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.

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