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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.

 

NASCAR America: Matt Kenseth unable to realize potential due to team’s mistakes

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Sunday’s pit road mistake — having seven crew members over the wall when only six are allowed — not only knocked Matt Kenseth out of the race, it also knocked him out of advancing in the NASCAR Cup playoffs.

As a result, Kenseth lost out on his bid to earn a second Cup championship in what could potentially be his last season in the Cup series.

And it wasn’t the first time Kenseth has suffered through issues not of his making this season and in prior seasons.

On Monday’s edition of NASCAR America, Kyle Petty, Dale Jarrett and Nate Ryan all gave their thoughts on what happened to Kenseth — and they didn’t hold back, either.

Click on the above video to hear what they had to say about Kenseth’s misfortune and how it could potentially impact his legacy going forward.

 

NASCAR America: Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s picks for Championship 4

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On Monday’s editions of NASCAR America, Dale Earnhardt Jr. gave his predictions for which of the eight remaining championship-eligible drivers — including Hendrick Motorsports teammates Jimmie Johnson and Chase Elliott — will make it to the Championship 4 round.

In addition to Johnson and Elliott, Junior also makes it known in the above video that he’s also pulling for Ryan Blaney. He may even throw in a surprise to his picks.

Our NASCAR America team of analysts go over Junior’s picks and give their take, as well.

We don’t want to spill the beans of who Junior is picking here, so click on the video above to find out, as well as what our analysts think about his picks.

 

 

 

Long: Kyle Larson’s playoff exit significant to title contenders

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Lost among questions about rules, confusion on pit road and chaos on the track Sunday was just how significant Kyle Larson’s departure from the playoff is.

The owner of four wins this season, Larson was one of the few drivers who typically could race with Martin Truex Jr. and Kyle Busch on the 1.5-mile tracks and some even considered Larson the championship favorite if he made it to Miami.

“I think Kyle Larson was going to be the car to beat, and still will be the car to beat at Homestead,’’ said Adam Stevens, crew chief for Kyle Busch. “Now that he’s not in the (playoff) mix anymore, it probably opens it up for the rest of us.’’

Said Kevin Harvick: “I think you eliminated the best car at Homestead. That’s a big deal. For everybody.’’

Larson entered Sunday’s race at Kansas Speedway with a 29-point cushion before his title hopes ended when his engine blew with nearly 200 laps left. He finished 39th.

“It’s crazy,’’ Cole Pearn, crew chief for Martin Truex Jr., said of Larson’s playoff exit. “You can’t ever be safe, for sure.’’

Sunday marked the first time since 2013 that Larson failed to finish a race because of an engine failure. His first two career Cup races ended early because of engine issues that season.

Larson’s departure was as shocking as Busch’s exit in 2014 when he entered the elimination race at Talladega second in the standings with a 25-point cushion to advance to the next round.

Now a spot many presumed would be taken by Larson is open for someone else.

WORK REMAINS

Jimmie Johnson overcame two spins to finish 11th and advance to the Round of 8, moving a step closer to an eighth championship.

Crew chief Chad Knaus, though, wasn’t pleased after Sunday’s race.

On the radio afterward, Knaus said: “That was a pitiful performance.’’

Knaus had more to say after the race, telling NBC Sports:

“We ran like (expletive deleted). It was a bad weekend. We managed to capitalize on some other people’s misfortune, which was great for us. We’ve got some work to do. I don’t know what’s going on. We definitely don’t have the speed that we need.

“Good news is we’ve got three really good race tracks coming up for us, at least historically. Very optimistic heading into Martinsville and going to Homestead this week to test, so hopefully we can hit on some stuff there to take to Texas. We obviously have run well there in the past. Phoenix has been a really good race track for us as well. We’ve got three great opportunities. Just got to do the best.’’

Knaus is right to be concerned. The second round was mistake-riddled for the team.

The pit crew failed to tighten all the lug nuts late in the race at Charlotte, forcing Johnson to back up partially into his stall to remedy the issue, costing him time and positions.

An error by the team’s spotter led to the crew working on Johnson’s damaged car before the red flag period had ended, leading to the team being parked. The team had hoped to run one more lap after being collected in a crash to gain at least one more point.

Then came Kansas’ woes with the lack of speed, an ill-handling car and a seven-time champion causing back-to-back cautions.

“It’s no real surprise that mile-and-a-halves have been a little bit of a struggle for us this year,’’ Johnson said. “We’re putting in the effort. These guys are working around the clock. I’m looking under every stone I can to try to find something as well. We just don’t have the speed yet.

“We’ve got a real opportunity at Martinsville. If we’re able to win there … it sets us up for Homestead.’’

COMMUNICATION WOES

The communication issues Matt Kenseth’s team had Sunday wasn’t the first time for that team and crew chief Jason Ratcliff in the playoffs.

In the penultimate race of the 2013 season, Kenseth struggled all weekend and then had a disastrous pit stop when there was confusion on if the team would change two or four tires. After the call was made for four tires, Kenseth had to back up because the car was on the air hose.

The result was a 23rd-place finish that left Kenseth so far behind Johnson needed only to finish 23rd or better in Miami to win the title. Ratcliff apologized to his crew on the radio after the race for the effort.

Sunday’s scenario was different but communication again proved key and a miscue will keep the team from having a chance to race for a title.

“That’s one thing about that pit stall (closest to pit entrance), makes it difficult,’’ Ratcliff said. “You get to pit road really quick. You have a little less time to communicate. Thankfully, we don’t fall under the damaged vehicle policy that much. Other than last week at Talladega we did. We missed a head count there.’’

So what happened?

“Two of them were holding tires (over the wall),’’ Ratcliff said of crew members. “We have a gameplan. We have a gameplan that has worked really good for us all year and … I don’t know if someone missed the call there or I didn’t communicate properly. Typically, it boils down to communication and that’s what happened there.’’

When Kenseth was told on the radio that he was being parked for having too many crew members work on his car while under the five-minute clock for crash damage, the former champion sounded incredulous that his — last? — chance to win a title ended in such a way.

With no plans announced for next year, there’s no guarantee Kenseth will be racing for a championship again. Now the goal becomes a win.

“We’ve had some great runs at Martinsville and there would be nothing greater than going there and finally getting that win with Matt,’’ Ratcliff said. “That would be special. Would it make up for not having a shot at Homestead? No, but it would be sweet to have that happen with just a few races to go in the season.’’

PIT STOPS

The final eight Cup playoff contenders include four former champions — Jimmie Johnson, Kyle Busch, Brad Keselowski and Kevin Harvick. There has been a first-time champion in three of the last five years, which could be a good sign for playoff drivers Denny Hamlin, Chase Elliott, Ryan Blaney and Martin Truex Jr. … With winning the pole at Kansas, Truex Jr.’s team earned the first pick of pit stalls also at Martinsville this weekend because qualifying is on the same day as the race there.

Memorial service to be held Friday for Furniture Row Racing team member Jim Watson

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A memorial service for Furniture Row Racing crew member Jim Watson will be held Friday in Lincolnton, North Carolina, his family announced Monday.

Watson, who served in a number of roles for both the No. 78 of Martin Truex Jr. and No. 77 of Erik Jones, passed away Saturday night after suffering a heart attack in Kansas City, Kansas, where the teams were preparing for Sunday’s NASCAR Cup race.

Watson was 55.

MORE: Furniture Row Racing crew member dies of heart attack

MORE: Long: Tears turn to cheers for Furniture Row Racing

The memorial will be from 4-6 p.m. ET Friday at the Warlick Funeral Home, 125 Dave Warlick Drive, in Lincolnton.

Watson’s obituary was included in the announcement of the memorial service:

Watson was born Sept. 27, 1962, in Kenosha, Wis., to Betty Paulus Watson and the late David Harrison Watson. He is survived by his wife, Laurie Ann Watson; a daughter, Brittany May Watson; his mother, Betty L. Watson; brother, Mike Watson; stepchildren, Eric James Conover and fiancé Claudia Rodriguez, and Matthew Sean Conover; Michael Patrick Conover, and wife Michele, and Nicholas Ian Conover; three grandchildren, Patrick Michael Conover, Michael Winston Conover, and Coleton Daniel Conover; nieces, Jennifer Watson and Katie J. Ballou; and many other uncles, aunts, cousins, and friends.

In lieu of flowers, the family has asked that memorials be made to hatsalive.org.