Cue the soundtrack for the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup season: “Stormy Weather.”
Mother Nature certainly doesn’t seem to be a fan of stock cars, given the weather reports. Three of the first seven races have been impacted by rain, including the most recent Duck Commander 500, which was rescheduled from Sunday late afternoon to Monday at noon.
But the weather-related craziness didn’t end there. The opening laps provided quite the spectacle. As drivers took laps to get a feel for the surface at Texas Motor Speedway, the Air Titans used to dry the track blew the hoods open on several cars, including those of Brad Keselowski and Danica Patrick.
The first 10 laps were run under caution to allow drivers to check their hinges to make sure everything was OK.
“That was odd,” said Jeff Gordon, who ended up finishing second. “When we left pit road at the beginning of the race, we drove by the two jet dryers, casually going by it. The last one about blew all of us over. I mean, I thought it damaged my car as well. It got my attention.”
The rain has been a pain for much of this season. It began at Daytona in February, where a prolonged downpour delayed the early going by almost seven hours, turning the Great American Race into a night event. The Duck Commander 500 had no similar options because of Sunday’s wet weather and what would have been a suicidal run (in regard to TV ratings) to go against the NCAA men’s basketball title game on Monday night.
So Monday early afternoon it was.
It’s definitely been a rough ride for the NASCAR Nation this season, despite rolling out an innovative marketing makeover by blowing up the Chase format to put the emphasis on winning races.
That’s led to a lot of drama on the track: seven races, seven winners, including Joey Logano in Texas.
It already looks like there will be a crazy crunch for the 16 Chase spots, with the interesting dynamic that the current points leader, Gordon, has yet to win a race.
“Every race that goes by that there’s a different winner, the pressure gets more intense,” Gordon said. “You just got to go look at that next opportunity and try to put yourself in that position to go win it.”
The problem is that the much of the attention has shifted to lousy weather, which in turn has factored into a decline in TV ratings. The first six Cup races have had declines in overnights compared to last year.
A week ago, Martinsville’s 3.8 rating was the lowest of any Sprint Cup telecast this season, and it was the lowest mark ever for a spring race in Martinsville, excluding rainouts.
The good news is that there are still 29 races remaining on the schedule. My view from the cheap seats says that’s way too many, but there’s no point in ranting about change because NASCAR isn’t going to shorten the season and turn money away.
But what NASCAR officials can do is hope for better weather. Rain is essential for all plant and animal life. But it’s killing NASCAR in the short run.
Kids these days
At only 18, Chase Elliott can cross “Nationwide Series victory” off his bucket list.
He did it in just his sixth Nationwide Series start, this past weekend at Texas. And it was definitely an A-list lineup of competition, including Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick, who were double-dipping by competing in the Nationwide and Sprint Cup races.
“It was cool just to have the opportunity to go race with those guys on a weekly basis in the Nationwide Series,” Elliott said during a teleconference on Tuesday. “I feel like that is definitely just a privilege in itself. And to have a car and a team and effort to try to go and outrun them, that’s just unbelievable to me to just be in an opportunity to be able to go do that.”
Expect him to continue to shine under the tutelage of NASCAR royalty. He drives for JR Motorsports, owned by Dale Earnhardt Jr., his sister Kelley Earnhardt Miller and Rick Hendrick. Chase also comes to the sport with strong family ties as the son of former Cup champ Bill Elliott.
“Just thinking back to the Earnhardt-Elliott relationship with my dad and his dad on track is just really cool to me to have Chase here in this organization,” Kelley said.
Chase’s dad is known as “Awesome Bill from Dawsonville.” But Chase was quick to clarify when we chatted during Speedweeks that there is no catchy nickname for him.
“I don’t care what your last name is, if you don’t get the job done you’re not going to be around very long,” Chase said.
People are going to remember Chase Elliott.
Surprising it took only six races.
Is Jimmie Johnson feeling the winless squeeze? Mr. Six-Time is in a “slump,” failing to win in his first seven starts.
That includes an unfortunate scenario on Monday when he accidentally got taken out by teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr., who lost control of his car early and drove it into the rain-saturated infield grass.
Johnson’s No. 48 Chevy was left with damage on the windshield and front left from the mud and debris. He was three laps down by time he got back in the race and ended up 25th.
“I haven’t felt any pressure with the new format yet,” Johnson said before this weekend’s race. “Maybe I’m naive or stupid of something else, but the season takes on so many different changes and I feel like we’ve had a few looks here recently at a victory.
“And I feel like it’s coming, and hope that it’s coming soon so that I don’t have to answer the question,” he said, laughing.
Tweet of the week
“In PRN interview, one of “Duck Dynasty” types said thrilled to be part of #nascar weekend because it’s “the redneck pinnacle of the world.” “ — @nateryan of USA TODAY, reflecting on the Texas Motor Speedway sponsorship with the Duck Dynasty gang