Clinton, South Carolina, Tuesday, June 2, 2015, 8:21 a.m.
The regular season is halfway done. In the summer, young men’s hearts turn to thoughts of … The Chase. As these next 13 races unfold, desperation will rise. The winless will steel their determination for a breakthrough.
That’s the plan. The effect of the season’s first 26 races will be to winnow down the Sprint Cup championship-eligible elite to … 16. Should 16 drivers have a shot at the title? Will there be that many who are worthy?
As Rocky Balboa once said to Adrian Pennino, “You think this smells like a man? I say absolutely not.”
It is the format Brian the Groovy has given us, and there will be excitement because there isn’t any other way.
Jimmie Johnson just won his fourth race of the season, his 10th in Dover, Delaware, and the 74th of his illustrious, and, in some ways, unprecedented career. He seems to be steaming toward a seventh championship.
Unfortunately, he is at the helm of the Titanic.
The season to date has been a common NASCAR battle between Johnson, the irresistible force, and Kevin Harvick, the immovable object. Johnson has won four to Harvick’s two, but Harvick has finished second seven times.
Jeff Gordon is struggling. Tony Stewart is struggling as few drivers of his stature ever have. Matt Kenseth is hanging in there, as he is wont to do. Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski have lost their pocket knives. Kurt Busch is in one kind of recovery and Kyle another. Greg Biffle is struggling a little less. Carl Edwards, incredibly, has his win in the bank.
Surely, Martin Truex Jr. is bound to win a race because he is running out of possible ways not to. Denny Hamlin could win it all if he gets his golf game straightened out. Dale Earnhardt Jr. has taken the second spot in the Hendrick Motorsports pecking order, and there shall he stay. Only in NASCAR could a competitor wind up first in the sport and second on his team.
Two road courses are ahead. God knows who’ll win them.
Variety is in the immediate future. It’s a weekly entertainment trade magazine owned by Penske Media Corporation.
Next is Pocono, one of the world’s great anomalies: the triangular oval. It’s difficult. It’s a bit Indianapolitan, pass the English peas, and bless this food that the race is only 400 miles. Then it’s California in Michigan, whereas, earlier was there Michigan in California. Don’t believe me? Keselowski won.
“Up this hill and down, and up this hill again.” That’s Sonoma, and, as Faron Young sang, “I’d like to thank the men who raise the grapes way out in California, and I’m hoping this will be their biggest year.”
Daytona. “In the summertime, when the weather is hot, you can stretch right up and touch the sky.” Carry on, Mungo Jerry. “Have a drink, have a drive, go out and see what you can find.”
Notice how I can get more out of quoting lyrics than the races these days.
Perhaps it’s just the futile knowledge that, no matter how much Johnson, or anyone else between now and November, dominates, it’s still going to come down to four drivers, dead even, one race. Last year Ryan Newman finished second in the points. Newman is doing just about the same this year so far, making the best of mediocrity. He’s got four top fives. He’s got eight top 10s. He’s 13th in the points.
He’s averaging slightly over one lap led a week.
Nothing against Newman. In his way, by getting the most out of his equipment, he deserves praise.
A championship? Not so much.
It’s just like all the other sports. Really? I’m looking forward to the college football championship game, you know, the one matching Alabama and Wyoming. Or the Final Four of Kentucky, Wichita State, Santa Clara, and Radford. If Radford gets hot at the right time, the Highlanders could win it all. Stranger things have happened.
In NASCAR. That’s where.
My third novel, Crazy of Natural Causes, will be published soon. I have a new short story up at www.wellpilgrim.wordpress.com. My previous books are available here: http://www.amazon.com/Monte-Dutton/e/B005H3B144/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1416767492&sr=8-1