A few observations heading into this weekend’s race at Talladega Superspeedway:
It seems ironic that on one hand, the NFL is in the news with league officials cracking down on rough hits, promising to suspend players who cross the line between fair play and unnecessary roughness.
On the other hand, the NASCAR stories are about this weekend’s race at Talladega being “wild card” in the Chase and about the drivers at the top of the standings needing to “survive” this weekend to stay in the title hunt.
After 40-something years of watching races at Talladega, it’s certain that Talladega is a wild card and that drivers need to survive to continue on in the championship hunt.
All those years there also make one wonder if it has to be that way. As has been mentioned here numerous times in the past, the track was too fast from the day it opened. Restrictor plates lowered the speeds but haven’t been the best answer. The racing at Talladega has become like formation flying, which is fine for a few laps, but even the Blue Angels would likely to slip up if they had to repeat their routine 188 times in a single performance.
It’s become the norm for me, as I drive westward out Interstate 20 on Sunday morning, to say a little prayer that when I make the eastbound trip, there have been no injuries on the track or in the grandstands.
That’s not the kind of pre-race thoughts that come to mind driving through the mountains to Martinsville or Bristol.—The ongoing drama at Richard Petty Motorsports illustrates, among other things, the problems that come when race team ownership isn’t someone’s primary business. It seemed a lot simpler when the sport’s car owners were people like the Wood Brothers, the Pettys, Cotton Owens, Junior Johnson and Bud Moore. Unfortunately, the high cost of racing put a lot of those sole proprietorships out of business and made matters a lot more messy for NASCAR.
One thing seems for certain, no matter what the outcome of the current situation at the team called Richard Petty Motorsports, the King himself will continue on in racing, for the same reason the Woods are still around. They’re racers, and they’ll do whatever it takes to stay in the sport.—Those “Old Guys Rule” t-shirts are becoming more appealing by the day, especially for someone in the mid-50 age range. On Sunday, one of our own kind, 55-year-old Ken Schrader showed up for a Sprint Cup race and wound up leading seven laps and finishing 18th at Martinsville. And another candidate for AARP membership, 51-year-old Mark Martin, finished an impressive second in a car that after an early crash looked – and ran – like a dirt Late Model.—And a final thought. Has anyone else noticed how many fans seem to be vacating the grandstands as the races go on. At Martinsville, where the racing was about as good as it ever gets, the stands seemed to be getting progressively emptier as the action heated up.
The same seemed to be true the week before at Charlotte.
A good many TV viewers apparently bailed too, at some point. The overnight rating of 2.2 was down 12 percent from last year.
In hard economic times like these, I’d make sure I stayed to get my money’s worth if I bought a ticket. And if I was at home, I believe I’d have a hard time leaving the house as good as that Martinsville race was.
Rick Minter is a veteran, award-winning sports journalist who joined The Atlanta Journal-Constitution in 1991 covering motorsports as well as serving as a bureau chief. From 2000-2008 Minter focused on racing exclusively, traveling the NASCAR circuit as the paper’s motorsports writer.
Rick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org