Atlanta, arguably, is the driver’s favorite track. She’s fast, slick and hard to handle. For a race car driver, that’s a thrill and a half for an afternoon’s work. This last weekend, we got a show the likes of which we haven’t seen in years now. Cars that were sideways, three-wide and passing. That’s right, it was racing, everyone. That’s what racing is. That’s what racing should be. It’s the thrill of side-by-side action at speeds we normal folks could only dream about.
For a driver, it’s the greatest adrenaline rush you can have. You’re wrestling a 3400-pound stock car on 10-inch tires with 750 horsepower around a track as fast as possible. A race car that doesn’t want to do anything you’re asking it too, but as a driver, you have the skills and the will to make that car comply. It’s a rugged task that few can step up to and complete.
For the better part of 200 laps in the Atlanta sun, we got to see racing the way it was 20-30 years ago. A race where tires mattered and the skill of the drivers separated the contenders from the pretenders. As I sat there listening to the roar of the engines and the sound of grinding rubber being torn off the tires at 170 mph, I found myself casually reading my twitter feed, eager to see what other motorsports fans had to say about the throwback spectacle we’d clamored for so hard after the Kentucky race last year. Much to my surprise, the same people that were complaining about the caution clock from the day before were now complaining that we were in the middle of the longest green-flag run of the last few years.
You can’t please everyone, I guess.
Needless to say, I was taken aback. I can’t exactly say I was surprised by this, as it’s become a running gag that no matter what you do on social media, someone will go on a rampage about it and call for your head on a stick. For the first time in years, I actually felt some sympathy for NASCAR. Now, for those of you that know me, that’s an odd thing for me to say, but hear me out.
This year, we got an aero package that was championed and spearheaded by Tony Stewart and backed by the vast majority of the drivers in the garage. “Make the cars harder to drive,” was the motto that was echoed time and time again. After the Kentucky race last year, the driver’s reaffirmed that same theory. The response from the fans was overwhelmingly positive on twitter and facebook. They loved the side-by-side passing and the cars being able to race each other. Flash forward to the Indy race and the reaction was muted by the drivers and unsurprisingly negative from the fans. They hated the high-drag package and in today’s day age, everyone was going to tell NASCAR about it.
So, after all, the discussions and bickering, the pit road talks between the bigwigs and the stars of our sport, we got the new 2016 aero package. In my personal opinion, it didn’t disappoint. The racing was amazing, the skill of the drivers mattered and the leader wasn’t always the same car that took the restart from the pole. Case in point, Denny Hamlin early in the race. At the drop of the green flag, he rocketed to the outside in the turns and made up a bunch of spots, quickly moving into the top 10 and then the top five. But within 15 laps, he started to pay the price. His tires wore out and he faded quickly back into the pack, eventually being lapped.
That was just a single example of the great racing we saw on Sunday. Others include seeing the battle for the lead between Kurt Busch and Matt Kenseth. Watching Joey Logano race his way from the back to the front, mirrored by Kyle Busch. Jimmie Johnson’s slow and steady climb to the top five and of course, Kevin Harvick proving again that’s he’s freaky fast in his repeated battles and the feel good story of the last two years, Martin Truex. Cars could race each other. They could pass each other. They could take any groove they wanted and make it work for them. The drivers had choices and they put on an amazing display of skill and show.
That’s real racing, ladies and gentleman. That’s how it should be. For the few poor souls that blew up my twitter during the race complaining about how boring it was without crashes? They have a racing event called a demolition derby that may suit your tastes. You might want to check with your local race tracks about it.