Three Races in Eight Days
by: PattyKay Lilley
Yes, I probably should have written this yesterday, but instead I watched the race in Michigan. It was a good race as Michigan races have gone of late. Funny about that… I have always loved it when the gang raced at Michigan, a big, wide 2-miler with almost enough banking to make it perfect, but not quite. The only sight I like better than a 5-wide restart at Michigan is an 8-wide restart on the landing strip that poses as the front stretch at Pocono.
Lately though, the cars seem to string out much too fast and let’s face it, no one came to watch a parade. It occurs to me, rather belatedly I’m afraid, that ten years ago, I didn’t know the meaning of “aero push.” Now, it’s become a household word.
The race on Sunday wasn’t like that. Nor was the race on Saturday when the Nationwide bunch invaded Montreal and ran the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve road course there. As a matter of fact, neither was the previous Sunday’s race at Watkins Glen in the beautiful Finger Lakes Region of New York State. (Beautiful in the summertime; to be avoided at all cost in the winter. I speak from long experience)
So what we have then are three races in eight days in which there was a lot of great racing to be seen, whether or not one approved or disapproved of the eventual victor in any given race. Ah yes, and therein lies the rub. During and after each of those races, I’ve closely observed the race fans and their reactions, seeking information for a “Voice For The Fans” column. Fans, I’ve have to tell you, you’ve been for the most part a colossal disappointment these past eight days.
Please, allow me to do some brief recapping… last week’s race at the Glen was a classic, giving us, the fans, more side by side racing, complete with short braking and just plain gutsy, bold and fantastic driving by several different racers than has been seen in I can’t remember when. Road courses tend to be tough on transmissions, rear ends and even engines, especially when in the hands of drivers that aren’t coordinated enough to turn right and shift at the same time.
Then came oilgate! With some three laps to go, a car later identified as the #47 of Bobby Labonte, but incorrectly noted as the #18 of Kyle Busch by the booth crew, began spraying a fine mist of oil while struggling to a 27th place finish. Cars commenced to slipping and sliding at several different track areas, almost in concert. Several minor fender-benders occurred before they reached the end of lap 90, but the only real damage was bruised feelings.
One competitor, Kyle Busch, took personal offense to having been bumped from behind by the sliding Blue Deuce of Brad Keselowski, and Jeff Gordon is still not on speaking terms with NASCAR for not waving the pretty yellow rag. In the end, it came down to what I found to be a rather hilarious game of bump me-bump you between #9 Marcos Ambrose, the pride of Tasmania and Keselowski in the #2. Marcos prevailed by virtue of having been the last NOT to be slid into by the other. C’mon fans; if you didn’t enjoy watching those two cars careen from the grass on one side, back to the grass on the other side for a full lap around Watkins Glen, on oil yet, your heart ain’t in it!
So what was it that we heard about from the fans for a solid week? First, a never ending debate on should they/shouldn’t they have thrown the caution flag. Heck, that one even got me a twitter mention from KP. Guess he didn’t agree with my assessment. We’re still friends though… I think. The other argument, surprisingly to me, does not concern any bumping or slip-sliding between Marcos and Brad.
Oh no, it’s all about Brad versus Kyle. I don’t get it. I love to watch both of those youngsters, and I do mean I love it! Those racers put on a great show every time they are given a chance. But some of you fans get unnecessarily UGLY about it. It’s a race. There can only be one winner, leaving 42 losers. It’s not worth shooting your neighbor over. Those two will be back at it the next week.
Moving to this past weekend, we saw the Nationwide cars at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve on another road course. Fantastic! I love ‘em! This one came with a lot of media hype about the Patrick/Villeneuve conflict arising out of the race at Road America, where Patrick was vying for the lead on the last lap until summarily “removed” to a 12th place finish by Villeneuve who finished 6th. Qualifying added fuel to the flames as the two lined up next to each other in row two. And… it was all for naught, as they never touched each other, mostly because Jacques couldn’t catch her.
Patrick ran a good race that might have been great if it hadn’t been for intervention from above. No, not that kind; I’m sure He loves Danica as He loves all of us. No, this came in the form of a shoe, tossed from a walkover bridge I’m told. Patrick hit it square on with no way to avoid the foreign object on the track and something in her rear suspension did not take the blow well. She would eventually lose six laps while replacing an axle part on the left rear of her Go-Daddy #7.
Now gentle readers, I am usually the last person to put down a driver, but like every one of you I’ve heard from, I am about out of patience with the unpunished antics of one Jacques Villeneuve. I can well remember his Father, the one for whom the track in Montreal was named, Giles Villeneuve, and in all honesty I don’t recall him being a mean man at all. Jacques, on the other hand, seems to go out of his way to “eliminate” the competition, using his front bumper as a weapon of mass destruction.
On Saturday, Fate, or maybe it was NASCAR, took a hand in the matter. Cautions on that track, for a variety of reasons, seemed endless in duration, and the final caution was no exception. In fact, it was the Granddaddy of all cautions because it was in reality three of them strung together from lap 72 to lap 79. (Green/White/Checker) Interesting, as several cars, including that of Villeneuve, were running a two-stop race, which meant those cars were low on fuel and might not survive a G/W/C finish.
When the green finally came out and stayed out, Villeneuve led the race until his #22 stuttered and stumbled on the final lap. He was passed by Justin Allgaier and Sam Hornish and limped to a third-place finish when his engine apparently refired for a bit. It was a great race and fun to watch, save maybe for that shoe and the fact that we never heard that anyone had been detained for having pitched it off the bridge…Jerk! The best was yet to come though, when Allgaier turned a couple of doughnuts around the out of gas #22, with Villeneuve sitting inside watching the show. Yes, it was his country and the track was named for his Father, but sometimes you just have to smile when what goes around finally does come around.
And the fans here on the Internet were talking about what? It wasn’t Allgaier taking home the win, or Hornish finishing second. I did see a lot of comments about Villeneuve; one of them was complimentary and sympathetic; all the rest were not. The fans, for the most part, were talking about Danica, and while a few expressed sympathy, most found it hilarious that she was done in by a shoe. Shoe jokes were already blooming all over the Web by the time the checkers fell in Montreal.
The irony is that the reason she hit the shoe in the first place was because that was where she was… in first place… having led 20 laps to that point and looking for all the world as if she could sail away to the win. More irony is that despite how well she raced on both road course events, the fans seem never to want to cut the lady a break. Fans, I’d ask you to discount the obvious over-hype fed to you by some of my brethren and measure her success or failure on merit. No, she’s not the best driver on the track, but she’s far from the worst either. Her record against female drivers is stellar. A couple of months back, Jeff Gilder and I did a Tireside Chat together, discussing Danica. He lost of course, and despite promising to do another, has hidden from me ever since.
Regarding the race in Montreal, the guy I feel worst for is probably Justin Allgaier because even though he won the race, all you folks care to talk about is Jacques Villeneuve and Danica Patrick. Sorry, but I can’t help seeing something way out of balance there. Congratulations Justin! Someone out here thinks you did a great job in Montreal. It’s all about being in a “position to win”, and you were there. Nicely done!
And then there was Michigan! I know a lot of folks don’t much care for races at Michigan, but most are younger fans that have only seen it done with the COT. (Comical On Track) Once upon a time, cars could pass each other at Michigan. With several distinct racing grooves, I’ve watched some stellar racing at that old track, and it didn’t hurt that back in 1998, the Michigan race put me at a total for three races that put $2500 in my purse. Fantasy auto racing wasn’t always free, but I played anyway and always came out ahead. That year, I came out a lot farther ahead… and I didn’t play anymore.
For whatever reason… maybe the new pavement contributed… the Michigan races this year have both been pretty fine in my book, even though the cars still resemble pregnant roller skates. Maybe it has to do with the infinitesimal changes to the fender skirts that NASCAR so grudgingly allowed. (Kick ‘em up 4 or 5 inches, do the same to the front end and lose the splitter. Now we’re racing) Sunday’s race saw several cars enjoy the lead and were able to hold it for several laps, then be passed by a new leader. Did you hear that? Passed the leader? For you youngsters that don’t remember, that’s how races are won. It doesn’t have to be done in the pits.
This is one that NASCAR can truly brag about. Now, please figure out what it was Mr. Helton, and do it again.
The race had its share and more of cautions, of which only one was for debris. By far the most bizarre and scary of the bunch occurred at lap 65 when a bit of braking caused a couple of cars behind to come together at the bumpers. The result was that Mark Martin’s #55 spun wildly out of control, stopping only when the driver’s door slapped the blunt end of the pit wall…hard! Hearts of spectators either leapt or stopped, waiting for Martin to emerge from the car, and he did so, somehow unscathed.
Excuse me Mr. Helton, Mr. France, Mr. Pemberton or whoever… when a horrific accident such as that occurred at Pocono, Doc Joe fixed the problem before the next race. I hope we shall see that same sense of responsibility exercised at the Michigan track by ISC. Fix the wall or tear it down… and why is it not a SAFER barrier? Please repeat after me… every wall at every track HAS TO BE a SAFER barrier.
Along with cautions, another order of the day seemed to be blown engines, and predominantly Hendrick engines at that. The valve spring flu struck early in the #14 camp, relegating Smoke to a 32nd place finish. Next came Jeff Gordon, finishing a disappointing 28th, directly behind teammate Jimmie Johnson in 27th. Ah, but therein lies a tale. Jimmie’s engine held out until there were only five laps to go, and he was leading what proved to be his 23rd and last lap when it blew, oiling down the track in its wake.
That of course, brought about the final caution of the day and necessitated the always expected green/white/checker final two laps. After a spirited battle between Greg Biffle and Brad Keselowski, the win went to Biffle, whose name I swear I never heard all afternoon, despite his having led 26 laps. Maybe in that light, I shouldn’t be surprised that the fans weren’t talking about Da Biff either. So, who were you talking about? There were two distinct conversations that predominated after the race…
The first was a slew of derisive comments about Jimmie Johnson. Huh? Shouldn’t we be a bit sympathetic toward a guy that had the car to win and appeared to be doing so, only to find himself benched five laps short of the finish? Apparently not. You see, Jimmie refused to be interviewed by whichever paparazzi member approached him with a mic. With only the words “No thanks” he quietly locked himself in his motor home and was not seen again. No interview was required of him, as he didn’t finish in the top five, something of which I’m sure he was quite award.
So who would be throwing rocks at Five-time for that? Kyle Busch fans, that’s who… demanding that the media “bash” Jimmie the way they feel that Kyle has been “bashed” for refusing to be interviewed. My only opinion there is “no comment”, so I guess you can speak ill of me as well. Jimmie did nothing wrong at all, and I have more love and respect for Kyle than any of you realize. Where’s the love for Greg Biffle? He won the race, remember?
The other conversation I have even less understanding of, as it wasn’t a conversation as much as it was an all-out flame war between fans of Brad Keselowski and fans of Kyle Busch. To all of you, I have to assume that you are still living at the Glen and fighting over that. I don’t recall those two getting into it Sunday with the exception of predictions made on RaceDay by still more of the dang media. My suggestion to you would be to put down your weapons. Next week we’ll be a Bristol Baby!
My bet is that media conversation will be divided between the latest soap opera about the Bristol pavement, which has been “levigated” to eliminate the upper groove… thereby spoiling a perfectly good race track (Hey, I get to have an opinion too, and I’ve got a column), and what they now see as the lingering “feud” between Kyle and Brad. In reality, those two will be just fine. They race together all year long, which makes them closer than most families. There is no feud there. No, the feud, complete with every nasty and derisive word I’ve ever heard, is between the fans of two racers. Guys and gals, that’s a shame.
Be well gentle readers, and remember to keep smiling. It looks so good on you!
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