The Frontstretch: Racing At Its Most "Ideal" by Summer Bedgood -- Thursday May 19, 2011

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Racing At Its Most "Ideal"

Summer Bedgood · Thursday May 19, 2011


Opinions are rampant in NASCAR, with everyone holding their own unique point of view on various topics within the sport. More often than not, there are those who consider their opinion to be the_correct_ point of view and everyone else is just wrong, DAMMIT! Friendships have been lost over seemingly trivial disagreements (try telling that Earnhardt fan buddy of yours that Earnhardt sucks and see if he ever invites you over for poker again), and some arguments will never be resolved simply because there is no right or wrong answer—that’s why it’s an OPINION!

While opinionated individuals can rant and rave about a variety of topics—from that dastardly Brian France to the horror of the (gasp!) Chase—there is one topic in particular that will forever be a staple of the sport simply because it is the very reason people tune into NASCAR races in the first place. That is, the quality of the race.

Regardless of how often you hear the maddening “cars going around in circles” accusation made by non-race fans, regular viewers know that enjoyment sustained from watching racing extends much deeper than what it appears at face value. Between strategy, rivalries, points, and side-by-side racing that, yes, does exist beyond the last 10 laps of a race, almost everyone can find something to enjoy within the NASCAR realm.

Unless the actual race just sucks, right? After all, a boring race can cause even the most diehard fans to turn their nose up at the sport they love, right?

Well, that all depends on your definition of “boring”.

Whoa, whoa, wait a minute! Boring is boring, right? You can’t just alter the definition of the word “boring” to fit your own agenda!

Well, that’s where an opinion comes into play again. Ultimately, there is no rulebook that says a race is or is not boring. It all depends on the perception of the individual. For instance, a race where Kyle Busch leads 499 of 500 laps is most likely going to be boring to anyone that isn’t a fan of his. However, his fans will probably enjoy the entire race and won’t be turned off at all. Or, take road course racing. Certain race fans may find road courses to be the two best events of the season while others are completely uninterested. All about perception!

Every fan has their own idea of what makes a race exciting, whether it be restrictor plate racing, crashes, or close finishes.

I find myself at odds with my racing friends all the time. While I personally may find a race to be exciting (or at least somewhat interesting) friends and family are mentioning how much they enjoyed their mid-race nap and how much they hated the actual event. Likewise, I can find certain tracks and races to be completely dull and lifeless while others are gushing about how it was some of the best competition they’d seen all year. I just don’t get it!

Following the weekend’s races at Dover, I decided to ask the question outright on my Twitter and Facebook: “What is your definition of an ideal race?”

There were definitely some interesting responses. Unsurprisingly, several fans said their favorite driver winning constitutes as “ideal” for them, but sometimes even that’s not enough. Others listed favorite tracks of theirs (some restrictor plate, but mostly short track) as providing ideal competition every time the series heads there, adding to that whole “perception” thing.

But the majority response was one I didn’t see coming. In fact, it was the response that I least expected. And I’m still not sure I completely understand it.

While I didn’t get as many responses as I’d have liked, I saw enough to take me by surprise when I saw how many people described their ideal race as having “few cautions.”

While each individual response was unique (with side-by-side racing or long green flag pit stops cited as a couple other factors for the perfect race, among others), very few or no yellow flags was a variable that many wanted to see.

Don’t get me wrong. I understand that most diehard race fans—or anyone in the racing industry, for that matter—don’t like to see wrecks. Those that have seen drivers injured or even killed in a racing accident are especially quick to draw in a sharp breath when a driver hits part of a wall without a S.A.F.E.R. barrier or winds up going airborne. A sigh of relief can usually be heard when a driver lowers his window net, signaling that he is unhurt.

However, wrecks are a part of racing. They always have been and always will be, with drivers, their crew members, sponsors, and family members all too well aware of the risks being taken behind the wheel of a race car.

That being said, wrecks are not only a part of racing but a part of intense racing. Think about it. How many cautions do you see in the agonizing parade laps that usually happen on intermediate tracks after the first round of green flag stops and lasts until, well, NASCAR throws the yellow flag (for whatever reason). Then again, you have the days where you will see constant bumping and banging, several cars capable of winning, and differing fuel and tire strategy towards the end of the race. Put all that in a can, shake it up, and you have a recipe for disaster—or at least some bent up sheet metal.

I understand being wary of wrecks, but NASCAR and the tracks have put a premium on safety and have done a damned fine job of it. Did you happen to see the Clint Bowyer/Joey Logano crash in last Saturday’s Nationwide Series race at Dover? I guarantee you at least both of those drivers would have been hospitalized and had to miss a race—or worse—10 years ago. Instead, both drivers walked away and will race again this weekend and most likely have moved on from the whole thing.

So should we start asking for more wrecks then? Absolutely not, but expecting exciting side-by-side racing without at least a fair amount of cautions is asking a little too much. It’s that type of side-by-side racing that causes crashes in the first place and that’s not going away anytime soon. But, to each their own.

So, what’s my definition of an ideal race? Personally, I don’t mind if it’s a road course, restrictor plate, short, or intermediate track. My definition of an ideal race is one in which there are several drivers who have a car capable of winning. I don’t expect there to be constant side-by-side racing because, as exciting as that would be, the races are just as much of endurance races as sprints to the finish. I don’t even mind if a driver is dominating a portion of the race, as long as a few other drivers have shown they have a car capable of doing the same. In other words, the best races are when you really, truly do not know who will win until the final lap of the race.

But, my friends, that is just my opinion.

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05/20/2011 04:36 AM

I have been wondering how good the racing would be if the lucky dog and wave a rounds weren’t in place?

05/20/2011 07:41 AM

Fewer cautions (and knowing Nascar wont throw unnecessary cautions) would force drivers to race for position rather than to wait for pitstops/ restarts to gain track position.

Terry Caton
05/20/2011 08:51 AM

I am on the boat with Jim. What if they didnt have the wave around or lucky dog, better yet, what if Nascar decided to go back to the old way with lap down cars on the lead lap? Would that make racing even worse than it is now or would that give us the ‘excitement’ we are waiting for? Thank you for all you do Summer, your fans love ya! :-)

Jim Yoak
05/20/2011 09:02 AM

One racing situation that most fans dislike, is in my opinion, the most amazing thing in sports. When a driver gets out to a 15-20 second lead. When you consider 43 cars-teams-drivers on the track, the amount of work, technology, science, skill, teamwork, planing, and money that goes into putting them there. To have one team dominate the other 42 in such a way boggles the mind. Most fans hate to see it, NASCAR shutters at the thought of it, but just once, stop and think of how amazing it is.

05/20/2011 06:17 PM

If you go to a baseball game expecting to see a no-hitter, chances are you’ll be disappointed. If you go to a baseball game wanting to see a 16-15 game, chances are you’ll be disappointed. If you go to a baseball game to see a baseball game, you’ll probably have a good time.

If you go to a race expecting to see a Ricky-Kurt finish, chances are you’ll be disappointed. If you go to a race expecting a dominating performance (maybe by your favorite driver) chances are you’ll be disappointed. If you go to a race to see a race, chances are you’ll enjoy it.
Note that I said “go to” not “watch on TV”. That’s a different situation because you’re at the mercy of the seeming idiot who chooses what is shown on screen. You learn how to watch the race on TV like you learn how to watch races live and figure out who is racing for position. That’s why the time intervals are so interesting and it bothers me when they stop showing them.
Every race is interesting if you know what to look for that they don’t show you.

It would help if they televised the race instead of showing a movie that follows their script.