The Case Of The Puzzling Manufacturer Switch

Now that some of the dust has settled and shock has worn off regarding SHR’s surprise announcement the other day that it would trading its bow ties for blue ovals starting next year, time for some analysis.

First, the announcement’s timing. While at first glance it seems more than a little peculiar to drop such a bombshell while the track workers are still sweeping confetti out of Victory Lane at Daytona, there is a certain method behind the madness. One, it puts a fair amount of additional pressure on the existing Ford teams to produce, given how the eight hundred pound gorilla will be grabbing from the same bunch of bananas come this time next year. Two, it gives SHR a convenient excuse should this year become a nothingburger – “hey, what did you expect, we’re a lame duck, you think Chevrolet and Hendrick are going to be sending us the good stuff?” The onus then falls on Chevrolet and Hendrick for looking like jilted brides.

Second, why the switch. Let’s look at it from Ford’s perspective. Other than Team Penske, what do they have? Roush Fenway is in a deep slump, and Petty Motorsports is firmly in the thanks for coming department. This leaves Ford’s hopes resting solely on Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano, neither of whom are exactly beloved characters in the garage. You don’t think every other driver on the track silently yelled “ATTABOY!” when Matt Kenseth punted Logano last year? And it wasn’t all about the driver’s code. Long story short is Ford could use drivers with both broad fan support (Kevin Harvick, Danica Patrick) and drivers at least somewhat less likely to rouse the ire of one and all every time they put on a firesuit. Plus Harvick and Kurt Busch know how to win, which is reportedly the idea in auto racing.

Now, you may have noticed beyond the obligatory carefully worded press releases there has been little wailing and gnashing of teeth from Chevrolet or Hendrick. Why? While doubtless they rue letting SHR go from a winning standpoint (Harvick) and a marketing standpoint (Patrick), plus no longer being associated with Tony Stewart, they also no longer have to shell out both money and manpower for four other cars, thus freeing said money and manpower to be lavished on both Hendrick and Richard Childress. It also saves them from any further association with Gene Haas, who but a few short years ago spent a year plus in prison after being convicted of conspiracy to commit tax evasion. GM has enough problems without such an association, and it’s nothing Rick Hendrick can be enamored of either.

So, while at first glance it seems weirder than weird, there is no great mystery behind why this move and why now. Ford gets a top-flight team, SHR gets out from under Hendrick’s thumb … er, shadow, and both GM and Hendrick can now say to Gene Haas go with God but go. See? Simple.

Denny Hamlin’s Most Excellent Day At Daytona

NASCAR prides itself on being unlike any other major American sport. Fact is, it’s right. Example? Consider this:

  • You win the Super Bowl, you go to Disneyland.
  • You win the World Series, you go to Disneyland.
  • You win the Stanley Cup, you go to Disneyland.
  • You win the NBA Finals, you go to Disneyland.
  • You win the Daytona 500, you … go to Atlanta with everyone else.

Not that there’s anything wrong with Atlanta, although I can’t say I greatly enjoyed walking around downtown the couple of times I’ve been there (never have made it out to Atlanta Motor Speedway, alas). Rather, it points out how NASCAR is the only sport that opens its season with its biggest single event. More people at the end of the year will remember who won the Daytona 500 than won the Sprint Cup. This year it’s Denny Hamlin for the former. The latter will be determined the same month we decide who the next President will be. Speaking of such, what are the odds of Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders making an appearance at a NASCAR race this year in an effort to convince folk they’re fellow down-home folk? ‘Twould be a sight to see. But I digress.

Today’s Daytona 500, which if you think of it is a bit redundant as there won’t be one any other day for a year, was a mercifully quieter affair than we’ve seen in recent races. No Big One, people for the most part kept their cool, and the last lap thrills came from who won rather than who’s upside down and/or on fire. Which is all you can ask from restrictor plate racing. Tide us over until the schedule sings the sweet short track happy blues.

Denny Hamlin proved (again) he’s pretty good at this restrictor plate thing, dumping Matt Kenseth like a hot potato on the last lap, pinching Kenseth off to where throwing a block was impossible, and then eking out the win over Martin Truex Jr. Before that it was trying to avoid the slip sliding away combining a hot track and this year’s car created. When you’ve got Dale Earnhardt Jr. doing a solo spin, you know it’s slicker than a promise in the year of election. (One can never have too many U2 references.)

The day was noticeable more for who didn’t finish well, or at all, than who did. Chase Elliott fell victim to the pathological inability of most tracks hosting NASCAR events to hire a groundskeeper, thus forcing drivers to cut the grass themselves. Seriously, as long as these cars have splitters, lose the green stuff and slap on some extra pavement so we’ll stop losing cars that nine times out of eight could gather themselves up and re-enter the fray. Rumor has it people who attend races prefer this over a local attempt to recreate Butchart Gardens. Later on in the day, Danica Patrick and Greg Biffle took the foot fight concept to a whole new level, fried chicken and fig bars flying through the air. Along with Danica. Quite fortunately, her car stayed perpendicular when briefly airborne, as the front end could have easily have dipped just a bit, caught the aforementioned grass, and … yeah.

Ah well. It’s done and everyone is in one piece. On to Atlanta.

Photo Credit:  Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images
Photo courtesy NASCAR Media