Quickly, what kind of memories does racing at Talladega stir up in your 200 miles-per-hour brain? I dare say for the majority of fans of the Nextel Cup Series, the memories are nothing more than long lines of cars playing follow the leader and the occasional “big one” which wipes out much of the field.
Lucky for me, I can still remember when the lead could change hands three or four times just over the course of one lap and the finish seemed to always feature one of those classic slingshot passes that sadly for every fan of sport can now only been seen on Dale Jr.’s “Back in the Day.” Now, the strategy for winning a race at Talladega actually involves running in the back on purpose for most of the day and then making your move when the final lap goes off the board.
That may not seem like racing but that is the strategy that Jeff Gordon used to notch his fifth win of the season and move into first place in the standings with only six races remaining. The win was also his sixth at the track and gave him a dozen restrictor plate wins, which makes him the winningest driver ever on the restrictor plate tracks of Daytona and Talladega.
His “laid back” strategy is definitely not what NASCAR wants to see take place on its restrictor plate tracks, but at least for now the COT, much like what we have seen in recent races at either Daytona or Talladega, allows for such strategy. There was hope going into the weekend that Sunday’s race would produce the same kind of racing that the trucks have been putting on for years at the track, but that never did happen.
NASCAR can’t be happy about the show that took place on Sunday, and sadly there is not a clear-cut answer about what needs to be done to improve the racing. The talent level in the garage that works on these race cars is so high that no matter what rules and restrictions NASCAR places on restrictor plate racing, when it comes time to roll out the cars on the starting grid every car is all but equal.
The only area NASCAR has not looked at in recent years as a way to improve the racing is to allow more speed back into the race car. Many in the garage area would say that would separate the field and in the process improve the racing, but anytime you increase speed you put the driver’s safety at risk.
Driver safety was a big factor in the design of the Car of Tomorrow and it is highly unlikely NASCAR would be willing to let the speeds creep back up just to put on a better show. Fans should just learn to love the sight of those high-speed freight trains going around the track and realize that 90 percent of the racing is going to take place during the final 10 laps. You have to agree that Jeff Gordon’s move to the front during the white flag lap on Sunday was good enough to make you forget what took place up to that point.
There is no clear-cut answer on improving restrictor plate racing, but let’s face it, there are only four stops on the entire schedule that use the horsepower-robbing devices. The Daytona 500 is one of them and after a long couple of months without any racing, Daytona could use a wound-up rubberband as its motor and we would be happy to see the cars just go round and round. That leaves us with three and when compared to the number of mileand a-half racetracks that make up the schedule, that really isn’t that many. Give me 10 good laps and I can make it to the next stop on the schedule.
Chase notes: Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson’s head-to-tail run to the front on Sunday may be a sign of what we will see this weekend. Gordon’s win enabled him to change places with Johnson at the head of the Chase leaderboard by a scant nine points, but this weekend at Lowe’s Motor Speedway, we may see the two once again exchange spots. Lowe’s is definitely Johnson’s home track as he leads all active drivers with five wins followed by Gordon’s four. In last year’s race, Johnson’s second place finish started the driver’s march to the title as he left Lowe’s 146 points out of the top spot.
Race Preview – Event: Bank Of America 500. Track: Lowe’s Motor Speedway (1.5- mile oval, 24 degrees of banking in the turns). Date: Oct. 13, 7:40 p.m. TV: ABC. Radio: PRN. Defending champion: Kasey Kahne.