Rating the race – California dreaming on a sunny winter’s day, and for viewers all those dreams came trueBy Ron Thornton
Why I watched…
ESPN did not broadcast the race from Fontana. That was a pretty good reason to watch on Sunday. After watching the Nationwide event Saturday, after hearing Allan speak an octave too high, after hearing Rusty speak at all, they brought in the dynamic Joey Logano for an extended stay in the broadcast booth. If that wasn’t enough, the visuals soon became a bunch of guys turning left. My rating of Saturday was a whopping 5.5/10. Hey, at least I have a new appreciation for Andy Petree in the booth. Too bad about his company. Now, I waited to see if the FOX crew could do something with this track where ratings go to die and to see if Jimmie Johnson could win his sixth there, or if Tony Stewart might make it three for four.
What in hell was that? As the laps clicked down, Mike Joy announced that we were watching the best race of the season. To my shock, he was absolutely right. Two cars battled it out over the final three laps, two drivers who already had bad blood between them. As they went fender to fender, we knew that neither would back off to allow the other to slip away. On the final lap, on the final turn, Joey Logano drifted up into Denny Hamlin and as they made contact, Kyle Busch flashed his dominant car by on the outside to claim the win as the other two wrecked. Busch went to Victory Lane, Logano finished 6th, while Hamlin hit hard on the inside fence and wound up in the hospital.
Joey Logano is 22 years old, a talented driver who continues to find himself making friends like a drunk uncle at a family wedding. You might remember his situation a few years back with Kevin Harvick. Last week he feuded with Hamlin, This week, he had Tony Stewart looking to remove his head after he cut off Stewart on the final restart that left the former three-time champion in 22nd on the day. It may be just me, but I do not think Hamlin will feel any warmer or all that fuzzy about him after finishing the race Sunday piling into concrete.
There was no tight racing, at least to the eye, as the cars fanned out, spread apart, as the timed distance was measured in seconds instead of fractions. Yet, there was racing, there was passing, and those who faced adversity seemed to be able to overcome and become relevant again. A couple of dropped lugnuts during one pit stop could not stop Dale Earnhardt Jr from finishing second. Kurt Busch got a speeding penalty that put him a lap down and he had a podium finish. It was a cut tire that dropped Matt Kenseth a circuit behind and he left California seventh. Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson found themselves in cars that refused to do their bidding, yet they came in 11th and 12th. The impossible became possible, as you searched to see if Jiminy Cricket was indeed somewhere trackside wishing upon a star to make some dreams come true. I thought this destined to be the worst race so far this season. I was so very wrong.
I do not know how much to credit the announcing, the new car, the talent level of the drivers or the flow of the race, but this was the best presentation I have ever seen produced at the Auto Club Speedway. That was already the case even before we witnessed those final three laps.
Rating the race (9/10)…
It was a day when anything could happen, and did. There was action on the track, action once again off the track, a finish that had you up and cheering even from your couch, and a lot to talk about when it was all over. These are highlights they will be playing everywhere, even in places where they think NASCAR is just a southern way of saying “nice car.” From the track where ratings go to die, we just saw our best race, and most certainly the most thrilling finish of the season.