The more we want it to change, the more it stays the same.
As long as I can remember the plate tracks have been serving up impossible racing events. Be it two-car dancing partners, trains 15 cars deep or a pack of cars bang-drafting down the backstretch, racing at Talladega and Daytona has almost never been boring. And yet, it is rare when the checkers fly at the end of the day that I am actually satisfied with a restrictor-plate race.
Sunday’s Good Sam Club 500 at Talladega was no different.
I know many out there are not fans of the two-car packs. I’m actually OK with them. It’s simply a result of the latest in the teams’ ability to overcome and adapt to new surfaces, rules and technologies. It doesn’t appear to be any better or any worse than the 24-car trains that we watched for four hours of bumper-to-bumper traffic only to see it all end up in a pile of twisted wreckage.
And while a tad less dramatic then the bang-drafting of a couple years ago, the prom night scenario creates a similar feeling of camaraderie vs. competition amongst the field. Who will dance with whom? And who will leave who out to dry?
In fact, weren’t we supposed to see a lessening of the do-si-dos this time around? Didn’t NASCAR decree a little bit more room in the plate, placed a new limit on the pressure relief valves and said no lubricant could be placed on the bumpers of the cars? This was supposed to give single cars more horsepower, prevent somebody from being the “pusher” all day and stop cars having to file for divorce at the end of the day. Yeah, that’s what I thought. Didn’t work, did it? All the teams did was figure out how to tweak their rides so that the new rules did nothing more but give them a bit more horsepower.
A little bit of teflon tape, adjust the number of laps you can actually ride behind somebody and we’re good to go. Actually, once the boys got hooked up together, the tandems created an even larger difference between those doing the cha-cha and those just riding along, hoping not to lose the draft.
In the end we got… big wrecks (I held my breath for Regan Smith. That one had to hurt.). We got teams that lost teammates and had to go scrambling for a new date. (It did seem like a curse was hanging over that Gibbs garage, didn’t it?) Chase contenders with ruined days and bottom-feeder teams with a top-10 finish. (Dave Blaney? Third? What?)
In other words, we got a plate race. And quite honestly, I don’t see how you’ll ever manage to create anything but a night of chance at Daytona and Talladega. As disappointing as that is, why do we keep trying?
Granted there’s a lot to hate about plate racing. The number of digits involved in the repair bills for the teams has got to be a major factor urging NASCAR to sharpen their pencils after almost every event. I can imagine teams don’t look forward to forfeiting at least one machine every two plate events. If you manage to keep your fenders in one piece for more than three plate races, you’re doing something wrong or you’ve paid somebody off upstairs.
Otherwise, you’re talking about appeasing the public. The ones who seem to tune in for the 2.5-plus milers with abandon. The TV fanbase isn’t crying about bumper cars and wild wrecks that happen to the best of the best. If your ratings are so much higher for these events, why would NASCAR feel like change is in order? Oh! Wait! Silly me. We are talking about the one sport that likes to keep consistent by changing constantly.
We can change the car, the engine, the tires, the drivers, the rules and every tiny bit of hose and tape attached to the cars. But we can’t change the fact these competitors are reaching speeds approaching the insane with little actual car control, once somebody gets just a little too close and plays with the air around the car. It will always be simply a waiting game. When will luck run out and somebody lose control?
By adjusting the rules with each visit to these monstrous facilities, NASCAR creates the facade of trying to create a driver’s track. They can’t do it and it’s not fooling too many of us tried and true fans.
Talladega is 2.66 miles long. It’s a monster, unlike any other track we visit. If cars were meant to take Sunday drives here, there would be a few more S-curves thrown in for good measure. But there’s not and never will be.
Deep down within, we want to see a 500-miler at one of these intimidating ovals come down to the strongest motor with the best driver behind the wheel. It would mean we could win.
But we can’t. When it all comes down to it, the track has won. It holds all the cards in its high banks and long arcing frontstretch, and it has stacked the deck. We have managed to build something that can’t be raced on. So I guess you might say man has managed to outmaneuver his machine. Perhaps that has some philosophical worth in it. But for a racing fan, it’s done nothing more than defeat the purpose of going to the track.
The green flag will drop at Daytona in just four more months. I look forward to the day as the start of a new season and as an iconic day in my NASCAR calendar, but as far as the race goes? It’ll be just another roll of the dice. And that, my friends, sucks.
About the author
The Frontstretch Staff is made up of a group of talented men and women spread out all over the United States and Canada. Residing in 15 states throughout the country, plus Ontario, and widely ranging in age, the staff showcases a wide variety of diverse opinions that will keep you coming back for more week in and week out.
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