Rating The Races: Part 2


THE WINSTON- It’s supposed to be brutal and it was. Sterling Marlin slowed down to pit, Ward Burton hit him and Dale Jarrett and Rusty Wallace also crashed hard. In the end Dale Earnhardt Jr. decided one good shove to try to pass leader Ryan Newman was all that was fair game and he resisted the urge to knock the kid clear back to Indiana for the win. Newman won setting off a frankly embarrassing amount of Seinfeld puns. Rating B-
The Winston is sort of like FOX’s Saturday night Cops show. It can be amusing but you usually feel guilty after watching it and hope the neighbors don’t find out you did.

WORLD 600- Jimmie Johnson seemed to have the event in hand until he slid through his pit box on his final stop. I think he hoped by losing the race he could put an end to the “Young Gun” nonsense FOX was bombarding innocent race fans with by that point. That left teammate Mark Martin and Matt Kenseth to decide things while battling through heavy lapped traffic and Mark looked like he was twenty years younger with some moves he made. The win snapped a two year winless drought for Mark and signaled the beginning of a strong second third of the season for Mark. Rating B Them old guns still have a little gunpowder left in em too.

DOVER- This was another run of a mill until a great ending. Ricky Rudd had more bad luck, when a tire was left loose on his final pit stop of the day. That left the race win to be decided by stunning rookie Jimmie Johnson and legendary veteran Bill Elliott. Johnson’s team gained track position by not pitting under the final caution, while Bill’s team gave him a great stop. Those last five laps were fun to watch. Over all rating B- or C+. It depends on which of those two drivers you’d rather have seen win.

POCONO- This wasn’t much of a race unless you enjoyed watching Jeff Gordon spin himself out on pit road or a lot mechanical carnage of the equipment failure sort. Mark Martin seemed poised to grab a win on fuel mileage when NASCAR threw one of their infamous “Debris cautions” to spice things up. Ricky Rudd finally seemed poised to grab a win after having come so close so frequently in the past month, but blew a tire. Fatback McSwain sounded suicidal after the race. (But he’d sound homicidal with Rudd as his target a few months later.) Dale Jarrett won. Mark Martin finished second. Rating D. You’d think winner Dale Jarrett wouldn’t have been quite so smug when he claimed he saw the debris and when asked to describe it said it was “NASCAR debris.” You know the invisible stuff.

MICHIGAN- Once again Matt Kenseth won (third win of the season) and once again his pit crew was essential in gaining him track position over strong contender Jimmie Johnson. But in the end Kenseth had to survive a hard three lap duel to the finish set up by NASCAR red flagging the race after Elliott Sadler’s crash. Rating B. Michigan races have been pretty sedate as of late, so I’m grading on a curve. Too bad the drivers aren’t racing on banked curves at Michigan.

SONOMA- Ricky Rudd had suffered outrageous fortune for five or six races and probably should have won four of them arriving at Sonoma. But that day Lady Luck smiled on Rudd by throwing her wrath at another driver, Jerry Nadeau, who was the road course hired gun in the Petty Engineering 44 car that day, had the race lead and looked to have the win in hand until the car broke with eleven laps to go. The run was strong enough to land Nadeau the seat at least temporarily. And Rudd’s bad luck was behind him we all thought. Oh, no. In fact the real fun was just getting started for the 28 bunch. Rating C- They keep making this track more like an oval. Why not just make it an oval and get it over with? And they need to hire a better pest control manager. Those darn red legged frogs are swarming all over the place. I’d try DDT.

FIRECRACKER 400- This is another race better remembered for what went on after the fact than on track, but for once the drivers didn’t get to have all the post-race fun. Yes, it was a stupid race, because Daytona is the stupid sister of the stupidest track in the world, Talladega, and yes there was a big wreck that somehow seemed to catch track officials off guard despite the decades of mayhem. There weren’t enough rescue crews about so Brett Bodine’s Ford burned to the ground without so much as a fireman spitting on it, and DJ walked back to the garage rather than calling a taxi or ambulance. The big story of the race was Dale Earnhardt Jr. being forced by his crew chief to break tradition and actually race Michael Waltrip for the win rather than watching his back. The race ended under caution and was not red flagged, which didn’t sit well with some back stretch fans who’d had enough of NASCAR’s inconsistency, and pelted the back straight with a fusillade of seat cushions, beer cans, disposable cameras, crumpled up copies of lawsuits filed against ISC this year and about everything else short of livestock. A stupid end to a stupid race. Rating D- What NASCAR hath wrought. FOX decided to congratulate themselves on a their race coverage rather than covering what was going on.

JOLIET- (Which ain’t nowhere near Chicago) This was one of the stunners of the year. Even prior to getting suspended at Martinsville, former rookie wonder Kevin Harvick’s 2002 season hadn’t been anything to write home about unless he wanted his parents to disinherit him. Some race fans will tolerate a punk that wins races, but a punk that runs mid-pack isn’t much fun. Harvick was able to stretch fuel mileage and at one point made an extremely suspect move passing on the apron that almost took out the field which Jeff Gordon pronounced “stupid” after finishing second. Jimmy Spencer said Harvick “drove like an idiot.” Spencer didn’t get along with anyone this year, least of all Chip Ganassi. Rated D- You’re grandkids will be reaching into their coin purses to pay for Dentucreme before they have a decent race at Joliet.

NEW HAMPSHIRE- At Daytona enraged fans threw debris on the track. At New Hampshire an enraged track threw debris on the fans. (Yeah, I used that joke earlier that year, but I really liked it.) God bless him for trying, Bob Bahre responded to criticism of his track by trying to pave a new groove at the bottom of the track. Only the track came apart and shredded tires. It was a nightmare of cars just losing control slamming into the wall and each other and several strong running cars were right-offs after what some still termed “the race.” Rating D (Which is better than NHIS usually gets. At least it didn’t put you to sleep.) Bobby Labonte had the quote of the year saying, “They ought to give everybody their money back for impersonating a race track.”

POCONO- On a rainy, dreary day in the Poconos, something remarkable happened. Somehow NASCAR got the race in. (Well all but 25 laps of it because darkness fell). Somehow Steve Park and Dale Earnhardt Jr. both walked away from a nasty first lap wreck, that saw an obviously concerned Earnhardt rush to check on the condition of his teammate, and a moving moment as the two walked away together arm in arm waving at the crowd. Somehow Park’s car didn’t end up in the infield with potentially tragic consequences. (Honestly unless you’ve been in Pocono’s infield for a race and have stood along that very same fence, you have absolutely no idea how close the sport came to a tragedy of mind numbing proportions that day.) And somehow at the end, two drivers many people thought were has-beens a few years ago, Sterling Marlin and Bill Elliott were fighting for the win. On lap 156 Elliott ducked beneath Marlin to take the lead and was never headed. And then it got dark. Rating B (if you’re over 40) B- (If you’re over 30) C- (if you’re under 30) F if you sat there all day in the driving rain and left before the end.

BRICKYARD- There have been a lot of great races at Indy, unfortunately none of them involving cars with fenders. But if you grade on a curve (and these curves need more grading) this wasn’t a totally horrible race. Jimmy Spencer got back at Kurt Busch for Bristol and Busch made some rather humorous gestures to express his displeasure. Tony Stewart who covets a Brickyard 400 win the way most southern drivers want a Southern 500 trophy, led lad, but once his car seemed to fade his team accused him of simply giving up. Rusty Wallace, whose winless streak was beginning to grate on his nerves had the lead, but once again Bill Elliott emerged late, passed Wallace and went on to win. So Tony Stewart punched a photographer. (Well at first he and Gibbs denied it but since then they admit it happened. Hmm. About this Rusty Jarrett guy) Grade C+ They didn’t charge extra for the post race fight.

WATKINS GLEN- As road course races go this wasn’t a bad one. The main contenders for the win were Tony Stewart and Robby Gordon, leaving a lot of race fans scratching their heads wondering who they wished would lose more. Stewart performed admirably in light of the scrutiny he was under for his acts at Indy. But to add a bit more pepper to the stew, once again a race was red flagged, and on the restart Stewart clearly took off well before the restart line leading to a hurricane of controversy. Joe Gibbs was able to produce a signed document stating because Home Depot is the official home improvement center of NASCAR, the sanctioning body’s rules do not apply to Tony and that settled that. Rating C I admire a guy who can stand up to that kind of adversity. I shake my head and wonder how a guy is silly enough to have to constantly have to face such adversity.

MICH-AGAIN Well it might not have been the best race of the year but compared to the first race here it gets “Most Improved” honors. There was a lot of good side by side racing at times, but in the end it once again came down to a call in the pits. Fuel only and two tire stops had been the call of choice this year with track position so important but Todd Parrott decided to go with four tires on DJ’s 88 car on the final stop with 32 laps to go which dropped Jarrett back to 17th. Jarrett had enough time to capitalize on the tires to take the win. Rating B. (Maybe a B- since I had to work on my birthday.

Rating the Races: Part 1

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Monster Energy NASCAR Cup, 2002

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