s the same kind of defense that came up when Tony Stewart had his unfortunate accident in August, where it was known that people get out of their cars to confront drivers. It took tragedy to have NASCAR and other sanctioning bodies to step in and enforce rules to keep drivers in the cars. Now I believe NASCAR needs to step in and stop this habit right here because these post-race bumps happen more often than you think.

Back on track, Keselowski and Kenseth make contact, of which it causes Keselowski to get into Tony Stewart’s car. Funniest part of this is how Stewart reacted; by gunning it in reverse to run into Keselowski’s car. Then on pit road Hamlin and Keselowski make more contact before going to the garage, where Hamlin has to be restrained from coming after Keselowski.

See, here again, Keselowski calmly got out of his car, but it is Hamlin who is flipping out to get to him. Hamlin should remember how tangling with a Team Penske driver worked out in the past. Anyways, I’m still confused how Hamlin, who started it by brake checking Keselowski and now trying to fight Keselowski, is coming off as more of a saint than Keselowski.

By the time they defuse the Hamlin bomb, Kenseth comes out of nowhere to tackle Keselowski between the haulers. Again, Kenseth put his nose where it shouldn’t have been, takes a cheap shot at Keselowski while getting his lap back, then takes exception to the retaliatory bump on the cool down lap. How did you not see that coming Kenseth? How did you not think, “Gee, this guy might get back at me.”? How is his spotter not keeping him informed that Keselowski is coming?

I think Keselowski had it correctly in his comments afterwards, saying “those guys can dish it out, but they can’t take it. I gave it back to them and now they want to fight, so I don’t know what’s up with that.”

That’s exactly it, Hamlin and Kenseth can be on the offensive, but once they are put on the defensive, they wig out. The television can only show what they capture, it was dumb luck a cameraman was following Keselowski when Kenseth tackled him. Imagine what else they would have seen had they been following around Saint Hamlin and Saint Kenseth the whole time.

Column: Keselowski, Debuts, Talladega, MWR, and Irvan Returns

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In this week’s column I take a look at the most recent Sprint Cup Series winner, Brad Keselowski, along with the three drivers who made their Cup debuts Saturday under the lights. My two cents on the Michael Waltrip Racing situation that came out Monday. And to round things out I will touch on what a wildcard Talladega is to the Chase and a former Talladega winner is back involved in NASCAR.

It was a very long time coming for Brad Keselowski, who had not won a Sprint Cup Series race in just over a year. His last win was Kansas of last year during his run for the Sprint Cup championship. It has been a big struggle for him and his team all year long. Luck just has not been on their side, some of their own doing (Texas with penalties) and others were just out of his hands. This team is going for broke during the Chase since they are not in it, so I wouldn’t be surprised if they pick up another win or two.

It was Kyle Larson who got most of the media attention heading into Charlotte about making his Sprint Cup Series debut. He did not do it alone as Brian Scott and Blake Koch each made their inaugural Sprint Cup races. Of the trio, Scott produced the best finish coming home in the 27th position. Larson was quick and up near the top-10, but his engine expired after completing 247 of the 334 laps, relegating him to a 37th place finish. Koch was a late add to the #95 Leavine Family Racing Ford and ran 216 laps before retiring with a vibration, he finished 38th. Larson is going to be running full-time in 2014, whereas Scott hopes to run a handful of races next season, and Koch’s plans are still unknown at this time. Each has a bright future, but Larson will be the one who garners all the attention.

It’s down to a five man battle for the Sprint Cup championship this year, although you could argue it’s down to two already with five races to go. That’s good because Talladega is up next and the unpredictability of it will definitely shake things up. In the spring Carl Edwards, Jimmie Johnson, and Matt Kenseth were the only Chase drivers to get a top-10 finish. Heck, David Ragan won the race with David Gilliland pushing him. When we say anything can happen, anything can and will happen in the race. The goal of every Chase driver is to survive and hopefully not lose too many points in the process.

The announcement that Michael Waltrip Racing would be reducing the number of full-time teams it fields from three to two is not surprising. There was no way they could secure funding for a full season in such short notice after NAPA informed them they were leaving. What I don’t like is the number of people who will be out of jobs because of the action of a few inside the organization. You can’t tell me from the top (i.e. Michael Waltrip himself) there was no discussions of manipulating the race if push came to shove out there. For a team that is starving for funds, a bonus for a car making the Chase was worth the risks at the time. Now that they have found out what the risks are, they would probably re-think their approach. I hope that driver Martin Truex, Jr., who did nothing but race his ass off into the Chase only to get kicked out, lands a good ride and can bring some of his former MWR colleagues with him.

Something that might have slipped through the cracks last weekend was Ernie Irvan getting back into racing as a car owner for his son Jared starting in 2014. The 15-year old Irvan will compete full-time in the Pro All Star Series South (PASS) that hits tracks like Hickory, South Boston, and Organ County. History lesson for you all is those were former Nationwide Series tracks back in the day. It’s good to see Ernie getting back into the sport after having such a great, albeit short, career that included 15 victories, the 1991 Daytona 500, and what should have been the 1994 title had he not gotten injured at Michigan.