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Martin Truex flashes past the finish line.(Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)

Clinton, South Carolina, Monday, March 19, 2018, 10:50 a.m.

By Monte Dutton

When the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series returns home from its West Coast mini-tour, it’s The Beverly Hillbillies in reverse. Fontana, California, to Martinsville, Virginia, is “swimming pools, movie stars,” one week and “then one day, he was shooting at some food” the next.

Jed Clampett, of course, was one lucky fellow as very few people ever discovered oil while shooting at a rabbit. He missed the rabbit, but, somehow, “up through the ground come a bubblin’ crude.”

In fairness, Fontana isn’t exactly Beverly Hills, and Martinsville isn’t exactly Petticoat Junction. It isn’t even the same sitcom.

Truex celebrates in victory lane. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

In California, Kevin Harvick didn’t win four straight. Martin Truex reminded everyone why he’s the reigning champion. Now Mike Joy doesn’t have to tell us that the odds of winning four straight would be about the same as the odds of winning the Powerball if race cars were numbered ping-pong balls in a vacuum tube and not, uh, race cars on a track.

Harvick isn’t a ping-pong ball, and now that Don Rickles has died, he isn’t even a hockey puck.

On balance, a senseless mistake in California notwithstanding, Harvick is still dominating the sport. The guy on the throne served notice that he doesn’t plan on vacating it. Truex dominated in Harvick’s absence. Martinsville Speedway offers the first prospect since Daytona of others getting into the act.

Martinsville Speedway (Monte Dutton photo)

Auto Club Speedway is long, sleek and sophisticated. Martinsville is short, coarse and unshaven. From this vantage, NASCAR better fits the latter.

Things change so fast, and you have the off-season and you never know if you will lose your mojo,” Truex said.

Now Truex knows he won’t lose his mojo.

Imagine going to the county fair and riding the bumper cars, but, instead of trying to wreck everyone else, the riders try to avoid wrecking. This is similar to a race at Martinsville Speedway, and it is a righteous place for such endeavors.

(Monte Dutton photo)

Martinsville is where people invent words that rhyme. Rammin’ and bammin’ and frammin’.

Frammin’? A fram was a ship used in Arctic and Antarctic regions by Norwegian explorers between 1893 and 1912. But wait! Merriam-Webster has a verb “fram” that means “pound, beat.” Whew. They really do have rammin’ and bammin’ and frammin’ at Martinsville. Those Norwegian boats must have been sturdy.

Fans sometimes say NASCAR needs to visit more short tracks, this in spite of the fact that many of them are closing across the country every year. Perhaps the track in Martinsville is not catered to the fans of Fontana. Perhaps, to the Southern California tastes, the track in Southern Virginia would seem untidy, untoward, unimaginative, unsophisticated and immodern.

In other words, my mind says tracks should match the atmosphere of their areas and, together, offer appeal to a wide variety of tastes, but my heart relishes the next race at the throwback track in the middle of nowhere.

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It Probably Doesn’t Seem as Stupid Out There

Kyle Busch’s crew managed to get the car through inspection. (Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images)

Clinton, South Carolina, Saturday, March 17, 2018, 10:05 a.m.

By Monte Dutton

In Friday’s qualifying process at Auto Club Speedway, results were incomplete. Only 22 out of 36 cars made it through inspection in time to participate. Everyone gets to race on Sunday, assuming, of course, their cars are eventually deemed legal – oh, no, too harsh a ward – or “in compliance.”

That’s better.

I tweeted that it was ridiculous. Some assumed I meant that NASCAR was ridiculous. They quickly proclaimed that it wasn’t NASCAR officials’ fault that the cars couldn’t please the Laser Inspection System (LIS). I didn’t say (tweet) it was. What I thought was that it didn’t matter who was at fault. What I tweeted was that it looked lousy.

Had I been in Fontana, I would’ve hated to pay to see that. Here at home, I hated to watch it. Thank goodness for the NCAA basketball tournament.

Clint Bowyer, second in practice earlier, didn’t participate. All the Hendrick Chevrolets flunked their midterms. Denny Hamlin watched from the sidelines.

Kevin Harvick is free and clear. (Photo by Sarah Crabill/Getty Images)

Kevin Harvick, who might be sidetracked if Trump names him deputy attorney general, went out and set a track record. Most others sat on pit road so that Darrell Waltrip could crack jokes and offer such incisive analysis as approximately this: I think the Fords are faster because they’ve got the oldest cars. Chevrolets are slow because they’ve got the newest cars. Toyotas were fast last year, but now they’re slow because their cars are a year older.

Wow. That explains everything. Thanks, D.W., and, yes, you’d make a fine deputy attorney general.

Some drivers went out at the end and puttered around, merely completing a lap so that they could make the top 24, which more correctly were the only 22.

What I have learned from perusing the lethal social-media feeds and reading the emailed transcripts is that fans are hanging judges, drivers represent the ACLU and NASCAR officials don’t have much to say. I’d know more if I was out there examining the farce from close range. Not being at close range, my conclusion is that I don’t care who’s fault it is. This can’t happen.

It doesn’t make NASCAR look like the WWE, or whatever bailiwick governs ‘rasslin’ these days. WWE chicanery would be entertaining.

Kyle Busch (left) and Martin Truex Jr. try to make sense of the madness. (Photo by Sarah Crabill/Getty Images)

The quotes that caught my eye were from those who actually got to qualify. They were so understanding.

It’s not a big deal,” Kyle Busch said. “It’s not.

We’re all trying the best we can do. And this is a whole new system. It’s our fourth week on it. I think you have to give it a little bit more time. I think, also, the reason why these systems are so complicated to begin with is because we’ve over-engineered our race cars over the course of the last 20 years by 10-fold, 100-fold. Whatever you want to call it. It’s certainly just the grounds of trying to keep everyone equal. NASCAR is doing what they need to be doing, and we’re all doing what we need to be doing. There’s going to be times where our line is past their line of what they want to allow through, and I think that’s just natural and I think there has to be more leniency from this room.”

This room? The media room? No more leniency from NASCAR. No more attention to detail from the teams. The problem is that more leniency is needed from the media? By God, he wants us to bore them to death. That’s already the problem.

Martin Truex Jr. was the driver who actually won the slippery pole.

Nobody goes into tech expecting to fail or trying to fail,” he said. “Sometimes you just get caught off guard.

For the crew chiefs, it’s a difficult situation to be in. I think our number popped up at Atlanta, and we were, like, how did this happen? It’s obviously on us because we failed, but when things are changing so much, it’s hard to know exactly where you need to be to make it through there. … It’s just a difficult thing, and it’s a little bit of a moving target from what I understand.”

Jimmie Johnson didn’t make it out. (Photo by Josh Hedges/Getty Images)

If that’s the case, the real culprit is Harvick, who messed everything up by beating the hell out of everyone else for three straight weeks. Everyone’s trying to find either what he and crew chief Rodney Childers know or something else that works. Harvick’s got the rocking pneumonia and the boogie-woogie flu. Everyone else has the plague.

Alan Gustafson, one of Friday’s crew chiefs (for Chase Elliott) whose tolerances could not be tolerated, was unrepentant.

Ultimately, you’ve got to get the lion’s share of the tolerance,” he said. “To kind of put it into perspective, 90-95 percent to be competitive. Certainly you can be much more conservative and make it through inspection easier, but you wouldn’t run very good and ultimately that is not good for job security on my part. You kind of have no choice, and the tolerances are tight and in this certain situation we failed the first time, I think it was 20 or 30 thousandths of an inch, and we certainly did everything we could to rectify it.”

A small point. Remember when fractions could be reduced? Even though I’m not an engineer, I know that 20-30 thousandths of an inch are 2-3 hundredths of an inch. How did the Nobel Prize elude me?

Everyone applies redundant sayings to complex issues. It is what it is at the end of the day. Rules are rules. Up close, this is all serious business. Across the country in my living room, it seems roughly as silly as an episode of My Mother the Car.

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Kevin Harvick’s Outrageous Activity

Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California is up next. It’s a little longer and a little faster than the three tracks that preceded it. (Monte Dutton photo)

Clinton, South Carolina, Thursday, March 15, 2018, 11:45 a.m.

One of my favorite lines in a song come from “Rodeo Cowboy” by Dave Gilstrap, popularly recorded by Jerry Jeff Walker:

Gimme a beer or two and I’ll be fine / Least it worked every other time / I’m a rodeo-deo-deo-deo cowboy / Bordering on the insane

By Monte Dutton

Kevin Harvick might win anywhere, but he’s not going to win everywhere. He might win at Fontana. He might win at Martinsville. He might win tonight in a K&N West race somewhere near Harvick’s hometown, Bakersfield, California.

The reason that, at age 42, Harvick is at the peak of his skills is that he is a driver who drives. The drivers who advance to a relatively advanced age without having their performance notably decline are the ones who remain active.

Mark Martin. Harry Gant. Bobby Allison. Kyle Busch will last a long time for the same reason.

I’ve been informally charting this for 25 years. Every time I write it, people ignore it. They don’t want to believe it. Every driver on the downhill slide gets indignant. “I’m as good as I ever was!” Then he finally retires, and one day he takes me aside and says, “I should’ve quit five years before I did.”

It’s enough to make a man Happy without even the hint of sarcasm. (Getty Images for NASCAR)

When Austin Dillon won the Daytona 500, the forecast was for many more upsets. A new generation was emerging over the horizon, all bright and sunny. Veterans were cowering and shading their eyes, unaccustomed to such light.

Harvick has won Atlanta, Las Vegas and Phoenix. Only the last provided noteworthy strength of opposition.

At the moment, “Stop Harvick!” rivals “Remember the Alamo!” and “Make America Great Again!” It seems as if nothing can do the trick unless Harvick agrees to play Col. Sanders in a KFC commercial.

Chad Knaus (right) and Jimmie Johnson are probably not so touchy-feely at the moment.(Getty Images for NASCAR)

It is not supposed to be this way, and it will not remain this way. Other teams are working hard. NASCAR officials are working hard. Every team in NASCAR believes it works harder than any other team. If Harvick, Rodney Childers, Tony Stewart, Gene Haas, etc., are indeed working harder than the others, it’s not a good idea to flaunt it.

Being racers, of course, the aforementioned will get while the getting’s good, but, in the end, they might as well be a gang of outlaws with a posse in hot pursuit. They might outsmart them for a while, but, next thing you know, the good citizens of Rio Lobo will call in the U.S. Cavalry.

Even the irresistible force gets reckoned with by the immovable object.

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Countervailing Themes of Mystery and Wonder

(Photo by Matt Sullivan/Getty Images)

Clinton, South Carolina, Monday, March 12, 2018, 9:45 a.m.

People are fond of talking and writing about media bias. The greatest bias of the media is against having to write the same things over and over.

By Monte Dutton

Thus am I pondering this rainy morning Kevin Harvick’s third straight Monster Energy Cup victory, this one at ISM Raceway in Avondale, Arizona. Valley of the Sun. Tanned faces. Chapped lips.

Harvick flashed a small bit of snideness when he curtly remarked about “haters,” a social-media term for people with whom one disagrees heatedly. For the most part, though, the current implement of domination delivered a series of heartwarming remarks about how wonderful life indeed is in his environs.

Four races into the season, Harvick seems to think the playoffs have already started.

“This weekend felt like a playoff moment for us because our team, when you get into those playoff moments, you have all the guys, everybody looking at the race car, that determination of every last detail, there’s a lot going on in life in general, and it’s hard to do that every week. Our team is very good at setting those things aside for 10 weeks during the playoffs.”

Kevin Harvick leads a pack at ISM Raceway. (Photo by Matt Sullivan/Getty Images)

Harvick said those words in the winner’s media conference. The grammar was so rambling and indecipherable, I couldn’t find a place to insert a suitable identification. It read as if Harvick realized he was trying to support a point that couldn’t be supported, so he just rambled until his thoughts ground to a halt.

“It felt more important to win this week than it did to win a race at Homestead for a championship,” Harvick added furthermore. “It felt like that. Everybody felt it. You didn’t really have to say anything.”

Exactly.

The weekly Harvick. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

“Those are the moments that you just love to live in and be a part of and succeed in,” added Harvick and amazingly not Tim Tebow. “You can’t even explain them unless you’re a part of them because they’re just so rewarding.

“Any time you can reach out and grab motivation, for me, that’s just a piece of the puzzle that I like to be a part of and feel that controversy and that enthusiasm.” This sure sounded like Kurt Busch.

The biggest mystery in the sport — the dominance of Kevin Harvick — remains inexplicable in the words of its subject. Combined and simplified, what Harvick said added up to the old Sterling Marlin standby: “Car run good. Boys worked hard.”

If Harvick’s continuing virtuosity is mysterious, then Jimmie Johnson’s troubles are positively hieroglyphic.

I wish Jeff Burton was available at this point in the season to stare into a camera and say, “I can assure that Jimmie Johnson didn’t just forget how to drive.”

(HHP/Harold Hinson photo for Chevrolet)

Johnson fooled me last year. I kept saying that Johnson and Chad Knaus were just playing ‘possum all summer, experimenting and preparing for the playoffs while everyone else was just preparing for the next race. I watched the movie so many times, I didn’t even know there was a sequel.

Lots of variables get in the way of any notion that Johnson has reached the point in his career where his success stalls and he starts a decline. A new model. Maybe the rest of the teams have finally caught up with the Wizard of Knaus. Maybe the old tricks don’t work anymore.

Johnson’s strong at Fontana. If he goes out there and spends the day trying to figure out a way into the top 10, the talk will pick up.

The seven-time champion answers questions. He doesn’t volunteer much. An eighth championship remains out there on the horizon, a Holy Grail that seems ever more elusive, perhaps even illusory.

Nature has taught me not to count Johnson out.

If you enjoy my insights about racing and other subjects, make a small pledge of support. Rewards are in place for pledges of $5 or more. If 1/10 of my followers and Facebook friends pledge $1 a month, I’ll be set. Read all about it here.

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Harvick Breeze Cools the Desert

Kevin Harvick celebrates with a burnout after winning the Pennzoil 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on March 4, 2018 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Matt Sullivan/Getty Images)

Clinton, South Carolina, Friday, March 9, 2018, 2:59 p.m.

Kevin Harvick looks nothing like an elephant, and ISM (nee Phoenix) Raceway is ill described as a room, but all eyes are on the driver as NASCAR converges on the Valley of the Sun.

ISM, by the way, stands for Ingenuity Sun Media.

By Monte Dutton

Harvick hasn’t merely won the past two races, in Hampton, Ga., and Las Vegas, Nev. He has dominated them. He has beaten them up and stomped them flat. NASCAR officials penalized his team this week because meticulous observers noted that the rear window in his Ford Fusion habitually sagged on the right side when at speed. Though speed alone may have caused his rear roof to sag because it was that much faster than all the other cars, crew chief Rodney Childers and others cited the fluke collapse of a support.

In the aftermath, the only delighted fans are those who delight in Harvick. His sheer success has herded those who dislike him, Fords, and habitual supremacy into one angry mob.

Harvick doesn’t care. He hasn’t lost a minute’s sleep. If he’s dreamed at all, they have been pleasant. Three races into season, he is on top.

Oh, yeah. Harvick has won a mere eight times at The Track Now Named for ISM. He hasn’t won there since it’s been slightly reconfigured, but it is impossible for a rational man or woman to cast him in any role other than favorite.

Kevin Harvick (HHP/Alan Marler photo)

Twenty-seven years ago, Harvick crashed in the Daytona 500. Oh, wait. That’s incorrect. It was February 18.

Each week Harvick wreaks havoc on those scrambling in his wake, the odds dwindle of it continuing. Theoretically, he is raising the level of competition, causing those behind him to work harder and harder to erase his advantage. On the other hand, he exerts great pressure while he can rest assured on confidence nurtured by the cool breeze he is on.

The Valley of the Sun is not noted for its cool breezes. As the race beckons, Harvick is a meteorological oddity.

“It just motivates us,” he said in a media conference at the track. “I can’t wait to win another race and jump up and down in victory lane on the back of my car.”

He’d best stay clear of the rear-window glass.

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The Elusive Measure of Fame

(Monte Dutton sketch)

Clinton, South Carolina, Wednesday, March 7, 2018, 9:22 a.m.

As luck would have it, more to dwell on than last week’s race has materialized in the wide, wide world of NASCAR.

If you’ve an interest in the desperate pursuit of Kevin Harvick, redirect your attention here.

Buddy Baker (Photo by ISC Archives via Getty Images)

Meanwhile, NASCAR announced its list of nominees for potential induction in its Charlotte Hall of Fame. Twenty are eligible for the Class of 2019. Five — Red Byron, Ray Evernham, Ron Hornaday Jr., Ken Squier, and Robert Yates — were elected by the blue-ribbon panel last year. The five who replaced them are Jeff Gordon, Harry Gant, John Holman, Ralph Moody, and Kirk Shelmerdine.

The fifteen holdovers are Davey Allison, Buddy Baker, Red Farmer, Ray Fox, Joe Gibbs, Harry Hyde, Alan Kulwicki, Bobby Labonte, Hershel McGriff, Roger Penske, Larry Phillips, Jack Roush, Ricky Rudd, Mike Stefanik, and Waddell Wilson.

By Monte Dutton

Among the notable omissions from the list of eligibility are Donnie Allison, Sam Ard, Geoff Bodine, Neil Bonnett, Harold Brasington, Darel Dieringer, Junie Donlavey, H. Clay Earles, Chris Economaki, Jake Elder, Bob Flock, Fonty Flock, Paul Goldsmith, Barney Hall, Ray Hendrick, Tom Higgins, Tommy Houston, Dick Hutcherson, James Hylton, Carl Kiekhaefer, Nord Krauskopf, Butch Lindley, Joe Littlejohn, Joe Mattioli, Banjo Matthews, Paul McDuffie, Billy Myers, Herb Nab, Ray Nichels, Ed Otto, Marvin Panch, Buddy Parrott, Jim Paschal, Pat Purcell, Tim Richmond, T. Wayne Robertson, Paul Sawyer, Ralph Seagraves, Jack Smith, Marshall Teague, Speedy Thompson, Red Vogt, Humpy Wheeler, Lee Roy Yarbrough, and Smokey Yunick.

I don’t have a vote, have never had a vote, don’t deserve a vote, and will never have a vote, so, that being the case, I’m going to reserve my privacy regarding for whom I would vote. The majority of those who do have a vote don’t disclose them, so why should I bore you with my useless preferences?

No previous inductee has been unanimously selected. I expect Jeff Gordon might become the first to earn that distinction, but it’s more a matter of the ballot being unburdened by the names of those who have been inducted ahead of him than a distinction on its own merits.

The panel will make its decisions based on a wide range of factors. Some will exercise nostalgia. Others will weigh morality. Most will concentrate on success. I don’t begrudge them that. The impact of a man on a sport relies on many considerations.

My only criterion is rather simple. I think anyone admitted to a hall of fame should be famous. It’s not a hall of victory or success or wealth. If it is, then call it that.

If you enjoy my insights about racing and other subjects, make a small pledge of support. Rewards are in place for pledges of $5 or more. If 1/10 of my followers and Facebook friends pledge $1 a month, I’d be set. Read all about it here.

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Harvick Pours It On

Kevin Harvick speeds away from Darrell Wallace’s Chevy. Harvick was speeding away from someone all day long. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

By Monte Dutton

Clinton, South Carolina, Monday, March 5, 2018, 9:07 a.m.

This is known of Sunday’s Pennzoil 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. It’s a lesson that lingered for a week and shows no signs of abatement.

It’s not Kevin Harvick’s job to slow down. It’s Harvick’s job to go as fast as he can, competition be damned.

“I’m just fortunate to be riding the wave, and you can call me old, you can call us old, but cars are fast and things are going well,” he said after making a mockery of the competition for the second Sunday in a row.

Kevin Harvick in Victory Lane (Photo by Matt Sullivan/Getty Images)

Age isn’t a factor. Harvick makes this self-evident as he is 42. In a season that was forecast to be marked by youthful emergence and Ford struggles, Harvick is dominating the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series in a Ford. He led 214 out of 267 laps in Vegas a week after leading 181 out of 325 in Hampton, Georgia. Harvick is batting .667 in both races and, since the Daytona 500, laps led.

How’s that for consistency?

The Fords? The manufacturer whose drivers — okay, mainly Brad Keselowski — left Homestead last November fretting about being able to keep up with the dominant Toyotas and the spanking-new Camaros? Oh, they captured six out of the top 10 positions: Harvick, fifth-place Blaney, sixth-place Brad Keselowski, seventh-place Joey Logano, ninth-place Paul Menard, and 10th-place Aric Almirola.

(Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images)

It’s been 25 years since the conspiracists in the stands alleged that NASCAR and Ford were sharing the same bed. It’ll happen soon. Harvick might as well be sitting behind a grassy knoll instead of a steering wheel.

At age 42, Harvick is the biggest star to come out of Bakersfield, California, since Merle Haggard, and Merle, sadly, is gone. Sunday marked Harvick’s 100th NASCAR “touring series” (Cup, Xfinity, Camping World Truck) victory. That’s 39 Cup, 47 Xfinity and 14 Truck in case you’re keeping a scorecard at home.

“Touring series” victories are meaningful to busybodies and anathema to purists, but Harvick’s body of work, which includes a Cup championship, is going to put him in the NASCAR Hall of Fame someday.

(Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images)

Harvick cannot possibly keep up this pace. Those who couldn’t keep him in sight are redoubling their efforts. Domination is fleeting in modern NASCAR, which goes to great lengths to prevent it on paper if they can’t manage it on the track. Besides, the next race is at ISM Raceway (heretofore Phoenix), where Harvick has only won, oh, eight times. The track has been changed, and the folks who run the place claim the changes weren’t even made to stop Harvick.

Didn’t hurt, though.

At the moment, if the next race required driving up a ramp and through a flaming hoop at the start-finish line, Harvick would be favored.

If you enjoy my insights about racing and other subjects, make a small pledge of support. Rewards are in place for pledges of $5 or more. If 1/10 of my followers and Facebook friends pledge $1 a month, I’d be set. Read all about it here.

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They Say They Know, but They Don’t

So far, Kevin Harvick has had a hot rod. (Getty Images photo for NASCAR)

Clinton, South Carolina, Saturday, March 3, 2018, 2:01 p.m.

By Monte Dutton

Well, what do you know? The Red Sox are hosting the Yankees on TV this afternoon. I think I’ll keep the game on until the Xfinity Series race in Las Vegas starts. Last night, Kyle Busch won the Camping World Truck race. No surprise there. He labored a bit more than usual. He’s racing in Xfinity today, but at least he’ll have Kyle Larson to occupy him.

It’s tempting to draw conclusions too soon in NASCAR, not just this season but every season. The Ford teams have seemed unusually strong, but the started the season strong last year. Kevin Harvick laid waste to the Atlanta field, and the Fords dominated the Daytona 500 even though they didn’t win it.

Guess what? Ford drivers won the first three races a year ago. I like surprises, but too many observers of NASCAR declare them too soon.

The most striking aspect of the season at this early date is the utter irrelevance of most preseason expectations. The young drivers were supposed to start taking over. So far, nothing could be further from the truth. The top eight Atlanta finishers each had at least eight full seasons under their imaginary belt that is actually a Velcro strap.

Dave Blaney starts out front at Las Vegas. (Getty Images for NASCAR)

One of those ballyhooed young lions, Ryan Blaney, said, “I kind of categorize that as you take all six races before the break to realize … you come here and it is different than Atlanta. You kind of show your strength here. Atlanta you can show strength but it is a different race track. You kind of see where your short track stuff adds up at Phoenix, and then we go to a big two-mile (Fontana, California) and you really get an idea there.

“I think when the break comes and that off weekend (March 31-April 1) comes, you really know where you stack up and if you need to do a lot of work or if you have started off on the right foot. This place is really good to try to figure it out. I feel like you can get a good base of where you stack up.”

Fords have been better. Chevrolet, running a new model (Camaro), should get better. Toyotas were best last year. No one really knows where it goes from here.

If you enjoy my insights about racing and other subjects, make a small pledge of support. Rewards are in place for pledges of $5 or more. If 1/10 of my followers and Facebook friends pledge $1 a month, I’d be set. Read all about it here.

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The Land of Hopes and Dreams

Las Vegas Motor Speedway (Getty Images for NASCAR)

Clinton, South Carolina, Friday, March 2, 2018, 9:40 a.m.

Ooh, Las Vegas. Ain’t no place for no poor boy like me.

Those are the words of the late Gram Parsons, a favorite songwriter of mine. He wrote another song, quite a bit more complex, called “Sin City.” Parsons, who died of a drug overdose before I had even heard of him, was a bit like Bob Dylan. His songs were quite profound. I just didn’t always know what the hell he was talking about.

If you’re interested, listen to “The Return of the Grievous Angel.”

By Monte Dutton

Racing. Oh, yeah. Racing. NASCAR is at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, where the cars go around and around, somewhat like a roulette wheel, and the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds often swoop about in the air above. Las Vegas Boulevard runs right past Nellis Air Force Base on the way to the track. I expect putting on a show in the skies above the track is a P.R. bonanza for the USAF.

There’s an excellent chance you’ll see a feature this weekend about a racer going up in a fighter plane learning new lessons about going fast and upside-down. I even went up in a transport plane once. I got to watch it being refueled in mid-air. It was many years ago, when more than TV mattered. Just imagine if it was now. I could tweet photos. I don’t go there, or up there, anymore. A pity.

Kyle Busch leads a pack of NASCAR Trucks during practice. (Getty Images for NASCAR)

At the first Vegas race, in 1998, I went to a sports book and looked at the odds for the (then) Busch Series race and discovered what I supposed was quite a betting opportunity. The next morning, I was chatting with another driver in the series, one who’s quite famous now, and I mentioned the bet.

“Damn,” he said. “I’d like to get in on some of that action.”

It occurred to me that, in most sports, competing for one team and betting on another might be frowned upon. The driver said it as if it never occurred to him. My guess is that more careful heads have prevailed since back then when racing in Las Vegas was new.

The planes to Vegas were always full of people talking about the time when they had five dollars to their name and went home with ten thousand. I never overheard anyone talk about the time they went there with ten thousand and came home with five. Such people exist, though, or else there’d be no way to pay for all those bright lights on the Strip.

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The Wrenches in the Trenches

This year pit stops are going to take a little bit longer. (Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images)

Clinton, South Carolina, Thursday, March 1, 2018, 9:30 a.m.

Perhaps my favorite Jimmy Buffett song is “Manana,” in which he sings, “Don’t ever forget that you just may wind up being wrong.”

He also hopes Anita Bryant “never, ever does one of my songs,” but that seems less pertinent to me now. She’s 77.

By Monte Dutton

I thought of Buffett’s song last night while reviewing NASCAR stories on the air-wrench problems of Atlanta Motor Speedway. At least four of the 36 starters experienced failures with the air wrenches NASCAR now standardizes and issues to the teams.

According to one of the reports, Steve O’Donnell said on SiriusXM, “We knew that this could potentially happen, and the likelihood of it happening at some point in the season was fairly high.”

What?

O’Donnell, who is the Chief Racing Development Officer, reportedly also said something along the lines of, Oh, now let’s move on to Las Vegas, and maybe everything will be fine.

Cole Pearn (left) and Martin Truex Jr. celebrate a championship. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

Kevin Harvick came back from his case of lowdown, mind-messing, air wrench blues to win the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500, so he didn’t get too agitated. The reigning Monster Energy Cup champion, Martin Truex Jr., and his heretofore popular crew chief, Cole Pearn, finished fifth, and they both seized the stature that comes with winning a championship to evince briefly basic human emotion.

Apparently, two other teams that experienced air-wrench failures, those of Alex Bowman and Kyle Busch, were suitably docile afterwards. I have this image of Busch being spirited away in the dark of night.

Standard air wrenches were implemented this year as an austerity measure, supported by team owners. It was part of a program designed to ensure slower pit stops so that one day teams don’t exit pit road before they entered it. The rent-a-wrenches are provided by Dino Pauli SRL, a company based in Regio Emilia, Italy, that specializes in auto racing technology.

Good God, man. If NASCAR provides the government cheese, it can’t be moldy.

I wasn’t there, of course. I was watching at home. I’m confident that, once everyone gets to Las Vegas Motor Speedway, the basic human emotion will be appropriately cooled by the dissemination of NASCAR talking points, and most of the drivers will preface their remarks with phrases such as NASCAR has a really tough job, and, Whenever there’s something new, there are bound to be a few glitches here and there.

As a general rule, everyone regroups and most pre-race media conferences are all sweetness and light. At the end of races, enough adrenaline is still coursing through blood vessels that brief, troublesome outbreaks of candor unfortunately occur.

Remain calm. All is well. NASCAR is great. NASCAR is good. Let us thank it for our wrenches. By its hand our tires are changed, even though it seems deranged. Amen.

If you enjoy my insights about racing and other subjects, make a small pledge of support. Rewards are in place for pledges of $5 or more. If 1/10 of my followers and Facebook friends pledge $1 a month, I’d be set. Read all about it here.

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