Congrats to Kurt Busch for winning the 2017 Daytona 500 today. You can see from the pic above that he really had to fight for the win as the race was filled with crashes that took out a number of high profile drivers.
Great work there NASCAR. More on that in a bit.
This is some sweet redemption for Busch as just a few short years ago, he was basically out of work in the racing world. A hot headed asshole, Busch had several very public spats with television announcers, other drivers and pretty much anyone who happened to be in his sightline when he decided to go off. No one doubted his ability behind the wheel, but his personal problems made him pretty much unemployable within the industry.
Then along came Stewart-Haas Racing. Tony Stewart and Gene Haas decided to form their own team. Initially conceived as a three car team, Tony ended up making the hard decision to let his friend Ryan Newman go to allow his best friend Kevin Harvick to escape the hell hole of Richard Childress Racing and join SHR.
While Stewart was laid up with a broken leg, Gene Haas decided he would use his CNC company to sponsor a fourth team and hired Busch personally to drive the car. Busch has flourished at SHR with old time crew chief Tony Gibson and though he has won races with SHR and made the Chase, this is the biggest win for Busch since winning NASCAR's championship in 2004.
With SHR's move to Ford and Robert Yates engines, all four SHR cars qualified in the top of the field, this victory may signal a good year for the still young company.
And now the rest of the story.
Once again, we have a season beginning with NASCAR tweaking things to try and get the racing more racy. Through their maniacally intense efforts to equalize the field, NASCAR has reduced almost every race to a mobile parking lot. It's almost impossible to pass or draft or do anything to keep the action moving. Announcers mentioned that there were only 20 lead changes in last year's 500. Twenty. In a 500 mile race. Does that sound exciting to you? It doesn't to lots of racing fans and they're walking away in droves. So rather than ease up on their tech inspections, they're effing around with the race formats.
I'm not sure, because I haven't looked deeply into it, but it looks like NASCAR will be dividing all the races into sections and allotting points for the top ten cars at the end of each section. I suppose the thinking is that drivers will be less inclined to hang around the back of the pack for most of the race, then try to track advantage their way to the front as the race draws to the end (I'm looking right at you Jimmie Johnson, the guy who is responsible for the playoff format NASCAR currently uses).
Though I'm loathe to admit it, in today's race the plan worked pretty well as the drivers really scrambled at the end of each segment to get points or block others from getting points. Also the crew chiefs had to work out some very different pit strategies to maximize the yellow flags at the end of each segment. Also, we saw what might be some inklings of the first real manufacturers battle since I was a kid as drivers pitted with teammates or other drivers from the same manufacturer.
That wasn't so bad.
What was bad was the block racing that has become so commonplace and is, in my opinion, why NASCAR is playing games with the rules like this. A monster pack of cars roaring around the track at 200 mph, no one can get away from anyone or pass completely, it is a ticking time bomb. And we lost a ton of cars in today's race from accidents that didn't really need to happen. It's bad management on the part of NASCAR.
And I've said this before and I'll say it again -- NASCAR loves the big wrecks. They market them aggressively. In a month, when the field goes to Talledega, you will hear it incessantly -- "We have to worry about the big one" "It's only a matter of time before the big one hits" "Look out for the big one" and on and on. The announcers, the drivers, everyone will hype "The Big One" like it is an inescapable part of the race. It wouldn't be if NASCAR would stop changing the aero package and the engines and allow the mechanics and engineers to evolve the cars to the extent of their abilities.
NASCAR knows it takes an evil miracle for a driver to be seriously hurt in a crash these days. They should be applauded for the vehicle/driver safety developments over the years. But with them being so safe, NASCAR worries less about big pile ups knowing they have YouTube and TV ready clips to use to market their sport. It's a dangerous game they're playing. They lost Dale Jr. for a year due to a concussion and he got in one of the wrecks today. What if the sport's most popular driver had been knocked out for another season? Or permanently? What if he can't recover and get into the Championship Race because of NASCAR's bloodlust for big crashes?
Viewership is down. That's why the rule changes. They keep diluting the product and making it so gimmicky that folks might start looking at it like professional wrestling, and that could be the end of one of the great American institutions. We'll see how the season goes from here. Hopefully I'll be as wrong about this as I was about the Presidential primaries and general election.