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Pedley: Still Not Sure What It Is We Were Watching

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Wednesday, October 26 2011

Restrictor plate racing in 2011. Is it racing or entertainment? (RacinToday/HHP photo by Alan Marler)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor
RacinToday.com

Let’s see what’s in the Morning Memo today:

It seems there are two ways to view NASCAR events at Talladega and Daytona: As races or, as something for entertainment purposes only. Watching Sunday’s Good Sam Club 500 at Talladega the verdict would have to be that it failed as the former but was, arguably, fairly interesting as the latter.

It has been with fascinated curiosity that some of us have watched as events at NASCAR’s two restrictor plate tracks have evolved into the kind of tandem racing which was on display Sunday at Talladega.

Changes to the cars, tires, tracks and plates have mutated the competitive genetics and have completely transformed plate races into what we now see at the two tracks.

Scuttled in the mutating process has been the kind of individualistic, competitive, rugged-solo-athlete-against-the-world part of the sport.

Born has been a freakish hybrid in which teams and drivers partner up, converse with the competition on the radio and on top of pit boxes, and drop to the rear of the fields to remain behind the fray.

The result: That’s entertainment. But is it racing? Should it be shown on ESPN and SPEED, or on the Bravo and A&E channels?

All professional sports, of course, are a form of entertainment. People buy tickets and tune-in to be

Jeff Gordon and dance partner Mark Martin. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Harold Hinson)

entertained. Simple as that.

But sports are also different than movies or concerts. Part of their entertainment value is derived from watching high levels of competition among teams and athletes who are performing mental and physical feats which fans either can’t or won’t perform themselves.

Where does tandem racing come in among all that?

Smack in the middle for me. It’s not racing but it is entertaining. I can live with it four times a year. Even in NASCAR’s Super Bowl. Hey, it even produced Dave Blaney and Travis Kvapil sightings last Sunday. It’s kind of like fuel mileage racing in that it may not reward the fastest car and driver with victory, but it can be dramatic and exciting.

Besides, I’m not sure how to fix it.

You can’t eliminate Daytona and Talladega from the schedule. Tearing those two cool old track down and reconfiguring them would, theoretically, be possible, but also rather costly. Taking the plates off and letting the cars rip could kill drivers and fans.

No, there may not be a one-swift-stroke answer to what we are seeing/have seen at the plate tracks.

NASCAR has tried bigger plates, smaller plates, roof vanes, softer tires, harder tires, no-bumping zones, have at it, and on and on it goes. Nothing has proved ultimately satisfying.

You can bet the process of evolution will continue in the seasons ahead. Maybe bumper height and construction is next on the list. Maybe roof vanes will come back.

But the solid belief here is that racing at Daytona and Talladega will continue to be some form of freakish hybrid that fans can – and will – vote on by way of buying tickets and telling Nielsen.

Memo to NASCAR: The large number of empty seats Sunday cannot be viewed as a favorable vote.

There was something righteous about Clint Bowyer winning the Cup race at Talladega on Sunday:

Down the stretch Jeff Burton and Clint Bowyer of Richard Childress Racing came. Bowyer and RCR got the victory Sunday at Talladega. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Alan Marler)

It put both Bowyer and Richard Childress Racing in very positive lights.

For Bowyer, it showed that he has refused to settle into mope mode as he rides out his string with RCR. He could have felt rejected and dejected by the way contract extension talks went this year, but instead, he has apparently decided to drive the hell of his car and perhaps add a couple of nice resume lines.

For RCR, it showed that they did not just toss Bowyer into the used parts bin when he announced he was moving to Michael Waltrip Racing next year. RCR gave him equipment and support that put him into position to win Sunday’s race. Unless something secret was said on “Channel 2”, it appears Bowyer was never told to not pass teammate Jeff Burton and to not go for the victory on the final lap.

It was just kind of too bad it had to be the ever-classy Burton who took the fall.

Memo to self: Go through archives and find out when the last time was that somebody used righteous and Sprint Cup in same sentence.

A final thought on the death of Dan Wheldon at Las Vegas two weeks ago:

In the aftermath, something that the late David Poole once said to me popped back into my mind.

In the course of a discussion about wrecks and the part they play in keeping fans interested in racing, the wonderful former beat writer for the Charlotte newspaper said: Fans do not watch races to see drivers killed in wrecks. They watch to see drivers cheat death.

I think that is very accurate. Nobody could watch what happened to Wheldon at Vegas and think: Cool, let’s see more.”

Memo to teams, series and drivers: Do all you can to keep the threat of death in racing from ever being fulfilled again.

News hit this week that motorcycling superstar James Stewart has signed to ride for Joe Gibbs Racing’s Motorcross team.

Of course, speculation is circulating that a move to NASCAR may be in the offing for Stewart.

It seems to me that bikers have gone 1-1-1 in current attempts to achieve success in NASCAR. Clint Bowyer has attained success, Ricky Carmichael has not, and Travis Pastrana has had his entry postponed by an X-Games injury.

Yes, other current drivers have done time on bikes – like Jimmie Johnson – but the three mentioned did not merely ride bikes, they were bikers.

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

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Wednesday, October 26 2011
2 Comments

2 Comments »

  • Sue Rarick says:

    If duo racing were popular and entertaining 1/2 the seats wouldn’t have been empty. I know I decided to stay home and didn’t even watch it on tv. Decided to go iRacing instead (BF said watching the iRacing was more exciting than the last RP races – sad commentary).

    With Talledaega offering so many discounts it’s obvious it the racing and not the economy. They could have given away free tickets and I still wouldn’t have wasted my time going there.

  • Bill B says:

    I will definitely watch the Daytona 500 next year. I can’t miss that one. But if this 2×2 racing is still happening I will boycott the remaining RP races. The whole pre-arranged partner thing has no place in racing and sickens me.