Random Lugnuts, ARCA Edition: Daytona
What is Random Lugnuts? It's random bits of stock car racing commentary written on an irregular basis by an irregular racing fan. The name is a reference to the lugnuts that go flying off a car during a pit stop: you never know where they are going to go, what they're going to do when they get there, they can be annoying, they're often useless after a race, and every once in a while someone gets hit and they don't know exactly where it came from.
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February 7, 2010
Daytona is an interesting part of the ARCA schedule because it attracts such a wide variety of racers to the event. There are NASCAR hopefuls looking to score some restrictor-plate track seat time amongst a full field of ARCA regulars including well funded and well supplied NASCAR development programs and family-run hobby teams, all trying for 43 spots. This year 51 would try to make the race, and the 43 who did included 6 women, two drivers from South America and a motocross racing's Greatest Of All Time. Oh, and some woman from Illinois named Danica.
The Patrick and Patrick Show
It's not quite the "I actually won the Indianapolis 500" t-shirt that Dan Wheldon wore after Danica Patrick's 4th-place finish overshadowed his victory, but Patrick Sheltra's "Sheltra #60 - The Other Patrick" sticker was funny. The two Patricks, Sheltra and Danica, were in lime-green cars, qualified with identical times and started on the same row, and finished 5-6 on the day. Sheltra would take the advantage in the end, putting his Dodge in the top 5 in the opening race of the season.
Not that you would know who any of the other drivers were just from watching the broadcast. Remember NASCAR had special channels where you could watch your favorite driver all race long? It felt like I was watching the Danica Channel last night. All Danica, all the time. When someone else wrecked, they had to show how Danica handled herself through the wreck. If the wreck was behind her, they talked about her anyway, and how she'd restart. I heard the morning before the race that Danica's presence brought $7 million to the series, and it seemed like the broadcast team was determined to give her $7 million worth of TV time in return.
Her presence worked both ways for the series: she brought a lot of attention and ratings, but the broadcast was all about her at the expense of the other drivers in the series. It's great for the fans she brought to the race, but rather annoying for those of us who already watch ARCA on a regular basis.
Of course, you can whine or you can make the best of the situation. Sheltra Motorsports PR guy Chris Knight announced on his Facebook profile after the race that he was taking orders for "Go Sheltra, The Other Patrick" stickers. Chris is a great example of a guy making the best of a situation, putting his driver in a position of representing the stock car regulars that are racing against Danica. The two drivers provide an interesting contrast, with the Danica being a big-money driver just passing through ARCA on her way to a spot in the big leagues of NASCAR possibly driving for 8-time Cup champion Hendrick Motorsports while Patrick Sheltra drives for Sheltra Motorsports, a small family-owned operation that was operated out of Whitesville, Kentucky until the end of last season. Patrick's mom Grace is his car owner.
There is also a contrast in driving styles, at least in Danica's first race. Sheltra, nicknamed "Mr. Showtime," showed no fear of the marbles again, taking his car for a three-wide pass on the first restart of the race while Danica was clinging to the yellow line like a drowning person to a rope.
So this season, as long as Danica and Sheltra race in the same event, I'm going to keep a score of this little "rivalry." So far, after Daytona, it's Sheltra 1, Danica 0. If Danica races in ARCA again, or if Sheltra's Nationwide schedule coincides with Danica's, I'll add to the score.
Nelson Piquet Jr., known in Brazilian athlete single-name terms as Nelsinho, is son of three-time Formula 1 Champion Nelson Piquet. Having raced in 28 Formula 1 Grands Prix with just one podium finish, he certainly doesn't carry the resumé of Juan Pablo Montoya. His performance in Formula 1 was marred by a controversy around the 2008 Singapore Grand Prix and he eventually lost his ride.
I really wondered what he was thinking getting into stock cars, but now he gets my award for open-wheel drivers adapting quickly to stock cars. Before yesterday's race, he had three sports car races under his belt, and some time testing a NASCAR truck. He had never experienced stock car drafting before, never raced at a place like Daytona before, and despite a few mistakes he ran up front in the beginning of the race and brought his car home in one piece at the end.
Of course, adapting from open wheel racing, with vastly different aerodynamics and car control, is difficult enough. A bigger test came in the form of Ricky Carmichael, who had to adapt from two wheels to four, coming to stock cars from dirt bikes. He's been in a few NASCAR truck races before, and finished seventh yesterday.
He brings another interesting contrast to Danica's popularity. Compared to her one win in Indy cars, he brings 16 major championships in 12 years of racing (yes, that's more than one per year) including multiple perfect seasons and the nickname "The GOAT" (as in Greatest Of All Time), all earned before his 28th birthday. Yet, in the media, he's just another also-ran with an interesting back story. This guy's story should be front and center in the stock car media. Although he's another white male from Florida, nothing new to stock car racing, his fans are very, very different from the typical NASCAR fan and he brings attention to the sport from a very different segment of the American motorsport fan population.
His switch to stock cars is a study in adaptation as he has to go down to the very fundamentals of racing talent: reaction time, hand-eye coordination, mental toughness, and relearn how to race almost from scratch. He's doing so while at the same time taking the ego-breaking step down from his status in motocross as The Greatest Of All Time to running for top tens in the minor leagues of stock cars. He's adapting, improving, and sticking with stock cars, which I think proves the mental toughness part of being a racer.
How 'bout that Bobby Gerhart? No need to get that man a t-shirt like Dan Wheldon's, ARCAracing.com put his picture on the story and his victory in the headline, bumping Danica's big stock car debut to the subheadline and second mentioned in the article. All despite the novelty of Danica and the "been there, done that" feeling of Gerhart winning his sixth Daytona ARCA race. Well done, ARCA.
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