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Ingram: New NASCAR Outshines Old In Charlotte

Jonathan Ingram | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, October 18 2010

They had a good old time in the pits at Charlotte Motor Speedway on Saturday night. (Photo by Geoff Burke/Getty Images)

By Jonathan Ingram | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

From the Monday Morning Crew Chief:

For the first time in recent memory, the future of NASCAR started looking brighter than the past in Charlotte.

Jamie McMurray, the now celebrated comeback kid,  backed up his victories at Daytona and Indianapolis on the double dog-legged Charlotte Motor Speedway layout. McMurray’s terrific come-from-behind drive to beat Kyle Busch, who led 217 laps, demonstrated that even the most dominant driver during the course of a race may not win on any given Sunday or Saturday night when it comes down to the checkers.

Suspense is good for motor racing and especially NASCAR, where supposedly Jimmie Johnson has made the Sprint Cup all too predictable. Johnson did his best to make it suspenseful by spinning early in the evening, then slingshotting from the back of the pack to finish third behind McMurray and Busch, who had to be up on the wheel just to get second.

Until recently, the COT was also included under the category of  Some Things That Have Ruined Racing in NASCAR. But as the final results showed in Charlotte, McMurray and his Earnhardt Ganassi Racing team figured out the adjustments to changing track conditions better when it counted. Too bad a debris caution interupted a good ol’ chase-down and whupping by the Bass Pro Shops Chevy, which clearly was faster than the M&M’s Toyota of Busch and gaining on it when the yellow appeared.

By going back to the rear spoiler, NASCAR has re-created some aerodynamics that crew chiefs can relate to. Everybody seems to have gotten the hang of the new tricks available with the panels behind the front splitter for aero effect and the rear anti-roll bars, now being used as a third spring. The adjustments to the COT’s over the course of races has made outcomes difficult to predict, despite what may have happened in the final practice’s Happy Hour or in qualifying. McMurray, for example, started 27th.

Oddly enough, the number of different winning drivers or the number of different winning teams has not changed much on a year-to-year basis since the introduction of the COT in 2007. It’s the nature of the racing itself that has changed.

As for the suspense in The Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship, there’s no reason why Denny Hamlin or Kevin Harvick can’t catch Johnson over the course of the five remaining races. If they don’t, there’s no reason not to celebrate Johnson as one of the all-time great stock car drivers. Most recently, he’s trailerized Jeff Gordon and left Tony Stewart in tatters.

The NASCAR Hall of Fame, where the sport’s history resides in downtown Charlotte, has had some unexpected spins of its own, including financial woes and some voting for members that has become curiouser and curiouser. The voting committee seems to put more emphasis on individuals who built the sport by some means other than selling tickets to races. Getting people through the turnstiles is what star drivers such as Cale Yarborough and Darrell Waltrip, spurned this time around, tended to do. Meanwhile, the turnstiles are not clicking at Hall of Fame Plaza in downtown Charlotte.

If 80 percent of success in life is just showing up, the vote of the Hall’s committee this year makes sense. Running a lengthy schedule on short tracks to claim championships, winning a rare superspeedway event or two and then appearing on TV regularly personifies showing up over a long period of time. Owning a team for several decades does likewise.

Since I wrote the proposal made by the city of Atlanta in its stillborn bid to host NASCAR’s Hall of Fame, it might be considered churlish of me to suggest that Halls of Fame are generally full of political hooey and who’s your buddy, not to mention personal vindictiveness. Alas, there’s no way around these problems, even if the voting is done by journalists as opposed to NASCAR’s committee comprised mostly of insiders. (Wait until the stars of the Steroid Age become eligible for Major League Baseball’s Hall of Fame, where the voting is handled entirely by journalists, if you want to see some vindictiveness.)

I would suggest that the decision to only bring in five inductees each year into NASCAR’s Hall is a good one as was the decision to put it in Charlotte, because the Hall  clearly needs the best possible chance to survive long term and the current hub of stock car racing provides that. Over the course of time not many are going to remember the order in which members were inducted or the year. On the other hand, it’s clear the Hall’s committee needs to bone up on history even if it wants to emphasize who did the best job of building the sport.

It’s as much about impact as longevity. The guys who sold tickets have the most impact. NASCAR would not have survived the 1970’s without Yarborough and Waltrip to sell tickets, due to its dilapidated state after the withdrawal of the factories.

As for team owners, Raymond Parks was the best friend “Big Bill” France ever had, which is why even in his later years, often addled by Alzheimers, the NASCAR founder used to call Parks regularly. Their friendship started in the 1930’s in the earliest days of the racing on the beach, stock car racing’s spiritual home. It’s accurate to say NASCAR and France, possibly even stock car racing, would not have made it without Parks, whose heritage as the Southeast’s biggest bootlegger should not disqualify him from a prominent position in the Hall of Fame of a sport built on that fine old tradition of white whiskey.

Impact? Raymond Parks was the Ace of Spades.

Quote of the Week: “I knew that catching Kyle and passing Kyle would be two different things. But we were very equal in turns one and two, but I was quite a bit quicker than he was in three and four. And I knew if I was going to pass him, I would have to clear him in three and four. I don’t know how fast I was catching him, but I felt like I was catching him fairly fast. And there were 30 laps left, and when your car starts going away as quick as his was going away, I felt like I was going to be able to pass him.

“You never know. I was disappointed when the caution came out because I thought that was going to take the chance of winning away from me.”

– Jamie McMurray on his chances of running down Kyle Busch before a caution bunched the field for the final re-start.

See ya! …At the races.

– Jonathan Ingram can be reached at jingram@racintoday.com

Jonathan Ingram | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, October 18 2010
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  • Terry says:

    I wish I could agree with you….I really do. But I can’t on most all of it. I am just a fastly fading NAS*CAR fan and I am not tied to it by trade. You HAVE to be UP-BEAT…..I simply WANT TO BE.
    I am not a fair weather fan….I still cheer for the #21 partime schedule Wood Bros. like I have for 50 years. I miss old NASCAR…and yes the old ” MEN” drivers….not just go cart boys of today. Put them next to the drivers going into the HoF….kids and MEN….oh yeah the…
    * is for STOCK…….you can laugh now.