[media-credit name=”Dan Sanger” align=”alignright” width=”246″][/media-credit]Well after 143 races, rumors of conspiracy, alien abduction, and sabotage, Dale Jr found victory lane again today at Michigan International Speedway. As big a story as that is it is questionable whether it is the biggest story of the weekend. But it is without question a much bigger story than what his girlfriend thinks of his win or the fact that he kissed her in victory lane.
Let’s take a look at the other stories the weekend brought to us. The first and probably the most important was the tire situation. Although Goodyear tested tires on the new surface at MIS in April the tire compound that they brought to Michigan was not suitable for the new surface in the heat of summer. The speeds and the ambient air temperature and the heat of the new pavement caused the tires to blister badly.
A tire builds heat inside. That heat has to dissipate. If it has a thin enough face, or the surface of the tire that is on the track, the heat dissipates harmlessly through the face. If the face is too thick it dissipates through the face and blisters the layers of rubber, or it dissipates through the side walls. A tire that face blisters is at risk for blowing out. A tire that dissipates through the side wall will blow out.
Goodyear recognized the problem on Thursday afternoon. They instructed teams to scuff in the tires and put them through a heat cycle in order to harden the surface of the tire. It was a logical solution and sound in principle. NASCAR was sure the speeds would drop as the weekend progressed and that would cool the tire down.
But the speeds didn’t drop. In the heat of the day on Friday, Greg Biffle turned a mock qualifying lap of nearly 205 mph. The tires on his car were badly blistered. With qualifying to be the next afternoon, Goodyear could chance waiting no longer. They announced a tire change would take place on Saturday and there would be an emergency practice session on Saturday after the Nationwide Series race.
The practice session was a chaotic mess of drivers who were limited in practice time because of engine concerns, drivers whose cars were vastly changed because of the new tire, and drivers who damaged engines seriously by practicing on the new tires. The outlook was bleak to say the least. The drivers were reduced from skilled pilots to helpless bystanders as crew chiefs and engineers scoped engines and designed changes and researched performances and histories. Many were unnerved and unhappy about it. But it was the same for all of them. No one would truly know what they had until the green flag dropped on Sunday.
When the green flew there were a lot of cars that simply wouldn’t adjust to the new rubber. Then came the shock, the new tires fixed the left side of the car but not the right. Teams were blistering right rear tires now instead of the left side tires. After two competition cautions, the cards had been dealt. You had what you had or what your crew could give you.
It was familiar faces that rose to the top of the mountain, Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, Matt Kenseth, and the days super hero Batman. Dale Jr climbed to the top of the mountain after falling back to 37th and he never looked back. Tony Stewart would challenge but would fall short in the long run.
The Nationwide race was story number 2. Although they had no tire problems they seemed to have difficulties in getting cars to handle at those speeds. Danica Patrick would spin 3 times finally causing large amounts of damage to the Go Daddy car after spinning while being passed by Austin Dillon. Although there was no contact between the two cars the aero pull, pulled Danica into a spin when she sought the lower line while Dillon was going by on the low side.
The three spin day prompted response from her crew chief Tony Eury Jr saying she wasn’t getting respect from other drivers because they didn’t like getting beat by her. He endorsed the Dale Earnhardt School of driving and response for his driver to take the respect he felt she deserved.
Sadly, the skills needed for that school of competitive driving are severely lacking on the part of his driver whose statistics do not show her to be a proficient driver nor a good judge of competitive driving skills. A driver who claims to not be able to read a tachometer and to not know whether stock cars can roll over is probably not going to be accepted in the school or on the track until those skills are improved.
The final story of the weekend was a bit sadder. When a TV broadcaster makes inappropriate comments about a driver’s girlfriend/wife/significant other on live TV, the professionalism of the journalism becomes zero. When a professional print journalist asks a question of a highly competitive driver who has just finished second if he is happy he finished second so another driver could win. The intelligence factor involved in that just hit the zero mark. When the driver being asked is known for being the king of deadpan humor and sarcasm what answer would you expect to get? For fans and journalists to then react negatively to that driver is unimaginable.
First of all, as a journalist the lack of bias involved was phenomenal. Much more so than someone clapping and shaking a first time winner’s hand at the Daytona 500.
Second, for fans of a driver who is known for his level of respect for other competitors and fans of those competitors to react with such venom and ugly was completely uncalled for.
Third, for anyone to believe that every driver in that garage was not happy to see Dale Jr win is ridiculous. If for no other reason than they wouldn’t be asked if he was going to win anymore.
Was the win of NASCAR’s legacy the biggest story of the weekend? Maybe but it certainly wasn’t alone on the top of the mountain, any more than Dale Jr was alone in victory lane.
That said, to all the competitors in all the series thanks for giving us everything you have to give, you are our heroes. Most importantly, thanks to all the families who shared their loved ones with us so we could cheer our favorite driver and favorite teams. You are the true heroes of the sport and we are forever in your debt.