Friday, March 27, 2015

Paving over Mistakes: Five Questions for Martinsville

(Credit: Sarah Glenn/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Mistakes are what make life worth living.

There’s nothing exciting about going through the same motions every day. Get up, go to work, go home, sleep and repeat. Where’s the fun in that? What one sees as a misstep might become a slight detour onto a greater path. You buy the wrong type of sauce at the store, you go back, and you run into an attractive man with fantastic eyes. Suddenly, the mistake isn’t a big deal.

Everything happens for a reason, yet we tend to forget that mantra. Even when the situation gets worse, it just means good things are ahead. We all need to remember that.

With NASCAR, it’s the same deal.

In this week’s Five Questions, I discuss Chase Elliott, Kevin Harvick, the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, and much more. Let’s prepare for Martinsville.

Will Elliott flourish or flounder in Cup debut? It’s finally here; the reigning NASCAR Xfinity Series champion is making his first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series start. He’ll race a Hendrick Motorsports-affiliated machine Sunday and various other races to gain vital experience. To predict how he’ll perform, we’ll look at his starts from his Truck starts. Although he ran two races at “The Paperclip,” Elliott started in the top 12 both times and finished sixth once. If we think about the competitiveness of the field, he’ll probably have a learning day and finish in the top 15. The kid is impressive, but it’s doubtful he’ll do better than that.

Can Decker dazzle? Another young face is starting fresh in one of NASCAR’s premier series. Paige Decker, a member of the sports Drive for Diversity, is in a Mike Harmon Racing truck this weekend. She’s the first female to have media attention since Kenzie Ruston’s success last season. Of course, many people are going to ask, “Is she the next Danica Patrick?” Personally, I would hope she strives to be better than that. Decker will have some struggles, but the best thing for her is to be open to failure. She’s not going to win the race in her first attempt, but it will be a great learning experience, like Sunday will be for Elliott.

As Trucks return, can drivers return to winning ways? Speaking of Trucks, they’re finally back! Many know that I absolutely hate the gaps in their schedule, so I’m thrilled to see them return Saturday. In case you forgot, Tyler Reddick is leading the points, with Matt Crafton behind by two. Anything can happen with it being so early in the season. Meanwhile, Crafton won the last race at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Can he do it again? This would be the place to do it; the Thorsport Racing driver has one win, six top fives and 14 top 10s in 26 races. If I gambled, I’d put my money on him.

Who will halt Harvick’s streak? Oh, that dang Kevin Harvick, winning again and again. The 2015 NSCS champion already has two wins under his belt and is riding a streak of top-two finishes. TOP TWO. If that’s not jaw dropping enough, guess what his stats for Martinsville look like? He has one win here, along with three top fives and 12 top 10s. That’s not mind-blowingly good, but that hasn’t stopped him before. Since he’s apparently in possession of a golden horseshoe, it’s fitting that one of his top competitors here is the original golden horseshoe holder. It’s no secret Jimmie Johnson is phenomenal at the half-mile venue. His eight wins prove it. He’s been riding an up-and-down rollercoaster over the past few races, but he’ll be strong in Virginia. If he can’t take down Harvick, then maybe his retiring teammate can. Fellow HMS driver Jeff Gordon has nothing to lose and eight wins. Harvick better watch his back, or his streak will be over sooner than he would prefer.

How can NASCAR redeem itself from Sunday’s snafu? The biggest issue with the race at Auto Club Speedway was the ending. Harvick and Kurt Busch were putting on a great show until a slew of cautions caused a Green-White-Checkered finish. The first time didn’t take, but the second one is where things got iffy. A crash occurred on the frontstretch, and it was unsure whether NASCAR was going to throw the caution. In the end, it went green, and Brad Keselowski slipped past. There are two issues here: the debris cautions and lack of yellow flag at the end. Debris cautions don’t settle well with fans due to their fleeting nature; one minute, the spring is there in the groove, but it rolls into the infield once the camera finally finds it. Or a car hits the obstruction and moves it out of the way. The TV can’t show everything, and at-home spectators need to understand that. On the other hand, the inconsistent cautions near the end of the event are the kicker. It impacts the quality of racing. That’s an issue with race control that I can’t begin to touch upon. In the end, NASCAR is facing much scrutiny from fans. How can the sport repay them? Martinsville will pave over those mistakes by producing great racing and a perfect mix of cautions and green flag runs. By letting this race play out on its own accord, the authenticity will become apparent to the sport’s biggest critics.


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