Friday, July 10, 2015

Stepping Back from the Stress: Five Questions for Kentucky

(Credit: Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
This is one of those weeks.

You know, one that drags on so long you think it will never end. Whether it’s your job or the weather, something makes it feel like the weekend will never arrive. Your inbox is full, the dogs need to be fed, and the kids want to see that new "Minions" movie.

Stress. It’s everywhere, even in your dreams, and it won’t go away.

Well, the weekend is here. And it’s time to relax and realize.

NASCAR invades Sparta, Kentucky, this weekend, and it’s going to be one heck of a time. I’m discussing catchfencing, rules packages and so much more in this week’s Five Questions. Grab a cold beverage and dive in.

How can the catchfence be improved? It’s an absolute miracle that Austin Dillon’s alive, that’s for sure. Within moments of the accident, however, attention turned toward safety and the catchfence. A 60-foot hole is now in Daytona International Speedway’s barrier, something that makes drivers and other members of NASCAR uneasy. The entire week consisted of suggestions and criticism. This is useless for two reasons. One, the catchfence did its job, which is to keep the car/bigger pieces of debris out of the stands. So kudos to that. The second point? It makes more sense to prevent the flipping instead of redundantly strengthening the fencing. That’s like getting your puppy a doggie-diaper because you don’t want to potty-train it. It’s time to deal with the root of the problem.

Can Kentucky shine during a jam-packed weekend? It’s time to shift gears and get into the bluegrass state of mind. This is the fourth NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race held at Kentucky Speedway, and it’s going to be an interesting battle for that crowd. The brand-spanking-new rules package makes its debut Saturday night, and the anticipation is high. Can this 1.5-mile track impress? Definitely. The new rules have much hype and attention, and the NASCAR Camping World Truck and XFINITY Series are also bringing the excitement as of late. The only obstacle is weather, which caused some issues Thursday evening. Aside from that, it’s a great track with lots of character. There’s potential for an awesome weekend of fun racing.

Is NASCAR moving too fast with more rules packages? As previously mentioned, the Cup drivers will run a new rules package this weekend. NASCAR is so certain it will work that they’ve already announced another rules alteration. Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Michigan International Speedway will involve a “high-drag” set up with a nine-inch spoiler. The Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway is slated to include the Kentucky package. All these changes seem pretty sudden … but they aren’t. NASCAR has been too reactive over the years. They wait until it’s too late to make their move. This time, the sport is grabbing the issue by the horns and dealing with it. I’m proud that they’re being proactive rather than reactive — it’s a refreshing change.

Will the Drivers’ Council advocate more drastic changes? The recently formed Drivers’ Council has met with NASCAR multiple times since its inception, and negotiations seem to be going smoothly. Their relationship is quite open, which is a relief. Because of Dillon’s accident Monday morning, I’m wondering if the selected drivers will push NASCAR to reconsider plate racing. The radio chatter after the wreck sparked my thoughts, with Joey Logano outwardly saying, “It is official, this type of racing is (expletive) stupid.” Many drivers agree with him, and that could lead to the council asking for restrictor plate racing to be altered or even removed. I don’t know if that’s where this is heading, but the consensus is that the entire community of drivers aren’t happy after Daytona. We’ll see.

Are you being present? So much has happened this weekend, and it’s been a bit overwhelming. Times like these give us tunnel vision; we can only focus on racing and its safety situation, blocking out everything else. As productive as that can be, it also erases a lot of the important things from our conscience. I’ve been thinking about Steve Byrnes lately — more than usual — and can’t help but feel that it’s a sign. In the chaos of the Daytona aftermath, Buddy Baker announced on SiriusXM that he’s stepping down due to inoperable lung cancer. This is a huge blow to the racing world, and my heart breaks for him and his family. The disease has affected the NASCAR world through various stories, from Byrnes to Sherry Pollex to Holly Cain to Baker. These sad moments make us on the outside realize how crucial it is to “be present,” as Byrnes called it. That’s a motto we all need to take on. I hope this reminds everyone to step back from the stress and contemplate what truly matters. 

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