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NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Fanning the Flames: Talking Plates, Allmendingers & Last-Lap Dashes Heading Into Talladega

Good questions this week and I’m feeling long-winded, so let’s get to it.

Q: We always seem to take it out on the 1.5-mile tracks as being uninteresting and of the “cookie-cutter” style. Actually, weren’t these type of tracks all built because, at one time, all the 1.5-milers provided really great door-to-door racing? (And one could include the two-milers in this group also.)

Me thinks it’s the cars of today that have ruined the tracks, not the tracks themselves – with maybe an exception here and there. – Doug I.

A: And me thinks it was ISC’s and SMI’s intention to adhere to the “bigger is better” philosophy when constructing these temples of speed. The tracks weren’t built with competition in mind, they were constructed with capacity and entertainment opportunities as the focus. The more seats you could squeeze in that had a clear sightline to the start-finish line in the tri- or quad-oval, and the more varied options NASCAR’s “new fan” (at the time) had at his or her disposal, the more apt the track was to turn monstrous profits.

The fact that open-wheel cars could also run on the big 1.5- and 2-milers was even better, because we were told (and sometimes still are) that it’s impossible to make money on just one or two major-league stock car weekends per year. That point, in my mind, is up for debate – but that’s not at question here.

You also asked if at one time, the 1.5-mile tracks (I’m thinking the original ones – Atlanta, Lowe’s, Michigan… heck, I’ll throw Darlington in there) provided better racing. Well, up until the early ’80s, when NASCAR’s original Car of Tomorrow debuted (1981), we rarely saw more than three or four cars on the lead lap at the end of an event staged at a 1.5-miler.

Through the ’80s, ’90s and into this century, the standard car provided varied results on the intermediate tracks, the same as it did on the short tracks and road courses. I’ve always held fast to the belief that any race could be a thrilling, edge-of-your-seat duel or an absolute blowout (think Matt Kenseth when he led 415 laps at Bristol – Bristol of all places! – in the spoilered cars in 2005, before the repave).

As with most anything in NASCAR, I think it’s a little of both – track and car. Much like the rulebook, there is very little that is black and white in the world of NASCAR.

Q: Hi Matt. My question is why would Hall of Fame Racing take Joey Logano out of the No. 96 car? Is this a directive of Joe Gibbs, or is HoF acting on its own? Logano got off to a bad start, but he’s only 18! Isn’t it best for them all to let him finish out the season there? – Calico99

A: Well, the Logano story was still breaking at the time of this article being penned, so the Whys, Whats, and Hows are still a bit sketchy. My take is that Hall of Fame Racing was getting more pub out of having Logano in the car than at any time since Terry Labonte fuel-mileaged it to a third-place finish at Infineon in 2006. And I find it laughable if HoF thinks Ken Schrader will make a difference for a team that is 300 points out of a Top-35 spot. Take the newfound camera time Logano gives you and your sponsor and enjoy. It’d make Tom Garfinkel and Jeff Moorad more money than that Adam Dunn trade, I can tell you that.

I also think it was good for Logano to be behind the wheel of third-rate equipment to start his career. Taking a less-then-average ride and making it better over the course of 500 miles through communication and trial-and-error seems like the perfect way to break in a prodigy – particularly when one considers what he’s jumping into next season.

Q: I dread watching Talladega anymore. What was once one of my favorite tracks has been reduced to bent sheet metal and pure luck. Will we ever see the plates come off so they can just run wide open? Isn’t that was racing is? – Jonathan Patrick

A: Don’t count on the plates coming off. Let me relay a little story to you that Rusty Wallace told me during a Q&A for our 2007 Athlon Sports Racing Annual. This should answer one final time why we have plates (love ‘em or hate ‘em), coming from a fast cat that oughta know:

“I went to do a little check for Nextel. (They were talking about using the radio towers to do the communication so (that) when a driver pushes a button in the car, it would go to a tower, from the tower down to the pit area. They had a source that let the fans tie into communications.) They wanted me to run about 200. So we put on a restrictor plate and the car should have run about 195, but it didn’t run that fast. We went to get the other restrictor plate and I remember (NASCAR series director) John Darby saying, “You’re not going to believe this, but we don’t have the plate, we’ve left it at home accidentally. Why don’t you just take it off? Be careful.”

“We took that plate off and that car ran over 230 mph on the straightaways. I ran like two laps and averaged something like 220 mph. It was just amazing. I came through the tri-oval with (the) whole front end hydroplaning off the ground, and I was able to run two laps. I was taking the right-front tire and tearing the rubber off in just two laps. That’s how fast that car was going.”

“That was a real cool feel, but that feel taught me right then that a stock car running that fast is basically uncontrollable. I totally understand the roof flaps. And by the way, the roof flaps operate up to about 197 mph. If you get a car going any faster than that it (the speed) will take it out of what the roof flaps can control. That’s one of the main reasons the cars stay below 195 mph. If they start pushing that upper limit, they can get in a situation that the roof flap won’t help.”

“These things aren’t Indy cars; they don’t have near enough downforce to keep them on the track. So, the speeds that NASCAR has chosen in my mind are correct.”

Q: Carl Edwards‘s move on the last lap at Kansas was classic! Win at all cost. Checkers or wreckers! Screw the points, go for the trophy! We need more like him. Go get ‘em Carl!! – EdHead99

A: Agreed. That’s what stock car racing once was, and what we hope to see every Sunday. It’s no coincidence that Edwards has been the common denominator in late-race thrillers the last two weeks – and Sunday reminded me of his first win at Atlanta (while racing Jimmie Johnson, of all people) in 2005. Kudos to Carl for hanging every bit of it out there, going for the win regardless of circumstances, and having what appears to be an absolute blast in the process.

Q: I’ve not been an AJ Allmendinger fan, not because I don’t care for him, but because I just never really got to “know” him. He seemed to be making progress with that startup team and seemed to be a good guy. I can’t help but think that he got the screws put to him in all of this. I don’t think he was given the amount of time to succeed that it takes from a new team and a driver new to NASCAR. Cathy Kinkeade

A: I tend to agree with you, Cathy. The worst part of all this was that AJ wasn’t told of his impending ouster until late September, and it was something he should have been told about in July or early August. As it stands, AJ is suddenly left with a pink slip and few places to turn besides lateral second-tier (at best) rides.

This situation speaks to a disconnect between the owner of Red Bull, Dietrich Mateschitz, in his Austrian castle and the boys at the shop in Mooresville. You’ve either got to put all of your trust in the management personnel you’ve put in place, Dietrich, or take a slightly more day-to-day role in leading your company.

Thanks for the time this week. If you find yourself frustrated with the pack racing on Sunday, just remember what Rusty’s told us and imagine a group of 43 doing it unrestricted at the same time. And then ask yourself if you’d actually buy a ticket in the lower grandstand if they ran that fast, when the mid-’80s gave us crashes like this one.