It was a busy weekend to say the least, the first of the year that saw the Camping World Trucks, Nationwide cars, and Sprint Cup cars all in action at three different facilities in three different states. The trucks tackled the ultra-fast Texas Motor Speedway, the Nationwide cars rumbled in the concrete canyon that is Nashville Superspeedway, and the Sprint Cup guys were in resort country at Pocono Raceway.
Truckin' in Texas...
For a team that nearly shut down during the month-long break between Martinsville and Kansas, Todd Bodine's Germain Racing organization is extremely strong. Bodine had the worst streak of his Truck Series career with three consecutive wrecks at Martinsville, Kansas, and Charlotte, but that's all out the window as he scored his second win of the season at Texas. Bodine is a threat every time he races on the mile and a half tracks, but that's magnified at Texas where he's now won five times.
The weekend started with a surprise pole winner in Johnny Sauter. Sauter's team, ThorSport Racing, has struggled to get it's No. 13 truck running on par with the No. 88 driven by Matt Crafton for its entire existence dating back to 2004. Now with Sauter behind the wheel it seems that team has come together and is starting to become a weekly contender. Sauter was fifth at Dover last week and finished sixth at Texas in addition to scoring the pole. ThorSport Racing will enter its 300th race at Michigan this weekend on a major high: Crafton finished second at Texas and leads the points while Sauter is leading the rookie points.
The race was extremely clean with just two cautions, one for Dover winner Brian Scott bouncing off the wall and the other for debris. NASCAR has proved it can respond to fan input with the new double file restart proceedures, now it needs to heed the call of the fans and eliminate phantom debris cautions. And if there actually is debris on the track, the televion cameras need to show it to the audience at home to justify the caution.
Ten of the 33 starters were out of the race before 30 laps were complete. I am not a believer in the argument that for a race to be entertaining there needs to be a full field of 43 cars or trucks, but I also believe there needs to be more than 25 out there too. Hopefully the economy continues to recover and we'll get back to having deeper fields in the Truck Series soon.
Terry COok will also be making his 300th series start at Michigan this weekend. Terry didn't have the weekend he was hoping for in Texas and he banged up his favorite speedway truck to boot. No doubt Danny Rollins and crew were busy at work as soon as they could get the rig back to Martinsville to get it fixed for Cook's home track.
Even after scoring his best finish of the season at Texas, fourth, Johnny Benson's season has been one of frustration. Now, the news has broken that Red Horse Racing will park Benson's No. 1 truck due to lack of funding. That is a real shame as Benson is truly one of the good guys of the sport - not in it for the money but in it to do what he does best and that's win races. The real shame of the situation is the announcement comes just before Benson's home race at Michigan. My guess is there will be hundreds of Johnny Benson fan club members that are very disappointed at this turn of events and may not attend as a result. It closes a confusing chapter in Red Horse Racing's history, one that saw it dismiss a driver in David Starr within weeks of the start of the season although he had some sponsorship in his hip pocket in exchange for two drivers, one of which didn't have funding. Granted Benson is the defending champion and the team was banking on that luring in some significant sponsorship dollars. But that didn't happen. Thankfully for the team T.J. Bell is able to pay his own freight but the No. 11 truck is still devoid of any major sponsorship.
Nationwide in Nashville...
We could have all witnessed the best race in Nationwide Series history at Nashville, one with 70 lead changes and a last corner of the last lap pass for the win, and all we would be talking about is the victory lane celebration of winner Kyle Busch. The Gibson guitar given to the winners of all Nashville races is one of the most cherished in all of NASCAR racing. Yet as soon as he laid his hands on his, Busch tried to shatter it into dozens of pieces - supposedly to be shared among his crew. It doesn't matter that Sam Bass - the artist who spent 40 hours painting the guitar - didn't mind seeing his work destroyed because the fans have responded with disgust and disdain for the sport's leading personality. As an artist who has also spent dozens of hours on art for customers that I hope ultimately enjoy my work, I am torn. I hate to see Bass' labor destroyed. But the fact of the matter is the trophy is Busch's and he can do with it what he wants. He simply doesn't care what the people outside the catch fence think. I've heard that Gibson and Bass have been commissioned to do a couple more guitars for Busch, so maybe it's really not that big of a deal. But like Chocolate Myers said today on Sirius NASCAR Radio, Busch may think that the fans all hate him now, but just wait until he knows it for sure. I like Kyle and I like his style, but there's only so much negative PR a driver can cause before those supporting him start to back away.
Cuppers in Pocono...
The big news of the weekend was the new double file restart proceedure. Little did anyone know that we'd all get to see it within the first five laps of the race. After lighting up Pocono with two wins as a rookie, poor Denny Hamlin hasn't had any luck there at all, and that streak continued as his car faltered just a couple hundred feet past the green flag. That set up the first double file restart in a points race in Cup racing history. It is a good idea and does create some good racing for a couple laps, but I'd still like to hear everyone stop saying this is how it's done at the majority of short tracks across the country.
The coverage from TNT was a welcome respite after a tumultuous 13-race stretch on Fox. Even Bill Weber was tolerable, not digging deep down inside to pull on everyone's heart strings with every train of thought as he's done in years past. Kyle Petty has become the best analyst in the sport, and Wally Dallenbach is as solid as ever. The pictures delivered by the cameras and production team were great and not drowned out by graphics. Heck, even Larry McReynolds does a great job on TNT. It would be great if the producers at Fox kept everything under control the way the TNT team does.
The only downside to the telecast was the missed shot of Kasey Kahne's spin on the final corner and not following the story as some drivers trying to stretch it on gas started to run out of gas. It would have been nice to get an update on some of the front runners, particularly as they dropped back in the pack. And there was no replay of Kahne's spin even though we all got to see him come sliding off turn four in a cloud of smoke.