What a difference six months make.

The just completed 500-mile NASCAR Cup Series race at Talladega Superspeedway featured passing, passing, and more passing. An exciting event was put on by the top stock car tour at what traditionally has been one of its most exciting stops. However in recent years the luster and edge-of-your-seat driving had faded at Talladega. Sunday’s contest returned the Alabama speedplant to its proper place in the quality rankings.

The last few years have produced racing there that did not live up to the reputation the track was known for. Formerly one of the most anticipated NASCAR stops all year Talladega had fallen to single-file lap-logging afternoons while drivers simply drove around and waited for the final fuel run. NASCAR’s stricter enforcement to discourage bump drafting and the Car of Tomorrow’s design contributed to the less than stellar competition.

The situation came to a head last November with a lackluster race the fans and competitors were unhappy with. Several NASCAR shills posing as journalists kept beating the company drum trying to convince everyone that watched the 500 miles that it was a good race. Fortunately someone in power at Daytona Beach’s offices recognized the lack of a quality racing product.

Double file restarts have assisted in making racing across the circuit better. Finishing races under green flags have pleased many fans. Four of eight races have gone into extra laps. Without the green-white-checker rule, half of 2010 would have finished under caution conditions. That is certainly a way to displease the ticket-buying customer.

Gone is the wing that came with the new Cup car design. A traditional spoiler is now in place. As a starting point, it was implemented for a better looking stock car appearance. In races that aerodynamics have been more of a factor, the quality of passing and competition has improved.

Robin Pemberton’s quote of “Have at it boys” has made the rounds to describe this new era of NASCAR relaxing its policing of on track activity and returning it more into the driver’s hands. Letting the competitors handle their own right-versus-wrong judgements was most visible last Sunday.

Gone were areas of ‘no bump zones’ and returning was simply a racetrack. Talladega has always been an unpredictable, mysterious strip of asphalt. In recent years predictability and controlled driving were forced into the equation. This has not set well with people involved in the sport from either side of the fence.

Kevin Harvick’s narrow victory over Jamie McMurray showed just how racing can and should be. And it doesn’t have to be forced or staged. But the sanctioning body can nurture the right circumstances and policies to allow the thrilling action like days of old to unfold.

The extended 200-lap race featured 88 lead changes and 29 of 43 race starters shared that lead. Here’s to the upward excitement trend continuing.

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