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Minter: Long Races Producing ‘Stupid’ Finishes

Rick Minter | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, April 21 2010

After 500 miles of racing at Texas on Monday, it was a guy with a bad leg who took the checkered flag. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

By Rick Minter | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

As blasphemous as it seems to even type the words into a computer, it’s beginning to look like 500- or 600-mile NASCAR races are way too long, based on the latest rules and trends.

In my earliest days of attending races, 500 milers were marathons. The World 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway was even more so. Relief drivers actually got behind the wheel at times, even in the front-running cars. Now, even a driver with a stitched-up knee can win a race, as Denny Hamlin has shown.

At Texas Motor Speedway on Monday, 15 drivers proved that 500 or 600 miles is no big deal. They ran both the Cup and Nationwide races, which if they completed all the laps added up to 800 miles.

Back in the day, engines and cars often gave up long before the finish. Hard-chargers usually paid the price for putting on the show in the early laps, and those who conserved their equipment were the ones who wound up battling for the win at the end.

At Texas, only one driver, David Reutimann, blew an engine. In the last 600 to go to the full distance, only three drivers blew engines.

But the real problem with long races, at least lately, is that more often than not, the first 90 percent of a race often has little impact on the outcome. A late-race caution often resets the field and gives multiple drivers an opportunity to win.

Jamie McMurray led just two laps, both of them in overtime, to win the Daytona 500.  Jimmie Johnson won at Bristol after a late-race caution took away Kurt Busch’s advantage. At Martinsville, Denny Hamlin had to ram his way through the field after a late-race caution scrambled the running order of a race he seemed destined to win. Then it looked as if Jeff Gordon would win it, but the timing of the last caution flag worked against him.

At Phoenix, Ryan Newman used a two-tire stop during a late caution to beat the race’s dominant drivers, Kyle Busch and Jimmie Johnson.

Then on Monday at Texas, Jeff Gordon saw another race whih he dominated get won by another driver, Denny Hamlin, who avoided the late-race wreck that eliminated Gordon.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. had this to say afterward.

“I was having fun until all those cautions kept coming at the end,” he said. “We run 450 miles to sit there and settle it in a bunch of mess there at the end of the race, and it is kind of stupid.

“But, that is way it went down, so we will see what happens next week.”

That ought to be really interesting. It was the Cup race at Talladega last fall, one in which drivers “rode around” for the first 450 miles or so before getting down to serious business, that was labeled as boring and was the impetus for the rules changes that facilitate rowdy driving at the end of races.

It could be argued that late-race cautions make the racing more interesting. But some of NASCAR’s all-time classic battles didn’t need any help from the yellow flag. The very first Daytona 500, which ended with a photo finish between Lee Petty and Johnny Beauchamp, was a caution-free race. And the race that many describe as the best World 600 ever, was actually better because of the lack of cautions.

In that 1980 race, Benny Parsons, driving M.C. Anderson’s No. 27 Chevrolet, battled Darrell Waltrip, in DiGard’s No. 88, in what many have called the best 600 ever.

The three best cars that day belonged to Parsons, Waltrip and Dale Earnhardt. When Earnhardt blew a tire and crashed on Lap 276, it left Waltrip and Parsons as the top two drivers.

Over the final 26 laps, the two swapped the lead eight times. Parsons took the lead with two laps to go then held off a last-lap charge from Waltrip to get the victory.

Somehow I don’t think people would still be talking about those two races if late cautions had flown and surprise winners had emerged.

– Rick Minter can be reached at rminter@racintoday.com

Rick Minter | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, April 21 2010
12 Comments

12 Comments »

  • Steve says:

    These are all reasons why I”m going to my local short track this year instead of going to a Cup race.

  • FCH says:

    There was a time when every single thing that happened in a race meant something. It was a story telling and unfolding with each lap. Now a lot happens during a race, but it generaly means and tells nothing. I feel cheated to watch a race today. As Tony Stewart told little Busch a few years ago,“you do not race until after the last pit stop.” It has become that way because Nascar in a bad decision has tried to reinvent racing for what has proven to be the short term fan. Worst of all often a car that would have won the race because of there work, preparation, and ability now loses at the very end because of the mickey mouse rules that now prevail for the weak minded fan that is only able to understand, remember and recall the finish. I feel sorry for this fan as they will never know or see a race unfold like a good book tells a story because of the gutting of true racing.

  • David says:

    The race is an all day or all weekend event for the loyal true blue stock car fans. Cut the length down and lose more fans. This is especially true at the super speedways. Without the length and the in race strategy you will be down to one or two possible winners. Who the heck is going to pay to see a 200 mile race on a 2.5 mile track? If you could fill the stands you would spend more time in the traffic jam than you would seeing the race (coming and going). If you want to trim time off a race on TV, cut down on the prerace crap. Some people want to trim the field, how did/does that work for CART/IRL. Back markers have fans too. Every now and then a low budget team puts together a great run or gets a new driver a chance with a better team. What the heck, its the American way.

  • Richard in N.C. says:

    For the last 15 to 20 years the only constant about NASCAR is that what used to be called the press will find something wrong with anything NASCAR does.

    • JR says:

      Richard, if you have been following NASCAR for the past 15 to 20 years, you should be well aware of what NASCAR has done to sell it’s soul in it’s attempt to become “mainstream”. There were far more hardcore fans 20 years ago than there are today because NASCAR has changed from a sport to a show. In order to put on a good show for people who know or care little about auto racing, NASCAR has taken to manipulating the events in ways like the Chase format, phantom cautions, multiple green/white/checker finishes, double file restarts, wave arounds, lucky dogs, pit road speeding penalties and so on and so on. The media is usually a willing partner to this because biting the hand that feeds it is not a good financial plan. As a result, NASCAR has forsaken a smaller but very substantial fan base for a larger market of the new and curious who may or may not like the product next week.

      • Richard in N.C. says:

        Well I’ve been a fan since the 1960’s and I still enjoy NASCAR racing. It isn’t perfect, but it never was.

        There are an awful lot of people in NC who make a living and a better living because NASCAR and the racers were not satisfied and worked hard to improve and grow.

        Whether you agree with the changes NASCAR has made or not has absolutely nothing to do with how the press has become increasingly negative, mean-spirited, and sloppy in the last 15 to 20 years as TV coverage of NASCAR has increased.

        But what do I know – I’m only a NASCAR fan, and the sports commentator in my local newspaper has written and stated publicly that NASCAR fans are “ignorant and gullible.”

        • JR says:

          Richard, like you, I have been a fan since the mid 1960’s and I still follow it today. If you go back 30 years or more, you know that the only source for in depth NASCAR news on a regular basis was Grand National Scene (later known as Winston Cup Scene and then just NASCAR Scene), it’s sister publication, Grand National Illustrated (which also became Winston Cup Illustrated and NASCAR Illustrated) and National Speed Sport News, which covered all forms of motor sports. ABC’s Wide World of Sports was your only TV outlet for coverage. The amount of coverage today is light years from back then. The quality of the coverage is also light years worse than what we got back then. That is because in the old days, the racing was the story. Today, the racing is a marketing platform from which corporate suits launch their business plans. Everything done in the media today is with that fact in mind. Having lived in that world, I know from experience.

      • Marc says:

        JR, lets go thru a couple of your complaints/accusations:

        Chase, what’s better having 12 drivers all with realistic chances at winning the Cup with 10 events left or the old way when at best 3 drivers had a chance over the last 30 years?

        Phantom cautions: Well the fact you even brings this into the discussion seems to indicate you will grasp at any and every thing to demean and denigrate the sport.

        Of course if you can show me the Competition Directive, Memo (written by NASCAR and or media officials) or other such proof caution flags are thrown on purpose to effect the outcome of an event I’d gladly retract the above. (holding my breath is not an option)

        Multiple green/white/checker finishes, double file restarts: This is proof no matter what NASCAR does… they’re SCREWED!

        Pitroad Speeding: Yeah much better before when crewman were at much higher risk or injury or death wasn’t it? To hell with safty right JR?

        GWC and the new restarts are a result of what the fans wanted, I guess you’re not a fan then, or one that just wants to whine. but no worries, you’re among many fellow travelers.

        • JR says:

          Marc,
          1) Stock car racing is not the NFL,NBA,NHL,MLB. Having a playoff system was not needed for the first 50 years of the sport and it seemed to thrive just fine. We have the Chase to appease casual fans.
          2)Throwing cautions to bunch the field or provide a GWC finish demeans and denigrates the sport, they don’t need me to do that. Do you really think that there are written directives outlining this practice? The same guys sit in the NASCAR booth every week. They make the decisions they do based on the SHOW that appears on the track. This practice is done to appease the casual fans.
          3)GWC and double file restarts are used to manipulate the final race outcome. For the first 50 years they were not needed and the sport seemed to thrive just fine. There is definitely “screwing” going on but it’s the team that should have won that gets screwed, not NASCAR. These tactics were implemented because the casual fan screamed that they were bored and would take their discretionary sports entertainment dollars elsewhere.
          4)My comment concerning pit road speeding has nothing to do with safety. I happen to agree with the idea of controlling pit road speed for the sake of the crewmen. My point is that we have to take NASCAR’s word on who was speeding and who was not, which allows for race manipulation. Simple technology would allow NASCAR to show everyone, in real time, what each cars speed is on the inbound and outbound pit stop.
          No Marc, I’m not a “new” fan who whines because the sport does not satisfy their needs. I’m and old fan who has attended races since the mid 1960’s. I was the guy in the grandstands who didn’t get up to go shopping during the race, didn’t need to stand in line at the food or beer concession for most of the event and didn’t leave early to beat the traffic. I was also the guy who knew who was driving each of the 43 cars, not just who sold the most tee shirts. I consider what has been done to the sport to be just like someone walking into my house and rearranging my furniture…I don’t like it!

          • Marc says:

            JR says… “1) Stock car racing is not the NFL,NBA,NHL,MLB. Having a playoff system was not needed for the first 50 years of the sport and it seemed to thrive just fine.”

            Gee how did you ignore all the fans complaining the last decade or so about the sport? Were they complaining because the sport was “thriving,” or because they felt the sport needed change?

            And BTW, I noticed you failed to note how it was better when only a couple drivers had a chance at a Cup championship vice now when 12 have a valid chance with 10 events left. But I understand, it WASN’T better then and no one can argue it was.

            more from JR… “2)Throwing cautions to bunch the field or provide a GWC finish demeans and denigrates the sport, they don’t need me to do that. Do you really think that there are written directives outlining this practice? The same guys sit in the NASCAR booth every week. They make the decisions they do based on the SHOW that appears on the track. This practice is done to appease the casual fans.”

            Better question, why would a sport that generates billions of dollars throw fake yellow flags effecting the competition on the track and RISK a scandal of monumental proportions?

            Go ahead, I’ll wait for your answer. (but don’t expect a cognizant one)

            more false assertions from JR “My point is that we have to take NASCAR’s word on who was speeding and who was not, which allows for race manipulation. Simple technology would allow NASCAR to show everyone, in real time, what each cars speed is on the inbound and outbound pit stop.”

            Really, do we have to take only NASCAR’s word? What about the Crew Chiefs and crewman what about their word?

            Show me a quote – just one – from a crew chief who thinks speeding penalties are manipulated.

  • Kevin says:

    I strongly agree. The first 90-95% of a race doesn’t seem to mean much anymore. Just ride around and stay relatively close to the front and you’ll probably have a shot at the win sine everything comes down to the last pit stop and how many GWC attempts there are. I know it won’t always work out this way, but I believe the best driver and the best car should win most of the time. So far this year, that has rarely been the case.

  • Gina says:

    Absolutely right. the new GWC rule was instituted to “manufacture” excitement rather than just let the race happen. It is stupid and makes watching the whole race not worth it for the fans at home OR at the track.

    Between the “chase” which is stupid way to determine a champion and has turned the first 26 races into a long seeding exercise and the new multiple GWC rule has turned every race finish into a crapshoot.

    Why would I bother watching until the last 50 laps on TV? And this new stupidity is making me wonder why I would want to sit in the stands for 4 hours to watch all the race strategy become a wreckfest when NASCAR throws their obligatory caution with 10 laps to go.