Race Weekend Central

Happiness Is… Atlanta, Handling & Musical Chairs

The Daytona 500 now sits in the rear view mirror.  Denny Hamlin added his name to the big trophy and enjoyed the spoils of the win.  While his story may be a feel good one for him and his team there is still something about the whole thing that felt a little flat.  It’s not that Hamlin isn’t a deserving driver, as he’s been close to earning a championship before and has shown he can excel on most tracks.  And the surrounding stories, him with a new crew chief, the Joe Gibbs Racing organization continuing its hot streak even as one of its principals, J.D. Gibbs, battles a mysterious illness, also make for a good tale.  

The racing itself has already been poo-pooed, as the first 198 laps seemed to bring little in the way of excitement, save for the occasional spin-out.  The ratings have been discussed, the 6.1 as another ominous sign that NASCAR is ______.  Maybe it is and maybe it isn’t.  Saying that NASCAR is killing itself or that it’s in a state of crisis has been the norm for the past six or seven years, probably longer.  

Perhaps the Daytona 500 fell flat because now, more than ever it seems, one needs teammates to win.  The JGR freight train is what propelled Hamlin to the win – including a hampered Carl Edwards, who somehow managed a fifth-place result.  But you know who couldn’t get it together?  Hendrick Motorsports and its four cars.

The expectations placed upon Chase Elliott are probably unrealistic, and even though he scored the XFINITY win the day prior, the likelihood of doing something special in the 500 had to be quite low.  So maybe he and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. should have figured out a way to team up in the early stages rather than trying to race each other.  Or maybe all four cars should have had some kind of plan to get together.  It seemed the thing that JGR did is the very thing that HMS couldn’t.  But then again, neither could Penske/Wood Bros., and it’s hard to really know what Roush Fenway was up to.

The plate tracks continue to be one of the more difficult things to figure out from a competition standpoint and this race followed the trend.  Will there be changes?  Maybe.  Likely.  Yet at the same point, it feels like there’s always so many changes and perhaps this isn’t the time just yet to make any more.  

Happiness Is…AMS.  Enough of the plate shenanigans, let’s get racing.  The series may be shifting away from the world center of racing, but it is moving to Atlanta Motor Speedway, which opened in 1960, just a year after Daytona.  At various points in time the track has been the fastest on the schedule.  What it will really do is give a good idea as to which teams and drivers have the initial grasp of the new rules package.

That means that this event could feature some excellent racing or that it could be a mess — as those drivers and teams that are off struggle and bring an onslaught of cautions.  Let’s hope the caution count is low and that the racing is solid — and, ya know, you don’t need your teammates to help make passes.  

Daytona 500 Ambulance Walk Cup Dale Earnhardt Jr 2016 Mike Neff
Dale Earnhardt Jr never found the handling for Amelia (credit: Mike Neff)

Happiness Is…Handling.  To hype the Great American Race, Fox Sports 1 made sure to throw some fun programming out and give everyone their Daytona fill.  While it was interesting to watch the aero wars of the 1970s among Ford, Dodge and Plymouth, there was something else that was striking.  One of the features focused on Sterling Marlin and his 1994 Daytona 500 victory.  While it was one thing that it was his first career win, it was the way in which he won that was surprising.  

As Marlin pushed forward on the last 10 laps, there were just three cars in view, him, Ernie Irvan and some nobody named Jeff Gordon.  As the race got down to two to go, Only Irvan was in the frame with Marlin as Gordon had dropped back by a good 15-20 car lengths.  No pack in sight.  No pushing.  Just Marlin cruising to his win.  It was a welcome sight in contrast to the packs where people struggle to pass without having some help.  And it also showed that, as Dale Earnhardt, Jr discovered, that handling matters.  That’s something that hasn’t seem to be the case for a while at the plate tracks, so if Sunday’s race came as any indication, maybe there’s hope that handling will again matter.  

Happiness Is…Musical Chairs.  Sure, much of the focus here at Frontstretch HQ is placed upon NASCAR, and deservedly so.  That being noted, there’s another little racing series that will be getting things going in a short while, just over three weeks from now in Sydney, Australia.  But before that circus starts, there’s IndyCar, set to begin in St. Petersburg, Fla.  That race, held on the streets and airport in the city, has become the annual kickoff.  The nexus between IndyCar and F1 has been weak to nonexistent the past few years, but that has changed for the upcoming Indy season.

The big name making a move is Alexander Rossi.  The American driver put in a solid effort driving for Manor-Marussia in F1 last year, making his debut and making five starts.  While on the track he had shown promise, he couldn’t compete with the financial backing that Pascal Wehrlein brought, and thus Rossi lost his ride.  In a funny kind of note, Rossi is the second Manor-Marussia driver to be competing for the IndyCar title as Max Chilton will also be moving up from his spot in Indy Lights.  For Chilton, it’s attempt to continue a racing career.  For Rossi, it’s a soft spot landing that may help him get back to F1.  For U.S. fans, it’s good to see that he’ll be racing.  

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.

Sign up for the Frontstretch Newsletter

A daily email update (Monday through Friday) providing racing news, commentary, features, and information from Frontstretch.com
We hate spam. Your email address will not be sold or shared with anyone else.

Share via