The NASCAR traveling circus is moving on from the carnival known as Talladega and parking itself in Kansas this weekend. To some fans, that means a return to what may be considered more traditional racing.
To others? The weekend at Kansas Speedway will represent a return to boring 1.5-mile, cookie-cutter, follow-the-leader lameness that has brought NASCAR down. Viewership for Talladega was higher than it has been for most other races this season, so the track must bring some kind of interesting entertainment to the forefront.
It’s just, well, maybe if the announcers weren’t so quick to shout out, “The Big One,” it would be easier to take.
The wreck that takes out one-third of the field or more is the magnetic force of the track’s appeal. But it’s also an instant bummer – kind of like Thundersnow’s Kentucky Derby. (Thundersnow got spooked on the wet track and raced no further than 20 yards, just FYI.)
So Kansas, in theory, means that there’ll be more cars alive and well, but also that they’ll be spread out. From the soundbites of the drivers, they’ll be excited… whether we all are or not. Drivers happy, fans unhappy, can NASCAR ever get them on the same page?
With that in mind, let’s try and smile.
Happiness Is… Safety. In what seems like a career ago, Elliott Sadler almost earned his pilot’s license at Talladega when he flew through the air in a wreck that made one ask: how the hell did he walk away from that? Sadler’s mangled car from that 2003 race proved that NASCAR’s safety initiatives were starting to pay off.
There was, and usually is, still a ways to go. But the current cars that many have a problem with due to their spec-body nature have proven to be amazingly safe for the drivers. With AJ Allmendinger finding himself parked upside down during this past weekend’s race at the superspeedway, we were all once again reminded of this aspect. When Allmendinger finally escaped from his car after it was righted, it looked like the incident hadn’t even messed up his wonderfully coiffed ‘do.
The real work regarding safety in the sport is the installation of the S.A.F.E.R. walls almost everywhere. After Jeff Gordon made a habit of finding every bit of unprotected wall, the tracks have done well to fix this oversight. Danica Patrick’s wreck proved how valuable these SAFER barriers have become when she crushed her car against Talladega’s inside backstretch that jutted out.
Her crash was similar to the one that knocked Kyle Busch out for the early part of the season a couple of years ago. Instead? These improvements have allowed these drivers to remain in the proverbial game.
So say what you want about either of those two. But no one should enjoy seeing drivers get injured, and to that, NASCAR deserves an “attaboy.”
Happiness Is… Long. Back in 2009, NASCAR totally shafted Carl Long. The organization brought the hammer down on he and his small operation. Next, they picked up the pieces and put them through a mill. And after that? They took the finely grated remnants and made sure to place them behind a jet engine to scatter them to the wind.
The crippling $200,000 fine that Long earned, for his engine being 0.17 CI bigger than it should be during practice, for a non-points paying event, is one of the most laughable and asinine moves by NASCAR in its history.
Believed to be safe in their own hubris, NASCAR felt they could levy such punishment without consequence. They bashed the little guy to prove their might while using the rules violation as demonstration of their power and an example that others should not mess with them.
But this weekend, Long is back. And guess what – NASCAR needs him.
This guy, now 49, is still a so-so driver racing in crappy equipment. He will be a threat to no one on the track, except perhaps his sheet metal hanger at the shop. The sport, however, needs good PR, and nothing works better than having Long return from a penalty that killed his team to show that he can overcome and make it back. Apparently, he still owes money to NASCAR, so Saturday night is a form of repayment. It also makes the starting field a full grid of 40 cars.
One has to wonder why Long and his people didn’t crowd-source the fine once again (they did, several years ago but only raised about $25,000). Perhaps the fans would have been happy to give it to Long, or perhaps they’d hold out knowing the money would trickle to the suits in Daytona.
Regardless, Long and his team deserve a nod this weekend when taking the green flag.
Happiness Is… MDW. Up next is Mother’s Day Weekend, a time to offer kind words and well wishes to all the mothers out there. In recognition of Mother’s Day, most motorsports are taking Sunday off, so that, well, hm…because?
Really, it’s a sexist attitude to believe that some women don’t enjoy motorsport. By not racing on Sunday, people think they’re doing them a favor. But this column is no place to get into any of that stuff. Instead, this weekend is a chance to recognize the fact that the gift of racing for all is strewn throughout the weekend with all forms in action.
The Truck Series is up first. Do you remember them? Have you even heard of them? They’re kind of like the cars but they look like trucks. Does that sound vaguely familiar? If you’re having problems, that’s because it’s been five freakin’ weeks since they last raced. It’s about time they got out there and did something! They will Friday night, opening up the weekend at Kansas.
They’re followed by IndyCar running the road course at Indianapolis Speedway for the Grand Prix of Indianapolis. The series has been trending up and this race works as an interesting precursor. There will be oval qualifying next weekend and the 500 two weeks hence.
Saturday also features one of the Cup night races. Just in case you haven’t gotten your fill, Formula 1 returns after an off week to race Sunday in Spain. The main story will be the battle between Ferrari and Mercedes as the prancing ponies have seemingly found a way to challenge the dominance of the Silver Arrows.
Regardless of what you may do, enjoy the weekend and Happy Mother’s Day.
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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