NASCAR Superspeedway Racing Missing The Mark

Charlotte, NC (October 24, 2011) – Halfway through Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Good Sam Club 500 from Talladega, I found myself wondering why I was even watching the event. I was pretending to be engaged but the fact is, it was just too frustrating.

Let’s be perfectly clear. When NASCAR is on point, I have always been happy to shake the pom poms. You don’t have to worry about me – I’m a lifer, addicted to the sport. But from where we’re watching, the restrictor-plate driven tandem racing that is now fashionable in the events on stock car racing’s two greatest giant ovals – Daytona and Talladega – is missing the mark.

Here’s just a partial list of things about Sunday’s race that made my brain scramble.

Stroke Fest –

Aren’t the good cars supposed to be at the front of the pack, duking it out for the lead throughout the race? In the current NASCAR tandem-style racing, most of the good cars run in pairs at the back preferring to just ‘ride around.’

Back in the day, this was called ‘stroking.’

This totally skewed Sunday’s event as the fans wound up watching cars and drivers who haven’t sniffed the front of the pack all season run up front while the strokers hung back for the first 165 laps of a 188-circuit race.

In a perfect world where everyone races hard all the time – not just for the final 20 laps after three hours of riding around – the normal back markers wouldn’t be up front. Things usually shake out in the final laps as it did Sunday when the stokers raced their way to the front. Sure, one or two regular back markers snuck through to score their best finish of the season and everyone got to crow how competitive the race was when, in reality, it wasn’t.

It’s just a new version of the same restrictor plate race we’ve about 100 times at Talladega and Daytona since NASCAR mandated the dang things in 1988.

Sunday’s race – with all it’s hanging back – just seemed to be a bigger ‘stroke fest’ than most.

Giving Up Spots –

Normally, drivers are on stun choking every mile an hour out of the pit road speed limit rules. But in the tandem style racing displayed Sunday at Talladega, ‘teammates’ wait for each other, jockeying to allow another car between them off pit road so they can line up nose-to-tail on the restarts.

C’mon, that’s not racing – that’s like allowing every alternate car to leave the crowded parking lot after the event.

Giving Up Spots – Part Deux

If a tandem wasn’t lucky enough to get nose-to-tail off pit road, the alternate strategy Sunday was to ‘wait’ for their partner on the restart.

Since when did the green flag mean wait for a car behind you?

This strategy Sunday created some dicey restarts where lines didn’t go or tandems that had gotten separated were darn near run over by those that hadn’t.

Wanna Date? –

In the kind of racing Sunday at Taladega, if you didn’t have a teammate to partner with, or if your partner had a problem during the race, you were screwed.

Multi-car teams now stage game plans early in the week as to who is going to push whom. That means some teams at Roush, Hendrick, RCR, JGR know that they are racing for second place before they ever leave for the racetrack. We’re talking good cars and teams that have the potential for victory – not back markers – knowing they have not been ‘picked’ to win by their organization.

I’m all for team unity, but that has to be a very hard pill to swallow.

On the other hand, single-car and limited resource teams have to scramble to find a ‘date’ for the prom making for some strange bedfellows before and during the race.

If either one – team car or independent – loses their partner for any reason during the race, their chances of being ‘Prom King’ just got knuckled.

Sorry guys, but racing is a ‘stag’ deal. Anytime you need an on-track teammate or partner to get it done, there’s something fundamentally wrong.

Say What? –

Because of the tandem style racing, drivers now swap spotters like trading cards.

Teams now have the frequencies of a dozen or more different teams/spotters so if they wind of drafting with that car, they can communicate.

As a retired NASCAR spotter, it would shake me to my core to give my driver up to someone else. How any spotter can stand up there and watch their car in the final laps at Daytona and Talladega with a competitor’s spotter on the call – determining the safety of your driver and his finish – is beyond me.

It’s probably a good thing I am retired from spotting because I would have probably punched someone if they tried to do that.

Safety –

Last – but not least – this kind of racing just isn’t that safe.

Forget all the possible crash scenarios that could happen at any racetrack and consider the following – in tandem racing, the driver in the second car is holding it wide open and can’t see where he is going.

Think about what it has to be like whizzing around the giant Talladega 2.66-mile track at 190 miles an hour plus with your front bumper tucked under the car in front of you and you can’t see. Are you serious?

While we can applaud the insane skill and uber concentration levels needed to accomplish this kind of stunt, the shear ability of the second driver to not be able to see anything else is totally crazy in concept and borderline certifiable in it’s application.

Anyone who thinks this is safe needs to be examined.

We could probably go on, but listing these things is almost as exhausting as watching them unfold in front of you for three and a half hours on a Sunday afternoon.

Sunday’s race at Talladega had its moments, but the fundamental flaws of and the application of the current rules that are inherent in NASCAR restrictor plate racing have compromised the events to the point where they are too calculated and too predictable. They also interject more safety questions above and beyond those found in ‘normal’ stock car racing.

I’m not even going to pretend I know how to fix all this, but there has to be a way that more in-tune intellects at NASCAR can change the rules so the drivers, cars and teams all have the chance to compete individually, without assistance, on the superspeedways.

The way it is right now is a darn mess.

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