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Pedley: Atlanta A High Point Of A Great Season

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Thursday, September 8 2011

Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson run door to door late in Tuesday's Sprint Cup race at Atlanta. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Harold Hinson)

Events at Atlanta Motor Speedway over the extended Labor Day weekend graphically put on display what many of us believe to be is wrong with the on-track NASCAR product this year – nothing.

Racing in Sprint Cup, especially, has never been better. It has never been as competitive, it has never been as exciting. It has never had the depth of driving talent it has now and it has never been more of a team sport.

It’s not just numbers that say that. Sure, while numbers don’t lie, they can deceive. We all know that. Especially in the hands of a well-oiled public relations department.

So when over the last several months, as we were ceaselessly being sprayed with stats about how many different winners there have been, how many first-time winners there are, how many teams were capable of doing this and that, it was easy yawn and mumble, “whatever”.

But the eyeball test, it seldom fails.

And on Friday, Saturday and Tuesday at Atlanta Motor Speedway, we all got to see what this generation of drivers, behind the wheels of this generation of cars, on a great race track with the right tire combination, is all about.

The Camping World Truck race on Friday featured that classic bout between Clint Bowyer and Kyle Busch; on Saturday it was Carl Edwards and Busch going ear to ear; and on Tuesday, Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson went dirt racing on asphalt.

Good stuff. Great stuff.

Listen, there are a lot of things to bark about in NASCAR these days – things like cost, excessive commercialism, bland drivers, TV coverage, the schedule, Steve Wallace.

But the racing? Never been better.

Unless, of course, you watch races just to see the wrecks. And I really hope that is not the case for the majority of fans because if it is, it means I have wasted a lot of time and breath over the years trying to convince soccer moms and seam heads that there is so much more to racing than barrel rolls and flying parts.

A couple weeks ago, Gordon said some things about Bristol that I think can be applied to the sport in general. The topic was the current status of racing at that track and the hatred many fans have directed at it since it was reconfigured and repaved.

Gordon said, “I’m kind of confused now because I didn’t realize that what the fans really love about this race track was just how you knock one another out of the way and the sparks. I knew that was an aspect of it. I didn’t realize that if we actually made three-wide racing at Bristol, then people wouldn’t like it as much as single-file racing, you know? And so I find that interesting. It teaches us a lot about the sport and the fans.”

Hopefully, not all fans.

NASCAR today may not be what you think it was like back in the days of Petty and Pearson and Earnhardt Sr. It may not feature Yarborough and the Allisons duking it out on the grass after the 500. And it may not have had a finish like Petty and Pearson wrecking heading out of Turn 4 at Daytona in quite a while.

But as Richard Petty himself will tell you, those things were highlights of racing in the “good old days”. They were not pro forma.

At wonderful old Atlanta Motor Speedway on Labor Day weekend, there were three highlights born in just three days of racing.

Credit where it’s due: The racing in 2011 has been great.

– Jim Pedley can be reached at jpedley@racintoday.com

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Thursday, September 8 2011
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