By admin | October 9, 2008
By Richard Allen
I was prepared to write a column on just how much NASCAR’s on track product has improved over the past few weeks. I still plan to do that but NASCAR did again find a means of getting in its own way on the last lap at Talladega.
On the last lap of the Amp Energy 500 at the Talladega Superspeedway Regan Smith passed Tony Stewart for what appeared to be a race winning move. However, NASCAR deemed the pass illegal because Smith had ventured below the yellow line painted around the inside of the track.
That yellow line was deemed out of bounds a few years ago to help prevent big wrecks. Passing below that line is supposed to incur a penalty. But, drivers had been at least led to believe the last lap was to be treated differently, particularly when the passing driver is forced below that line. Smith believed he had been forced below the line.
NASCAR was faced with the somewhat embarrassing situation of having the first car to cross the finish line not win the race. Their own lack of clarity created a confused atmosphere which has led some to suggest the sanctioning body plays favorites.
Controversial last lap aside, NASCAR has had several good weeks of racing action recently.
In Dover, Roush Fenway Racing teammates Greg Biffle, Matt Kenseth and Carl Edwards staged an excellent battle to the finish over the last 30-40 laps. The race looked like a blast from the past as drivers seemed to be more concerned with the win than the points. It was probably the type of racing NASCAR had in mind when it created the Car of Tomorrow.
The next week in Kansas, the race was not one of the more competitive events ever staged. However, Edwards’ bold last lap pass attempt on Jimmie Johnson gave fans something to talk about over the next week.
Usually, close competition at Talladega is a guarantee. But the level of competition in this year’s racing weekend was even better than normal.
The Craftsman Truck Series race on Saturday was one of the most intense and exciting races in recent memory. Three and four wide racing was the norm rather than the exception. And more, the race ended with a bold passing maneuver by Todd Bodine as he went around Kyle Busch just yards from the finish line.
On Sunday, the competition maintained that same fevered pace. There were 64 lead changes among 28 drivers. To put that in perspective, there were only fifteen drivers who did not lead at least one lap.
NASCAR racing has been criticized for its lack of competitiveness for some time. It seems as if a corner of some sort has been turned. However, the organization’s inconsistency and appearance of favoritism runs the risk of ruining the gains they have made during recent weeks.
Perhaps teams have finally begun to get a grasp on the Car of Tomorrow. Or, it could be that drivers have escalated their own competitive mindsets.
Whatever the reason, it has been good to see that the on track racing has improved. Hopefully, this trend will continue.
Richard Allen is a member of the National Motorsports Press Association. His weekly column appears in The Mountain Press every Wednesday.
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