This Week In Motorsports
Motorsports News by David Vodden
NASCAR is over now for 2018. Finally! In many ways it was just too much of a good thing. Thirty-six races plus two weekends of special events over some forty plus weekends. Too much. Everyone seems to know that the market for what NASCAR offers is saturated but no one is willing to do anything about it. Why? Because NASCAR owns a great many race tracks through a subsidiary company called International Speedway Corporation [ISC]. To cut the race schedule, NASCAR would have to take race events away from tracks. This would be easier if NASCAR did not own tracks. Imagine if they did this to their major track-owner-competitor Speedway Motorsports International [SMI], or any other track operator, and did not do the same for themselves. “Foul” would be bellowed. These big race track properties, all of them, cannot survive without the big NASCAR race weekends and all the revenue they create. Many would have to close. The result is a kind of stalemate and a denial that too many races is part of the problem with NASCAR viewership and, to a lesser extent, butts in seats at live events. But alas, NASCAR is smart and they surely know this. My guess is the recent stories about NASCAR repositioning their track-owning subsidiary is the beginning of moving toward fewer races or, at least, a shorter season. Stay tuned.
The NASCAR season final was a three-race weekend in Homestead/Miami Florida that produced zero spectacular wrecks, my favorite part, and a good time for underdogs as defined in different ways. Joey Logano won the Monster Energy race final and with that, the title “Champion”. It is hard to call a Roger Penske owned race team an underdog so we will define Logano as the least qualified for the title among those that made up the final four. You will recall that Martin Truex Jr., had four wins and was the defending Monster Energy champion. He finished second watching as Logano drove past him late in the 400-mile final segment unable to launch a counter attack or even crash Logano as Logano would have done to him. Kevin Harvick had eight wins in the season and was the odds-on favorite by most media types to win his second title. He finished third and was not really a contender in the last half of the race. Go figure? Kyle Busch also had eight wins entering the final and won in Phoenix one week earlier. He too was not a serious threat and finished fourth in the season-long points battle. Logano, in comparison, had only one win this season, a win he earned after knocking Truex out of the way at Martinsville. Not a popular move. No one picked him to win [Underdog fits here if nowhere else]. In the end, Joey Logano, the 2018 NASCAR monster Energy Cup Champion, cannot be denied. He has a Jekyll and Hyde personality. A rich kid whose dad funded his career path and top-notch rides in NASCAR, Logano was exactly what kids become when they do not earn what they get. Aware of his unpopular standing in the sport, especially among his peers, Logano’s “people” set about making him popular by putting him on every radio and television show possible. They encouraged him to set up a foundation where “they” began a process of doing very visible charity work in his name. Logano’s efforts in all these areas have worked well. He was awarded the “Community Champion of the Year” award presented by Comcast just nights before the Homestead final. In the five short years since Logano’s people set his foundation into motion he is credited with providing over $2.7 million dollars in charitable funding and gifts to numerous organizations. Keep in mind he is only twenty-six years old. No doubt this is dad again doing whatever it takes to mitigate his kid’s bad reputation? Who knows. To be fair, Logano is good in public. He is good on radio and television and his foundation has done good things. Now if he can just get the driver’s he races against to appreciate his blocking, knocking people out of the way and his ever-growing maturity as a person, the title Champion will be complete.
The Xfinity Champion for 2018 is local Red Bluff Outlaw kart graduate Tyler Reddick, grandson of Bennie Brown of Corning Ford fame. Reddick won the race, his second of the year and did so in convincing fashion. His Camaro race car was owned by Dale Earnhardt Jr. and his sister, proprietors of JR Racing. This was their third Xfinity title as car owners. Earlier in the year, Reddick announced that he was leaving JR Motorsports to move to Richard Childress Racing in the same Xfinity series. One cannot help but wonder why, especially after Reddick captured the title, he would elect to leave, if it was his decision. Cole Custer took second in the race and second in the title fight in his Stewart/Haas Ford. Many thought he would win because of his performance at Homestead last year. Third in the final points was Daniel Hemric who still has not won a race after a season in the trucks and now Xfinity. Fourth in the points was the winningest driver in the series, driving a Joe Gibbs all-powerful Toyota, Christopher Bell. No one picked Reddick to win out of the four finalists who lined up on Saturday. Indeed, his performance since his win at Daytona in February, would seem to have justified his leaving the team more than his selection as the race winner and champion. This is the purest definition of an underdog but there is more.
Brett Moffitt won the Camping World Truck driving title racing for a team that literally begged in the paddock for money so they could come back each week. After each Camping World truck race, Moffitt would tell the media that he was not sure if they would be back next week and add that he did not have a ride lined up for 2019. Team owner Shigeaki Hattori was been able to work miracles to keep the team on the track. That said, Moffitt still does not have a ride lined up for next year after winning the truck-series championship. He earned four wins during the year and he topped the all-powerful truck team of Kyle Busch Racing with driver Noah Gragson, 2nd, Justin Haley of the multi-faceted GMS Racing, 3rd, and Haley’s team mate and winningest driver of the year, Johnny Sauter who completed the four-driver face-off in the final. Go figure.
Post season award shows remain on the television schedule but I don’t think anyone watches these anymore either. This is probably because they have had enough of the whole thing and its “much too long season” combined with media saturation. Do you think? One last NASCAR item. The following drivers will be gone next year from the respective playing fields: Jamie McMurray; Matt Kenseth; Spencer Gallagher; Elliott Sadler; Kasey Kahne; A. J. Almendinger, Trevor Bayne, and, potentially, Kurt Busch and Daniel Suarez. There may be more but change is in the wind for sure.
Formula One racing ends this weekend in Abu Dhabi after a long but not weekly racing schedule. Lewis Hamilton is the champion for the fifth time over Sebastian Vettel, and others that will be determined Sunday in the United Arad Emirates. It will be the last race for Indy-bound, Spanish racing legend, Fernando Alonzo who will depart McLaren F-1 for US Indy car racing and the 500 plus other one-off events.
The best news in this entire column is the upcoming 16th running of America’s longest endurance auto race set for Saturday December 1st and Sunday the 2nd at Thunderhill Raceway Park on highway 162 in Willows, California. A race of this magnitude in sports with international drivers and an impossible race schedule would cost hundreds, if not thousands of dollars to attend. All of you in Glenn County can see it in its entirety over four days for only one $20 adult admission. Imagine that. Why? Because this race event is off the record in that racers can race just to be racing. There are no big sanctioning bodies or other intrusive elements impeding the racers real desire to just race each other. Think Burning Man or Sturgis. These two events grew based on their own merits and not Madison avenue marketing. The 25 Hours of Thunderhill fits this model to a tee! You can see it all, or as much as you want, starting Thursday morning at 5250 highway 162 between 9AM and 5PM. The actual non-stop race starts at 11AM on Saturday and concludes on Sunday at noon.
Thunderhill Park is open seven days a week from 9am to 5pm for creative Christmas shopping, to purchase race tickets for the “25” and to pick up the 2019 track event schedule. See you here!