The Frontstretch: Racing to the Point: Everybody Loves Talladega! Don't They? by Brett Poirier -- Tuesday April 30, 2013

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Racing to the Point: Everybody Loves Talladega! Don't They?

Racing to the Point · Brett Poirier · Tuesday April 30, 2013


Let the phony smile-a-thon begin. While NASCAR and FOX revs up for another nail-biting weekend at Talladega, how many drivers are actually looking forward to the race?

“If this is what we did every week, I wouldn’t be doing it,” Junior said after getting involved in an accident at Talladega last fall. “I’ll just put it to you like that. If this is how we raced every week, I’d find another job.”

Plate racing is some of the most popular in NASCAR. Which is a damn shame.

“I don’t even want to go to Daytona and Talladega next year,” Earnhardt Jr. added in the fall of 2012, “but I ain’t got much choice.”

Earnhardt’s race Sunday might end with barrel rolls down the backstretch, or maybe even jumping the frontstretch fence to do some crowd surfing. Fans are going to have to group up tightly to catch that 3,400-pound, flaming piece of metal coming at them.

A good weekend for Earnhardt might involve a last-lap crash where his car stays grounded and he walks away unscathed. Unfortunately, that is the most likely scenario. That’s how most restrictor-plate races end, with a large pile-up in the final three laps that usually starts at the front of the field and collects everyone but the pace car and Brian Keselowski (because he lost the draft).

The final results look like something from a blind drawing. David Stremme was running 34th at the white flag, but ended up seventh. Jeff Gordon led to the white flag, and he ended with a DNF in 26th, his car on its roof in a sea of metal carnage. Those of us with functioning cerebellums are left thinking, “What was the point to what I just watched?”

That’s not a once-every-10-races ordeal, either. That’s the norm. It’s what we’ve come to accept.

“I can’t believe nobody is sensible enough to realize just how ridiculous that was,” Earnhardt Jr. said after the race last fall. “That is ridiculous that all those cars were tore up. And everybody is just, ‘Ho hum, no big deal.’ That’s not alright.”

Earnhardt Jr. suffered a concussion in that wreck, but that was the only significant injury. NASCAR wasn’t as lucky at the February Nationwide race at Daytona. Michael Annett broke his sternum and half of Kyle Larson’s car ended up on the wrong side of the fence, injuring 28 innocent fans. In the investigation that followed, NASCAR focused on reinforcing the fence by the gate at the start-finish line. Daytona and Talladega have each reinforced their crossover gates since.

Well, I guess we’re all set then. Hey NASCAR, what about the parts that flew over the 22-foot fence at Daytona?

Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR Vice President, Racing Operations apparently didn’t see a problem with it, telling The Associated Press the following week that NASCAR was “comfortable” with the racing at restrictor plate races.

I’m glad the NASCAR executives are comfortable because the drivers are not. The drivers know that it is a weekend all for the fans. The spring race at Talladega received an average television rating of 5.1 last year according to Street & Smith’s Sports Business Journal. That was much higher than the race preceding, Richmond (3.6), and the race following it, Darlington (3.8).

Those who don’t enjoy racing at two of the best track’s NASCAR has to offer — Richmond and Darlington — tune in for the circus that is Talladega. There are 40 cars in a pack and at any moment, hell could break loose. Once the big wreck begins, one driver might fly over another, while another driver might do barrel rolls into the pits, and another might take out the flagman. Four times a year, the best drivers in the top form of auto racing in the United States turn into carnival performers, so that fans can talk about it at the water cooler the next day.

“Everybody can get on the chip about it and get all excited about what just happened, but for the longevity of the sport, that ain’t healthy,” Earnhardt said. “I don’t care what anybody says. It’s good for the here and now — it’ll get people talking today — but for the long run, that’s not good for the sport, the way that race ended and the way the racing is. It’s not going to be productive for years to come.”


And if the fans are the reason some of the best drivers in the world have to play this ridiculous charade, maybe it’s time the fans stop accepting it.

Contact Brett Poirier

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Today on the Frontstretch:
Championship Caliber? What Does That Even Mean?
Mirror Driving: Winning Vs. Points, Needing a Boost, and The Lady’s Last Dance?
Nuts for Nationwide: The Curious Case of Elliott Sadler
Happiness Is…Arrogance, Less, Next, and the Outdoors
Frontstretch Foto Funnies: It’s Not Gonna Fit…


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04/30/2013 08:32 AM

Excellent article.

How many fans have been saying this for some time? It was great to hear Jr. say it.

Bill B
04/30/2013 11:15 AM

Everybody Loves Talladega, Don’t They?


04/30/2013 12:46 PM

And yet the plate tracks draw some of the biggest crowds and TV audience…

Fact is, the fans like cars racing right on top of one another (pun intended), they like the anticipation of all heck breaking loose at any time. The plate tracks and the short tracks provide that entertainment, the 1 1/2 mile tracks don’t.

So let’s see, give up on the tracks that the fans come out to watch and replace them with some more boring so-called cookie cutter tracks? Not going to happen.

04/30/2013 01:25 PM

Fans like Talladega for the same reasons they enjoy short tracks: they enjoy close racing.

Talladega has always been dangerous and it’s always had pack racing, even before the plates. Go back and watch a race there from the 70s or early 80s if you don’t believe me. The only reason the packs weren’t bigger is because there wasn’t as much parity back then.

If you don’t like Talladega, don’t watch it. It’s as simple as that. The rest of us will enjoy what is still one of the last remaining exciting race tracks on the schedule.

And it’s not about the wrecks. The lead changes speak for themself. The crusade against plate racing is exhausting and frankly I’m tired of hearing about it.

04/30/2013 01:56 PM

Lead changes at Talladega? LOL.

That’s like looking at the stats for Vince Young as a QB and saying he’s a great player. LOL.

All one has to do with ‘dega is wait until the end and watch…then go to the net to see any “highlights”. Or just catch the replays on TV.

04/30/2013 02:17 PM

You’re not very well informed are you JP?

04/30/2013 02:29 PM

I disagree with MS41. Close racing isn’t the draw; beating and banging and wrecking is. People love demolition derbies. If “close racing” was the answer, Bristol attendance/ratings wouldn’t have tanked after the repave (where everyone could race side by side without ever touching one another). With small tracks, the draw is non-stop small bashes, crashes and spins all 500 laps and not a straight fender to be found at the end of the race. With Daytona and Talladega it’s the suspense of one giant, spectacular feat of instant destruction wiping out half the field that draws the masses.

04/30/2013 03:05 PM

To add, that’s why the 2 car “hookup” was despised at the big tracks. From a purely racing standpoint, I thought the 2 car hookup racing was spectacular! But the masses that tune in 4 times a year hated it because the massive pile-up at the end was gone since the drivers could spread out a bit more, race, and were afforded a tad bit more room for error without wrecking – and more room/time to miss the wrecks that did happen.

04/30/2013 03:46 PM

Not well informed? LOL.

Lead changes don’t mean a thing a ‘dega. It doesn’t make it a better or lesser race, IMO. It’s just the way the draft flows back and forth with whoever happens to catch it at the right time.

The lucky one catches it at the right time on the last lap. That’s the key to the whole race.

We just disagree and that’s fine.

04/30/2013 04:42 PM

No, no I don’t like Talladega. At all.

04/30/2013 08:15 PM

The last two or three races at Talladega came down to who was on the outside with a line behind them.

The first COT Talladega race was a bore-fest of single file ride around. The drivers were talking crazy stuff just to stay awake. Remember that?

I hope the first Gen-6 race isn’t like that.

Big Dan
05/01/2013 07:09 PM

JP, I loved everything you said, especially the Vince Young comment, lol. And MS41 thinks the racing is great because of the lead changes. That’s ridiculous.