Race Weekend Central

Happiness Is… R.A.S, Regulars, and Sochi

Another week, another sense that the sky is falling on NASCAR. The stands this past weekend showed a less than stellar crowd in attendance. Whether that can be credited to the threat of rain and overall gloomy weather, the popularity of football, or the fact that Dover is not what it once was, it doesn’t really matter. There seems to be a pervasive sense that things are not well.

Should the governing body have switched to the low-downforce rules package that had been tested twice this season? Well, yeah, it seems that way. One of the things that made the race at Dover problematic was that it turned into a high speed parade, and that doesn’t make for dramatic entertainment – no matter how much Chase aspects influence the storyline.

The rules package has become the mitigating factor in much of NASCAR’s woes. In many ways, the sport used to be about the cars – who could design something faster than the other competitors. But in the need for races that didn’t have one driver running away with the trophy laps ahead of the field, rules kept getting added to close that margin. Now, the rulebook is so onerous that all the gains are made by a team of engineers looking for millimeters here and there.  

In comparison, Formula 1 is happy to have some open areas. The nose of each car is something unique to each team, something not found in NASCAR. That just the start, as other aspects of the body are also open to engineering interpretation. As for the engine, that’s a whole different monster. The result of these freedoms is that sometimes a team nails it.

Mercedes has been perched atop the sport for the past two years, and before that Red Bull held the same position for four. Does it make for some boring races at times? Sure does. But it’s also interesting to see a team like Ferrari scrap to keep up and make inroads in doing so. For another storied team like McLaren, watching its attempted resurrection is a drama in and of itself.

So the question that ties things together is this: Have the rules in NASCAR actually backfired? Would the sport be better off seeing mechanical geniuses like Chad Knaus, Ray Evernham, Cole Pearn, Paul Wolfe, Rodney Childers and the like having more freedom rather than being strangled?  

Happiness Is… R.A.S. That’s the acronym of the week and it’s possible it’s not even a real one, but for now, it works. Rear Axle Seal. Estimated cost: $5. Having Jimmie Johnson knocked out of the Chase in the first round: Ostensibly priceless.  Here are actual texts from my brother:

Knock knock. Who’s there? Chase. Chase who? No Chase for you, Jimmie!

I look into my crystal ball… and I see the future… I see… a winner… he’s celebrating… and he’s not Johnson. The future is bright!

No. 48 Team meeting: Chad Knaus: “OK guys, we’re racing for fifth.” Hahahaha

Johnson: “Chad, can we go out for ice cream?” Knaus: “No Jimmie, ice cream is for winners.”

There are a whole bunch more and this has been going on all week. At this point he could do a full HBO comedy special with nothing but Johnson and Knaus jokes. Surely he’s not alone in being elated at the fact that Mr. Six-Time will not be progressing toward Homestead with another championship there for the taking.  

If re-doing the Chase meant to make it more difficult for the No. 48 team to keep accumulating championships, then it looks like the plan has worked. Johnson got knocked out last year before homestead and this year didn’t make it out of the first round. And this year it all came down to the R.A.S., a failure that must be driving Knaus crazy.  As for the rest of us, the Chase just got that much more interesting.

Happiness Is… Regulars. Someone should make a film called The Regulars. They’re the drivers heading to the tracks each week who help keep the sport afloat by consistently running, sometimes earning a solid finish, but rarely winning. Owing to various monetary aspects, the big Cup meanies keep dropping in and drinking their milkshakes. This past weekend brought a change to what has seemingly become a normal story. It’s hard to compare the Truck and Xfinity races.

For John Wes Townley, his win at Las Vegas serves as his breakthrough moment. Better known for crashing at almost every track he’s ever raced, Townley finally did what he should have done a while ago. A clean, smooth race coupled with some smart decisions from his team got him in the front and from there he held on to win. Consider that he had led just four laps in the past two seasons, and those at Talladega, and the win looks even better.

For Regan Smith, the win had a two-fold sense of importance. First, it helped keep him in contention for the NXS championship. He may still be a long shot, but he’s at least got a chance. The second notable aspect is that he beat both Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch, from that Gibbs juggernaut, to take the win. This part actually seems to be the most surprising point. Way to roll Townley and Smith.

Happiness Is… Sochi. The Russian Olympics have been over for a while now, but this weekend Sochi is a place of interest as it hosts the fourth Russian Grand Prix and the second consecutive at the track (it should be noted that the first two RGP were held in 1913 and 1914). Is Lewis Hamilton likely to just put himself further out in circling the F1 constellation? Probably.  If Nico Rosberg has any chance to cut into Hamilton’s lead, he better get going. The race should also be interesting in determining what Ferrari has going forward. For other teams, do these final races become glorified test sessions? Oh, the intrigue.  

About the author

Ava Lader headshot photo

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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This is the problem with “fans”…Yeah Jimmie is gone, blah, blah, blah. And as you know I am no fan of the 48 or his employer. The point being a 5 dollar part should NOTEVER have you eliminated. Did he have a terrible season with 7 races to go..No absolutely not…and what is to say he wins a bunch of races for the next 7 races? How does one explain the advancement of drivers with zero wins, DNF’s etc and they “survive” but you took a guy out of contention that can very well have the best stats? Nope, he was taken out of contention and well please tell me what that sense makes..seeing other teams are allowed to co-compete, and a part does you in?

Cheer all you want, this very well could happen to your driver..and it certainly isn’t fair or a indictment on how their season passes or fails up to that one race…or a way to crown a Champ, the history books will be fibbing big time.


…Well with how scripted NASCAR seems to be besides the wrongness of a 5.00 part keeping a driver with 4 wins out of the horrible race at Homestead…one starts to wonder if a 5.00 part really was a problem or it looks they killed two birds with one stone…..I can see it now in the script room at Castle Daytona. Down on his luck Kevin Harvick MUST WIN (which was not the truth, but hey since when is the truth glamorous or exciting)…his “rival” Jimmie Johnson is sitting pretty, it’s not looking good for last years “ONE RACE CHAMP”…pour on the drama! The guys who usually get top 5’s and wins mysteriously finished in the latter half of the top 10 and a bunch of newbies up front…HMMM. From what I heard seems Harvick had no competition on purpose..maybe. The guys were driving along for points. NASCAR is so screwy.

J. Smith

Looking at the picture in this article reminded me, what the hell happened to pace cars? Surely Toyota makes a sporty good looking car they could put on the track. They do don’t they?


Nope, they don’t. Want to know how far NASCAR has drifted from it’s origins? Put the Toyota Camary beside the “Toyota ” Spec car NASCAR currently runs. If Toyota had to use just one single external body part they couldn’t even field an entry.


Toyota isn’t alone you know. And its been that way for a long time.

Still think the LOL concept of the year is the “low downforce” package. Limit downforce then allow teams to manipulate the bodies to regain downforce.


There is another point about the pace car that has come to light, and I wonder if anyone has noticed. Back at Michigan in June, they used a Ford Mustang. In August, it was a Chevy SS. However, since then, has anyone noticed that every pace car has been a Toyota, with the exception of the Xfinity race at Kentucky, where they used a Ford F150! Bristol, Darlington, Richmond, Chicago, New Hampshire and Dover all had Toyotas. And you can bet that all races up to and including Phoenix will also be Toyotas. Heck, I wouldn’t be surprised if NASCAR and The Brainless Wonder hasn’t forced the issue with the Homestead race sponsors (Ford) that a Toyota must be used there too! Now, I wasn’t paying any attention before Michigan, but, most likely, most races have had Toyota pace cars. Talk about manufacture’s influence!


When did anyone care about the pace car? Notice that in F1 now they dont use a safety (pace) car. They use a virtual system instead. Seems to work fine, so guess the pace car is just another relic from days gone by.


I think the pace car is a missed marketing tool from the old win on Sunday sell on Monday days. If the pace cars were Shelby Mustangs or Cameros, or even customized Fusions they might impress a few fans enough to buy. Toyota Camry pace cars serve only to rub the fan’s face in just how much NASCAR has strayed from its roots. I don’t remember what race it was this year where they had a funny looking Toyota underpowered by methane , nine volt batteries, bath water or something. They kept fawning over it. Talk about not knowing your audience.


The old “win on Sunday sell on Monday ” is dead and buried. How many Fords do you see with Earnhardt stickers on them, and Chevy’s used to have Mark Martin on them. At the same time nobodies buying a Camry because Toyota is in Nascar.
Fact is cars are now tools to the majority of people, and THAT is a big part of the problem.

Capt Spaulding

How do they pace a “competition caution.”


Dont know the details of the Virtual Safety Car, but they have pit stops in F1 (a 4 second stop is slow) also and it doesn’t seem to be a problem. Can’t see where a competition caution would be anything unusual.

Both the Virtual Safety Car and multiple tire compounds are ideas that Nascar and its acolytes said can’t work. Yet other people are using them now. Wonder what that says.


Looking at the TV ratings for the first 3 races of this obnoxious playoff, it will be interesting to see if they take a bump up with JJ eliminated. So far, nothing seems to be keeping fans interested in this contrived mess. It doesn’t help that TV cover the playoff, and ONLY the playoff, totally ignoring the actual race on track. Yawn. With the totally homogenization of the cars, tracks, and drivers, I doubt that anything will be able to bring back the ‘Glory Days’.


There’s more than just the difference in noses in F1. Red Bull may have either (a) left their engine supplier without lining out a replacement supplier for this very important part or (b) begun building their cover story for an exit from F1.
But the good news is that the little team that could, Manor, is getting Mercedes engines next year. Hopefully having for the first time a competitive engine will let them move into the mid pack. It will also tell use is CFD the way going forward.

As far as Nascar, yes it does seem to have a little whiff of desperation about it these days. Despite the claims by some I dont see it as being because of the Chase. Rather football is king this time of year. That combined with being out of touch with the times causes that feeling. I don’t believe thats there is a Silver Bullet, whether low downforce is written on it or not, that will solve the problem.

Low downforce is just the latest in a line of cures for Nascar. Before that it was more roadraces. Prior to that it was double file restarts and Green-White-Checker. Funny but none have worked, the slide continues. So whats next?


When even the tame racing press starts to half admit that there might could be a problem you know it is bad. With the introduction of the COT, essentially a switch to spec cars, NASCAR took away any real manufacturer competition. This package that package what difference does it make when the cars are identical except for the colors and the decals. As beautiful as they might be imagine a beauty pageant where all the women looked exactly alike. Boring in the same way NASCAR has become. NASCAR is starting to seem desperate because they are desperate. Don’t move back towards at least heavily modified stock bodies mated to racing chassis. WTF, put Fiat 500 decals on one of the current spec cars that’s the ticket. That will bring the fans back. Oh, and gimmicks, more gimmicks.


John Q, as you know I love the business side of Motorsport. Think you could argue that this has its roots as far back as 66 when the Ford boycott ended. Nascar supposedly determined never again to be held up by the manufacturers. This of course was after the Chrysler boycott of ’65 and Ford in ’66. So they focused on the drivers as the stars , not the vehicles. Now of course they happily keep the manufactures involved but not dominant. Now look at what has happened. People cant relate to the cars or the entitled young millionaires.
Some times you get what you ask for.


kb, I will agree with you wholeheartedly on the “NASCAR is screwy” comment.

IMO, NASCAR has built the kit car and rules so tightly that there is no room for innovation (yes, I know some call that cheating). Personally I’d rather have all the teams attempting to cheat than just a few who seem able to actually get away with it or to have the totally boring races that NASCAR has now. NASCAR attempted to spice things up with gimmicks when they should have been concerned with making the racing the reason WHY fans followed the sport.

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