The Chase needs to better reflect the variety of tracks, more mail
NASCAR drivers love down time, especially those who have their own planes. Kyle Busch, who we last saw taking the checkered flag at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif., on March 24, spent his off-weekend in Cabo San Lucas enjoying the sun and quaffing tequila shots at a golf tournament, a picture of which was tweeted by his wife, Samantha.
Jeff Gordon went skiing. Ryan Newman traveled to Utah in search of big game. And Danica Patrick journeyed to the White House for the Easter Egg Roll with the President and the First Family. Yes, drivers were packing in the fun over the Easter weekend, and you couldn't blame them: The Cup series won't take another break until the third week of July.
So this Sunday at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway the Sprint Cup series begins an unrelenting stretch of racing. Before the green flag waves on 15 straight weekends of racing (including the non-points paying All-Star race in Charlotte on May 18), let's dive into the NASCAR mailbag.
When Joey Logano was interviewed right after the race in Fontana, he stated that he had to hold back to stay behind leader, Kyle Busch. Therefore he said that's how Stewart got the momentum to pass. He never mentioned that he spun his tires that I recall. -- Jeff Ingle, Little River, SC
Regardless of whether Logano spun his tires on the final restart -- and you're right, he implied that he didn't; other drivers said he did -- the real issue here is blocking a faster car with more than 20 miles remaining in a race.
All drivers have their own ethics when it comes to this issue. What I know, after more than a decade on the NASCAR beat, is that a driver will get treated on the track precisely how he treats others.
Perhaps Jimmie Johnson's greatest skill during his title seasons has been his ability to maintain the good will of his competitors, even as he was beating them. How did he do this? By being courteous on the track and giving ground to faster cars that were approaching in his rear-view mirror. Sure, Johnson would block if he was battling for the win on the final lap of a race, but never would he do that if there were still 20 miles to go to the checkered flag.
Logano is a unique talent. He has the potential to one day be a champion. But if I were advising him, I'd tell him to take a page from Johnson and understand the value of having friends out there on the track. After all, that M.O. has worked pretty well for the five-time champion.
Like many (or most) fans I am a Chase hater. The Chase eliminates too many tracks and to win the Chase you only have to be good at a few tracks. In my opinion, it is actually harder to lead the points after the first 10 races of the year because you are racing the entire field and there is more diversity in tracks.
Having said that, I am sure we are stuck with the Chase. If that is the case I think NASCAR should expand the Chase to 12 races (so you can start on Labor Day) and include a restrictor plate race, a road course, a 2-mile oval, a 2.5-mile flat track, two 1-mile tracks, two short tracks, and four 1.5-mile tracks.
That would be representative of the season as a whole and give a TRUE champion. Thoughts?
-- Joel, Wytheville, VA
Joel, I couldn't agree with you more. A few things:
* NASCAR currently visits two road courses during the 26-race regular season (Sonoma Raceway and Watkins Glen) but none during the Chase. That needs to change. The Chase needs to be representative of ALL the tracks NASCAR visits. I'd vote for including the Glen in the playoffs.
* By including a "2.5-mile flat track," as you stated, I assume you're talking about Indianapolis Motor Speedway. I think that's a terrific idea. Indy is a sacred place in American motor sports, and it should be in the Chase.
How important do the Sprint Cup teams view Indy? Four of the last eight Cup champions have won the Brickyard 400. In other words, the cream usually rises in Indy. Why? Because the teams always bring their best equipment -- equipped with their latest technological bells and whistles -- to the Brickyard in the hope of winning at the most storied track in the United States.
* Finally, I like your notion of expanding the Chase to 12 events. The more races in the playoffs, after all, the less the likelihood of crowning a fluke champion.
Lars, you're not really a NASCAR fan, are you? In the current issue of SI, you write Logano slid up the track and "slammed" into Hamlin. In NASCAR parlance it wasn't really close to being slammed. If, by the real NASCAR sense of the word, you want to see how slamming is done, have a look at the last lap of the 1979 Daytona 500. Donnie Allison and Cale Yarborough provide the requisite driver conduct for the correct usage. -- Bruce Smith, Malibu
Bruce, you are correct about one thing: I'm not a NASCAR "fan." I'm a reporter, charged to objectively cover the events to which I'm assigned.
We can argue over the definition of the word "slammed" ("To hit something with force, crash," according to my dictionary) but the facts are these: Logano hit Hamlin while they were going over 170 mph and it wound up crashing Hamlin so hard into the wall that Hamlin was airlifted to a hospital with a serious back injury.
Was it the most egregious hit by Logano that caused the wreck? No. But it was serious enough in my book to warrant the use of the word "slammed."
Tony Stewart is plainly just a cowardly little man with some sense of entitlement. He blocks all the time, wrecks half the field, and apologizes and says, "that's just racin'." His profanity filled tirade after the race, and the personal attack included was just a little hypocritical as well when you consider who drives for the team he was given half of. Yeah, I'm not a fan. I'll throw in that I'd be happy to take Logano's place. I'm 6'3, average build, so I'd guess Mr. Stewart and I are in the same weight class. -- William Cross, Chesapeake, VA
Send me your address, William. I'll pass it along to Stewart and perhaps there's a dark alley in Chesapeake where you two can meet.
Thanks for the questions, everyone, and keep them coming -- email using the link above or tweet them to me (@LarsAndersonSI).
It should be a memorable race this Sunday at Martinsville. We have a bunch of fed-up, on-the-edge drivers in the sport right now. And at NASCAR's shortest track, that usually translates into I'm-putting-you-into-the-wall racing.