Slowing Down on the Backstretch – February 22, 2010

Published On February 22, 2010 » 1328 Views» By admin » Blogs, Cup Series

So, do you really think Jimmie Johnson is lucky? Forty-eight victories, including three Brickyard 400s and a Daytona 500, and a record four consecutive NASCAR Sprint Cup titles, and luck is one of the major factors?

Kevin Harvick apparently thinks so.

Johnson held off a spirited charge from Harvick, who brushed the wall with a few laps remaining to blunt his run to the front, and earned a bounce-back victory Sunday at California Speedway after a rough season opener in the Daytona 500.

JJ The Speeding Robot was aided by being in the pits when a late caution flew, letting him finish his stop and keep the lead over Jeff Burton.

But Happy Harvick, a misnomer of a nickname if there ever was one, wasn’t ready to concede that Johnson won by driving the sheet metal off his No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet.

“There’s no way of getting around how lucky they are,” Harvick said after the race.

You must be confused, Kevin. Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus are pretty good. Damn good. Better than anyone in Sprint Cup since Barack Obama was in his second year as the junior senator from Illinois. Inching one victory and title at a time into the penthouse with the sport’s all-time greats.

Sure, Johnson was fortunate to be in the pits when the caution flew. But as the cliché goes, you make your own luck. And Johnson and Knaus did that by running near or at the front for nearly the entire race. That’s how you make luck – by blasting your opponents and answering another disappointing finish at Daytona with a victory on home turf in Cali.

There’s nothing lucky about that.

Once again there was speculation after the race about the fate of the second Sprint Cup Series date at California due to the light crowd. Remove a date from California? It wouldn’t bother me if California had THREE dates.

California catches way too much crap from fans for “boring” racing because cars aren’t running in huge packs or beating and banging the entire lap. I find the racing interesting at Cali because of the 75-foot width of the 2-mile oval, which lets drivers take all sorts of crazy lines while searching for more speed. I can’t tell you how many times I saw a low-liner nose ahead of a rim-rider in the corner Sunday and lose the lead exiting the corner to the driver on the high line. I also saw plenty of inside-out passes for position. That’s cool stuff – and good racing.

The California track also provides restarts that look like schools of fish, with cars darting five- and six-wide. But it still seems like the vast majority of NASCAR Nation would rather see single-file drone-a-thons at Bristol, where the best way to pass is by honking the chrome horn and where the yellow rag flies more often than the first NFL preseason game of the year. Hey, caution laps are OK as long we get our wrecks, right?

I guess I’m confused, just like Kevin Harvick.

There was a Nationwide race Saturday at California, won by Kyle Busch. That’s the last we’ll mention of him or victory contenders Greg Biffle or Joey Logano, because Danica (no last name needed, please) was in the race. That’s right: DANICA WAS IN ANOTHER NASCAR RACE! You didn’t know about that?

Anyone who expected Danica to perform much better than her 31th-place finish doesn’t quite understand California Speedway. It’s a “feel” track, one on which your ability to change lines to look for speed and adjust your setup during pit stops is vital.

How does anyone expect Danica to be able to do that in her second Nationwide race? She doesn’t even know what the car is supposed to be doing on a point-and-shoot oval like Daytona, so how can anyone expect her to know how it’s supposed to feel when she actually has to drive the thing?

Let’s not put bows and ribbon on Danica’s performance: She was slow Saturday. But it was the second … freaking … Nationwide … race … of … her … life. And it won’t be any better at Vegas, another “feel” track.

Vegas will be her third race. Say this five times, Danica naysayers: “Vegas will be her third career Nationwide race.” Does that help you understand?

IZOD IndyCar: I’m very much looking forward to the IZOD IndyCar Series Open Test this week at Barber Motorsports Park. With quite a few drivers playing musical chairs over the winter, the test will have very much of a “first day of high school in the new building” feel to it. It will be very cool to see just how hard Takuma Sato stands on the gas in his first IZOD IndyCar Series test. Is Dallara bringing a mobile carbon-fiber repair shop for Taku-san?

I also hope that at least one more team stands up to the series superpowers of Penske and Ganassi this season. Duopoly is a fun SAT spelling word, but that’s about it. Hopefully AGR can bounce back, much like Richard Childress Racing has so far this year in Cup. KV Racing has a fast, but potentially wild, lineup on paper with Sato and EJ Viso. Hideki Mutoh could find some consistency with the guiding hand of Newman/Haas/Lanigan.

Has there been a Graham Rahal sighting, anyone? I do not want this immense talent to become the Jimmy Hoffa of the IZOD IndyCar Series. Please, someone announce his signing now.

F1: Some day, motorsports PR reps may use the USF1 team as a case study on how NOT to launch a racing team.

Let’s see: USF1 launched with much fanfare thanks to one of its team principals, Peter Windsor, being a longtime F1 journalist and pit reporter on SPEED’s coverage of F1. The team then smugly revealed that YouTube gazillionaire founder Chad Hurley is its primary backer.

And then there’s radio silence for months. Nothing. Nada. Except rumors that the team won’t be on the grid for the opener in March 2010, rumors the staff isn’t being paid, rumors that Hurley has pulled out, rumors that its only signed driver, Argentine Jose Maria Lopez, already was looking for another ride.

Finally, USF1 spoke, like the great Wizard of Oz, insisting that it wasn’t done. Then co-team principal Ken Anderson confirmed last week that USF1 was petitioning to skip the first four races of the season, which defies all convention – and the FIA rules.

Silence. Mistruths. Smokescreens. The only smoke that comes from this team now resembles that of a piece of burning bread: This team is toast.

Motorcycles: Finally! Some live action this weekend in which guys actually are going to try to beat each other instead of just the clock, as the Superbike World Championship opens with a twin-bill at the greatest natural motorcycle circuit in the world, Philip Island in Australia.

I’ll admit that WSBK holds less allure for me this year since American Ben Spies has graduated to MotoGP after torching the field for a championship as a rookie. The world hasn’t seen a march like that since Sherman wrapped iron bowties around trees in Georgia about 145 years ago.

But WSBK still has an interesting, star-spangled wrinkle this season: Roger Lee Hayden is riding in the world’s elite production-based series aboard the Team Pedercini Kawasaki. Does the last name ring a bell? Rog is the younger brother of 2006 MotoGP World Champion Nicky Hayden, part of the Hayden Dynasty from the OWB, Owensboro, Ky.

Song of the Week: This week’s song of the week is “You Got Lucky,” by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. In my best Kasey Kasem voice, “This one is devoted to you, Kevin from Bakersfield.”

Splash and go: Thanks for all of your feedback on the first blog. I’ll try to keep the purple prose tighter and snappier, but sometimes I’m an opinionated bastard who just can’t stop.

I also appreciate your input on the blog name. After reading your feedback, careful deliberation and watching each blog name run a 40-yard sprint and bench press 300 pounds at least 20 times at the recent Blog Combine, I’m going with “Slowing Down on the Backstretch.” Sorry, Mario.

Until next time, keep your eyes on the road and your hands upon the wheel …


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