Race Weekend Central

Happiness Is: Caring, Shoey & 45

So there’s been some little bits of news this weekend in NASCAR-land but nothing that would count as earth-shaking.  The news that Ford will be switching to the Mustang in the Cup series for the 2019 season tops the list, however. While this announcement may have been spoiled earlier in the year it still doesn’t come as any kind of big surprise.  That it will be running against another pony car in the series is all good.

While our Tom Bowles might have argued for Ford to be cautious in how they proceed, there was also an acknowledgment that by making the decision this early there is plenty of time to tinker with the Mustang this season through testing.  In reality, the move is a wonderful one for the optics of the sport even if a bit hollow.

The performance of the Ford Fusion may be stellar this season but the car doesn’t exactly exude the idea of sporty.  For the company to once again see a positive by using the sport to market its version of a sports car – and yes, the GT is out there, but that’s hardly a production model – to have the ‘stang in the series does help, with Chevrolet’s Camaro give NASCAR at least an element of being, well, racey.  

Compared to how things started with the Gen-6 ride, and its wonderfully attractive box-like styling, this change into getting sporty is a much-needed thing.  Next season will be the real test, of course.

Let’s get on with the Happiness.  

Happiness Is…Caring. The viewership numbers for the Food City 500 brought in two ratings data points.  On Sunday the race earned a 2.3 for what ran, which is actually kind of staggering as who would have thought anyone might tune in with the rain delay such a predictable occurrence.  Then there’s Monday’s 1.4 rating, which really should come as no surprise. Once again, these numbers signal the apocalypse.

What is the real interesting aspect about NASCAR races is how much fans actually care about these numbers.  This is a peculiar way of showing their affection for the sport. But the purpose of being so cognizant about the viewership and the empty seats that populated the Bristol track is not to feel bad but rather to show what an idiot Brian Z. France is.  That’s quite a wonderful way of addressing things.

Fans of professional football go after Roger Goodell not because of ratings but because of things like deflated footballs, questionable punishment of the players, or a litany of other things.  Fans of baseball probably care about, who is the commissioner of baseball, so that they can, who knows what. Is interleague play still a contested issue?

But fans of NASCAR know the sport’s head all too well, and are more than happy to throw everything they can in his face.  That’s a level of passion that should be commended. Keep it up, fans.

Happiness Is…Shoey.  Some of you probably don’t watch Formula 1.  With cars that may be so technologically advanced that they don’t seem like anything on the road, to the erudite sensibility that surrounds the sport, to questions about the racing being any good, there are more than enough reasons why some people may not be interested.  But if ever there were a team to get behind, Red Bull would be an obvious choice.

This comment isn’t to assert that this writer is a fan of the team, in fact, not at all, but Red Bull is making a case to be the most entertaining team on the grid this season.  

The reason?  Well, for starters, they’re not the frontrunner.  They’re up there with Mercedes and Ferrari but they can’t match the speed.  The argument of so what because they win four championships with Sebastian Vettel not too long ago is valid but there are two better reasons: Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen.

Ricciardo just pulled a race win out of his ass and celebrated by drinking champagne from his shoe.  What’s not to like? Throw in the fact that he drives a No. 3 in homage to Dale Earnhardt and ever-smiling Aussie is a delight.  

His teammate, Verstappen, has all the talent in the world and none of the patience.  It’s kind of like he’s a kindred to another spirited hothead that did a number of stupid things in his youth.  Verstappen, meet Kyle Busch. Kyle Busch, meet Max Verstappen. You don’t need to like either one of them to enjoy their on-track escapades.  

For a team that was merely hoping to be relevant in the championship titles, Red Bull and their drivers have the opportunity to steal much of the attention on the grid.  

Happiness Is…Weather.  There is no rain forecast for the Cup race at Richmond.  The temperature may feel chilly but the race should go on as planned.  That’s it. There’s nothing remarkable here, rather just a positive message that the race should not be affected by rain, sleet, or snow.  How funny to write that.

Happiness Is…45.  The number 45. An ode to small circular black discs that used to make sounds when placed on a spinning device with a needle dropped on it.  The result of 9 x 5. The number of the current person doing who knows what in Washington. Something that Asha has – “Brimful of Asha on the 45.” The number of wins that Kyle Busch has in the Cup series.

Much has been made of the overall number of wins that Busch has across Cup, Trucks, and XFINITY, but the 45 number, recently augmented, seems to be forgotten.  

Has anyone else realized that Busch is only four wins behind Tony Stewart?  Or ten wins behind Rusty Wallace. So Busch sits with 45 wins and is yet only 32 years old.  Nothing says he’s going to be able to continue stashing trophies at the rate he has and catch Jimmie Johnson or Jeff Gordon, the gold standards for wins in the modern era, but his total is clearly putting him in some elite company – something that is left out of the general narrative with the tempestuous driver.  

His talent has rarely been questioned, just his efforts in other series and his general behavior.  It seems that now it’s time to start focusing on just how good he might be.

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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While I agree that Daniel Ricciardo is certainly a talented driver, probably the best overtaker in F1 right now. I’m not so sure about Red Bull, they do way too much blaming everybody for me.
I must say the quality of the racing seems better this year. However Liberty faces the challenge of closing up the gap between the front of the pack and midfield. At the same time they cant turn it into a spec series like nascar. F1 fans would rebel at that.

As to Ford and the Mustang, I don’t see that they have many choices. As the company shifts away from cars to trucks and SUV’s the options are limited. At the same time you have to ask how many people still think that their is any resemblance between a street car and a nascar stock car?

As to the 2.3 Sunday rating at Bristol, I wonder is that not a definition of the hard core nascar fan? Those who tune in just hoping there is a race on. But so far the ratings decline continues unabated, what it portends I dont pretend to know.

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