NASCAR Race Weekend Central

What’s Vexing Vito: Doing What’s Right & Doing What Matters – What NASCAR Can Use More & Less Of

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 Racecars

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 racecar.” 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 racecars 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.

What NASCAR Doesn’t Need: Ugly Racecars 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&M’s.

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 Racecars and Paint Schemes

Speaking of DW, seeing 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 Tigers’ 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 AJ Allmendinger and 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‘s 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: Earnhardt Sr. over Bobby Labonte in 2000, Kevin Harvick and Gordon in 2001, 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 Petty’s explosive last race and 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.

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