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The Eights That Ate Atlanta (And Other Stuff)

Playing catch-up (been a long week, sorry):

  • The weather In Hampton … er, Atlanta this past weekend was less than spectacular. Rather like the racing, what say? XFINITY was the Harvick and Logano show with everyone else along for little more than occasional moments of air time during those stirring battles for third on back, although Chase Elliott’s charge back up front from a late-race restart slip served notice once more he is the real deal. The truck race was Matt Crafton telling people who say he’s consistently good but not so much a winner where they can put it, specifically next to that nice new shiny trophy. The Cup race was somewhat better, but still more of the same ol’ same ol’ get out front and stay out front unless you don’t keep up with the track changes (see Logano, Joey). Not the most rousing start to the normal season.

  • Well, we did learn Jimmie Johnson hasn’t gone anywhere. Other than Victory Lane.

  • When the “highlight” of your race is NASCAR’s leading light pointing out to officials the minor detail of yet another stretch of wall sans SAFER barrier doing its best to take said leading light out, you’ve got problems. We started this season with Kyle Busch finishing the race in a Daytona emergency room, and were fortunate  we didn’t have Jeff Gordon repeat this in Atlanta. Enough already. SAFER barriers on every inch of every wall. Now. And no one turns a single lap at a track without it.

  • Now that Dover’s judicial folk have stated there is insufficient evidence to charge Kurt Busch with assaulting his ex-girlfriend, what comes next? Other than the observation of there being exactly zero winners in this sad mess, especially Patricia Driscoll’s son who idolized Busch. Prediction: a large check quietly cut to Driscoll so she won’t pursue the matter in civil court, and later this season NASCAR equally quietly reinstating Busch after he finishes whatever mysterious program or programs NASCAR has prescribed for him. And the truth still being out there. Somewhere.

    I’m sure there’s more going on, but since all of my sources are presently preoccupied with attempts at justifying putting a night at the Kit Kat Klub presenting Wanda LaLustee show somewhere in Las Vegas on their expense report it’ll have to wait.

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Oh, So That’s Why I’m Here

Longtime readers of this modest waystation off the information superhighway – at least until the FCC shuts it down under its new Net Neutrality BS – know I am fond of dashing off down rabbit holes, eventually somehow tying assorted musings and whatnot into NASCAR. Keeps things interesting.

Anyway, we all have days during which you wonder why you are where you are.
Earlier this week – Tuesday, to be precise – was not one of them.

I was at my retail gig doing my customer service manager thing (translation: keeping the cashiers in order). I freely confess there have been a few moments in said scenario where I’ve been sorely tempted to, shall we say, speak the truth in love to a few people. But I’ve kept it restrained.

Around 3:30 that afternoon, a customer came into the store holding a clutch purse containing a phone, car keys and ID. She had found it outside by a planter. I thanked her and held on to it, figuring the owner was either in the store, or would be shortly, looking for it.

A short time later, a sheriff came in to buy some marbles for his son’s Boy Scouts project. I mentioned the wallet. He replied that before he’d leave the shopping center, he’d make the rounds to see if he could locate its owner.

Fast forward a few minutes, when a young woman came in looking for me. It was her wallet. I gave it to her. She started crying. I’d seen this reaction before when something vital had been found – customer forgetting their purse, etc – so I figured that was all there was to it.

Wrong.

She had mislaid the wallet because she was distraught. Understandably so, for she was newly entered into the unfortunate fellowship. Her Dad had just passed away.

The young woman was 21.

I spent the next several minutes doing what I was supposed to, namely comforting her. We talked. I gave her a leisurely store tour in a wheelchair (she was in no condition to walk around), doing my best to give her some relief. When she said she was composed enough to drive home, I brought her back to the front of the store and told her if she ever needed to talk, come by anytime. She thanked me.

I’m thinking it’s safe to say that is why I was there more so than approving returns and calling for backup cashiers.

And now back to NASCAR. This weekend, the truckers, channel surfers and Cupsters head to Hampton … er, Atlanta Motor Speedway, where the only thing faster than the cars is the rate at which Atlanta loses NHL teams to Canada.

Atlanta is a super but not quite superdeedooper speedway, meaning tons of speed, usually pretty dull races and more often than not insanely exciting finishes. Mash the pedal, stay away from the sour mash being handed around the infield, and go. It’s like restrictor plate racing minus the restrictor plate and, thankfully, the pack. The weather forecast is for moderate (a high of fifty degrees of grey clouds as opposed to fifty shades of gray, which no one in the garage will admit seeing) temperatures throughout the weekend, translating into plenty of grip save for Sunday where afternoon showers could make for plenty of slip.

Atlanta isn’t entirely about how fast you can go, but it’s the biggest part of the racing equation, thus the usual suspects (coughhendrickcough) figure to have the upper hand. Ignoring the obvious fifty shades of gray joke, as the track rubbers up the speeds go down, which given the Saturday doubleheader of XFINITY followed by trucks should translate into whoever is leading the truck race getting passed by the pace car if there’s a late caution … without having let off the gas.

Enjoy the weekend, everyone. 

From Five Hundred To Less Than Zero In Less Than Two

Great job, NASCAR and Daytona International Speedway. Way to kick off the season. So proud of all y’all.

You spend ten bajillion dollars on facility improvements that aren’t finished in time for your big event, yet overlook that big long wall drivers just might hit at high speed. Lucky for you Kyle Busch didn’t get hurt far more seriously than he did, which was seriously enough.

You stage the obligatory wreckfests in the truck and XFINITY races, once again proving that restrictor plate tracks are dinosaurs substituting artificial cheap thrills for authentic racing action. Authentic racing action employs driving skill in an effort to beat the competition to the checkered flag, not trying to avoid beating your and forty-two other cars into coffee cans.

As a grand finale, you once again demonstrate a woeful inability to set a rule and stick to it when it comes to waving the yellow flag on a final lap. When the field is clumped together like fourteen year olds at a boy band concert and on the high side of 200 MPH to boot, once the demolition derby starts waving a yellow has the approximate effectiveness of a parasol in a brimstone shower of calming the ongoing calamity. You might as well let ‘em race to the finish.

Kudos where kudos are due; congratulations to Joey Logano for running an excellent race and his pre-race prep of convincing everyone, particularly Kevin Harvick, that staying behind him was the prudent action plan. But enough already. You want to make improvements at Daytona? Great. Start with bulldozing the track, to be followed by duplicating Richmond or Irwindale. Call us when you’re done. And not a minute before.

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The Fast And The Finished

Let’s see. Didn’t watch the Daytona truck race yesterday (work), won’t be watching the Busch Nationwide XFINITY race until tonight if I can stay awake for it (work), and while I could easily go off for several hours on the Kurt Busch mess and/or the restrictor plate qualifying mess I’d just as soon not. At least not today. Instead, this post will focus on what happens when a dream is denied.

I don’t know how many of you know Valli Hilaire either personally or through her excellent NASCAR blog The Fast & The Fabulous. She’s been working at this blogging thing for eight years now, which in the blogosphere is more like eight decades given the realm’s mercurial nature. Valli has fought her way to receiving the respect she richly deserves one post at a time, one story at a time, and one interview at a time. She is a true citizen journalist, the kind that as traditional journalism fades into antiquity has become increasingly vital in bridging the gap between NASCAR, the people’s sport, and its fans.

She quit yesterday, frustrated by both NASCAR’s unwillingness to grant her journalist status and the inability to sufficiently monetize her writing to where it was a viable occupant of her time.

Having drifted in and out of this blogging thing over the years, when in it full-bore in it to win it, and having survived assorted battles with various Powers That Be on both the sport and traditional journalism fronts, I fully understand where Valli is coming from. When you pour heart, mind, and soul into something only to see it both disrespected and unrewarded, the “labor of love” notion grows rather wearisome. This is especially true when you’ve had a taste of the next level – a press pass, an interview with a known individual, etc. Once such takes place, it is well nigh impossible to accept being told we were just kidding, kid; you don’t belong.

Valli is good stuff; a lovely young woman inside and out who deserves far better because she’s earned far better. It is NASCAR’s mistake pushing her away, and it is our loss because of their having done so.

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Daytona. ‘Nuff Said.

This weekend, the truckers, channel surfers formerly known as claims jumpers, and cupsters all congregate in Daytona for the 2015 NASCAR season send-off. And so it begins.

Given how this is Daytona, all drivers has better reach up there and pull those belts tight one more time. This is a restrictor plate race, meaning everyone in the field has an equal chance to slinky down the straightaway, bobble in the turns, bungle (or be bungled by) bump drafting, or otherwise cause and/or be caught up in The Big One. It’s great watching for the fans, marveling at how the pack thunders by lap after lap as drivers create a hair-raising dance with hair-splitting precision. Not that they have any choice in the matter, mind you. When you’re in a situation where the handful of air molecules separating you on all sides from your fellow drivers are complaining about the tight quarters, you’d better be on top of it lest you find yourself on top of your car’s roof.

That all said, there are drivers who excel at restrictor plate racing regardless of how little they enjoy the format: Jeff Gordon, this year’s pole winner and sentimental favorite in his final Daytona 500, and several others – Dale Earnhardt Jr., Matt Kenseth, and Kyle Busch come to mind. Of course this being Daytona, all of the aforementioned could be out of the race before the first commercial break. But hopefully not.

Enjoy the weekend, everyone.

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A Not-So Private Little Duel

Everyone in stock car racing hates restrictor plate racing. Hates it. It’s not racing. Pretty much any hooha in a hooptie who can stay with the draft has as legitimate a shot at winning as the most skilled driver with the best equipment. Negotiating the straightaways makes everyone sexy and they know it (wiggle wiggle wiggle wiggle wiggle wiggle wiggle, etc). Bump-draft six inches beyond where it’s safe and after the checkered flag waves you’ll have a driver six inches from your face inquiring as to the reason why you wrecked them out of the race, or at the least guaranteed the body shop boys some overtime. The question about restrictor plate racing isn’t why there are so many metal-mashing mishaps. It’s why there aren’t lots more.

With this as the backdrop, it’s little wonder why last night’s Budweiser Duels at Daytona International Speedway featured frayed fenders and flared tempers a-plenty. The first race was a relatively tame affair, won by Dale Earnhardt Jr. in smooth style as he and Matt Kenseth served notice they have every intention of putting on a show for the ages this Sunday. The second race was anything but tame. While Jimmie Johnson was going primeval on the field, i.e. BC (boom confetti), back in the pack the biggest surprise was that everyone didn’t end up carrying their car home in a coffee can. And that Danica Patrick didn’t deck Denny Hamlin, although had she not made the Daytona 500 the post-race conversation most likely would have been far more interesting and group participatory-oriented.

So what have we learned thus far? Not much not already known. Racing at Daytona remains a crapshoot with unmarked dice in a dark room. You won’t know how it’ll come out until it comes out, if then. Meanwhile, NASCAR can breathe a huge sigh of relief that last night’s potential ultimate disaster – Dale Jr. and/or Danica missing the Great American Race – was thwarted. Not necessarily safely thwarted, but thwarted nonetheless.

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If You’re Scoring At Home, That’s … Called Doing It Wrong

I don’t care that my two favorite drivers are on the front row. To say that NASCAR’s present qualifying system at restrictor plate tracks isn’t working may be the greatest understatement since Apollo 13’s “Houston, we have a problem.” How no one could have foreseen yesterday’s hot mess is pure mystery. Either that, or they did foresee it but tried wishing it away. Didn’t work.

You quite simply cannot run timed group qualifying sessions at a restrictor plate track where everyone is dependent on everyone else and no one wants to be first. How many of us were secretly hoping – or not so secretly, for that matter – than for the final run everyone would have stayed on pit road for the full five minutes? It would have served NASCAR right.

If you are bound and determined to have group qualifying at Daytona and Talladega, fine. Split the field in two, line each group up at random on pit road behind the pace car, everyone leaves pit road together, one warm up lap, pace car leaves, one lap getting up to speed, two laps for qualifying and everyone must run both laps at full speed. It’s not perfect, but it’s a far sight better than the embarrassing spectacle we suffered through on Sunday.