Friday, October 10, 2014

Hot Rod Homecoming: Five Questions for Charlotte

(Credit: Jennifer Stewart/Getty Images)
Who’s ready for Homecoming?

If you’re like me, the H word forces images of glitter gowns and putrid punch into your head. Excuse me while I shudder. Thankfully, that’s not the type of homecoming I’m talking about here. NASCAR rolls into Charlotte, North Carolina, the hub for drivers, teams, and breaking news. A win here means a “hometown” victory, something all races would love to claim.

Not only that, but the pink paint schemes are brightening up the track this weekend. October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, a moniker that touches everyone within the sport. With a beautiful cause backing the event, the Bank of America 500 is more than a race. It’s a billboard for a very real issue.

This Hot Rod Homecoming is already brimming with excitement, yet I have some concerns. Hornish? The halfway mark? Tires? All of that and more is on my agenda for today’s Five Questions. Let’s roll!

Was choosing Hornish to replace Ambrose the best decision? Richard Petty Motorsports announced this week that the No. 9 will be driven by Sam Hornish Jr. in 2015. The news is a great move for the former Team Penske driver, who dipped into the NASCAR Nationwide Series before taking a year off. He became the quintessential replacement driver as well. While this may be a second chance for Hornish, is it a smart to give it to him? In the press conference that followed the announcement, he spoke about how he hasn’t accomplished what he’s wanted to in this sport. I find that admirable. Though this is a probably a shared desire, not many drivers get to chase their goals after a certain age or era. The fact that Hornish has received this opportunity gives hope for others that are in the same boat. The real question isn’t if he was the right replacement, it’s if he deserves the ride. "Yes" is the overwhelming response.

Will Johnson, Earnhardt Jr. and Keselowski dig out of their holes?
Speaking of hope, these three drivers need to hold onto the little bits they still possess. The way the Chase is now set up, one bad week can screw your championship hopes over for eternity. However, this is when it doesn’t seem fair. Keselowski and Earnhardt have been on point all year. Things they couldn’t control attacked them at Kansas Speedway, and here they are. Too bad life in general isn’t fair. Because these two have been solid all season long, there’s no doubt they can rebound. The same cannot be said for six-time champion Johnson; what people first thought was a stealth tactic has morphed into blatant inconsistency. That No. 48 team is missing their marks everywhere, which won’t win them another championship. If Johnson wins Saturday night (and, let’s admit, that’s a strong possibility), he’ll advance. I just don’t know if he can muster up enough power.

Can Goodyear just not? Once again, tires have dictated drivers’ Chase chances, and it’s not sliding by this time. There were a ridiculous amount of blown tires in Kansas for which there is no excuse. I know I’m not the only one tired of this stuff. There’s an interesting idea to combat these issues, though: don’t make Goodyear the official tire of NASCAR. Open the forum to other brands; it will add pressure to Goodyear, and they’ll perfect their product. A little competition never hurt anyone, right? Maybe then NASCAR will get the tire they deserve.

Halfway through the Chase, what does the format receive on its Mid-term? Charlotte marks the fifth race of the playoffs, making it the halfway point. That makes it the center for some evaluation, don’t you think? After some careful thinking, I give the Chase format . . . a C. There’s nothing wrong with that, right? “Cs get degrees,” guys. I gave it an average for few reasons. One, because it hasn’t lived up to the (extreme amount of) hype. It’s made things more exciting, yes but it didn’t cure the common cold or anything. Two, there isn’t much difference in viewership. The first three races saw an increase in numbers, but Kansas faltered. Finally, it’s the middle of the season; it’s just too early to tell. I gave the Chase a lot to work with, and it can only go up from here. 

Is the NASCAR community’s passion for cancer influencing the masses?
Cancer is one of the most frightening and rampant diagnoses across the nation. Far too many people have went through the sickness, pain, and struggles associated with that fight. Unfortunately, many people within NASCAR are waging that war. Sherry Pollex, the girlfriend of driver Martin Truex, Jr., is currently undergoing treatment for ovarian cancer. Breast cancer chose former driver Shawna Robinson, which was a horrible choice (she knows how to kick butt!). Even the media is affected, with Fox Sports 1 broadcaster Steve Byrnes taking time off to address the reoccurrence of his throat cancer. The NASCAR community has rallied behind these beautiful people and others who were dealt the same hand. There isn’t a family that is more supportive and tight-knit than us; we stick together through thick and thin. Various operations, such as Kyle and Samantha Busch’s Project Pink, emerged to encourage mammograms for early detection. Pollex has made it her goal to tweet out tips and the silent symptoms of ovarian cancer. Byrnes, who has always been religious, uses his faith to promote his mantra: “finish the fight.” NASCAR folks are strong, and we use our hardships to help others. That’s both inspiring and humbling. I hope we never change.

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