'Top Gear' Recap: From Texas to China
'Top Gear' Recap: From Texas to China

Tonight, on Top Gear: Jeremy Clarkson does a skid, Richard Hammond steals some tires, and James May gets kicked in the face.

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The major feature of this episode is that Top Gear does NASCAR. This might seem like we're on the wrong channel, because if you watch the American Top Gear on History, you know that show has a NASCAR analyst for a co-host (Rutledge Wood). But the Brits have dispatched Richard to Texas so that he can settle a disagreement with Jeremy, who refers to the sport as the equivalent of "banging a saucepan with a wooden spoon."

Richard explains the "humble, blue-collar beginnings" of NASCAR and its connection to moonshine runners while driving a beautiful 1941 Ford Business Coupe. He then travels to Texas Motor Speedway, where he chats with five-time NASCAR champ Jimmie Johnson. Jimmie explains to Richard (and us) that he drives the car, not the other way around. "We don't even have a fuel sensor to tell us when we run out of gas," he says.

Former Formula 1 and current NASCAR driver Juan Pablo Montoya helps Richard understand the difference between the two types of vehicles: a NASCAR set of wheels "slide[s] around a lot and they have no brakes. The car is so heavy and the brakes are so tiny," he says. Jeff Gordon agrees with Montoya's assessment, adding that "The car is always moving. It's never settled."

Of course, no piece on NASCAR is complete without crash footage, and clips of drivers fighting - two things that seem to draw a lot of attention. Richard admits that NASCAR fans "are not often mistaken for Harvard professors." Oh, snap.

He then gets a surprise when he's announced as the honorary pace car driver for the upcoming race. The experience is a little nervewracking for the Hamster, who is then drafted onto the pit crew for Kasey Kahne's #5 car.

The next day, Kyle Petty takes Richard out for a driving lesson in Tony Stewart's #14, which mostly consists of Richard screaming and admitting how scared he is. Eventually, he calms down and gets to drive solo, which would be okay if Petty wasn't sneaking up behind him (as much as a stock car can sneak, anyway) in the #43. What a way to end a feature...

The film gets Jeremy to admit that Americans are "able to make NASCAR exciting," but he and James both argue that Richard is biased as he may be a secret American.

Thus begins the news, which also includes the announcement of a new (if poorly photographed) Dodge Viper, the horror of a Japanese-designed Prius camper van, and pranks to be played on other people's cars and/or bicycles, which Jeremy and James delight in while Richard tries in vain to take them to task.

Jeremy goes on to review the Mercedes SLS, which he says has only one thing wrong with it: its gull-wing doors ("That's two things!" Hammond yells from off-camera). Now there's an SLS Roadster with less embarrassing doors, which makes Jeremy much happier. He then compares driving a convertible to being attacked by a lion, and proceeds to skid all over the test track with it. That's what he loves about it: that it's not safe and refined. The SLS does a 1:19.6 on the track.

This week's Star In A Reasonably Priced Car is Episodes star Matt LeBlanc. Jeremy whips out footage of him in the 1994 video for Bob Seger's "Night Moves," and calls his lap "very boring." He crosses the line in 1:42.1, which is the new fastest time on the celebrity lap board.

From that, the show segues into the next film, where James and Jeremy go to Beijing in order to check out Chinese automobiles. We get to see Jeremy in front of a fake Starbucks with a fake iPad and a fake iPhone. "The expression 'copyright infringement' doesn't translate terribly well into Mandarin," he tells us, before showing us Chinese copies of several vehicles. If you're wondering why they don't make their own cars, they do...and they're hideous. James and Jeremy stuff themselves into what looks like a Chinese Reliant Robin with disastrous results. The ride is awkward and turbulent until the car dies.

They test out a few other Chinese cars, which necessitates the use of the Stig's "Chinese cousin," who would rather attack everyone (including James, Jeremy, the director, the starter and one of the track marshals) than drive. He also gives us one of the most random endings in the history of Top Gear, as he reappears at the very end to kick James in the groin, just before our three presenters are replaced by three awkward Chinese substitutes.

So, a British car show leads with a story about an American sport and ends up being taken over by the Chinese. That's an interesting evening, isn't it?

Be sure to check out my interview with Richard Hammond & Jimmie Johnson about the making of this episode. For more from Brittany Frederick, visit my BuddyTV writer page, and follow me on Twitter at @tvbrittanyf.


Image courtesy of BBC America

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