My Year in NASCAR – Part 3

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Screen Shot 2013-03-11 at 9.30.37 AMLast Sunday, Denny Hamlin said something mildly critical of NASCAR that NASCAR wished he hadn’t—that the new Gen 6 cars hadn’t made for very interesting racing so far, too much single file racing and not enough passing. Nobody really noticed what Hamlin said but two days later NASCAR fined him $25,000 for “actions detrimental to stock car racing,” reviving the dead story, stoking it into a bigger story and spreading it to a much wider audience.

NASCAR managed to, in its punishing of “actions detrimental to stock car racing,” draw additional negative attention to the sport and in doing so commit identical “actions detrimental to stock car racing” as Hamlin had, except on a larger scale. This would have appeared to make NASCAR stupid, but I’m working under the assumption that NASCAR is not stupid. So the real reason they didn’t like Hamlin’s critical public statement probably had less to do with it being “detrimental to stock car racing” and more to do with them being pissed off that someone they view as a subordinate had the gall to question them on something so fundamental to their business—the car, media coverage and public opinion be damned. For his part, Hamlin has refused to pay the fine, making it even more of a story.

So NASCAR needed a big weekend in Las Vegas at the Kobalt Tools 400. The Gen 6 cars needed to do lots of passing and double- and triple-wide racing. And that’s what they did. Officially, there were over 1,000 passes and 131 lead changes under the green flag. Drivers went side by side, side by side by side, and, for a moment, side by side by side by side. On the first intermediate length track of the season, the cooler heads counseling patience with the Gen 6 were, at least for the time being, vindicated. Somewhere Bill France pumped a fist and said “Suck it, Hamlin,” at least with his eyes (I did not intend to conjure up the image of a NASCAR executive using his eyes to tell a man to “suck it” but, alas, that’s what happened).

Kobalt-Tools-400-800x610Birthday Boy Matt Kenseth, now 41, managed to hold off Kasey Kahne in the final stretch of the closest thing to heart-pounding drama there’s been this year. Kenseth spent most of the final twenty five laps yelling at his spotter (to implore him to provide more frequent reminders of how many laps were left and to demand that the lapped cars ahead of him to move to the bottom of the track) as he fought franticly to stay in front of the much faster car of Kasey Kahne. Kenseth shrieked as he crossed the finish line for his first win for his new team Joe Gibbs Racing, and then he shrieked a little more after that. The man was really excited. He was also kind enough to remind us during the post-race interview that his sponsor, Dollar General, would be having a 20% off sale on Monday.

Danica Patrick was not a factor in the race. She went down a few laps early and was never mentioned again, except when Darrel Waltrip was critical of her ability to effectively identify and articulate the issues arising with her car to her crew chief. I have no choice but to take him at his word.

Danica did make news on Friday, though, when she was asked in a news conference how she was feeling after her wreck in Phoenix. She said she was doing okay, but that she got HIT IN THE HEAD WITH A ROCK [caps-lock mine] at a dirt track, it knocked her to the ground, and she thinks it might have given her a concussion. Yes, I’d like to hear more about this.

ZERO follow-up questions were asked. Zero. Just when you think you’re starting to figure out NASCAR, this happens. Am I to understand that in racing circles, folks are knocked to the ground by rocks to the head often enough that the size and means of projection of the rock is of no interest to anyone? Scores of “Danica Patrick hit in head by rock” news stories were published with none of them giving any more detail than the bare-bones I’ve laid out here. Dozens of major news organizations made the decision that the story was important enough to run as a stand alone piece but not important enough to do any reporting work on whatsoever. How big was the rock? How did it knock her over without seeming to injure her? Did the force of it knock her over or was she more startled to the ground? Was the rock flung off the dirt track? These questions will never be answered, and, as far as I can tell, I’m the only one in the world who cares.

Additional race notes:

According to a special trackside report: Mark Martin “pumps iron daily and listens to rap music.” The reporter said this as awkwardly as can be imagined.

Hometown boy Kyle Busch was booed almost as loudly as Dale Junior was cheered. People just do not like him.

At one point Clint Bowyer’s car was so loose, he thought he had flat tire. It’s a weird sentence because it has several key elements of an insult joke, but there was no way around it. Bowyer went to pit road for a new tire and was, I hope, embarrassed to find that he did not have a flat tire.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. did the bungee jump thing off the Stratosphere during some of his free time this week.

Greg Biffle was penalized for “an uncontrollable tire.” Darrel Waltrip did not explain what this means.

Michael Waltrip, Darrel Waltrip’s friendly brother, wore a smart tan suit, a purple shirt and a pink tie for the telecast, and looked, in my opinion, very sharp.

Next week is Bristol. Tennesse, not Connecticut. But you knew that.


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