Seven months fly by pretty quickly.
It feels like it was yesterday but seven months have flown by since we saw NASCAR’s next-gen cars going around Charlotte. Now, the regular season is over and thoughts about it have risen before the playoffs start, here at the endnotes of Gen 7’s first season.
The first of our notes comes from NASCAR’s newest concern: Safety. This was brought up after Kurt Busch’s crash at Pocono. The elder of the Vegas brothers hit the wall with the rear end of his 45 23XL machine. It was a hard hit that ended with a concussed 44-year-old, one that has missed three races so far and has given up his spot in the Playoffs.
Kevin Harvick was the first one to point out that the new aramid fiber bodies cause “bigger” hits and harder contacts. “I don’t think they understand the extent of it and actually the extent of how bad it is when you hit stuff. I don’t know anybody that really understands, except for the drivers that have crashed into something. The violence that comes in the car, I don’t think that’s a high enough priority for them”.
To which Mike Helton, NASCAR Vice Chairman had an interesting response: “We’ve done a lot of testing with it. I don’t know if agree with some of the evaluations of it from the drivers’ perspective. There’s a lot of newness with the car that takes some time getting used to, but we’re not going to put an unsafe race car on the race track”.
Harvick then mentioned that the new car felt “way too stiff from the get-go,” especially when backing into a wall as he believes the changes made to the rear end with the novel transaxle stiffened the back of the car.
Get on it before its too late
That was exactly the way Busch hit the wall at the end July. For now, the veteran driver is out of racing and is likely not to return in the near future. Safety is indeed a concern and with hits getting harder and harder as the years go by safety issues have to be addressed before Gen 7 turns into a disaster and tries to end a career the same way Gen 6 ended Dale Earnhardt jr’s.
What have you Done to Daytona?
Atlanta Motor Speedway was not the prettiest of places; it was old, not as modern as other tracks when it came to amenities for fans, and it was as abrasive as a giant cheese grater. Regardless drivers enjoyed it and, to be fair, is not that they didn’t enjoy their visit to the green walls but, everything is just a bit odd.
The track went from 24 to 28 degrees of banking and turned itself into a “mini Daytona” with little space to pass and a race that behaved just like the 500. A lot of drafting and pack racing through and through, not as fun at a mile and a half as it is at TWO and a half.
It’s fine however, perhaps public perception has been unfair the first time around, but only time will tell. For now, the idea of NASCAR turning every 1.5 mile oval into a cookie-cutter Atlanta is just a bit ridiculous, no need to worry.
No More “Home Turf” at Road Courses
For years, road courses were a sanctuary for European and foreign drivers to try their hand at NASCAR. Such was the case for Juan Pablo Montoya and Marcos Ambrose. Both of them had wins, dominating wins in fact, while turning left and right. With the first winning the one and only NASCAR race at Mexico and the latter overcoming the many challenges of ovals and staying in for quite a while to become a fan favorite.
The first regular season with the new cars has shown that this is no longer the case. Road courses are no longer sanctuaries, they’re hostile territory. Just ask Daniil Kyviat, with two races under his belt and an average finish of 36.
More recently things went sour for Kimi Raikkonen. The iceman qualified inside the top twenty at the Indy road course but didn’t go that far and was expelled off the racetrack in the middle of stage two thanks to some rubbing racing, earning him a DNF in exchange for a decent weekend until that point.
Despite the struggles with the unknown cars and drivers who have gotten used to turning both directions, foreign racers seem to really like the challenge. There’s a good reason for that; the composite bodies, the independent suspension, digital dashboards and ground effects make these cars much more similar to a sports car than they were before.
So far, we’ve had seven drivers coming from overseas, some of them, such a Jaques Villeneuve, taking on the Daytona 500 and with the Hendrick-led effort to put NASCAR at Le Mans with Garage 56, more drivers are yet to come.
It doesn’t matter how you look at it…That’s a good thing.
Do like Smoke Does
Tony Stewart kickstarted his own racing series two years ago, the Superstar Racing Experience or SRX for short. SRX races mainly on the Southeast, particularly in old race tracks that have been long forgotten by the top of the stock car food chain. Places such as the iconic Five Flags Speedway in Pensacola, home of the Snowball Derby or, South Boston Speedway at Virginia.
NASCAR has done a good job over the past three years to mix modern times with old traditions and turned itself into a series on the verge of turning into a global category. However, it seems to many that the kings of oval racing have left their roots behind, at least a little bit.
One way to remedy that could very well be doing like Smoke does. Go back there and touch base with the group of fans that once was the core of the series, those who have not seen at Cup car on home soil since the 60s. People who have felt forgotten ever since the Confederate Flag was taken down.
I’m not saying you should go run regular races at such tracks. At the end of the day this is a business and if you can’t fit enough people in the seats, then its no good for business. However, that does not impede NASCAR for going and trying their luck with some exhibition races or even points races with lower national series.
No blue X’s allowed though.
Next stop is the Postseason, the Playoffs as they call it. Rules are simple: Win and you’re into the next round. The matters exposed in this article should be discussed during the offseason. For now, the long winding road ends in Phoenix and only one driver will get there with a title in hand.