Wednesday, February 10, 2010

On the start of SpeedWeeks, underdogs, fixing the green-white-checkered, and not learning a darn thing in Daytona

SpeedWeeks is underway, and it's great to have the rumble of V-8 engines in the air again...even if they are choked by those still-dreaded restrictor plates. Through Wednesday's Sprint Cup practice, nearly 20 cars have been damaged so far, with the promise of more to come on Thursday and the rest of the week. As fun as it can be to watch this style of plate racing, there is a part of me (a big part, actually) that would like to go back to the way it was. Sure, waiting for the big one is nerve wracking fun and not knowing who will luck out in the draft on the final lap can be exciting too, but the way the racing was "back when" with the small spoilers laid back as flat as the driver could bear it was exciting too. There's nothing like wondering if someone barrelling into turn one at 200 mph will make it out the other end of turn two - not because someone else took him out, but because he just couldn't handle the car. That certainly isn't a problem in this era of excessive downforce and minimal horsepower.

- I am a big fan of the underdog story. When I worked for, I took pride in interviewing not only the guys racing for wins and championships but also the guys struggling to make it into the field as well. There are numerous underdog stories heading into the 500 this year, and with Joe Nemechek scoring a starting spot based on his qualifying speed at least one will make it in the Great American Race. But the one near and dear to my heart is Terry Cook's No. 46 Whitney Motorsports team. Cook is a long-time Truck Series veteran and multiple-time winner in that series. He's making his first attempt at the Cup Series in the sport's biggest event. While Hendrick, Penske, and Gibbs all have hundreds of employees working on building their cars from the ground up, Cook has nine people on the payroll - counting himself (and he's serving as the team general manager in addition to driving). It might seem like a futile exercise to some, but don't begrudge a man chasing after his dream. After 14 years in the Trucks it may have seemed like that dream was out of reach but just six weeks ago Dusty Whitney decided he was going to go Cup racing and Cook got the call. It might not be as far fetched as some believe either; Cook has always raced well at Daytona (he has three top-fives there in the NCWTS) and the car got better throughout the day on Wednesday. He was 34th on the speed chart at the end of the day, not bad for David when he's up against the other Goliaths in the Cup garage. (**Full disclosure - I am doing some PR for Terry and the team so I ought to think it's a great underdog story...but regardless of my obvious bias it is a neat thing to see.)

- So NASCAR is looking at changing it's green-white-checkered rule? That's a wonderful thing. But from what I can gather, they are doing what they do best and taking a simple concept and making it overly complex. How about this: if the caution flag comes out any time in the course of a g-w-c attempt, whether the white flag has been waved or not, you do it over. With the freeze the field rule, the paying customers and the television audience still aren't guaranteed a green-flag finish unless it's done that way. Or, NASCAR could say once the white flag is waved the next flag that is waved is the checkered and let them race back. A change is definitely due, but let's hope it's the right change and not something that doesn't necessarily give a green-flag finish. And for those who want to argue that it took the Truck Series four attempts in that final multiple g-w-c race at Gateway in 2004, I was there that night and I challenge anyone to find someone who watched that race in the stands who didn't feel they got 10 times their money's worth that night.

- I've seen several "what have we learned so far" headlines from some writers postulating on what we've seen so far at Daytona will mean for the rest of the season. They may spend 1000 words theorizing but the simple answer is this: nothing we've seen at Daytona means anything when it comes to the rest of the year. Yes, Danica did well in the ARCA race. Yes, Harvick put his stamp on the Bud Shootout for the second year in a row. Yes, Mark Martin looks strong again and Jr. is back on the front row at Daytona. But this style of racing is so different than what we every week that whatever happens in Daytona is happening in a bubble. Just ask the last three Daytona 500 winners, Kevin Harvick, Ryan Newman, and Matt Kenseth if their success at Daytona carried over to the rest of the season.

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