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Hood: Anybody Have Directions To Perfection?

Jeff Hood | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, January 2 2011

Ricky Craven and Kurt Busch put on a heck of a show at Darlington in 2003, but was the race perfect? (File photo courtesy of NASCAR)

By Jeff Hood | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

In the lengthy history of NASCAR, have we been treated to a perfect race?

It all depends on how you define perfection.

Richmond International Raceway, arguably one of the most competitive tracks on the NASCAR circuit, bills its facility and events as Racing Perfection.

But it was at Charlotte Motor Speedway in October 2009 when Jimmie Johnson proceeded to pace each practice session, win the pole, lead the most laps and win the race.

Johnson was so impressed he even used the word “perfect” during his post-race press conference.

So would a Jimmie Johnson fan prefer a race featuring a record number of lead changes

The finish of this spring's race at Talladega was good, but was the race perfect? (Photo by Geoff Burke/Getty Images for NASCAR)

only to see the No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet sweep into the lead on the final turn of the last lap to capture the trophy? Or would a Johnson fan be more satisfied to see the five-time champion win the pole and lead every lap, while lapping the field for good measure.

My money’s on the multiple lead change scenario.

A few folks might be willing to nominate the 2003 spring Sprint Cup race held in Darlington, S.C. as the greatest race in the history of NASCAR. Some might go so far as to label the event as the perfect race.

That race produced the closest finish in the modern history of the sport when Ricky Craven beat Kurt Busch in a spectacular battle to the checkered flag. And for good measure, both cars wrecked as they crossed the start-finish line. Craven’s winning car can now be seen in the NASCAR Hall of Fame in Charlotte.

However, for all the memories created over those final 10 laps when the two drivers repeatedly leaned on one another, do you realize Craven managed to lead just one lap that day? Makes you wonder what happened during the first 386 miles of that race.

In the eyes of some, perfection may have been achieved in April 2010 at Talladega Superspeedway. That race featured a whopping 88 lead changes over 188 laps, the most in NASCAR history. It culminated with Kevin Harvick edging Jamie McMurray in a thrilling side-by-side duel at the finish line.

So if Johnson achieved the perfect race weekend in Charlotte from a driver’s perspective, did Harvick win the event that will be forever known as the perfect NASCAR race?

Again, it depends on how you define perfection and who you ask.

Since spectators pay the freight in this business, let’s address perfection through the eyes of the common NASCAR fan.

I’ve followed NASCAR for more than 30 years and bought more than my share of grandstand tickets along the way.

So based on my long-term observations, here’s my take on how to achieve 500 miles of perfection in NASCAR:

Let’s start with the venue. How sweet would it be to see the Sprint Cup Series back in

Daytona International Speedway would be a great place for pefection. (Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images for NASCAR)The Sprint Cup cars will have a different look and feel to them.

competition in Rockingham or North Wilkesboro or in Darlington on Labor Day weekend?

Realistically, those three scenarios are unlikely. So I’m content with the race being run at Daytona or Talladega, two tracks that generally feature a large number of lead changes.

Bottom line on this point: as long as the track can offer competitive racing lap after lap, the site of the event is really a moot point.

The weather: temperatures in the mid 70s at the start is a necessity. The race begins just prior to sunset on a Saturday and concludes around 10:40 p.m. That’ll likely piss off the print media, who will be facing a tight deadline. But hey, the fans are calling the shots here.

Prerace: None of my racing friends buy a ticket to a NASCAR race to see a concert. Former Charlotte Motor Speedway promoter Humpy Wheeler had it right all those years. Race fans want to see something blown up before the green flag waves. They want to see a prerace show that features high-flying acrobatic acts, helicopters, tanks, explosions and spectacular stunts.

The track announces two hours prior the start that the price of soft drinks and water has been slashed to a dollar. Hot dogs and burgers are going for two bucks each. A beer will cost you three dollars.

Following Bristol Motor Speedway’s lead, each competitor introduces himself during driver introduction. A few drivers take a verbal shot or two at other competitors, which puts an additional spark in the air.

America loves to cheer on the underdog. So a young, up-and-coming driver who cut his racing

Eddie Wood, Len Wood and their driver, Bill Elliott. The seeds of perfection. (Photo by Jason Smith/Getty Images )

teeth at the legendary Greenville-Pickens Speedway in South Carolina will start on the pole. Cars owned by the Wood Brothers and Richard Petty Motorsports will start second, third and fourth to give the old-timers in the stands something to cheer about.

NASCAR vows in the driver’s meeting that there will be no bogus debris cautions for items such as water bottles spotted on the racing surface. The caution flag will be displayed only if driver safety is in jeopardy.

Seconds before the pace car dives onto pit road, an unidentified person enters the Fox broadcast booth and stuffs a handkerchief in Larry McReynolds’ mouth just as he is prepared to tell Darrell Waltrip to “reach up there ol’ DW and pull those belts tight one more time.”

As the green flag is displayed a separate handkerchief is placed in Waltrip’s mouth, preventing him from delivering his trademark ”boogity, boogity, boogity” line.

The assailant quickly disappears, but promises to return to wreak more havoc if Fox mascot Digger appears on the telecast.

On the track, the action is hot and heavy with 15 lead changes during the first 20 laps.

The fans in the stands who are eavesdropping on drivers and their teams are getting an earful of strategy, some salty language, a little bit of comedy and plenty of raw emotion.

The largest lead enjoyed by any driver during the entire event is three-car lengths.

The race features an average amount of attrition with an assortment of blown engines and cut

Perfection would include a big – but non-injurious – wreck. (Photo by John Harrelson/Getty Images for NASCAR)

tires. The race includes two rounds of green flag pit stops, but otherwise the caution flags are spaced apart fairly evenly. There are two spectacular multi-car wrecks, but all drivers walk away uninjured.

Following the 90th lead change of the event, five drivers have separated themselves from the rest of the field over the final 10 laps to settle the score.

Nine lead changes later, the first four-wide finish in the history of NASCAR is set to unfold. The fifth-place driver is out of racing real estate. He can only tuck in behind the rear bumper of the car in front of him.

Two of the four cars get sideways just as the pack crosses the start-finish line. Electronic scoring scores three of the cars crossing the line simultaneously. A cloud of smoke complicates NASCAR’s attempt to declare a winner based on still photos and television replays.

A couple of drivers and their crews have to be separted on pit road as tempers flare. Fireworks light up the sky.

And the winner is…..

Well, on this night that’s really irrelevant.

Ladies and gentlemen, you have just witnessed NASCAR’s perfect race.

– Jeff Hood can be reached at jhood@racintoday.com

Jeff Hood | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, January 2 2011
2 Comments

2 Comments »

  • yankeegranny says:

    And the winner is Jr in his first race with his new crew chief, Chad Knaus.

  • Terry says:

    Jeff,
    I am with you all the way on this…..
    I just wished there were some Pontiacs…Merc’s…Oldsmobubbles…..Plymouths…
    one red white and blues AMC and the pace car was a Hudson….
    Duct tape DW’s mouth for the whole race.
    If Rowdie Kyle wins ( in a TOYOTA heaven forbid )
    and he busts up the trophy….then Bud Moore gets to shoot him with an WWII 45 automatic.
    Well other than $1.00 beer and 50 cent hot dogs…..then
    just have the #21 slingshot the #43 on the last turn for the win….
    Terry