Which NASCAR Sprint Cup race did you watch on Saturday night?
The much too-long, boring, single-file, no passing “snoozefest” that featured what some fans and media described as a mysterious late race caution? The one that was hammered on social media by both fans and media with words like “stinker” and much worse?
Or did you watch a 334 lap “save your stuff” challenge on a 1.5-mile track? The kind of race that we’ve come to expect this first year out with the new generation car? The car that even crew chief geniuses like Chad Knaus and Paul Wolfe are struggling to figure out? And veteran drivers like Jimmie Johnson, Matt Kenseth and Kevin Harvick have to fight to keep pointed in the right direction?
It was both embarrassing and ridiculous that so many NASCAR fans and media slammed the race on Twitter for its apparent lack of excitement. I’m not even sure if the word jaded applies here when describing their relentless negativity about the race, the not completely full grandstands and anything else they could comment about with their little minds.
I wonder if any of the 43 drivers who took the green flag would describe the race as a “stinker” or a “snoozefest.” Or any of the crew chiefs or any of the over-the-wall pit crew?
I admit that not every NASCAR Sprint Cup race holds the kind of edge of your seat excitement like we’ll see next week when the series races at Talladega. Or the kind of excitement we’ve come to expect at a short track like Bristol, Martinsville or Richmond.
Look, those of you who know me, know that I’ve never drunk the Kool Aid.
So when I say that those fans and others who thought Saturday night’s race was boring and made a point of expressing that opinion over and over again on social media simply don’t understand the sport and apparently don’t want to understand it.
Especially the races run on the so-called 1.5-mile “cookie cutter” tracks.
I see them as perhaps the toughest races of all to win. They’re usually 400 or 500 miles long and they feature such demanding challenges to both the driver and the crew that their importance to the sport and to The Chase can not be understated.
While some of you see only a parade of single-file racing, with little passing and little side-by-side racing, I see a race that presents many different challenges on several levels.
First off, every driver understands that the only way to win these three hour long races is to save your stuff. And that’s just one part of the equation, but it’s the most important one. If you tear up your equipment, over work your brakes or your engine, your not going to be able to step it up for the final 20 miles. And you can’t just hang out, either. That’s not in the DNA of a NASCAR Cup driver. You want and need to run hard to keep up with the leaders, which means that every lap you have to focus on hitting your marks while avoiding anything that might put you out of the race.
Then there’s the crew chief, whose job for those three plus hours is to do the impossible. That is, make the race car comfortable enough at nearly 200 miles per hour so that his driver can make the kind of moves on the track that he or she needs to make. Moves like taking it into the corners harder than the competition and being able to get back onto the gas quickly while exiting the corner. If you follow this sport at all, you know that being able to do this doesn’t happen that often. And as a result, for much of the race, you’ll hear drivers complain about his or her race car.
And if you follow the sport you also know that complaining about the car is also in a driver’s DNA.
If you think you understand this sport, then instead of complaining about the lack of passing and boring single file racing, be focused on how each team is meeting their set of challenges, whether it be moving up in the field because of a poor qualifying effort, or dealing with a car that the driver says is “wicked” or worse. There’s a lot going on during a Cup race, even when the racing is single file and no one is passing and the laps are winding down.
At times it may seem like the drivers are just out there cruising around. (And I’ll admit that maybe there are a few out there doing just that and making a good living.) But believe me, most of the field is trying to figure out how to go faster into the corner and get back on the gas quicker.
This new car is still a huge puzzle to each teams. Even the well financed ones. That is why they all employ an army of engineers, spend hours working on computer simulations and pour over every inch of the car trying to figure out how to pull even a small advantage out of it — one that won’t be considered illegal.
If you haven’t noticed, this new car is a lot faster and it’s not easy to drive.
Ask Matt Kenseth if he was bored on Saturday night? Or Jimmie Johnson, or Kasey Kahne or Kevin Harvick or Jeff Gordon? Those guys were working their asses off. And so did their teammates in the pits, who knew that when the time came for them to get their job done, they had less than 14 seconds to perform a perfect ballet that offered plenty of opportunities for a major screw up.
In Major League baseball, when its a battle between two talented rosters, each one featuring a master in the art of throwing strike outs and the final score is 1-0, its described as a tough pitching duel, not boring or a stinker. That’s because every inning you’re waiting for the pitcher to lose his edge or for someone to make a mistake that allows the other team to take advantage.
The same goes for the NFL. When its a tough battle between two defenses that won’t allow either offense to score and the game ends up being 9-7, it’s described as a defensive battle, not boring or a stinker.
Have a number of NASCAR’s fans and media become jaded and cynical about the sport? I’m afraid so.
This sport has changed and regrettably many of its fans and those who write about it have not changed with it. I’m not sure what these cynics who find boredom in Cup racing are looking for from NASCAR. And if any of the fans are still coming to see wrecks at a Cup race, well, they still can happen, but not as often. The drivers are better than ever and the tracks are safer.
Here’s where NASCAR and the broadcast media hasn’t been able to connect to both the hardcore and the casual race fan. Or even the guy at home who just changed the channel from the NFL game during a commercial to check out the race.
NASCAR is much more than racing cars. It is a complex story of who is smarter than the other guy. Who has done a better job of finding those small changes while setting up the car? Who has done the better job at figuring out how to make the new car go fast, yet still be comfortable and drivable? Who can make the best decisions under pressure, when the laps are winding down and it is close to go time and you’ve got a driver who is telling you that he or she is doing the best that they can but the car is still shit?
And believe me, this last part pretty much speaks for much of the field during a Cup race.
If you think the racing is boring, then I’m afraid that you simply don’t get it. But, then again, that’s your prerogative.
For me, the racing is better than ever. Because the stakes are higher and unfortunately, costs are too. There’s constant pressure from all sides to keep pushing the envelope.
Of course, that’s my opinion.
Thanks for stopping by.