By admin | March 6, 2011
By Richard Allen
NASCAR went into Las Vegas with a number of feel good stories having been written during the first two weeks of the season. And to an extent, that continued this weekend. Mark Martin winning and Danica Patrick finishing in the top-5 of the Nationwide race certainly offered the potential for more positivism. A solid run on Sunday for Dale Earnhardt, Jr. provided hope to his legions of fans as well.
However, there was one very important issue in the Sprint Cup race that looked far too similar to the last couple of years. One of the biggest complaints about NASCAR from disgruntled fans has centered around the racing, or lack thereof, on the so called cookie cutter tracks. During the second half of Sunday’s Kobalt Tools 400 there was far too little exchanging of positions on the track, and most of those resulted from double-file restarts. Just about the only time a spot within the top-10 changed hands over the last 200 miles of competition was on pit road.
Tony Stewart clearly had the fastest car in Las Vegas but was cited for dragging equipment out of his pit box and forced to serve a drive through penalty on pit road which essentially placed him at the back of the pack.
Stewart seemingly overcame his issues later in the race when a two tire pit stop placed back at the front of the field. But with his left side tires feeling the strain of multiple laps, his crew opted to change four tires on their final stop. With everyone else changing two tires the #14 car came out of the pits in 3rd place.
It would have seemed logical to think that with a faster car and fresher tires than the competition Stewart would work his way back to the lead. However, that was not to be. As is so often the case on these 1.5-2 mile tracks, Stewart’s car ran into the dreaded ‘wall of air’ behind other cars and was locked in place.
There are fourteen races on this year’s Sprint Cup schedule set to be run on tracks of the 1.5-2 mile dimension. If the racing seen on Sunday is any indication of what lies ahead for the remaining thirteen trips to these type venues, the feel good stories of the early season will be lost in a sea of complaints.
Stewart, Matt Kenseth, Trevor Bayne, Kevin Harvick and Jeff Burton all fell back in the pack due to either an unscheduled pit stop or some sort of mishap on pit road. None of these cars was able to move back up because passing was essentially nonexistent within the top-10 or even top-15 during the race’s second half.
Now make no mistake, I am not blaming the troubles of these drivers on bad pit calls. If there is something worthy of penalty then punishment should be administered. I am using the drivers mentioned above to point out that even the best cars on the track could not pass when they fell back in traffic.
It seems as though races on this sort of track are almost entirely decided on pit road. On-track action has become secondary to what happens when cars are sitting still. Green flag runs on the cookie cutters have become stints in between the next trip to pit road in which there will be an opportunity for exchange of positions.
It’s no wonder drivers get so upset with pit crews after a poor stop. Positions lost cannot be regained on the track. That’s bad for the drivers, the pit crews, and most of all, the fans.
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