The Frontstretch: Boring? What Race Were You Watching? by Amy Henderson -- Friday April 18, 2008

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Boring? What Race Were You Watching?

Holding A Pretty Wheel · Amy Henderson · Friday April 18, 2008


You had a driver on the radio, nerves plain in his voice in the closing laps despite his lead. The driver may be a champion, but he needs the win badly-and he's a nervous sort, anyway.

You had a crew chief talking his driver through those laps, knowing they had to run smart-any other way, and the car closing in the rearview would snatch the victory. There was no guarantee he wouldn't snatch it anyway.

It was this close-would the worried leader eke out a win? Or would the hungry competitor roar by to take the race? Until the moment they took the checkers, it was uncertain-either driver could take it.

Does that sound exciting or what?

It was exciting. It was a nail-biter. It was the Subway Fresh Fit 500K at Phoenix last weekend.

That's right-it was a race many fans called "boring."

Jimmie Johnson had just enough fuel to win the Subway Fresh Fit 500K at Phoenix last weekend but needed a push to Victory Lane.

Were they watching the same race I was? Jimmie Johnson beat Clint Bowyer at the end, but it was never a given. Was never a given that Bowyer could make it either, so it was anyone's game.

I cannot for the life of me understand why people think fuel-mileage racing is boring. No, it's not door-to-door, beating and banging to the wire for the win. If you expect every NASCAR Sprint Cup race to be like that, in this or any previous era, you didn't do your homework. I treasure the races that are like that-they're the best of the best. But they aren't going to happen every week, no matter what car they use.

A fuel mileage race, while not anybody's top choice of a finish, is better than some guy with a rocket under his butt running away from the field on the last run of the race when nobody, barring a miracle, a blown tire, or invisible competition debris, has a prayer of catching up. The excitement comes from not knowing if there are enough fumes in the line to make it to the checkers. From knowing that if something happens, someone will never survive a green-white-checkered finish. From waiting for that telltale wiggle of a driver desperate to get the last drops of gas into the pickup before the engine dies.

While many race fans are not fans of stick-and-ball sports, maybe it's because I'm a baseball fan that I appreciate strategy more than many race fans. Baseball is, as is racing, a game of inches where the slightest miscalculation can mean the difference between winning and losing. Fuel mileage racing is baseball without a designated hitter-do you pull your ace in favor of a hitter to maybe bring home an insurance run in a close game? Or do you take the probable mulligan at the plate in favor of a couple more innings of fastballs and strikeouts. The guy running away with the race is what the designated hitter is to baseball-a much more sure thing that ends up taking away from the competition in the end. Not every game can be the seventh game of the World Series, bottom of the ninth, tie game, with the best hitter up against the best pitcher. Not every race can be Ricky Craven and Kurt Busch at Darlington, either. Sometimes you have to take the next best thing.

Racing is a game of strategy and finesse. It's about making the last minute decision that will make the driver look like a hero or a goat. It's about using a lapped car for a pick to grab the lead. It's two tires or four making the difference between first place and fourth. It's about staying out on old tires, banking on the guys behind you holding up the guy with the new tires. It's about calculating fuel mileage to the last ounce. It's about every decision by every team member from the moment the team chooses a chassis for a track until the checkered flag falls, because strategy decides races.

In the end, last week's race was won on a combination of a risky strategy and the ultimate in trust between Johnson and Chad Knaus. It was anything but boring if you look beneath the surface. They agonized over the decision. At one point Knaus called Johnson to pit road, and Johnson made the call to stay out, but it took every ounce of self discipline and coaxing from Knaus for Johnson to slow down the two seconds a lap it took to save enough fuel to finish. Either way, someone was calling them crazy. It turned out to be the right strategy, but it was a nail-biter. They decided not to pull the pitcher, and he stepped to the plate and hit a home run.

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Today on the Frontstretch:
Did You Notice? … Breaking Down A Sprint Cup Season Eight Races In
Beyond the Cockpit: Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. on Growing Up Racing and Owner Loyalties
The Frontstretch Five: Flaws Exposed In the New Chase So Far
NASCAR Writer Power Rankings: Top 15 After Darlington
NASCAR Mailbox: Past Winners Aren’t Winning …. Yet
Open Wheel Wednesday: How Can IndyCar Stand Out?


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04/18/2008 07:03 AM

Boring, yes the race at Phoenix was boring!

04/18/2008 07:38 AM

“And the winner got 6.357MPG” beating the second place finisher who only got 6.223MPG from his car”!

WOW folks!!!! What a race!!

04/18/2008 08:47 AM

It’s called RACING, not ‘drive slow enough to finish’. Yes, I did watch the race and yes, it was boring.

04/18/2008 09:11 AM

Wow guys!! We ALL agree!!

04/18/2008 11:17 AM

It was a pretty exciting race to me. Great strategy that paid off. There are different ways to win a race, but in the end it’s whoever crosses the finish line first.

04/18/2008 11:27 AM

It was verrrrrrrry boring. I couldn’t watch it. I was watching the Red Sox / Yankee game. With 2 outs in the bottom 9th and 2 strikes on the hitter, Fox cut’s over to the 3rd lap of the race. WTF!!!!!!!

Marty C
04/18/2008 11:44 AM

Unfortunately, fuel mileage races are a part of the sport, but that doesn’t make them exciting. Fuel mileage strategy can win you a race and it still counts as a win, but in the strictest definition of the work “Racing”, it’s not racing. Racing is going fast, not slowing down to win. But you do what you have to do to “Win”, which is a completely different word. You take a win anyway you can get it, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t boring!

04/18/2008 01:32 PM

I may not have been paying attention, but it didn’t seem like a fuel mileage race until toward the end when Mark Martin pitted. I do remember Mark Martin and Jr racing pretty hard for a good portion of the race – they didn’t seem too concerned with fuel mileage. I watched Jeff Burton flirting with being dead last early in the race and he and his team improving the car with every stop until he finished with another solid top 10. While it may not go down as a race of the ages, there was plenty to keep you interested if you took the time to watch.

There will always be the impulse to declare racing in its current form boring, and long for the past. I’m positive that people felt the races in the ’70s were boring back when Richard Petty was the only car on the lead lap, and loved to point out to whoever would listen how good things were when Fireball Roberts and Junior Johnson used to mix it up. No doubt in 2020 or so, people will complain about what pigs the Nas-Hovercars are, and talk about how good racing was back when Jimmie Johnson won back to back championships.

Bruce Simmons
04/18/2008 01:54 PM

31 fan makes a great point and far be it for me to declare the race anything different, I’d like to specify: The end was boring, unless you were caught up in the anxiety of wondering who was going to screw up the last pit stop, destroying their chance at a good finish, or who just might run out of gas, and if so, will there be enough momentum to still get across the finish line first?

The race itself looked like there was some pretty good racing throughout..

So if this race WAS boring, what makes it interesting to you? Are you looking forward to Talladega maybe? Or are you looking for more Martinsville’s?

Define what it is that makes a race non-boring for everyone. Labels are easy – defining them gets interesting.

Ken in Va.
04/18/2008 06:51 PM

I never thought for a minute he was going to run out of gas. If you bought into the fake “excitement”, you must be a fan of “reality” TV. The gibberish you heard on the radio was nothing more than an attempt to make it look like an exciting race.

I suspect the TV ratings bubble will soon burst as the people who watched it on TV instead of going to the track find something better to do as will the casual fan (who has been inside only due to bad weather).

04/19/2008 12:28 PM

i’m tired of hearing about people, especially on this website, constantsly b*tch and moan about boring races this and that. it never ceases to amaze me that you call yourself a NASCAR “fan” but are quick to get on the latest editions of “NASCAR sucks!” stop the complaining, or just turn on “the View”.
i was excited to watch the entire race!

04/19/2008 03:03 PM

Good one, Amy.

I generally dislike fuel mileage races, because frequently, the guy who wins doesn’t really deserve it. He just lucks out with an out-of-sequence pit stop.

But at Phoenix, a dozen guys had a chance to make that call. Granted, some of them might not have been set up for fuel mileage. But that’s racin’. Most of ‘em did have a choice and played it safe. The 48 and the 07 rolled the dice, sweated it out and won. Good on ‘em!

It was a nail-biter.

04/21/2008 05:02 PM

Who said every race is boring? Not I. I’ve been a fan for a long time, long enough to have seen Cale & David & Richard & the Allisons race so don’t question my being a “fan”. Sorry, but the Phoenix race was boring to me. The question was “Boring? What race were you watching? Answer: Phoenix. Sorry I stepped on your toes, K, but thats my opinion.


Contact Amy Henderson

Recent articles from Amy Henderson:

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