Sunday, July 30, 2017

Pocono Erupts For Kyle Busch

The Overtons 400 weekend kicked off yet another NASCAR weekend filled with off-track concern and continued a recent surge of on-track racing that has intensified in competitive ferocity.

The big off-track story is the word that Target stores is quitting its racing commitments; the rumored subplot behind this is a divorce of team owner Chip Ganassi and his wife and that she was the one who actually controlled that sponsorship.    Whatever the particulars, the loss of Target sponsorship is a major blow to racing in general given the company gained superb attention from its racing endeavors between over one hundred Indycar wins (four of them Indianapolis 500s) and victories in NASCAR including two wins so far in 2017 for Kyle Larson.  

If there is reason for optimism, the recent arrival of Overton's sponsorship of several races gives some reason to believe they will also sponsor a car for a few races, with cobbling together of other sponsors by now the longstanding method of filling in the sponsor gaps.    Certainly Kyle Larson's surge of success provides a sponsor a platform from which both benefit.

The Truck Series opened the NASCAR portion of the Pennsylvania 400 weekend and the sport now seems to be seeing a surge of great racing that began at Indianapolis.   After Kyle Busch crashed out the fight for the lead swelled into a spirited fight between John Hunter Nemechek and Christopher Bell, a battle that threatened to rival the ferocity of the Xfinity Series Brickyard 250 last week.   Bell finally got past Nemecheck and was gone for his fourth win of the season.

The Overtons 400 turned out to be a surprisingly tranquil affair, except it started with a bang when Matt Kenseth broke loose and it stacked up some eight cars behind him.    Jimmie Johnson's crash and Kyle Larson's busted driveshaft (a fitting upshot to his weekend) were the only other incidents as pit sequencing dominated the race; Kyle Busch seemed to sequence himself out of contention when he took four tires on his last stop and fell over six seconds behind.   Busch, however, stormed forward and punted his longtime enemy Kevin Harvick just enough to surge to the win.  

The win was the 100th in some 340 starts for Toyota dating to its merger with Joe Gibbs Racing.  JGR accounts for eighty-four of these wins while Barney Visser has won seven times fielding Toyotas, the now-defunct Michael Waltrip outfit won seven races with Toyotas, and the Dietrich Mateschitz team sporting Red Bull colors won at Michigan in 2009 with Brian Vickers and 2011 at Phoenix with Kasey Kahne.

Given this level of success and how much Toyota has meant to teams - and also speedways; the scuttlebutt has long been that the Fontana speedway is kept going in substantial part to some level of Toyota sponsorship - it remains perplexing that some fans still insist on denouncing the brand's participation in NASCAR.   The sport certainly shouldn't be saying no to participants like Toyota.

BTW the Firestone sign on the Tunnel Turn scoreboard is still there....for the NASCAR weekend,  just as was the case in June.  

So the long national nightmare for Kyle Busch is over and the NASCAR tour hits Watkins Glen next week - and given Watkins Glen's history we mean hits. 

Monday, July 24, 2017

Boffo And Bollox As The Brickyard Raises Kahne

In the history of the Brickyard 400 this may rank as the most preposterously exciting moment of all

The competitive excitement of the 2017 racing season just rose several notches as Indianapolis Motor Speedway, under fire for dismal stock car racing over the years, answered back with the wildest weekend outside of the 500 perhaps ever seen - certainly the most exciting to date. 

The 250 produced the most competitive racing while the 400 saw the most eye-popping challenge - and the highest incidence of crashing since NASCAR debuted here in 1994

The Brickyard 250 for the Xfinity cars showcased some of the best racing anywhere this season and showed the big picture for the sport, but the takeaway of the weekend was in the 400.    It began as a Kyle Busch runaway with only Martin Truex offering anything resembling resistance, leading eight laps to Busch's 87.    That all got shot to pieces following Ricky Stenhouse's hard hit - on the next restart Truex took out Kyle Busch and himself when he broke loose in One - a crash mildly reminiscent of Dale Earnhardt and Tim Richmond at Pocono in 1982.  

Pocono analogies abounded later.   Following the Busch-Truex melee the race ran green with Trevor Bayne seemingly in the fuel catbird seat - until with eleven to go what we thought was the biggest crash of the weekend erupted involving Clint Bowyer, Kurt Busch, and Erik Jones, who has wrecked the last two races now.   On the next restart Jimmie Johnson - seemingly blowing up - challenged Kasey Kahne and Brad Keselowski.   Just when it seemed Keselowski had them cleared the Hendrick cars stayed nose to nose and still got a gigantic sidedraft, to where the leaders were three abreast through Turn Three - an impossible scenario it appeared for a split second they would pull off - it was Tim Richmond stuffing it three abreast on Geoff Bodine and Neil Bonnett in the Tunnel Turn at Pocono in 1986 all over again.  

It all added up to a day personified by competitive ferocity, a bad rules package on Sunday doubly exposed as such by the racing on Saturday, dubious TV timing (why not start just after 12 PM area time?), some questionable officiating - I'm not sure there should have been a second GWC restart - and yet another eye-popping upset winner in a season that's been strikingly replete with them. 

The win comes in a dismal season for Kahne and amid Rumor Control Central speculation that he is on the way out; it is unclear whether this win will help that much, for he's led just thirty-one laps and has only three top-fives and one additional top-ten.   Kahne's struggles, though, now mirror a run of mediocrity and worse by Jimmie Johnson since winning the Mason-Dixon 400 - just two top-tens in that span for Johnson.

Johnson's recent slippage comes as Chase Elliott has posted five top-tens in that same span but has gagged twice in the last four races; overall Elliott has been maddeningly inconsistent - he has led just twenty-eight laps since leading 106 at Phoenix; he's posted six top-fives and four other top-tens this season but nowhere has he shown that he truly knows how to win; in his two seasons he's been streaky, with top-tens galore for weeks followed by lengthy stretches where he doesn't finish well. 

Showing greater consistency has been Brad Keselowski, the runner-up at Indianapolis being his fourth such this season amid Atlanta and Martinsville wins and four other top-fives so far this season.   While Keselowski remains on a run, Penske teammate Joey Logano stopped recent bleeding by finishing a largely-unnoticed fourth, only his third top-ten since the penalized Richmond win.

Their strong effort comes amid Ford comment about addressing aerodynamic inadequacy; whatever their recent struggles Ford did showcase depth taking four of the top eight spots and six of the top thirteen.   The run that stood out was Aric Almirola, two races into his return to Richard Petty's #43 from his back-breaking layup after Kansas, involved in a late crash, and charging to finish a respectable thirteenth.   The chaos for Stewart-Haas' team makes Danica Patrick's eleventh all the more eye-opening.   Of the five Chevrolets in the top twelve Chris Buescher and AJ Allmendinger's 9-10 finish for Brad Daugherty's team impresses even more than Kasey Kahne's win.

Completely unnoticed were Matt Kenseth in fifth and Daniel Suarez in seventh, showcasing Toyota's strength but also the inadequacy of its competitive depth after Busch. Truex, and Erik Jones crashed out.  

The Lillys Diabetes 250 at Indianapolis showcased terrific racing and finally showcased the answer to NASCAR's competition headaches spanning some seventeen or more years 

A number of fans, and some writers, have suggested NASCAR needs to cancel racing at the Brickyard and switch instead to the rinky-dink bullring at Indianapolis Raceway Park.   That IRP looks curiously dilapidated even on television gets overlooked; that people overrate its racing has also been ignored.   IRP is a very good facility for short track open wheelers - USAC's short trackers put on great battles there and have done so forever - while the Busch/Xfinity Series and Trucks have also seen some spirited battles but nothing approaching superspeedways for competitive depth. 

Top-heavy sedan bodies on radial tires with little to no downforce and horsepower 50-plus percent higher than 500 - the short tracks in NASCAR have seen the same struggles - aeropush, inability to make the cars handle better, etc. - that the superovals have seen.   No short track in the world can overcome when the cars simply are not designed for passing.  

The Xfinity Series' 2017 running thus refutes the argument for switching to IRP and also finally answers the question of why NASCAR has had so much problem with passing.   Running restrictor plates, returning the larger spoiler, and also debuting drag ducts - scoops in the nose that channel air entering the nose out the front wheelwells, thus blasting open a bigger draft - the Xfinity cars hit the balance of horsepower and drafting effect that creates passing, and it showed especially when Kyle Busch and Joey Logano swapped the lead some three times in one lap  - curiously instead of old-school crossover passing down low, they did it backward with crossover passing up high - and Justin Allgaier not only challenged Kyle Busch, he fought him like someone no longer afraid of the presumptive dictator of the Xfinity Series seemingly whenever he runs there.   Blowing his ill-advised short-pit bid before the end of the second segment of the 250 was a head-shaker for Allgaier, and it left it up to William Byron to slay the Busch dragon.  

It is this kind of competition package and resulting balance of drafting effect and horsepower that NASCAR has maddeningly been missing for nearly twenty seasons - certainly NASCAR would have saved itself a lot of headaches if this package had been figured out for 2001 onward.   One wonders who thought of the idea of drag ducts, for while the concept of making the draft more effective has been a no-brainer for decades, how it's being done is truly eye-popping and clearly works.  

As for no-brainers integrating this package into Cup and the Trucks - and for that matter the rest of NASCAR's series - and for all tracks qualifies as the ultimate no-brainer, because it works, period.

BTW three abreast all the way through Three and Four at Indianapolis Motor Speedway........?

And it offers a compelling lead-in to Pocono as there now is a series of scores to settle as July reaches its conclusion.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

The Latest Obamacare Lie

The AARP has been front and center lying for Obamacare - which finances the group through its crooked insurance.

Gender Exploitation Of The Young

The "transgender" lie is now becomig an actual social experiment - and already it's failing to help society


Raising kids is the ultimate hands-on project. If your teenaged son tells you he plans to text while driving, for example, your job is to set him straight on the facts and consequences​—​to help him face reality.
But in Minnesota in 2017, there’s one exception: If your boy declares he thinks he’s a girl, powerful social forces dictate that you must raise no objections, swallow hard, and get ready to enthusiastically support his “gender transition.”
Today, a youth transgender craze is sweeping the nation, and the elites here in my state are fully on board. The Minnesota Department of Education, the State High School League, and Gov. Mark Dayton heartily embrace it. The Minneapolis and St. Paul public schools have policies allowing students to use the bathrooms, locker rooms, and showers of the opposite sex. Meanwhile, a Twin Cities organization called “Transforming Families” announced last year that its youngest transgender support group​—​for kids ages 4 through 8​—​has about 25 members.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Truex, Larson, And New Hampshire Make Their Case

New Hampshire Motor Speedway faces a bittersweet season with its second Winston Cup weekend going to Vegas in 2018, so for right now it is making a case for itself, and the track's July Cup weekend proved rather astounding.  

The most competitive racing at New Hampshire is the Modified Tour and 2017's Eastern Propane 100 proved rougher than most; the early duel between New England racing hero Ryan Preece - he of the aborted Busch Series effort a year-plus back but now a signee for Joe Gibbs Racing - and Winston Cup star Ryan Newman rapidly swelled into a multicar shootout that exploded some twenty laps in into a multicar melee down the frontstretch; the most notable victims were Ronnie Silk (who'd stormed into the top five unnoticed amid the expanding battle for the lead) and Tim Solomito.   The 100 became a Preece-Newman duel, until in the final twenty-five laps Doug Coby and Bobby Santos ran them down and the fight for the lead heated up and rapidly escalated - until with three to go Newman went Ernie Irvan on the leaders with a stupid attempt at passing up the middle in Four; it naturally ended poorly for Newman, while Santos shot the gap on the GWC finish for the win.

The Busch series - no, that isn't a typo - then rolled off and after a thirty-plus minute rain delay the early showdown between Brad Keselowski and Kyle Busch took a back seat the last ten laps of Segment One to an eye-popping fight for the lead between Justin Allgaier and Elliott Sadler, a nose-to-nose showdown that lasted some six laps before Kyle Larson seized the segment; it was easily the most exciting Busch/Xfinity series competition at New Hampshire since the early 1990s.  

The two stories of this race had little to do with Kyle Busch - the first was Keselowski was clearly the strongest car, but his victory bid was killed by a penalty on his green-flag stop in the final laps, which put Busch into an insurmountable lead.


The second story was - again - Ryan Preece, given up for dead as far as a major-league NASCAR career went after his season with the #01 went nowhere; JGR then signed him for a part-time outing for the time being; driving the JGR #20 in the Overtons 200, Preece turned heads with a solid effort and a superb finish.  

Entering the Cup Overtons 301 one of the big stories was the return of Aric Almirola - months ahead of what a lot of people thought would be the timetable.   But with his return a sad side story is the future of Darrell Wallace Jr., who proved himself commendably in Petty's #43 in his four-race quasi-audition.   One hopes the rumored Petty merger that opens a #44 second car happens so Wallace, who clearly fits well in the Petty organization, returns.   As for Almirola's return to Cup competition it was a miserable day, struggling just to hold onto what he had (he raced people pretty hard, but it never gained him anything) and ultimately finishing 24th - curiously similar a poor start to this run of races as with Darrell Wallace at Pocono in June, albeit without the garish pit road mistake.

The big picture takeaways from New Hampshire -

Though neither won (that went to Denny Hamlin), by now the Cup title fight is a two-car showdown involving Martin Truex Jr. and Kyle Larson, who raced to the front from dead last at the start and erased a big gap to Hamlin in the final dozen or more laps; though Jimmie Johnson is second in the "Chase" lineup with three wins to Truex's three and Larson's two, Johnson and the Hendrick organization do not look like they can consistently contend with Larson or Truex.  

(A hilarious illustration of the absurdity of the Chase format - Johnson is second in the Chase at present yet is only ninth in overall points - with still-winless Kyle Busch third.

Toyota appears now to be gathering some overall momentum, as they cleaned house at New Hampshire - Toyotas led 290 laps to Chevrolet leading eleven and zero for Fords.    It was a striking shutout for Ford, leading with eight wins to Chevrolet's seven; Toyota's four to date merely showcases the brand's sluggish overall start.   Illustrating Ford's curious struggle was the mediocre day for Penske Racing between Brad Keselowski's less-than-inspiring effort and trouble for Joey Logano that cost him a garage trip. 

(A report worth keeping an eye on is that a suspension part from Logano was confiscated while he was in the garage during the race)

SMI's use of VHT resin - Next Generation Bear Grease as I call it - continues to win over people, as New Hampshire showed the usual exciting Modified racing as well as Saturday's eye-popping Overtons 200; for the Overtons 301 some of the racing was spirited, following the halfway point the battle for the lead began to get going and at one point the lead changed twice in one lap between Hamlin and Truex.   Clearly SMI has hit on a genuinely good idea for the racing.

The bitter upshot to the loss of New Hampshire's September Cup weekend after this season is that race secured ISM Connect sponsorship, and the prominence of the company's presence around the track makes nonsense of the idea that the track had to lose a Cup date so Vegas could get a second one.

Speaking of upshots, one couldn't help but detect schadenfreude in the air when Kyle Busch got a pit penalty before the Ryan Newman spin.   JGR's surprising shutout from victories is now over, the story will now focus on whether Kyle Busch can win one.  

So it goes as NASCAR hits the Bricks next week, and Xfinity's race will bear extra attention.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

The Fraud Of "Dadaist Science"

The "data" that supports climate change is a fraud

Earlier this month Stephen Hawking declared: “We are close to the tipping point where global warming becomes irreversible. Trump’s action [withdrawing from the Paris climate accord] could push the Earth over the brink, to become like Venus, with a temperature of two hundred and fifty degrees [Celsius], and raining sulphuric acid.”
Let’s unpack this a bit, using actual science. The proportion of carbon dioxide in the earth’s atmosphere is currently about 400 parts per million (ppm). The Cambrian explosion—when most animal lineages first appeared—occurred a little more than 500 million years ago when, according to all estimates, carbon dioxide levels were several times higher than today. The atmosphere of Venus is 965,000 ppm carbon dioxide, enveloped in clouds of sulfuric acid. And Venus itself is almost 26 million miles closer to the sun than Earth.

Social Security's Coming Bankrupcy

Realistically of course Social Security like all ponzi schemes is already bankrupt, but the evidence of coming insolvency keeps getting bigger.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

The Redressing Of The Self-Esteem Movement

Social Emotional Learning is just the discredited self-esteem movement redressed, and like before will have no real scientific foundation.

NASCAR Entering New Hampshire

NASCAR enters New Hampshire Motor Speedway following Kentucky's weekend - and it's a bittersweet beginning to Loudon's Cup series with the September weekend going to Las Vegas in 2018.   Some thoughts on NASCAR entering New Hampshire...........

Brad Keselowski came out against the design of the modern Winston Cup car after this crash at Kentucky. "You have to put yourself in bad situations," Keselowski noted.   NASCAR's Steve O'Donnell responded that "Keselowski had influence on this rules package."

Of course by now it's anything but a recent issue, and the back and forth between Keselowski and O'Donnell illustrates the sport-wide myopia (and hypocrisy) that has seemingly forever permeated the raceability of the cars.   O'Donnell noted a redesign of the car is years away, which may be true yet also illustrates how racing keeps putting off actually confronting its problems in a proper way.   The reality is racing seemingly hasn't gotten it - the Winston Cup car should never have been a top-heavy sedan body with low downforce.   Low downforce has never worked.   The Cup car needs to be a long-snout lean raked roofline aerocoupe body with a conventional airdam (a change all but confirmed by O'Donnell in recent media), squared off bumpers to allow push-drafting, a larger rear spoiler made of clear-vu so drivers can see through the lead car's windshield, and now drag ducts as will debut with the Xfinity cars at Indianapolis in a few weeks to blast open air and channel out a drafting effect.   The side skirts and sharkfin have become controversial in recent years as well and would seem to have worn out their welcome as well.

But the issue has always gone beyond just aerodynamics.   The myth is always pushed for more horsepower, yet nowhere has any example come up where adding horsepower increased passing in any way; it would seem the opposite is needed - a major restriction in horsepower (with Xfinity at Indianapolis again about to showcase this come late-July 2017), while the issue of the tire has gone un-analyzed.   It should be painfully clear after some twenty-eight seasons that radial tires simply are not good for racing - too unforgiving to drivers, far too difficult to set up for; as observer Randy Cadenhead has noted, NASCAR nowadays sees seemingly endless redesign of tracks and application of substances (reminiscent of the 1970s-80s era of "bear grease" sealant, which filled in asphalt cracks; drivers long claimed it made the tracks slicker, yet it also seemed to make them more pass-happy) for low-line grip, all in effort to increase passing.

Whether a car redesign is indeed years out - and there's no particular reason to doubt that - one hopes NASCAR does figure out with an eventual redesign that the "old" school of  downforce long lean aerocoupes works better than the top-heavy low-downforce sedan concept.


Darrell Wallace has yet to win outside of the Truck Series - here are his wins there to date

One of the wildest moments of Kentucky was the last-lap crash when Darrell Wallace Jr. in Richard Petty's #43 swerved into Matt Kenseth.   The Winston Cup rookie may have driven his last race for Petty's team with Aric Almirola surprisingly recovered much faster than a lot of people expected.

Bubba, as is his nickname, showed something in Petty's #43, and the rumor has circulated the last month or two that Petty will pull off some kind of merger deal where he will be able to field a #44 again - a big IF, of course, given the still-shaky economics of the sport, especially with Barney Visser after his big win with Truex at Kentucky admitting he may not be able to field the #77 of Erik Jones next year - Jones is slated to replace Matt Kenseth in JGR's #20; Kenseth's 2018 fate is as yet unknown.   Should it happen, Wallace seems likely to pair up with Almirola; it's certainly clear in his four races with Petty that Wallace can race, and even has a nasty streak.


O'Donnell has also stated NASCAR is "aggressively pursuing" at least one other manufacturer - with the rumored return of Dodge high on the presumptive list.   One, though, shouldn't be enough, for motorsports power Honda would seem a natural NASCAR fit along with Dodge; adding two would certainly help with some of the sport's economic problems, though getting control of overspending remains the top priority as far as the sport's economics goes.  

Should two more manufacturers come to NASCAR, they need to make all the teams they back work together, as Pontiacs began doing in 1994, as RCR, DEI, and Andy Petree's teams did in the late 1990s, and as Dodge's Truck teams did 1996-2000 under Lou Patane.   Heavy inter-team cooperation has long proven competitively beneficial. 

And speaking of aggressively pursuing more manufacturers, one recalls the rather prominent Firestone signage in Pocono's Tunnel Turn back in June - a case of passive-aggressive pursuit?

It all leaves the mind engaged as New Hampshire beckons.

Thursday, July 06, 2017

NASCAR Stories Entering Kentucky

Kentucky's Winston Cup weekend is beckoning and NASCAR is seeing some interesting issues coming in.

The feud between Chase Elliott and Michael McDowell may have begun in this Kansas incident.

Michael McDowell and Chase Elliott crashed in the Firecracker 400 and it has led to a nasty exchange where McDowell has hit back after criticism from Elliott. The verbal retaliation is a little surprising, but the exchange is revelatory, for it is illustrating a growing sense about Elliott.   In his still-short Winston Cup career the quality of his racecars - top-of-the-line Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolets, the Hendrick team long ago designated as the favorite by Chevrolet (to the continuing detriment of the rest of Chevy's fleet) - is indisputable, and in marked contrast to what McDowell is allowed to work with.   Elliott's talent is also showing, but as his career is progressing what is becoming more evident is there is something wrong with Elliott's racing - he's gotten more and more yet is doing less and less with it.  The incidence of trouble he gets into is rather striking, though not necessarily reflected in DNF stats, and his performances are noticeably erratic - he has led laps in just four of the first seventeen races and crashes are fresher in the mind with him than with others; his 22nd at Daytona ended a string of four straight finishes of eighth (twice), fifth, and second, and the 22nd is the seventh finish so far outside of the top-10.

The contrast with Kyle Larson is particularly revelatory - Larson didn't win until his third season in Winston Cup and his baptism of fire was also inconsistent, but less so in terms of car control than seems to be the case with Elliott - in 2017 Larson has led in eleven races with two wins and his 721 laps led to Elliott's 173 is a glaring contrast given Larson's Ganassi-SABCO team is a Hendrick customer outfit, not a team that builds its own engines.

As the linked piece notes, McDowell's response is the first time Elliott has been called to account.


The most bizarre story of late is the lawsuit against former driver Greg Biffle for illegal hidden cameras trained on his former wife and also mother-in-law, the kind of tawdry behavior that NASCAR fans used to boast never happened in their sport.   Yet it's hardly a surprise anymore that NASCAR guys who always looked too good to be true in fact weren't true - the odd circumstances behind Biffle's lack of participation in the sport this season suddenly seem to make some sense - i.e. was he trying to get out while he could.

Biffle never came across as much of a sympathetic figure - his interviews always carried a surly quality and a sense of insincerity; one found it difficult to take him seriously, especially with his periodic sanctimonious lectures, particularly after he'd crashed out of a race, because he always conveyed he wanted to insult your intelligence rather than be honest about something.


Kyle Larson caused a bit of a spat when he noted he got more money in souvenir sales at sprint car dirt tracks than in Winston Cup. Nate Ryan, becoming the next great NASCAR journalist, authors a compelling and lengthy examination of this. It's a reflection of how much NASCAR's driver star draw has dropped from ten years ago even though they still outdo dirt trackers due to TV money, and also raises questions about NASCAR's recent ten-year deal with the Fanatics company for souvenir sales, a centralized model that's begun backfiring and now is seeing individual trailers beginning to return.  It's also a result of the growing insularity of NASCAR's drivers from outside interaction - a net negative no matter how it is spun.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali "To Change People's Minds"

Ayaan Hirsi Ali discusses changing people's minds about Islamic imperialism in an interview in Stanford Magazine

Sunday, July 02, 2017

Hot As A Firecracker At Daytona

The first half of NASCAR's debut season with Monster Energy sponsorship saw surprises galore and the second half kicks off in basically the same fashion.   For Daytona International Speedway competitive rejuvenation could not be limited to February.

Things got off to a messy start, though, as rain stopped the Firecracker 250 for the Xfinity Series after just eight laps on Friday night - leading to the bizarre spectacle of racing being interrupted by the speedway's odd decision to schedule an ultimate fighting card in the infield; intended to follow the conclusion of the 250, the fight card wound up finishing up the night while the racing resumed the next afternoon.

The wait was worth it as newcomers swerved Joey Logano out of the lead and William Byron fought off Ryan Reid, while a lot of others got the worst of it at the end.   Seeing Byron taking down the Cup guys in the Xfinity Series was a huge shot for the series, a series struggling with lack of TV money the same way the Trucks (and other NASCAR touring series) have been struggling.

NASCAR, though, still needs to work on deciding the outcome when the leaders have room to race to the flag - with writer Jeff Gluck expanding on this.

It was impossible not to feel a sense of cynicism when Dale Earnhardt Jr. - in his last Winston Cup run at Daytona - conveniently won the pole, and that isn't fair to Junior, who is not his dad and has never had the negative qualities that made his dad controversial (a fact swept under the rug for the last decade-plus by fans and media); Dale Junior is his own man and as such has carried himself with a level of professionalism that is refreshing and necessary for a sport that bizarrely obsesses itself with an ostensible lack of personality.    His Daytona effort ended with Kevin Harvick's blown tire.

Joey Logano's version of the 24 Hours of Daytona ended the same way in the 400 as it did in the 250 - in a wreck, this one with Kyle Busch, who nonetheless stayed on the lead lap to the end.   Combined with Martin Truex's involvement, and it illustrates there is a problem of lack of competitive depth for the Toyota squadron.   The Toyotas have been well behind in overall results of the three marques and with just two teams - JGR and Barney Visser's two cars - the Toyotas are suffering compared to Chevy and Ford.

Not that the Toyotas lacked power, as shown in terrific combat for the lead for Stage Two bonus points.    If Toyota had two more organizations in their fleet their depth would unquestionably benefit the entirety of the fleet.

The resurgence of Ford showed in Speedweeks and it showed again in a fittingly thrilling finish to a highly competitive race, and Ricky Stenhouse offered a sense of validation for his spectacular Winston 500 win, while David Ragan offered some validation for himself and his team.   The most brilliant drive, though, may have been Darrell Wallace Jr. - a pitiful qualifying effort turned into a solid draft to the front and suddenly Richard Petty's #43 was in the hunt, and even battling Ryan Blaney's #21 in a NASCAR Time Tunnel moment.

Kyle Larson's swerve to chop off Stenhouse can be best described as ill-advised and the result was a late red flag.   Darrell Wallace Jr. was one of the cars involved after he pitted under a previous yellow.   To rally to finish fifteenth under the circumstances isn't something to be ashamed of; it certainly showed Wallace can race - big time - and it also leaves Petty's organization with a dilemma once Aric Almirola returns - one that a rumored merger with an existing team can solve.

Also earning respect were Chris Buescher and Corey LaJoie, quietly racing to the top-11.   But the biggest validation may have been Michael McDowell, whose wildcard victory bid fell just short - an illustration of the competitive depth the sport has needed and needs to sustain.  


Some of the big picture takeaways -

Ford is the strongest brand in the series with the most depth.   Chevrolet got stronger than expected results from RCR while Hendrick is clearly no longer the juggernaut - and one has to start wondering whether Chase Elliott is improving because we're not seeing it right now - he runs good, but contention for the actual win is conspicuously missing of late.

RCR isn't the only struggling former juggernaut that has shown rebound - Stenhouse's win continues the resurgence of Roush Racing.   Now they and the other Fords have to beat the Penskes on the non-plate tracks.  

Stewart-Haas Racing appears to have slipped; while still stout SHR's fleet hasn't been the juggernaut some thought they'd be - and more and more the scuttlebutt is there will be a driver change at the expense of the inept Danica Patrick.

The next restrictor plate race won't be Talladega in October - the Xfinity Series debuts the restrictor plate and drag ducts at Indianapolis in three weeks, and suddenly an expected Kyle Busch runaway for an Xfinity Series race isn't a sure thing between the stronger drafting effect shown in testing and also the rise of William Byron into star status.  

The sport's rejuvenation in the competition is needed and welcome, but also needed is a culture change away from the circle the wagons mindset that has long plagued the sport. The recent controversy over the Truck Series created by Kevin Harvick and several others is a step in the right direction, but some dissenting analysis always remains a necessity.

So it goes with fireworks unable to match the spectacle of the Firecracker 400.