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Kligerman: Where have all the good races gone? We’ll always have Malaysia 2001

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If you identify as a racing fan and have frequented the Internet at all in the last few years, you will have noticed an alarming trend.

Racing increasingly has been perceived as worse than in the past.

From Twitter to print journalism, words such as aero, passing, stars, personalities, funding, budget (and all at some point misspelled) read like a litany of diseases coursing through the body of the fire-breathing beast that is auto racing.

And here is the thing: The misspelled Twitter troll and the student loan-indebted journalist have a point, and I don’t think anyone knows what to do about it.

Let me explain.

About a week ago, Formula One announced on Twitter it was going to put its first full race on YouTube. But not a live streaming event of the current year. It was going back into the archives to breathe life into a relic of the world championship past.

Formula One then decided to host a poll allowing fans to pick which Malaysian Grand Prix they would want to watch most. The choices were the years of 2001, 2003, and 2012.

Immediately, I voted for 2001. It wasn’t even a thought. I instinctively clicked. And it wasn’t but a couple hours later that I got a text from a friend in racing. It had a screenshot of the poll. “Let me guess,” he wrote, “you voted 2001.”

Before asking myself the Millennial existential crisis question — Am I that predictable?–  I responded with, “Of course.” The thing is, 2001 had the amazing V10’s, and it was the start of Michael Schumacher’s domination with Ferrari. But most importantly, it was the first F1 season I can remember watching all the way through.

It also was the year of the F1 game on PS2 that I had to buy a second CD (after wearing out my initial copy from overuse, err … and I never put it back in the case. I was a rebel like that).

But the point is the 2001 season of Formula One has a serious sentimental quality to me. And apparently, I wasn’t alone, as the 2001 Malaysian Grand Prix won the Twitter poll with 42.5 percent of the vote. Now I must admit this particular race was manic, going from dry weather to a torrential downpour that had cars going off the course in every corner. It was pure chaos.

Put that aside, if given that vote again, I would have picked a 2001 race nine times out of 10. And I’m starting to realize why.

It has to do with science. Now before you click off this tab, throw your phone or flush the toilet you’re sitting on, bear with me.

Scientists in lab coats (or probably Warby Parker spectacles) discovered why it seems that you feel most connected to the music of your teens and early 20s. I won’t bore you with the scientific details, and frankly, I don’t care to type them. But simply as your brain is developing, you will latch onto music during that time. And eventually, your brain stops to develop, and your personality firms up.

Where you are left with a couple of go-to breakup songs, and that one that makes you think of your first love.

Which it’s nice to know I am not alone in having a band I absolutely loved in high school but can’t listen to one new album beyond the ones I liked.

But what does that have to do with why I love the 2001 Formula One season? Well, it’s become apparent to me as I venture around the motorsports world in either driving or a media capacity that racing must be like music.

There is one thing deeper about the whole music nostalgia brain stuff: Scientists also can tell what your musical taste is simply off your personality traits. So if you’re fun-loving, good-looking and popular, they believe you will have liked all the stuff on the top 40 radio stations.

And if you were more like me — rebellious and agitated — you probably listened to alternative rock and gangster rap.

Which within the sporting world, auto racing is the alternative rock. It isn’t the high school cheerleader and impeccably white-toothed quarterback in the popularity contest for peoples’ attention. No it’s the kid who attends but doesn’t really play sports, has a cute girlfriend and parties a little. Occasionally trying a cigarette or two.

The NFL and NBA dominate the Top 40 hits of the sporting world. Racing rarely makes those charts. And therefore, us race fans are a finicky bunch, just like the alternative rock bands you loved in high school that are producing great music but have faded into obscurity.

Racing is facing a similar dilemma. As I talk to fans and ex-fans. I realize a consistent theme. “I loved watching racing 10 years ago. I would go downstairs and lay on the living room floor with my Dad and watch the whole race.”

Or, “Racing was better back a couple of years ago, I would have a group of friends who would watch every race, and it was awesome. We don’t do that anymore. Everyone grew up.”

So I made it a point to watch the 2001 Malaysian Grand Prix. And a funny thing occurred: I started to want to watch new F1 races more.

Aside from the fact that I impossibly got emotional watching a race from when I was 10, the cameras also are better now and in HD. The information is better now, and the racing is not much different.

Is racing really so “terrible” now?

Probably not, but just like music, it’s become clear that we have a golden age for acceptance. And just like the music identifying with a past love, racing nostalgically identifies with something at the time you thought was better.

So how do we move on? Well, past that time of open acceptance, it is about being more open-minded. At least that’s what the scientists say.

If nothing else, I’m excited to know I have the 2001 Malaysian Grand Prix as a breakup song.

 

Preliminary entry lists for Cup, Xfinity at Talladega

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Forty cars are entered for Sunday’s Geico 500 Cup race at Talladega Superspeedway.

Joey Gase will be in the No. 00 car for StarCom Racing.

Brendan Gaughan is back in the No. 62 this weekend for Beard Motorsports.

Timothy Peters is set to make his Cup debut in the No. 92 for RBR Enterprises.

Cole Custer is listed in the No. 51 car for Rick Ware Racing but a team spokesperson told NBC Sports that Custer will not be driving the car.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. won this race a year ago in overtime, beating Jamie McMurray and Kyle Busch.

Click here for Cup entry list

Xfinity Series

There are 41 cars entered for the Sparks Energy 300 Xfinity race.

The race is a Dash 4 Cash event, so no drivers who earn points in the Cup Series are permitted to race in this event.

Noah Gragson, who finished second in his series debut last weekend at Richmond, is back in the No. 18 for Joe Gibbs Racing this weekend.

Shane Lee, who finished 14th in his series debut two weeks ago at Bristol, is back in the No. 3 for Richard Childress Racing.

Aric Almirola won this race a year ago, finishing ahead of Elliott Sadler and Joey Logano.

Click here for Xfinity entry list

Bump & Run: Who are drivers seeking first win of the year to watch?

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Among non-winners this season, who is one driver who has your attention and why?

Steve Letarte: Recently it’s been Jimmie Johnson. At the beginning of the year it was obvious the equipment wasn’t up to par. I don’t think the equipment has got a whole lot better yet, but I think Jimmie and Chad (Knaus) are learning to race with not-winning cars. I think Bristol and Richmond were two races that they performed very, very well. My point being we have seen Jimmie make mistakes and crash and have accidents, but in the last two weeks they have found a way to take their car and get better finishes than they were running most of the day.

Kyle Petty: Besides Jimmie Johnson? Ryan Blaney. He has started off these first few races stronger than I anticipated. Leading laps, stage wins, just the total effort he and that team have shown so far this season. I believe the usual suspects will get their wins in time. Oh, did I mention Jimmie Johnson?

Parker Kligerman: Alex Bowman; I know he hasn’t been flashy or spectacular, but he’s currently 13th in points and still ahead of his seven-time champion teammate Jimmie Johnson. He is showing consistent pace each week, and I’m sure there will be weekends like this past one at Richmond. If he keeps up his average, he may be a lock to make the playoffs. 

Nate Ryan: Erik Jones. He’s been among the least discussed of the youth brigade, but aside from some short-track stumbles, he has exhibited the promise to indicate his breakthrough is near.

Dustin Long: Joey Logano. He has eight top-10 finishes in the first nine races of the year. The only other driver who has accomplished that is Kyle Busch. Logano may be returning to Victory Lane soon.

Daniel McFadin: Aric Almirola. His instant speed this season and ability to move up through the field – especially going from 25th to second in the Stage 1 at Richmond – has been more than surprising. I expected it to take longer for the No. 10 team to get most of its wrinkles smoothed out. Now they just need to be consistent in putting together full races.

Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski have combined to win six of the past 13 restrictor-plate races for Team Penske. Who do you view as their biggest threats this weekend at Talladega?

Steve Letarte: Each other. Let’s be clear, Talladega is still somewhat of a crapshoot, but good cars still tend to trend toward the front. The big thing that nobody is talking about in my mind is the new ride-height rule, I thought, changed Daytona dramatically and I think will change Talladega dramatically. This is only the second restrictor-plate race without ride heights. I think someone may have an advantage. We’re going to have to see who. You can’t throw out what Brad and Joey have done, but you’ve got to diminish it a little bit with the rule changes.

Kyle Petty: Anyone in a Ford. Honestly, if I go back to Daytona, Penske, SHR and Roush were all strong once the green flag fell, and I believe almost all the drivers have won on a plate track … almost.

Parker Kligerman: Ricky Stenhouse Jr., and Kyle Busch; fairly simple choices in my opinion. Since Kyle is a great superspeedway racer and is on fire. Ricky, obviously has the record and has so much confidence. He also is in a Ford and we know how the Fords are the cars to beat at superspeedway tracks.

Nate Ryan: Denny Hamlin, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Kevin Harvick. Along with Logano and Keselowski, those are the five best plate drivers in Cup. Throw in Ryan Blaney and Kurt Busch as dark horses and Kyle Busch because he can do no wrong lately.

Dustin Long: Denny Hamlin, Ryan Blaney, Kevin Harvick are the names that immediately come to mind.

Daniel McFadin: I expect Logano and Keselowski to be challenged by Aric Almirola and their own Penske teammate, Ryan Blaney, who was the class of the field at Daytona before the late caution. As far as non-Ford drivers, I expect Chase Elliott and Alex Bowman to again be fast. It has to pay off as some point, right?

When the season is over who will have won more races — the drivers who have won already this year (Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, Martin Truex Jr., Clint Bowyer and Austin Dillon) or the rest of the field (Kyle Larson, Jimmie Johnson, Joey Logano, Brad Keselowski, Denny Hamlin, etc)?

Steve Letarte: I think the rest of the field wins by a race or two. I don’t think Austin Dillon is a threat to win maybe more than one more race. I would say Clint Bowyer maybe one more race. I just think there are too many big names, Larson, Elliott, Johnson, Jones, too many guys that I think can go out and win multiple races.

Kyle Petty: Kevin and Kyle. Those two together could win more than everyone else combined. Their teams are that good and they are that good. 

Parker Kligerman: Barring some massive change in the rules, the drivers who have already won. I feel that for whatever reason, with the current packages and tire specs, it obviously is suiting those drivers’ styles and therefore they are producing at a high level. 

Nate Ryan: Between Busch, Harvick and Truex, that trio could account for half of this season’s wins.

Dustin Long: It’s hard to see Busch, Harvick and Truex not piling up more wins in the coming weeks.

Daniel McFadin: With the first group containing Truex, Harvick and Kyle Busch, I would not be surprised if they have more victories than the current non-winners. 

Are the youngsters set to celebrate at Talladega?

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After Kevin Harvick won at Atlanta in February, he was asked about how the top eight finishers that day each had at least eight full-time seasons experience and if that was coincidence.

Recall, this was after some veterans expressed discontent with how NASCAR promoted younger drivers and that youngsters finished first and second in the Daytona 500 with 27-year-old Austin Dillon winning and 24-year-old Darrell Wallace Jr. placing second.

Harvick’s response to the question about experience that day in Atlanta?

“Talladega is April,’’ he said. 

As NASCAR heads to Talladega SuperSpeedeway this weekend, Harvick’s forecast proved correct. No driver under the age of 30 has won since Dillon’s victory in the Daytona 500.

So, will the youngsters prevail? For that to happen, they’ll have to  outwit the veterans.

But one who has done so is 27-year-old Joey Logano, who has won two of the last five Talladega races and three restrictor-plate races since 2015, including that year’s Daytona 500.

If not Logano, who?

Talladega has been known as a place for drivers to score their first career — and sometimes only — victory. Defending event winner Ricky Stenhouse Jr., who turned 30 in October, became the 11th driver to record his first Cup win at Talladega last May.

Dillon’s best finish in nine starts at Talladega is third in May 2016. Chase Elliott’s best finish in four starts there is fifth in that same race. Elliott continues to look for his first series win after finishing second last weekend at Richmond — the eighth time in 86 career starts he’s been second.

Erik Jones failed to finish either Talladega race last year. His best result was 33rd in May 2017. Kyle Larson’s best finish in eight Talladega races is sixth in Oct. 2016. Ryan Blaney‘s best finish in seven Talladega races is fourth in May 2015.

This will be the first Cup start at Talladega for Wallace and William Byron.

Of course, any of them will have to beat Kyle Busch, who has won the past three Cup races, or Harvick, who had his own three-race winning streak earlier in the season.

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NASCAR America: Joey Logano has strong Richmond run a year after last win

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A year after his win at Richmond Raceway was encumbered following an inspection violation, Joey Logano had one of his best races since.

And it came at the .75-mile track on Saturday.

Logano, one of two drivers (Kyle Busch) to finish in the top 10 in eight of the season’s nine races, won the first two stages of the 400-lap race and led 92 laps before finishing fourth. It matched his previous best result in the Daytona 500.

On NASCAR America, Steve Letarte and Dale Jarrett discussed Logano’s season so far and how the team is pursuing its first win in a year.

“They’re just not quite there yet,” Jarrett said. “They’re not where the Stewart-Haas Fords are at this point in time. Even though he got a better finish than they did, I just don’t think they have that speed that they’re looking for at this point. If he goes back and thinks (about) everything that took place after this race last year and where he is right now, I know he’s extremely excited about the prospects of the future and races to come for them.”

The fourth-place finish is the third top five for the No. 22 team this season. Logano heads to Talladega Superspeedway, where he has two wins and three top fives in his last five starts.

Watch the above video more on Logano and Chase Elliott.