Sunday, March 01, 2015

Atlanta 500 Observations

The Atlanta 500 has run and it turned into a curious event.   Jimmie Johnson's win was his 71st and  the 500-miler, briefly delayed by rain and also dragged to some four hours in duration by several late crashes, saw an interesting final rundown.   Some observations -



* Running the week after the Daytona 500, Atlanta's sole Winston Cup date has become a source of contention in some fan circles.   The reality that Atlanta is not a good sports market - shown by the Falcons' practice of selling out their home games via gameday walk-up sales - remains a reality for the speedway, and the fact it didn't draw a capacity crowd won't help with the track's future, though it seems illogical a better date, some time in May or early June or even September, could not be worked out (the same is true of Martinsville's Old Dominion 500, pushed to early November in recent years when it should be early October)

The big issue for the speedway aside from attendance figures remains the dismal quality of the racing surface - rough and tire-eating.  

*   The Atlanta 500 saw a curious number of darkhorse contenders having quality runs.   While Martin Truex is not a true darkhorse he nonetheless is not a regular frontrunner, so his strong hustle to the top ten remains something fresh and unusual.   Truex's recent consistency may auger well for down the road, as did Aric Almirola's commendable rebound from a dismal Speedweeks.   Also collecting a respectable finish was Paul Menard, a driver whose record has lacked much to write home about.  

The biggest darkhorse, though, was Brett Moffett, driving Michael Waltrip's car subbing for returning starter Brian Vickers.   Moffett is a rookie, and his poise was something to behold as he picked his way to the top ten.  

Super subs Regan Smith and David Ragan (in Kyle Busch's #18) had decent finishes; Smith showed noticeable improvement from Speedweeks.


* This was the first race with NASCAR's new tapered spacer cutting some 100-plus horsepower and a spoiler two inches shorter than in 2014.   The net result wasn't different from last year, except in one regard - the mini-epic of late-race crashes.   At least one - the Greg Biffle set-to with Joe Nemechek - appeared to have been an air-off-the-spoiler crash, the kind of crash disturbingly common in the 1990s but which had largely disappeared by the end of that decade.    Given the tire-eating nature of the Atlanta surface, this was not the best venue for testing this new package; nonetheless it was not quite the promise some may have hoped to get from it.


* The issue of SAFER barriers became a controversy with Kyle Busch's crash into an inside wall - some 200 feet from the racing surface - at Daytona; Atlanta added more SAFER barriers for this race, yet Jeff Gordon managed to nail an inside wall entering Three where the SAFER ended.   Naturally Gordon was asking why the SAFER ended there - with no one seeming to have thought to ask the question before a crash happened in an area where crashes previously had not happened.   This is the hypocrisy involved, the self-serving hindsight that pops up where no one bothers to remember that no one else thought about it until this particular crash, be it Kyle Busch's or now Gordon's.   That there are certain areas of racetracks where crashes simply don't happen never seems to be considered, even though it explains why "they didn't have a SAFER there."

Instead of blaming the tracks, perhaps some more thought should be put into it first.


* Suddenly seeing his stock beginning to erode is Kyle Larson, who appears to be hitting a sophomore slump.   His Speedweeks wasn't as impressive as we thought it would be and Atlanta didn't do him any favors either.    It's obvious the sport has considerable hope for Larson, especially with so little young talent making that much progress at the Cup level in recent years.



So it goes as the series heads to Vegas.

Mindless Yes, Austerity No: The Real Budget Problem

Obama argues against "austerity," except that isn't the real problem.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Yes, the Rich Have Become Poorer Since the Recession Started

Class war mythology is always that. The rich are not the problem and never will be.

The Surprising Rise Of Joey Logano




In the 2009 Toyota All-Star Showdown Joey Logano, a development driver for Joe Gibbs Racing, took out the leader of the race, and the sheer absurdity of his racing seemed to indicate he was going to be another of those drivers who would go nowhere in his career.

Six years later, the resurgence of Joey Logano has become one of the budding epics of NASCAR.


It certainly didn't start that way.   The Middletown, CT native's family moved to Georgia when he was a youth and he became an ace in Bandolero cars and Legends cars, to where by the age of fifteen he was plugged as "the real deal" by NASCAR star Mark Martin.   He was called "the greatest thing since sliced bread" by Randy LaJoie, the two-time Busch series champ.

When he won at Kentucky at eighteen, it appeared the sliced bread moniker would stick.   He won in ARCA racing in the 2008 Carolina 500 and by the end of that year was driving for JGR in Winston Cup, being groomed as successor to Tony Stewart.   He drove several late-season races for JGR, but it was here that the first hint of struggle showed with dismal efforts, which wound up carrying over into his first full season, 2009.   He finished no better than 30th in his first three races and despite winning the rain-shortened New England 300 and Rookie of the Year, his efforts in a barren rookie field were uninspiring.

The remainder of his career with Joe Gibbs was likewise forgettable, lowlighted by a petulant pit confrontation and generally subpar efforts - he was doing less with more, and though he pulled off a surprisingly strong win at Pocono in 2012, by then it was basically too late.   Gibbs gave up on Logano and signed ex-Roush ace Matt Kenseth for his #20.

Logano was signed by Penske Racing, reportedly at the behest of the team's top driver Brad Keselowski.   Logano's Penske career began with a controversial bang in two ugly set-tos with former JGR teammate Denny Hamlin, one at Bristol and a far more severe confrontation at Fontana where Hamlin got stormed into an inside wall and was seriously injured; it led to a postrace fracas between Logano and Tony Stewart (the result of an earlier on-track showdown that day).

And yet in spite of all that the season turned into the best of his career with a win at the Yankee 400 at Michigan and an 8th in final points.   And the career rebound was just starting,  for in 2014 Logano erupted to five wins, a career-high 993 laps led, and fourth in points.   And along the way he usurped teammate Brad Keselowski, the 2012 series champ, as top dog at Penske Racing.

No one could have seen any of that coming after his pathetic beginning at the Cup level with Gibbs anymore than they could have seen him shooting down the Hendrick juggernaut to win in one of the wildest Daytona 500 finishes ever.   Sliced bread?   Joey Logano is the full loaf of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches right now.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

The Surprising Success Of The Kyoto Protocol

In 1997 the Kyoto Protocol was put in place to counter greenhouse gases.   Since it was implemented greenhouse gases have risen by nearly 50% from when the protocol started.   And the net result of rising greenhouse gases has been........that the environment has improved as the protocol hoped it would.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Daytona's 1999 Sideways Throwback 500

This is the year 2015, but the way the Daytona 500 finished you would think it was a sideways version of 1999.   It began with Jeff Gordon on the 500 pole, and the showdown for this 500 was between Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolets and Penske Racing Fords.   Despite pre-race hype, the Joe Gibbs Toyotas really didn't offer that big a challenge even with Denny Hamlin's late-race wildcard bid.

1999 was a 500 with little in the way of competition until the final twenty laps - and in 2015 that scenario played out again, but this time there was a big reversal.   In 1999 the Penske Fords led over half the 500 and were unpassable for the longest time until all hell broke loose in the final laps, specifically a three-abreast storm by Jeff Gordon and Mike Skinner that became an unprecedented triple sidedraft epic for the win until it petered out in the final few laps.  

For 2015 this time the Hendrick Chevrolets all but monopolized the 500, looking unpassable until in the final fifteen laps challengers got the run and suddenly the entire field was three abreast thirty cars deep for the win, and the surviving Penske Ford was the one who stormed to the decisive pass.   Denny Hamlin salvaged a miserable day for Joe Gibbs by storming into this fight and finishing fourth, this after starting 42nd and this after the other JGR Toyotas either crashed or were basically useless as far as challenging for the win went.  

For Joey Logano, the 500 win has accelerated a career surge no one could have imagined after his abysmal efforts with Joe Gibbs.   From JGR reject, Logano has become a bona-fide superstar, this even with the continuing abrasiveness in evidence in him.   That teammate Brad Keselowski and the Penske satellite effort fielded by the Wood Brothers all fell out with engine failures was in its own way a display of who is top dog at Penske Racing's stock car unit.

Among the others whose days ranged from respectable to reprehensible -


~~~~~~~~~~


* Kevin Harvick has become the lone contender for Tony Stewart's team, finishing second as everyone else in that bunch either crashed (Stewart, this as Danica Patrick actually finished despite having nothing to show for that), got tossed from the tracks (Kurt Busch, who keeps losing appeals), or showed little in the way of fight (Regan Smith).   

* Clint Bowyer is not part of a one-car team, but Michael Waltrip's outfit looks more and more like one as Bowyer contended basically without a teammate all week.  

* Speaking of one-car teams, Martin Truex took a gigantic step forward with his wildcard victory bid, a huge improvement after a dismal 2014.

* Remember Roush-Fenway Racing?  You may not after their Cup program spent the 500 just drafting and amid no sign of real life.  Trevor Bayne was compared to Tim Tebow in 2011 - it's a comparison he better not want, while Ricky Stenhouse's only measuring stick as a racer is how he competes against his girlfriend.

* Richard Petty should not be pleased.   Sam Hornish earned respect with a decent run, while Aric Almirola should count himself lucky he salvaged 15th after being unable to do anything pretty much on the Cup side the whole week, especially on restarts and despite some excellent pit work from Trent Owens' group.   We know Petty's bunch can do a lot better.

* Speaking of doing better, RCR's Chevys showed life after being MIA all week, especially Ty Dillon fighting into the lead group.   Austin Dillon salvaged a decent finish, while Paul Menard was - well, Paul Menard again, and Ryan Newman is officially worthless as far as helping that outfit.

* Casey Mears is what he is - a guy who did less when provided more.   That he unnoticed pulled off a spectacular finish is amazing.  

* While Jamie McMurray looked okay, Kyle Larson looked bad, and the recent history of young drivers in Cup has been discouraging in terms of sustaining early promise.  


It all added up to a memorable yet frustrating start to the 2015 NASCAR season.  

Speedweeks 2015 - Reed And Xfinity Number One With A Bang

Sometimes clichés become clichés because they're true - it really isn't how you start, it's how you finish.

What began as a so-so Speedweeks first showed true competitive fire in the first half of the Nextera Truck 250, but then on Saturday the Late Model Sportsman series - a series that was the Busch Series seemingly forever, then had Nationwide on its side - debuted Xfinity sponsorship and it seems the debut could not have been more exciting.   It injected Speedweeks with a massive dose of fire.

Ryan Reed ended a 0-for-lifetime skid at Daytona in all stock car classes for Roush Racing and did so even as crashes so thinned the field that only about eight cars were left to fight for the win.   Aric Almirola, driving a Fred Biagi car (curiously it was reminiscent of Curb Motorsports, a nice unintended reminder of the historic link between Almirola's Cup team in Richard Petty and Curb), stormed into the fight at the end but his role in the last-lap Kyle Larson melee blew out his tire, leaving the fight to Reed gunning down a helpless Brad Keselowski. 

Larson, for his part, once again acquitted himself superbly in a fight, though his role in the nasty Daniel Suarez-Regan Smith trioval contretemps shouldn't be ignored.   Indeed, Larson was but one of many racers who showcased amazing competitive fight in this race.   The opening 40 laps were one gigantic nose-to-nose sidedraft mostly between Darrell "Bubba" Wallace, ex-Joe Gibbs Trucker turned Roush Xfinity combatant, and Ty Dillon, with Kyle Busch and Regan Smith heavily involved, the foursome merely four of over twenty cars battling for the front.

The big picture takeaway from this astonishing race is that the racers seem to finally be figuring out effective push-drafting within the tighter box NASCAR has installed.   They are ostensibly not allowed to push-draft all the way around, but in this race they made push-drafting effective again - not since the 2013 season have we seen push-drafting this effective, and it was reminiscent of both the 2012 Busch Clash that saw a heady mix of push-drafting and conventional pack racing and the Talladega Truck 250 in 2013 that likewise saw that combination, though there the push-draft was far more effective.

It is exactly what NASCAR should want for the 500 and other races down the road.  


*****


Takes on several racers in this 300 -


I was surprised Aric Almirola didn't pull off the upset, as he showed a mixture of Richard Petty strategy and aggressiveness - if he can improve that in the 500 he can pull off that upset.   Unnoticed was his quasi-teammate Dakota Armstrong, who began to show some fight and finished a reasonable 11th in Petty's Sportsman car.

The RCR Chevys were strong as always, and Ty Dillon is clearly the better of the two Dillons as a racer.

The Toyotas had nothing to be ashamed of.  Eric Jones overall acquitted himself well, and there will be discussion of Kyle Busch's bad crash into the infield road course entry area - questions about the lack of SAFER barriers will of course be asked; that it's an area over 200 feet from the racing surface where crashes simply haven't happened is why there wasn't a SAFER there; the SAFERS are supposed to be where the wrecks happen.   The real issue is these cars are not scrubbing off any speed when they slide as Busch's car did - over and over we've seen cars slide through these paved run-off areas and there was no scrub-off of speed at all.

Curiously quiet all day was Dale Earnhardt Jr, who nonetheless finished in the top ten.

Regan Smith's unexpected Speedweeks got off to a wild start with a great fight for the lead ending upside down in the trioval. 

The best sponsor of the race was on Mario Gosselin's Chevrolet - Crash Claims R Us.

I give Danica Patrick grief because she deserves it - also deserving it is John Wes Townley, who seemingly can't run any race without wrecking.


Thus did Xfinity take over the Busch Bash and thus did its debut as series sponsor produce the kind of fireworks that scare people and also amaze them, and showcase the awe that is racing at its best.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Speedweeks 2015 And What You Deserve In Life

Speedweeks 2015 races toward its finale as the NASCAR Sportsman Series - now the Xfinity Series - hits the Big D while the Winston Cup cars go for the 57th Daytona 500 Sunday.   The Truck Series went first Friday night, and it illustrated what has made this year a so-so Speedweeks at best.   The battle for the lead in the first half of the Nextera Truck 250 was by far the best racing of Speedweeks so far, a huge multilap battle headed by Tyler Reddick in a Brad Keselowski Ford and Ty Dillon in an RCR Chevrolet.

But then halfway hit and when a Truck appeared to run flat out of gas, a huge crash in Turn Three erupted; not only did it wipe out multiple Trucks, it took all life out of the race, as the second half was all Tyler Reddick all the time, specifically the final 33 laps.   That no one challenged Reddick illustrated yet again the absurdity of NASCAR's myopia against push-drafting - without it there simply isn't enough passing.

The racing is good, but it deserves to be a lot better (as it would in subsequent days).


******


Not having drivers like Denny Hamlin and Danica Patrick can certainly help the sport become better.   The two were involved in a late set-to in the Qualifying 150s and as usual Patrick went all immature and stalked to Hamlin to remonstrate.  

This is one of those confrontations where neither party deserves anything positive.   Hamlin is a long-time bully on the racetrack and a stuck-up in the garage area, called out as such by ATHLON SPORTS a few years ago, while Danica Patrick remains the gutless soft-porn model who got where she is on her gender - identity entitlement at its worst - as well as with sexually suggestive photo spreads.  

The idea the sport would be better off with either of these two is foolishness.


******


Hamlin and Patrick lead to the larger issue that they say you get what you deserve in life.   When a judge overseeing the dispute between Kurt Busch and his ex-girlfriend issued a restraining order against Busch, making a point that the evidence against Busch was sufficient to warrant the order plus order for him to undergo psychiatric evaluation, NASCAR, which had waited longer than most sports bodies on this issue, suspended Busch indefinitely.  

The suspension has, like the killing of Kevin Ward by Tony Stewart last August, brought out the worst in racing fans, who seem afraid of the idea that a major NASCAR star is objectively guilty of being OJ Simpson to be shunned by larger society.  The defenses of Busch, whose history of bullying and derangement is far too extensive to ignore - to where he was fired from Penske Racing after 2011 - are pathetic and refuse to confront the issue of what evidence is there that he didn't do what got him a restraining order.    There simply is no credibility to think a restraining order would come down without credibility on the part of the accusation.

The attempt by some fans to cite Travis Kvapil in contrast also fails as Kvapil in effect settled his assault accusation out of court.

The sport is not better off with Kurt Busch's participation, period.   You get what you deserve in life and Busch deserves to be shunned the way Tony Stewart deserves to be shunned.