NASCAR spent the winter trying to convince everyone that it was going to try several diff erent changes to the Sprint Cup Series in an effort to increase both the excitement and competition on the track. It didn’t take long for one of the new rules relating to the ending of a race to come into play as the season-opening Daytona 500 was extended several laps in order for the race to finish under green.
Drivers and owners may not like the added laps to a race, but there is no disputing that the fans both at the track and at home in front of the television love it. NASCAR also said it was going to give drivers more leeway to settle their diff erences instead of calling them on the carpet and pulling out the fine book anytime a disagreement took place.
It only took four races for the governing body to really get what it was wanting as Atlanta fully embraced NASCAR’s new approach to racing. There were 31 lead changes among 13 diff erent drivers, but it still took an additional 16 laps past the scheduled 325 laps before a winner could be crowned.
Juan Pablo Montoya was closing in on eventual race winner Kurt Busch on Lap 323 when Carl Edwards decided he was going to see just how much leeway NASCAR was talking about concerning drivers settling their own disputes. Brad Keselowski had bumped Edwards early in the race, sending him into the wall. That resulted in Edwards having an extended stay in the garage area for repairs. With only two laps remaining, Edwards repaid Keselowski with a bump that sent him airborne with a rooftop landing.
Edwards was eventually black flagged and called to NASCAR’s hauler, but the crash had already extended the length of the race as a green-white-checkered flag was attempted on lap 332 but was halted after a seven-car pileup occurred before the cars could finish the three-lap sprint to the finish. A second attempt at a green-whitecheckered was successful, with Busch holding off Montoya by almost a half second on his way to his second consecutive spring Atlanta race win.
Even though it took 16 extra laps to finish under green, NASCAR gave the fans what they wanted with cars having to race their way to the finish line. Keeping fans happy and getting them back to the track is vital for NASCAR this season and by extending the race, it was accomplished on Sunday at Atlanta.
Now with Atlanta in the record books, NASCAR must deal with Edwards’ bump of Keselowski. If the result had just been Keselowski sliding up into the wall, the governing body could have given Edwards a good slap on the wrist with the promise of more to come if his actions continued. But that wasn’t the case as anytime a car goes airborne and flips there is always the possibility of fans being put in danger as well as the driver.
All eyes will be on NASCAR to see how it will handle an on-track situation like this. NASCAR really wanted to let the drivers handle their problems between themselves, but this no doubt crossed the line. Edwards could find himself as the poster boy for where the line ends, which is no way for a driver with championship aspirations to start off his season.
If a driver wants to have success in the sport it has long been said he must be consistent on the track, and if that is the case he will be rewarded in the standings. After four races there is definitely proof for that line of thinking. Kevin Harvick, Matt Kenseth and Greg Biffle are the only three drivers in the series to have posted four top-10 finishes in the first four races of the season. Harvick, Kenseth, and Biffle also hold down the top three spots in the point standings going into the first open date of the season. Compare those three drivers to Jimmie Johnson who has won two races so far this season but has finished outside the top 10 in the two other races. Still, winning adds up as he sits fourth in the standings, 74 points out of the top spot.
Race Preview — Event:
Food City 500. Track:
Bristol Motor Speedway (.533-mile oval, 24-30 degrees of variable banking in the turns). Date:
March 21, 1 p.m. TV: