Race Weekend Central

5 Points to Ponder: Is Superspeedway Racing Now Ruined Too?

1. There’s nothing as tense as the closing laps at Talladega … if you can make it there

If there was one part of a race you might choose to show non-racing fans how exciting NASCAR could be, the last part of any race at Talladega Superspeedway would work. The feeling of tension as the laps tick down while cars jockey for position at nearly 200 mph is almost unmatched across all sports.

The problem is what comes before it.

When the announcer team is telling viewers that “passing is going to be at a premium” and drivers are talking about it on their radios ahead of the race, that’s a bad thing. Yes, it’s been hard to pass on your own at Talladega and Daytona International Speedway for far longer than the Next Gen car has been around, but somehow things have gotten even worse.

It would be one thing if the dullness of the first 90% of a current Talladega race was mitigated by reduced chances of the Big One. Alas, we saw some truly scary wrecks this past weekend (even worse in the NASCAR Xfinity Series), so several hours of boredom now still end with most of the field torn up and drivers lucky to be uninjured (while hoping they don’t run out of gas).

Superspeedway racing should be the place for pure speed, thrilling gambles and daring passes that can be pulled off without endangering your fellow competitors. Not a high-speed procession for three hours followed by a guarantee of tangled-up cars.

What we’ve got instead right now is the worst of all worlds. And that stinks.

See also
Going for Win, Bubba Wallace & Ryan Blaney Come Up Empty

2. Bubba Wallace was in an impossible position at the end of Sunday’s race

We didn’t even mention that superspeedway racing also puts friendships in jeopardy. Best buddies Bubba Wallace and Ryan Blaney will probably be just fine, but their run-in during the second overtime at Talladega was the exact kind of no-win situation the current car and rules package puts drivers in.

As the leader, Wallace couldn’t outrun the drivers chasing him down. Blaney looked a little faster, but of course, he wasn’t going to pass Wallace on his own either.

So Wallace’s choices boiled down to either throwing a ton of blocks and probably getting spun or letting someone drive by him for a victory.

He decided on the former, but there were no good choices. Yet another reason NASCAR should be figuring out ways to fix superspeedway racing just as hard as it’s hopefully brainstorming ideas for short tracks.

3. Maybe one OT at superspeedways is enough

When NASCAR first changed its overtime rule to allow as many green-white-checkered sequences as possible to try to have races end under a green flag, it seemed like a great idea. Finishing under caution is always something of a bummer, after all.

The truth is, one size fits all solutions aren’t all that common in stock car racing, and this is another example. The second overtime at Talladega gave us a surprise winner, sure, but it also ruined the proper ending of the race when cars in the bottom line ran out of gas on the restart and took the momentum away from that line.

Talladega and Daytona are so large that fuel is a real consideration when extra laps are added on at the end of a race. It’s somewhat unfair to have teams try to plan for five extra miles, not to mention caution laps before trying to see if they can make it five more.

So here’s an idea: unlimited restarts on all tracks 1.5 miles or shorter. One overtime only on tracks two miles or longer, including road courses and superspeedways.

It’s the right balance between fairness to teams and fans. Let’s make it happen.

4. It’s pretty darn cool having Michael Jordan and Pitbull involved in stock car racing

One of the things that was fun during the Cup Series race at Talladega was seeing the greatest NBA player of all time (or second-greatest, at worst, if you’re a LeBron James fan) on the pit box, visibly engaged in the success of his race team.

He probably wasn’t thrilled with how the race ended, but he was definitely into it as Wallace took his best shot at the checkered flag.

Meanwhile, fellow team owner Pitbull just announced that he is naming his next album, which drops in July, “Trackhouse.” Because we all knew that Mr. 305 would eventually have an album with the same title as his race team.

There continues to be much justifiable hand-wringing about how NASCAR can reach new audiences without alienating its longtime supporters. While it hopefully can correct the racing issues that will help with the second part of that equation, this is your daily reminder that there are some awesome, high-profile celebrities doing their all for the first.

See also
The Big 6: Questions Answered After Kyle Busch Pulls a Rabbit From His Hat at Talladega

5. Should Dover be worried about going from two races to one to none? Because I am

There probably aren’t a ton of NASCAR fans who would name Dover Motor Speedway as their favorite track. It isn’t the shortest circuit or the largest, sitting right in the middle at a mile in length.

It’s not in a picturesque locale, sitting right on the side of an otherwise unremarkable strip of straight, flat, multi-lane sprawl in Delaware. The facility itself is nothing much to look at from the outside.

(It does have Miles the Monster, so that’s something.)

That said, every track is someone’s local track at the NASCAR level, and Dover happens to be mine. It’s the home of many memories I cherish, but none more than the few years when schedules magically aligned and I was able to attend full race weekends with my dad and my son. Three generations enjoying the races together.

One of those years, my son and I lingered at the merchandise trailers long after the NASCAR Xfinity Series race was over and were on our way back to our car in the near darkness. A golf cart zipped up alongside us, and a man had his young son hand my son a pack of M&M’s.

Turns out it was Kyle Busch telling his son Brexton Busch to share them, and the pack was autographed.

Those are the moments I think about losing as I wonder if Dover’s days are numbered. It was in a tough enough spot when it was one of the few independent tracks on the NASCAR schedule. Now under the ownership of Speedway Motorsports Inc., its position is somehow even more precarious.

It’s not a stretch to imagine SMI giving Dover’s race to another one of its facilities — say, the Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway, when that’s ready. The shiny new thing (well, a new version of it in this case) is always going to look more attractive than the drab Dover.

Would even an amazing group of races this weekend be enough to stop it? Probably not. The majority of NASCAR fans won’t shed a tear if Dover drops off the schedule, but some will.

I certainly might.

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17 Comments
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Kurt Smith

Superspeedway racing has been a wreck-filled crapshoot since the introduction of restrictor plates. Sunday’s race was simply a typical superspeedway event, all of the drivers in a big pack at the same speed until someone causes a multi-car pileup and then a driver lucks into a win. If the winner is a perennial backmarker, the NASCAR press collectively gushes the next day about how “the underdog team is turning the corner!”

Dover should never have lost a race and shouldn’t lose one, it used to produce some of the best racing on the circuit. But given the way the current car runs at shorter tracks, I expect it will be in NASCAR’s crosshairs to be replaced once we have a Martinsville-style conveyor belt again.

Bill B

The RP pack races are what they are. They’ve been that way for 30 years. I don’t like it any more than you do. While this car seems to have made it worse (and apparently more dangerous) it’s not that much different. I will also add, as long as a significant number of “fans” want to see those huge wrecks, there is little incentive for NASCAR to change.

I am with you on Dover. It’s my home track (90 minutes from the Baltimore metro area) and I’ve seen at least 20 races there. The races there were always tedious but about one out of six races can be very entertaining. It was probably the right decision to go from two races to one, but I don’t think they should abandon it altogether. It’s a unique track and the races there are no worse than the races at a third of the other tracks NASCAR visits on any given weekend.

Kurt Smith

I don’t think the fans fill the stands because of the big wrecks. They fill the stands because it’s a big party and NASCAR still has a large fan base in Alabama despite that they’re clearly embarrassed by that. If they lowered the banking at Talladega the fans would still go.

When I learned that I could bring a cooler full of food and beer to the Indianapolis 500 I understood why it always sells out. :-)

Bill B

All true but I was referring to the TV viewing audience (which is the only audience that matters anymore). The RP tracks always seem to have better ratings than their non-pack racing counterparts. I’ve always assumed that was because of the “I want to see lots of spectacular wrecks” crowd.
I could be wrong on that.

Kurt Smith

No, you’re probably right. The problem is that’s the crowd NASCAR seems to want to appeal to.

Dawg

Come on guys, this isn’t Rocket Science.

Indy Car, & F1, have figured it out, but NASCAR is still lost in the wilderness on the one issue that can completely change the face of pack racing.

Both Indy, & F1, allow one, & only one blocking move.

Blocking killed Dale Sr. & put Carl Edwards high up in the catchfence as well as injuring fans. It has lead to countless massive wrecks costing the owners millions of $$ in torn up cars.

NASCAR’s response to Dale’s death, was not how to deal with blocking. But how to make the cars safer. Don’t get me wrong, when I was blogging, I was pushing Safer Barriers, when Indy Car proved they worked. Well before NASCAR decided to make track owners, themselves included, to spend the $$ to follow suit.

The cars need to be made as safe as possible, & they’ve been pretty successful.

But another way to make pack racing safer would be to deal with wrecks before they happen.

No way to stop all of them, but to limit blocking to one move. And to eliminate it completely in the last 5 laps.

This would change the way teams have to approach SS racing, & put a premium on teamwork & strategy.

As things stand now the most deserving team seldom reaps their reward, the first couple cars are almost guaranteed to be wrecked.

Kurt Smith

I respectfully disagree Dawg. It’s unenforceable with this style of racing. What needs to happen is to lower the banking and ditch the pack racing altogether. Then let guys block all they want if they’re willing to risk a 35th place finish and p***ing off the team owner.

WJW Motorsports

No, no, no, no, no. Just no. Block away boys. Last thing the (former) sport needs is a bunch of delicate open wheel types whining to Toto about the bullies blocking the way. You want safe? Take up basket weaving.

Bill B

Perhaps you have a point. Perhaps that would be a sane approach. But you are assuming that NASCAR wants to end those big wrecks. I don’t think that is the case. They know that big wrecks equal ratings and exposure on other sports media. Why would they want to jeopardize that?

It’s up to the drivers to take care of blocking. If somebody blocks you, wreck them. If every driver did that there would be little to no blocking.

Alfred in AZ

Interesting comments on SS racing. On another racing website, the writer asks “have we become complacent about SS racing?” I would say definitely yes. The Fox broadcast team appears to exhibit an attitude of resignation, like, that’s just the way it is. It’s a mystery to me that the “major stakeholders” (NASCAR’s terminology), the OEM’s and the team owners, haven’t said dammit, enough is enough! Several drivers have dodged a bullet recently, going back to Ryan Newman. Going back further, one very famous legendary driver didn’t survive. If no injuries or God forbid, loss of life, there is still the enormous expense of car repairs / rebuilds, and of course part supply issues. I’m sure those writing the checks notice.
Limiting OT to one is commendable – recall COTA – three OT,s – stupid.
Limiting blocking to one attempt is also commendable, and perhaps enforceable IF the cars are strung out and blocking is easier to observe.
Still, a calamitous event(s) is essentially baked in to the car spec, race format, AND THE TRACK CONFIGURATION. Probably the majority of race followers and fans would disagree with me, but change the track configuration!!
Removing or reducing the banking would be expensive and a hard sell.
Adding a chicane (Daytona already has the bus stop) to the front stretch / tri-oval and the back stretch would break up the pack, put more emphasis on driver skill, and add a new element to the race. Yes, a rethink on tires, brakes, setup, strategy would be required. Oh and lose the stage break cautions, waste of time. Think about it. Feedback welcomed.

Kurt Smith

If they raised the banking in Atlanta in an off-season, they can lower it at Daytona and Talladega in an off-season. It’s already been proven that it’s possible in the other direction.

Alfred in AZ

Yes, you may possibly be correct. Cost and complexity would be affected by existing grandstand structures, foundations, walls, infield tunnel(s),etc. Not sure if sure if any suite towers or other spectator accommodations would be affected, have never been to the Talladega track for a race. Adding a couple of chicanes I would suspect would be considerably less expensive. Way, way in the past there used to be an infield road course at Talladega, but any remnants of that are probably long gone at this point.

Alan

Lose the tapered spacer, cut down the rear spoiler to 2″ tall to eliminate downforce and force drivers to lift a bit on corner entry will eliminate the huge packs, it will allow for the cars to string out just a bit. Before Bobby Allison’s wreck at Dega in 87 which was before RP’s, you didn’t see large pack racing, you saw racing as it was meant to be at Dega and Daytona

John

so-called overtime stinks. Whoever is ahead at the end of the stated number of laps should win, If it is under caution, so be it. All overtime does is cause wrecks and running out of fuel.

wildcats2016

I don’t like RP races. I am not as tense as I was when my favorite driver was still racing but I still don’t like seeing the big wrecks.

As far as OT, yes, one OT is PLENTY. This line them up and wreck them multiple times idea is idiotic.

Don starrett

I believe the solution to this problem is simple. Just as easy as creating a super speedway car just for the big tracks and while there at it, if they are going to race on dirt, being in a real dirt car would be better. The old international race of champions was a great series because all the cars were identical. Having races like this would be so much fun and eliminate any cheating.

Alan

IROC doesn’t exist anymore because the races sucked and it was terribly difficult to pass

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