By admin | September 7, 2009
By Richard Allen
NASCAR fans ought to be able to expect the type of racing they saw in the Pep Boys Auto 500 every week.
Rather than simply driving around at full speed for a few laps until the next caution, the worn surface of the Atlanta Motor Speedway created an environment with all the elements for a great race. The elements of driving ability, strategy, luck and intense racing with passing all played a part for 500 miles. This race, unlike so many others, had the entertainment value to keep interest levels high all the way throughout.
As far as driving ability goes, it was apparent that the men inside the machines were actually having to work at their craft. Cars were slipping and sliding all over the rough surface. At no time was there a lull in which drivers could take it easy. It was clear that in this race the driver was every bit as important as the engineering staff. That is not always, or even often, the case in todayâ€™s NASCAR.
Strategy was a key element as well. Granted, there was no thought involved when it came time to pit. Four tires were the order of the day each time the cars came to pit road. Where the strategy came into play was in the way the car was being driven. Drive too hard too early in the run and stand the risk of having the tires wear away after only a few laps. Lay back too much too early in the run and stand the risk of falling too far behind.
The luck of having cautions fall at just the right time came into play as well. Matt Kenseth was one driver who benefited in this way. Just after falling a lap down early in the race, the yellow flew and he was awarded the â€˜Lucky Dogâ€™, which may have saved his Chase for the Championship hopes. Along that same line, Kyle Busch benefited in the same way from a late race caution.
Perhaps the biggest beneficiary of all was race winner Kasey Kahne.
Kevin Harvick seemingly had the victory in hand until the same late race yellow that helped Busch ruined his evening. After a round of pit stops, Harvick was passed by Kahne, whose car was better on short runs than that of Harvick. Had the final caution not come out it is unlikely Kahne would have found himself in victory lane.
Sometimes in racing, luck is the deciding factor. That is just part of it and it is acceptable as long as it is not manufactured through erroneous debris cautions and the like.
As far the intensity of racing is concerned, there was rarely a time in which it seemed as though cars were just lined up running a high speed parade. To show the level of competition I provide the following numbers: 68, 66, 60, 31, 30, 24, 23 & 17. Those numbers represent the number of laps led by different drivers. Eight different drivers led significant numbers of laps(aside from those who led a lap or two) and those numbers were evenly distributed rather than having one driver monopolize the entire event.
Best of all, NASCAR did not have to manufacture anything to create a good, dramatic race. There was only one debris caution and there was actually debris on the track. The last caution for Clint Bowyerâ€™s spin was not a serious incident but it most likely did warrant a caution. And, the person most hurt by the yellow was Bowyerâ€™s teammate Harvick, so calls of favoritism would not hold much accuracy.
Often, I criticize the type of racing in todayâ€™s NASCAR. I believe some mistake that criticism for a longing for an era long past. That is not the case at all. It is the type of racing I long for. Racing like was seen this past weekend. The â€˜coming and goingâ€™ effect makes for exciting racing that does not require a manufactured ending to be dramatic.
I believe racing cars with brand identity and fewer numbers of dictated parts and pieces would create this same type of racing on a weekly basis. Unfortunately, it took a worn out track surface to create a great race. It doesn’t have to be that way.
As a traditionalist, I would still like to see the Labor Day weekend race run under the lights at Darlington and the last race of the season held in Atlanta. Darlington would provide the same type of holiday racing because of its similarly worn surface. And, imagine having a race like the one on Sunday deciding the championship.
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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