Clinton, South Carolina, Monday, March 23, 2015, 10:44 a.m.
Five races into the NASCAR Sprint Cup season, it seems worse than it is.
For instance, it seems like the same driver wins every week, when, in fact, four different drivers – Joey Logano, Jimmie Johnson, Kevin Harvick (2) and, now, Brad Keselowski – have taken checkered flags. This is because, every race, if Harvick doesn’t win, he finishes second, which, contrary to what is sometimes claimed, is the next best thing, and the third best thing is, when Harvick finishes second, someone else necessarily wins.
Eight straight races count as a trend. It’s not a coincidence. Harvick won the championship last year, and he’s the best so far this year, by hook or crook, rule changes be damned.
The Chase is far away. In terms of importance, it will be far away the day before it starts. It won’t come down to Harvick the Happy, Danger Mouse, Little Daddy, Joey Mumbles, Citizen Jimmie, and the Second Coming of Dale. Hell, there’s room for a party of sixteen. They don’t even have to move any tables.
Harvick’s average finish is 1.6. Kurt Busch, with a statistical sample of two, which makes it less valid but still impressive, is at 2.5. They are teammates, driving Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolets. Two more Impalas are in that stable, divided each week among three champions, five championships, and Danica Patrick. Patrick has a significantly better average finish (21.8) than Tony Stewart (31.6). Kurt Busch, in two races, is higher in the point standings (28th) than Stewart (32nd) in five.
Thus far, for Tony, it hasn’t been a vintage year. If he doesn’t get better grapes, the Cabernet is going to suck.
If Stewart wins a race, and nothing else goes wrong, he’ll make the Chase. So will Busch. So, ahem, will Patrick, because NASCAR is a great nation, even though it’s not particularly free. Half the teams can’t even get their cars free. Ask them.
Getting “freed up” in front of a large crowd was no less important at Auto Club Speedway on Sunday than it was at Woodstock in 1969. It was reportedly easier at Woodstock because they didn’t worry about getting the balance right. As Richard Petty might say, them cats just let the good times roll.
Keselowski stole a race, and NASCAR can use a little criminal mischief every now and then. He took a chance that wouldn’t have worked had there been not one, but two, green-white-checkered finishes, which, of course, meant the former wasn’t a finish at all.
It took two debris cautions, including one in which the debris was race cars, to open that window of opportunity for Keselowski, and he didn’t just open it. He put a fan in it, plugged it in, switched it to wide-open, passed Kurt Busch’s Chevy in a Ford with fresh rubber, and then Busch got so flustered that his Chevy glanced off the wall, and Harvick slipped by, too.
This is the plot most often used in modern Sprint Cup Stock Car Auto Racing extravaganzas:
Dum, de, dum, dum. Dum, de, dum, dum. Ooga, ooga, ooga, shocka. Duh, duh, duh, duh. Cue the Batman theme. Biff! Pow! Zowie! Holy wavearound, Caped Crusader!
It’s like watching the first 105 minutes of Wuthering Heights and the last fifteen of Liam Neeson Kicks Ass VII.
Then the winner has a media conference, and everyone goes home with “wow, that was really something” stamped into their brains by fiber-optic impulses. Little-known fact: An average of twelve heads explode during every NASCAR race. Fortunately, most are cylinder heads, just as most of the car lengths on the radio are railroad cars.
Amazingly, in a sport based on cars going as fast as possible, some things are still slow. For instance, it took NASCAR officials well over a year to determine that, if you make forty-something cars back out of their pit stalls as if they were leaving Chuck E Cheez, it’s aggravating. They rolled out their new “Nose First” initiative at Auto Club Speedway as if it were the New Deal. It reminded me of the old Geezinslaw Brothers gag about how Austin, Texas, had commissioned a six-million-dollar study to determine whether or not an Air Force base could be converted into an airport.
NASCAR officials have commissioned marketing surveys, huddled with stakeholders, and concluded that it’s easier to drive on the track frontwards instead of having to back out of a parking space first.
Then there’s the broken record:
We’re thrilled by the way we’ve completely revamped the cars for the 2015 season, but, confidentially, the real changes are going to be in store for 2016.
We’re thrilled by the way we’ve completely revamped the cars for the 2016 season, but, confidentially, the real changes are going to be in store for 2017.
And, oh, by the way, we anticipate cost-cutting measures for our teams are going to be in the millions of dollars sometime in the distant future when we finally let them go through the offseason without rebuilding everything they’ve got.
All in the name of competition, it is. That’s why, over the past five seasons, inclusive, Chevrolet drivers have won eighty percent of the championships and just under half the races. The last time a Toyota won, Kurt Busch and Patricia Driscoll made such a cute couple. It was in the spring, less than a year ago, “when grass was green, and grain was yellow.”
Try to remember.
After another gala weekend here at the farm, watching music videos, basketball games, and stock car races, I’m trying to get back on track with bills, taxes, deadlines, and commitments. I’ll write some short fiction at www.wellpilgrim.wordpress.com, and if I long for truth-based prose, I’ll write it here. What I’d really love for you to do is give my books a read: http://www.amazon.com/Monte-Dutton/e/B005H3B144/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1416767492&sr=8-1