Monday, April 07, 2008

"Cousin Carl" Got It Right

It’s not hard to find someone willing to complain about NASCAR’s new racecar these days. Shove a microphone under virtually any driver’s nose – sometimes even in Victory Lane -- and you’ll probably get an earful. They’re bulky, balky, reticent in the corners and difficult to handle. They’re demanding and finicky; either too aero-dependent or not aero-dependent enough, depending on who you ask. And the chorus of critics is becoming downright deafening.

"I can't believe how bad these things drive,” said Jimmie Johnson Sunday, just moments after recording the best finish of his troubling 2008 season to date. “These things are terrible to drive in traffic. You would catch people, (but then be forced to) run their pace. I really think we need to look at some changes to help these cars not be so aero-dependent; to have a little more downforce so…there is more grip in the car.”

Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jeff Gordon agreed, after finishing dead-last for only the second time in his career. "I can't remember the last time we struggled this bad,” he said. ”We tried every setup we could find. None of them seemed to work. I was just hanging on every single lap. There's some crazy setups going on in these cars right now.”

Kyle Busch, who set the tone by winning the first-ever COT race last season, then calling his winning mount “junk” in Victory Lane, was uncharacteristically closed-mouthed after Sunday’s race, saying, “I am not answering that question. Go to NASCAR to answer that question."

OK, we get it. Even some of the drivers who DIDN’T run like crap Sunday don’t like NASCAR’s new car.

Thank God, then, for Carl Edwards. In his post-race press conference, the Roush Fenway Racing driver stood his ground against the tsunami of COT criticism, saying he has grown tired of the incessant pit road bitching.

"Let me state my position very clearly,” said Edwards Sunday. “A lot of people say it is boring and want something to complain about, saying it's too hard to drive. The fact is, we have the 43 best drivers in the world going 200 miles per hour. That's spectacle. It's auto racing. It's not supposed to be driving down the interstate.”

“I feel like I can make a difference, lap-to-lap (in this car),” said Edwards Sunday. “I can pitch the car a little, and change what the stopwatch says every lap. That's cool. That's what I did on the local dirt tracks in Missouri. I’m tired of hearing people complain. If I was running 15th, I might have a different opinion."

Actually, “Cousin Carl” may be onto something there. Is it just me, or is the ongoing spate of COT griping coming mostly from drivers who are struggling? Johnson, Gordon and Tony Stewart -- who admittedly is focusing his ire more on Goodyear than the COT these days -– all hate to lose. It is uncharted territory for them, and after four hours of embarrassing themselves the way the Fabulous Hendrick Twins did in Las Vegas and Texas, they’re understandly looking for somewhere to vent their righteous anger.

They can’t light up the pit crew, since they’ll be needing them again next week. The same thing goes for the crewchief, the engineers and the fab-shop team. So when a driver needs to purge, there are only two convenient targets; tires and racecars. No matter who gets blamed at the end of the day, the basics of this sport never change. Somebody wins every week, and 42 others lose.

Some days you eat the bear, and some days the bear eats you.

“This is auto racing,” said Edwards Sunday. “There are going to be people that are faster. I like this car, and this type of racing. I have zero issues about it, (and) I'm tired of the media making up stories about how bad it is.”

Edwards is 100% right, except for the part about it being my fault. We media members are guilty of printing and broadcasting the disparaging remarks of disgruntled drivers. But we’re also happy to discuss the possibility that this new car might NOT be the greatest threat to humanity since the bubonic plague.

Some of us are happy to point out that Sunday’s race produced 16 lead changes among six different drivers, while last April’s Samsung 500 -- in the old-style, “twisted sister” car -- saw an almost-identical 14 lead changes among nine drivers.

Some of us are willing to point out that Stewart is traditionally a slow starter, and that his career numbers for February, March and April have never been anything to write home about.

We’re even willing to discuss the fact that Hendrick Motorsports –- which aside from Dale Earnhardt, Jr., can’t seem to find its ass with both hands these days -– was dominating COT competition less than a year ago.

Some of us are even willing to state unequivocally that if Carl Edwards and his currently suspended crewchief, Bob Osbourne, can make their COT run like Jack The Bear, Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus can, too.

You've just got to work a little harder, and get up on that wheel.

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