Late-race re-starts give NASCAR season a thrilling edge

I really don't know how it's possible to have better racing than we've seen so far in the 2010 NASCAR Sprint Cup season. If you set aside the pot hole at Daytona and the rain at Martinsville, the racing is as good as I have watched in a long, long time.

Why? Because it's so unpredictable. We have guys running strong in the beginning of a race. Then we have guys who are strong in the middle. And then the guys coming on strong at the end.

In the last three races, we've had late-race cautions completely change the complexion of the events. It used to be at say, Bristol and Martinsville, that with about 50 laps to go, you could save your crew some time and have them go ahead and start packing up the pit gear. Likewise with maybe 25 to 30 laps to go at a Phoenix race.

As we have seen in the past three races, those days are long gone. The decisions made on pit road when the late-race caution comes out have dictated the race results. Today's rules have changed strategy and thinking. As we've pointed out before, the two key components are the double file restarts and the multiple attempts at a Green-White-Checkers finish.

With the double-file restarts, the leaders now have cars as good as or better all around, remembering that previously on a restart, the inside line was made up of lap-down cars. Now you have guys fighting for the lead on the restarts on both the inside and outside rows.

When you visit places like Bristol, Martinsville and Phoenix, you also know that with a late-race caution, there is a strong chance of one or more cautions before the end of the race, because guys are getting into each other trying to win the race.

I love it.

Take Bristol as an example. No one thought Jimmie Johnson could win that race, as far back as he was, and with so few laps remaining. He did, though. If you replay Martinsville, you heard us up in the booth say there was no way Denny Hamlin was going to win that race coming to pit road with so few laps left. Well, guess what? Denny won.

Then last Saturday night, who would have predicted Ryan Newman could have pulled that win off?

The other noticeable change in our competition right now is in qualifying. Look at the top four qualifiers from the Phoenix race. Who would have predicted A.J. Allmendinger, Scott Speed, Sam Hornish and Marco Ambrose leading the pack to the green?

It adds up to everyone having the same opportunity to success, whether in Bristol, Martinsville, Phoenix, or even Texas this Sunday. Everybody can stay out, take no tires, take two tires or take four tires. Where you don't have a choice is which line you are in, based on your current track position, when they line up for the restart. The only guy that has a choice on that is your leader. He can pick either the outside or inside line for where he wants to restart.

Now I know some fans don't like it but - let's face it - that's the rule. It's what NASCAR has established, and everyone has to play by it.