Growing up, my favorite sportswriter was Jim Murray. Most of his columns were supremely funny. When the moment required otherwise, he could stop your heart with achingly beautiful words.
One such column by him I remember was the one he wrote after his wife passed away. It’s been decades since I’ve read it, thus quoting it accurately is not an option. That said, as best I remember it started with him saying this was the column he hoped he’d never have to write.
That phrase came to mind yesterday after listening to the conclusion of the Daytona 500 (it ended a few minutes after I got off work), then frantically refreshing my Twitter feed hoping for some word of Ryan Newman’s condition. I watched the clip of the accident, Newman’s car going airborne and landing on its roof after a bump pass gone awry, then unavoidably slammed into at full speed by Cory LaJoie. I watched it once and once only. I couldn’t watch it again. And I dreaded having to think about the post I hope I never have to write. Thank God (literally) I don’t have to.
Now that we know Newman is at least alive, although details of his condition remain unknown save to those directly involved, it’s fair to comment on the race itself. By any other name, restrictor plate racing remains a gladiatorial event as far removed from actual racing as Greta Van Fleet is from Led Zeppelin. There is no way to make it safe, or enjoyable, or acceptable. None. It is an abomination deserving to be forever banished from NASCAR. Even with all the heralded advances in safety the past nearly two decades, it damn near killed Ryan Newman yesterday. Yes, it is impossible to make racing completely safe. However, when you have a format virtually guaranteeing one or more multi-car disasters, it’s entirely fair to dismiss said format as something worthy of continuation.
Lost in the above was some deft driving by Denny Hamlin to take the win, and the hope Ryan Blaney can sufficiently block out the voices screaming he was at fault for what happened to Newman to maintain the necessary focus and aggression needed to be a successful driver.
Here’s hoping for a much tamer Las Vegas this coming weekend.
Okay, so it’s late Tuesday evening and I’ve just now finished watching this past Sunday’s Busch Clash, won by Erik Jones. Although the actual winner was Mater, as his grandchildren saw more track time than most of the competitors. And I’m pretty sure even though I watched a recording of the race, in real time they’re still cleaning up the carnage.
The good thing about the race was it demonstrated you can indeed pass someone with this year’s packrat track package (can’t really call it restrictor plate package anymore, given how there is no more restrictor plate). The bad thing is packrat racing, like its predecessor, is one butterfly sneeze away from scrap metal city. Sure, it’s exciting. But it’s not racing, and it’s nowhere near the genuine excitement of short track racing. Packrat racing is to stock car racing what autotuned lip-synching choreographed bumping and grinding is to music. It’s flashy, splashy, and utterly vapid eye and ear candy lacking in substance and true soul.
Anyway, kvetching aside the race had its moments apart from the wallbanging bringing on multiple orders of Harvey wallbangers as crews try to embolden themselves as they start piecing their theoretical Daytona 500 backup cars back together. Most of them took place on the last lap, where some deft slicing and dicing enabled Erik Jones (with a definite assist from Denny Hamlin, who probably was far more interested in getting the thing over with than risking a last second daredevil dive for the win) to grab the victory despite a car that looked like it was suffering from a terrible nose cold. Other than that … yup, it was Daytona all right.
On to the Duels … which again I’ll watch on rerun. This darn work thing, lemme tell ya.
The announcement earlier this week that Daniel Suárez will compete full-time in the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series for Gaunt Brothers Racing is something of a mixed message. While on one hand it’s good for Suárez to be back behind the wheel, and admirable for Gaunt Brothers Racing to step up to the Cup Series, it promises to be a steep hill to climb for all concerned.
Suárez is one of the several drivers in recent memory – reference Jeff Green and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. as examples – who scored tremendous success in the Xfinity (or Busch or whoever was the sponsor that year) Series but either has not or did not take his winning ways to the Cup level. He hasn’t been terrible in Cup, but when in three years spent driving for high roller teams, namely two years with Gibbs and one with Stewart-Haas, you have naught to show but eight top-fives, thirty-two top-tens, and three poles to your credit, it becomes clear why Suárez is now with his third team in four years. It certainly didn’t help his cause that Martin Truex Jr. was available in 2019. But to be replaced for 2020 by Cole Custer, who has yet to prove himself at Cup level although he has been major mojo in Xfinity – sound familiar? – has got to sting.
Making the situation even more challenging for Suárez? This is Gaunt’s first foray into full-time Cup competition. It’s also crew chief Dave Winston’s first time in the hot seat since 2016. His career stats? One top-ten finish in sixty-one races. Ouch.
Obviously it’s far too early in Suárez’s career to toss him into the never-will-be pile. He’s only 28, and he is not unfamiliar with the path to Victory Lane. The question is how will he be able to handle a situation where expectations are understandably lowered. Will Gaunt be able to give him a competitive car? Will Winston be able to perform at the level required for a Cup crew chief to enjoy success? Will Suárez be able to sufficiently up his game and prove he’s not an underachiever? Time will tell, but with that said it’s impossible to not root for Suárez and company to turn themselves into a pleasantly positive surprise.