*ONE: There’s Nothing Wrong with New Hampshire’s Racetrack*
It isn’t New Hampshire Motor Speedway that’s the problem…try blaming the tires and the cars.
Yes, Sunday’s race was far from a classic, with rock hard tires again making track position the sole dictator of everyone’s race strategy. But this one was shaping up awful nice before a communication breakdown between Denny Hamlin and Darian Grubb put the No. 11 car that was the class of the field back far enough in the field that even a brilliant late-race charge couldn’t produce a checkered flag. And there’s not many race tracks out there that can overcome hard tires anyhow…or the mentality that every driver that didn’t win had, that they’d win in September…when it counted for something.
The fact is, even without the banking, there’s plenty going for the current configuration at NHMS. The flat corners allow for multiple grooves, and the apron has also come into play in recent years, allowing for multiple approaches and exits to each of the venue’s corners. On a tour dominated by cookie cutter intermediate ovals, Loudon is one of the few unique racetracks actually being contested by Cup racers in 2012. Perhaps most importantly, the modified race contested Saturday before the Nationwide Series event featured over a dozen green-flag lead changes and a side-by-side finish decided by thousandths of a second.
The modifieds have continually proven over the years that the New Hampshire Motor Speedway is fully capable of putting on excellent stock car racing. Even the Cup Series has done it (Ryan Newman’s dive-bomb move to pass Tony Stewart in the first Chase race of 2005 comes to mind). Face it, there’s a common thread between poor racing and a number of venues…it’s the cars and packages being run, not the tracks they’re running on.
Besides, it’s a lot easier to go back to stock cars instead of blowing up facilities worth hundreds of millions of dollars.
*TWO: It’s a Development Series, Stupid*
Anybody who took the Vegas odds on Kevin Harvick vs. Amber Cope being the feud of the week following Loudon’s race weekend is reading this column on a diamond-encrusted computer right now, because they were omniscient. Be it in post-race comments or on Twitter, Kevin Harvick, a Daytona 500 champion, a Brickyard 400 champion, a two-time Nationwide Series champion, couldn’t stop talking about Amber Cope, the development backmarker that cost him a minor league race.
Look, Harvick’s got plenty of valid points about Cope’s driving talent. There is something to be said about a driver who finished no better than 27th in three career ARCA starts moving up to the Nationwide Series. And without Amber’s ties to 1990 Daytona 500 champion Derrike, there’s an argument as to whether she’d have even gotten that far. Lastly, regardless of how true it may be, being a nobody and pointing the finger at as accomplished a driver as Harvick that she came down on isn’t doing a career any favors.
Cope as a driver messed up. She was off the pace all afternoon, and was clearly shown in the replays that she failed to hold a straight line when leader Harvick approached her late. The resulting loss of momentum ultimately cost Harvick the win.
But having sad that, it’s the Nationwide Series. It is a development series. It’s there for drivers to make the kinds of mistakes that have no place in Cup racing. Instead of picking fights with youngsters, Harvick should stay there. Because for all those championships that make him a driver that towers above Amber Cope…he still hasn’t won a Cup.
*THREE: The Miscommunication That Cost the Race*
Denny Hamlin deserves credit for staying on the same page, both on the radio immediately following a late race stop for four tires that ended up costing his team the win Sunday and in comments immediately after, stating that a miscommunication was just that. No finger pointing, no emotional breakdowns, complete acknowledgement was instead the reaction of the runner-up.
Both sides of the equation, Hamlin and Grubb, were equally at fault for the misstep on pit road. Hamlin didn’t make clear how many tires he wanted, and Grubb made an assumption that “tires” meant four. While the first-year pairing can and should be thankful this cost them now rather than later in the season, Sunday’s error was awful glaring for nearly five months into the season.
There’s both positives and negatives for Hamlin fans to take from this one. There was some real maturity shown on the driver’s part to stay composed even through such an obvious mistake, and the charge through the field that saw the No. 11 get back from 14th to second was impressive. Having said that, Grubb’s a champion crew chief and Hamlin a contending driver. This kind of mistake literally cost the team a race win.
No. 11 fans better hope this was a blip on the radar.
*FOUR: MHP for Sponsor Move of the Year*
Following rampant speculation about just what triggered AJ Allmendinger’s positive drug test at Daytona two weekends ago, the use of supplements among race car drivers has become a topic of discussion, with Brad Keselowski even going as far as to say that all supplements should be on the banned substances list for NASCAR racers.
Give some credit to Front Row Motorsports sponsor MHP, who responded to this hot topic by putting their 8-Hour Alert brand on a car for the weekend’s race at Loudon. Not only was this an excellent example of timely marketing by one of the few new sponsors to enter racing in 2012, it also served as a fitting reminder as to just how asinine a supplement ban would be. For crying out loud, 5-Hour Energy is a primary sponsor, Stacker 2 was a long-time backer of NASCAR entries, energy drink companies abound have long been part of this sport…
And honestly, if Red Bull or 5-Hour Energy is actually capable of producing a positive drug test, NASCAR’s got larger issues with regard to their substance policy.
Brad Keselowski’s one of the more intelligent drivers in the garage, one of the few voices worth listening to. Just goes to show…nobody’s perfect. Just like NASCAR’s substance policy.
*FIVE: The Dinger Test…Matt M’s Right Again*
Going further down that road, this column already tackled the need for independent labs to test samples simultaneously a week ago. But following up on a point that fellow writer Matt McLaughlin made in his race recap column, there is something very strange…very calculated…about NASCAR waiting until a bye week for the Cup circuit to test the ‘Dinger’s B-sample.
Regardless of how the Jeremy Mayfield saga went down, there’s no arguing that the sanctioning body took some licks for the episode, be it for the alleged ability of a radio host to duplicate the positive test results without consuming meth or the plentiful conspiracy theories that floated about an outspoken owner/driver being targeted by the establishment.
That’s no reason for a seemingly inexplicable delay in testing the “B” sample. It’s been known since Tuesday that a retest was requested. Yet it’s going to take another week to test something that’s already been collected? There’s literally a career hanging in the balance, and a longtime NASCAR team has a $15 million sponsorship package sitting in limbo while definitive test results come back.
NASCAR did exactly the right thing when they implemented a drug testing policy. They did the right thing in suspending drivers that test positively. But there’s a responsibility that goes both ways with having such a policy…namely, being able to destroy a career has to be coupled with getting it right, right away.
Tough situation for Allmendinger. Either he’s guilty or he’s going to have his career ruined because, for credibility’s sake…his B sample has to be positive. Does anyone really see NASCAR allowing word to get out, true or false, that the B sample is clean?
Those same folks probably thought Hamlin did the right thing taking four tires.
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