Friday, August 11, 2017

Not So Subtle: Five Questions for Michigan and Mid-Ohio

(Jerry Markland/Getty Images)
Once again, the world of NASCAR hasn’t lacked headlines—too bad a lot of them linger in a grayish area.

There are issues in the sport we can all agree on—okay, some issues. A few. Maybe. Fans drive this sport and bring what it needs—money. And passion, but mostly money.

So, what happens when they drive it in the wrong direction?

This weekend, as racecars invade the Midwest, I discuss Chevrolet’s hot (or not?) new body style, Mid-Ohio’s promise, and a NASCAR star’s not-so-subtle jab at NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver.

Let’s do this Five Questions thing.

Did the Chevy announcement make you drool? My goodness. Chevrolet revealed the body for 2018 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series competition, and it took my breath away. After driving the Chevy SS, the manufacturer is going with the Camaro for the time being. The fan response seemed split; while many gasped, others rolled their eyes. It’s all about personal preference, as I told one person who said they thought it was ugly. It’s a good-looking car in my eyes, but I’d love to hear opinions that sway the other way. Feel free to comment with your thoughts.

Can Wallace get his groove back with special Truck start? The Irish hills of Michigan host not only the Cup Series but also the Camping World Truck Series. One storyline stands out as the trucks prepare for battle—and it’s a familiar face. Darrell Wallace, Jr., who once dominated in Trucks a few years ago, returns to the series in a MDM Motorsports machine. This is a guy who wants to get his name out there after a successful fill-in stint; he put up fantastic numbers while driving the No. 43 for an injured Aric Almirola—with little Cup experience, mind you. Now, Wallace is racing to find his next home. This team does well in the ARCA Racing Series—NASCAR’s off-the-wall yet lovable cousin—with some young, talented drivers. Wallace’s presence on the track is important to his future, yet where he finishes is crucial as well. I’m wishing Wallace the best. The sport needs him and his personality.

Will Xfinity impress on Mid-Ohio’s curves and turns? I cannot express how much I miss Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. For those who don’t know, the road course gave me my first taste of the media industry when I visited for the Verizon IndyCar Series in 2012. The following year, I covered the XFINITY Series’ inaugural visit. The track sits 30 minutes from my childhood home and holds a sacred piece in my heart. Fans feel the same way (though probably less emotional than I) about the venue due to its ability to put on thrilling NASCAR events. That’s without touching the fact this is a standalone event, a term fans love to hear when it comes to NXS. With no Cup drivers entered, the potential for a season-defining race is there. While eyes hang on William Byron’s stellar rookie (and last) season, the driver to watch is Sam Hornish, Jr., who is driving for Team Penske. Lexington, Ohio will get loud this weekend (talk about no-so-subtle), and for good reason—it’s a racetrack and event that deserves all the attention. Enjoy the Amish hills, everyone.

What’s the consensus on Byron to the No. 5? It’s time to dig into the biggest stories of the week. I’ll take on the least surprising one first. Monday brought the news that Kasey Kahne’s contract with Hendrick Motorsports will be cut a year short, meaning he’s out at the end of this season. The next day brought reports that Byron was the successor, per industry sources. Wednesday brought the confirmation and additional details, including the fact that owner Rick Hendrick will pay Kahne his promised earnings through the end of 2018. Now that we’ve rehashed the situation, how does everyone feel about this situation? First, nobody was shocked whatsoever; the way Hendrick talked after Kahne’s Brickyard 400 win told everyone his mind was made up, that not even a victory could salvage the official agreement. Second, the selection of Byron is also not surprising; when Hendrick signed Byron and people wondered who he would eventually replace on the Cup side, the team owner said Byron wouldn’t replace Jimmie Johnson or Dale Earnhardt, Jr. Well, he didn’t lie, right? Third, there’s hesitancy in the air when comprehending this entire situation. Jeff Gluck wrote on Monday that Kahne will thrive where he can be happy, and that’s a sentiment I agree with; Gluck also pointed out that during a Q and A with the Washington state native, Kahne said he wished he could be happier. HMS may have the great equipment and powerhouse status, but it wasn’t a place he felt at home; he was the outsider of the four, with his other teammates having more developed relationships with not only each other but with Hendrick himself. Combine that with lack of sponsorship, and Kahne is searching for a new organization to hang his hat. This may be the best move for him—but is this the right move for Byron? That’s something I can’t comment on (which is quite shocking, considering I blab about anything). It’s up to Byron, the No. 5 crew, and Hendrick to make the most of this risky move. I don’t think we should expect instant success. Kyle Larson is just now hitting his stride, and Chase Elliott is still learning. With this sport’s learning curve constantly changing, it’s hard to hit the ground running. He will be a good driver, no doubt about it, but the return on investment may take a season or two to appear. I wish everyone in this situation the best as this season ends and their new chapters begin. There’s never a dull moment in this sport, is there?


Were Harvick’s comments regarding Earnhardt too harsh? Okay, let’s get right to it—Kevin Harvick got personal on his Sirius XM NASCAR show “Happy Hour,” and I don’t think it’s cool. He discussed the lack of growth in NASCAR and believes it’s because their most successful driver (Johnson) isn’t the most popular, and vice versa. Harvick added that he knew his comments weren’t popular—and boy, was he right. Look, he has a point; the concept that the sport’s most popular driver isn’t the seven-time champion is weird. However, putting it on Earnhardt’s shoulders isn’t right—because he never asked for this. If it’s anyone’s fault, I’d argue it’s the fans’ fault for choosing him. We have to remember that Earnhardt is the most popular driver because he lost his father, whose legion of fans flocked to the young man during a dark time in their/his lives/life. Fans clung to him in order to grasp the history and tradition of what his father did. Earnhardt didn’t ask for that—and he didn’t ask for the rough times and seasons that followed. It’s difficult to imagine the sport without him, yes, but fans will have to embrace that reality soon enough. So yes, the sport has been stunted by Junior’s popularity. No, that’s not his fault or his doing. The fans wanted tradition and went for the driver with the historic last name. There is nothing wrong with that—except for when his followers don’t give other racers the time of day. This is all on them, and that isn’t a popular opinion, either. Bold thoughts have a time and place, Harvick, but this wasn’t it. Despite the “blame” being misplaced (my thoughts, not fact), that’s not something you say on the radio. That’s something you bring up to the driver themselves, or even to someone higher up in the industry. It’s not a good look when two drivers are giving each other the side eye and having these conversations without having constructive discourse. Those are my two cents. 

1 comments :

  1. I agree on both points about Harvick: He's right about the the peculiar fan dynamic with Junior, and quite wrong to bring it up.

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