Monday, August 11, 2008

WATKINS GLEN: Aftermath



#18 M&M Ride Wins
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Q--What does a peanut M&M have in common with Kyle Busch's helmet???
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A--Both have a hard shell covering a real nut.


The trips to Sears Point and Watkins Glen are always an interesting diversion during the long Sprint Cup season. Some fans argue, "This ain't NASCAR racin'" and would eliminate these events. Many fans would cherish more NASCAR on the road. For live racing, these tracks aren't the best place to watch a race especially at Watkins Glen that doesn't have the advantage of elevation at Infineon Motor Speedway. Fans can only see a small segment of the race and if not near the start/finish line, it's pretty confusing. Still, many fans believe there should be a road race during the chase. There are some fine road courses that could house a Cup event.


This year's venture to Watkins Glen started off like gang busters as the big three from the Hendricks garage did everything they could do to contain Joe Gibbs' brat. Likewise, Tony Stewart was coming on like this race could finally make him the boss with the hot sauce at a track he has dominated in recent years. Early on, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jimmy Johnson went roaring past the M&M's bag with Jeff Gordon making that Dupont logo look huge in the 18 car's rear view mirror.


What could have been Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s day, perhaps his first win at a road course went down the drain as some of his other failures this year have. Pit stops never benefited #88 all day, but late in the race where one additional pit stop would be required, a yellow flag stop would have burried Earnhardt deep in the field. ESPN's cameras showed crew chief, Tony Eury Jr. calling Dale Jr. to pit. He did not heed the call, the yellow flag fell, and Junior was buried deep in the field, finishing in 22nd position dropping him from 2nd in the points standing to 4th. While Dale Earnhardt Jr. is almost guaranteed a spot in the chase, championship hopes don't look as sharp when a contender stumbles into the chase.


Aside for #88 fans' hurt feelings, there was a much bigger disaster on the Upstate New York track. Drivers David Gilliland (#28) and Michael McDowell (#00) engaged in vicious automotive rough-housing leading to circumstances that got out of hand when the #00 rear ended the #28 causing on of the most vicious multi-car smash ups ever seen outside of Talladega or Daytona "big ones." The heavy, stable new cars were flying about like Frisbees as some actually leaped in the air. This lap 83 crash lead to a lengthy red flag to collect debris and repair barriers. Veteran good guy, Bobby Labonte riding in the King's #43, was rushed to a near by hospital for attention. While this accident ended the day for the drivers mentioned plus Dave Blaney, Sam Hornish Jr., Joe Nemechek, Ryan Newman, Max Papis, Reed Sorenson, and Michael Waltrip, ten cars in all. McDowell and Gilliland were summoned to the "Oval Office" for a frank exchange of views on road racing technique, when to engage the accelerator and brake pedals, and surely some anger management theory.


The Tasmanian devil appeared in a NASCAR sanctioned fire suit driving the #21 Wood Brothers Ford as Marcose Ambrose, the South Pacific sensation stated in the back of the field to finish a convincing third with only Tony Stewart (2nd) and Kyle Busch ahead of him.


Aside from the drivers collected in the wreck and possibly Little E's misfortune, the biggest loser of the day had to be Ryan Newman who faced numerous late race issues including a car that had trouble staying fired up even having to be pushed to the pits by teammate Sam Hornish. Clint Bowyer dropped a spot putting him one place beneath a chase seeding, 22 points below Kenseth. David Ragan remained in 14th but lost by increasing his points deficit, 89 points out of the Chase.


While Baby Busch and and Ambrose were the big winners of the day, Carl Edwards can celebrate ascending into 2nd place in the standings and Jimmie Johnson moves up to 3rd as a result of Junior's jinx. Tony Stewart gained two places in the standings up to #7 only ten points behind Jeff Gordon who had a miserable day but held his 5th spot.


Now it's on to Michigan, with Bristol and California ahead before the Chase shakedown at Richmond. How ironic, the guys race on two almost identical tracks, California's design copying Michigan two tracks based largely on fuel economy and pit strategy, but sandwiched in between is the ultimate change of scenery, short track madness at its best, the annual Saturday Night Slugfest in Thunder valley.


Has the picture of who gets in the chase gotten any clearer than it was last Monday?


CREW CHIEFS: Make sure your boys INFLATE YOUR TIRES!!
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2 comments:

Buddy said...

Watkins Glen

Dear RMF, I have some thoughts regarding Watkins Glen. My feelings are based on attending a NASCAR weekend event at that facility in 2001. We bought general admission tickets for the entire weekend. Having general admission tickets allowed up to take in racing from many different vantage points during the weekend. On Friday, we hung out in the grandstands in turn one watching the Grand-Am cars accelerate up through the S’s. On Saturday, we walked the entire facility during the Busch North race determining where we might want to hang out on Sunday. Sunday, bright and early, we staked our claim on a spot in turn 11 where we could see the cars come out of corners 9 & 10, brake going into 11 and then motor down the front stretch headed to turn 1.

Quite frankly, it was the best NASCAR weekend I have experienced. I saw three great races in a very beautiful part of the country. The only thing that even comes remotely close to it was my first Busch race at Dover in the Fall of 1997.

The facility has been upgraded considerably in the past 7 years. I’m sure the fan experience has been has become even better. While I won’t address whether or not NASCAR should have more or less road course races in detail, my concern with that event is that apparently, it is drawing less than 60,000 fans on Sunday. If this is indeed the case, I would have a tough time lobbying to keep a race there when a Cup race held at Kentucky or Las Vegas could draw so many more fans.

It would be a shame if Watkins Glen lost its Cup race. Great track, great racing, great location, great history. However, if the support isn’t there, resources would be better of invested elsewhere.

Right Minded Fellow said...

RMF will take your word over what the mass-media has to say. ESPN, I think it was ESPN, dig a segment on the worst tracks in NASCAR. citing the inability to see the whole race and lacking some of the fan perks of other tracks, Watkins Glen was ranked the worst with Pocono a close second.

Let's see, if you got the spiffy promo seats media members would generally get, nice seats somewhere near the start-finish line, if you remain in the same seat all day, I could see the rationale for their decision. For lots of us who can't afford the spiffy seats or just have a different "feel" for the event, I could surely see where you're coming from.

I've been to Pocono. It was awful. We were about one third of the way from the start/finish line to the tunnel turnwhich would seem to be primo seats. Even though half way up the grandstands, we could only see a little of what was going on in the very inside lanes with our field of vision starting near the s/f line. Way off in the distance, we could see some side-by-side racing way off in the distance between turn two and three, the third slope of the triangle. From turn one to two, we could only get small glimpses of the cars' rear ends driving away from us -- nothing too racy. Much of the field of vision up front was obstructed by the pavillion across from the s/f line which completely eliminates back stretch views for the wine & cheese seats above the flag stand. It's a terminal complaint at Long Pond, but folks don't seem to complain that there are grandstands on both sides of the track along the front stretch at the Brickyard. Details, details, details!!!

Further, walking the grounds of the speedway, there's the usual beer and snack vendors but very crude concession locations. Beer and soda was often not decently chilled.

The souvenir trucks weren't in fan friendly locations like Dover where you can go buy another T-shit and a pocket full of 1/64th die-cast replicas during a long caution.

When I go to a race, I want to really feel like I'm in the race. As such anything that's not along the front stretch or where you get a good view of pit action isn't too hot, I like to be able to see a good chunk of the competition, as such Richmond, Dover, and Charlotte each had its unique charms. Though I loved the grand specticle of Charlotte, Humpy Wheeler knew how to woo his guests. For unbelievable action on the track I still can't make up my mind whether Richmond or Dover rules, although Dover was a bitch for the lone IRL race I've ever seen. Though there wasn't a fan in the stands who couldn't see the up and coming talent of Tony Stewart who seemed to be able to put his racer anywhere he wanted on the track so effortlessly, those high banked turns gobbled up those little motor sleds sending debris all over the place.

Given my perspective of wanting to feel "in the race," I could see how Watkins Glen could be an awesome experience but I'd sure want to be somewhere near the front straight away with a good view when the race is decided. I don't want to hear about who won the race or even see it on a Jumbotron, I want to see it with my own lying eyes.

Speaking of Charlotte, when I first went there in 1991, it was pretty much a track all its own though many would talk of its similarities with its sister track in Atlanta, they didn't seem to race the same. That year, it seemed like Davey Allison not Bruton Smith owned the track. Now, with Texas Motor Speedway and Las Vegas, perhaps to a lesser degree, Charlotte's more of a template for a series of clones. Can you watch a race from Texas and not think Charlotte?

Now its on to Michigan, the other grand template track. One of the most exciting races I've ever seen on TV was the second Michigan race of 1991 where Dale Jarrett and Davey Allison were banging fenders going neck and neck in one of those classic finishes. Back then, it seemed like ESPN could do no wrong with its race coverage. I felt they put us much closer to the race without all the gimmicks, more on-air personalities than a Hollywood gala, and way too many cutaways from the action for some special segment, it's just not the same today. Guess it's time to write a critique of NASCAR television coverage before I forget Fox's gopher-cam's name, DIGGER!!!

I'm a schizoid sports fan. I like some of the wine and cheese treatment for some events, but there are others when the bleecher bum approach rules all the way. Watching Ravens games from club seating is really cool! However, for pure spectator fun, just about everyone had a couple of spots out on 33rd Street where Orioles magic rulled supreme. My best NASCAR angle ever was for a Busch race, spring 2003, near the pit exit before turn one though it was a real bummer seeing Harry Gant blow a tire right in front of us and then shoot like a rocket right into the wall between 1 & 2. The sound of the tire exploding rocked the stands in our area like a cannon blast.Old Handsome Harry was no worse for wear. When I got home and watched the tape (when TNN coverage was pretty good with Mike Joy and Neil Bonnett), the wreck looked every bit as gruesome.

From the big picture, road course racing adds an exciting element to the competition. I'd welcome an event as part of the chase, though logistically, Watkins Glen could be pretty chilly in the fall and who needs another West Coast gig late in the season putting the race more in competition against prime NFL national games, the 4:00 pm games in the East.

Do you think NASCAR would be fun on a street course event? If so, where? Can't say the Cleveland airfield venue looks too hot. CART used to have a hot event around Belle Isle and the Renaisance Center in Detroit that was pure insanity.

Though I'm a mid-Atlantic fan, I'd not mind seeing Pocono vanish if those dates went to a cool track like a second date returned to Darlingon? Regardless, the status quo at Pocono cannot stand. A Pocono 300 or 400K might be ideal. However, just when folks seem to have lost patience with a given track and the uproar gets extreme, the next event seems to always quiet things down as the second trip to Honeymoon Heaven did this year.

Beyond that, I am still smarting over the loss of Rockingham which always had great racing. Racing right after Daytona in February was probably too early as North Carolina can be viciously cold. The fall races were often the decisive race for the championship with just Phoenix and Atlanta remaining. That seemed to be a track that could have been rescued by redoing the infield area and perhaps an all new front grandstand with more of the modern glitz and glam. Some complain that it was location, location that killed the Rock. NASCAR wanted to spread things out and the south east had dates to give. Though its right in the Pinehurst golf territory, some argued it was too far from the hotels, restaurants, and nightlife which seem to have become an item on the check list on where to stage races. That would knock Bristol off the list, but it's not going anywhere.

The other real stab in the heart is losing the Southern 500 on Labor Day. That race is now in LA LA Land and nobody out there seems to care.

There are so many races that seem so GENERIC these days...Kansas, Chicagoland (which could have been Baltimore's date if it went for tree-huggin' tax hungry Governor Glendening pulled out all the stops to kill track construction at two possible locations that would have made for primo racing. It would have destroyed the environment, yeah right.)

Other generic tracks, Phoenix looks nice on television during daylight hours with the desert skyline and mount overlooking the track, but it doesn't provide the best racing. The spring race is a night race. The only thing that is unique about the Arizona oval at night are the pukey blue barriers. California is a bad knock-off of Michigan. The track layout differs little but there's always something going wrong at California -- too much rain, too much heat. The Spring, 2008 race was a disaster, right Junior? Texas seems to be more and more a lesser Charlotte now that it has two dates on the ledger. The new knock-offs also rob the tracks from which they are copied some of their dignity.

My wish list, bring back the 2nd date at Darlington and at least one event at the Rock. If considering new tracks, how about another 3/4 mile track but don't make it just like Richmond. How about a one mile or longer track, or modifying one of the generic tracks, that has a little jog along one of the straightways where there's a little turn to the right followed by an almost immediate turn to the left, not an all out road course but think of how much talk there would be about the track with the extra turn. It might be too creative. They'd just see it as a hardware collector.

My worst nightmare would be any threat to the two races at Dover. There's nothing wrong with that track that can't be fixed, and given it is a track fans from Baltimore, Philadelphia, and Washington can easily enjoy as a one day event, it's also in pretty close range to the Big Apple and the Norfolk-Virginia Beach-Tidewater region too.

Variety is the spice of life.