Friday, April 10, 2015

Refreshed and Ready: Five Questions for Texas

Texas Motor Speedway. Credit: Matt Sullivan/NASCAR via Getty Images

Sometimes, all you need is a little space.

NASCAR off-weekends are a blessing in disguise. Drivers and teams don’t realize how exhausting the past six weeks were until they get some down time. Fans are the same way; getting back into the routine messes with your body.

Any break longer than a week, however, is just brutal. I almost went crazy during the winter months, hallucinations and all. The past week was the perfect breath of fresh air, short and sweet.

Now it’s time to grab our boots and spurs. That’s right, we’re traveling to Texas, and it’s bound to be a wild ride. This week, I’m talking tires, qualifying and other important stuff. Here’s this week’s Five Questions.

Will things blow up after the off weekend? It’s nice to have a weekend off, isn’t it? Despite being hardcore racers, the drivers celebrated Easter and relaxed. It was nice to see the tweets and Instagram pictures of their adventures. It is, however, time to go racing at a venue that always produces insanity, Texas Motor Speedway. The “Wild Asphalt Circus,” as it was previously dubbed, is the birthplace of Harvicking. Oh, what fond memories. Drivers are itching to get back in the saddle, but is there some leftover tension from Martinsville Speedway? Fans are hoping so as we prepare for the first night race of the year. I’m glad everyone cooled their jets, but it’s time to get back in the zone.

Is tire modification signaling a different issue? Ryan Newman and the No. 31 Richard Childress Racing team received harsh penalties after NASCAR found modifications on their tires from Auto Club Speedway. Those who handed down the P5-worthy offense were tipped off by garage rumors. The mumblings made the sanctioning body start checking the Goodyears closely. Rumors are either one of two things, preposterous or true. Although this tweak isn’t as obvious as last year’s side skirts, it’s part of a new trend. Since NASCAR “eliminated” the gray area in tech inspection, teams get creative. The ironic thing is that their innovative nature is being suppressed, which is why things like tire modification get out of hand. I take the “drilling holes in tires” as a sign that teams are searching for loopholes, and it’s only a matter of time until every organization gets caught for something. The sport thrived on innovation years ago, and it’s time to bring it back. Do it for the tires.

Why make qualifying the show? Danica Patrick helped Charlotte Motor Speedway reveal their musical act for the Coca-Cola 600, but her comments afterwards stole the show. In an article by USA Today’s Jeff Gluck, the Stewart-Haas Racing driver stated that NASCAR’s attempts to glorify qualifying “[don’t] justify the teams’ efforts and the amount of money they spend on cars and equipment and personnel.” She also went on to say that “it doesn’t always have to be exciting.” Patrick is absolutely right. After the melee that resulted from knockout qualifying at Daytona International Speedway, it’s safe to say that those higher up in the sport are putting glitz before common sense. Now that the female face of NASCAR said it, there’s a real issue at hand. Cut the gimmicks out and let the product stand as it is. If that’s not good enough to lure people in, then you adjust accordingly. Simple as that.

Can Roush’s former playground be the site of the team’s resurgence? Remember when Roush-Fenway Racing dominated Texas? Or when they dominated something? Those days are a thing of the past, but they don’t have to be. This track would be the perfect stage for the team to start over. With their best driver now at Joe Gibbs Racing, there’s not much keeping them afloat except their developmental program. They have a hotbed of young talent, and one of those is Chris Buescher. Wheeling one of the team’s NASCAR Xfinity Series cars, he’s consistently gathered top 10s since his win at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course last year. His second win is coming soon enough, and it may be this weekend. As for the NASCAR Sprint Cup side of things, a lot of work needs to be done. Martinsville was harsh for all three cars. However, there’s always hope that they’ll get it together. Wouldn’t it be fitting for Texas to be the place that marks their recovery?

Please pray for Steve Byrnes. I am fully aware this isn’t a question, yet what I’m writing instead is much more important. Many of you know that NASCAR broadcaster Steve Byrnes is fighting cancer for the second time. He was recently in the ICU for pneumonia and blood clots in his lungs. Right now, all I ask is for you to keep him in your thoughts and prayers. Steve is a genuinely nice man and has inspired many, including me. He has given me important advice over the years. This is a person who will continue to change lives, and he needs our support. Please send him an encouraging tweet and let him know the NASCAR community cares. 

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