“Did you see the end of that race? Wow, what a race!” I heard a lot of that following the Aaron’s 499 at Talladega. My cousin Morgan out in Ohio echoed another sentiment I’ve heard more than once following a NASCAR restrictor plate race: “I don’t love NASCAR, but man, what a finish today.”
It’s hard to argue that restrictor plate racing has produced some of the most memorable endings in recent memory. There was Kevin Harvick’s crazy win over Mark Martin at Daytona, Jamie McMurray’s photo finish over Kyle Busch back in July of 2007, and Harvick’s narrow victory over Jamie Mac last year at Talladega. Brad Keselowski’s 2009 win was unexpected and spectacular, as was Trevor Bayne’s win this year in the “Great American Race.” That’s to say nothing of Sunday’s race, with eight possible winners laying out for the finish line.
By the same token, it’s not all sunshine and roses with the NASCAR faithful. More than one fan has lamented of 177 laps of abject boredom, followed by 11 laps of sheer intrigue. I’ll bet a number of you DVR’ed the race just so you could fast forward through the monotony (in case there were no wrecks), to catch the spectacular ending. The general sentiment out there is that a great finish does not a good race make.
Driver complain of these races being a “lottery,” and “not real racing.” Kyle Busch says the most important thing to have at Talladega is luck…and nothing else. I’ll bet Sunday’s race did nothing to change that perception for Wild Thing. How many times did you hear after a wreck, “It’s just a product of this kind of racing?” Speaking of which, there have been the spectacular flights of fancy with Carl Edwards flying upside down into the fence or Ryan Newman landing on his roof.
I ponder this because I wonder if a balance can be struck. Take the plates off? Remember those exist as much for fan safety as they do the drivers. What about reconfiguring the tracks? No, these races do present a thrill you just don’t get at the other tracks. How about re-formatting the races, like do some kind of 20-25 lap elimination heats? I kind of like that idea; it gives the race a kind of Saturday night flair. At the same time, I just don’t think my idea would gain any real traction.
Then I go back to the conversation I had today with Patrick Reynolds, who reminded me about the purpose for the plates. There seems to be no perfect solution for racing on the superspeedways. Like just about every other challenge NASCAR faces, there’s no silver bullet for which there is consensus. For every solution some self-appointed engineer proposes, there’s ten more to tell the guy he’s full of it. As one tenant of Murphy’s Law holds, “If you try to please everyone, nobody will like it.”
Personally, I enjoyed the race. I guess I see the races like one would a symphony. To get to the crescendo, you’ve got to build up to it. First, you have to size up what you brought for a car in the opening laps. Then, you have to make your adjustments. After that, you find your draft partners, while trying to ensure you stay out of trouble. As the race winds down, the excitement builds. It’s a dash to the finish, and then all bets are off in that final turn in a dash that resembles a jail break. It’s scratch,bite, gouge and claw time like a bunch of teenage boys chasing the prom queen. There’s one winner, it’s usually not to be the one you’d expect, and he had to wage one heck of a fight to do it.
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder I guess. If you don’t like this one, there’s always Richmond coming up- and come to think of it- I like that one, too. Variety is the spice of life.
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