One for the road: Fans want more races going the wrong way
In his always-colorful weekly commentary, DW applauds Dale Jr., compares short-track racing to road-course racing, discusses adding a road course to the Chase, and says it's time for change at Stewart-Haas Racing.
Darrell Waltrip says it's time for Stewart-Haas Racing to make changes to Kevin Harvick's pit crew.
Jerry Markland / Getty Images North America
By Darrell Waltrip
You know the old cliche that there are only two things you can always count on -- death and taxes? Well, in NASCAR Sprint Cup racing there are also two other things you can count on. After we run a race at Martinsville, Bristol or Richmond, the fans clamor for more short-track racing on the schedule. It also never fails that after we run the races at Sonoma and Watkins Glen, fans clamor for more road-course races in our schedule. On top of all that, fans have been saying for the last couple years that there should be a road course race in the Chase.
Personally, I have mixed emotions about adding more road-course races into an already packed NASCAR schedule. If you stop and think about it, road-course racing actually is a lot like short-track racing. They produce the same kind of beatin' and bangin', pushin' and shovin' plus bent-up fenders and usually a few bent-up tempers. You have all that plus exciting finishes. So if you add our three short tracks and the two road courses, we basically have five tracks on the schedule that equal out to eight races of our current 36-race season.
Like I mentioned, some fans have been saying there should be a road course race in the Chase. Their point is that we race both Sonoma and Watkins Glen, but other than the points they generate for the teams on that particular race weekend, they serve no other purpose because right now there isn't a road course race in the Chase. All that data and all that strategy the teams figure out really aren't used again until the following year.
I think I would be okay with it if NASCAR opted to add a road course race into the Chase. I think my first question would be, okay then what track loses a race in the Chase to make room for a road-course track? That sort of opens Pandora's Box right there.
It sure is ironic that at Michigan where it used to dominate, Roush Fenway Racing wasn't very good. Then a week later, Carl Edwards in his Roush Fenway Ford became the eighth different winner to get his first road-course win at Sonoma. Then look back to who finished ninth and it's his teammate, Greg Biffle. Again, using an old cliche, but what a difference a week can make, huh?
Another reason road-course racing is a lot like short-track racing is you have to expect the unexpected. When that race started Sunday, it looked like AJ Allmendinger was the class of the field. He led the most laps -- 35 -- Sunday and looked like he might be able to pull off a surprise victory. We always expect Marcos Ambrose to do well on the road courses; it's just unfortunate Sunday he didn't have the car underneath him to do it. His God-given talent at road racing sure was on display, though, Sunday. He took a mediocre car and still wrangled a top-10 finish out of it. That was all Marcos right there in my book.
Jamie McMurray won his second straight pole at Sonoma. Jamie has proven to folks not only is he a good road racer, but he's a threat to win every week. He led nine laps and came home fourth. That helped move him up to 19th in the points.
It's always unpredictable who is going to win on a road course. One thing we've seen, though, is the teams that have a plan, believe in the plan, execute their plan and stick to their plan no matter what, always seem to rise to the top. That was Carl's strength on Sunday. He and crew chief Jimmy Fennig were determined to only have a two pit-stop race. That's what they did and that's how they ended up in Victory Circle.
Jeff Gordon, one of the best road racers our sport has ever seen, had three pit stops and finished second. Speaking of the unexpected and, quite honestly, in this case, the unbelievable -- Dale Earnhardt Jr., who admittedly hates road-course racing, had five pit stops and still finished third. If that doesn't make you scratch your head, then let me throw in it was also Dale Jr.'s best road course finish ever. You heard me right; I said EVER. Go figure -- and he did it on five pit stops.
It just was impressive to see how Carl held a pretty wheel there at the end of that race, holding off Jeff Gordon. Believe it or not, that was Jeff's eighth second-place finish at Sonoma. Carl held him off, though, and got his second win of the year. That will be a bolt of adrenaline throughout the entire Roush Fenway organization. Two weeks ago they were dog meat at Michigan in Jack Roush's backyard. A week later they now have a car guaranteed to be in the 2014 Chase.
The sport of NASCAR enjoyed a great weekend of racing. I was so proud of my buddy Brendan Gaughan for winning the Nationwide race Saturday at Road America. The boy had a couple off-road excursions early in the race but was able to pull off his first Nationwide victory. It also was only the third time in NASCAR and Nationwide history that a race was run in the rain. I also thought it was really sweet of Brendan in Victory Lane to dedicate the win to his grandfather.
My heart did go out to Alex Tagliani. He appeared to be on his way to his first win when he ran out of gas on Lap 49 of the scheduled 50. It was amazing to watch him come into the pits, take four tires, start in the middle of the back but still manage to get back to second on a green-white-checkered finish.
So now we are off to my Old Kentucky Home for a triple-header this weekend. The Camping World gang runs Thursday night. Then the Nationwide group races Friday night with the Cup series following that up on Saturday night. I love that track. Selfishly, since I helped design and promote it from the very beginning, I believe it's a great addition to the Cup series. The fans from Ohio, Kentucky and the surrounding area are passionate NASCAR fans who love having a weekend of all three series to watch.
Who is going to win? Your guess is as good as mine. Roush Fenway was supposed to run great at Michigan. They didn't, yet came back to win on a road course the very next week, of all places. Some of the teams, like Joe Gibbs Racing that you'd expect to run well at mile-and-a-half tracks, simply haven't this year. The Penske cars up until Sunday had been running very well everywhere, yet they go to Sonoma and the best they could put on the board was a 16th-place finish.
The only organization I've seen that's been able to be fast everywhere they go has been Hendrick Motorsports. That's the sum of all the parts right there. The owner, the resources, the drivers and the crew chiefs make them a threat to win no matter where we go.
Oh, just one last thing. If I was driving that No. 4 car, I would be raising so much cain they'd probably have to shove me in a closet, and even that wouldn't shut me up. You know what you have in Kevin Harvick. You know what you have in his crew chief, Rodney Childers. You know what you have in your owners -- Tony Stewart and Gene Haas -- plus the resources they have.
Why they don't have the best pit crew in racing is beyond me. If I was Gene Haas, somebody would be missing a tire changer, a gas man and a jackman -- whatever it took to get this pit-crew issue behind them. You talk about a team having its own pit-crew challenge, well, the No. 4 car is carrying the flag there. Bottom line, it's time to stop complaining about it week after week and go fix it. I'd go down pit road and go get me the best person in each position.
When you have the kind of sponsors they have, the kind of driver and crew chief they have and the kind of resources at their fingertips, it's once again what I call the blind obvious. Why don't they have the best pit crew to match everything else? Simply quit talking about it. Simply quit complaining about it. Simply go out and fix it.