Monday, August 14, 2006

Review: The Glen Weekend

First, a correction. When I said that The Glen only had nine turns, I failed to count the inner loop, or "bus stop," which means in consensus reality that there are eleven turns. I have to remember that my personal reality is often removed from consensus reality.
That being said, in my personal reality, there has been some absolutely fantastic racing this weekend. Beginning with the Rolex Grand Am race at The Glen, the intensity was incredible. The Rolex race, a two hour "sprint" race featured only the Daytona Prototypes (DP's), and from the start, it looked like these guys were mad at each other. Grand Am is often the closest to NASCAR when it comes to contact between cars, and there was plenty of contact during the race. The problem is, much more fatal damage is done to the sports cars by contact than is done to the much heavier stock cars. It was an intense race, all the way to the finish, which was won by Scott Pruitt just ahead of a very hard charging Max Angelelli.
Then came the Busch race at the Glen. I wasn't home when the race started, but I was home in time to catch one of the greatest finishes in NASCAR history. Neither Kurt Busch nor Robby Gordon had anything to lose, as neither is in the Busch points race, and only the win to gain. Both drivers are stubbornly determined to accomplish their goals, what you might call all-or- nothing drivers. They showed it in the last lap, going through the bus stop, when Gordon tried make good an opportunity to take the lead. Contact ensued several times as the cars banged side panels again and again. Both cars went into the grass, but in an excellent display of car control, neither car crashed, and Kurt Busch prevailed. That was racin'. Kurt has to come up with something other than the "snow angels" victory celebration though. That is really lame.
Then there was that CTS race at Nashville. The Craftsman Truck Series is probably the closest of the "upper tier" NASCAR divisions to the Saturday night circle burners, because the action is always intense. There is normally much more passing in the truck races, because blocking is not an option. Sure, the drivers try to block, but if the overtaking truck is faster, the blocker usually ends up in a spin, at least. With the championship points race tightening up, the racing is even more intense. Witness what happened on the last lap. Mike Skinner was winning, but championship points leader Todd "Onion" Bodine was moving up fast. Skinner tried to block him, but Bodine moved right through him. Obviously incensed, Skinner forgot that he was trying to win the race and retaliated against Bodine. While those two trucks were clashing, Johnny "Shemp" Benson shot up from fourth to first and won the race. This is important to race fans--Benson's racing style is very similar to that of Mark Martin's, in that he will not spin a competitor to win a race, but if given an opening, he will take it before anyone else can react. So congratulations to Johnny Benson, a personal favorite, on his fourth win in the CTS this season.
The real treat on Saturday was the airing of the Knoxville Nationals. This is a very intense form of racing and a must see for true speed junkies. I won't go into it here--I posted a separate article on Knoxville.
So we come to the weekend's feature, the NASCAR Cup race at Watkins Glen. It did not disappoint me. From the very first of the race, the guys were racing hard, perharps too hard for the beginning of a race where saving the brakes and transmissions are very important. Nonetheless, the start was wild, with Kasey Kahne trying to beat polesitter Kurt Busch through the first turn. Again, as in the Busch race, both drivers demonstrated excellent car control and the race continued.
As can be expected in a road-race, especially one which starts with so much intensity, mechanical attrition was high. Many of the drivers were racing as if it was the last ten laps, not the first ten laps, and Terry Labonte, in the #96 car, and Kyle Busch, in the #5 car, both had suspension and gear failures which put them in the garage for repairs.
We got to see some of the best of the best race against each other wheel to wheel. Kurt Busch and Kasey Kahne, Tony Stewart and Jeff Gordon, Robby Gordon and everyone--all the kind of match ups we love to see. Most notable were Elliott Sadler and Ryan Newman, both of whom had troubles early in the race and had very respectable finishes. There could have been a better top four vying for the win in the closing laps of the race, but not much better. Tony Stewart, Kevin Harvick, Robby Gordon, a surprising Jamie McMurray, a very strong mix of competitors who raced each other hard and clean. McMurray is especially notable, because he is a driver who has been stuggling to prove his worth, and, with a third place finish in both the Busch series and the Cup series at the Glen, he showed that he could race with the best. To see him hold off Robby Gordon the way he did was very impressive.
Stewart and Harvick made the finishing laps exciting. Nobody goes into the turns harder than Smoke, and Happy Harvick knew that, so he had to figure a different tact. He did, realizing that he had a faster car and could beat Stewart out of the turns. It was an exciting finish and a well deserved win.
I wouldn't blame Kurt Busch's fans--the two or three that exist outside of Busch's team and family--for being angry. The penalty did seem harsh, considering that it put one of the strongest cars in the race back in traffic, where things did not bode well. But, if NASCAR officials had made an exception to the closed pit lane rule, that wouldn't have been fair either, for someone else would eventually take advantage of that. The warning system needs to be fixed, perhaps with radio warnings by NASCAR officials, because if the #2 team had known that pit road had closed, Busch could have passed through without pitting and avoided the penalty. It is hard to place blame on this incident--someone on the team, the crew chief or the spotter, for instance, could have realized that if there was a caution that pit road was probably closed, and waved Kurt off of the pit stop, thus avoiding the penalty. But, in the heat of battle, while trying to repair damage, that is not what is on the minds of the crew. Every sports fan knows, in every sport that the officiating is as much a part of the outcome of any event as the players themselves, so, in the end, this could be considered just another racing incident.
That's racin'!

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