Today I am hopping into a time machine. I am taking myself back to the year 2000, specifically the afternoon of October 15th, the site of the Winston 500 at Talladega. That afternoon was when I watched the Intimidator, Dale Earnhardt; take his black #3 Goodwrench Chevrolet from 18th to 1st in less than 5 laps. This incredible feat was impressive because Earnhardt seemingly did it all by himself. Not many drivers can say they had a final drive like Earnhardt did that day and while Earnhardt is a legend, there certainly will never be a driver in today’s NASCAR who could mount a charge like that.
Todays’ restrictor plate racing is completely different than what I grew up watching in the 90’s to early 2000’s. Dale Earnhardt was the master of Talladega in an era where pack racing was an all-race affair. Today, we see some competitive racing during the first few laps, after restarts, and during the mad dash to the finish, but other than that, there is nothing but single file racing for laps on end.
The present car they are using (Gen 6) has come a long way from the Car of Tomorrow. The idea of this car was to present a safer car for drivers and to limit injuries. NASCAR has given the drivers a great car for downforce tracks, but this car needs a lot of work for the two restrictor plate tracks. I hope for the sake of the drivers as well as all of us fans; they bring a car to the fall Talladega race that drivers can race competitively in.
Denny Hamlin made some interesting comments earlier this year that I think still ring true after last night’s race. Here is what Denny Hamlin said regarding the Gen 6 car at Daytona:
“Right now, you just run single-file and you cannot get around the guy in front of you. You would have placed me in 20th place with 30 [laps] to go, I would have stayed there—I wouldn’t have moved up. It’s just one of those things where track position is everything.”
Hamlin got fined $25,000 for those comments but I think he speaks the truth. Last night’s race saw very little passing and showed us that unless you were in the bottom line, you were essentially dead in the water. Just when it looked like the top line was gaining some momentum, it was shut down due to the superior run of the drivers in the bottom line.
I mentioned earlier that there will never be a driver who will mount a charge like Dale Sr did at Dega in 2000. If you look back to that race, there was no clear dominator like there was last night (Johnson leading 94 laps). The races were competitive and even though they were still famous for “The Big One”, drivers never complained about not being able to pass.
The solution to NASCAR’s problem of these plate races being a single file borefest is that they need to allow the teams to tinker with the car a little bit. Johnson stated in victory lane last night that "It's tough to [dominate] at a plate track. Especially with how tight the rules are.” So if NASCAR opens the rule book up a little bit and allows teams to bring cars that can be competitive, we will see much better racing than what we have seen so far in 2013 at Talladega and Daytona. Otherwise we will consistently see the same racing year after year and it will take a toll on NASCAR’s true core of fans.