|15 Happy Men...and Martin Truex Jr.|
If this past Saturday night’s race at Richmond is any indication, Nascar knows how to do two things—create heart-pounding side-by-side on-track action, and then negate that action via idiotic miscues and calls. With Nascar entering its first year of yet-another new post-season format, here’s how every race will play out—and how Nascar will screw each one of them up.
Chicago—Inspection Detection—Brad Keselowski’s car fails pre-race inspection numerous times and seems to be in danger of failing to make it to the starting grid on-time. However, with the help of a longer-than-expected national anthem performance by Donatello, the blue deuce makes it there on-time and finishes runner-up to Martin Truex Jr. Everyone fully expects the 2 to fail post-race inspection, only for it to pass with flying colors. In-Week Debate: you need to push the “gray area” before the race to pass inspection after the race.
|"But why can't they use rain tires on|
ovals?" "Because SCIENCE."
New Hampshire—Stopping Short—Kevin Harvick is involved in an early-race accordion-style wreck with Chase Elliott and AJ Allmendinger, but comes away with a drivable car that’s simply three inches shorter due to rear-end damage and a pushed-in splitter. After winning the race several unnamed drivers (*cough* JGR guys *cough*) complain through the media that the 4 had an unfair advantage as his damaged car was easier to fit into the pit boxes. In-Week Debate: what’s the best way to damage your car?
Dover—Rain Pains—Jimmie Johnson qualifies on the pole and dominates the early part of the race, which turns out to be the ONLY part of the race, as a sudden thunderstorm comes around lap 180. After persistent drizzle pushed back the start of the race to around 4pm ET, daylight is fading fast. Nascar controversially keeps the race going under yellow in order to make it to the mid-way point—only to then realize that the race NOW must go to lap 240, the final lap of stage 2. The remaining 40 required laps are run the following morning in front of a crowd in the dozens before a light sprinkle convinces Nascar to end the race with Johnson in the lead. In-Week Debate: removing tracks without lights from the Playoffs.
ELIMINATED DRIVERS: Chase Elliott, Jamie McMurray, Kasey Kahne, Ryan Newman
Charlotte—Passing the Pace Car—A rather dull affair threatens to turn exciting once a late race tire issue by a backmarker brings out a yellow with eight laps remaining, wiping out Kyle Busch’s five-second lead. However, there’s more embarrassment for Nascar as the pace car stalls-out shortly after picking up the field, causing it to be rear-ended by Kyle Busch. Other cars go around the two damaged cars, leaving Nascar scoring (and the broadcasters and fans) confused as to what to do. Eventually it is decided to restart the race from the point of the wreck under yellow, allowing Busch to win the race with his damaged car as overtime is waived. In-Week Debate: they’re really just making this stuff up as they go, aren’t they?
|Sometimes you DON'T want to follow|
in Jeff Gordon's footsteps.
Talladega—Can-Can—The race is heavily-hyped as Dale Jr’s final race at Talladega, and after he qualifies on the outside pole, it looks like Nascar could get the storybook finish they crave. However, after running near the front of the field for most of the day, Earnhardt Jr. is passed on the final lap (cleanly) by Kurt Busch, who goes on to win the race in a photo-finish over Kyle Larson (with Earnhardt Jr. finishing fourth). On the cool-down lap, Busch’s car is pelted repeatedly by beer cans—some of them full—causing some to wonder if the car will be able to pass post-race inspection. In-Week Debate: the connection between Dale Jr. and a place he’s never lived in.
Kansas—The Ham Scam—Denny Hamlin, essentially needing a win to advance, does so, posting an emotional victory over a hard-charging Kyle Larson. The next day, rumors begin to spread that Hamlin’s car failed post-race inspection—again—and that by virtue of his win becoming “encumbered”, he will be removed from the upcoming round. On Tuesday Nascar calls a press conference (conveniently in the middle of the afternoon when nobody can watch it) and officially disqualifies Hamlin from the following round, issuing a slew of penalties and suspensions—but still lets him keep the win. In-Week Debate: Joe Gibbs suddenly doesn’t want to do interviews.
ELIMINATED DRIVERS: Denny Hamlin, Austin Dillon, Matt Kenseth, Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
|"Yeah, we won, but was it a GOOD win?" "Chase--lighten up."|
Martinsville—Dueling Storylines—Martin Truex Jr. and Brad Keselowski trade the lead for most of the race, and after a late wreck by Reed Sorenson, the two restart for the win in overtime. However, Truex Jr.-- after being passed by Keselowski on the restart-- attempts to “push” the 2 out of the way on the white flag lap, instead wiping out both cars. This allows Chase Elliott to scoot on by as the yellow flies, giving him his first Cup win. NBC goes to a split-screen as they show Elliott’s victory lane interview, in which he laments that he is no longer in the playoffs and didn’t ‘want to win this way’, while Truex Jr. and Keselowski have a heated discussion on pit road that nearly turns into a brawl. In-Week Debate: this is what Nascar is all about!
Texas—Blue Monday—This race is constantly pushed-back throughout the day on Sunday as overcast skies and occasional sprinkles make it nearly impossible to dry the track. Eventually running out of drivers to interview, track owner Bruton Smith is quoted on-camera blaming Nascar for bringing rain with them. The race is eventually held on Monday afternoon in front of a nearly-empty house, who wind up seeing Kyle Larson win in dominant fashion. In-Week Debate—when’s the right time to “call” a race until tomorrow?
Phoenix—Brother Beware—With Larson (via his win) and Johnson (on points) the only two drivers “safe” for the next round, tensions run high in the Cup garage. Kevin Harvick wins the pole, but is taken out early by a mechanical issue. Brad Keselowski falls back on pit strategy, then sees a loose wheel essentially doom his chances. Ryan Blaney, the longest shot, is never a factor. As the laps tick down Kyle Busch is leading his brother Kurt (in 2nd) and Martin Truex Jr. (in 3rd), with only two of the three about to advance. Truex Jr. manages to get by Kurt for 2nd with seven laps to go, only for Kurt to successfully nudge Truex Jr. out of the way. Kurt catches his brother, but doesn’t use the “chrome horn”, settling for second and advancing to the Championship Round. Truex Jr. complains in the race about how horrible his luck is, a hard pill for fans to swallow considering that he’s payed millions to dollars to do something most people would gladly do for free. In-Week Debate: Is The New Kurt Busch The Old Kyle Busch, and is The New Martin Truex Jr. The Old Kurt Busch?
ELIMINATED DRIVERS: Martin Truex Jr., Brad Keselowski, Kevin Harvick, Ryan Blaney.
|"Jimmie, what a historic race--what's|
it like to win the final race of Dale Jr.'s
Homestead—Checkers, Then Wreckers—The storylines are set for the finale—Jimmie Johnson, going for a historic eighth championship; Kyle Larson, trying to firmly establish himself as a superstar; Kyle Busch, wanting to prove that his last championship wasn’t just a fluke, and Kurt Busch, hoping to show that he his worthy of his recently-announced contract extension with Stewart-Haas Racing. Jimmie Johnson shows why he’s won seven of these before, dominating the race nearly from start to finish. Upon taking the checkered-flag, Johnson delights the fans with “the burnout to end all burnouts”, as his crew chief Chad Knaus told him to do. When interviewed about losing the race—and championship—Kyle Busch slyly implies that Johnson needed to do the burnout in order to destroy the car, making it “uninspectable”. Johnson claims this wasn’t the case, but that he simply wanted to give the fans one last great burnout, since 2018’s new engine rules will make them few and far between. Then, Johnson shocks the world by announcing that Chad Knaus has officially retired from competition. Off-Season Debate—Is Jimmie the greatest ever?
2017 NASCAR CHAMPION: Jimmie Johnson