MINTER: Variety Of Factors To Blame For Nerf Racing In Cup
By Rick Minter | Senior Writer
The long stretch of wreck-less racing in the Sprint Cup Series has become the subject of conversation around water coolers, across fenders and on the Internet.
To cut to the Chase, so to speak, about reasons for lap after lap of relatively uneventful racing and a dearth of drama it helps to use a tactic that works in nearly every scenario – follow the money.
For starters, take the start-and-park drivers and teams that have made a profitable venture of showing up at the track, qualifying into the field and then parking as soon as possible, or practical.
They can’t be counted on to provide any drama. At Richmond the bottom five drivers in the finishing order ran anywhere from 19 to 67 laps then dropped out with official excuses such as electrical, brakes, vibration or rear gear. Still they all pocketed just over $66,000 apiece.
The week before at Kansas, there were seven who ran anywhere from 18 to 82 laps, picking up around $70 grand apiece before dropping out with the same rear gear, vibration, brakes or electrical problems as they had at Richmond, save two who cited “overheating.”
Then there’s another group we’ll call “start and ride.”
Those are teams trying to stay in the top 35 in car owner points, but not really trying to win races or even run up front. They’re generally underfunded compared to the top teams, and their drivers say privately that they are under instructions to go easy on expensive transmissions and engines and bring the car home in
one piece, so the team can continue on, hopefully land more sponsorship and eventually get in position to race hard to the checkered flag.
Finally, there are the top teams, and even some of them aren’t fully sponsored, so there may be some incentive there to not push the issue on the race track.
The bigger issue for many of them is that they’re more interesting in ensuring themselves a spot in the Chase that putting on a show in the 26-race regular season.
The elite in the sport seem to be more at ease talking about their strategies, which don’t do much for drama.
Here’s what Carl Edwards had to say at Richmond.
“It might be that some of this green-flag racing and guys being more reserved is that they realize that right now you can’t put yourself in a hole,” he said. “You can’t go out there and race like you would like to sometimes because this is real important this first 26 races to get locked in. Maybe there is some of that going on.”
He also acknowledged that his team factors in performance in the Chase when deciding how they’ll run the first 26 races.
“You don’t ever save something. You want to go get everything you can but you might say, ‘We are pretty good here so let’s go work on this other thing,”’ Edwards said. “[Crew chief] Bob [Osborne] and I have been doing that the last couple of weeks. We have been working on some different style setup stuff and it hasn’t been that great.
“At least we know and we tried it and understand it and if we need to use it at Texas in the fall or something we understand it better. There is a little of that going on but you have to be careful. You don’t want to give up a race. You can’t afford to finish 20th right now.”
He said that means he won’t be making dramatic runs at the ends of races to try to grab a checkered flag – at least until the Chase begins.
“If you were in my position you would never be able to forgive yourself if you were ninth in points here in Richmond and they drop the green flag on the last restart here and you have a great race car and you go for some banzai run and wreck the thing and don’t make the Chase,” he said. “I would be a moron to give it up right here at Richmond. I don’t know if that is right or wrong but that is why it ends up this way because guys start to think, ‘OK, just gather all your troops here, focus, work everything out, make the Chase and then go get ‘em.’ That wasn’t intended by NASCAR I am sure but that is the way we feel.”
Edwards’ point of view may be a prevalent one in NASCAR, but the lack of drama related to the Chase can’t really be blamed on any decisions by NASCAR officials.
The new points formula, like it or not, is very forgiving compared to the old system. Take Richmond winner Kyle Busch. He’s 11th in the standings after nine races, 73 points behind leader Greg Biffle. Under the old points system he’d be nearly two whole races worth of points out of the lead. But now, he’s only 13 points away from 10th place, which would put him in the Chase at the end of the regular season. And he’s just a win or two away from getting a “wild card” berth.
For the sport’s top stars, the Chase seems to trump everything else in NASCAR these days, as anyone who follows the money already knows.
That leaves the little folks, the ones who buy tickets and watch on TV, wishing for some regular-season drama.
– Rick Minter can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org Comments