Talladega needs to be fixed.
The long green flag runs are incredibly boring, and the outcomes of the races are entirely too random. Then there are the recent issues of engine failures and tandem drafting, neither of which is popular with anyone (other than Tony Stewart’s sarcastic, fine-accumulating alter personality).
The complaint of long green flag runs at Talladega is entirely different from complaining about a lack of cautions at just about any other track. Like it or not, wrecking is all that Talladega has going for it.
Racing for the lead consists of getting a run, usually with the aid of another driver, and hoping to hold the lead for a short while until someone else gets up more momentum. The one possible exception—wrecks being the only excitement at ‘Dega—is if you’re standing right next to the track while the entire field thunders by at 200mph in the space of two or three seconds; granted, that’s an awesome sensation.
However, the average TV viewer at home doesn’t get to experience that. And it gets old really fast watching 30 to 40 cars throttling around the track wide open, knowing that it’s impossible for a single dominant car to break away.
Occasionally, there are multi-car breakaways, but anything approaching lapping the field? A good old-fashioned beatdown of the competition? Mid-race intrigue and meaningful changes in the running order? Forget about it. It doesn’t matter if you’re in the lead or in the back of the pack at the mid-point of a restrictor plate race.
What this means, obviously, is that the first 90 to 95 percent of a race is, for all intents and purposes, meaningless. Survive to be around for the final sprint to the finish, and you’ve done your job as a driver. As a fan, why should you even bother to watch the race until the end?
Can Talladega be fixed?
The issue of boring racing has only been exacerbated in recent races with the advent of tandem drafting, a form of racing that is nearly universally loathed by both drivers and fans.
NASCAR has tried to get rid of tandem drafting with various innovative solutions, leading to such problems as blown engines (we saw plenty of those on Sunday), and the races have still come down to tandem drafting at the end. A few years back, NASCAR even tried banning bump drafting in the turns, and that led to drivers going around the track single-file in protest. Fans yawned and canceled their season ticket subscriptions.
Sure, NASCAR will keep tinkering around and make half-hearted attempts to solve the issue of tandem drafting.
But the only way to fix this problem once and for all is to get rid of the restrictor plates and let the world’s best stock car drivers loose at 210mph and faster. The only good thing about plate racing right now is that the finishes tend to be thrilling and incredibly close—and also incredibly random, where luck is more of a factor than skill or the strength of a car.
Brad Keselowski, anybody (the first time, in 2009)? Regan Smith? Trevor Bayne? This aspect of restrictor plate racing has long been known and, by some fans, applauded, while derided in other quarters.
There are several different issues at play here. Overall, I doubt whether Talladega can be fixed. To be more specific, it CAN be improved, but the one thing that could be done to “fix” the racing at Talladega—namely, take away the restrictor plates and let ‘em run wide open—is something that NASCAR is unwilling to consider.