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.
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.
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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