For the past few years, the argument of NASCAR heading in the direction of entertainment rather than pure racing has been met with mixed emotions. It’s the traditionalists clashing with the newer fans.
Like it or not, the sanctioning body is going in the direction of the former, opting for the current rules package (higher downforce, lower horsepower) over the direction virtually every other racing series in the world is going (lower downforce, higher horsepower).
I’ve opted to stop complaining about it and embrace it. I’m not letting go of the sport.
It’s changing, and change is inevitable. But as the old saying goes, “race fans hate two things: change and the way things are.”
Some might argue that this past Sunday (and Monday) at Talladega Superspeedway in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series wasn’t racing as much as it was entertainment, just as Kelly Crandall wrote at the Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL earlier these playoffs.
I for one was on the edge of my seat and enjoyed every second (besides the rain, of course) of the 1000Bulbs.com 500. Wrecks, three-wide action, photo finish and all.
In contrast from many’s viewpoints, I’m all for cautions and wrecks. The main reason for that is because of what it produces: restarts.
Specifically with this package, restarts are everything. It’s where track position is made up or lost, it’s where close quarters racing happens from not just first to 10th, but first to 25th. Restarts bring the action. Always have, always will.
But Talladega is different. Seeing Brendan Gaughan flip in the third Big One gave me a couple different emotions. Nervous? Hell yeah, whenever a driver is involved in any crash whatsoever, you’re worried. Amplify that by going 200 mph and flipping upside down for goodness’ sake, and that’s an increased risk for injury.
But selfishly, I was also incredibly amazed. The fact that a 3,500-lb. stock car traveling upward of 200 mph can still find a way to flip is… well, amazing.
I was watching the race at work with some friends who have given NASCAR a shot before, but never really a fair shake. I told them that Talladega was happening, and of course, they started shouting out Ricky Bobby references (everybody’s been there).
But they started watching, I started explaining how the draft works, what makes a car better than another at superspeedways… and then multiple Big Ones happened. They were intrigued, and kept watching.
I can guarantee they wouldn’t have kept watching (or even a regular fan, for that matter) at Dover International Speedway. Sure, bad races will come in spurts. But this past weekend furthermore proved why Talladega is, has been and always will be the ultimate form of entertainment in NASCAR.
Eric Church wrote a damn song about it, OK? The boulevard is legendary for legendary reasons, the backstory of the hallowed grounds the speedway was built on, the sound and feel of the pack coming by, one inch of a wrong turn and disaster striking — everything about it is unique.
And damn entertaining for drivers to compete in and for fans to watch.