Race Weekend Central

Happiness Is… Ignoring Chores

This past weekend featured another slew of racing, with seemingly everybody in action save for the Nationwide Series. So if a person was looking to avoid things like housework, chores, beautiful weather, or anything else productive, there was enough side-by-side competition to watch in order to do just that. For all of the petrol burned, tires worn, and oil laid to waste, a racing weekend like this one held a bit of something for everyone. And for a person foolhardy enough to try and take it all in, well, that’s just bliss.


Happiness Is… Kansas

Now that the Kansas track hosts two races a year, there’s a lot to be said for the action there. Both the Trucks and the Cup cars looked fast as they turned laps – something that doesn’t always translate to television. In both series, drivers found it difficult at times to keep their rides honed to the track, so speed and difficulty of driving should make for good bedfellows. Then, there was the fact that both races featured tight finishes, with Matt Crafton edging Joey Coulter, followed by Matt Kenseth again besting Kasey Kahne.

If happiness is racing, then everyone should be smiling … but are they?

The problem is that Kansas just didn’t seem to provide an overwhelmingly good product overall. Is it the fact that it’s more races on much called cookie cutters? Eh, that one could go either way. Is it the tires that Goodyear brought? Possibly. The fact that Kenseth changed left sides only twice shows that tire wear was not an issue. But maybe it was the track itself. Sure, it’s a new surface, yadda yadda, but perhaps the problem was that the progressive banking just isn’t progressive enough to make for compelling side-by-side racing. It’s hard to know because the fantastic finishes will contrast with the fact that, aside from Kyle Busch spinning and wrecking in both races, the actual racing was so-so.

Happiness Is… When Worlds Collide

Dario Franchitti took the pole spot for the Long Beach Grand Prix in IndyCar and looked to be in a position to change the fortunes of his season in an emphatic way. For awhile, everything seemed to be going his way. Until it wasn’t. Although for Franchitti, a fourth-place finish is brilliant compared to his previous ones.

Enter the unexpected. In an alternate universe, Takuma Sato is a driver who is stocking up victories and showcasing the talent that put him in the F1 paddock from 2002 to ’08. In this universe, Sato is a driver that shows amazing prowess and is then compromised by his own sense of self, or simple brain glitches. That he signed on with A.J. Foyt Racing for this IndyCar season was a move that garnered some skepticism – but maybe the pairing is best. Sato won his first race at Long Beach, and while it would be a stretch to describe him as a force to be reckoned with (unless you consider his moments of driving an IndyCar like it’s a bowling ball being a force), there is certainly some potential.

Happiness Is… Being a Champion

Sebastian Vettel, in essence, cruised to victory in Bahrain this past weekend. By lap 5, he had taken the lead and never would even feel a sense of pressure. If on board cameras didn’t show him working the wheel, then viewers could have imagined him drinking a macchiato and reading an existentialist German philosopher as he calmly piloted his car around the track. Though drivers battled in pairs throughout the top 10, Vettel could see none of it.

On the other side of the world, Vader almost pulled off another one. Jimmie Johnson, hovering like a stealth drone, made his way forward to the top of the field with barely anyone noticing, nor not recognizing the inevitable. With the Emperor, or Chad Knaus, making the necessary adjustments, Johnson even led for nine laps and was in a position to contend – though his car fell off and he had to settle for the ignominious position of third.

What’s it all mean? Parallels. Right now, Vettel and Johnson are drivers who, matched to the cars they drive, are paired with excellent organizations that see winning as a common thread. They’ve got eight championships between them, and all cylinders are firing. So what’s the big deal? Oversaturation. The backlash against Johnson continues and I wonder if the same thing might happen to Vettel who, at 25, again has the look of a champion. Who knew that greatness could be so frustratingly boring?

Happiness Is… Mistakes and Parts

Kyle Busch felt obligated to make Kansas look like one of the most difficult tracks on the planet to drive. Sum total: two dead truck motors, one dead truck, and two dead Cup cars. That’s not a bad weekend; that’s a bad month. He should just be happy that Cup goes only once to Kansas and that the track is not in The Chase – right, strike that. And then there were the Ferraris in Bahrain. Fernando Alonso found himself in an awkward position when the rear wing flap, as part of the Drag Reduction System, failed to close when it should have. After two pit stops, and without the device, the best he could manage was an eighth-place finish. His teammate, Felipe Massa, also struggled with his car, first from front wing damage and then from two surprising tire failures, and that relegated the Italian organization to an afterthought.

While some struggled this weekend at Long Beach, others had a lot to be happy about. Credit: INDYCAR LAT USA

The disappointing part of both of these instances is that these issues rob fans of good racing. That’s not commenting on pulling for a particular driver or indicating that these drivers may have won, as much as it is to be disappointed that when good cars and drivers get taken out, the whole product suffers. The flip side, of course, is that if the cars and drivers are good, they still would have been racing. Joey Logano would probably have a comment about that one, though after ending his day hitting Busch…

Happiness Is… The Stands

Yep, sure looked like Kansas deserved a second Cup date. Oh, and what about Bahrain – sure, the overlord there (or whatever his title is) said that the interest in F1 there is strong, but the stands did not back his case. The defenders will claim that the weather in Kansas was disappointing and that Bahrain is still embroiled in civil unrest. The truth is, both of those factors are the status quo at this point.

At least Indy at Long Beach looked packed, festive, and energized.

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