Crashweeks Hopefully Gives Way To Real Racing At Atlanta

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Friday, February 23 2018

Austin Dillon took the easy way past Aric Almirola to win the Daytona 500 on Sunday. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Jim Fluharty)
February 17, 2018: During the PowerShares QQQ 300 at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach Florida. (HHP/Jim Fluharty)

If it is true that people only watch automobile races to see the crashes, then the recently concluded Speedweeks was a smashing success. If, on the other hand, people think that driving talent, skill, strategy and applied technology make for compelling racing, last weekend was a crashing bore.

Let’s start with the 500, the marquee event of Speedweeks at Daytona International Speedway and the most important stock car race in the world. And let’s go right to the finish, the one in overtime which was set up by a huge crash in non-overtime.

Aric Almirola, driving his first points race for Stewart-Haas Racing, had the lead on the final lap. Behind him was Austin Dillon. Lacking the speed, the patience and/or the skill to go around Almirola, Dillon opted to go through him. That is, Dillon made his pass for the lead the easy way.

Asked about it, Dillon let go with the standard answer that victors use when they feel guilty about the path they took to victory: “I did what I had to do at the end.”

I get it. This is NASCAR, the racing series which seems to have a relatively low bar when it comes to sportsmanship (Merriam-Webster: “conduct (such as fairness, respect for one’s opponent, and graciousness in winning or losing) becoming to one participating in a sport.”) as a matter of course.

And this is the 2000s, a time when wiping one’s nose on concepts like ethics, decorum, dignity of office and morality can take you all the way to the White House.

This certainly isn’t sports car racing or open-wheel racing where shunting opponents out of the way is almost always met with penalties and the excuse of doing what one “has to do” to get the victory is viewed with contempt by fans and competitors alike; even if the dirty move in question was perpetrated on the final lap of the Indy 500, Le Mans or Monaco.

This certainly isn’t a time when ends do not justify the means or when respect for one’s opponent and graciousness in winning or losing are societal or sporting hallmarks.

How did Almirola feel about being rammed into the wall?

Well, those who watched the race on television didn’t get to find out. In his post-race interview of Almirola, which took place after he got out of the infield care center, Fox Sports “reporter” Vince Welsh never asked. All we found out was that Almirola was heartbroken.

While the 500 certainly produced its share of broken race cars, it was nothing compared to the two races which preceded it at DIS.

The Camping World truck series and Infinity series remain extremely valuable feeders to Cup. They give drivers gobs of experience in making selfish, dangerous, bone-headed moves. Those series teach young drivers who have more financial backing and lust for stardom than skill behind the wheel, respect for opponents and their own machinery, means next to nothing when the right to do post-race burnouts is on the line.

The guess here is that the majority of NASCAR fans are cool with what happened at Speedweeks and especially with what happened at the end of the 500. The days when fans  booed the great Dale Earnhardt Sr. when he dumped Terry Labonte to win at Bristol 20 years ago are history.

These days, it’s full speed ahead and on with the show.

Next up is Atlanta and what drivers like to call “real racing”. Here’s hoping it features more passing and less plowing.

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Friday, February 23 2018
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