Sunday, August 06, 2017

Truex's NASCAR And Being Along For The Ride

Martin Truex's Watkins Glen runaway despite a late fuel mileage scare has established that 2017 has become Truex's NASCAR and right now everyone else is along for the ride.   Kyle Busch may win the poles and lead laps but it's Truex who figures out how to win.   Busch does nothing but figure out how to blow it, while everyone else is pretty much racing for something other than the win.

The race itself was unremarkable, this after a rather mayhemic preliminary period.

There were several off-track stories coming in, as has become custom for NASCAR.   With Watkins Glen as a road race, Nick Idgalsky of Pocono suggested his track may run its second race on its infield road course, this with Charlotte wanting to run its 2018 National 500 on its infield road course.  

Nothing at Watkins Glen could compete for quality racing with what Pocono produces on its superoval

The idea of running on any road course beyond Sears Point and Watkins Glen of course stems from fan anger at lack of passing on the bigger ovals - but more importantly it stems from lack of understanding, or refusal to understand, why.    By glomming onto road courses, critics of the bigger ovals keep kidding themselves - they're not better than superspeedways and are not the answer - the answer was found in the Xfinity 250 at Indianapolis, which showed what the real issue is regarding passing and lack thereof on the bigger ovals.  

Another issue is the economics of the sport, and the story that Kurt Busch's contract option won't be picked up by SHR has created some confusion, as SHR states he will return to their team in 2018, but the story that Ford was caught off guard by the move has done nothing but feed speculation that SHR in fact will retract by perhaps two teams - the disbanding of Danica Patrick's team or at least her release seems a fait accompli even with several strikingly productive runs in recent races - alas Watkins Glen was reversion to form.  

That SHR might - note the emphasis - retract, this after Ganassi-SABCO will lose Target Stores sponsorship, this atop when Barney Visser suggested he may have to cut back to one car, comes after Andrew Murstein of Richard Petty Motorsports (a disappointing 21st at Watkins Glen after the first lap wreck at Pocono and the encouraging run to 13th at the end at Indianapolis) has now called for a spending cap in NASCAR.   That NASCAR's spendaholism is a fundamental problem has of course been known for decades, and that a team owner hasn't previously stated the need for a cap in spending is surprising given the wholesale loss of teams and the retraction or forced merger of such teams as Petty, Roush, DEI, Ganassi, etc.  

We've heard the dismissal of the idea, that teams will ostensibly cheat around it, yet when critics cite examples of how to cheat around a cap they just give away how enforceable a NASCAR spending cap actually is, and when critics lapse into the "if you aren't cheating you're not trying" cliché they give away their lack of understanding - cheating is self-defeating in sports (see the million-dollar fines to the Broncos and 49ers for cheating the NFL's salary cap), and life in general - it denies the cheater the legitimate improvement in performance needed, and in NASCAR benefit from cheating is never long-term; teams always do fundamentally better when they stick with the rulebook and work within it.

And the critics simply don't get it - the owners can no longer afford not to limit their spending.   The owners have no incentive to cheat a spending cap; the incentive is entirely on making it work, and thus stabilizing the sport's economics so it benefits them.   The fact the Race Team Alliance even exists has shown that team owners have an understanding that they're in this together with NASCAR.  

So the idea that teams will cheat a spending cap is ignorant - they can't afford to, they have to make it work else they too will be bankrupted by fratricidal economics.   The fact the idea of a salary cap, once controversial, is now accepted MO in sports (via a hard NFL-style cap or the "soft" cap of MLB's luxury tax - a sign this works is the refusal of the Boston Red Sox, the league's best revenued team outside of the Yankees, to spend over the tax because they're losing money in the long run by being hit with the tax) should tell NASCAR that the concept works, and is enforceable.

Another issue is NASCAR's new limits on Cup driver participation in the Xfinity and Truck Series - Kyle Busch's petulant threat to shut down his Truck team if he doesn't get his way shows how childish he is and also shows he needs to get it that he is supposed to help the sport, and he can be the face of his team solely by being its owner.   The fact only fifteen drivers a year can run the full Xfinity schedule and has been the case for over fifteen seasons shows most graphically how much Cup drivers have bled the series dry. 

The curious caveat that has gone overlooked, though, is the Lillys 250 at Indianapolis - the restrictor plate-drag duct package used there so equalized the field that Kyle Busch and the other Cup regulars had their hands full fighting for the lead with Xfinity regulars, much as Ryan Newman so often struggles when he runs Modified Tour races at New Hampshire.   The theme cited in defense of Cup participation in lower levels is that the drivers there get valuable experience racing against the Cup guys; this though has not been in evidence in almost every Xfinity companion race to Cup races; that Indianapolis proved an exception shows two things - it is an exception proving the rule, and also that the Xfinity regulars can race with the Cup guys on a playing field that's actually level.   The level of the competition field becomes the true issue.  

So it went at Watkins Glen, and now the Yankee 400 weekend beckons for Cup and the Trucks.

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