Great American Weekend…Or Was it Just Okay?
The first official weekend of all three major NASCAR series has come and passed. We saw rain delays, big crashes, controversial calls, and dreams come true. Looking at those phrases you would assume that it was a great weekend. Was it though?
The weekend started off on Friday with Craftsman returning as the main sponsor for the truck series. The on-track racing was good but was overshadowed by the rain. At the start of the race, we only got 3 laps in before we had a caution for rain. They kept the trucks running and did some caution laps and then got to racing again. Then more rain, more caution laps, more rain, and more caution laps. At least twenty percent of that race was run under caution due to rain.
The race started at 7:30pm and the entire race was scheduled for 100 laps. The race ended at 11:19pm on lap 79. That is a long time for a truck race, especially when they completed under 80% of the scheduled laps. With help from the rain, Zane Smith was declared the winner after he went off strategy on pit stops for track position to get the lead. I know NASCAR can’t control the weather, but at what point do they not look at running or finishing the race a different day?
On Saturday they ran the ARCA race and the Xfinity race. The Arca race didn’t start until 1:30pm. They could have run the truck race at 10:00 or 11:00am and had an entire day of racing. I understand they have tv slots to fill, but you shouldn’t let that dictate the quality of the on-track product. By the end of the race, it seemed like NASCAR was just tired of it and said forget it, end the race.
Saturday was a different story. I did not have a chance to watch the ARCA race, but the Xfinity race was great. With Noah Gragson and Ty Gibbs moving to the Cup series full time this season, I was intrigued about who was going to fill their shoes as the top drivers in the series. Austin Hill and Justin Allgaier put on a show. They both emerged as the top 2 cars early in the race and it wasn’t close. John Hunter Nemecheck led 8 laps of the race but didn’t quite look like he had enough for the other two. With the right opportunity he could have won, but it was not going to be easy for him.
This race ended up going to green-white-checker finish. For those that don’t know, this is the overtime for NASCAR. If the white flag, which indicates the last lap, has not flown and there is a caution, or a caution that will run past this point, the race will not end under caution. They will restart the cars and have a two-lap shootout to decide the winner. During any race, if the white flag waves, whether they are in overtime or not, the next flag ends the races.
Allgaier looked like the clear favorite at this point. He had his teammate Sam Meyer behind him pushing and they had a great restart. They were in front of the field and on the last lap, Meyer got a run, and tried to pass his teammate in-between turns 1 & 2. Allgaier blocks a little late but gives Meyer the room. Meyer didn’t see the run Austin Hill got behind him, gets a little loose, and comes down on Hill, spinning sideways, flipping up on his roof, and bringing out the caution. This moment is where the race got controversial.
As I was saying about the overtime, once the white flag drops, the next flag ends the race. So, that caution flag ended it. The way to determine the winner is to go back and see who was in the lead at the time of caution. Watching this happen in real time, I don’t know anybody who wouldn’t have thought Allgaier won the race. As Meyer is flipping, he is clearly in the lead. Time goes by and no winner is declared, leaving everybody wondering what was going on.
When watching the replay of the crash, the lights don’t come on for another 10 seconds after Meyer is crashing. Now, the lights don’t actually matter to the situation. They are just a visual way to have some sort of indicator as to when the time of caution was, just like the shot clock in basketball. What matters is the time, not the light. As they are talking about this, Allgaier, Hill, and John Hunter Nemechek are all down at the start finish line waiting to celebrate the win.
After what seemed like half an hour, NASCAR makes the call. Austin Hill is declared the winner, based on the photograph they had at time of caution. For some reason that I do not know why, they did not throw the caution until halfway down the backstretch, not as Sam Meyer is wrecking in front of the entire field. This was a bad call and complete failure on the part of NASCAR. As soon as Meyer went sideways, the caution should have been out. Whoever was in charge of pushing that button dropped the ball. It sucks that this is how the race ended because it was great, and Austin Hill drove a hell of a race and deserved to win. Just sucks that that moment is going to overshadow his win because honestly, he had enough speed and a big enough run he probably would’ve won the race anyways.
Now, let’s get to the marquee event of the NASCAR season, the Daytona 500. Surprisingly, it did not turn into a wreck fest. There were some incidents, but nothing too crazy. At least until the end. The Fords were dominant during the race as expected, with Brad Keselowski leading the most laps and winning Stage 1. The Chevrolets did pretty well with Ross Chastain winning stage 2. The Toyotas all showed up at the end as usual, except for Bubba Wallace who hit the wall early and had to fight back all day.
There were some late race moves for the win, lots of lead changes, even setting the record for the most lead changes in a Daytona 500. There was a late race caution sending the race to overtime and it was a long wait for that wreck to get cleaned up. There were a few cars that had to go to pit road for fuel because of all the extra laps. On the last lap, the top line stacked up and Travis Pastrana wrecked after a hard shot from Aric Almirola. This took out almost all the remaining lead lap cars, having NASCAR decide the end of the race for a second night in a row. This ruling didn’t take long. Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. was clearly in the lead and declared the winner.
The race itself was okay. The last few laps were very exciting, but most of the race was relatively tame. There were lots of lead changes, but most of them were early in runs. The most exciting part for me was watching them all try to hit pit road under green. Once a single line got more cars, it was over for the other line. Early in the race, it was the top. Later in the race, it was the bottom. What was the constant though? The Fords. They were easily the best cars on track and worked the best in tandem. It seemed like the drivers were able to side draft better this year, but numbers were the dominant factor. NASCAR got exactly what they wanted with this car at superspeedways, close racing and aggressive pushing. Unfortunately, numbers are king with this package.
It was an okay start to the season. The on-track racing for the Craftsman and Xfinity series races were great but overshadowed by weather and a controversial ending. In the Cup race, short runs were exciting, but numbers were what mattered, and second lines eventually ran out of steam. The drivers in all the series were very aggressive all weekend, so we should be in for a great season of on-track racing. Hopefully NASCAR won’t have to determine any more races and the weather is more forgiving. Not a bad start but hoping for better.