Well folks, it took 10 months, but we’re finally here. This week the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series makes its final road trip of the year for the season finale in Homestead-Miami, FL. Jimmie Johnson’s tire failure midway through last Sunday’s race in Phoenix essentially doomed his chances for a title, and Brad Keselowski now sits with a comfortable 20 point advantage heading into the season’s final race. And, word on the street is that there was some sort of altercation late in last week’s race, apparently involving Jeff Gordon?
Needless to say, we will be tackling that and much more in this week’s edition of Four Burning Questions.
*1. Can Jeff Gordon prove that his career hasn’t “Jumped The Shark”?*
Boys will be boys. You knew it was going to happen at some point. Jeff Gordon has been stifling some strong negative feelings about Clint Bowyer all season long, and his frustrations with the Kansas native came to a head last Sunday in Phoenix. In what can best be described as the cheap shot of all cheap shots, Jeff Gordon turned hard left into oncoming traffic and managed to take out a championship contender (Bowyer, who was obviously his target) and two innocent drivers who have every right to be pissed this week (Joey Logano and Aric Almirola). In the process, Gordon managed to spark the biggest infield brawl since the 1989 edition of the All-Star race, and his efforts netted him a nice well-deserved $100,000 fine.
Many fans will say that Gordon was in the right and that he should be commended for standing up for himself. I wholeheartedly disagree. The whole incident absolutely stunk of a desperate driver whose career has jumped the shark. It’s rather sad to think that the same guy who led the recreation of Sodom and Gomorrah in the infield last Sunday was the very same individual who vehemently preached born-again Christian values every week in victory lane and let his racing do the talking back in the ‘90s.
With one flick of the wheel, Jeff Gordon destroyed any lasting bit of significance he had left in the sport. The fact of the matter is that Gordon has been on the decline for years now, and last Sunday may very well end up being the day that fans look back on 20 years from now as the day that Jeff Gordon stopped being taken seriously a contender. There’s simply no excuse for what Gordon did, “serious contenders” at his age don’t pull the kind of idiotic crap that Gordon pulled on Sunday. Desperate drivers do.
So what can Gordon do to prove he still has a shred of relevance left to his name?
No question, he absolutely has to go out to Homestead this weekend and run well. Really well. He needs to run so well that it overshadows his misgivings from a week ago. If he doesn’t, then I’m afraid Gordon’s career may very well have jumped the shark for good.
*2. Brad Keselowki just has to play conservative to win the title right?*
Given the madness that ensued at the end of the race on Sunday, it’s rather easy to forget just how incredible of a day it was for Brad Keselowski. Keselowski’s strong top-10 run, coupled with Jimmie Johnson’s mid-race tire failure, put the title directly into Keselowski’s control. The No. 48 went down in a resoundingly anticlimactic fashion, and it makes life fairly easy for No. 2 team, as a top 15 run in Homestead ought to seal it for them. But sadly, as much as I’m sure Brad and company would like to start celebrating early, they do still have some work to do.
20 points is a solid cushion, but it in no way guarantees them a title. Many in the media have made it seem as though Keselowski simply has to start the race to lock up the title, and that couldn’t be farther from the truth. Although Johnson is historically weak at Homestead, there is every reason to believe he will be on his game given how strong his team’s 1.5-mile program has been thus far. If Johnson’s team hits the setup while Keselowski’s plays it conservative and runs 15th all race, the title could still very well swing to Johnson’s favor.
So to answer the original question, no, Keselowski can not employ a conservative strategy on Sunday, especially with the No. 48 team still within striking distance.. Being aggressive is what got the No. 2 team to where they are now in the first place, changing that would only serve to hurt them in the end. Of course, given the No. 2 team’s approach to the sport, I highly doubt they would even go the conservative route anyway.
*3. Will Homestead live up to its historical standing as the best 1.5-miler on the circuit?*
Go back and watch any race from Homestead since the track was reconfigured back in 2003. Not a single one of them was a stinker. In an era of boring cookie cutter tracks with little character and sterile on track racing, Homestead stands above its 1.5-mile track brethren. Part of it is due to the track’s unique “true oval” shape, some of it has to do with the well implemented progressive banking. Whatever the reason, Homestead puts on the best racing of any 1.5-mile track on the circuit, bar none.
And the good news?
There’s no reason to believe that the track’s record of solid races won’t continue this Sunday. The natural multiple groove format makes it so that drivers aren’t restricted to one line around the track (and thus being forced to follow in other cars’ dirty air), and thus the aero push phenomenon that so plagues the other 1.5-milers of NASCAR circa 2012 isn’t nearly as bad at Homestead. Not only that, the track is starting to show some age, meaning that tires ought to have some degree of fall off to them.
Add all this together and you have the recipe for a great race. Let’s hope that the Ford EcoBoost 400 lives up to it.
*4. Does big league NASCAR racing still have a future in Canada?*
A few weeks ago it was reported here at Frontstretch.com that the Canadian Circuit Trois-Rivières was in line for a Nationwide Series race in 2013. The Quebec government announced its support for the venture and it appeared that there were enough investors ready to make the move happen. But alas, between NASCAR’s desire to get the Nationwide schedule out a decent time, a viable alternative in Mid-Ohio, and a failure from Quebec to put a complete and fully-financed deal on the table in a swift manner, the deal was ultimately axed. Quebec will likely try again for a date in 2014, but a bigger question remains to be answered: how long will it be before a major touring series returns to the land up North?
Part of that question will likely be answered next week, as the Truck Series schedule is rumored to feature the inclusion of the Canadian Mosport Circuit. But if that doesn’t happen, where does that leave NASCAR’s future in Canada? Canada has as many stock car fans per capita as there are in the United States, and the country deserves not only one race, but many races. However, with all of these tracks failing to put consistent and viable deals on the table, one has to believe that NASCAR is losing faith in the region’s ability to host their sport.
Nonetheless, the release of the Truck Series schedule will bear watching for those wishing to see NASCAR racing in Canada. If Mosport doesn’t make the cut, it could be awhile (perhaps until the NASCAR-friendly Canadian Motor Speedway opens in Niagara Falls?) before NASCAR’s big leagues go North of the border.
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