Race Weekend Central

Happiness Is… Smarts, Desperation & So Close

The weather forecast for the upcoming weekend at Phoenix International Raceway looks excellent, sunny and no chance of rain.  That should come as a relief to NASCAR execs and fans who slogged their way through the six hours of delay for the Cup race at Texas.  That rain also shortened the race brought about what had to be a nightmarish scenario for the governing body.

Even Chuck Norris, in attendance for the race, could not deter the rain.  As the season rolls toward its conclusion, having a race disrupted hurts ratings and fan attendance as the stakes are supposed to grow greater and the racing more intense.  

What didn’t help is that little of the on-track action seemed to offer a belief that anyone was willing to do something daring and that few cars would challenge for the win.  Once Joey Logano took the lead, the race devolved into a fast moving parade but appeared to lack all the fun of candy being thrown into the crowd or any baton twirling.  To many, the race would best be called a snoozer.

The weather, then, at Phoenix is critical.  Not only does the sport need to get its penultimate race started when stated, so as not to lose viewers (those, who yes, are still watching), but getting the race in under the beaming sun should also be just enough of an irritant to potentially inflame some egos.  

The Chase, thus far, has been run with a surprising lack of action.  That’s not to say there hasn’t been drama but there’s been no “holy s&*t” moment or something silly to bring a popular response.  Though Phoenix does not have a record of providing that moment either – with Kevin Harvick essentially owning the track of late – there was that one time when Jeff Gordon and Clint Bowyer sure made things interesting.  

The sport may not need that level of nuttiness but it does seem to need something.  Wrecks are down.  Cautions are down.  Viewership is probably down (hasn’t that been the refrain?).  So maybe the flat one-mile track in the desert can deliver.  Please deliver!  Don’t make Homestead our only hope.

(Photo: Brett Moist / NKP)
Matt DiBenedetto is cleared to race at Phoenix (Photo: Brett Moist / NKP)

Happiness Is… Smarts.  This past weekend, Matt DiBenedetto endured a harsh wreck while racing in the XFINITY Series.  The concussion he suffered in the accident turned out to keep him from racing the next day in the Cup series.  This series of events seems to make sense, even if it is disappointing for DiBenedetto, and follows the rules that NASCAR has established to protect itself, drivers and fans.

But Brad Keselowski made sure to let people know what he thought otherwise.  That he made a comment stating that the doctors don’t know anything about the sport was a fascinating and idiotic take.  So how much does Keselowski know about brain trauma?  

Look, the drivers make their money on race day and to have that taken away is a frustrating thing.  Even if a driver may feel they are OK to race doesn’t mean that they are.  With Dale Jarrett and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. both discussing concussions of late, NASCAR should be commended for being proactive – a measure that may help a driver’s career.  The scientific community still doesn’t know what they don’t know about concussions, but it’s better if they keep a driver safe than rubber stamp their return.  

Happiness Is… Desperation.  This weekend is the final batch of races until the championships at Homestead.  With Jimmie Johnson and Carl Edwards already advancing to the title race, there are six drivers vying for two spots – and three of those drivers are on the same team.  For the XFINITY and Truck series, only one of the eight championship positions is filled.  That means that this weekend is when teams and drivers should be putting all their proverbial eggs in the basket to deliver a fast car and excellent race

With this idea at the forefront, it’s also time for the drivers to possibly lose their minds a bit – not in a run around in their underwear like Ricky Bobby kind of way, but more like getting a bit more obnoxious on the track.  Surely there’s some desperation setting in for some of these drivers, surely one of them must be feeling pressure.  The hope is that it will show.  One might think the smart money would be on Kyle Busch to get stupid, and maybe it will turn out that way, but it doesn’t look like there’s a particular driver in the other two fields that brings that same cache.  Seems like it’s time for one or two of them to make things interesting

Happiness Is… So Close.  There’s two races to go in the Cup, XFINITY  and Truck series.  There’s also two races to go in Formula 1.  That means that the long serialized drama that is the large auto racing show is about to wrap its storylines and attempt to leave us with something to mull during the offseason.  As this column has stated previously, this is the time to enjoy the final few events, to soak it up those last few times.  Sure, all these series may have issues and are worth of criticism, but soon they’ll be gone.  So delight in what we’ve got left.  

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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