Sunday, February 22, 2009

Anything but that

Kyle Busch has achieved what no other driver in the upper tier of NASCAR has done--that is to win two races in the same day. He didn't just win them, he dominated, leading ninety-five of 100 laps in the Camping World Truck Series (CWTS) race, and most of the laps in the Nationwide Series race as well, leading all but seven of the 150 laps around the 2 mile long "D"-oval.

The Nationwide race featured plenty of racing behind the leader, so there was some action in racing for position. The only threat to Busch's lead, however came at the restart with sixteen laps to go. Carl Edwards had beaten Kyle Busch out of the pits, and restarted in the lead. Busch, however had the faster car, and before the lap was over, he had given Edwards a sound of his chrome horn and retaken the lead. It was bye bye Busch after that, and Carl, fell all the way back to sixth place. As Kyle extended his lead, Kevin Harvick took second, and Carl Edwards made his way back to fourth. That is as far as he got. Joey Logano was running in third, and wasn't about to give that spot up. That race for third was one of the most exciting battles of the race, with Edwards making a move, and Logano countering it like a professional with many more years of experience than he has. Logano was soon able to put Edwards behind him and focus his sights on Harvick, providing us with even more racing excitement. Kevin Harvick held his spot, though, as Kyle Busch crossed the finish line nearly four seconds ahead of the combatants.

The truck race, earlier in the day did not have much to offer as far as excitement. Kyle Busch took a huge lead from the start and never lost it. Driving a truck that was set up so perfectly that Gabi DeCarlo--competing in her first truck race--could have won in it, the race was a Sunday drive for Busch, while the field became strung out so far that nobody was challenged for position by anyone.

Which brings us to our rant. If NASCAR has to make changes in the series that usually features the most exciting racing among the top three divisions, why do they want to change it to make it less exciting. The tapered spacers that have been required in all trucks in all races since last year, may make the racing safer and save fuel, but on long tracks like the Auto Club (California) Speedway, it limits what drivers can do during the race. To make matters worse, the rear end gear required by NASCAR for the race was high enough to hamper the ability of the trucks to close on other trucks and be able to race them properly. Racing should be about racing, not how long the trucks can go around the track without crashing.

The effect of the spacer is hardly noticeable in short track races, but not good at all on a long track like California. It is hard enough for the Sprint Cup cars to keep up with each other, so making the trucks so that they can't race is a very bad idea.

One suggestion would be to not have the trucks race at Auto Club. Nobody was there to watch the race, anyway, so why not move it to a smaller venue, nearby. Perhaps nearby Irwindale would be an idea date for the trucks for the second race of the year. After all, the series got its start on the short tracks, and the series seems to race best on short tracks. It may even be easier to sell tickets to the smaller venue, while the truck series as it should be promoted.

Another suggestion would be to allow lower gearing while switching to a smaller engine, without the spacers. The speeds would be below the danger limit for the trucks, as NASCAR sees it, and they would have a better ability to close on each other, and thus, race each other. The problem with this would be that none of the manufacturers want to admit to having a smaller engine that would be appropriate for NASCAR style racing, and the switch could mean added expenses for some teams.

But why has NASCAR turned away from competition in the truck series? With the economic downturn of late, the organization is worried that the field of entrants would be too small, because of expenses, so, they decided to forget about competition, forget about promoting the series as "racing the way it ought to be," and try to "help" the teams to better afford the costs of racing.

One way they saw fit to do so was to limit the number of over-the-wall pit crew members to five, and to limit each pit stop to be for either tires or fuel, but not both. In practice, as seen during the Stater Brothers 200 truck race, Saturday, it is hard to see how this saves teams much money at all. In fact, as we have seen in many of NASCAR's money saving schemes, it may end up costing the teams more money.

When faced with a "tires or fuel" situation at a point in the race where position is crucial, most teams will go with fuel only. The tires could be worn, and ready to blow, but it is better to take that chance, in the mind of the competitive racer, than to run out of fuel while leading the second-to-last lap. We could easily see an increase in late race accidents, thus creating added costs to the teams in repairing wrecked equipment.

The pit rule also creates a situation in which added opportunities for pit road accidents occur. We saw this during Saturday's race, as three trucks got tangled up on the second stop of a caution period. To increase the number of pit stops for each team during a single caution increases the risks of having pit road incidents.

In response to the announcement of the new rules, veteran truck racer/team principal Rick Crawford had this to say, "If it doesn't save me $250,000 there is no point to the rule."

He is right, there is no point to the new pit stop rule. The teams are already limited to three sets of tires--including practice, qualifying, and the race--per event. That was a money saving scheme. Furthermore, the amount of fuel a team uses during each event is going to remain the same, even if the number of fuel pit stops are limited. Although there may be some fans who would find a gigantic crash near the end of the race due to bad tires exciting, it really doesn't mean that the racing would be better.

What NASCAR does need to do is promote the Truck Series as a unique series featuring the best in short track racing. They should limit the venues to tracks that are 1.25 miles or less in length, with the exception, perhaps, of Darlington. A way could be found to bring in more fans, and thus, more revenue. They could also bring in some more sponsors for a higher purse--admittedly difficult in these times, but possible--to make the race more attractive to more participants. They could do anything but what they have done to make the racing less exciting. It would probably be better for the teams in the long run.

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