The Frontstretch: Doing What's Right and Doing What Matters: What NASCAR Can Use More and Less Of by Vito Pugliese -- Thursday April 1, 2010

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With the Martinsville race pushed back to Monday, it shelved Voice of Vito for this week. I know, all of you are crushed… I don’t blame you, since not only am I single and devastatingly handsome, but I can also wield a keyboard like Bill Jordan could a Model 19 Smith & Wesson. All kidding aside, (except the single and really, really good looking part…) it did give me an extra day to think about my lone off-week topic. With the series headed for Easter break, let’s take a break of our own and look at some of what NASCAR needs more of — as well as decidedly less of — after six races of 2010:

What NASCAR Doesn’t Need: Goofy Aerodynamic Devices

I know that myself and many others on this site have railed against this for nigh on three years now, as has just about any other race fan worth their salt. The CoT itself was always a bit confusing to me. It seemed as if the more logical approach would have been to make the driver’s compartment slightly larger on the original car, and do away with the cock-eyed body offset, making it square and true as one would expect a road course car to appear.

That aside, the wing always reeked of a shameless attempt to pander to the Fast & The Furious crowd – the same bunch that equips a 1.8-liter powered Honda Civic with a 4” Folgers fart can muffler, dragon graphics, and the aforementioned erector set wing. There was never really a cut and dried explanation given for changing something that is not used in any other NASCAR Series (Grand Am doesn’t count), so its demise has been a welcome one.

What NASCAR Needs: A Reminder of Real Race cars

This statement in itself is a bit of an oxymoron, because in just about every other racing series, a NASCAR stock car is considered anything but a “real race car”. That being said, it is very heavy, uses pushrod engines with a carburetor, the suspension and rear end from a Ford truck nearly half-a-century old, 15-inch wheels, and 10.5-inch wide tires. Whatever. Nothing else sounds like a pack of 43 of these bastards wide open coming around to take the first lap at Talladega, or decelerating into Turn 1 at Martinsville. Seeing the traditional blade spoiler back on the car last week at Charlotte as well as in race trim at Martinsville was a step in the right direction. The splitter, I guess I can live with; I don’t particularly like it, but it seems to work OK in the Truck Series, so it is somewhat palatable. Back in action Monday, they looked like real race cars again, and not somebody trying to be something that they aren’t, in a feeble attempt to impress somebody who really doesn’t like them that much anyway.

The return of the spoiler was a long time coming for a CoT that certainly didn’t look like a stock car.

What NASCAR Doesn’t Need: Ugly Race cars and Paint Schemes

There is nothing worse than a car with a poorly executed paint scheme. The CoT has been a tough sell as it is, but mix in unappealing colors and hues, and it can make a Sunday that much more painful to endure. So as bad as I felt for Matt Kenseth first getting nudged from behind by Denny Hamlin – and then body slammed by Jeff Gordon – when his tire blew, sending him skittering up the track and into the wall during Monday’s Green-White-Checkered finish, I was glad to see that putrid purple Barneymobile out of contention.

That car is so gross, Grimace wouldn’t be caught near it. Also, is it that hard for M&M’s to design a car that doesn’t look like a colorblind 8-year old designed it? Yeah, the animated M&M’s that look scared on the back of the car are getting old. Why not just make it brown… like a bag of M&Ms.

Another one that readily comes to mind is Dale Earnhardt, Jr.’s No. 88 AMP Energy Chevrolet. I remember early on when he joined Hendrick Motorsports, he said he had a lot of input into the design and look of the car. Uh, sorry bud, but I would have probably kept that one a little closer to the vest. I realize the intent was to hearken back a bit to Darrell Waltrip’s Mountain Dew No. 11 that he drove to Winston Cup Championships in 1981 and 1982, but this one missed the mark. Why not just run that old scheme to begin with? The new one clearly isn’t working out, and is making these miserable seasons that much harder to deal with. There is an easy out here, and we all know what it is… but it’s probably a road that Earnhardt doesn’t want to drive down. At least just not yet.

What NASCAR Needs: Good Looking Race cars and Paint Schemes

Speaking of DW, seeing Darrell Waltrip’s No. 11 Junior Johnson & Associates Mountain Dew Buick at the NASCAR Hall of Fame also sparked a flashback of sorts. Back in 1982, I was 5 years old and attended my first race at Michigan International Speedway. I can still remember riding my Big Wheel in the infield, and catching a glimpse of the cars as they flashed by, sitting atop the makeshift scaffolding in the bed of my dad’s 1976 Dodge Powerwagon. It was back then that catching a race on television meant hoping that our local CBS station didn’t black out a race for a Tiger’s game, or head over to Grandpa and Grandma’s, because they lived where cable was actually available. But I digress … seeing those type of beautiful schemes in person helped get me hooked long before I finished kindergarten.

Some other examples of beautiful stock cars of the past that come to mind? Pretty much anything Richard Petty drove, but particularly his 1964 Plymouth Fury, 1971 Plymouth Roadrunner, and his 1987 Pontiac Grand Prix 2+2. The latter was a horrendously underpowered pig on the street, but in race trim looked downright hairy. I also always rather liked Rusty Wallace’s Miller Lite cars from 1997-2000, while his dark blue machines from 2001-2005 were instant classics. Dale Earnhardt’s 2000 Monte Carlo was a fresh shape at the time, and combined with the proper GM Goodwrench emblem on the hood – with a more discrete “Service Plus” underneath – it was a sight to behold as he just barely nipped Bobby Labonte at the line in Atlanta that year. The black scheme was also there for the improbable charge from 18th place to first with only five laps remaining at Talladega (and he didn’t need multiple do-overs to make that happen.)

Mark Martin’s Valvoline Thunderbird from 1992-1995 was another iconic car of NASCAR’s most recent “golden era” – so much so that it is being run on other Valvoline-sponsored cars this year driven by A.J. Allmendinger and Matt Kenseth.

If only several other drivers would get the hint…

What NASCAR Doesn’t Need: Boring Racetracks

Certain tracks lend themselves to putting on a good show, while others – and there are more than a few of them – do not. Which is why many are fearful that there will be an announcement forthcoming that Martinsville (or Atlanta) will be likely losing a date to Kansas. So while I certainly appreciate those fans in the heartland that attend the race weekends in Kansas, I don’t think we need to axe a slice of our sport’s history off the calendar to do so. While Joe Nemechek’s .081-second win over Ricky Rudd was certainly something in 2004, and Carl Edwards’ video game-attempt pass of Jimmie Johnson raised some eyebrows in 2008, the racing itself as a whole has been less than invigorating.

When you think about all of the SportsCenter moments that have happened in Atlanta, a number of mental images cross the synapses like a pack of Black Cats in July: Dale Earnhardt, Sr. over Bobby Labonte in 2000, Kevin Harvick and Jeff Gordon in 2001, Jimmie Johnson and Tony Stewart’s middle finger in 2007, and perhaps the watershed race of this era, the 1992 Hooters 500 that saw Alan Kulwicki beat Bill Elliott by 10 points for the championship in a race that would be decided by bonus points, with the two principles finishing first and second. It was Richard Petty’s explosive last race and Jeff Gordon’s Cup debut, while Davey Allison’s harrowing year would be denied a deserved title by a spinning Ernie Irvan late in the going.

So come on, Kansas. You’re going to sacrifice all of this just for another date? Why not instead just move Atlanta to April or May so it’s a little warmer, and maybe people will be willing to make a roadie out of it.

What NASCAR Needs: Short Tracks, Old Tracks, Maybe Another Road Course

If Monday’s Goody’s Fast Pain Reliever 500 wasn’t confirmation enough that it should keep both of its dates, and that short tracks are still where it’s at for stock cars, then I don’t know what is. Judging by the number of hits and traffic to our site this week, the fans certainly share this opinion as well. Following a day of rain, thunderstorms, and even some severe weather in the surrounding areas, 40,000 people were still able to show up to the track on a Monday. Heck, some tracks are having a hard time making that happen on a Sunday. Sure, the finish was great, but the actual racing that happened all day long, the twists and turns of leaders having problems, drivers rallying back… it was a snapshot of the old days and what made NASCAR take precedence over mowing the lawn or visiting with family members at gatherings.

The Southern 500 at Darlington is now about a month away at NASCAR’s original superspeedway. In my opinion, you can’t get more old school than a track whose design was the result of a minnow pond, and it never fails to provide a great race. One of the best I can remember was when The Lady In Black was host to a Chase race back in 2004, and I would readily sacrifice a date at another track (cough, Chicago, cough) to see one more held in Darlington during the playoffs.

Another road course would be cool, too, I think. I know a lot of fans don’t care for it, but watch highlights of an old race at Riverside, Watkins Glen, or Infineon when they would run the old carousel configuration.

Those are just my ideas. I’m sure you have your own. Feel free to share them with me. We always love to hear from our readers, and if the earlier start times, return to a car that looks more traditional, and letting drivers duke it out don’t catch your fancy, the people who run our sport like to get a gauge of your opinions as well.

Contact Vito Pugliese

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Bad Wolf
04/01/2010 01:42 AM
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I live 300 miles from Kansas Speedway and will never go back. I used to go but got tired of the beat down from the speedway over ticket packages, overpriced consessions and poor racing. One July open wheel race I was at the track temperature was 138 degrees, and Kansas Speedway has only 1 place for free water, which is a horizontal PVC pipe with about 6 spouts where one can refill your bottles. That day there were hundreds of fans waiting in line there for refills, not wanting to spend $3.50 per 20oz track bottled water. The wife and I tired of waiting in line for WATER and paid somthing like $40 for the privlage of drinking bottled water that afternoon.

Kansas was also the first track I know of that started charging the fans for the privlage of standing next to the pit fence in the infield in hopes of seeing a driver or getting an autograph. It’s called the “Fan Walk”, and last I checked most of the tickets are bought up as soon as they go on sale and are quickly listed on Ebay or Stub Hub at highly inflated prices.

Now I just sit back and grin when I see Kansas is not sold out and have not added seating. Karma is a bitch.

Robin
04/01/2010 06:20 AM
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Vito, totally agree that NASCAR needs more short tracks and old tracks – I’m not a fan of road courses so I could live without anymore of those. BTW, your are single, handsome, AND you can put two words together to make a sentence! What’s your phone number? lol :)

DansMom
04/01/2010 06:35 AM
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Less Matt McLaughin, more Vito recapping races in 2010!!!!!

pepper
04/01/2010 11:33 AM
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Second paragraph, 1st sentence, next to last word should be ‘nigh’. Neigh is the sound of a horse.

Rob
04/01/2010 11:58 AM
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Thanks for that Atlanta in April or May suggestion. I think it will work. I think you are the first one I’ve heard suggest that. I can’t believe they are going to do 2 races at Kansas because of a casino. We don’t need another track like that added to the schedule.

Bill B
04/01/2010 12:19 PM
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Rob,
It’s called “letting the tail wag the dog”.

Rufus
04/01/2010 12:25 PM
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Vito, I fully agree that NASCAR finally came to their senses and sitched that wing! I read on another site that Helton admitted the wing was to attract the “Fast and Furious” crowd, those people will have nothing to do with anything that is basically showcasing North American auto manufacturers, Toyota aside! Now if they will just get rid of that dumb splitter and go back to an airdam. While they are at it, I love the idea that the teams use the exact sheet metal as the stock, street cars! It would be a start to the return to “stock cars”. And I hate to say this, but sooner or later, fuel-injected V-6’s will have to be the engine of choice! I have never seen a V-8 in a Ford Fusion! And as far as i’m concerned, there would be nothing wrong with trying a front-wheel-drive system either! I know this sounds like turning NASCAR into a Touring Car Series like the Australian or British series’, but those races are more “stock car” than NASCAR.

P.S. I actually like Kenseth’s paint scheme! It’s better than some out there!

Hankz
04/01/2010 12:52 PM
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I always liked Harvick’s 2002 car, the black from the number back looked bullet-like.

Car colors don’t bother me so much as the God awful swooshes (lack of a better term) and curves. A few of Sadlers 2004 cars come to mind.

Is it true that there’s only one guy designing all the cars’ paint schemes? The current crop (includiing the last decade) has run its course.

Re-configure Atlanta back to the way it was – an oval. Dump the dogleg.

Good article, VP!

scott
04/01/2010 01:51 PM
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dead on!forward your suggestions to mr.helton and to Rufus What The F…? Idiot!

Gina
04/01/2010 02:47 PM
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Perfect! I agree, more short tracks and race cars that look good! NASCAR shot itself in the foot with a bunch of “new” things that fans didn’t like — they need to keep from screwing up any more by taking away more races from interesting tracks. Love the little paperclip AND racing in Atlanta.

Big Toe
04/01/2010 03:18 PM
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“the people who run our sport like to get a gauge of your opinions as well”
——————

Maybe they should of paid attention to our constant b!tching the last few years instead of deleting our posts and banning us from boards. They made it perfectly clear that the new fan was #1. The $$$$$ start to dry up and now they want us to solve their problems. HA ! No thanks,i’ll pass.

Carl D.
04/01/2010 03:22 PM
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The Orange & White Home Depot car has always been a sharp looking one to me, though as a longtime Clemson Tiger fan I may be a bit biased. Also, Bobby Labonte’s Red & White #71 paint job is a direct throwback to Bobby Isaac’s #71 which is pretty cool.

The ugliest car on the track? Any of them with a Hendrick decal, of course.

wcfan
04/01/2010 03:32 PM
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Big Toe is 100 % correct

Big Toe
04/01/2010 04:13 PM
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wcfan

The blatant disrespect is amazing, isn’t it? They actually want us to tell them how they can pick our pockets.

chris
04/01/2010 05:27 PM
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neigh on three years?! I think you’ve got an extra e in there, somewhere, Vito…but this is a Nascar-related column, and alot of those have an extra little e. :)

wcfan
04/01/2010 05:35 PM
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Big Toe,
This is the first time in over 20 yrs that I will not have bought and attended at least one CUP race. NASCAR racing has been in a tailspin since Feb 01 when Dale was killed and really took a dive when nascar and the govt pushed out the BEST SPONSER ever in WINSTON, this was a company that listened to the fans and also truely loved the sport, now what we have is a money hungry nascar that only sees the bottom line.

ernie
04/01/2010 08:05 PM
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more matt-less dansmom

GW
04/01/2010 09:57 PM
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The wing is gone! How about the stupid pooper scoop on the front? Interesting tracks – bring back Rockingham and drop one of those stupid California races.

DoninAjax
04/01/2010 10:02 PM
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How about using real “race” cars and not bumper cars? Saturday races are always better than Sunday. The Cup drivers must like driving a real racer and not the Car OF Terror. Maybe they should race the Saturday car on Sunday? Oops. They’re going to change the Saturday car to a Sunday car. Smooth move Exlax.

mkrcr
04/01/2010 10:27 PM
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C’mon Vito. Are you just bitchin’ about the colors ‘cause they don’t match your purse and heels? Really? Complaining about sponsor mandated schemes when the teams are lucky to have them. Just wait till Kyle has to drive the pink puppymobile.
More, More, More Road Courses. More racin’, less ridin’.
And DansMom, how can you possibly like Vito over Matt? He never mentioned JJ once.

old gal from socal
04/01/2010 10:32 PM
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Vito-loved reading about your early memories at the track! For a lot of us, racing is more than simply being a fan; it’s visceral—it is the “soundtrack” of our lives. Thanks for being a voice in support of what many of us would like to see happen: more short tracks, cars that look like what’s on the street only better, a respect for history and tradition that transcends the almighty buck.

How about a dirt race? :-)

GW-Couldn’t agree with you more!

tom g
04/01/2010 10:54 PM
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nascar needs to stop counting so many caution laps. put a limit on laps counted during each caution

motorman
04/03/2010 10:12 AM
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NASCAR went to the COT because they wanted toyota in and the only way they would come if all bodies were equal.toyota did not want to have to spend years figuring out how to beat the rules like the american car companies did.

Contact Vito Pugliese