The Voice Of Vito · Vito Pugliese · Tuesday May 8, 2007
This weekend's race at Richmond was a throwback of sorts. The title of the race was The Jim Stewart 400 presented by Crown Royal. When I first heard it, I thought they said "The Jeb Stuart 400.” Well, this is Richmond, I thought, and maybe they would honor a former Confederate Cavalry General for the battle of which he became famous. Then I figured out it was Jim Stewart. Jimmy Stewart? The actor-turned Air Force pilot-turned actor? I could almost hear him marveling at the sponsor names and manufacturers of the race cars, as he did in the film "Strategic Air Command" upon seeing the B-47 Stratojet up close in a hangar. No, it was a race that was titled after a fan who had won a contest. What a conceptâ€¦.a raceâ€¦.centered around a fan!
Another old-school aspect of this weekend's action was that the race was run on a Sunday afternoon, not the new chic trick of running every race possible at night in an attempt to attract more ratings. Your local short track appreciates this more than anyone, and I personally am past the point of alerting my weekend plans because there's a night race. Those are forever off-limits for me on Sunday,s especially as the race was promptly underway not more than 15 minutes after 1:00 PM. There was time for a brief invocation, national anthem, and the command to start engines, but that was it.
It was also refreshing to have a period of long green flag runs that also featured (gasp!) GREEN FLAG PIT STOPS. I was under the impression those went out the window with brand identity and teams being able to pick whatever rear gear they wanted to run. During these extended green flag runs there were no dreaded debris cautions. There were a couple actually, but they really were for debris, and we were able to see what it was on TV. One time there was my favorite piece of yellow flag material, a Gatorade bottle, but the cars were already slowed down for another incident. There was also a pretty fair crowd on hand too for the “rain check” version of the race. Granted, it was because it was Sunday and not Monday, but a lot of people are often on tight timetables for weekend travel so it was nice that everyone was able to still get their money's worth.
What's more, one of the biggest theories of the Car of Tomorrow – its fragiliity – continues to be disproved. We had cars not just sustaing damageâ€¦but continuing in competition! When Tony Stewart got a piece of the Sterling Marlin / Ricky Rudd / Ward Burton melee, I thought, "Tony's done. That fender is mangled." Then I remembered that we were running the new COT, not the cockeyed, areo-hypersensative, coil-bound cars, and Stewart was able to continue on and still run halfway decent. I’m convinced that had this been the current car, he'd have been on the apron, waiving the field by. Well, the new CoT is a pretty hearty piece, can take some damage to the fenders, and keep on truckin'. Granted, it's hideous and I still hate it, and the random puffs of white smoke that come out of it, or the black smoke out of the exhaust pipes due to unleaded fuel being used. Still, it was a bit of a dominating win, at least, as the orange Smoke car was able to continue on like the days of old. Remember when Harry Gant had half the front end torn off his car at Martinsville? Well, it didn't slow him down much. It was also nice to see guys be able to nudge each other a little bit and not lift the rear tires off the ground…unless, of course, you're David Ragan and you're entering your pit stall. :O)
As the race wound down, we had a typical NASCAR finish Richmond has become accustomed to through years of hard racing. There wasn't a red flag to stop the race to clean the track off; there wasn’t a big-time Sportscenter feature, and there wasn't a mysterious yellow to bunch the field up for a 20-lap shootout to the finish. In fact, there wasn't even a green / white / checker overtime finish. No; all you simply had was the 2nd place car catching the leader, but not quite able to mount a challenge. That was many of the finishes we had during the 1990's, the decade that spawned the monster now know as NASCAR. We had our share of close finishes as well, but we didn't have them every single week. That's what made a close finish that much more special and memorable.For all of the things that NASCAR gets criticized for, give them some credit for yesterday. It would have been fitting for the fans that stuck around another day for the race to be treated to a nail-bitter finish. Things, however, played out like they always had in the past, and how I remembered it growing up. I even got a solid nap in during the middle stages of the event, just like the old days, waking up in time for pit stops.
I have a souvenir cup from Bristol that reads, "Racin' The Way It Oughta Be!" Well, Richmond might want to print up their own Cup and follow the example set by Mother Nature this past weekend. Unintentionally, they produced an old-school race with the new-school cars, ones that were built to hold up like the real old-school cars of the 70's.
What a concept.
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