Johnson domination at Texas brings debate about racing quality
Jimmie Johnson dominated Sunday's AAA 500 at Texas Motor Speedway, leading a blistering 255 of 334 laps, en route to his 6th win of the season. No one else had a chance. Other contenders Kyle Busch and Matt Kenseth each sped on pit road on green flag stops, ending their chances to get close to the No. 48. Kenseth's penalty was early enough for him to finish 4th and break his tie with Johnson atop the standings - he trails by seven points. Busch's miscue on the final green flag stop took him from the top 5 to 13th at race's end. That was even more disappointing, considering Busch hit the wall early in the race and drove from almost 30th to the top 5, only to lose half of those spots again. The points are close between Kenseth and Johnson, but the race was not.
Johnson's stomping of the field at a 1.5-mile track conjures up the years-long discussion about why NASCAR races so much at these types of tracks, why the racing is not two-wide as often as it used to be, and does the Chase make the racing better or worse. There are varying opinions on this, but there are several factors to consider when forming an opinion on this. The Gen-6 car does race better than its predecessor the Car of Tomorrow, but the racing still lacks the edge it had years ago. The tires and the new pavement at fast race tracks play into the lack of variance between cars, keeping them single-file. And racing for points makes drivers less aggressive sometimes, making the racing action more tepid.
Suggestions to improve the action have included putting more variance in the racecars, so different teams can have different innovations at different tracks. In theory, this could open the box, make speeds more different through the field, and allow for more surprise winners and better racing. The same argument was also made when NASCAR considered "closing the box" - teams would all be similar speeds and the racing would improve. If anything, the opposite has happened. The first step of this in the different looks for each manufacturer on the current Gen-6 car makes for some variances, but not enough for many to complain or laud the on-track product. The "box" on chassis design needs opening. At the very least there would be more passing. But remember that the teams with the know-how and the money will manipulate those changes the most and probably gain the most advantage from them. They did before.
Another thing multiple drivers have mentioned is how tire wear - or the lack thereof - makes for single-file racing. If the tires don't fall off, the drivers all run all out and can't pass. Tire wear makes the cars handle differently and the cream rises to the front of the pack. The way tracks are paved and how often they are also plays into this. Changes can be made in the paving department, too.
Whatever the method, something needs to give. Too many races fall into one of two (and sometimes both) categories: "little passing and domination by one or two cars" or "totally random outcome influenced by a questionable caution." There may be more than a few pro wrestling fans that also love NASCAR, but there aren't too many that want NASCAR to operate like the WWF.
The older races I have watched recently on YouTube (most from the late '80s and early '90s) all had more passing and more aggression. But some were stinkers. There have been both good and bad races this season - Sunday's was definitely on the bad side. But at least there is a discussion by the sport's governing body. Read this USA Today column from this week by Jeff Gluck. NASCAR at least is saying they are looking into improving the product on the track. Some races are better than others, but the time is now to buck the boring racing trend.
Points racing has been around a long time teams and commentators alike certainly discussed it quite a bit even those older races I watch. It definitely affects how drivers race, but it always has. Eliminating the points race from the Texas race today would have only made for less drama, as seeing where Kenseth, Johnson, Ky. Busch, Jeff Gordon, and Kevin Harvick ended up became a more entertaining game than watching Johnson lead the race.
Now for the Race Capsule:
RaceTweet: Johnson dominates Texas, Kenseth loses seven points after pit speeding. DaleJr bridesmaid again. Two man points race now.
Handsome Boy Modeling School Stud of the Race: Jimmie Johnson - "He won, he won, he shot the BB gun." The No. 48 team did overcome a 15-plus second stop during a green flag run late in the race, but passed three cars just before a final caution to take the lead for essentially the final time. The race was his and the points lead is his again. Dr. Jerry Punch did note during the ESPN broadcast that Johnson led Brad Keselowski by seven points with two races to go one year ago. Johnson's response: "I hope history doesn't repeat."
North Korean Missile Dud: Jamie McMurray - The No. 1 team and all of Earnhardt Ganassi Racing have run better in 2013, but McMurray was 31st and five laps down at race's end - this from the team that won Talladega two weeks ago. Teammate Juan Pablo Montoya was three laps down in 20th future Cup teammate Kyle Larson was 23rd. Tough day.
You Can Comeback, But You Can't Stay Here: Matt Kenseth - Speeding penalties under green flag pit sequences should end a driver's chance at contention, but Kenseth dug in, got a timely caution, and drove back up to 4th. He said after the race he probably should have been 2nd, but had no chance to win. Instead of being 20-something points out of the points lead, the No. 20 team sits just seven out.
Wheel of Misfortune: Jeff Gordon - Gordon won Martinsville last week and re-ignited his slim chances of trying to wrest the points crown from Johnson in Kenseth. But cutting a tire and crashing on lap 147 all but ended his drive for his 5th championship. He finished 38th and is now 6th in points.
Ghost Driver: Kurt Busch - Busch and the Furniture Row Racing team have all but disappeared in the Chase, the latest case being a disappointing 17th-place run at Texas. Busch finished 4th in the Chase-opener at Chicago and 2nd in race four at Kansas, but otherwise has been off the grid. Whether Busch has checked out a bit now knowing he is out of the hunt or the team has sunk under the weight of his temper (there reportedly was evidence of that on the team's radio today), the No. 78 unit is not ending 2013 on top.
Never Fear, Underdog is Here: Parker Kligerman - The forgotten driver that got dismissed from Penske Racing a year ago has done formidably for Kyle Busch Motorsports, but is still trying to search for his best path to the Sprint Cup Series. Swan Racing has been trying out young drivers since firing David Stremme a few weeks ago and Kligerman's turn in the No. 30 Toyota marked his Cup debut. He was never a factor in the race, but placed a solid 18th in a car that averages about 31st each week. Kligerman has only won once in NASCAR's top three series (Talladega in Trucks last October), but turned a lot of heads with his run Sunday. Texas is a good track for drivers making Cup debuts: Trevor Bayne finished a solid 17th in this race three years ago.
Head-Scratcher Crown of Thorns: Brad Keselowski - Kyle Busch wrecked Keselowski while the two battled in the closing laps of a Nationwide Series race at Kansas just three weeks ago. They both have showed obvious disgust for the other. How is it that when there was trash on the grille of the No. 18 midway through the race, Busch's spotter told his driver to drop back and tuck behind the No. 2 to get it off? The No. 2 team acquiesced, proving Busch's comments wrong about Keselowski's character - at least at that moment. For two drivers that have such bad blood, either one asking the other for a favor and then granting it seems preposterous, especially between two brash, young drivers. Keselowski had nothing to lose by doing it, but could have abstained as a sort of payback for their pervious clash. Busch was about to pit the No. 18 just before this, so Keselowski really bailed him out.
Nationwide Series RaceTweet: Keselowski wins Texas NNS race dominated by Cup drivers, while Kyle Busch crashes and loses ground in owner's points. Fact that owner's points are discussed says it all.
Truck Series RaceTweet: Ty Dillon shellacs the field and wins 2nd race of season, but is out of points race pretty much. Hey - at least a Cup driver didn't win.
Georgia On My Mind: Georgia drivers were all over the map this weekend - both in NASCAR and the All American 400 Super Late Model race at Nashville's Fairgrounds Speedway. In Spring Cup, David Ragan's No. 34 puked an engine for the 2nd-straight week and finished 42nd. There were no Georgia drivers in the Nationwide Series, as Reed Sorenson is under the Leavine Family Racing umbrella now and they did not enter the race. The Camping World Truck Series at Texas Friday night saw Max Gresham qualify 5th, run as high as 2nd, but fall to 16th at race's end. John Wes Townley motored through the field to a stout 9th. Ryan Sieg was top 15 all night and took the checkered flag in 11th. Sieg was in the No. 93, as driver Ryan Lynch brought money and needed the owner's points of the No. 39 to get in the race. All Peach State drivers in the Truck Series seem to be making progress, which is a good sign for sure.
The All American 400 saw Chase Elliott win the pole, start from the back because of a sway bar change after qualifying, and then drive to the front to win one of the crown jewels of late model racing. T.J. Reaid started 5th, but finished 14th. Bubba Pollard started in the top 10 and needed to finish only 18th or better to win the inaugural Southern Super Series championship. He wrecked with 17 laps to go to finish 20th, while budding NASCAR driver Daniel Hemric finished 2nd in the race and won the championship. Other Georgia drivers finished even further back: Anderson Bowen was 22nd, Allen Karnes was 26th, Casey Roderick was 29th (he has just returned to racing in Super Late Models after funding dried up in his attempt at the Nationwide Series), and Spencer Davis was 30th.
Next: All three series race at the same tracks for the final two weeks - next week is Phoenix. Cup: Sunday, 3 p.m., ESPN; Nationwide: Saturday, 4 p.m., ESPN; Trucks: Friday, 8 p.m., FS1.