Race Weekend Central

Pure Summer Fun

Summertime is fun time.

For those lucky enough to have vacations, the month of August is a last rest stop along the highway of hectic lives and busy schedules. As the first days of school draw near, families find time to rest and relax before Labor Day and the official end of the leisurely summer season.

But then there’s NASCAR.

This current three-week stretch of the Sprint Cup schedule has race teams traveling to storied and beloved summer locations. Last weekend had the series visiting the famed Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania. Honeymoons ended quickly for teams that either wrecked their cars (like Kasey Kahne and Ricky Stenhouse, Jr.) or ran out of fuel with just three laps to go (like Joey Logano and Kyle Busch). While some drivers enjoyed their visit to Pocono (like Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart), many others couldn’t wait to pack their bags and look ahead to the following week.

That’s because the next race on the Sprint Cup schedule will take teams to the beautiful Finger Lakes Region of upstate New York and the legendary twists and turns of Watkins Glen International. For those in NASCAR Nation who have never been to The Glen, all I can say is that a race weekend at WGI is a necessary addition to your “Hey y’all, watch this!” list. What makes racing at Watkins Glen so much fun is the fact, at least as far as the 2015 Cup season goes, that there will be no attempt to incorporate a low downforce/high drag package in an effort to improve competition.

The need for multiple gear changes in every corner on every lap will see to that….

And then, the week after Watkins Glen, Sprint Cup teams will make their second visit to the Irish Hills of Michigan. If summertime is indeed fun time, there’s no better place to experience the pleasures of the season than the Wolverine State. All those ads you see trumpeting the virtues of “Pure Michigan” are spot on when it comes to the lakes, the sand dunes, the wineries, the food, and the festivals.

The NASCAR Sprint Cup racing? Not so much.

After two weeks of unencumbered race cars, the Pure Michigan 400 will mark a return of the infamous high drag aerodynamics package. That particular configuration pretty much stunk up the show at Indianapolis last month, yet it will be used once again on a track that is widely considered one of the most competitive in NASCAR.

In all the many years I have worked in and around the sport, drivers have admitted to me that Michigan International Speedway is one of their favorite places to race. The wide surface, typically cooler temperatures, and lack of bothersome additions like restrictor plates make MIS a much-anticipated stop on the schedule. Toss in decent crowd numbers and close proximity to the automotive epicenter of Detroit, and you have the makings for what is typically a great weekend.

Until now.

The high drag package at Michigan will once again, like we saw at Indianapolis, reduce the ability to see clearly and pass readily. Even with one high drag Cup race already in the books, teams will yet again be faced with the uncertainties of how to proceed at a track where a simple approach is often the best approach. NASCAR’s search for good racing will continue in the Irish Hills, but the intended target will remain elusive.

Many aspects of a summer vacation are elusive. I live in a tourism-based, rural village located along the shoreline of Lake Michigan. On a regular basis, while walking about doing errands, I will come across families trying their best to “have fun”.

Mom and Dad will be sweaty, tired, and frazzled after taking Son and Daughter on a long bicycle ride along the trail that crosses my street. Their bike ride leads to lunch, then a stop in the candy shop, followed by browsing in a boutique, then ice cream and maybe one more gift shop before catching a film at the quaint little theatre.

You can almost hear the family straining to squeeze every drop of fun out of their time, energy, and money. The sad reality is: these folks could have had even more fun if they simply went down to the beach by the marina and spent their day swimming, watching the boats, and enjoying the sand.

Last weekend’s Cup race at Pocono was that kind of simple fun – a late-race fuel mileage battle among three strong cars and three talented drivers. No high drag. No low downforce. Just pure racing.

The same kind of result is possible this weekend at Watkins Glen. Lots of gear changes, close competition, and the very real potential for yet another edge-of-your-seat, road course finish. No big blades. No cut splitters. Just pure racing.

I wish just pure racing would happen at Michigan in two weeks. The advertisements promoting tourism in my state celebrate the simplicity of what Michigan has to offer. Too bad NASCAR didn’t take the hint and decide to leave its high drag aero package back at headquarters.

Summertime is all about enjoying simple pleasures. Why can’t that go for racing at MIS, too?

Guess we’ll look forward to visiting the Finger Lakes….

Sign up for the Frontstretch Newsletter

A daily email update (Monday through Friday) providing racing news, commentary, features, and information from Frontstretch.com
We hate spam. Your email address will not be sold or shared with anyone else.

Share via