By admin | October 31, 2011
By Richard Allen
Isnâ€™t it great that the past two races on the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series have provided a multitude of storylines and none of them involve fuel mileage? So whatâ€™s different about these two events that have made them seem unique?
The answer is that the last two races werenâ€™t conducted on one of the so called â€˜cookie cutterâ€™ tracks. The first five Chase for the Championship races were held on tracks that measured either one mile or 1.5 miles in length. While the one mile tracks of New Hampshire and Dover do not fit into the 1.5- 2 mile â€˜cookie cutterâ€™ description, they race much the same in that cars tend to spread out and ride for long stretches at a time.
Itâ€™s often said that variety is the spice of life. That may or may not be the case for life in general, but it certainly is the case in NASCAR. Getting off those similar tracks and onto the 2.66 mile high banks of Talladega and the half-mile paper clip of Martinsville have energized a Chase playoff that, even with its close fight in the standings, was proving to be somewhat lifeless.
Unfortunately, the trend in NASCAR has been to add more of the â€˜cookie cuttersâ€™ and remove the tracks with unique character. Within the modernized television era of the sport, tracks in traditional but remote areas have had dates taken away or have been completely removed from the Sprint Cup schedule while new facilities in larger markets have been added.
In order to maximize the use of the new tracks, they were built with essentially the same blueprints. Those blueprints created courses that could not only host NASCAR but IndyCar and other forms of racing as well. The unfortunate results of such multi-use facilities was clearly demonstrated two weeks ago when IndyCar driver Dan Wheldon lost his life on a track that had cars traveling too close together at too fast of a speed.
Over the last twenty years, tracks in Rockingham, North Wilkesboro and Darlington have either been removed from the schedule entirely or had dates moved or taken away. While some will argue that these tracks did not attract crowds as large as those in the bigger markets of cities such as Chicago, Miami or Kansas City, the fact is these tracks represented more than just crowd size. Those venues offered a uniqueness to the sport it very much lacks today.
Major League Baseball has already gone through and emerged from an era of sameness that robbed character from the sport.
The Chicago Cubs are not looking to leave Wrigley Field for a more modern stadium because they understand that their current facilityâ€™s unique character is part of the teamâ€™s lore. The Boston Red Sox have the same relationship with Fenway Park. Even among baseballâ€™s newest stadiums, unique dimensions and other qualities are being built in to avoid the â€˜cookie cutterâ€™ type multi-use ballparks in Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Atlanta and St. Louis of the 1970s.
Hopefully NASCAR will grow out of its â€˜cookie cutterâ€™ phase before itâ€™s too late. The tracks in Talladega and Martinsville have demonstrated the necessity of doing so. But for now, the Sprint Cup Series will finish its 2011 season with races on the 1.5 mile track in Texas, the one-mile track in Phoenix and the 1.5 mile track in Miami-Homestead. Those will make up Chase races six, seven and eight on tracks of those two dimensions.
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