Wednesday, 23 October 2019
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Observations: NASCAR Cup at Kentucky | Get the latest car news, car reviews, auto show updates, and racing news from Autoweek. News for the auto enthusiast. – autoweek.com

He who laughs last, laughs the loudest.

Hopefully Matt McCall, crew chief for Kurt Busch and the No. 1 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet, gets to laugh loud for the remainder of the week.

McCall took it on the chin for much of the week due to his decision to call Busch in to pit just before NASCAR ultimately called the Coke Zero Sugar 400 at Daytona for weather. It’s not quite that simple, though. The field had been given the one-to-go signal and McCall could never have predicted that a lightning bolt strike just moments after the No. 1 turned left down pit road.

NASCAR was never able to get the race resumed and McCall had no shortage of fans calling for his job. Even his wife had tweeted just before the one-to-go signal that McCall needed to keep his driver on the track.

McCall playfully even read the criticisms earlier in the week during a rendition of ‘Mean Tweets’ on Ganassi social channels.

Again, hopefully, McCall gets to laugh all week because his decisions and a more fortuitous break earned his team the win on Saturday night at Kentucky Speedway.  

Busch took four tires on his final pit stop, something that fellow leaders Kyle Busch and Joey Logano had not opted to do. After all, track position trumped tires all afternoon, and it would have on Saturday, too, if not for a Bubba Wallace spin that set up NASCAR overtime.

Armed with tires and NASCAR’s pack racing restarts with the 2019 rules package, the elder Busch brother was able to draft up to and past Logano and ‘Baby Brother,’ stealing his first win of the season just six days after they themselves felt robbed by circumstances.

“Yeah, I think you call that racing luck, right,” McCall said. “Today’s scenario worked out where the call fell, and I’m like, ‘Oh, no, we should have pitted.  We’re in trouble here.’

“And it worked out at the end. I knew we had the car capable, and Kurt obviously can get it done. When the caution came out, just the seas parted, and the Lord was with us because if you look at last week, we were on the wrong end of the stick there.”

They were on the right end this time.

KURT FINALLY GETS ONE OVER KYLE

But the redemption arc goes far beyond McCall.

You know Kurt Busch himself needed a moment like this to hold over his little brother.

Both brothers have Cup Series championships and are likely Hall of Fame race car drivers, but there is no denying that Kyle’s star has shone the brightest over the past decade.

Most remember the infamous Busch brothers crash in the All-Star Race. And the brothers themselves are aware that Kyle has defeated Kurt head-to-head in two races during their career — Bristol this spring and 2015 at Sonoma.

But Kurt had never outdueled Kyle until now.

“I haven’t seen him yet, but I was supposed to fly home with him, and now I’m looking for a plane ride,” Kurt said after the race. “So that’s Kyle. (Laughter) He won’t even wait. We shared a plane ride earlier this year. I think it was Phoenix where he won, and I had to sit there and wait for him to do his little Victory Lane thing.

“It’ll be fine. We’re going over to his house tomorrow actually for a little get-together on a Sunday off, and I’m going to plop the trophy down right on his kitchen counter.”

Again, another example of “he who laughs last, laughs the loudest,” as it were.

Of course, Kyle won’t enjoy the punchline since he came out on the short end of this battle and it’s hard to blame him. Busch felt like he had the win, but an increasingly tight car allowed Logano sail away with the lead. But he caught a lucky break with the caution too, but just didn’t have the tires his older brother did to execute his aero strategy.

“I didn’t know they had four tires, so I guess that probably had some of the difference,” Kyle Busch said on TV. “I knew I cleared him into 3 and if I stayed in the gas I was never going to make the exit, I was going to plow the fence but maybe I should have just gotten in front of him and messed up his air. It’s so easy to do with these cars. It’s pretty much just air games.”

Shoulda, coulda, woulda, as they say.

MCCALL’S TRIUMPHANT JOURNEY

McCall has one of the best stories in motorsports that you probably don’t know about.

Before finally notching his first victory as a Cup Series crew chief on Saturday night, McCall evolved through various roles in the industry, respected for his brilliance during every stint.

In the late ’90s and early 2000s, McCall was a widely admired Late Model Stock driver, battling fellow Cup Series crew chief Rodney Childers for wins throughout the Carolinas and Virginias. He is the 2005 UARA-STARS champion, having accomplished the feat during that tour’s heyday.

He has at least 55 victories in a Late Model, including two the past two seasons in November at the Thanksgiving Classic at Southern National Motorsports Park.

If the world was just, McCall would be celebrating on top of the roof of a car at the highest levels instead of building them.

But McCall made his dream work regardless.

After being unable to secure the funding the continue his own driving career, McCall concluded it was a much more sustainable business model to have people pay him to set up their cars. It certainly netted a higher ROI, especially when it landed him at Richard Childress Racing as an engineer.

In fact, that team thought so highly of McCall that it pursued litigation to keep him in Welcome, North Carolina, when he left to take the crew chief promotion at Ganassi.

The fact that he never won with Jamie McMurray respectfully speaks more to the previous driver of the No. 1 than its crew chief.

McCall is brilliant, and it was only a matter of time before he won with Busch, a driver who himself as won with nine different crew chiefs: Jimmy Fennig, Pat Tryson, Steve Addington, Tony Gibson, John Klausmeier, Daniel Knost, Roy McCauley, Billy Scott and McCall.

PACKAGE DELIVERS A FINISH AT KENTUCKY

The most entertaining race car performers in North America delivered a thrilling finish on Saturday night at one of the discipline’s most boring tracks.

I mean, that’s what this is about now, right?

By NASCAR president Steve Phelps’ own admission at Daytona, the sanctioning body cares increasingly less about sporting integrity as it pursues a more entertaining show.

That once again meant a largely full-throttle race around a D-shaped intermediate track, the inherently bumpy nature of a track built in the Kentucky hills the only thing preventing them from going 100 percent wide-open.

“What we are looking for is, ‘what is the most entertaining racing that we can put out there?’ That is what we are trying to do,” Phelps said during a media roundtable at NASCAR headquarters. “And if that means full-throttle racing, that’s the package we are going to put out there.”

Fans will remember the finish, because they always do.

They’ll forget the advantages of five and six seconds that various leaders held throughout the race — something they criticized about previous packages. They’ll forget the unmistakable challenges of passing with dirty air, something NASCAR insisted would be less prominent with this package.

Instead, they’ll remember that a car spun with five laps to go, setting up an overtime finish.

And of course, with this package, that means drafting, side-drafting and “air games” as Kyle Busch put it.

Ironically, the sentiment wasn’t all too different from the 2015 Cup race at Kentucky, which was widely-praised by everyone in the industry as one of the best intermediate track events contested in the post Car of Tomorrow era.

(See video above)

You may remember the 2015 Quaker State 400 as the first of two races in which NASCAR officials drastically reduced downforce at the request of drivers in exchange for two races in which they also attempted high drag and high downforce (sound familiar) at Indianapolis and Michigan.

That 2015 race featured a fantastic battle between Kyle Busch and Joey Logano (sound familiar?) but did not get the green-white-checkered moment that today’s ADD culture desperately needs to cling onto.

The race, and the failure of its high drag counterpart, set NASCAR on a path towards lower downforce for the next three season.

The difference form 2015 and 2019, of course, was that drivers were sliding around the older racing surface in bluegrass country back then … and today’s stars were flat-footing it around a freshly-paved race track with the equivalent of glue sprayed all over it.

And when you say these things out loud, it’s just really hard to take the current Cup Series package as anything with any real sporting integrity or authenticity. It’s a fitting companion to playoffs and stages — manufactured entertainment when so few authentic elements remain in NASCAR.

Perhaps the answer, especially with restarts in 2019, is that every race should end with a green-white-checkered finish. That always seems to send fans home hapy.

And given the complexion of everything else about the Cup Series this summer, it doesn’t really sound that farfetched anymore.

Entertainment over integrity.

Source: https://autoweek.com/article/monster-energy-nascar-cup/observations-nascar-cup-kentucky

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