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Drivers Favor Keeping It Real At NASCAR Tracks

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Friday, July 6 2012

Are more yellow flags the answer to the "problem" of making racing more exciting in NASCAR? Drivers gave their opinions this week. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Alan Marler)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor

Reaction to a suggestion by race-track owner Bruton Smith to insert mandatory cautions into Sprint Cup races drew an assortment of reactions from drivers this week. Reactions that ranged from humorous to highly personal.

Included was a statement by NASCAR president Mike Helton that mandatory stops to spice action would never happen.

Smith, the owner of the Speedway Motorsports Inc. company which owns many of the tracks at which NASCAR holds events, made the suggestion in response to perceived boring races. He said mandatory cautions would break up the long green-flag runs which have seemingly become the new norm in the sport.

He voiced the opinion last week at one of the tracks his company owns – Kentucky Speedway.

This weekend, at Daytona International Raceway, site of this weekend’s Cup race, drivers were asked about the idea during media interviews.

Perhaps the sharpest reaction to Smith’s suggestion – and to Smith himself – came from Kevin Harvick, driver of the No. 29 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet.

“Same guy that ruined Bristol,” Harvick said, alluding to the contention among many that SMI’s decision to reconfigure the Bristol Motor Speedway short track in eastern Tennessee, destroyed racing at one of the

Kevin Harvick gave an emphatic no to the idea and the idea man. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Harold Hinson)

best tracks on the schedule.

“Originally it was great,” Harvick said. “It was our most popular race.”

Other drivers were less caustic in their remarks but most seemed to side with Carl Edwards, driver of the No. 99 Roush Fenway Racing Ford, who said that racing would not be racing if it were to be artificially sweetened with mandatory pit stops.

“I don’t understand how tickets sales are going and things like that,” Edwards said, “but from a competitive standpoint, to me, auto racing is auto racing. That’s what it is. It’s not gonna be a Game 7 moment every race. That’s what makes some races great. To me, if you start affecting the competition like that, that is analogous to stopping a basketball game if the score gets too far apart and putting the score back even. That, to me, is not what auto racing is about.

“If you let these races play out naturally and let the racing be racing, sometimes there are some wild things that happen and things happen that are unexpected, and that’s what makes that true, real drama that happens every once in a while. That’s why it’s so appreciated in our sport, and once you try to create those things, it’s my humble opinion, I’m not saying what’s right or wrong – it’s my opinion – that that takes something away from the sport. If a guy wins by three laps, well he was meant to win by three laps and you don’t want to take that away from that guy and that team.”

Helton said that was, basically, why NASCAR was not going to take Smith up on his suggestion.

”NASCAR fans want the event to unfold unartificially,” Helton told the Associated Press Thursday. “Sports is a true reality show as it unfolds … you have to be careful when you think about artificially creating the outcome of that.”

Jeff Gordon, driver of the No 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet, took an indirect shot at Helton and NASCAR and that kind of thinking.

“TV time outs. I don’t see why we shouldn’t have some TV time out,” the four-time champions said. “I’d rather have that than some mysterious debris caution to be honest. I don’t know the integrity of racing and to me what it’s all about is letting the race play out and sometimes that can be the most exciting finish you just don’t know. Sometimes it’s not, but trying to get in the middle of that can be challenging.

“If you are going to do it obviously it’s got to be something that is planned in advance and you take a break and you know it going into it. I’m not totally against it, but I’m also more leaning toward just let the race play out the way it’s supposed to.”

Then there was Tony Stewart, the three-time champion from Stewart-Haas Racing and a track-owner himself – he owns the Eldora Speedway dirt track in Ohio. He seemed ready to listen to suggestions.

“I think the more that you interrupt and disrupt the race, I don’t know,” Stewart said. “I don’t know that I necessarily agree with that. Bruton has been a pretty successful promoter for a long time, so more times than not he’s going to be right.”

Yet to check in are fans. They tend to vote at the ticket windows. Their votes always take longer to tabulate.

But if the racing continues to be perceived as boring, if the trend toward longer green-flag runs and fewer field-condensing wracks continues, fan voting may force a reconsideration. And, over the past couple of years, NASCAR has shown a willingness to implement fan-approved change.

For now, however, the idea has been officially shelved.

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

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Friday, July 6 2012
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