NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Holding a Pretty Wheel: Before My Brain Melts… Thoughts For These Summer Nights

It seems as though most of the country is running hot this week, with the summer swelter of the Dog Days of August closing in on almost everyone. I can’t believe how fast the summer has gone; the season is more than half over, and, well, there certainly has been plenty going on lately. There are a few things that have been on my mind this week (besides dreading my electric bill) that bear a little more discussion, so I’m going to write about a couple of them.

First off, the Sprint Cup Series returns to Pocono this weekend. I like Pocono. I know many fans don’t, but I appreciate the challenge that the track presents. I have to say, though, that it was a better race at the triangle before NASCAR butted in and took away the ability to use a gear ratio that required periodic shifting… and the strategy involved. Sure, it saves a few fried engines, but it takes away from the overall competition on the track. Between the wildlife and the tunnel turn, though, Pocono still deserves the place it has on the schedule. And the new resort being built across the street is a fantastic idea. $100 a night, and you don’t have to contend with race traffic? Brilliant.

I was talking with some fans online earlier, and while I understand the inner workings of the mass media very well, it was interesting to hear their perspective. The complaint was that Juan Pablo Montoya’s penalty and Jeremy Mayfield’s ongoing soap opera overshadowed Jimmie Johnson’s victory at Indianapolis, the first repeat win in NASCAR at that track. I get why the other two are, from a media perspective, bigger stories. The Montoya bit is controversial because many fans believe the penalty was contrived by NASCAR, and the Mayfield saga is continually dynamic in its own way. In contrast, winning a race doesn’t change, and there’s no controversy if the car is legal in post-race tech. From the perspective of my education in mass media communication, I understand; but is it just me, or is it sad that a race win isn’t news anymore – that the ultimate goal of the competition is overshadowed by controversy and hype? That’s the part I just don’t get, why winning isn’t really that exciting to many fans. Isn’t that sort of the point of racing?

Speaking of Johnson, I need to admit I’ve been at least sort of wrong on one point for the last few years. Largely in part because of prior accomplishments, I have had Tony Stewart pegged as the best driver on the Cup circuit over the past decade. And, well, I took a second look after Indy; and at this point, Johnson is now clearly the best, despite the fact that he didn’t even join the Cup tour until 2002. Statistics don’t lie, and Johnson’s are better than Stewart’s over the course of the decade. The equipment is equal, the two drivers had the best crew chiefs on pit road – and Johnson’s numbers are simply better. I stand corrected.

Another complaint this year is about the races being boring. Some of them certainly have been, mainly through scheduling. If you are going to have Auto Club Speedway and Michigan International Speedway on the schedule four times between them, for example, you’re going to have four boring races. Indianapolis produces another yawner and the 1.5-milers are iffy. But you also have to realize that every race isn’t going to end like one at Martinsville or Bristol, either. Fuel-mileage racing isn’t what anyone wants to see, but it’s part of the strategy game. So is winning in the rain, and so is winning because you got off pit road first. There are many ways to win a race, and sometimes fans need to realize that it’s not always a drag race to the finish. With that said, it wouldn’t hurt for NASCAR to consider scheduling races at better tracks….

Speaking of tracks, if you’re into the history of stock car racing and in the Charlotte area, do yourself a favor and visit Hickory Motor Speedway this summer. The list of track champions and alumni reads much like the history of NASCAR, and for good reason. Picture the Cup cars on that track – and realize that they once ran there. And though they never will again, just imagine what it must have been like with legends like Petty, Allison, and others battling on its hallowed grounds….

OK, there you have it… some ideas to chew on this week. It’s too hot to tax my brain too much these days with anything more – to be honest, I’m a little concerned that something will melt. But I think these tidbits will leave you with a lot to think about.

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