Martinsville is just what NASCAR needed, right? It had everything everybody wanted without talk of aero-push or aero-loose. It was like tastes great AND less filling. No way! The first thing it featured was the (somewhat overblown) feud between Kurt Busch and Brad Keselowski, complete with Kes formally addressing the camera in his post-accident interview and letting Busch, who was apparently watching the race in his car (?), know that he was coming for him. Great theatre. And the fact that the other party, Busch, is the time bomb that everyone is waiting to watch explode just made it better. We’ll conveniently ignore the fact that the third party involved, Kasey Kahne, never became part of any of this discussion.
Then there was the racing, an ode to the stories of yesteryear and the rough hewn racing that shaped the sport. A little bump here, a little tire to the door there. Martinsville allowed for some of the “beatin’ and bangin’” that fans claim they usually want to see. Heck, Jeff Gordon tried to shorten the front end of his ride by about three feet and still drove the 24 to a 12th-place finish.
There was even humility, with Denny Hamlin promising a victory, qualifying well, and then dropping to a place somewhere in the teens for much of the day. Not much was heard from him. But fans know now that he, in football parlance, was out with an eye for the Fontana race. Rusty metal in your eye seems like a good reason not to be piloting a car at 200 mph. Defiant Denny also defended his character over the weekend as some had questioned his mettle — seems that one is still intact and not corroding.
The finish? Pretty good. Some writers have tried to sell the finish as being a classic, but really, it was too polite to be a classic. Perhaps some thought it was great because they were happy to see Jimmie Johnson not win. (Does that mean that every race this season has been a classic?) Or maybe the storyline of Busch getting into it with Keselowski and then still winning makes things more substantial. It doesn’t matter, the ending didn’t suck. It kept people interested in those last 40 laps and the winning driver makes for a great tale of redemption, or David taking down Goliath (though in this case the two of them had the same equipment).
So for all of the positives, and for all the glee pushed to NASCAR racing at a short track, the big question is: Where was everybody? Martinsville isn’t Bristol, which seats 160,000. It holds just under 70,000 and it sure looked like seats were available. And then there’s the viewership tally, which came in at 3.8 or 4.0 or whatever version of Microsoft Windows we used in 1999. Right, the viewership numbers for this race were the lowest of the season.
If Martinsville short-track racing is what everyone thinks will help save the sport, how come no one wants to watch?
Happiness Is…A Story. You know what’s not a story? Watching the Air-Titan 2.0. It’s pretty. It does laps. It goes around the track, drying it at a faster rate than ever. It’s a technological marvel that everyone should hope they don’t have to see the rest of the year. But it’s not a story. There’s no drama with the Air Titan. You’re not watching it sail into turn one and wondering if it can stay in the groove.
But hey, get those 43 knuckleheads together in 900hp machines and turn them loose on a half-mile track, and a story is sure to pop. Brad and Kurt. Oooh, finally something scintillating to write about — seeing as how the Hamlin-Joey Logano feud is going nowhere. In truth, NASCAR needs these stories because they help sell its product and keep it in the news cycle, even if the ESPN interview with Busch on Sunday night was, um, awkward. The problem with these stories, is that they seem almost contrived after a while. It’s rare to see someone other than the Busch brothers get crazy any more, so the likely outcome is just a bunch of nothing. Perhaps, however, this one might be able to carry on throughout the season as both Busch and Keselowski should be primed for NASCAR’s late-season bracket.
Happiness Is…6. Actually, the number could be 8. That’s how many races it’s been since Jimmie Johnson won a race. For everyone who thought that Johnson’s continued victory celebrations were part of the death-knell for the sport, the fact that he hasn’t won this season, especially at Martinsville, should be bringing outright elation. So what about those TV numbers again? Seems Johnson may not have been the problem everyone thought he was.
Happiness Is…Power. Fans of Top Gear should be attuned to the concept of Jeremy Clarkson’s: More Power. In a move that will likely again split the fanbase, NASCAR is going in the opposite direction and continuing to espouse that they will soon reduce the amount of power in Cup cars. Happiness Is has already stated that a reduction in horsepower is a good thing as it will bring a shift in technology to the sport. Fuel injection had been standard in production vehicles for the past 15 years beforeNASCAR got hip to it, so any move that carries with it some kind of tie to street vehicles is a positive. Of course, they’re not going to go willy-nilly and have everyone race Chevy Volt or Toyota Prius-like engines.
Powerplant power aside, this part is also about Will Power. Since struggling through the first half of the 2013 IndyCar season, he has been ripping it up, and did so again to start the 2014 season with a dominating performance at St. Petersburg. Oh wait, you didn’t notice? That’s not too surprising as the race broadcast hit 0.6. That’s rough. The open-wheel series has this weekend off before racing at Long Beach, give it a look if you can.
Happiness Is…Bahrain. Formula One escaped the rain issues that have plaguedNASCAR so far this season. The travels this week also look good at evading a rain-soaked track, but some are fearful that the racing will be all too boring in Bahrain. With the Mercedes team having clicked on something others haven’t, they appear to be lapping the field. But hey, it looks like they won’t need the Air Titan — unlike the Cup race at Texas, which has a 70% chance of precipitation (once again, not weather, rain, weather never stops). What did NASCAR do this year to get nature so pissed off?