With the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series regular-season wrapping up three weekends from now, there isn’t much excitement concerning who’s going to win, who wants to win, and who might desperately need the win.
After all, we all know that Daytona is only good for one thing, which is quickly eradicating almost an entire season’s worth of pesky excess old-stock sheet metal inventory,
If anything, it’s almost as if the regular-season championship trophy will be Kyle Larson’s to do whatever he wants with it, even if it’s to blow up for a trending TikTok destruction video, which will be infinitely more interesting than whatever passes for Cup Series entertainment these days.
As the 2021 Cup Season grinds along, it is beginning to resemble a great many other things throughout history that nobody was really interested in. It’s almost as if the title series sponsor is ATARI’s legendarily bad “ET the Extra-Terrestrial” 2600 video game cartridge, and nobody really cares who wins or loses this year. But unlike all those unsold copies of that game that conveniently disappeared (and were dug up recently), there really isn’t a landfill large enough to bury what remains of the rest of this season.
We need something, anything, where we can speed up the process where we finally put the Model-T-in-comparison, current-generation car out to pasture, and begin NASCAR’s Jiminy-Christmas-we’re-finally-getting-18-inch-wheels-with-single-lug-nuts modern era with the 2022 NG masterpiece (which remains to be seen).
I’ve spent practically the entire 2021 season attempting to put my finger on just what’s wrong this year. It seems that NASCAR is being brought to us by malaise, apathy, doldrums, or any other apathetic nouns. It’s almost as if an other-dimensional Sesame Street is now a title sponsor of the series, and those are the low-effort words of the day.
Is there nobody other than Kyle Larson who really wants to win a race here of late? Why is everyone else in the field practically rupturing their left rotator cuff in how hard they wave Larson past them during an event? I suspect that there are other reasons why Larson is already being loudly thought of as the regular-season champion, but I don’t get paid enough to think that high up in the racing world political food chain. In the end, racing is merely really loud entertainment bread and circuses for fans around the world. isn’t it?
Oddly enough, I think that there is a trio of factors that are producing low-effort “bucket list” results this season, with bucket list meaning “we snagged a win which guarantees us a spot in the Championship so now we’re gonna coast until Daytona.” It’s what practically every other driver in the top 16 has done this year. Eight of the top 16 drivers only nailed one win so far in 2021, and those single-win drivers now look like perpetual backmarkers in every race, the now somehow-dystopian Dick Trickles and Derrick Copes of the 21st Century.
On a side note, I will give kudos to Penske Racing (and more specifically the No. 2 and No. 22) for attempting to make things interesting at Watkins Glen this past weekend, however by taking themselves out in quite possibly the most pointless accident throughout all of the motor racing on Sunday. That’s also taking into account the IMSA race at Road America and the Indycar Music City Grand Prix, both of which saw their own fair share of ridiculous accidents.
Getting back to the wheezing, rusty squeezebox of 2021, we have Kevin Harvick. He was the dominant winner of last year’s regular season with somewhere around seven wins at this exact point in 2020, finishing the Chase with two additional wins, and of course, we can’t forget that incredible implosion when it really counted.
Fast Forward to this point in 2021. Has anyone seen Harvick lately? Is he still racing? Some of his fans might be curious as to whether or not he’s still among the breathing. Due to COVID regulations these days, we can’t get close enough to him to place a mirror under his nose in an attempt to verify.
Hasn’t Harvick had at least one win for the last bazillion seasons? I do see a No. 4 car out there occasionally when Larson is easily driving around it.
Oh, and hey, isn’t there one of them there foreign teams out there a drivin’ in NASCAR? I think it starts with a ‘T’? Talbot-Lago? Thomas Flyer? Tucker? Trabant?
Oh yeah, silly me! Toyota!
Speaking of Toyota, Denny Hamlin also hasn’t won all season, and if anything, he’s attempting to emulate the zero-win 1977 British Sidecar Motorcycle Champion George O’Dell on his way to possibly upending Kyle Larson for the regular-season championship. This is also an interesting development for Hamlin, given that he finished up 2020 with seven wins. But he might also need to have a mirror placed under his nose this year, as he can’t seem to be bothered to push for a win this year.
So, given that the top two drivers from 2020 appear to be stuck in ‘coast’ mode throughout all of 2021 so far, and eight out of the top 16 drivers are one-and-done backmarkers, what exactly does this all mean?
The first of the trio of factors concerning why 2021 is something of a bust so far is this. I am almost entirely convinced that nobody other than deep-pockets Hendrick Racing wants to spend any money racing the old Model T current-generation car. It really is a Model T in comparison to the Next Generation/2022 car, and whatever you don’t have to spend on the old crapbox can go towards the NG.
Hey, it is actually better just to coast along this year because all of us have a major reset to pay for in 2022, nothing from the old car applies to the new one, meaning parts inventory, specialized tools, nothing remains behind. Don’t build anything new unless you absolutely have to and this is evidenced by accidents no longer having any heart or backbone here of late. Hey, don’t beat on each other because if we break something expensive, that takes away from the new car development.
Of course, I don’t have any evidence that this is going on, but something similar did happen in the corporate world in the mid-1990s. The Chevrolet Corvette was supposed to be replaced by the 5th generation car for the 1993 model year. But due to an incredible comedy of errors, the new replacement never materialized when it was supposed to for the 1993 model year and ended up being delayed until the 1997 model year. With Chevrolet, realizing that they done gone and screwed the Corvette pooch, GM ended up having to do three things at the same time.
– Skip all the throwing away of old 4th-generation Corvette tooling (1984-1992) or replace tooling that had already been disposed of. This part is mind-boggling.
– Perform updates to the old 4th-generation Corvette platform as time went along (1993-1996 model year), because Chevrolet didn’t think that it was fair to screw over the Corvette faithful by shoving old junk onto their customers (the 1996 Grand Sport is an incredible Corvette by the way). Mind-blowing.
– Also invest in the all-new 5th-generation Corvette at the same time, including new technologies that had never been tried (hydro-formed frame rails, anyone?) The Corvette went from having something like 16 pieces welded together for a frame to two hydro-formed frame rails. Given that the C5 Corvette ended up delivering mind-blowing performance all while having a minimum of (typical) GM engineering headaches speaks volumes to the Corvette Faithful in the halls of General Motors.
NASCAR could probably learn something from Corvette here concerning what to do with both an outgoing car and the incoming unit.
Keep in mind that also during this time, the Corvette Faithful inside General Motors managed to create a masterpiece during the middle of one of GM’s most turbulent times imaginable.
They were facing bankruptcy due to bone-headed investments into their mid-sized sedan platform, and the Corvette was on the chopping block. Not sure why this is important, but I think it’s more to demonstrate that NASCAR is operating with similarly deep pockets (in regards to what was spent on the C5 Corvette, $255-ish million, the OEM’s are spending somewhere around $140 million each, aren’t they?) and we’re getting an entire field of backmarkers out on the track while NASCAR teams sort out whatever they are trying to do with the existing season and the outgoing cars.
I think that’s what annoys me the most about this racing. Looking back at the Corvette one more time, Chevrolet demonstrated that they had a serious responsibility to Corvette owners to provide the best product they could (within reason), and buyers were rewarded with a superior product for 1997, the C5 really is an incredible car.
In comparison, concerning their final product here of late, what has an entire field of push-Kyle-Larson-to-the-front backmarkers done for us lately, other than remind us of the startling competition that can be found in practically every other race series out there?
The second factor is this. If teams are merely coasting along to a hide-the-remains-of-2021-in-a-landfill finish, how exactly are the fans being rewarded for doing their darndest to get back to tracks during Covid-is-still-lurking-like-a-stalking-butler-in-the-background during 2021? All they’re seeing is stately Gentleman’s Racing, with the only things missing being World War 1 leather aviator helmets, glass driving goggles, and mechanics riding in cars again.
To summarize, I think that NASCAR fans are being slightly short-changed, but who knows? NASCAR just might get away with it, because everyone kinda wants the old car to go away already. It’s like the expired milk in the fridge that can’t be replaced until Thanksgiving, but it’s all we’ve got to work with if we want our Kraft mac and cheese, so we’ll put up with it for now.
And third in the trio of factors concerning why nobody is really interested in the 2021 season. I’m not entirely sure that the teams have their hearts into the next-generation car. From what I am seeing with the NG cars, NASCAR’s top rung is going to be nearly a complete reset when the 2022 season begins next year. Everything concerning the old car is going to be thrown away or sold, nothing carries over from the old car and nobody is talking about this. Geez, one might think that this would be sorta important as the 2021 regular season winds down, but once again, nuthin’ but crickets.
And if you’re doing really well with the old car such as a pair of certain top-performing-in-2020 drivers, freaking out about getting all-new cars to work is an actual thing, especially if you’re not Hendrick Racing or Penske or Gibbs (although I think that Penske might be the early spoiler in 2022).
To that end, I’m not seeing much of any excitement about the new cars, either. I’m having trouble remembering the last time they were mentioned during a race broadcast, and there are even a few possible rumblings out there concerning whether or not the NG cars are crash testing all that well.
In addition to all that, to be a bit honest with you, has anyone actually seen the new cars recently? They’re kinda ugly-looking (the Mustang is the best out of the three, but that’s not saying much). It’s as if the stork has just dropped off Bugs Bunny with his new gorilla family, and the gorilla dad hasn’t decided if he wants to keep the Next Generation car or crush it with a tree, And, we’re supposed to be excited about this car?