Talladega Race All Too Familiar

CHARLOTTE, NC (May 6, 2013) – Does this seem familiar to you?

A NASCAR Sprint Cup race is dominated by a bunch of single-file, green-flag laps, there’s a massive wreck in the final 10 laps that destroys millions of dollars of racing equipment, and an unlikely candidate makes a last-lap pass for the win.

Anybody see this before?

Of course you have.

Welcome to NASCAR Sprint Cup racing Talladega Superspeedway.

Over the past five years, this scenario has been the ‘script’ – especially the wrecking part – for nearly every Sprint Cup race at Talladega. Beginning with Kyle Busch’s win in the 2008 Aarons 499, 10 of the last 11 Talladega Cup races contested have featured epic crashes in the final 15 laps.

Using NASCAR official race reports as a tally sheet, those wrecks have destroyed a total of 138 cars – the equivalent of just over three full 43-car starting fields.

Meanwhile, just one race during that span – Jimmy Johnson’s win in the 2011 Aaron’s 499 – featured no wrecks and a final outcome determined by a run of more than 10 green-flag laps.

That wasn’t the case in Sunday’s Aaron’s 499 as the current NASCAR superspeedway restrictor plate formula worked to perfection with Matt Kenseth leading the ‘parade’ for 142 of 192 laps, Kurt Busch starring as the high flyer in the obligatory late-race ‘Big One’ wreck, and unlikely candidate David Ragan producing the winning move on the final circuit.

A three-hour rain delay pushed Sunday’s inevitable fender-crunching Talladega episode into the twilight providing an added bonus for NASCAR – primetime television. Viewers tuning in to FOX for their weekly ‘Animation Domination’ fix of The Simpsons and Bob’s Burgers were instead treated to Busch flipping on top of Ryan Newman’s car at 200 miles per hour. After a brief cleanup for the 12-car mangle, Ragan – who in nine previous Sprint Cup events this season had a 28th-place finishing average – managed to steal the race in an admittedly thrilling final lap sprint.

Who knew?

Well, actually, you did.

You’ve seen this before – kind of like MASH, That 70’s Show, Andy Griffith and Law & Order – all the other television reruns you watch on a regular basis. You know the ones, the shows you know so well that you can recite the script.

Kinda like Talladega.

Enough Already

As long as I’m on a semi-rant here, I’m calling ‘uncle.’

I give up.

Enough coverage of Dale Earnhardt, Jr., okay?

Can you imagine tuning into any other sport and having them continually focus on and gush over a player who scores a touchdown once every three or four years? How about constantly zeroing in on a baseball player who hits .210?

That’s Earnhardt. No championships in 15 seasons, one win in his last 173 races.

The television networks that broadcast NASCAR races will tell you that as the sport’s most popular driver, the fans demand the amount of airtime they shower on Earnhardt. Then again, has it occurred to anyone that Earnhardt’s popularity is in large part due to the fact they give him all this extra attention?

Hey, I get it – ‘Junior’ is the son of a departed legend. That’s cool. As someone who bangs the drum continually about racing history, I’m good with giving Junior a nod or two there. But riding around with him outside the top-10 most weeks isn’t justified for the most part – just redundant and boring.

Worst of all, it’s done at the expense of the rest of the drivers in the field. Think about it – in more than eight hours of airtime Sunday, the only time you heard anything about eventual race victor David Ragan was when he made winning move on the final lap.

That’s pitiful.

Meanwhile, viewers got the normal full dose of Dale despite the fact he never sniffed the lead and eventually finished 17th.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m not knocking the guy. I like Junior. He is entertaining in his own way. But the stats don’t lie – I’m not making up the numbers cited above. The reality is those numbers don’t justify the television attention/exposure numbers he receives – especially at the cost of other drivers who are doing better than he is – drivers who have earned the right to be in the spotlight that day and who have sponsor demands as well.

That said, FOX and the rest of the television networks that cover NASCAR need to give Earnhardt his due when he races well. When he doesn’t, forget the favoritism and show the drivers that are more deserving when it’s ‘their day.’

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