Homestead Observations

Thoughts, observations and a few questions following the Ford Ecoboost 400, the season finale for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series:

  • Although each of the Gang of Four in the season finale had his own unique and appealing story, Busch’s as the “comeback kid” was not the most attractive according to the media I talked to. Most were looking to a miracle win by Jeff Gordon. Least attractive? A repeat by Kevin Harvick.
  • But as we’ve seen happen so often this season, Harvick played the bridesmaid once again. Second is the first loser, right?
  • It will be hard not to compare Jeff Gordon’s final season with Tony Stewart’s upcoming finale in 2016. One big difference between the two champions is that Gordon has remained competitive until the end. Stewart hasn’t been a threat to win for several seasons. I hope that changes.
  • OK, so Kyle Busch has won the championship, but I’m still thinking about how Joe Gibbs Racing went from having four cars in the Chase (and being the outright favorite to win the title) to having just one in the finale.
  • As Sprint Cup races go, the season finale was another of the many ho-hum affairs NASCAR fans have been forced to endure this year. Restarts provided the only excitement all evening and even they were in short supply. I think everyone is happy to see that this current competition package on the Cup cars has run its final race.
  • We’ve been talking about a Kyle Busch championship for years. But every year Busch always fell flat during the Chase. This time around, one thing was different. He really wanted (read: needed) it. After spending time in a hospital bed, thinking about how the whole dream might be over, changed him. Trust me, after spending a good deal of time in a hospital bed myself, your life changes.
  • It would be a mistake to overlook the 18 team’s flawless final pit stop with ten laps to go that secured Busch’s win and the title. During my travel throughout the year I often will meet someone for the first time and I tell them I work in NASCAR. In explaining why they too should be a fan, I always insist that among everything else, it is important that they understand that it is a team sport.
  • How about a championship race where only the final four (or maybe six) teams race each other in a 100 lap shoot out, perhaps split into four separate segments? Sounds crazy, right? But so did group qualifying when I wrote about it ten years ago. Back then I was met with “Are you out of your mind, Margolis?”
  • The departure of Brett Jewkes as the head of NASCAR’s Integrated Marketing Communications group is a welcome change by this writer. Under Jewkes direction, the dynamic of how NASCAR was being covered by the media changed dramatically — and not in a good way. Under Jewkes’ reign, the sport experienced a homogenization and pasteurization of coverage. Like taking a glass of fresh organic milk and turning it into a McDonald’s milkshake. Sweet, somewhat appealing, but you hope there are still some remnants of “real” ingredients involved.
  • I shudder to think of who will be Jewkes’ replacement. I know of a few good candidates, but I seriously doubt any of them will get the gig.
  • I’ve had the pleasure of spending a good deal of time in and around the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series and if you’re not paying attention to what’s going on in that series, you need to. There was a tremendous amount of young talent in the pipeline to the senior series this season (Erik Jones, Daniel Suarez, Tyler Roddick, Daniel Hemric and others). The races are short (most are under two hours), the competitors see NASCAR as a full contact sport and the passion for winning is genuine.
  • Speaking of Jones, he may be the best young pure talent to come into the sport since Kyle Busch. I know he’s already in the Joe Gibbs Racing pipeline, but I can’t help but think that when the bidding war for his talents begins, Rick Hendrick will be there as the highest bidder.
  • After spending billions of dollars in its NASCAR program, (yes, that’s with a “b”) Toyota finally gets a Cup title. Money well spent? The manufacturer spent the same kind of money, over an eight year period in Formula One, and never won a single race. There were five runner-up finishes, however.
  • Has the Xfinity Series lost its appeal for most NASCAR fans? I wonder how many can tell you who the top three drivers in points were at the end of the season. The series suffers from the Goldilocks syndrome — something just isn’t right. The current competition package makes for lackluster racing.
  • Now that Kyle Larson’s sophomore slump is officially over, I’m looking forward to the Ganassi Racing driver putting this season behind him and taking command of his future by winning races and being a contender in the 2016 Chase.
  • Will this season’s disappointment produce a hangover in 2016 for the 22 team? Is Joey Logano the kind of leader that can rally a squad back to the top?
  • Could we see Michelin make an appearance in NASCAR in the near future? I think so.
  • You can bet the farm that next year’s Ford Championship weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway will have a Ford team (or two) among the final four. I wouldn’t exactly call it embarrassment on the faces of Ford execs this past weekend, but there were a lot of forced smiles. Ford’s failure to have a team in the final four has made for a difficult start to Dave Pericak’s tenure as head of Ford Performance.
  • Meanwhile, Chevrolet execs are still scratching their collective heads and wondering how two of their top teams (Hendrick and Stewart-Haas) couldn’t beat one Toyota. I don’t think they were all that excited about Furniture Row winning since that team will be a Toyota team in 2016.
  • Speaking of execs, look for changes in NASCAR’s competition department executive suite in the near future.
  • Things I’ll miss next season: GoDaddy’s prominent sponsorship that helped keep Danica Patrick’s career afloat; and Budweiser, which has sponsored a car in NASCAR since 1983. The change from Budweiser to the Busch brand on the 4 car is not smart marketing. This is what happens when you’re company is no longer American owned and being run by the bean counters.

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