Race Weekend Central

Happiness Is… Jeff Gordon, Money, Side Skirts & Technology

Well, here it is again, that time of the year when winter doldrums set in allowing us all a moment of reflection and to… whatever.  This column isn’t seeking to be any kind of philosophical rumination about life – at least not this time.  Nope, this space is for thinking about hyper-colored automotive blurs, whizzing by at silly speeds with lunatics behind the wheel.  It’s time to get back to racing.

The funny thing is that there’d already be the smell of Sunoco in the air had NASCAR not banned Daytona testing.  But perhaps that was for the best, and that’s not a nod to all the super-teams who have the resources to run dynos, seven-post shakers and all kinds of computerized simulations to crunch the data they need.  No, maybe the test ban was good for all of us because it added a little bit more time to the offseason, making racing’s return all the better.

Or perhaps it was a time to think about the past season and craft a whole vat of fresh vitriol to serve to the powers that be in this sport and those foolish enough to cover it.  Happiness Is would like it served in a rocks glass, neat, with Kona Wailua Wheat to wash it down.  Cheers.

Happiness Is… Jeff Gordon.  So the dude’s had a good career.  And he had a pretty good year in 2014.  And etc. etc. etc.  There are writers here that will be looking at Jeff Gordon’s final season and offering all kinds of thoughts throughout the year.  Happiness Is will refrain from doing that this week, though at some point it will be addressed in some fashion.

Gordon’s retirement means that the links to the likes of Dale Earnhardt, Sr., Rusty Wallace, Ricky Rudd (and so on) will no longer exist but that’s OK, as this generation now sits as the evolutionary link from Gordon onward.  Ch-ch-changes.

But you know who’s happy about Gordon’s retirement?  The answer is not Brad Keselowski, Clint Bowyer or any of the walls without SAFER barriers that Gordon has somehow missed.  The correct answer is NASCAR.

Gordon just saved the season whether he wins the Chase or not.  He becomes an immediate sentimental favorite while also becoming NASCAR’s cash cow.  Tracks will fill as fans look to see him there one last time, and the ratings should see a slight uptick as they tune in for final remembrances.  Sure, his farewell tour is a one-season stopgap, but it works.

Happiness Is…Money.  How many teams decided not to run in the Sprint Unlimited this Saturday night?  It seemed that the last count showed four.  That’s kind of discouraging, especially with each withdrawal indicating that they did not have sponsorship to run the race.

Another idea may be that these teams didn’t want to see a speedway car get destroyed knowing that there’s still practice (good for a wreck or two), the Duels (also good for a wreck or two) plus the actual Daytona 500.  That means that over the course of a week, a team could blow through four cars and have nothing to show for it.

Maybe not racing isn’t such a bad idea for the smaller teams.

Happiness Is…Side skirts.  Finally.  It took NASCAR nearly the full offseason to take care of something that should have been done late last year.  Teams had gotten far too adept at pulling out the side skirts on the car in attempts to improve downforce, making them look like they’d been in a wreck instead of battling for first.  It seemed like it wouldn’t be too long until a team had pulled it out so far that it resembled a wing (and I’m not talking Buffalo Wild Wings). Chances are that Penske’s teams would have been the first, since it seemed like it was having a lot of fun playing with that sheet metal.

Well, the side skirts can be manipulated no more.  Ignoring NASCAR’s traditionally slow approach to doing almost anything, their move was much needed.  Now teams that mess with these side skirts will be brought back down pit road to readjust them accordingly; otherwise, officials will come down hard.  As the teams have been warned, it’s unlikely that there will be flagrant violators, but will NASCAR’s new automated pit road technology policing system be able to catch a minute change?

Happiness Is… Technology.  With NASCAR switching to its new pit road system that employs fewer officials, there has also been a slew of changes there.  One that has stuck out is with regards to the lug nuts.  The keen-eyed officials had become good at noticing who hadn’t fastened all five lug nuts properly.  Now, it seems, nailing all five won’t matter as much.

(Credit: CIA Stock Photography)
There will be no NASCAR officials physically close enough to the cars this year to inspect things as closely as Clint Bowyer is right here. (Credit: CIA Stock Photography)

That’s problematic on a couple of levels.  First, isn’t one of modern NASCAR’s caveats to provide safe racing?  It seems difficult to do if they’re not mandating a Step 1 book in the safety manual: checking all five are tightly bolted and preventing a potential loose wheel.  Second, aren’t the crew chiefs salivating at another way to save time and get their cars back on track?  The likes of Chad Knaus and Paul Wolfe probably tested new methods for banging out the pit stops faster with lug nut fastening changes.  This idea may seem out there, but when does NASCAR just switch to a single lug nut, a la IndyCar and F1, and quit messing with this old-fashioned concept?

Happiness Is….Waiting.  The NASCAR season begins in earnest next week, stealing the racing spotlight all for itself.  Will the engine changes bring something different?  The in-car track bar adjustments?  New officiating?  The Sprint Unlimited works as a pseudo-test session for those very things and should be interesting to watch unfold.

When March rolls around, the other motorsports goofballs will start up, too and then schedules really get rolling.  Perhaps the biggest thing to watch over the course of this season in all motorsports – NHRA, INDYCAR, Formula 1 and NASCAR – is team finances.  Either the sport has priced itself out of its own livelihood or someone needs to start thinking of funding in different ways.

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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Of course Jeff’s last season is money in the bank for Nascar and they are counting on it. We will hear nothing else at every track as it “being historic”. You know…Jeff’s last ride etc. Nascar and HMS will play this to the hilt. Do I blame them, yes and no. I do feel his “farewell” will be at the expense of other worthy storylines. But as a person who acknowledges his accomplishments, I do dread the narrative that is being written as we type, and it will be repeated every time they breath. I do believe mid-season Jeff will be tired of all the hoopla, and who could blame him. I can see a narrative now, of course the heir apparent Chase Elliot will have Jeff in the booth telling all of us who haven’t jumped on his bandwagon how great he is and how he is a worthy successor for the 24 car. the idea being there will be not a be “sting” when Jeff isn’t strapping in. Insulting for Jeff fans I say. As usual their quest for their short term boost in the pocketbook is very short sighted. What about next year? I do believe it when fans say when Jeff is gone so are they. Nascar amazes every day.


kb, yeah you are so right. NASCAR will be using Jeff’s last full season as a cash cow and hoping that all his fans will show up a bit more regularly at the track & watching on TV.

Since NASCAR has already begun pushing Chase Elliott as the next savior of NASCAR (2nd only to Jr of course) for when Jeff gets out of the car at Homestead, I’m sure that by mid-way thru the season I will be sick of it (actually I’m sick already just thinking about it). I’m sure he’s a nice guy, but he’s not MY guy. Guess I’ll be muting the TV a lot again this year

Jeff’s always been a company guy and I know he will do his best to convince the Jeff Gordon fans that we should continue to cheer for the 24 when Elliott becomes the driver in 2016. I’m sure he doesn’t see it as an insult to his fans, he’s just doing what he thinks is best for HMS and that’s fine from his point of view. I see it from a different perspective. I simply don’t like the way NASCAR itself has evolved to continue to be fully invested in the sport or to pick another favorite driver. It simply isn’t worth my time.

NASCAR and in particular the current management has done its darndest to insult and drive away the diehard, “older” fans. When Jeff is done with racing, well, that will do for me what NASCAR wasn’t completely successful at achieving. I’ll be that casual fan they keep saying they want.

the good news is that whatever stupidity, BZF & Helton dream up for 2016 and going forward, it won’t matter to me and I can have a good laugh.

Oh yeah and as far as offseason’s go, this was one of the worst – zero to talk about.


well said.


and by the way, Huston, saying the “dude had a good career” is pretty cheesy IMO. He’s had far more than a “good” career.


Experience I have, living the in the land of Mai’ Tai’s and the land of Polynesian paralysis…that is as close as you are going to get to a compliment.


kb, you could be right, but considering that IMO at least, Gordon has had a Hall of Fame worthy career with multiple championships – 4 by NASCAR’s count, 7 by mine; multiple wins at Daytona and the Southern 500; winning the Winston Million and the All-Star race (in multiples). “Good” just doesn’t quite cover it IMO.


I know and I agree with you, I was being sarcastic as I am very familiar with the state this man resides (Very familiar) and well folks just don’t think like the rest of us. I can say the mindset for compliments and the like, is not the same as the mainland thinking. Oh I could give a class on it!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


kb, sorry, I didn’t mean to imply that you agreed with his assessment. I did recognize your point of view and that you were being sarcastic. I happen to agree with you about it.

Tim S.

The uptick in track revenues and TV ratings due to Gordon’s final season will be rabidly pushed as proof that all of the changes in 2015 from TV contracts to tapered spacers were for the better. Gordon, like both of the Dales Earnhardt before and after him, has a lot of fans who are Jeff Gordon fans, not necessarily race fans and certainly not NASCAR fans. I think the dropoff for the 2016 season could be scary.

In addition, they’re going to have a hard time getting all but the most rabid old-time Bill Elliott fans to be interested in young Chase, seeing as how NASCAR’s lockstep media spent the entirety of the late 90’s to mid-2000’s telling us that everyone from Bill’s generation except for Earnhardt Hisself were all washed up, and we all needed to be Gordon fans.

NASCAR has based the entire sport on a handful of personalities, and its return to a niche market will only be accelerated by the exit of said personalities.


Wonder how many current fans of Nascar even remember Bill Elliot in his prime? Less than we think I bet. And that umber will continue to shrink as time as its way.


Yes, NASCAR is desperate to spin anything positive because they’ve really screwed things up. I agree obviously about being a Gordon fan, not a NASCAR fan. It didn’t used to be that way, I was a Gordon fan but I really enjoyed the racing, too. However the huge number of what I consider mis-steps in the management of the “sport” changed that forever for me.

russ, you may well be right, too, about wondering how many current fans remember Bill Elliott. I do – of course my favorite memory of him was the HMS trio ganging up on him at Daytona and finishing 1, 2, 3. LOL but then I’m a Gordon fan!


Gina, you’re right that this was the worst off season to date. It was like NASCAR fell off the map for the last couple months. Usually there is some talk and rumors going into the season but with the exception of Jeff’s retirement all has been quiet. Heck, even Frontstretch had little to post with the exception of driver reviews and NHRA news. Very strange but then again it could be quite telling as to the health of the sport.


Chris, yes and yet for some reason or other, NASCAR acts as though no one talking about the sport was a “good” thing.

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