After only four weeks of being in action, NASCAR decided it was time to have an off-weekend for each one of their touring series. Personally, I think it’s a bit early to take a break, but at the same time it wasn’t that long ago that the first break came after only two races. So, with the Sprint Cup Series taking a week to relax and recoup for the next race, I wanted to take a look back at the first four weekends of action.
What a way to start off the season at Daytona. It was one of the more exciting weekends that the “World’s Center of Speed” has experienced, but it was also one of the weirdest.
This was the first weekend for many new rules in NASCAR, not just for the cars, but the entire series. The sanctioning body loosened the rules on the drivers so they could basically drive the cars. That rule was the best move NASCAR has made in a long time, and the drivers made good use of it in the Daytona 500.
Unfortunately, twice in the race there was a rather unique incident. It wasn’t a wreck, a spin, or a blown engine. Instead, the track in one area literally came apart. A pothole developed in the racing surface.
It’s not the first time part of the track has come apart, but it is the first time I’ve ever seen a race delayed twice in one day because of it. Not exactly the idea NASCAR had in mind to start out the season. After redoing the schedule to have earlier and common start times, a long delay is the last thing fans wanted. The race began at 1 p.m, but add in the delays and it was closer to 6:30 before the race restarted after the second red flag.
However, for those fans who went to the exits early, they made a big mistake. What a way to finish out the race. Great action, swapping the lead, and two Green-White-Checkered finishes. Unbelievable, and in the end it was Jamie McMurray taking the biggest victory in his career, probably his life.
The emotion he showed in victory lane was felt by everyone, and it was an incredible sight. It may not have been the start to the season that NASCAR wanted, but at the same time it was certainly exciting.
The next two weekends in California and Las Vegas saw the same driver go to victory lane, but it wasn’t without a little luck and some good strategy.
California was all about two different stories: the winner and the crowd. The attendance at the Auto Club Speedway has not been good since the track got two races, but that race was the worst I’ve ever seen. The speedway has a capacity of 97,000 fans. Every race was sold out between 1997 and 2003. The first time they went with two races, it went downhill.
But, the listed attendance for that race was said to be 72,000. Now how exactly did they get that? Did they decide to include media personalities, pit crews and drivers? I’m not sure, but there’s no way that 72,000 fans were at the track.
In Las Vegas, the story was more about what might have been for another driver. Jeff Gordon absolutely dominated the Shelby American. His car was the class of the field all day, and was for sure going to victory lane. I had not seen that kind of domination by him in one race since the late 1990s, and I was hoping for a win. But, strategy didn’t pan out and he wound up finishing third.
Who was the winner of these two races? None other than the four-time defending champion, Jimmie Johnson. A well-timed pit stop in California gave him the lead, while a four-tire decision in Las Vegas gave him the opportunity for the lead.
Both times, he went on to victory. If he’s already got this kind of momentum early in the season, he’s going to be a five-time champion when November comes around.
And then, there’s Atlanta. This time, it wasn’t about who took the checkered flag, but more about the action of retaliation. Kurt Busch took the checkered flag in the No. 2 Dodge, a race that he was one of the two best cars in the race. But, his victory got overshadowed with another driver’s actions.
Lap four, Brad Keselowski gets into Carl Edwards and sends him up the track into the outside wall.
Edwards wasn’t happy, but knew his team could get his car back out on track. When he did, it seemed all was good and he was just making laps to get to the finish. But soon, he found himself behind Keselowski.
Lap 323, heading into turn one, it happened. One tap, one spin, and suddenly one car got upside down and airborne. Keselowski’s No. 12 Dodge was destroyed after Edwards got into his rear corner and spun him out, and at one of the fastest tracks on the circuit.
NASCAR parked Edwards for the rest of the race, and afterward admitted he didn’t expect Keselowski to get airborne. But, he never said that he didn’t mean to spin him out. After a meeting in the NASCAR hauler, the officials had to decide what to do with Edwards as far as punishment. Some people wanted fines, some wanted suspension, and others wanted to do it vigilante style.
What was the final call: three-race probation.
THREE RACE PROBATION?!
No way did that punishment fit the crime, it’s a slap on the wrist and it wasn’t even that hard. In recent years, NASCAR hasn’t really done much in ways of punishing drivers, at least when it comes to on-track incidents. If a car fails inspection, alright that’s justified. If a driver goes off on officials, it should be bigger. But, the last time NASCAR handed out a truly justified punishment to a driver based on an on-track incident was in 2003 after Jimmy Spencer punched Kurt Busch in the garage after some on-track contact.
He was suspended one race, and ironically that race Busch won. Fans hated it, but at the same time, the punishment did fit the crime. Here, it certainly doesn’t.
Whether the after effects will be felt next Sunday have yet to be seen, but for the last seven days, it was THE story that NASCAR was fixed on. It’s time for a change.
Next Sunday, the Sprint Cup Series is back in action, short-track style. The site will be the Bristol Motor Speedway for the Food City 500. Coverage begins on FOX at Noon ET with the pre-race show, with the race going green shortly after 1 p.m.