|A moment when the best car was leading|
Well we got to Martinsville in time for the Sprint Cup qualifying and then watched the truck race, shivering to some extent when the sun went behind the clouds. My man, Kyle Busch, led much of the race but was overtaken by Sauter (who had a great truck) very near the end. Whereas last year Rowdy tended to give people a little tap on the rear quarter panel when they pushed him too hard, something has mellowed the lad--possibly marriage, or possibly that return of service David Ruitimann gave him last fall, which destroyed all of his hopes to win the chase. There's also the odd fact that even if Kyle should win every truck race, he will not win the championship of the truck series, because NASCAR has so deemed. Perhaps as an owner he actually will adjust things to fit the reality NASCAR has fashioned, rather than embarass the France family by making the official champions of Truck and Nationwide look silly. We'll see--just a meta-subplot at any event. Missing from the Truck race and Martinsville was Jennifer Jo Cobb, who I'd decided to buy a hat from. She had a disagreement with her owner a few weeks back--refused to start'n'park as he'd ordered. Since then there's not been much evidence of her, and the prominent female this past weekend was Johanna Long (see johannalong.com), who scored a decent finish in the race. Maybe there's some JJC gear available on line. NASCAR pundits theorize that Ms Long being 18, where as JJC is 38, might have some relevance somehow. Another meta-plot of no small import in NASCAR is marketing marketing marketing. The fans believe in they stuff.
Sunday's Sprint Cup race was wonderful. Kyle had the best car, as he said afterwards. The crowd booed that statement, but all it meant was, the driver didn't win with the best car, and the driver had better figure out why that is. Kyle did lead a significant percentage of the 500 laps, and was rarely below 4th at any time. The winner, Kevin Harvick, has an uncanny ability to stay in contention but fairly invisible until it counts, then come on to win. He's done that two weeks running now, on very different race tracks. He's starting to look to me like a very serious contender for the title this year. At Martinsville Mr. Harvick overtook the crowd favorite, Dale Earnhardt, Junior, with a very few laps remaining, after Junior had passed Kyle for the lead. Junior had an opportunity to send Harvick to the wall but drove like a gentleman. It seems that at the moment Mr. Earnhardt's spirits are seriously damaged. He's been a very long time without a win, and having the lead for a few laps, then having it pulled from his grasp, was a difficult thing to stomach. He may feel his last best chance is gone. And he may be right.
There was also a bit of funny business with Jimmie Johnson's pit speeding penalty just at the end, when Johnson might well have been contending for the lead rather than Harvick. The method of determining pit speed is arcane and somewhat mysterious, which does not help NASCAR's argument. A lot of fans have the idea the Jimmie has won too much. Some theorize that NASCAR believes this to be true as well, and worries about the product becoming stale.
If you've never gone to a race, it's actually pretty difficult to explain why it's interesting. For one thing, there's an aural aspect impossible to capture anywhere but live. To actually listen to the race without ear protection is akin to looking directly at the sun or a welding torch. There is nothing like the sound, even when the ears are well protected. The other thing is, the race is a fundamentally dynamic event, like a river. I take snapshots every time, and every time they have nothing to do with the race. This dynamic quality is probably more easily appreciated at Martinsville, a tiny track where even the far turn is visible from a given location, than at big tracks where what's happening across the track is a mile or more distant. It may be that even the less terrific speeds which Martinsville requires only make the race more comprehensible. If we get down to Charlotte some race, I'll let you know about that. What I mean by the dynamic quality is, the way to see the race is to watch a driver's position in the flow. It's what commentators mean when they talk about a driver "going backwards." It's why Kyle was probably right about his "best car" comment--his car was 4th or better all day (he started 11th or so).
Martinsville is also "southern culture," just like the Mount Airy Fiddler's Convention, if perhaps somewhat less acoustic. Lots of country music wafts through the air in the parking areas--which are nothing but grassy meadows. As the weather was perfect, there were lots of folks with tee-shirts, beer, hot dogs, ribs, tattoos, whoops and yahoos. We actually heard the Dukes of Hazzard song, and Willie's "On the Road Again."
No one but me, probably, noted Jennifer Jo's absence. But then no one really noticed that Joe Nemachek pitted after a couple of laps at the end of the field, in his usual 43rd position, or that Mike Skinner, missing entirely from the Trucks, started the Sprint race and also ran a couple of laps. The doings "back there" are pretty much invisible.