Sunday, August 07, 2016

Denny Does Watkins Glen

The collapse of Hendrick Motorsports continues with Jimmie Johnson's melee with Greg Biffle at the Watkins Glen race.

Kevin Harvick's day ended late

Denny Hamlin continued the Toyota-Ford conquest of NASCAR as he won for the first time since the Daytona 500, ahead of a Keselowski-Truex set-to that left Truex irked to no end while Chevrolet's chances for the season continue down the drain and a remarkable effort by the Ford company unfolded amid the chaos that littered the road course.

Chris Buescher had a frustrating day after his surprise win at Pocono, and what unfolded at The Glen was revelatory to an eye-popping extent - Ford intensified its effort behind Buescher's team to get them into the Chase, something we suspect hasn't happened to this extent since the ill-fated Dixie 500 at Atlanta in 1990 when Ford made Robert Yates test a car for Mark Martin and then had the Yates car raced by Martin under Roush auspices because it was faster than anything Roush could build - all in an ultimately-futile effort to beat Dale Earnhardt for the 1990 championship. 

This effort by Ford indicates that a renewed commitment to NASCAR is real, first shown by the signing of Stewart-Haas Racing for 2017; it also indicates a renewed commitment to depth by Ford - a commitment first seen in the latter-1980s and early-1990s, especially the pivotal 1992 season when Fords won sixteen races and the manufacturer crown, their first since 1969 and the first time a GM brand didn't win it since Richard Petty pretty much single-handedly won it for Dodge in 1975.  

It's a commitment the other brands need to take into account.  Though cleaning up the wins Toyota is doing so with basically one team; the signing of the Truex #78 and its expansion to a second car with youngster Erik Jones for 2017 is a step, but Toyota needs three organizations or more to truly have competitive depth.   Ford likewise needs to shore up so four organizations are fighting for the win.

Chevrolet's slow-motion collapse has been the market correction the series has needed for well over ten years; the last time one can remember Chevy being this mediocre was the mostly-forgettable 2000 season.   There is an admitted level of schadenfreude involved in seeing Chevrolet's struggle - the hoariest gripe in fan circles in NASCAR has always been ostensible favoritism for Chevrolet by NASCAR, first tacitly acknowledged in 1965 by Ford stalwart Fred Lorenzen amid the Chrysler boycott and the massive decline in race crowds that resulted, this amid a forlorn effort by a few Chevrolets in late spring of that season.  

One must also acknowledge the surge in race crowds in the 1970s when Richard Howard signed Junior Johnson's moribund race team in early 1971 to build a competitive Chevrolet, and the effort exploded in Bobby Allison's monstrous 1972 season of ten wins and over 4,300 laps led.   By 1974 Chevrolets constituted some 75% of most fields and it stayed that way even as other GM brands were brought in during 1978 and beyond, until Ford's recommitment of the 1980s reached maturity by 1992.

It does bring to mind a Brian France comment from earlier this season as to rumor of another manufacturer - or two - wanting to commit to NASCAR, a rumor that has been curiously quiet with no perceivable evidence of any embryonic NASCAR program by another manufacturer. 


Amid all that Hamlin's win was only the second for Toyota at Watkins Glen.    Other notable runners were Trevor Bayne, who finished an astonishing ninth, and AJ Allmendinger, the 2014 winner.   Likewise lost in the shuffle was Jamie McMurray, finishing eighth and getting far less attention of late to teammate Kyle Larson, who ran good but didn't finish particularly well.

A bit of trivia largely overlooked was Matt Kenseth's 600th start, which ended in tenth.  

Overlooking all of this is the continuing semi-mystery of Dale Earnhardt Jr's recovery from concussion symptoms, a recovery that seems to be progressing yet curiously hasn't yielded any timetable for him to return to a racecar - a fact that leads one to believe his season may be done.  

It is starting to cast a bit of a pall on the sport with Bristol and an unsually late August date for Michigan beckoning amid a rare bye week.

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