DW: Things I learned over two exciting Charlotte weekends
From Jimmie Johnson's and Jamie McMurray's wins to Danica Patrick's stellar Coke 600 qualifying run to news of Trevor Bayne's full-time Sprint Cup ride, our Darrell Waltrip offers keen and thorough analysis.
Crew chief Chad Knaus (pictured) received some help from fellow Hendrick Motorsports crew chief Kenny Francis at Charlotte.
Todd Warshaw / Getty Images North America
By Darrell Waltrip
Believe it or not, in all my back and forth trips from Nashville to Charlotte for our daughterâs wedding last Saturday, I did learn a lot of things while at the track. The "10 Days of Thunder" as they called it at Charlotte Motor Speedway gave us some exciting racing, some surprise winners and some intriguing questions for the future.
I guess one of the main things I learned was that despite all his wins and six championships as a crew chief, veteran Chad Knaus isn't afraid to ask for help from a teammate. After a less than stellar performance in the Sprint All-Star Race two weeks ago, Chad went to Kenny Francis, the crew chief of the No. 5 car for help. Even though they didn't win the race, that's the first place I would have gone, too, because that No. 5 car won two segments in the Sprint All-Star Race and looked to have the car to win it all until he got into the wall.
A sign of a great leader is one that never hesitates to ask for help when it's needed so Chad went to Kenny asking for assistance. Naturally, Kenny readily helped his teammate and as we saw and as Chad was quoted as saying after the race, "we robbed the bank" because Sunday night showed the type of dominating performance we have been expecting from the No. 48 all year long.
I also learned, what I had already suspected, that despite all the denials from the No. 48 camp about all the noise of them not winning so far this season had no affect on them, might not be quite so true. If you listened particularly to Jimmie Johnson's post-race interviews both on our NASCAR on FOX broadcast and then later in the media center, he made some pointed comments that left a pretty clear impression in my mind that maybe all the questions about not winning in 2014 really were bugging him a little bit.
I mean let's face it, it's just human nature. When you are used to winning and winning often and then it stops for a while, the questions, the criticisms and all that stuff getting stirred up is bound to eat at you. Both the No. 48 and the No. 20 have admitted that they put so much into their battle in the 2013 Chase that went down to the wire, that they got behind in their preparation for 2014.
Up until Sunday, Jimmie hadn't won and even after the Coca-Cola 600, Matt Kenseth still hasnât won. Now Jimmie has his first of what I suspect will be many wins this year and I wonât be surprised to see Matt do the same very soon.
I also had something reaffirmed to me something I already knew -- that Jeff Gordon is one tough race car driver. Jeff started having back spasms again and had to miss some of Saturdayâs practice for the Coca-Cola 600. I actually wonder if his wreck in the Sprint All-Star Race might have tweaked something in his back? Here was Jeff telling everyone on Sunday of the 600 that he had to prove to his team how tough he was. C'mon man, Jeff Gordon has won 89 races and four championships. He doesnât have to prove anything to anyone.
I guess I really shouldnât be surprised, but I did learn that Rick Hendrick is pretty darn good at celebrating in Victory Lane. Did you all see how well he sprayed that champagne around. He was like a fireman putting out a 4-alarm fire with that stuff. I guess if you stop and think about it, he sure has had a lot of practice celebrating in Victory Lane, but Sunday night he sure seemed to be enjoying that one just a little bit more.
I also learned that Jamie McMurray and his No. 1 team grasped the opportunity they were given and capitalized on it. Jamie, of course, two weeks ago won the Sprint All-Star Race, but we all said the key was they had to keep that momentum going. They seized the opportunity and got themselves a top-five finish Sunday evening. So it was a good week to be No. 1. They should be heading into Dover this weekend with a full head of steam, so keep your eye on them this weekend.
What can you say about Kurt Busch and his performance running both the Indianapolis 500 as well as the Coca-Cola 600? Kurt qualified 12th for the Indy 500 but then stumbled and wrecked his primary car in practice. Going to a backup car that actually wasn't his, with very little practice, Kurt ran well in the Indy 500, came home sixth and won Rookie of the Race honors. I couldn't be prouder of Kurt. He handled himself well and represented our sport extremely well. Unfortunately, motor issues kept him from running all 600 miles Sunday night at Charlotte but still what an incredible day he had.
You have to tip your hat to track owner Bruton Smith and track president Marcus Smith for a fantastic 10 Days of Thunder at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Bruton continues to prove why he has always been the best friend a race fan will ever see. It doesn't matter if it's improvements to the facilities or the events he provides around the racetrack for the families, he clearly leads the way when it comes to caring about the fans. Bruton Smith has easily earned the right to take his spot in the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
His son Marcus has clearly become one of the nation's preeminent racetrack promoters. He learned the lessons very well from his father but Marcus has put his own touch and flair on things that clearly makes Charlotte Motor Speedway a showcase facility. Just think about all the great racing we witnessed those two weeks in Charlotte. We had the Sprint Showdown race, the Camping World Truck Series race, we had Sprint All-Star Race qualifying and then the race itself. Last week brought us an exciting knockout qualifying session, the Nationwide race and then naturally one of the crown jewel events in our sport, the Coca-Cola 600.
We had all that and yet still had time to honor and show our appreciation for those who had given the last full measure of devotion to their country plus celebrate our soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines who continue to keep us safe on a daily basis. It was just a perfect mix of fun and reflection for one of our most sacred national holiday weekends.
Don't get me started on some of those naysayers out there that are harping that the Coca-Cola 600 is too long of a race. I don't want to hear it. Our sport, just like our country is rich with traditions that should never be touched. The Coca-Cola 600 is a perfect example of that. It's a special event. It's the longest race on our schedule and there should never be talk of shortening that race. It's perfect.
Young Trevor Bayne, our surprise 2011 Daytona 500 champion learned that he will have a full-time NASCAR Sprint Cup ride in 2015 plus the fact they are bringing back the No. 6 car. What a thrill that has to be for that young man to have a clear picture of his future for once. I wish him only the best, as he is a quality young man.
I also learned that the No. 4 team continues to be feast or famine. When they are on, no one can touch them. When they are off, they continue to let wins slip through their fingers. They just have this knack this season of breaking one of my Golden Rules of "Don't Beat Yourself." They've got a fast race car. They have an awesome crew chief. They have a phenomenal driver who could possibly win every week. They simply have to get that No. 4 pit crew tightened up.
The other thing I learned, well actually I already knew it, but was reminded it of it once again this weekend is the group of haters still out there about Danica Patrick. It truly is comical the abuse I get when I brag on Danica when she is running well. She qualified fourth for the Coca-Cola 600. She ran up front early on but then the handling went away later on before the engine finally let go.
The young lady can drive a race car. How can anyone not be impressed what she is doing out there against 42 guys? I've said this before that I think Kevin Harvick has done a lot to help mentor Danica this year. I think if she can possibly work on giving her team better feed back and they can transition that into giving her a car she is comfortable with, then we are going to see more consistent performances from that team. I think she represents herself and our sport really well. There is no denying the new fans she has brought to NASCAR and that is always a positive.
I think it's also becoming more and more apparent that while Roush Fenway Racing may be adding Trevor Bayne to a full-time ride, that they are on the verge of losing both Greg Biffle and Carl Edwards. I don't know where they might be going, but I think it looks pretty darn clear come 2015 that they will be driving for someone else.
This weekend we are in Dover. Sadly, it's the white flag lap for our NASCAR on FOX coverage of the 2014 season. It also will mark the halfway point of NASCAR's regular season. It's always a bittersweet time for me when or portion of the broadcast schedule ends. We have so many storylines to follow especially with all the incredible racing we've had this year which I credit NASCAR for with their rule changes, Chase format changes and qualifying changing. It was some brilliant moves and all us fans are the winners because of it.
Speaking of winning, that's all the focus is on by these drivers today. "Great points days" are a thing of the past. It's all about winning and that's where I have wanted to the focus to be on for years. I also love the storyline that is developing because of all the different winners we've had.
Remember that the Chase format will include 16 drivers this year. We have said from the beginning of the season that "win and you're in" but a win might not be enough believe it or not. Originally folks were saying they didn't believe we'd have 16 winners come the start of the Chase, but news flash, we already have 10 different winners and we still aren't halfway in the regular season.
Now it might be shaping up that you might need to have two wins to guarantee you a spot and be in the top 16 in points when the checkered flag falls at Richmond in mid-September. That's something I am going to be watching closely because, again, not a whole lot of people ever thought we'd have 16 different winners. We're sitting at 10 with a lot of racing to go!
So it's off to Dover and The Monster Mile. It's concrete and crab cakes this weekend along with a twinge of sadness as another year will be in the books for our NASCAR on FOX coverage.