Friday, September 6, 2013

Love makes a difference: Five Questions for Richmond

Credit: John Harrelson/Getty Images for NASCAR
Everyone remembers their first love. What feelings surged through them when their eyes met, how tongue-tied they got in their presence, the moment when they realized their heart was in for a trip. No matter who you are, there was a time when you made someone your everything.

The crazy thing about love is that the experience sticks with you forever, whether it was a summer fling or finding your soulmate. It drives us to do insane things, things you never even dreamed.

Things like changing for the better.

If you’re stubborn like me, the thought of altering yourself for another person seems pointless - at first. Yet, as time passes and bonds tighten, you become mystified by everything they do: how they snort when they laugh too hard, how their Southern drawl thickens when talking about NASCAR, how a set of sparkling blue eyes can say so many words. Suddenly, your walls are down, and changing is the least of your worries.

I admire NASCAR couples; both people have to be strong through the harshest of battles, whether physical and emotional. Love and racing is a dangerous mix, but that’s what makes their relationship special.

Last week, I talked about Kurt Busch and the impact his girlfriend, Patricia Driscoll, has had on his personality and progress as a racecar driver. That’s something that can be applied to many drivers in the NASCAR garage. One of the couples I want to focus on is the famous rookie pairing of Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Danica Patrick. Though their personal lives don’t intersect on-track, the dominoes have fallen in the right direction for both. Patrick and Stenhouse are happier and less tense at the track. The Princess and The Cowboy have written a fast-paced romance that has influenced the other for the better.

Whether you’re with your first love, or if you found your soul mate later in life, encountering that whirlwind is an unforgettable milestone. Not just because of the memories you made, but because of the differences they helped make within you.

Differences will be made in 12 drivers’ lives after Saturday night’s race at Richmond International Raceway, when they officially begin the Chase. With short track racing capping off the regular season, I’ve made my answers a bit long to celebrate. Chase bubble, Penske Racing, Clint Bowyer, oh my! Five Questions is here to make you think going into Virginia.

Who makes it into The Chase? Richmond is the last race of the regular season, and it’s the gateway from some drivers to make a final power-surge into the playoffs. Kasey Kahne can slip into the top 10 with a great run, which makes him eligible for bonus points with his two wins. Brad Keselowski and Jeff Gordon have more of a struggle: they need to win and then some. Others like Ryan Newman and Martin Truex Jr. are also vying for a victory, both holding one "W" in the column. Of course, those who may fall out - Kurt Busch, Greg Biffle, even Joey Logano - are sweating, too. It’s only a matter of time until we see who makes it in and who doesn’t.

Why is Silly Season so silly this time around? News broke Wednesday that Jeff Burton wasn’t returning to the No. 31 Caterpillar-sponsored Chevrolet for Richard Childress Racing next season. Citing that he was “moving to help with the team’s future,” Burton is just another ingredient in this year’s Silly Season Soup. That, along with Juan Pablo Montoya visiting Furniture Row Racing’s headquarters Tuesday, is nothing compared to the Kurt Busch/Gene Haas/Tony Stewart drama that unraveled late last month. Why has this free agency period turned into a free-for-all? The world may never know.

Penske Posse: balanced or off-kilter? There’s been a change of hand in the power department over at Penske Racing. “New Guy” Joey Logano is making noise, while the reigning NASCAR Sprint Cup champion has grown silent. Keselowski has failed to enter Victory Lane this year, racking up dismal results to darken the picture. Meanwhile, his teammate won his first race with the organization and is currently in the top 10 in points. The sudden shift in momentum is due to the pressure that has been placed on the driver of the No. 2, a combination of backing up a championship and having the media spotlight on every comment he makes. Focus on other aspects has caused him to fall behind, shoving Logano into the forefront. Nobody expected the former Joe Gibbs Racing driver to jive so well with Penske Racing, but he hasn’t disappointed. No matter if Keselowski misses the Chase or not, those two need to come together and have a long talk to share some insight.

Clint Bowyer has the consistency, but does TRD? One driver who hasn’t faltered in a strong encore performance is Bowyer, who ranked second in NASCAR’s playoffs last year. He definitely knows how to knock out top finishes. He hasn’t won yet, which makes his spot in the top 10 more impressive. Ironically enough, the only thing sitting between him and a championship is the engine that makes him go. TRD’s equipment has been fickle, and we’ve seen many motors blow across the board. It’s hard to tell if Toyota can support one of their strongest stakes in the championship battle. If they can’t, it will be noticeable.

Does the power of love hurt Kyle Busch? Another power couple on the NASCAR scene is Kyle and Samantha Busch, and the change within the former is astounding. Busch, who is known for a temper and aggressive driving style, has simmered down in recent years and relaxed. This is a change that occurred when he got married. As sweet as that sounds, it has hindered his championship efforts. That edge he had would be perfect for him right now: he’s riding momentum, solid for the Chase field, focused. A splash of fire, which would balance everything out, isn’t anywhere to be found. Without that, it’s possible he could flounder halfway through the battle for top dog. They say “Virginia is for lovers,” but things may look heartbreakingly bleak after Richmond for Busch.

2 comments :

I disagree with you about Kyle Busch. I think this year he has become calmer and better able to think his way through racing situations instead of having knee-jerk reactions that contribute to his losses. I also think his mellowing has contributed to the spirit and determination of his pit road team.

I also disagree about Logano and Keselowski. I think Brad is a large part of Joey's new confidence and success. If Keselowski needs to talk things through with anyone, it would be one of the past Chase winners like JJ or even Carl whose year fell apart after he placed second in the championship.

Oh good grief leave the "love" stuff at home. Yikes. Joey and Brad have worked well together and they make up the Penske team, including Sam which is a very good team indeed! Good luck to all Penske men at Richmond! Go Joey, you deserve it! Both guys with a points dock, that nobody else has, setbacks galore, Brad as well. Shame on the media trying to make doom and gloom, hence the problem with "The Chase", you ain't in.."you stink"..come on..till Homestead for all!

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