Kyle Busch finally shook off his Kansas Curse by winning Saturday night…and in the process, it seems like he may have passed that curse along to Martin Truex, Jr., who really should have won the race. But that’s the headline you can read anywhere – what else happened in the weekend of NASCAR racing? Here are our Five Things from Kansas Speedway:
1. The Truck Series upstaged the Cup guys: And they put on a better race without the need for any Cup drivers to participate (Clint Bowyer was there, but – just like in Saturday’s Cup event – it didn’t amount to a whole lot). Johnny Sauter and Ben Rhodes went into the final lap – and even the final corner – battling for the lead, but a few seconds later, it was 18-year old William Byron that took the checkered flag when Sauter and Rhodes got together and spun out with victory in sight. Byron didn’t even know how to do a burnout. It was exciting. It was fun. You had a Vet battling a youngster, and then an ever younger driver ending up in Victory Lane – and none of them were Cup drivers. That is exactly what the lower series should be about, and it proved our long-standing point that Cup drivers aren’t necessary for the Truck and Xfinity series to be viable.
2. Joe Gibbs Racing Continues to dominate: Brad Keselowski threw a monkey wrench in the whole JGR operation by taking the win last week at Talladega, but once things got back to non-plate racing this week, the Toyota domination continued. Byron’s winning Truck entry belonged to Kyle Busch, and then the Cup race was another Toyota-fest: Not only did Kyle win, but teammate Matt Kenseth finished fourth, Carl Edwards was 11th despite problems, Denny Hamlin was running top-10 when he triggered a wreck, and we all know Truex would have won without the wheel issue. But they still took home a Cup series trophy, and have won five of the last six races.
3. How good are the Cup Rookies?: Ryan Blaney had an awesome car all night long and finished fifth, but was still somehow upstaged by Chase Elliott. Why? Because unlike Blaney, who simply had a great car, Elliott was thoroughly mediocre for 4/5ths of the race, yet somehow managed a top-10 finish (ninth), and minimized the gap between him and his only serious Rookie of the Year rival. When you have a bad race and still finish top-10, you know things are going well, and it is only a matter of time before Elliott wins a race. This is the best duo of Sprint Cup rookies in years, and hopefully both continue to battle with as much enthusiasm as they have to start the season.
4. Has Fox given up??: Where do I start with this one? Fox bounced their typically dull pre-race show to Fox Business (not Fox Sports 2, mind you, but Fox Business) because of a baseball game, then mercifully made my DVR recording worth it by coming back to FS1 just as the cars were rolling off pit road. But the broadcast in the booth continued its trend of degrading every week – predicated primarily on Darrell Waltrip’s never-ending quest to one-up the far more relevant Jeff Gordon. The rate things are going, a few short months from now I could actually see Gordon saying the sky is blue, and then DW arguing that it’s really not. Gordon is the only thing making the broadcast worth listening to at this point, and Waltrip is fighting it tooth and nail.
And while we’re talking about the FOX broadcast – I should add that Larry Mac (who for some reason has been relegated to a separate broadcast cubicle all by himself…does he not shower, or something?) has been great this year. I’d much rather see him and Gordon in the booth with Mike Joy, while DW bounces down to the Hollywood Hotel in an full-on, all-Waltrip fiasco. You know…confine the craziness to one little-used space.
To cap things off, Fox made it up to all of us who missed the Fox Business pre-race spectacular by re-running that absolutely painful Matt Kenseth ‘blues song’ during the final caution. Talk about a train wreck. I was literally embarrassed for FOX, Kenseth and that dude that was singing. It was that bad. And the fact that they were proud enough of it to play it again was, well…troublesome.
5. The All-Star Rules are needlessly complex: NASCAR announced a new, Brad-Keselowski-approved set of rules (because that is the gold standard, you know) for the All-Star race in a few weeks. And in typical NASCAR fashion, they turned everything on its head. So here’s the new format:
Segment 1 – 50 laps, with a mandatory green-flag pit stop, minimum two-tire change.
Break 1 – mandatory pit stop with a minimum two-tire change.
Segment 2 – 50 laps, with a mandatory green-flag pit stop, minimum two-tire change.
Break 2 – the top nine, 10 or 11 cars (from a random draw) come in for a mandatory four-tire pot stop. Nobody else is allowed to pit.
Segment 3 – 13 laps, the previous leaders with four new tires start behind the other drivers with old tires.
In addition, the Sprint Showdown will feature three segments (20, 20 and 10 laps), and the winner of each segment advances to the All-Star race, and will stop running in the Showdown at the point where they qualify for the main event.
Now – the whole top-11 or so drivers pitting and starting from the back may produce an exciting finish to the All-Star race, but there are two things here: it screams ‘manufactured drama’, and try to explain all of the above rules to a new NASCAR fan. It’s impossible. And that’s the only problem we really have with it – the race may be boring or it may be spectacular, but anyone outside of core NASCAR fans won’t have the slightest clue what is going on. that seems like a contrite point, but it isn’t – think about how many people who don’t regularly watch, say – baseball of basketball – but watch the All-Star game for those sports. It is a chance to grab new fans, but not if they don’t get what is going on.
Next Week – Wilson and Wazz’s home track – Dover International Speedway!