The races at Richmond International Raceway this past weekend featured some enjoyable competition. It’s what many fans have clamored for over the past few years and serves as a reminder that the 1.5-mile and over tracks may bring fast cars but not always the best racing. And now it’s on to Talladega, just about as far from the concept of racing as one can get while still allegedly racing a car. What’s interesting about Talladega is that it continues to attract more viewers that does tracks where many feel the racing is better. We’ll see if that continues this weekend.
Happiness Is… Alonso. In what should have been an insignificant hurdle, Fernando Alonso cleared rookie protocols for racing in this month’s Indianapolis 500. While any sane person should have believed he would pass these introductory tests, what a story it would have been had he not. With that aspect out of the way, the Spanish driver can get on with, ya know, actually focusing on racing.
Alonso’s involvement in the 500 continues to be one of the main storylines of the race. Jenna Fryer, the AP motorsports writer, questioned his participation and basically called it a non-story, going so far to assert that it wasn’t worth paying attention to – which brought a firm rebuke from Mario Andretti. That Fryer then followed the story by indicating that we had not read the story right further divided people. Was it all just click-bait?
But there’s trends that come through this thread, and it is often the current notion that motorsports are divided and exist as their own bubble. To fight such a concept, Will Buxton, often seen as the paddock reporter for NBCSN F1 broadcasts, wrote in wonderment of how divided the motorsports cultures are, calling out for more crossover.
The basic tenet of his piece is to wonder why we all can’t get along. Alonso driving in the 500 is good for IndyCar, is also good for F1, and could be good for NASCAR. Having more drivers interlope can be a good thing, especially as ratings and attendance continue to be scrutinized, for the crossovers can serve to interweave the series and keep motorsports as a whole in good shape. That’s the reason that it’s difficult to get worked up by Travis Pastrana returning to NASCAR to race a truck at Las Vegas since there’s a good chance he’ll bring eyeballs and exposure to a series that could surely use more of it.
Happiness Is… Changes. The races in the XFINITY series can be a difficult thing to predict in regard to entertainment. Sometimes a Cup driver hooks up and rules; sometimes a couple Cup drivers battle it out; and other times it is the free-for-all that it should theoretically be. The series has searched for ways to make things more interesting by limited Cup driver participation but the effects haven’t quite registered.
In a way to mitigate what has been one of the dullest races on the schedule, NASCAR has intervened with rules changes to make the racing better – or hope that it will. Last year at the Brickyard, Kyle Busch led 62 of 63 laps in a runaway. To combat a replay, NASCAR has modified the splitter, front bumper structure, spoiler and aero ducts in an effort to put more drag on the front of the car. In addition, NASCAR has mandated that cars will run a 7/8th inch restrictor plate combined with a spacer to remove about 200 horsepower from the cars.
What NASCAR is looking for here is to turn the Brickyard into Daytona or Talladega, restrictor-plate races that bring a heightened sense of unpredictability. Races at the track have been for both XFINITY and Cup have failed to keep a keen interest from fans, so this is one way to bring a fix. Let’s hope the changes do the trick.
Happiness Is… Roush. The NASCAR Cup series season is nine races old and there are some things that have stuck out, like: Penske is cruising; Joe Gibbs Racing is struggling; half of Hendrick Motorsports is decent; and that most of Stewart-Haas Racing is doing all right. One of the teams that has been overlooked is Roush Fenway Racing. For the past few years, RFR has struggled, and that’s being kind. The program that was once a consistent championship contender and frequent race-winner transformed itself into being an also-ran, an afterthought on the track.
A check of the standings now has Trevor Bayne and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. sitting in the 15th and 16th positions in overall points. Now those spots aren’t ones to necessarily make one fly a play announcing that RFR is back, it is important to recognize that those two drivers sit ahead of Matt Kenseth, Kasey Kahne, Austin Dillon and the struggling Dale Earnhardt Jr.
There’s still 15 more races until the Playoffs begin, so everything could go wrong for RFR in the future and both drivers could plummet down the standings at this point, however, it’s encouraging to see the team begin to rebound. As an organization that has contracted, it seems that the ability to focus on just two cars has brought better results. And who knows, it might not be too long until one of those two drivers sneaks in and ‘steals’ a win.
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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