Who… gets my shoutout of the race?
When the season has been a struggle almost from day one and the best qualifying effort a driver can muster is 31st, it would be easy to write the weekend off as a lost cause. But for Kasey Kahne at least, the day-to-night switch at Texas worked out well.
Kahne passed a lot of cars on Sunday, finishing a respectable eighth. It was, perhaps, too little, too late in the scheme of the 2016 season. But it gives Kahne and his team a little momentum for 2017, a year when performance may quickly become critical for Kahne if he hopes to keep his seat at Hendrick Motorsports.
What… is the takeaway from this race?
While it’s definitely the right call for fans in attendance, delaying an afternoon race instead of postponing until the next day doesn’t do anyone else any favors. Teams had to take cars that had been set up for daytime conditions and hope they’d stick to a green (and still damp) track surface in the opening laps, even after the race started under yellow to speed up the drying process. Fans watching on television were treated to a typical night race on a 1.5-mile track instead of a daytime event on a hotter track that would have produced better racing.
Rain delays put NASCAR in a terrible position, because delays to Sunday events mean fans who have to work Monday morning don’t see the race either way. So what’s puzzling is the decision to make schedule start times even later next season with no exit plan for rain.
I’d like to see a set time on Sunday nights after which no race will start if it hasn’t already gone green. That way fans would know ahead of time that if, say, 7 p.m. ET came and went with no start, the race would be delayed until Monday. That gives fans in attendance time to re-book rooms for the night if necessary and fans at home time to get ready for Monday and get their DVRs set. Of course delays after the green flag would still have to be a game-day decision, depending on how many laps were complete before the rain, but a hard deadline for starting races would only be a benefit.
Where… did the pole sitter and the defending race winner wind up?
Austin Dillon led a handful of laps early, but that was because the race started under yellow, and after that, Dillon just didn’t have the car to compete with the likes of Joey Logano or Martin Truex, Jr. Even before he spun after contact with David Ragan and his subsequent crash after getting turned by Kevin Harvick that ended any hope of a strong finish with a 37th-place DNF, Dillon had a good car but not a great one. He’s shown improvement this season, but he’s not quite in winning form. Like his car Sunday, Dillon has been good, but not great thus far.
Jimmie Johnson is almost always a threat at Texas, but this week he was more of a top-10 threat than a winning one. There was no reason for Johnson to risk a crash, and it’s entirely possible that he and his team were trying some things for Homestead as well, a race where Johnson will almost certainly need to win to take his seventh title, so his Texas run may have been a bit tame by design.
On the other hand, if the 11th-place run was the No. 48 team’s best effort, Johnson’s title bid might be in trouble, especially since Johnson has never run particularly well at Homestead. He’s a driver who can never, ever be counted out of a championship race, but if Sunday was an indication of how the No. 48 will be in two weeks, he’s got his work cut out for him.
When… did it all go sideways?
At this point in the season, most of the field is racing for the best they can get on any given Sunday, trying to end their season on the best possible note. Nobody wants to be “that guy” who ends the race for one of the remaining Chase drivers, but drivers should not be expected to just move out of the way for a Chaser, either.
Austin Dillon was doing nothing wrong late in the race when Kevin Harvick decided to get impatient and ended Dillon’s day with a heavy crash that also collected Casey Mears and Brian Scott as collateral damage. Intentional or not, Harvick had plenty of time to make a pass on Dillon cleanly and chose not to do so. Was wrecking the No. 3 and the others intentional? No. Was it avoidable? Absolutely.
Had the situation been reversed and a non-Chase driver raced a Chaser the way Harvick chose to race, there would have been an outcry of how the non-Chasers shouldn’t race the Chasers so hard and so on to a degree. It would be a shame if an overaggressive move on the part of someone not even in the hunt ended a title run, but it goes both ways.
This time was almost costly to Harvick as well, as Dillon bounced off the wall and almost clipped his back end. Was Dillon racing Harvick too hard for the situation he was in? It’s called a race, so I’m going with no. It might be different if there had been five laps to go or if Dillon had been holding up Harvick for multiple laps. And the problem with not passing cleanly is that even if Dillon had been holding up Harvick for multiple laps, Casey Mears and Brian Scott weren’t. They certainly didn’t deserve to pay for one Chaser’s entitlement.
Why… did Carl Edwards win the race?
It rained on everyone else’s parade. Edwards won a rain-shortened race, but he had a good lead before the rain came. No, it wasn’t the shower with 41 laps to go that changed the game…it was the one that delayed the race for almost six hours, pushing a day race to night. Edwards’ team adapted best for night racing and made the right adjustments during the race as well, before reeling off a pit stop under caution to give Edwards the lead for good. Say all you want about the validity of rain-shortened wins, the fact is that Edwards and his team adapted to the race conditions better than anyone else.
The other factor in play was that when the race changed from day to night, the advantage of clean air rose greatly. Passing the leader was a near-impossibility. Would the race have been better during the day? Most likely things would have been more exciting, but the outcome could very well have been the same…the Joe Gibbs Racing cars have been strong on the big tracks all year.
How… else did the rain effect Texas?
The rain delayed the race and decided the winner, but it may have had a more far-reaching effect if the difficulty of getting the track dry after a relatively small rainstorm pushes track officials into a decision to repave the track. While resurfacing could go a long way toward that end if drainage is addressed at the same time, repaving will have a negative impact on the racing itself.
The older the surface, the better it races. That’s almost a universal truth, and a repave at Texas will likely create less exciting racing for several years. Other than the drainage issues which have always been a problem at Texas, the surface isn’t in dire need of replacement for at least a few more years, but it’ll likely come sooner, particularly if the decision is made with Sunday’s race fresh in everyone’s mind.
About the author
Amy is an 20-year veteran NASCAR writer and a six-time National Motorsports Press Association (NMPA) writing award winner, including first place awards for both columns and race coverage. As well as serving as Photo Editor, Amy writes The Big 6 (Mondays) after every NASCAR Cup Series race. She can also be found working on her bi-weekly columns Holding A Pretty Wheel (Tuesdays) and Only Yesterday (Wednesdays). A New Hampshire native whose heart is in North Carolina, Amy’s work credits have extended everywhere from driver Kenny Wallace’s website to Athlon Sports. She can also be heard weekly as a panelist on the Hard Left Turn podcast that can be found on AccessWDUN.com's Around the Track page.
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