Five thoughts after this weekend’s races in Indianapolis and Hungary…
1. The old man shouts on the cloud
I try not to be cranky about the quality of NASCAR racing at times, because it comes off as that disgruntled Clint Eastwood meme from “Gran Torino.”
There is no respect there these days! Get off my garden!
But… geez. Be realistic, folks. The repeated Turn 1 mayhem we saw Sunday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway may have ticked the entertainment box (Wild! Wacky! Crazy!), but it gets an F in terms of good racing.
On perhaps the world’s largest and most famous racetrack, the Cup Series drivers made crazy strides right at the end of the track and piled into each other to see who the lucky survivors would be. Others were simply sent spinning or flying off course. It’s never good when talented elite race car drivers end up looking clowns – and that’s what happened on Sunday.
There must be a higher level. Greg Ives, crew chief Alex Bowman, told SiriusXM radio on Monday morning that the kind of driving seen on Sunday was “not good for racing and not good for professionalism”.
“I’ve seen my 7-year-old race better,” Ives said. “When we go to these go-kart tracks and they touch someone, they are punished for contact that can be avoided.”
Not so in NASCAR, obviously.
A large part of the reason, Ives said, is that there is no downside to hitting someone with the next generation car. The bodies are more durable and the nose is so that the driver can shovel snow in the car in front of them without consequences (although Ives suggested that “bruises in the nose or a black eye” might do the trick).
Ryan Blaney, who came off the start of the final race, expressed similar frustration after the race.
“That’s all people do on the end of this stuff, just dive in there and smash you,” Blaney said. “I don’t know who pushed who, and I don’t care. … It’s just a matter of getting through the reboot, but that question seems hard to ask. People just run over each other.”
Clearly NASCAR does not want to step in and start issuing sanctions. For one thing, NASCAR has embraced this style of racing and loves the highlights, drama, and controversy it generates. Second, who would the officials have punished until Sunday when half of the field is apparently guilty of using other drivers to turn?
You don’t have to stick to the pearls here, but it’s a problem when you’re racing the higher level series like this because it flows into all levels of the racing ladder – from Xfinity to Legend cars. If hero NASCAR drivers are racing like this, why can’t I?
Call me angry if you want, but the disrespect shown on Sunday must be cleaned up. Honestly, it was embarrassing.
2. A maximum of one million
So much for this. Despite Ferrari’s frequent blunders and the overall strength of Max Verstappen this year, I would have liked him to have a close title fight in Formula 1.
Welp, that won’t happen. Any chance for Charles Leclerc to somehow catch up to Verstappen was doomed on Sunday when Ferrari was I got rid after else a race (How in the world is that possible?) Verstappen moved from 10th to first to score another victory before the summer break.
My faint optimism was previously based on two factors. First, Ferrari couldn’t make the wrong moves who – which Often times he had to turn things around; Second, gaining some momentum before the month-long rest period may be enough to bolster a real fight when the season resumes.
But nope. That hope seems incredibly foolish now, because the only momentum was with the other teams: Verstappen and Red Bull jumped off the rope to crush any dwindling chance for Ferrari to salvage this season’s mayhem and Mercedes abruptly withdrew into the constructors’ championship range.
It’s totally baffling, and I can’t understand how Ferrari is recovering from this anytime soon. In what should have been considered a turnaround season, Ferrari Butt jokes around the world. In my 19 years of covering motorsports, I can’t remember another instance when a team at such a constant speed fired itself consistently in the foot.
This is not just one or two chance for Ferrari to win a race and spoil something. This is frequently as the team appears to have faster cars than the competition and yet discovers new ways to lose with them. It’s been a bit of a Keystone Kops comic for a while, but now it’s sad.
So with that story out the window and Verstappen heading into his second straight championship, what’s the focus when the F1 season resumes at the end of this month? One big angle will be Mercedes’ improvement and whether Lewis Hamilton can win a race before the end of the year. After all, Mercedes made enough gains that it suddenly became realistic again.
“It’s a great way to get into the break, knowing we’ll clearly close the gap and get more performance,” said Hamilton. “I hope we can bring more in the second part of the season and start fighting with the players up front.”
3. Special Short Track
Friday night’s Truck Series race at Indianapolis Raceway Park was refreshing and aggravating at the same time.
Seeing the energy from the crowd and the NASCAR industry surrounding a return to the IRP was fantastic, and the race was everything you could wish for from a short-track race.
Ross Kenseth tweeted that racing became fun due to three factors the IRP exhibited: multiple grooves, falling tires and throttle control. In other words, the drivers had room to race and had to manage their gear at the same time.
It definitely felt like a nostalgic race in that sense, like the kind of thing you see in the early 2000s.
“What a great race! It felt (like) an old school short track race. 10/10, wrote driver Garrett Smithley on Twitter, one of many in the NASCAR world to express enthusiasm for that night.
On the other hand, it was also a crazy reminder of bad decisions from the past. If IRP was a great NASCAR path – and it is – why was it 11 years Since NASCAR brought one of its national series there?
I wrote this in 2011 After announcing the decision to leave the IRP: “This seems to be just one of those decisions that are more about money and less about the best interests of the masses. Otherwise, why take a successful grassroots race with tradition and take it to a place where you know it wouldn’t be exciting?”
That’s still a valid question today, because NASCAR hasn’t been able to get enough of its races on short tracks for whatever reason. Officials often talk about wanting to do so, such as adding a potential race at the Nashville fairgrounds. North Wilkesboro may really be revived.
But NASCAR also ruled out one of Bristol’s paved races in favor of dirt and stood by as the new SRX Series spotlighted tracks like Stafford, South Boston, and Pensacola — with a national TV audience and packed stands.
With the upcoming street race in Chicago next year and a successful Clash race inside the football field, nothing is impossible in NASCAR anymore. Clearly, the daring Punishment Corps was willing to try anything.
That’s why the increased focus on short tracks should be at the top of the list. These tracks already exist and have a history. Yes, it’s small and doesn’t have the modern amenities that most trophy trails offer – but so what? The race will outweigh those concerns, just as it did at the IRP on Friday.
The More Short Tracks movement shouldn’t die just because the next generation got off to a slow start on the smaller tracks. These episodes are the heart and soul of NASCAR racing and need to have a significant impact on the schedules at all three National Series.
4. Playoff puzzle
Saturday night, I went to bed thinking: “Dang, I can’t wait Let’s see what happens at the NASCAR race tomorrow. “
Was it because of a road race? No, there are a lot of those now.
Was it because the race was in Indianapolis? No, I prefer the prestige of running the oval.
Was it because of the interval photo? Bingo!
The way this season has shaped, with so many different winners compared to the number of playoff places available, has created one of the most exciting summers in NASCAR’s memory. My brain used to mark July and August as kind of bleak, let’s get through this part of the season. The schedule increase helped, but the playoff scenarios were the biggest boost ever.
As it turns out, Sunday’s race didn’t see a new winner. But that’s fine, because it still moves the story forward with four races remaining in the regular season. Will there be two more new winners to fill all 16 qualifying spots with race winners? It still can, and even one other winner from outside the current playoff picture will break a huge name (either Blaney or Martin Truex Jr.).
Can Kevin Harvick win Michigan and jump himself to the playoffs? He’s done it five times before. Can Michael McDowell win the Watkins Glen? It is certainly possible. Can Eric Jones or Bubba Wallace snatch a playoff berth at Daytona? You know her.
The next generation car brought a level of freshness and parity we may never see again. Who says this pattern will continue in the coming seasons as teams deal better with their setups? You might go back to the strong organizations and drivers who clinch the most wins again instead of spreading things out.
So in the meantime, I’m going to enjoy that feeling of anticipating next week for as long as possible. A lot of seasons seem to go on forever in a predictable way, but this one has found a way to stay unique even as August arrives.
5. Take your weekend crossover to the next level
While it’s certainly great that IndyCar and NASCAR will have the same track on the same weekend, there’s only so much to say about drivers from one series interested in the other.
Aside from TV clips and social media posts along the lines, “Check out this driver looking for another kind of car!” There doesn’t seem to be much to explore with the cross weekend.
What could make some noise? NASCAR and IndyCar work together to get a motorist into an open race and vice versa.
While it would be difficult to do on a good trip and thus probably not have a huge impact on the race itself (just look at former F1 driver Daniil Kvyat, who debuted a Cup in backmarker gear this weekend and wasn’t a -factor) It also serves to emphasize the difficulty level of each series while adding a curiosity factor for fans who would normally watch just one of the races.
Drivers like Kyle Larson, Tyler Riddick, and Kyle Busch all have Indy 500 aspirations. Maybe they can get a chance on the road to get a feel for an IndyCar. And plenty of IndyCar drivers will take the opportunity to try out NASCAR for the weekend, including Conor Daly and Scott McLaughlin – whose Supercars backgrounds are closer to NASCAR cars than they drive now.
The growth of all motorsports is the goal of this cross weekend, but there are certainly fans of each series who remain stubborn about giving the other a chance – whether it’s out of preconceived notions or a sense of superiority.
Perhaps the philosophies of the different series are so different now that they have created silos of fans who will never be able to pull themselves into another style. But let’s hope there is still a chance for the term “racing enthusiast” to mean someone who loves all forms of motorsport.
(Top photo: Mike Denovo/USA Today)