Minter: Talladega Was ‘Exceptional”
It seems that the way Sprint Cup races are going these days, it takes a night or two of sleeping on it to decide what one really thinks about the outcome.
Listening to some, including the TV talkers, the Aaron’s 499 at Talladega two weeks ago was NASCAR’s best race ever.
Even without a night or two to sleep on it, that seems like a stretch, even though all-time records were set for leaders (29) and official lead changes (88).
The truth was, watching the race in person, the action didn’t really get fans on the edges of their seats until the lead changes slacked off. From Lap 160 to Lap 200, the best laps of the race by far, the lead changed hands just three times. Jeff Burton led Laps 160 to 176. Jamie McMurray led from Lap 177 to 199, and Kevin Harvick led the last lap.
Was that race better than Dale Earnhardt’s charge to the front in the closing laps for his final Cup win, at Talladega, in the fall of 2000? Or was it even on par with Bobby Hamilton’s last Cup win, in 2002 at Talladega, in a caution-free race that saw 29 drivers finish on the lead lap and Hamilton surge ahead of Tony Stewart with just two laps to go to get the victory?
And what about those last-lap passes for the win that seem to happen on a regular basis at Atlanta, where drivers like Dale Earnhardt, Carl Edwards and Kevin Harvick surged ahead just as the checkered flag was unfurled?
How about the photo finish of the first Daytona 500? Or the fight in 1979? Or Richard Petty and David Pearson, the sport’s top two drivers, crashing at the end in 1976?
Or the 1980 Coca-Cola 600 where Benny Parsons and Darrell Waltrip swapped the lead eight times over the final 26 laps before Parsons edged Waltrip by a half-carlength to take the victory?
Talladega was a good race, maybe even a great one, but not the best ever.
Former IOC president Juan Antonio Samaranch once drew criticism after the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta for labeling the Games “most exceptional” instead of “the best ever” as had been done traditionally in the past.
Someone needs to step up, take the heat and label the recent Aaron’s 499 as “most exceptional.”
On to Richmond where the events of Saturday night made one long for the days of the gentleman’s agreement among drivers to not race each other back to the caution flag.
In an effort to protect a driver in a crash – Dale Jarrett found himself in peril at New Hampshire in 2003 as drivers raced to beat the leader to the line the week before the rules were changed – NASCAR adopted the “Lucky Dog” rule that allows the first driver one lap or more down to rejoin the lead lap.
Now there’s a “wave around” rule that makes lucky dogs out of multiple drivers.
At Richmond, Kyle Busch was mowing down drivers like a bat-wing Bush Hog in a field of tall weeds. When a caution flag flew for debris, he’d lapped all but eight drivers. Under the new rules, more than 20 drivers rejoined the lead lap because of that debris caution.
Busch’s crew chief Dave Rogers told reporters afterward that it didn’t really matter.
“It would have been great to keep that many cars a lap down,” he said. “It would have been selfish. Everybody behind us was going to pit. If we stay out, we keep all those guys down. Then the seven guys behind us are going to drive by us, we’re going to lose our track position just to keep cars a lap down. It’s not worth it.”
As it was, nothing that happened in the first 390 laps really mattered anyway. As has become the trend in NASCAR, a marathon race was settled by a short sprint at the end.
And as Jeff Gordon, this season’s most visible victim of the late-race dueling, pointed out, there’s no reason any more to set up a car for long runs, as his apparently has been in recent races.
“Our cars that we’ve been leading those laps with are not the kind of cars that you want with a green-white-checkered or a late caution,” he said. “That’s something you have to think about. You have to try to figure out how to make an air pressure adjustment or do certain things to make your car really good on those short runs, because we’re seeing them every weekend, and that’s how you’re going to have to win races.”
It seems that the “Sprint” series is living up to its name in a way no one really expected.
– Rick Minter can be reached at email@example.com Comments