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(Photo: Nigel Kinrade Photography)

Odds and Ends Around the Track: Talladega Spring

It appears I might not be welcome again at family events after my Easter dinner extravaganza with the soon to be new in-laws. They are NASCAR fans but they didn’t take too kindly when I brought my own Easter eggs painted in NASCAR colors along with a custom made high-banked track that was patterned after Talladega Superspeedway. Long story short, I was asked to leave Easter Dinner early when the #3 egg of Dale Earnhardt wrecked the shells of the grandkids’ Easter eggs from the annual Easter Egg Hunt.

NASCAR’s Identity Crisis

Over the years, some of the sports talk radio guys that don’t care for auto racing in general and NASCAR, in particular, say the only reason us race fans tune into racing is for the wrecks. While wrecks at tracks have scared me to death for years after seeing ARCA driver Scott Baker die at Toledo Speedway, I do understand the rationale behind that stereotype of racing fans.

NASCAR did a good job of supporting that opinion of its fans with its promotional video for this week’s race at Talladega. We got to see some of the most spectacular crashes in ‘Dega history, including the horrendous wreck when Bobby Allison flew into the catchfence on the frontstretch, injuring a number of people in the stands and nearly ending stock car racing as we know it.

When I think of Talladega, I think of the late great Dale Earnhardt making the charge from 17th to first in his final win. I remember some of the ultra-tight photo-finishes too. But we get fed a constant barrage of crash videos to get us hyped up for Talladega. Of course, the other thing that makes Talladega famous is the parties in the infield the night before the race, although that footage wouldn’t make it past the editors for a commercial. The old “fans love crashes” theory is part of NASCAR’s identity crisis. but it sure does sell tickets!

Honesty, the Best Policy

Let’s be honest NASCAR fans, the racing over the past few seasons has not been as great as we have seen in the past.

Don’t get me wrong, the racing in NASCAR is still very good on most weekends, and by statistical measures, you could say the racing has never been this close in the history of NASCAR. But the thing that seems to be lacking is the spectacular passes for the lead.

Ever since aerodynamics became more important in NASCAR, replacing mechanical grip, we are seeing clean air trump fresh tires at too many tracks. The racing from second on back is fantastic throughout the runs, but up front, the leader sails away in clean air.

During the off week, once again NASCAR brass actually admitted that they are not 100 percent thrilled with the racing product. They told us once again they realize changes they made to appeal to new fans may have alienated some of the older fans. Every time I hear a NASCAR executive talk this way, I have to pinch myself to see if I am dreaming.

Big changes are coming to the package used in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series soon, and this kind of talk of getting back to our roots and understanding we didn’t always think about our loyal fans who have followed NASCAR for years gives me hope. We will never get back to cars on the track that look identical to cars on the street that they are patterned after. NASCAR teams will never go back to using back deck lids and other “stock” looking parts on their race cars, and for safety reasons, I am glad.

A few weeks ago on “The Final Inspection” radio show on 105.7FM The Fan in Milwaukee, the show host Steve Zautke asked me what I thought was wrong with NASCAR. I said it had become too much of “Formula One with Fenders” instead of “Stockcar Racing.” I said they should remove the front splitters and the side skirts to dumb down the aero and give the Cup teams power back so drivers can finish passes again. The fact NASCAR officials are hinting that us old-time fans should like the big changes coming in 2021 has me encouraged. I hope the aero on the cars gets dumbed down a bit and that more short tracks return to the schedule.

Honesty is the best policy, NASCAR, and no matter what changes you make, thank you for admitting you forgot about some of us older fans like me who have been following the sport since the late 1960s.

Talladega Fantasy Insight

Flashback to Last Race Picks

Win: Joey Logano-Finished second

Place: Denny Hamlin-Finished fifth

Show: Kyle Busch-Finished eighth

Longshot-Kurt Busch-Finished 11th

Handicapping races at Talladega can be tough. But unlike what some people will tell you, it is not a crap shoot or a race where you will do better just drawing random numbers. While superspeedway racing does add its own special sauce to race handicapping, if Talladega was such an unpredictable race, why would Dale Earnhardt have won here 10 times with Dale Earnhardt Jr. adding another six wins to the family total? Yes, there will be surprises but the ratings suggest some of the same guys are often going to be the guys to beat even in this era. Aric Almirola, Logano, Hamlin, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Kurt Busch lead the way in this week’s Fantasy Insight Ratings.

Win: Almirola-Strong track for Almirola and Ford engines

Place: Brad Keselowski-Strong finishes here when he stays out of the Big One

Show: Paul Menard-Going out on the limb a bit, but driver and team are strong at plate tracks

Longshot: Kyle Larson (40-to-1 Odds)-Can he stay out of trouble and have better luck just once?

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About Dennis Michelsen

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Dennis a.k.a. DMIC has been covering NASCAR racing since 1998. After spending 23 years as a professional weather forecaster, Dennis still didn't know what he wanted to be when he grew up, so he started covering auto racing full time. He is the moderator of the Race Track Business Conference - an all-day educational seminar covering the business of speed - and is the owner of DMIC Media & Marketing where he spends his time mouthing off about all kinds of sports. He is also the play-by-play voice for the professional Ultimate Disc team the Chicago Wildfire of the American Ultimate Disc League. Dennis can be heard every Saturday on The Final Inspection on 105.7FM The Fan in Milwaukee, Wis. talking NASCAR, and you can listen on the Radio.com app.

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