Call it what you want (and it's mostly not good), but NASCAR track owner Bruton Smith's declaration that there needs to be more cautions during races said a lot about the sport (and it's mostly not good).
Most importantly, it's saying the races aren't good enough. And he's certainly got a point. Unless the cars are on a restrictor plate track like they are at Daytona this weekend, the possibilities of a great finish are small. Watching Kasey Kahne pick his way through the field at Kentucky last week was one of the most exciting stretches of racing we've seen this season. And he didn't even win, He finished second.
Back over a month ago while watching the Indianapolis 500, there was quite a revelation during the race, especially in the later stages when the lead kept changing hands almost every lap. I was actually disappointed when a yellow flag came out to stop the racing. That's right, instead of hoping for a yellow to come out and close up the field, I was really rooting against it. It was almost like rediscovering what a race should look like.
I think most race fans know that not every race will be like that, but it's good to get one on occasion, or maybe even a little more often. When was the last time I watched a NASCAR Sprint Cup race hoping for no cautions? I don't know.
I do know who not to blame for the lack of close racing, at least for the most part. That's the drivers. They want to race and most of them came through dirt track ranks of some sort where close racing was the norm, not the rarity.
What about the rules? Well, yes, they hurt a little bit, especially when it comes to points. Yes, NASCAR made a step in the right direction by putting more emphasis on wins to make their final 10-race playoff system. And Tony Stewart's five wins in the final 10 races on the way to the title last season, also helped, But if a driver got 10, or even say 15, extra points for a win, that might make a difference, too.
And then there are the rules that car manufacturers must follow. It's important to have them because it's an effort to keep teams on even ground and safe for drivers, no matter how much funding there is. But really, it's kind of back-fired because the teams with the biggest wallets are the consistent favorites each week. NASCAR is continually trying to tweak the rules to help cause closer racing, but it may be a lost cause at this point.
The biggest issue may well be the kind of tracks they race on. I'll admit, when there is a 1.5-mile track on the schedule, it's difficult to get excited about it. I anticipate the two road course races more than the 1.5-mile track races. How many times do we have hear about clean air? Sure, the crew chiefs and drivers are just being honest when they say it matters, because it obviously does. But NASCAR needs to come up with a car design that's just as good in dirty air as clean air.
The Indycar folks did it. Now it's time for NASCAR's turn to do it, too, no matter what Bruton Smith says (whether it's mostly bad or not).
THIS WEEK'S PICKS
So, now it's time for the second Daytona race as the NASCAR Sprint Cup season hits the halfway point at 7:30 Saturday on TNT. But maybe more importantly it's getting closer to crunch time in the series' regular season, which is 26 races. The top 10 in points and the next two drivers with the most wins in the top 20 in points will make NASCAR's playoffs, the Chase for the Championship. Among the names who would not be in the Chase if it started this week are Carl Edwards, last year's runnerup and Jeff Gordon. Edwards is 11th in points and Gordon is 18th in points and neither have a win this season. But a win by each of them would either put them in, or on the cusp of making the Chase. So they may be thinking more about winning now, then just a good finish.
It's always tricky at these plate tracks because of the close racing and large packs or cars. A driver can run well for say, 150 of the scheduled 160 laps of this race, and get caught in "The Big One" or maybe a jet dryer fire, and still end up finishing 30-something.
So, here is a look at who could fare well in the final trip to Daytona this year.
Tony Stewart - For reasons beyond even his explanation, he does well in the July Daytona race, but has yet to win the 500. Stewart has three victories in this race and it wouldn't be a surprise to see him make it No. 4.
Matt Kenseth - He won the Daytona 500 and will try to become the fifth driver to win both Daytona races in the same year. The most underrated champion and current points leader in recent times.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. - OK, now that the 143-race losing streak is over (we're back at 1 for those of you snoring at home), he's always a big threat to win on a plate track and he has two wins in the Daytona July race and he will have a special patriotic paint scheme. All that may be too much for the rest of the field to overcome.
Kevin Harvick - He's been under the radar lately, but he's got two wins in the July Daytona race and usually about the time you forget about him is when he strikes for the victory.
Jimmie Johnson - Don't look now all you five-timer haters, but he's just 23 points out the lead. His season started with a disaster in Daytona and, he'd like nothing more than a little redemption for his team and maybe even his C-posts.
Shoulda, woulda, coulda - Jeff Gordon has been running much better lately. He piled up a long list of bad luck finishes early in the season and that's all that's keeping me from picking him this week. This really is a case of a guy who could win it (he's done it six times) or finish well back in the pack.
Here's a look at how last week's picks fared at Kentucky
Kyle Busch: 10th. Led a race high 118 laps, only to be derailed by a broken shock mount.
Jimmie Johnson: 6th Also was contending for win until he thought a tire was going down late in race, but rallied late.
Tony Stewart: 32nd. Early fuel injection issue cost him a lot of laps early in race.
Brad Keselowski:: 1st. Was strong all night, and then led last 56 laps.
Matt Kenseth: 7th. Another solid run for the points leader.
Here's a look at my results after 17 races and 85 picks.
31 top fives
42 top 10s
Grade for the week: B+ I gave you the winner in Keselowski and then three others in the top 10. Both Busch and Johnson would have been in the top five if not for their issues and Kenseth is consistent as always. Stewart still has not won at Kentucky and Darlington, the last two tracks he needs to cross off of his list.
One Last Thing: Matt Kenseth will be trying to do something that only four drivers have accomplished, win the July Daytona race the same year as winning the Daytona 500. Those who have accomplished the feat are Bobby Allison, Cale Yarborough, LeeRoy Yarborough and Fireball Roberts. Allison was the last to accomplish the feat in 1982.