Sunday, August 02, 2015

Gas Pains Galore At Pocono

The first weekend of August produced three surprising finishes among NASCAR's major touring series, a ridiculous stat illustrating NASCAR's continuing blind spot about how its champion should be determined, and also saw the breaking of a bizarre story regarding one of the sport's co-owners.   The weekend began with two strikingly similar finishes - the Truck 150 at Pocono and the Iowa 250 for the Xfinity Series were dominated, but late restarts led to chaos - none whackier than Erik Jones, Austin Dillon, and Timothy Peters trying to force it four-abreast through Turn One at Pocono (like the old Wizard Of Id cartoon put it, one of these days that's going to work), for which Erik Jones emerged for the worse.   Brendan Gaughn then tried to force it past Ryan Blaney in Iowa and also didn't quite make it, to the consternation of Daniel Suarez and others.  

Late restarts salvaged what had been one-sided affairs on Saturday, while Sunday's Windows 10 400 at Pocono showcased what isn't all that appealing about modern racing - the emphasis was on pitstops and pit plotting backwards instead of going for the lead; the constant cycling of pitstops has at times in Pocono's recent history been a poor substitute for racing, though for this 2015 race the cycling came after a flurry of early and then mid-race crashes, including two of the uglier wrecks the place has seen since the infamous Elliott Sadler blast in 2010, first when Kasey Kahne's day got creamed in the most bizarre pit crash since Mark Martin's vicious set-to at Michigan a few years back, then when Sam Hornish got the worst of it off One after a restart.   There were so many yellows that at one point Pocono flirted with exceeding ten cautions.

But then the fuel duel kicked in, and it led to the jaw-dropping upset of the year - Joey Logano ran out of gas, then Kyle Busch ran out of gas, and the forgotten man of Joe Gibbs Racing got the win at a track he's never done all that hot at.   Matt Kenseth now has a grand total of four top-five finishes at Pocono in 32 starts, thus denying Kyle Busch the fourth-straight win he was seeking.

Busch's four wins, all in a five-race span, come after he missed the first eleven races of the season; NASCAR said he would be eligible for the Chase if he gets into the top-30 in points - and with four wins in the last five races he isn't there yet.  NASCAR likes to pretend that the present Chase format emphasizes winning, but the fact Busch has four wins yet is not in the Chase indicates yet again that winning is not important for NASCAR.  

Of course the Chase concept is a complete fraud - the points system is supposed to cover the entire season, not artificially lock out 3/4ths of the field with ten races to go, and the emphasis in the points system is supposed to be wins and most laps led per race - the fact of winning and of most laps led is supposed to pay far more than those performance levels presently do, pay so much higher a percentage to where Busch's four wins and leading the most laps in one of them automatically put him well ahead of drivers presently ahead of him in points.   Instead of actually rewarding real performance - winning races and most laps led - NASCAR once again insists that drivers travel more miles with fewer results.  


The other story to break from the weekend is that Rob Kauffman, presently a majority owner of Michael Waltrip's race team, will purchase a piece of the Ganassi-SABCO outfit.   The story is Clint Bowyer's #15 team will be taken from the MWR team to Chip Ganassi's outfit. The story, though, has been confusing to a number of people. It would appear Kauffman cannot hold ownership stakes in two separate teams, especially with different manufacturers, and right now it would seem the development is Kauffman is outright leaving Michael Waltrip and taking the Clint Bowyer #15 with him - which begs the question of whether a Kauffman-Ganassi-Sabates combo will run Toyotas given Kauffman's present ties with Toyota.

Kauffman has been the guy who made Waltrip's team work. That a source said Kauffman is why Waltrip's team didn't shut down already is indicative both that the former banker is very good at what he does and also that Michael Waltrip really didn't deserve such a high-quality business partner.   Waltrip's career is now at thirty seasons as a full-time participant at some level in Cup, yet the sub-mediocrity of his career was first defined by driving for the Dick Bahre-Lowrance Harry-Chuck Rider team as a 1986 rookie, and losing the rookie race to a self-styled loner from Wisconsin with an engineering degree who drove for a team with next to no racecars - BTW his name was Alan Kulwicki, and we all remember how that worked out.   It thus added a bitter punch line that for two seasons Waltrip drove the former Kulwicki #7 and outside of a couple of races did nothing with it.   That he finally broke through to actually win some races was a double-shock, before the form chart finally reemerged and Michael slunk back to irrelevance. 

And the form chart reemerged again after Kauffman made winners out of Waltrip's team - when MWR literally threw a race to manipulate the Chase, NASCAR's resulting penalty angered at least one sponsor (NAPA - which was never supposed to be Waltrip's sponsor, it was supposed to be Ron Hornaday's) into quitting, and MWR hasn't been the same since September 2013.    And so the garage area continues on but with one of its better-known participants involved in a soap opera it doesn't need.

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