I’m a huge NASCAR and love the ‘chase’. The chase is NASCAR’s championship playoff. The last ten races of the season make it up. After the 26th race of the season, traditionally the race here in Richmond, VA, NASCAR resets the top 12 in points and starts them off at 5,000 points. Each driver who won a race during the season gets an additional 10 points per win. That’s the chase.
So, this year, Jimmie Johnson is now our points leader. He did so not by going out during the normal season and winning a lot of races and consistently finishing in the top 10. No, he raced just enough to stay in the top ten in points. At no point, during the normal season, was he ever in the points lead. Tony Stewart was, for the most part. Funny thing, once those ten races began, Johnson is suddenly winning and contending for the win. He now has a 184 point lead over second place Mark Martin. Johnson seems to have hit upon a winning formula: race just enough to stay in the top ten in points during the normal season and then, starting with race 27, actually race to win. Unless, that is, he’s a Talladega, Alabama.
Talladega is a two mile, D shaped, oval. It is a restrictor plate race on top of it. See, back in the 1980’s, Bobby Allison was travelling in excess of 200mph and got caught in an accident. His car left the track and went into the catch fence. Parts of the car went into the crowd. In an effort to slow the cars at Talladega and Daytona, NASCAR mandates a restrictor plate on the carburetor. The plate reduces the amount of power the engine can produce and, thus, slows the cars. The problem is that now the cars cannot pass as easy and they tend to get bunched up. This often leads to the ‘big one’.
The big one, as the press calls it, is the dreaded multi-car wreck. Because the cars are all bunched up, when someone has a problem, pretty much every one has a problem. Unless you sandbag. Like Jimmie Johnson did in today’s event. Sometimes it pays, sometimes it does not. Today, it paid.
Johnson lagged behind during the whole event. He was counting on someone-anyone-going with him to the front. One car cannot go it alone, but two or three can. Two cars are faster than one. With five laps to go, Johnson was 28th or so. Then, the second ‘big one’ of the event took place. By the time the race restarted, Johnson was up in the top ten-a place he would not have been had that wreck not happened. He was mired way back. With three to go, when the event resumed, he was up to sixth. Then, another wreck happened and the race ended under caution. Johnson finished the event in sixth place. A position that he did not earn. That said, Johnson ran a smart race. This event has not been kind to him in the past. A sixth place finish is akin to a win for him. And, don’t get me wrong, I don’t begrudge him of it. I simply contend he did not earn it. He did not race for the spot. He lucked into it. And, for me, that is the problem with many of the races I’ve watched this year.
And it isn’t just Johnson. Mark Martin is another one who has raced enough to stay in his position. Oh, early in the season, he did some fantastic racing. He had to. He had a rough start and barely made it into the top 12. However, since the chase started, he’s raced just enough to not lose too many points to Johnson. And, now, we have two more years of him racing just enough.
Talladega. The place should be bulldozed and rebuilt. Rebuilt in a different configuration and smaller, too. It is too big. It takes too long to run. Restrictor plates make races here very boring. Racing is, after all, about speed and skill. Neither of which are much of a factor here now. And why is it in the chase at all? Replace it with a road course or a short track or something that is more thrilling to watch than paint drying.
Perhaps I am being too harsh. I don’t think so. Jimmie Johnson is an awesome driver. The man is full of talent. He’s the three time champ. He CAN race. I really wish he’d do so all year long.