Wednesday, July 27, 2016

NASCAR Questions Entering Pocono

Forty years ago Pocono International Raceway hosted one of the most exciting races in NASCAR's pivotal 1976 season. Barney Hall, Marvin Panch, Chris Economaki, Jack Arute, Tom Kecke, and Bill Connell are the announcers. Richard Petty, David Pearson, Cale Yarborough, Bobby Allison, Buddy Baker, Benny Parsons, Lennie Pond, and Darrell Waltrip are the primary competitors in this race.

NASCAR enters Pocono amid one of the most discouraging weekends in recent memory, as Kyle Busch's annihilation of the Brickyard 400 weekend - involving both the 250 and 400, for a combined four-race sweep spanning 2015 and 2016 - was as one-sided as the World 600 slaughter by Martin Truex, and it served as starting point of widespread musings about the mediocre crowd, the poor quality of the racing, and the state of NASCAR in general. It's worth asking some questions -

The universal loss of confidence in NASCAR at Indianapolis stems from NASCAR's inability to see fighting for the lead as seen in the very first Brickyard 400

Is the Brickyard 400 no longer worth having?
- No, it absolutely is worth having.  NASCAR is a superspeedway league; even in its earliest years NASCAR's premier events were its big track races and the superspeedways have been the most competitive races in stock car annals.   That the crowds have plummeted is undeniable; that this loss of popularity is sport-wide is also undeniable.  NASCAR has the problem of making the entire sport worth watching again.

Has NASCAR's downforce experiment failed? - Yes, an unqualified yes. And it's a result those who remember the 1998 5&5 Rule, its resuscitation under John Darby after the 2003 season, and the Car Of Tomorrow could all see coming. Inability to pass doesn't stem from downforce, it stems from lack of downforce, too much horsepower, and too little tire.

So what is the real problem with inability to pass?  -  It is the combination of too much horsepower, no generation of drafting effect (an issue that can solve itself by improving downforce), and too little grip - by this it is the mixture of downforce and tire.  NASCAR increased downforce for two races in 2015 - really the first time they've ever embraced high downforce - but did nothing to horsepower or the tire.  On this score Larry McReynolds, who has claimed "We've tried every combination of cars and aero packages under the stars" for the Brickyard and elsewhere, is quite mistaken, less on downforce than the combination involved.

NASCAR has attacked the downforce issue piecemeal, and from the completely wrong angle; it has consistently tried to quash downforce and has never addressed tire or horsepower, except in perfunctory manner via a minor reduction via tapered spacer from 850 to 725 in 2015 - and by now I'd be surprised if the teams hadn't long ago regained what little horsepower they lost.

A true cut in horsepower via narrower spacer would involve restricting power to 500 or slightly above; in such a true reduction one can see allowing elimination of NASCAR's gear rule (something McReynolds had advocated).  Cutting horsepower has never been a popular idea, yet the myth is still pushed that the cars should have more, not less.   We hear advocacy of eliminating the gear rule, with no one seeming to notice that horsepower has only been increasing for twenty-odd years, the cars have ample throttle response - the main argument against restrictor plate racing is that the cars lack throttle response - and yet no one can pass.

The tire remains an issue on which Goodyear never seems to be held accountable.  At Dover's Mason-Dixon 400 this season, and it seems quite by accident, Goodyear had a tire the leaders could fight for the lead on.   The Truck Series - high downforce and noticeably lower horsepower compared to the cars - has had a competitive renaissance the last five-plus years and it would seem they have tires that are more forgiving and thus raceable.   Having ample tire on the surface has been a staple of Indycars and the NASCAR Modifieds seemingly forever.

So it begs the question - why can't Goodyear engineer a tire that's truly forgiving like bias-plies are for local racing and were for the big leagues?

Occassionally Goodyear has made a change on the tire; the 1999 Yankee 400 at Michigan, with a higher stagger tire, is one of the most famous examples

Does advocacy of abandoning Indianapolis for NASCAR a sign the sport as a group has run out of answers? - Yes and no.   It's a sign a lot of cherished conceits about the rules packages have been permanently disproven, and it's also a sign of the lack of imagination in the sport's leadership and media to keep repeating the same mistakes over and over again.   It's also a disturbing sign that a lot of people seem to want to give up on dealing with the technology arms race, which is the ultimate mistake.   The notion of leaving racing at the mercy of technology is absurd.   There manifestly is need for different approaches to dealing with these issues.

Are there other angles besides the technology arms race that are the problem? -  Yes - the sport's overemphasis on points racing. The drivers long ago stopped treating race wins as anything except something counterproductive to winning, and they've done so because the points system refuses to reward winning and leading.   The Chase concept was a reaction to Matt Kenseth's 2003 title with just one race win, and it was the wrong reaction - the solution was to simply increase the bonus for each race win to over 100 points above second and to increase the bonus for most laps led to 100, to ensure the leader of most laps would outpoint almost everyone else but the race winner.   By putting all the emphasis on winning and leading - incentivizing going for the win - the sport would see a significant upsurge in the fight for the lead race after race.

So what is the balance sheet going into Pocono? -  Pocono is a track with a genuine history of quality racing that like all the others has suffered from poor application of the technology arms race.    Pocono in August is usually different from June.  Dale Junior's 2014 sweep was the first there since Jimmie Johnson in 2004 and those two plus Denny Hamlin spanning 2009-10 are the only drivers with a two-race win streak there since Tim Richmond's three-race rampage of 1986-87.

Kurt Busch's win in June was the eighth for Chevrolet in the last eleven Pocono races, but Chevrolet overall this year has been outclassed by Toyota, winners of 24 of the last 51 races.   The decline of the Hendrick fleet has been the surprise of the last two seasons, but a competitive correction has long been overdue there.

Curiously quiet has been Denny Hamlin, who at Indy rebounded from two mediocre finishes and ninth at NHMS to finish fourth and has led only 78 laps since winning the Daytona 500.

The JGR Toyotas have been the cars of the series all year.   The recent surge of the Fords has been the underrated story of the last month apart from the usual Penske muscle.  The Roush fleet began storming close to the front again for three races before hitting a wall (literally in Greg Biffle's case) at Indianapolis.  

The surge of Stewart-Haas Racing is the only other constant to feel confident about entering Pocono as they - outside of Danica Patrick, as usual - continue to surge, a good sign for Ford for 2017.   The only other Chevrolet outfit is RCR, which has begun to string together some good finishes the last five or so races but still looks hopelessly outpowered.

I don't expect a repeat winner at Pocono, but a first-time winner or any kind of darkhorse winner looks out of reach.   The sport's competitive decline has been long and ongoing and won't be corrected without radical changes.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Burning Busch At Indianapolis

The late melee on a restart at the Brickyard 400 was the only memorable moment from a weekend a lot of people didn't particularly want to witness and which few want to remember - and that's yet another sign that NASCAR has not made anything better in racing.

Kyle Busch was burning hot at Indianapolis and the victory lane at the Brickyard had to be renamed Canaan the way Busch was burning. Almost from pole day onward the outcome of the weekend was eminently predictable, and it showed in 149 laps led on Sunday with NO challenge at any point - and it showed in a discouragingly small crowd, despite a reported 35% increase in ticket sales this year - a report I'm not sure is all that accurate.

Busch's monopoly of the Brickyard was such that even the other Toyotas looked mediocre (especially on restarts where the outside car was often dead meat) even though they for the most part outclassed everyone else as well.  It also made some creditable runs by others look utterly irrelevant - because in a real sense they were.   Jimmie Johnson salvaged third place and Jeff Gordon finished quite well given he hasn't raced all year, this while subbing for Earnhardt Jr., out recovering from concussion symptoms he reported before the race were starting to get better - certainly a positive sign, though we suspect he won't return until Michigan, an easier track to start over on than Watkins Glen or Bristol. 

Tony Stewart's final Brickyard 400 was at times strikingly good, at times tellingly bad, and ended respectably, while the rest of his outfit for the most part did decently - except of course for Danica Patrick, involved in another wreck.

The seemingly power-less RCR Chevys ran decent, as Austin Dillon and Paul Menard were 9-10 at the end.   The Fords had nothing to cheer for despite Joey Logano's top-ten, a respectable 11th for Ricky Stenhouse, and an eye-opening 13th for Chris Buescher.   The eye-popping stat that Penske has yet to win a Brickyard 400 stayed intact even as the Penske duo led 21 laps. 

It was stunning that Toyota didn't win the manufacturer crown in 2015; if they lose it this year it will be an even uglier shock, because Toyota has it all and overall Ford has jumped ahead of Chevrolet in true muscle.    Those bemoaning the dominance of Toyota have it backward - the sport has long needed a competitive correction from the semi-monopoly of Chevrolet.   Ford's six manufacturer titles in the 1992-2002 period have been gathering cobwebs galore and seeing Chevrolet knocked down a few pegs is a corrective the sport needs. 


Kyle Busch's monopolization of the Brickyard has been absolute the last two seasons, sweeping both the Xfinity 250 and the 400 in two straight seasons.   And they've come despite radically different downforce packages.

Kyle Busch's last-lap pass in the 2015 Brickyard 250 is some of the kind of racing NASCAR was looking for then, and is still looking for now - the balance sheet remains they had the right idea with high downforce in 2015, what they overlooked is what is key there

The number of people in varied forums (not just fans but such writers as Matt Weaver at RACER ) advocating the Xfinity series race be moved back to Indianapolis Raceway Park - and oddly Matt Kenseth expressed a view in that range on his Twitter account as well - shows anew how much a lot of people misguidedly hate the big ovals, whose history remains replete with high-quality racing - such comments also seem to ignore the state of disrepair that IRP now resides within, as evidenced during the track's ARCA race during Brickyard weekend.   Certainly IRP deserves better than that.

If anything, what should be considered is adding a 200-miler for the Truck Series at the Brickyard, especially with the competitive renaissance the series has undergone the last five years.  

Adding the Trucks to the Brickyard would likely do what they've done everywhere else they've raced - put on a battle for the lead that illustrates why the low downforce package is not working.   The lesser horsepower, higher downforce, and far more forgiving tire of the Trucks remains a striking contrast and one that keeps being illustrated in better racing.    It also showcases why NASCAR and Goodyear need to stop kidding themselves on the tire - they got it right at Dover, they need to get it right at Pocono etc. 

It is curious that unlike previous broadcast media forums this season, the IMS Radio call didn't promote low downforce but instead offered a factual analysis of the package - and in so doing illustrated its weakness; it's been a long while since any NASCAR media discussed the "beach ball" effect the cars are now generating.   It's also a telling comment on the state of NASCAR media in general.

So the Cup series kisses the Bricks and whips eastbound to Pocono, a race that is usually strikingly different from June - and one hopes it is such in many positive ways.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Why Goodell Is The Deflategate Loser

Two pieces in the wake of Tom Brady's decision to hand off the suit against the NFL to the NFLPA warrant a look. The first examines how Roger Goodell actually conducts player discipline hearings - and what it shows is Goodell is a demagogue with zero honesty and no desire to do anything but punish players for its own demented sake. Lawyer Peter Ginsberg notes that Goodell looks for reaffirmation of his view - "It's very difficult to have a genuine, authentic disagreement with Roger" - and writer Tim Rohan notes Goodell takes personal offense when a player defends himself to him.

It's a pattern noted in the past by sports law professor Jeffrey Standen and by writer Sally Jenkins. Jenkins comes out firing yet again by noting that the myth of Goodell having more power now than before is false - "vain NFL owners" publicly won't admit they made a mistake electing him commissioner but privately have been working to undermine him, between negotiating with the NFLPA on a new personal conduct policy and already starting to declaw Goodell with the hiring of Tod Leiweke as league CCO and ex-White House press flak Joe Lockhart (who reports to Leiweke rather than Goodell) as VP of Communications. Indeed, the July 19 Monday Morning Quarterback story by Jenny Vrentas - "The Goodell Decade" - serves mostly as a mawkish disinformation piece to press the myth of Goodell as more powerful than ever.

The owners have already started cleaning up after him. Standen noted it took some five votes in 2006 before they agreed to elect him Commissioner. It clearly is a sign that they now quietly feel they were wrong.

The Cost Of Islamic Appeasement Comes Up

Obama thought appeasing Islamo-Arab imperialism would promote peace. It's done nothing but create war.

The Fraud Of Opposing GMOs Continues

GMO labeling continues to push the myth that GMOs are somehow harmful to people - the reality remains they're not.

Monday, July 18, 2016

NASCAR Headaches Entering The Brickyard

Alex Bowman's antics at New Hampshire were some of the headaches hitting the sport as it prepares for Indianapolis

NASCAR now hits what had once been one of its marque dates - I say once because the luster of the Brickyard 400 disappeared well over a decade ago with the overall luster of the sport in decline by that point as well - and that only some 45,000 tickets at New Hampshire were sold was an unusually forceful indication of loss of popularity for one of the sport's better markets, rural New England.

The New Hampshire 301 caught more attention than usual days earlier when Dale Earnhardt Jr. pulled out due to concussion effects, the result of several crashes with the Firecracker 400 the most notable.   Alex Bowman filled in both on Saturday and Sunday and his Xfinity series set-to with RCR appeared to carry over into the Sunday race as he looked tentative but nonetheless picked his way into the top ten - an effort that went asunder with Chase Elliott.

That Chase Elliott has been wrecking more frequently in recent races is a little disturbing - he has flat-out fallen off the map since the Michigan 400 with nothing higher than 21st - and is illustrative of the slump of Hendrick Motorsports.   Jimmie Johnson was the highest running Hendrick car at New Hampshire at the end - in a mediocre 12th, this for a team without a top ten since the 600.

The embarrassing part for Chevrolet is its lameduck team, Stewart-Haas Racing, has exploded.   Kevin Harvick was 4th at Loudon and sharply critical of his team afterward for "(making) mistake after mistake...."  Tony Stewart finished second, continuing a stunning renaissance, and Kurt Busch ran strong but got shunted late and finished 22nd.   Even Danica Patrick's finish was surprisingly good after being out to lunch pretty much from Lap One on.

For Chevrolet the success of a lameduck team going to Ford next year makes the faltering of Hendrick and the sleepwalking of RCR all the more painful.   RCR's #31 of Ryan Newman, though, has been sneaking up on everyone with three top-tens the last four races

Make no mistake - Toyota is the marque to beat as Kyle Busch and Martin Truex led 258 laps between them and Matt Kenseth basically stole the win after Truex's transmission gagged on him near the end.  

Now starting to flex some competitive depth is Ford in recent races.   Brad Keselowski's two-race win streak ended badly in 15th while Joey Logano rallied from mid-race struggle to third at Loudon.  The Roush renaissance continues as Ricky Stenhouse posted his second top-ten in three races and Greg Biffle grabbed his third in a row.   The Richard Petty team has started to make legitimate progress the last three weeks as well; it hasn't produced the finishes indicative of how strong the #43 has been the last three races, which is the galling part.   Specific to Loudon was that the car needed ten or more laps to truly get going, with a late shunt from Austin Dillon ruining a top-ten bid.


So entering the Brickyard the first big story will be whether Junior runs - I'm baffled Hendrick Motorsports seems to be holding hope he will, with the signing of Jeff Gordon for a one-race comeback also an eye-opener - that Hendrick signed Gordon from retirement may be suggestive of what they really think of Alex Bowman or another possible young driver.

The next big story will be how well the JGR and Barney Vissar Toyotas do.   Truex oddly has just two top-tens since blowing everyone in the weeds at the 600 and despite leading 189 laps the last six races.   The JGR cars have been good the last five runnings, but one who's been subpar is Carl Edwards, who won the pole last year but finished only 13th, matching his best finish there the last five years.  

The Ford fleet will of course be led by His Captaincy, but Brad Keselowski has never lit anything aflame at the Brickyard, posting three top tens but just one since switching to Ford.   Joey Logano looks to be on point for Penske there.  

I'm not terribly confident in Chevrolet right now given the mediocrity permeating that brand outside of Stewart-Haas.  

So it goes, all the way to Speedway, IN.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Yup, She's Crooked

A catalogue of Hillary Milhous Clinton's corruption

"Hillary Clinton is the most corrupt person ever to get this close to becoming president of the United States. Aaron Burr was corrupt, but his treason didn’t occur until after his presidential possibilities had dried up. Ulysses Grant was a great man whose administration was riddled with corruption, but he wasn't personally involved. Warren Harding wasn't a great man, but he wasn't party to the corruption in his administration either. Hillary Clinton stands alone.

?Her corruption has many dimensions. It encompasses her personal, professional, and political life. There are lots of overlaps. Her use of a private email server engulfs all three aspects. With Clinton, one never has to exaggerate. Her malfeasance speaks for itself, loudly. She lies to get out of trouble and fool the press and voters. But she also lies gratuitously—when it's not required to avoid trouble. Face to face with the parents of CIA commandos who were killed in Benghazi while protecting Ambassador Chris Stevens, Clinton lied. She said an anti-Islam video had prompted the fatal attack, which she knew wasn't true, when she could have simply expressed her condolences. Clinton has a masochistic relationship with the media. She spurns them. They protect her."