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Monday, April 18, 2011

Bring back the pack: New style of plate racing lessens excitement at Talladega

Records are a funny thing … just because they are broken, that doesn’t mean the fans got a better show.

Take, for example, the race Sunday at Talladega. There were 88 lead changes recorded at the start/finish line, which ties a record set last April at Talladega. Also, the finish was decided by .002 seconds, tying a record set in 2003 in Darlington when Ricky Craven barely beating Kurt Busch at the line in an all-time-great finish.

But with this new two-by-two racing style that has developed at Talladega, despite these records falling, I felt pretty underwhelmed after the race. Other than the final dozen laps or so, which were pretty entertaining and led to the dramatic and ultra-close finish, I just couldn’t get into the race.

This is in large part because I’m not a fan of the new style of racing on restrictor plate tracks. Pack racing was what everyone loved at the plate tracks, and when you go from that to 2-by-2 racing, it’s a big dropoff in excitement.

Before anyone suggests it, I don’t think pack racing is better than the new style because I like big wrecks and that becomes more likely. In fact, I’d be cool with a race with zero wrecks if the racing was exciting all day, and have even advocated in the past that there has to be some other way for NASCAR to slow the cars down at Daytona and Talladega that doesn’t involve restrictor plates so they aren’t bunched up.

My main thing is I want to see real competition, and that’s what the pack-style racing at Talladega and Daytona brought. With the 2-by-2 style, you get a lot of lead changes, which on paper would have you thinking the race was exciting, but in reality, it’s more like a game and the numbers mean less.

Two guys link up and get real fast, then they have to swap places and lose momentum in the process, so another duo takes the lead … repeat, repeat, repeat. That’s where all the lead changes come in.

Other than at the very end of the race, you don’t see nearly as much of the exciting three-wide and four-wide battles for the lead that used to make Talladega such a thrill to watch.

The bottom line is that I used to look forward with great anticipation to Talladega, and that is no longer the case after seeing this new style of racing on the track. I recognize that there may be some fans of this new style of racing, but I’m sure a lot of people agree with me on this one. While this race may have been decided by only 0.002 seconds and tied the record for lead changes, overall it was nowhere near as exciting to watch as the Talladega races of the past, and left me disappointed.

Drivers weigh in on new style of plate racing
Drivers had various views on the new style of restrictor plate racing.

Mark Martin said he actually enjoyed it … which is strange since he has never been a fan of plate racing in general.

Ryan Newman called it “different”.

And other drivers, including Joey Logano, were not fans of the 2-by-2 style.

"I would rather be in a bigger pack. At one point we just got off each other just to save our race cars and save our bumpers."

Matt Kenseth said it presents a new set of challenges.

“Ever since I’ve been coming to Talladega or watching Talladega, every time you interview somebody that has crashed they’re like, ‘Oh, this racing is terrible. Somebody is gonna get hurt.’ I mean, it’s been the same thing, but it’s different. Before, at least you can kind of control your own destiny and you can draft a little bit. Here, if you don’t have a car locked on you and shoving you, or vice versa, you’re gonna get lapped in 15-20 laps and it’s really hard.”

Dale Earnhardt Jr. is a fan of the old style.
“Over the long haul, man, (the 2-car draft) is not the best. It is not as good as 40 dudes in one pack racin' like hell tryin' to get to the front. It is nowhere near as good as that. Give me that any day over this.”

Jeff Gordon said that regardless of what fans or drivers think, the style is here to stay.
"We can't change this two-car draft. You cannot take something that you've learned and take technology, engineering and just experience and throw it in the trash. … That's the evolution of aerodynamics of our sport and what we've learned. So that is here to stay. Is it different? Is it unique? Yes. But, it is here to stay. Like it or not, it isn't going anywhere."

Kurt Busch a one-man wrecking crew
One driver who has yet to perfect his execution of this new racing style is Kurt Busch, who was busy Sunday wrecking quite a few cars – including his teammate Brad Keselowski.

He apologized after the race for the damage he had inflicted.
“Restrictor plate racing and this two-car draft is really tough and I was in the middle of a bunch of incidents. I feel bad for wrecking a bunch of cars, especially my teammate Brad (Keselowski).”

Brad, however, wasn’t too offended, and said it was just a product of restrictor plate racing.

”It was just one of those Talladega deals. We were able to get our Dodges together and drive our way up to the front. We made some great moves, but got towards the back in the shuffle and when we did, we caught a big group that just stopped for some reason. I heard that David Ragan blew up, I’m not exactly sure. We ran up on the group and I just wasn’t able to stop quick enough with Kurt on my tail and it just spun me right out. Just one of them deals here at Talladega. It’s just racing. I just got on the wrong end of it. (Kurt) could of maybe checked up earlier, but it happens so quick that it’s really hard to judge sometimes.”

Hendrick dominates qualifying
Speaking of records, the qualifying session at Talladega was dominated by one team – Hendrick Motorsports – with all four team drivers occupying the top four spots (and, as it turned out, finishing the race pretty well too, in 1st, 3rd, 4th and 8th).

To put the qualifying feat in perspective, prior to this weekend it had only happened twice in the entire history of NASCAR:
-- Jack Roush claimed the top 4 spots at California in 2005 (Carl Edwards, Mark Martin, Kurt Busch, Greg Biffle)
-- Before that, it had been a while. Owner Pete DePaolo actually claimed the top FIVE positions at Concord, N.C., in 1956 (Curtis Turner, Joe Weatherly, Marvin Panch, Ralph Moody and Bill Amick).

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Blogger Roy J Akers said...

I agree that the new type of plate racing was very strange in the beginning. Then I thought that for safety reasons that it makes much more sense for cars to run in the 'magnet style' of two clustered together than a pack. For fans, it makes more sense to have the 20 in a pack and a small nudge makes for the big wreck. But still, are they racing to win or just to push each other around the track. Either way, NASCAR needs to address this emerging trend that was first noticable at Daytona in February.

April 19, 2011 at 8:15 AM 

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