Race Weekend Central

Happiness Is… Napping, the Fight for the Chase & Cheese and Beer


Yep, that’s the best opener that Happiness Is could deliver to start the column.

The tenor of the past week has been deflating.  The Tony StewartKevin Ward, Jr. incident has loomed large over auto racing, finding itself a continual headline in the news outlets.  Even Yahoo had coverage of Ward’s funeral on its homepage Thursday.

What is to be made of all of this stuff? Too difficult to tell, and the one person that could bring any clarity – or something of that ilk -to the situation is Stewart himself.  That’s not going to happen.  Due to the ongoing investigation there is zero chance that Stewart offers anything more than the tacit apology, which was probably crafted by his PR people.

That’s too bad; people want to hear what he has to say.  But Stewart has to protect his interests, both personal and professional, and opening his mouth to give any kind of candid account of what transpired that August night would likely be detrimental.  Even if Stewart came across as contrite, remorseful and sincere, it’s likely that he would still be vilified in some regard.  You won’t hear from him this weekend, however, as he will sit out the race at Michigan, having Jeff Burton take the seat.

Fan reaction, for the most part, as seen on message boards (which are always the bastion of sanity and clarity) has been rather supportive of Stewart.  The more mainstream press has taken all kinds of other angles.  This troubling incident exists in the micro-world of racing and seems to be a marker for the overwhelming cloud of gloom sitting with the world today, from Ferguson to Gaza, Ukraine to Iraq.

All the more reason for a moment to have a smile, if possible.

Happiness Is… Napping.  Yay, Michigan.  Happiness Is still awaits the development of the sarcasm font.

Is anyone really excited for Michigan?  The last race there just didn’t seem to have anything remarkable about it, which really isn’t all that surprising for a two-mile oval track these days. Hm, could there be long green-flag runs featuring the cars sliding into single-file formation with little passing?  That seems, hm – what’s the word? – likely.  Don’t forget the caution for debris that is way out of the groove on the backstretch about 60 laps into the event.

(Credit: CIA)
Ryan Newman on track at Michigan International Speedway.(Credit: CIA)

While Watkins Glen was immensely entertaining save for the two red-flag periods, Michigan is a study in contrast.  Having cars rip around a track at an amazing speed used to be excitingly entertaining, but with advanced technology, skill, and safety measures, it just doesn’t feel like it used to.  Is it Michigan’s fault? Nah, it’s just a product of the times.  So other than pushing the notion of taking a break from life with your eyes closed if you watch the race, what’s the upside?  Well, it seems that maybe the sport could use a bland little race that passes by in a haste and sets up for an interesting week at Bristol.

Happiness Is… The Fight for the Chase.  There are four remaining spots open for the Chase.  With AJ Allmendinger locking himself in last week, “who will join him” becomes one of the main storylines heading to Michigan?  There are just four races remaining until football takes over and everyone forgets about NASCAR.  How’d your fantasy draft go?

What was meant there was that there are only four races left until the Chase begins and six drivers are fighting for three spots.  Wait, aren’t there four open?  Well, unless the races are all won by drivers who haven’t won this year, or the wheels fall off his car, Matt Kenseth is locked into the offseason.  Ryan Newman, Clint Bowyer, Greg Biffle, Kasey Kahne, Austin Dillon, and Kyle Larson are separated by 30 points.

A win will be a ticket to the party, but these drivers also have to consider their standings in the points if they are hoping to keep their sponsors happy.  So if you are watching Michigan on Sunday, this battle might be much more intriguing than the one for the race win.

Happiness Is… Cheese and Beer.  If it were beer and bread, Germany should come to mind.  Cheese and wine, France.  But the state of Wisconsin has locked down the gastrointestinal delight of the cheese and beer pairing.  Throw in a brat or two, and blammo.

What is this, a food column?  Nope, but Milwaukee is the site of this week’s IndyCar race, as the series races to its conclusion at the end of August.

The Milwaukee Mile is considered America’s oldest oval track and it’s good to see that it still gets some love.  The INDYCAR press release stated that 11 drivers are still in contention for the title.  Sure, in some mathematical gobbledegook that is the case, but in reality there are four drivers with the good shot to win the big trophy.

Ryan Hunter-Reay has excelled at the flat track, while Helio Castroneves also tends to be strong there, finishing second to Hunter-Reay last year.  Then there’s the two unknowns: Simon Pagenaud, who continues to put together a solid season, and Will Power, the championship leader (by a measly four points) who traditionally fared poorly on ovals but seems to have turned that around this year.

If you’re still awake during the Michigan race but are looking for some closer racing, give a look to a championship battle that doesn’t involve resetting the field.

Happiness Is… Third.  Usually being third gets you on the podium.  Sometimes being third feels terrible, not even good enough to be second.  This time, third might feel like a win. The Wood Brothers Racing organization, of the fabled No. 21, have ditched the Roush Fenway Racing mess and moved over to a technical alliance with Penske Racing.

The combination comes just after the Wood Brothers announced that Ryan Blaney would be running for them next year in a limited schedule.  So basically, Blaney will be driving a third Penske car – and the way that they’ve run this year, that has to feel good for the rising talent for 2015.

About the author

As a writer and editor, Ava anchors the Formula 1 coverage for the site, while working through many of its biggest columns. Ava earned a Masters in Sports Studies at UGA and a PhD in American Studies from UH-Mānoa. Her dissertation Chased Women, NASCAR Dads, and Southern Inhospitality: How NASCAR Exports The South is in the process of becoming a book.

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