Thoughts on the end of the weekend...
Quite the weekend for sport, here in the US of A. Football (of which more later in the week), tight baseball pennant races, NASCAR fireworks at New Hampshire.
Wild stuff in baseball. With two weeks left in the season, five of eight playoff spots there are up for grabs - including all four in the American League - and there are lots of key divisional games coming up. (But then, isn't every game key for a contender this time of year?)
With the Cardinals already having clinched the NL Central, the Braves putting the finishing touches on yet another NL East crown, and only real drama in the NL West centering around Barry Bonds (how many home runs will he hit in the last two weeks?) and the Padres (will they or won't they finish at .500?), the only race left is for the wild card. There were four contenders going into the weekend, but my local Washington Nationals
dropped two out of three and are in a 4.5-game hole. The Phillies and Marlins battered each other over the weekend, while the leading Astros swept Milwaukee. The unbalanced schedule works for the Astros and against the NL East contenders; while the NL East teams mostly play each other the rest of the way (and it should here be pointed out that the last-place Mets have a record that would put them only 1.5 games behind the West-leading Padres), all thirteen games remaining for the Astros are against teams with nothing to play for. Seven against the Cubs. Four against the woeful Pirates. Two against the cruising Cardinals. Barring a major meltdown, Houston is going to take the wild card.
In the AL East, the Red Sox and Yankees are separated by just 1.5 games and will close the season with three games at Fenway that could decide the pennant. Potential spoiler: the once-promising, now third-place Baltimore Orioles, who still have three games against the Red Sox and eight
against the Yankees.
And then there's the AL Central. The White Sox are sliding, the Indians surging. Just 3.5 games separate these teams and they meet six more times. Nor can we forget the AL West, where there are only two games between Oakland and the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (a kludge of a name that must have been dreamed up by the marketing department.) They play each other only four more times, but they face Texas a total of nine times.
Did I mention the wild card? One of these six contenders is going to get it...but don't ask me who. I have enough trouble predicting football games.
There were some angry people
in New Hampshire this weekend. Robby Gordon...well, frankly, I expect that sort of thing from him. Kasey Kahne...that was more of a surprise.
There will be fines - probably in the neighborhood of $50,000. There will be suspensions - at least one race for each of those drivers. It wouldn't surprise me if they got Gordon for two.
You might expect that these incidents would happen between the ten guys racing for the Cup, right? Nope. Also-rans, every one of 'em. The guys racing for the Cup are too smart for that kind of nonsense, this time of year.
Part of the problem is the track. It's flat - just two degrees down the straightaways, twelve in the corners. And it's not real wide, and it's a mile long, which puts it right in that in-between zone - too small to be a real superspeedway, too big to be a short track.
Flat tracks generally do not make for good stock-car racing. New Hampshire is probably the worst example of this. A flat track has to be either really big (Indianapolis, 2.5 miles long and with nice wide turns) or really small. As in, the half-mile Martinsville Speedway.
At New Hampshire, the track is long enough for the cars to build a lot of speed down the straightaways, but it's not banked steeply enough to let the cars carry that speed through the corners. The cars tend to slide a bit in the turns, particularly if the setup isn't quite right or the driver isn't quite good enough.
As you might imagine, this makes side-by-side racing awfully exciting. For a very short time. See, the low car has a tendency to slide up into the high car. Which has a tendency to slide up into the car. Which has a tendency to make people throw helmets. At other cars.
That sort of thing is frowned upon, these days.
If the setup is good, and if the driver is perfect, you can get some good racing there. The Stewart-Newman and Kenseth-Biffle duels at the end of Sunday's race demonstrated that. But those are four very good drivers in four very good cars. There were 39 others on Sunday, and most of them weren't good enough.
It's too bad the track configuration is so lousy, because it's a nice facility which packs 'em in twice a year. But man, I don't like this track. And I don't know if it can be fixed. I used to have the same complaints about Homestead-Miami Speedway until it was rebuilt (now I love the place) but that was a bigger track to start with. So I guess we'll just see more of the same at New Hampshire.
You'd think I spent the whole weekend glued to the TV. I didn't, really. Had to work, you see. I did find time for a midnight showing of Mel Brooks' Young Frankenstein
("that's Fronkensteen!") in downtown DC, though, and that was a blast. Boy ain't right. Genius, but he ain't right.
Speaking of things that ain't quite right, I almost forgot that today is Talk Like A Pirate Day
. Arrr! Shiver me timbers, mateys!
While flipping between games, I passed C-SPAN, and there my attention was caught by the debate between Christopher Hitchens
(my favorite left-winger) and George Galloway,
Respect Party MP for
Bethnal Green and Bow.
Best line I heard was Hitchens to Galloway: "I suppose we'll have to congratulate you on being absolutely 100% consistent in your support for unmentionable thugs and criminals."
Had to stop watching after a while. Too disgusted by Galloway.
Another thing I saw, or rather first heard, then saw. As I often do, I turned on CMT (that would stand for Country Music Television) for background music while doing other things. And while so engaged, I hear somebody rapping.
This is not standard CMT fare.
So I get up and go look, and I see a black man in a cowboy hat. This is not, in itself, an unusual sight, especially if you've spent any time in Texas. What is unusual is that he is, in fact, rapping. Don't get much of that.
Turns out he's called Cowboy Troy and what he's doing is, so it is claimed, a sort of country-rap fusion thing known as "hick-hop."
Now country music has had its share of stylistic blending through the years. Rock and blues and country have all influenced each other. Even pop gets in there once in a while, though it doesn't seem like it does quite as much any more. But rap?
Sorry, Cowboy Troy, I know you're from Texas and all, but I gotta say it: a hat don't make you country.