IMAGE COURTESY OF DOVERSPEEDWAY.COM
CHICAGOLAND SPEEDWAY, JOLIET, ILLINOIS: The Austrian Grand Prix on Sunday was supposedly the best race of the 2018 Formula 1 season, with Max Verstappen ending a twenty-something race drought since his previous win.
If you are thinking that this is indeed the case, that perhaps this race was the best one you could have seen all weekend, you might be terribly mistaken.
On what was supposed to be one of the most boring race tracks in all of the 36-race NASCAR schedule for 2018, something a bit more surprising happened at Chicagoland Speedway, just a few hours after the Austrian Grand Prix wrapped up.
A race broke out. An actual race. A race that wasn't decided until the last lap.
A race where with a couple laps to go, a hard-charging challenger for the lead accidentally tagged a retaining wall, giving everyone watching the impression that the race was over, that the leader was going to run away with it.
Not so fast. 2nd place wasn't exactly done with the race.
Like an elephant who angrily realized that the mouse you just dropped on its foot was fake, the driver in second place, The Credit One-sponsored, Chip Ganassi-owned #42 Chevrolet ZL1 Camaro (okay, it's not really a Camaro) of Kyle Larson came back to challenge for the lead.
And then the leader, the Skittles-sponsored, Gibbs Racing driver, and serial hater of puppies and children, Kyle Busch, driving the #18 "I'd even mow down Jesus for a win" Toyota Camry (not really a Toyota Camry, either) encountered a tangle of lapped traffic, which allowed 2nd place to catch up to him.
The last lap was epic. It can be seen here.
The only problem: It ended with Kyle Busch punting someone out of the way in order to win it.
And he wasn't done there.
After he won the race, he then gloated, to the booing crowd, about having punted Larson into the weeds, even going so far as blaming Larson for causing him to do that. I'd post a video, but to be entirely honest, I can watch horrible professional wrestling programming to see all the gloating that I want to, where people are bragging about just how awesome they are, where people gloat about how terrible they are, and unlike Kyle Busch, the wrestlers actually look convincing while they're doing it.
Perhaps Busch can learn how to become convincingly gloaty by spending some time with the WWE, with World Wrestling Entertainment also perhaps training him how to properly throw a chair at another driver during a post-race interview...
Beyond that, Kyle Larson showed that he was made of better material, even going so far as to give a thumbs-up to the guy that just tried to punt him into the wall. Yes, Larson did something of a badly-performed slide job right in front of Kyle Busch-League, and bumped into Busch, but I don't think it was intentional, especially after seeing Larson's awesome, much-more-mature response afterward.
What this indicates is that bad guys in the sport of NASCAR haven't gone away, they simply receive better sponsorship offers from corporate candy companies.
Even with the ultimate crappy ending of a leering, gibbering, spoiled race car driver in Kyle Busch climbing out of his damaged car, after the race had ended, to receive his checkered flag, and wave to the two or three fans of his in the stands that would actually admit to being fans of his, this race was unlike any other that I can recall on any mile-and-a-half track of in the recent past (and put almost every other race to shame this season, now that I think about it), namely because while the #4 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford driven by Kevin Harvick initially appeared to have had the dominant car at a few points, at no point was the outcome of this race anywhere close to being certain, as anyone (or most anyone, anyway) could have ended up with the win.
You didn't see this happening during the Austrian Grand Prix.
The race winner and 33-year-old perpetually-spoiled 13-year-old driver, Kyle Busch, had quite possibly one of the more-horrible cars out on the track when the race began earlier on Sunday.
He was waaaay back in the pack, and somehow ended up winning the race. You also didn't see this happen during the Austrian Grand Prix.
At times it would appear that Martin Truex Jr., driver of the #78 Furniture Row Toyota, also the winner last week at Sonoma, would be around at the end of the race, and then a surprise leader showed up in the Stewart-Haas Racing #10 Ford Fusion, driven by Aric Almirola (eventual stage 1 winner), the replacement for outgoing driver Danican't Patrick, who unsurprisingly drove his way to the lead, and stayed there for several laps, all on his own...unlike Danica, who never found herself in the lead, unless she remained the only car out on the track during a round of green-flag pitstops, or all 39 other drivers somehow managed to die in their cars, and she could still only manage a 22nd-place finish. Even Clint Bowyer, another Stewart-Haas Racing teammate, looked like he could play the part of spoiler all day long.
In the end, with the exception of Kyle Busch demonstrating to the crowd that he's the most likely candidate in automotive circles deserving enough to have large chunks of a doomed Soviet space station fall on him while he sleeps, the fans, even the ones out roasting to death in the stands, were the real winners in the Overton's 400 at Chicagoland Speedway. In short. NASCAR finally figured out how to put on one hell of a race, a race that I didn't even really want to watch until I decided, at the last moment, to push aside the carpentry project that I didn't really want to do either, and give this race a chance.
I'm glad I did.
Stage 1 winner: Aric Almirola...his first-ever stage win, and ended up leading 70 laps. Impressive, especially considering he was in the same equipment that Danica Patrick had last year.
Stage 2 winner: Kevin Harvick.
Overall race winner: Kyle Busch, who also promptly fired a shotgun at a flight of doves and pushed a wheelchair-bound, elderly woman down a flight of stairs on his way to receiving his winner's trophy after the race.
1. Early dominator and Stewart-Haas teammate Clint Bowyer got caught speeding on pit road, and ended up going three laps down. It didn't matter, as he somehow made up the laps and still ended up with a top-5 finish.
2. 7-time NASCAR Champeenship winner Jimmie Johnson spent most of his time on the track being passed by other racers like he was a questionable meat pie vendor at a renaissance fair. I don't know what has happened to the formerly-dominant Rick Hendrick Racing #48, but none of the Hendrick Chevrolets are performing all that well this season, although Chase Elliott, the driver of the #9 Hendrick Racing NAPA Camaro gives the occasional appearance of nearly wanting to win a race each time that he goes out.
3. The heat. Chicagoland Speedway...and most of the Eastern seaboard of the United States was in the throes of a fairly-nasty heatwave that also saw Chicago Cubs players having to leave a baseball game due to dehydration at nearly the same time. The #41 Stewart-Haas Ford Fusion of Kurt Busch (a much-more likable version of his brother Kyle Busch) ran the entire race with an in-car thermometer that sat pegged with at least 150 degrees, and often went over 155.
For some perspective on how hot this is, keep in mind that FoodSafety.Org recommends a minimum temperature of at least 160 degrees in order for ground beef to be properly cooked.
4. The race was opened by opera singer and Chicago Blackhawks operatic bad-ass Jim Cornelison, and his rendition of the 'Star Spangled Banner', the one song that is so difficult to sing that it's routinely used to test pop-music boy bands for overall freshness. He belted out a Pavarotti-level national anthem, and after several drivers attempted to quietly weep out tears of sheer happiness, in which the oppressive heat quickly turned to steam vapor, several thousand people paused to wonder as to why Kanye West is famous to begin with, and the race commenced soon afterward.
On a side note, whenever I think of America's song, the Star-Spangled Banner, every once in a while, especially when it's being sung badly by temporarily-famous pop star, the lyrics appear to be less of a heroic country's symbolic fight for liberty and freedom, and more of a homage to the chaos, injuries, and bloodshed that occurs each year during the first official shopping day of the Christmas Season...Black Friday. It's almost as if it's being sung from the perspective of one of the lucky survivors who managed to live through the stampeding throngs of people who think that they really need cheap iPhones and even cheaper flat-screen TV sets, and yes, I gladly trampled several children to get me three of each.
5. NBC Sports began the race coverage of this event with a sappy theme song of its own, a butchered tribute to the late Tom Petty, and his awesome car-driving song, "Runnin' Down a Dream". The resulting morass displayed Petty's amazing song being slaughtered by some currently-trendy country singer that I refuse to name, coupled with scenes of various NASCAR drivers attempting to have fun and party (using 'party' in the form of a verb), when most of the drivers present in the video clearly do not know how to have fun and party (using 'party' in the form of a verb) caused me to get up and begin Running Away with a Scream. Luckily, I remembered that my PC possessed a volume knob, which allowed me to quickly turn down the twangy bellowing that was being belted out by the bleach-blond hussy that was attempting to screech out one of Petty's masterpieces.
6. The Thirty-Somethings. For whatever reason during this weekend's event, there was almost always a car in the picture with a number-thirty-something on the door. One camera shot, there's the #32. Next shot, The #34. Shot after that, #36. #38. #32 again. Wait, there's a #31. Hang on, wasn't the #32 on the other side of the track? Here's the #31 being passed, wasn't he being passed about a lap ago? I was almost beginning to wonder if the almost the entire field of 39 cars was made up of copies of various cars with #30-something on the door, two or three each of the same car. It was kind of weird.
1. Yes, Ford did not win the race this week, but at least three drivers from the dominant four car Ford team of Stewart-Haas could have won, and the fourth SH car, driven by Kurt Busch, was a solid top-five car...at least until he went a lap down in the closing laps. This is the team to watch for the rest of the season, end of story. Nobody else in the garage has this kind of dominance behind it.
2. What is fascinating behind the Stewart-Haas effort is that even though it is a successful, 4-car effort, it is not one of the traditional monster teams of NASCAR, such as Penske Racing (possibly the best racing organization in the history of the world...and I'm serious about this, just research Roger Penske's history of success in all forms of motorsport), Joe Gibbs Racing (Toyota's powerhouse), and Rick Hendrick Racing, the gargantuan Chevrolet multi-tentacled octopus behind the eleven championship runs of both Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson.
That it is not one of the monster teams, having only been formed a few years ago, is a testament to the success that the Stewart-Haas partnership is currently experiencing, and doing so with a Ford product that was, at best, perhaps a 2nd-rung competitor only a season or two ago. To give you an idea as to what I am talking about, I am having a difficult time recalling when a NASCAR racer with a Ford badge on the nose was so utterly dominant in this sport, and I have been been at least loosely following this series since the 1980's...which, to be honest, is about forty to fifty years years too long.
While I do own a Ford product or two, and have owned perhaps...several dozen of them over the years, they're not exactly something that I fawn over on a daily basis, it's more of them being a better fit for the type of compromises that I have to make in order to select a vehicle, as they're a not-that-well-engineered consumer product, just like most everything else out there on the roads.
My issue is that for whatever reason, Ford has been a perpetual underdog in this particular sport since the massive 75% racing budget cut of 1970, when Lee Iacocca slashed Ford's racing budget by that ridiculous amount in order to stop the hemorrhaging of expenditures inside one of the world's largest car companies. When that happened, Ford teams were playing catch up from that point on, until this last season, when they finally dominated. But up until this point, it was largely Chevrolet's ball game...and has been, for at least the last 48 years.
I leave you with this Youtube video montage of Kyle Busch niceties.
See you next week.