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MARGOLIS: Edwards Made a Statement

No more Mr. Nice Guy?

If you have been fooled all these years by Carl Edwards’ Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde routine then shame on you. Edwards split personality is the secret to his success. The Edwards you meet on television being interviewed and appearing in television commercials is the Edwards he wants the world to see. The smiling and congenial pitchman.

Then there’s the other Edwards. He’s the guy you want standing next to you at a barroom brawl.

Thoughts, observations and a few questions following the Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond International Raceway:

  • Heading into Richmond NASCAR’s biggest challenge was to keep the level of competition equal to what the fans witnessed at Bristol. Challenge met. Richmond’s Cup race on Sunday was the best in years.
  • The top 10 at the end of the race on Sunday was five Toyotas, four Chevrolets and one Ford (Joey Logano). Joe Gibbs Racing, Hendrick/Stewart-Haas and Penske. If you want to talk about what’s wrong with NASCAR right now, that just about tells you right there. Three teams are dominating the sport right now.
  • It’s still early in the season, but not too early to figure out which teams will be Chase contenders and which ones will not. You can count on all four Gibbs cars to be in as well as the 88 and 48 cars and the 2, 22 and 4 and 41 cars. That’s 10 cars right there. The other six? Finding out who they are should be your focus.
  • Add the 78 car to that list. That leaves five.
  • Once again, the racing was close, competitive and exciting. Three-wide at Richmond? A couple of years ago such an idea would be preposterous. One of the best lines of the day came from Mike Joy of the FOX broadcast crew when he commented that in the past, saying “Three-wide at Richmond” was often followed by the caution flag coming out.
  • Say what you will, but it has become more apparent with every race this season that NASCAR has right aero package figured out.
  • Could this be the year that Dale Earnhardt Jr. wins the championship? He’s definitely part of the small group of drivers who has to be considered a threat to win every weekend.
  • The first two-thirds of the race was highlighted by long green flag runs. How many times did you think about the new 20 minute clock rule in the Truck Series? I did. Come on, I know you did. At least twice.
  • Oh yeah, there was another weak crowd, likely to be blamed on the weather. No wait, the weather was gorgeous. Then, let’s blame moving the race from the night time to the day time for the small crowd. Yeah, that’s right. That’s exactly the reason.
  • As much as I’d like to see Tony Stewart win another race, I’m thinking the odds are against it.
  • It will be interesting to see which direction his interaction with the media will take when Stewart returns next season as a team owner. His influence on the sport over the past two decades has been immeasurable.
  • It’s just my opinion but wasn’t HScott Motorsports a better team last year? Do we really expect Clint Bowyer to be any better next season?
  • Was it really a “thing” that television cameras caught Samantha Busch say an inaudible sh*t on live television after her husband got dumped by race winner Edwards? Seriously?

EMAIL BOB AT bob.margolis@popularspeed.com

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The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, it’s owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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MARGOLIS: Bristol Delivers

Sunday’s Sprint Cup race at Bristol Motor Speedway had it all — chaos, carnage and close competition. It had everything a NASCAR fan could ask for from a race. Not even the most sour and cynical of fans could find much wrong with it.

And more importantly, it was the first race since Daytona where I didn’t fall asleep somewhere around the halfway point!

Some thoughts, questions and observations:

  • All things must pass. Like all that commotion the past few weeks about Kyle Busch winning everything. All it takes is one race to change a team’s fortunes and Sunday’s race did just that for the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing squad.
  • Great weather, reasonably priced tickets and still a sparse crowd. For Bristol, no less! I know, I know. Even NASCAR doesn’t care enough about attendance to print the attendance figures anymore. It’s all about the television these days. But it sure did look bad for the sport when the television camera panned into the stands.
  • The competition among the top dozen or so cars is so close that even the smallest of errors can put a team out of contention. That makes what Dale Earnhardt Jr. and the 88 team accomplished even more remarkable. Coming from two laps down to finish second is the stuff of legends. And it shows that Junior wasn’t about to be embarrassed on a day when it was all about his sponsor Nationwide and Peyton Manning making an appearance.
  • Speaking of Manning, wouldn’t you have loved to have been a fly on the wall for a conversation between the Super Bowl MVP and the four-time champion Gordon? Two of the greatest of all time in their respective sports. Manning’s comments during the television broadcast about how he didn’t think he could deal with all the pre-race commitments that Cup drivers have to deal with is a reminder of how difficult a job it is to be a NASCAR driver. It’s not just about the driving.
  • How bad it is when Darrell Waltrip calls out the Penske pit road crews during the television broadcast for making costly mistakes over the past several races?
  • The problems that the 11, 18 and 20 teams had with their right front tires on Sunday was a stark reminder of how a setup issue can go wrong and subsequently take down nearly an entire organization during a race. One would have to assume that it was Carl Edwards’ driving style that kept his right front tire from destroying itself.
  • Will the proliferation of pit road speeding penalties, currently being blamed (for the most part) on calibration errors with the digital dashboard, force NASCAR officials to look at mandating pit road speed limiters? Every other major racing series worldwide uses pit road speed limiters. Being busted for speeding on pit road is a nuisance. Plus, isn’t there a safety issue involved?
  • What’s up with Jeff Gordon’s preppy haircut?
  • Trevor Bayne and Matt DiBenedetto both having career days on Sunday while many of the sports biggest stars had their worst race of the season is a welcome reminder that NASCAR remains a sport where on any given race day, the world can turn completely upside down.
  • The new Colossus sound and video display is another reason why SMI tracks have been and always will be more fan (and media) friendly than ISC tracks. The giant screens at Charlotte and Texas also come to mind. Spending $400 million on Daytona was pretty spectacular, no doubt about it. But it’s just a drop in the bucket of what needs to be spent at the rest of the ISC tracks to bring them into a more welcome 21st century sporting environment for both fans and media alike.
  • Every crew chief looks for an edge over the competition and often teams spend millions of dollars looking for those extra tenths of a second. The latest “flavor of the month” among crew chiefs for gaining an edge over the competition is having your driver exit pit road with less than five lug nuts. I expect it won’t last much longer. There were enough problems with that new scheme on Sunday that either the crew chiefs will wise up to its ineffectiveness or NASCAR will outlaw the practice as being unsafe. Of course, NASCAR could go to a single, central nut wheel like those in use in open wheel and sports car racing for decades. Well, maybe. In another ten years or so.

There’s been a lot that’s been said and written about what’s wrong with NASCAR. And it doesn’t help the sport that there’s a constant quest by those responsible for overseeing the competition side of NASCAR to make the racing “better.”

When exactly will we know it has reached the point of being better? When we get to see racing like we saw on Sunday at Bristol Motor Speedway. If you didn’t like what you saw, my friend, then stop bitching and find some other sport. NASCAR doesn’t need you or want you.

EMAIL BOB AT bob.margolis@popularspeed.com

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The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, it’s owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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MARGOLIS: NASCAR Goes Back to the Future

Congratulations to Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus on win number 76, putting the driver alongside the legendary Dale Earnhardt on the wins list. I’m comfortable saying that Johnson is among a handful of drivers to be considered the best of all time and you should be too.

I know that you can’t please everyone. It’s why they make vanilla and chocolate. But if you truly are an auto racing fan of the NASCAR variety, then you have to agree that Sunday’s Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 was one of the most entertaining Sprint Cup regular season races in recent memory.

It did, however, remind me of how different a perspective you get when you see the race in person rather than rely upon the visual and verbal descriptions offered by both television and radio. While there was apparently quite a bit of racing going on in the field, the FOX Sports television broadcast saddled viewers at home with the same monotonous shots of the same cars. The PRN broadcast, heard via Raceview, wasn’t much better although radio did talk about some of the midfield racing action.

The long green flag runs may be a harbinger of things to come this season, especially on the 1.5-mile tracks. That 20-minute clock idea doesn’t look so silly now, does it?

Goodyear brought a tire combination to Atlanta that was good enough to have forced teams to manage their tires. Compounding that issue was that the race was dictated by long, green flag runs. Kudos to Jeff Gordon in the television broadcast booth for pointing out the tire management issue.

Gordon’s insight, even two races into the season, has been invaluable. Especially if you’ve been a Gordon fan. You can draw pleasure in that with everything observation he makes, you get to further appreciate why he was so good a driver for so many years.

I also like the role that Larry McReynolds now plays on the FOX Sports broadcasts.

There were times during the long green flag runs when you literally thought some of the cars were having trouble because they appeared to be going much slower than before. That’s the magic of Atlanta. Its coarse and aged surface wreaks havoc on tires and setups and causes tremendous fall off just laps into a run.

Back to the future. Even though the new, low down force setup was motivated initially by the drivers, you have to give a tip of the hat to NASCAR competition execs for following through with the idea, providing the first competitive 1.5-mile race in many years. Yes, I know, the car out front always will benefit from clean air, but the race leader was challenged several times. The real test will be if we see similar racing next week at Las Vegas. I expect we will.

It was easy to see by the results on Sunday which teams have their 1.5-mile setups figured out and which ones have more work to do. I remember when Kasey Kahne was the man to beat at Atlanta. Of course, he was driving a Dodge in those days. Those were also the days when he appeared in those funny Allstate commercials.

I can’t believe so much time and energy was spent on Matt Kenseth’s penalty. The replay showed an obvious violation of pit road regulations. Crew chief Jason Ratcliff either doesn’t know the rule book or he was showboating to cover his ass. No matter the reason, the kerfuffle put Kenseth two laps down to the leaders and out of contention. I mean, did team owner Gibbs really need to get involved?

I think the Sunoco commercial with the drivers making engine noises is stupid.

Ford was MIA once again with Brad Keselowski the highest finishing blue oval entry (ninth). Maybe we should we say a small hurrah for Roush Fenway with Ricky Stenhouse Jr.’s top-10 finish. Don’t expect the anemic showing for Ford to continue for much longer.

I never could understand what all the excitement has been over Clint Bowyer. I’ve always felt he belongs back in the field alongside the McDowells, the Cassills and the Annetts of the world. That’s where he’s racing now.

Were you one of those people who were predicting such a great season for Kyle Larson? What happened to him and Ganassi teammate Jamie McMurray on race day? If you also thought that this group would slide in to fill the void with Chevrolet when Stewart-Haas leaves for Ford, think again.

Was it me or did Dale Earnhardt Jr. appear in just about every NASCAR oriented television commercial? I’m not disputing his being the most popular driver, but I can remember when Carl Edwards and Jimmie Johnson got their fair share of commercial exposure. And where are all the commercials featuring the current champion?

After the race, a disappointed Kevin Harvick, who led the most laps and was burned in the final restart when he spun his tires was asked by FOX Sports pit reporter Jamie Little what he thought of the new 1.5-mile package. His answer was very revealing. “I know now it’s not how fast you are in practice. It’s how (well) does your car handle?”

Don’t bet against “The Closer” over the next two races (Las Vegas and Phoenix). He may win both.

EMAIL BOB AT bob.margolis@popularspeed.com

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The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, it’s owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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MARGOLIS: The Sky Is Falling. Or … Maybe not

As predictable as the sunrise every morning, the announcement of change in NASCAR on Tuesday has brought out the loud and obnoxious Chicken Little contingent amongst the media and fanbase, all too eager to pronounce doom and gloom for the sport of stock car racing. Social media had a field day.

With a now indelible target painted on his chest, the third generation of the founding France family took to the stage on the first day of the annual (and of questionable value) NASCAR media tour, welcoming the media and the fans to another season of NASCAR racing and oh, by the way, we’ve made some changes, thank  you.

While keeping his speech thankfully short, Brian France made it clear to those in attendance and watching online that NASCAR, while maintaining its roots deeply planted in its sinful, bootlegger past, was committed to moving quickly into the 21st century.

It’s not important what changes were unveiled, although among them, the 20 minute clock to be used in the Camping World Truck Series received the most attention by the media. It’s obvious that it was designed to benefit a series filled with neophyte drivers, crew chiefs and owners and will likely never be introduced to the Cup Series. However, the reception in the media and among the fans to the changes was predictable like that sunrise I mentioned.

Crazy. Unnecessary. Brian France is a fool. The sport has hit the skids. Another reason for the fans to leave. Etc, etc. etc.

I don’t profess to have drunk the Kool-Aid. Or had the mythical mandatory brainwashing done to those who have taken up residence in NASCAR’s headquarters across the street from the Speedway. Those of you who know me, know I have been critical of NASCAR in the past and plan on doing so in the future when it appears necessary. But rather than react to the changes, all of which seem logical and part of an ongoing evolution of the sport, I thought it far more entertaining to react to the reactions – nearly all of them filled with negativity, skepticism and reinforcing the belief that Brian France’s main goal in life is to destroy the racing series his grandfather founded.

A few years ago, the negativity about the sport coming from the media and the fans was so bad, it forced NASCAR to develop a division which called itself the Integrated Marketing and Communications (IMC). It’s goal was to unify NASCAR’s message, something that Bill France Jr. had professed a need for a generation ago. Unfortunately, under its initial leadership, the IMC had gone a bit too far in homogenizing and pasteurizing the message, striking deals with media outlets that grants them exclusive coverage and ignoring the loss of the local auto racing beat writer at newspapers across the country. That disgrace in itself is worthy of another column.

New IMC head honcho David Higdon, from his initial outing on the opening day of the media tour, displayed a much more easy going character which I hope will translate into a more fertile and expanded coverage of NASCAR by more and more media outlets across the country and around the world. Time will tell. Good luck, David.

But back to the changes. Change is good, and forgive me if I don’t quote David Bowie here. I’ve always said that NASCAR has a strange knack of falling up when a decision is made or an event occurs that impacts the sport. The death of its most popular driver brought a tidal wave of changes to the sport, many of which have been met with fierce opposition (remember the outcry by some drivers at the thought of having to wear a HANS device or a full faced helmet?) The changes have, among other things, brought about an unprecedented era of safety to the sport, which other racing series around the world would love to emulate, but unfortunately have not. They still seriously hurt and kill their drivers, NASCAR, which has seen its fair share of horrific accidents since that terrible afternoon in February 2001, does not.

Not everything NASCAR does works. That’s part of the deal whenever you’re building new roads through uncharted territory. Looking back at the record of changes NASCAR officials have made to the sport and their outcome since the beginning of the Brian France era, one would have to admit that NASCAR has been on the correct side of change more often then the incorrect. (Yes, I know that the first generation COT was ugly as were the rear wings)

NASCAR has bigger issues to resolve than trying to keep its fickle fans happy. A new title sponsor must be secured before the end of the current season and team owners must be made equity partners in the sport, much like they are in the NFL or NBA. With the long overdue modernization of Daytona International Speedway comes pressure on other tracks to step up to the plate and offer more than a shitty seat in the hot sun, lousy hot dogs and over priced beer to the fans.

I like what’s happening in NASCAR and you should too. For those fans who prefer less change and would rather the sport return to those “good old days” let me remind you that even back then (whenever “then” was) the fans were always bitching about something.

These are the good old days.

EMAIL BOB AT bob.margolis@popularspeed.com

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The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, it’s owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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MARGOLIS: Ho-hum Finale but Storybook Ending to Season

  • We’ve been talking about a Kyle Busch championship for years. But every year Busch always fell flat during the Chase. This time around, one thing was different. He really wanted (read: needed) it. After spending time in a hospital bed, thinking about how the whole dream might be over, changed him. Trust me, after spending a good deal of time in a hospital bed myself, your life changes.
  • Although each of the Gang of Four in the season finale had his own unique and appealing story, Busch’s as the “comeback kid” was not the most attractive according to the media I talked to. Most were looking to a miracle win by Jeff Gordon. Least attractive? A repeat by Kevin Harvick.
  • But as we’ve seen happen so often this season, Harvick played the bridesmaid once again. Second is the first loser, right?
  • As Sprint Cup races go, the season finale was another of the many ho-hum affairs NASCAR fans have been forced to endure this year. Restarts provided the only excitement all evening and even they were in short supply. I think everyone is happy to see that this current competition package on the Cup cars has run its final race.
  • It would be a mistake to overlook the 18 team’s flawless final pit stop with ten laps to go that secured Busch’s win and the title. During my travel throughout the year, I often will meet someone for the first time and I tell them I work in NASCAR. In explaining why they too should be a fan, I always insist that among everything else, it is important that they understand that it is a team sport.
  • How about a championship race where only the final four (or maybe six) teams race each other in a 100 lap shoot out, perhaps split into four separate segments? Sounds crazy, right? But so did group qualifying when I wrote about it ten years ago. Back then I was met with “Are you out of your mind, Margolis?”
  • I’ve had the pleasure of spending a good deal of time in and around the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series and if you’re not paying attention to what’s going on in that series, you need to. There was a tremendous amount of young talent in the pipeline to the senior series this season (Erik Jones, Daniel Suarez, Tyler Roddick, Daniel Hemric and others). The races are short (most are under two hours), the competitors see NASCAR as a full contact sport and the passion for winning is genuine.
  • Speaking of Jones, he may be the best young pure talent to come into the sport since Kyle Busch. I know he’s already in the Joe Gibbs Racing pipeline, but I can’t help but think that when the bidding war for his talents begins, Rick Hendrick will be there as the highest bidder.
  • After spending billions of dollars in its NASCAR program, (yes, that’s with a “b”) Toyota finally gets a Cup title. Money well spent? The manufacturer spent the same kind of money, over an eight-year period in Formula One, and never won a single race. There were five runner-up finishes, however.
  • Has the XFINITY Series lost its appeal for most NASCAR fans? I wonder how many can tell you who the top three drivers in points were at the end of the season. The series suffers from the Goldilocks syndrome — something just isn’t right. The current competition package makes for lackluster racing.
  • It will be hard not to compare Jeff Gordon’s final season with Tony Stewart’s upcoming finale in 2016. One big difference between the two champions is that Gordon has remained competitive until the end. Stewart hasn’t been a threat to win for several seasons. I hope that changes.
  • OK, so Kyle Busch has won the championship, but I’m still thinking about how Joe Gibbs Racing went from having four cars in the Chase (and being the outright favorite to win the title) to having just one in the finale.
  • Now that Kyle Larson’s sophomore slump is officially over, I’m looking forward to the Ganassi Racing driver putting this season behind him and taking command of his future by winning races and being a contender in the 2016 Chase.
  • Will this season’s disappointment produce a hangover in 2016 for the 22 team? Is Joey Logano the kind of leader that can rally a squad back to the top?
  • Could we see Michelin make an appearance in NASCAR in the near future? I think so.
  • You can bet the farm that next year’s Ford Championship weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway will have a Ford team (or two) among the final four. I wouldn’t exactly call it embarrassment on the faces of Ford execs this past weekend, but there were a lot of forced smiles. Ford’s failure to have a team in the final four has made for a difficult start to Dave Pericak’s tenure as head of Ford Performance.
  • Meanwhile, Chevrolet execs are still scratching their collective heads and wondering how two of their top teams (Hendrick and Stewart-Haas) couldn’t beat one Toyota. I don’t think they were all that excited about Furniture Row winning since that team will be a Toyota team in 2016.
  • Speaking of execs, look for changes in NASCAR’s competition department executive suite in the near future.
  • Things I’ll miss next season: GoDaddy’s prominent sponsorship that helped keep Danica Patrick’s career afloat; and Budweiser, which has sponsored a car in NASCAR since 1983. The change from Budweiser to the Busch brand on the 4 car is not smart marketing. This is what happens when you’re company is no longer American owned and being run by the bean counters.

EMAIL BOB AT bob.margolis@popularspeed.com

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The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, it’s owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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MARGOLIS: Championships Are Not Decided by the Best Storyline

  • It took a dedicated NASCAR fan to stay awake for the rain-shortened penultimate event of the 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup season. I feel asleep about 75 laps in. Woke up at Lap 122. Long rain delays are miserable if you’re at home — stuck with watching hours of NASCAR talking heads going over the same stories several times. It’s far worse if you’re at the track.
  • Just to change things up, NBC should have taken their cameras into the media center to hear a different angle on the sport, from those who work in the media trenches — the beat reporters. They have the closest connection to the fans — via social media — not the television network’s talking heads.
  • Last week I wrote that the outcome of the race at Phoenix would have little impact on the top-four teams in points that will duke it out at Homestead. That’s exactly how things played out. It didn’t take a genius to figure it out.
  • Who will win the championship? Any one of the four drivers: @JeffGordonWeb, @KevinHarvick, @KyleBusch and @MartinTruex_Jr would make a great champion to represent the sport. Each one can put two sentences together in a meaningful way, each represents a long-standing and dedicated sponsor and each driver has a special story.
  • Gordon is in his final season and his win at Martinsville was like magic. Some fans will always insist that some higher power in Daytona Beach scripts the story for the sport and Gordon winning his fifth title in his final year as a driver is just the kind of storybook ending NASCAR needs at this juncture.
  • Harvick has been the driver to beat all season and his is easily the best of the four teams. A repeat win by the Stewart-Haas driver would be beneficial mainly to those who are in the sport. It would serve as another reminder of how hard work, combined with team wide talent and chemistry is what makes champions in auto racing, not big money or a talented driver alone.
  • Busch’s season is easily the most remarkable. Sitting out for nearly a dozen races due to injury and then returning to destroy the competition with a mid-summer winning streak is truly a story for the ages. Being a father has changed the younger of the Busch brothers and it’s easy to see that the devastating injuries Kyle suffered at Daytona was a wake up call about racing and the meaning of life.
  • Truex Jr.’s team is a lone wolf organization that chose to build its cars a thousand miles away from the competition, making the acquisition of the talent necessary to win all that more difficult. Somehow, team owner Barney Visser has done it. To be honest, moving to Colorado is really a no-brainer. This single-car team is clearly the underdog of the Gang of Four and while winning the title would make a good story, it wouldn’t have the lasting power of a Gordon or Busch win.
  • NASCAR championships are not decided by who would make the best story. If that was the case, @DaleJr. would have won six titles and not @JimmieJohnson. This year the title will be won by the team that has shown consistency all year long.
  • I’m thinking that means it’ll be the 4 car. Unless they screw it up.
  • By the way, the race is in Homestead and NOT Miami. I don’t have anything against Miami. I grew up there and graduated high school there. I love Miami. I love the city, the people, the food and the weather. But, the track is in Homestead, just like Auto Club Speedway is in Fontana and NOT Los Angeles.
  • I wonder how Ford executives feel about hosting the season finale, known as the Ford Championship Weekend, yet there are no Ford teams in the Gang of Four? They have to feel like the only one at the dance without a date.
  • The Air Titans (I love that name) were once more called into action at Phoenix. I would prefer not to see them on the track until sometime next June or July.
  • I’ve not written anything about Dale Earnhardt Jr. winning the rain-shortened race at Phoenix. It just seems meaningless after a marathon day that disappointed everyone but the winning team and the four going to Homestead for the title.
  • I never like to prognosticate, but I do think that if the Phoenix race continued after a brief rain delay, @JoeyLogano would be in the Gang of Four.
  • See you in south Florida. Let’s meet up for some Cuban coffee and a pastelito de guava.

EMAIL BOB AT bob.margolis@popularspeed.com

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The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, it’s owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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MARGOLIS: Top Four after Texas are Championship 4 at Homestead

Thoughts, observations and a few questions following the AAA 500 at Texas Motor Speedway, race number eight of the 2015 Chase for the Sprint Cup:

  • Despite having won the previous three Chase races and the previous two Sprint Cup races in-a-row at TMS, @JimmieJohnson was on no one’s pre-race radar. All the pre-race talk was about Kenseth, Logano and nearly everyone else. After being such a regular fixture in Victory Lane for the past decade, it’s odd to think of six-time as an underdog. But he was.
  • Johnson’s win on Sunday is number 75, one shy of tying the record held by the late Dale Earnhardt. Yes, hard to believe for some, but the past keeps slipping further away in the rearview mirror. Problem is, too many fans haven’t accepted the new NASCAR and still look fondly at the past.
  • Here’s a stat: Johnson never ran out of the top-10 all afternoon. His worst position was 10th.
  • How quickly did the word “karma” come to mind when @JoeyLogano lost a tire early?
  • I keep thinking that @KyleBusch will have a bad race. That’s usually what happens to the Joe Gibbs Racing driver in post-season, ending in an early exit from the Chase. This year, the 18 team has been just good enough in the Chase to move onto the next round. Given the year Busch has had, winning the championship would make one hell of a story.
  • Except @JeffGordonWeb winning it would make an even better one.
  • One of the things I love about NASCAR is that the best car doesn’t always win the race.
  • Tires weren’t an issue in Friday’s Truck Series race or Saturday’s XFINITY race. It only goes to show the kind of voodoo setups the Cup teams are using these days.
  • An overhead shot by NBC Sports Network during the Cup race showed a lot of empty seats, something I’m not used to seeing at TMS. Some might say its because the Cowboys have a home game on the same day. Others will say its because it’s just a lot less hassle to park oneself in the Lazy Boy in front of a 65 inch screen and not have to pay $7 for a beer. I’ll go with the latter.
  • Of course that “comfy at home” scenario might be the ticket for some, but TMS is one of those tracks where you get a real sensation of the speeds capable by today’s Sprint Cup cars. One of my favorite spots in all of NASCAR is in the Turn 1 grandstands at TMS, watching Cup cars barrel into the corner at speeds approaching 200 miles per hour. It’ll take your breath away.
  • I really think that there’s something to the theory that all the blasting of the TMS track surface by the Air Titans opened up some of the seams in the track, which in turn, caused the many tire problems. I would think that the aging surface will need some serious attention paid to it (possibly sealing) before next spring’s Cup weekend. It might change the character of the track, but it will also supply ammunition for people to bitch about something.
  • Thinking about betting against @KevinHarvick winning at Phoenix next weekend? Don’t!
  • I do believe that the top four drivers right now (Gordon, Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick and @MartinTruex_Jr.) are the four who will decide the championship at Homestead in two weeks.
  • It really bothers me that the cars outside of the Chase get absolutely ZERO coverage by NBC Sports Network during a race. You never know how the non-Chasers will impact the championship — until one of them does — like we saw happen on Sunday.
  • In case you missed it, some members of Congress are once again targeting spending by the military at sports events. Much of it centers around funds being spent in the NFL, but some of the money is spent in NASCAR. The dollar amounts in question are minuscule compared to the billions being wasted elsewhere.

EMAIL BOB AT bob.margolis@popularspeed.com

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The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, it’s owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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MARGOLIS: One or Two Busch Brothers in Final Four at Homestead?

Thoughts, observations and a few questions following the CampingWorld.com 500, race number six of the 2015 Chase for the Sprint Cup championship:

  • If it wasn’t for the controversial finish to Sunday’s Cup race at Talladega Superspeedway, there would be little else to talk about. Let’s face it, the current restrictor plate package is terrible. NASCAR has de-fanged the Cup cars to the point where no one can pull out to make a legitimate power pass for position. Now, I’m not for going back to the “lovebug” style of tandem racing, but something has to be done to make the racing even a bit more competitive. It’s not right that NASCAR shifts 43 drivers into “High Anxiety” mode for a race that in the end, just plain sucks.
  • Note to @MattKenseth: Get over your obsession with presumptive 2015 champion @JoeyLogano. It’s only right that Logano will always have it out for you. Remember, you’re the guy who took his ride at Joe Gibbs Racing.
  • The media isn’t making it any easier for Kenseth, either. During his media availability on Friday, I watched Kenseth being asked the same question ten different ways regarding Logano taking him (Kenseth) out at Kansas. I suppose one journalist in the crowd expected that he or she would be the one that would make Kenseth crack under the pressure and call Logano an a**hole. Actually, Kenseth did do just that – in so many words.
  • Don’t give up on @JeffGordonWeb yet. The wily veteran has the competition just where he wants them. Could a win at Martinsville be in the cards?
  • Let’s play hypotheticals. I’m a Toyota executive and “hypothetically” I’ve told NASCAR it’s about time my company wins the Cup championship. Now, which remaining Toyota driver do I want to be my champion? You get three guesses and the first two don’t count.
  • If there will only be one Busch brother in the final four at Homestead, which one do you think (want) it will (to) be? Which one makes for a better story this season?
  • Are the Hendrick cars (and engines) as bad as they seem?
  • Do you sometimes get the feeling after listening to @DaleJr. that he’s already accepted the fact that he will never win a Cup title? And that there’s more to life?
  • If you think @KevinHarvick didn’t plan those two restarts, then think again.
  • Remember when television used to interview @DanicaPatrick after every race no matter where she finished? I still think she’ll end up winning a restrictor plate race. Maybe even two before she calls it quits. After all, looking at some of the “one-hit wonders” who have won a plate race, it’s very possible. I mean, just about anyone has a chance at winning one.
  • Have you seen the 2016 Cup schedule? Are you disappointed by the absence of change, too? And what’s with this “NASCAR Goes West” thing? Is it supposed to mean something? Or is it some genius with the Integrated Marketing Communications group trying to tout it as NASCAR’s version of the NHRA’s long-standing mid-summer “West Coast Swing” made up of races in Denver, Seattle and Sonoma? Why not make it interesting and offer up a $1 million bonus to any driver who can win all three races – Texas, Las Vegas and (ugh) Fontana?
  • The crowd at Talladega was the best it has been in quite some time. However, most fans purchased their tickets before the “one attempt” rule was announced. I wonder how the attendance figures would have looked had they known in advance? And what will happen to the crowd after (take a deep breath) Dale Junior retires?
  • In case you missed it: the Confederate flag was alive and well (and very visible) this past weekend at Talladega. God Bless America!
Categories
Editorial

MARGOLIS: Best Could Be Yet to Come for Jeff Gordon

Thoughts, observations and a few questions following the Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas Speedway, the halfway point of the 2015 Chase for the Sprint Cup championship:

  • Race winner @Joey Logano proved once and for all that he’s got the serial killer instinct that we always suspected was lurking beneath that “aw shucks, ma’am” exterior. His punt of @Matt Kenseth was the stuff of champions, even though he has been excoriated in the press. To me, his “Get out of my way, I’m going to the front” move on Kenseth was classic Penske. The Captain is seen by everyone as a shrewd businessman and a successful race team owner in both NASCAR and IndyCar. I see him as a “kill or be killed” competitor; a man who chooses his drivers by who will win at any cost. Having the best equipment is only part of a winning formula for success. The will to do whatever it takes, with the courage and commitment to deliver a win at any cost — that’s the hard part. Logano is one of those drivers who can do it. So is his teammate Brad Keselowski. So, think what you will about Logano, but Kenseth’s post-race comments had sounding a bit like a whiner, don’t you think?
  • The mindset to winning the Sprint Cup championship meant that you had to have 10 mistake-free races. It’s still that way. But now, the new format means you can make up for a mistake with performance. Case in point: the pit road errors on Sunday by the Furniture Row and Budweiser teams (Martin Truex Jr. and Kevin Harvick). Both teams made grievous mistakes on pit road that cost them a win, but both teams have the capability of bouncing back and moving on to the next round. I could list the number of pit road mistakes the 4 car has made in the past three years, but there’s not enough space here.
  • While regular portion of his swan song season in NASCAR sucked, @Jeff Gordon is showing no signs of giving up on the opportunity to win another title. Not even a little bit. He showed his veteran’s cool throughout the race, despite having another car he deemed not suitable for prime time. Has his struggle to deliver this season been the car or has it been him? I say its a bit of both. Nevertheless, Gordon sits solidly in the top half of the dirty dozen drivers left in the Chase with one of his (and Hendrick Motorsports’) best tracks coming up this weekend.
  • Will someone (read: Ford) up the ante and find a good home for Ryan Blaney? This second generation driver needs a place where his talent can continue to grow.
  • Just when we thought they would fade into the background, Jimmie Johnson, Chad Knaus and the rest of the 48 squad remind us once again why they have won so many championships. They still have a win (or two) left in their kit bag this season. Maybe not Talladega, but Martinsville and Phoenix look like winners to me.
  • Although Claire B. Lang with NASCAR SiriusXM radio will often throw softballs at her interview subjects, I find her presence in the garage both pre and post race to be invaluable. She frequently will catch a driver or crew chief in a rare emotional moment that delivers the goods. I would, however, like to see her take the gloves off a bit more often. What do you say, Claire B?
  • If you don’t know who Jim Hunter was and what his relevance is to NASCAR, then you’re missing out on a big part of the sport’s history. Greg Engle’s feature will get you up to speed.
  • I know it’s the Chase and the spotlight will naturally turn to the teams involved in the run to the title, but there are thirty-plus other cars and dozens of sponsors still racing in every Cup race every weekend. If they are going to be non-existent during race coverage, why even race at all? Essentially they act as a moving obstacle for the Chase teams. Why not save money and just have a race with the Chase competitors? Sounds crazy, I know. But so did group qualifying when I talked about it ten years ago. Times change. When other major sport leagues begin their playoffs, the rest of the teams watch from the couch. Same should be true for auto racing.
  • For those who dislike the France family and how they run NASCAR, take a minute to watch this and imagine how things would be if we had a cretin like Bernie Ecclestone running the sport.

EMAIL BOB AT bob.margolis@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @BobMargolis

Categories
Editorial

MARGOLIS: Observations, New Hampshire

Thoughts, observations and a few questions following the Sylvania 300 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, race two of the 10 race Chase for the Sprint Cup:

  • There’s an old racer’s saying: I’d rather be lucky than good. @MattKenseth was a lot of both.
  • I never imagined that the top three in points would be JGR cars after two races into the Chase. It’s a complete team effort for this organization, which not only has good cars, but smart crew chiefs and talented drivers. Even luck is on their side.
  • There’s been a lot of pressure on NASCAR’s Toyota team(s) to produce a Cup championship, given the multitude of millions (of dollars) being spent on NASCAR. Toyota flushed billions down the toilet trying to succeed in Formula One. After seven seasons (2002-8) and 140 races the program produced zero wins. I would think that this is a “must-win” situation for Coach Gibbs.
  • I expected nothing less than the manipulation of the rules by Michael Waltrip Racing as that organization makes its descent into nothingness. The appeal this week will be nothing more than kabuki theater.
  • Why didn’t @RodneyChilders4 bring @KevinHarvick in for a splash-and-go to salvage a good points day at Loudon instead of going for broke? I’m not the only person asking. There’s this other guy who used to be a Cup crew chief who is now part of the broadcast team on the NBCSN television broadcasts who said the same thing. Any other crew chief making two monumental mistakes like Childers has made in the Chase would be given his walking papers.
  • I guess my prediction of Harvick repeating as champion doesn’t look too good now.
  • Is there anything more embarrassing than to be dumped from the Chase after the first round?
  • There was a cartoon character made famous by the late cartoonist Al Capp of a man who walked around with a dark cloud above him all the time. His name was Joe Btfspk. Google his name. Then, think about @KyleBusch and the Chase.
  • Furniture Row’s switch to Toyota. Much ado about nothing. Hopefully they’ll put one of the up and coming young drivers alongside of @MartinTruex Jr when they expand to two cars.
  • Same goes for the constant conversation about Clint Bowyer’s racing future. Much ado about nothing.
  • I wish that the current fascination with things that mean little to nothing to the sport (see Bowyer and Furniture Row) would instead be focused more on the future of the sport. With @TonyStewart announcing the end to his driving career, could names like Johnson, Earnhardt Jr., Kenseth and Biffle be too far behind? And why isn’t enough ink being given to the future stars of the sport – outside of Chase Elliott? And what the potential impact will be of this new wave of young drivers with southern roots and/or a familiar last name will have on the sport?
  • Now that Stewart is retiring he’ll be very busy keeping his NASCAR organization moving forward while his partner Gene Haas is losing his shirt and his mind with this Formula One folly that’s little more than a way to sell more Haas CNC machines in Europe and the Third World.
  • How much worse can NASCAR’s television numbers get?
  • There should be no repercussions from @Keselowski speaking his mind on Sunday following his being black flagged for his restart alongside of Greg Biffle. Saying NASCAR is an entertainment sport, not a fair sport may be a truthful statement, but it may also be considered one that is detrimental to the sport. Which do you think it is?
  • I don’t believe NASCAR has to (or should) change the rules regarding restarts. If a driver wants to jerk another driver’s chain on a restart, then it’s his (or her) prerogative to do so.
  • I enjoy hearing Brian Vickers’ perspective on the NBCSN television broadcasts. I just wish he wasn’t so politically correct much of the time. Remember, this was the guy who took it out on the entire field at Martinsville a few years ago when he was having a bad afternoon. I would love nothing more than to see him behind the wheel again.
  • I saw SMI Chairman Bruton Smith this past weekend and I must say, as a fellow non-Hodgkins lymphoma survivor (twice, thank you), he looks damn good. He’s lost a bunch of weight, but I saw him on Friday night having a good time a Makris Lobster and Steakhouse down the road from the track with son Marcus and Don Hawk. Let me tell you, it’s not the kind of place you’d want to be at if you’re not feeling well. Keep at it, Bruton!