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NASCAR Cup Series

OBSERVATIONS: O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 at Texas Motor Speedway

Since Texas Motor Speedway’s reconfiguration in 2017, the racing hasn’t been all that good entertaining. The new package, though, brought a breath of fresh air as the cars were able to run a lot closer together, therefore giving the fans a more visually appealing race.

That said, NASCAR’s rule changes still cannot be deemed successful.

Despite everything thrown his way, between adjusting to the package to a pair of pit road penalties, Denny Hamlin was able to overcome everything en route to his second victory of the season.

The strength of Joe Gibbs Racing has been witnessed by Kyle Busch‘s dominance thus far, with Hamlin playing second fiddle. However, if he could ever figure out a way to avoid penalties, he could be the strongest driver on the circuit. Just look back through this year alone and see how many weeks he has been caught speeding on pit road.

Busch was fast once again, but contact with the wall cutting down the left rear while dealing with an extreme loose condition caused him to pit sooner in the cycle than he wanted, with a lengthy stop in the process. As a result, he got behind and was unable to recover, finishing 10th.

Busch was one of the drivers who put on a show through the first half of the race, though, as drivers battled side-by-side, sometimes three-wide for position with the package enabling them to get close together and create runs. Just check out how close he came to making contact with his own brother, Kurt Busch. 

While this, among other small moments, were exciting, there are still issues to be addressed. The top-five cars when on evenly matched tires were only able to run side-by-side for two or three laps after a restart, before going single-file. Although the package enabled them to not get away from each other, no passing could be found.

Beyond the front runners, observations from the track indicated it was a “slug fest” with groups of cars running together closely, battling for position. However, NASCAR on Fox didn’t bother to show that. They just showed the pack racing for the first 10 laps after a restart, and then focused on the single-file train at the front or went to commercial.

It’s pretty hard to showcase the strengths of a package if your broadcast partner sucks, but more on that later.

The single-file train did prove something, though, in the difficulty is it to pass the leader. On two different occasions, the second-place car was able to close in on the leader relatively quickly, but unable to do anything about making a move happen. Joey Logano got stuck behind Jimmie Johnson through stage one, just like Daniel Suarez got stuck behind Ryan Blaney. Essentially, passes for the lead only happened virtue of varying tire strategies – with the first of those not happening until Lap 99.

When NASCAR announced the package, they stressed that it was supposed to enable better racing, with side-by-side battles and drivers able to moves forward. Welp, the running order didn’t flex much, unless it was due to someone pulling a strategy move on pit road. The reason being – we’re still watching drivers battle against dirty air, with track position still meaning everything.  

As Jeff Gordon said it perfectly, “Tires don’t wear out, speed don’t slow down, you can’t get away from each other, and track position is key.” Anybody remember the days of tire wear making some of the best racing? 

Team Penske had been right there with Joe Gibbs Racing every step of the way this season – until Sunday. All three of their entries ran into mechanical issues, relegating them outside of the top-15 for the first time in 2019. 

On the flip side, Hendrick Motorsports is closer to the front than they have been all year. After sweeping the top-three spots in qualifying, they placed two cars in the top-six at the checkered flag.

Three of their four entries – Johnson, William Byron, and Chase Elliott – ran in the top-five through the first half of the race. Johnson was able to fight back from jack issues on pit road to finish fifth, with Byron in sixth. Meanwhile, Elliott had to take the wavearound during the second stage when the caution came out for Kyle Larson after he had pitted under green. While Alan Gustafson tried a strategy call of leaving him out at Lap 260, they were unable to make up the lost ground en route to placing 13th.

“For me, I was just trying to get a consistent weekend,” Johnson said. “It is one thing to have one-lap paced, we needed that and we did that on Friday. Then, Saturday went really well. So, in the back of my mind I was thinking we just needed to have a rock-solid day, and if we did that, then I could confirm to myself and to everyone else that we are moving in the right direction.

“For the No. 48, No. 24 and the No. 9 were all good. Not sure what happened with the No. 88 but the majority of our cars all ran really strong today, so I feel much better about things.” 

NASCAR ON FOX used to be known for having the best coverage when the television package first saw their involvement. However, those days seem long gone based on what fans are paying witness to this season. Between the endless commercials, and lacking smarts in the booth, it’s going downhill really fast. I mean, do you really the viewers at home care if the commentators are eating ice cream?

It seemed they would show a small piece of the race, before going straight to another commercial break. Essentially, giving you bits of the racing action in-between allowing you to memorize each ad since you’d seen it too many times to count. It almost felt like a third to a quarter of the race was shown in commercial – maybe more.

Of course, when you were able to watch coverage, then you had to deal with the commentating. Darrell Waltrip may be a respected veteran and has earned his right in the sport, but pretty sure his time is up. His reasoning for certain things happening is so far off, that it makes you roll your eyes. Now how do you feel offering that to someone who may be tuning in for the first time?

When Brad Keselowski broke, it was suggested that the team may have been trying something since they locked in the post-season already. Waltrip then commented, “You don’t want to do something that’d put you out of the race, so I always question that.” Isn’t it the best chance to do that so you learn something with nothing to lose? 

They were speaking about Suarez and Waltrip said, “That’s something people don’t realize about Daniel Suarez. He needs his team to really believe in him to be successful.” Doesn’t everybody require that?

The best was when Waltrip suggested that Busch got into the wall during the final stage due to being tired after running both the NASCAR Gander Outdoor Truck Series and Xfinity Series events this weekend. Busch saying, “it just got away from me,” means that he was pushing hard despite handling not being perfect – like he always does in his aggressive matter.

“It just broke loose,” Busch said afterwards. “I kind of felt it getting a little bit freer as we were going there, and you’re still trying to hustle as hard as you can and get all you can through the corners in order to keep your lap time going…and it just busted loose on me, and I had to catch it and make sure we didn’t crash.

“First and foremost, we did that, and then I got back inline and got rolling and started gaining back on those guys in front of us, but the looseness was still there, and then I had to chase it on exit of (turn) two one time behind the 10 (Aric Almirola) and just knocked the fence down.”

There have been rumors about this being Waltrip’s last season in the booth, and that’d certainly be a welcome sight. Perhaps adding Larry MacReynolds back in the booth, or maybe Jamie McMurray, would work; anything would actually be an improvement right now. 

NASCAR has talked about wanting to create the best racing for their fans and drivers, hence trying this new package this season. While they’re continuing to analyze aspects to improve, hopefully some discussions are had. 

P.S.: It’d also be nice if they showed the running order during their “Crank it Up” segment.

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @ladybug388

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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WAID’S WORLD: The Wild Finish, And Aftermath, Of The 1989 All Star Race

Since its debut as The Winston in 1985, the All Star Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Race has had more than its share of dramatic, exciting moments.

That first event, for example, was not without controversy. Driving for Junior Johnson, Darrell Waltrip won it only to have his engine blow up in a plume of smoke just as he crossed the finish line.

“Wow! Darrell just made it!” many said.

Others weren’t so sure.

The conspiracy theorists claimed that Waltrip deliberately caused his engine failure by mashing the clutch as soon as he took the checkered flag.

Why? Because, they said, Johnson had provided him with an overpowering, oversized engine. If that power plant happened to be intact during post-race inspection there would be hell to pay.

NASCAR would surely lower the boom on Waltrip and Johnson, perhaps, it was conjectured, even take the victory away from them.

To be sure, that was something NASCAR seldom did. But The Winston wasn’t a points-paying race so the sanctioning body could make up new rules.

So to avoid taking a risk Waltrip followed orders and killed the engine.

The conspiracy theorists were never proven correct. Perhaps the diabolical plan was carried out – after all, Johnson was not one to shy away from, shall we say, “pushing the envelope.”

However, no foul was called and Waltrip has gone down in NASCAR lore as the winner of the inaugural The Winston.

 There have been several such races over the years – such as the now infamous “Pass In The Grass” that characterized Dale Earnhardt’s victory in 1987- and they continued after the event was first run under the lights in 1992.

However, there is an event that remains one of the most controversial and incident-filled in the history of the All Star race.

But it hasn’t gotten as much notoriety as many others, at least in one man’s opinion.

In 1989 Waltrip was in his third year with team owner Rick Hendrick after a six-year tenure with Johnson during which he won three championships.

Their parting wasn’t exactly amicable.

“I am leaving an old nag for a thoroughbred,” Waltrip declared.

“I got rid of a jackass,” Johnson responded.

That season’s The Winston was divided into three segments (this type of “restructuring” goes on to this day), the last of which would be a 10-lap “shootout.”

Waltrip and rival Rusty Wallace, then with Raymond Beadle’s Blue Max team, won the first two segments. Thus they lined up side-by-side on the front row for the start of the “shootout.”

As the white flag approached, Wallace crept up on Waltrip’s rear bumper as they sped into the fourth turn.

Then, as Wallace dove under Waltrip, he clipped his rival’s rear bumper and sent him into a spin.

Once he recovered, NASCAR ruled that Waltrip should go to the rear of the field and took one lap off the scoreboard.

This seemed to be contrary to the rules established for the “shootout.” Dirt track legislation was in force, which meant that the cars would restart in the order they ran prior to a caution flag.

Waltrip contended that he should be the leader since Wallace spun him out deliberately and brought out the yellow flag.

“There would be no caution if he had not spun me out,” Waltrip said.

NASCAR disagreed. Waltrip restarted at the rear of the field.

As the final two laps were run and Wallace took the checkered flag, loud jeers and boos were heard from the crowd of about 85,000. Beer and soda cans – empty and full – were hurled onto the track, all aimed at Wallace.

Soon after the race members of Waltrip’s and Wallace’s crews got into a pushing, scuffling melee in the garage area that could have gotten very ugly had not cooler heads prevailed.

“He drove into me and spun me out. It was pretty flagrant,” Waltrip said. “I hope he chokes on that $200,000 (winner’s share).”

 “I would be crazy just to drive up on the rear of somebody and just spin him out in front of God and everybody,” Wallace said.

But a lot of fans felt that was exactly what Wallace did. He heard the criticism, boos and catcalls for weeks. He felt he was losing what fan base he had.

“And man, I’m not sure I’m ever going to get it back,” he confided to a media friend.

The race had two significant aftermaths.

Wallace went on to win the 1989 championship, the only one of his career, and that helped soothe fans’ anger. In fact, nearly all of it subsided by the end of the season.

As for Waltrip, throughout his career he had not been spared fan derision. As a young competitor he was brash, belligerent and witty as he challenged, and often beat, the stars of the day. All of which earned him disdain.

But he finally won the Daytona 500 in 1989 after nearly 20 years of trying. That, along with The Winston in which fans thought he had been victimized, put him into a new light.

His past was shoved aside as many began to see him as not only a talented driver, but as a veteran who could assume the role of statesman.

He was named NASCAR’s Most Popular driver in 1989 and again in 1990.

 As time went by Waltrip’s reputation as a mouthy upstart faded away.

And he did, indeed, become an elder statesman for NASCAR.

EMAIL STEVE AT steve.waid@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW STEVE ON TWITTER: @SteveWaid

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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WAID’S WORLD: Short Tracks Belong In NASCAR – Many Say There Should Be More Of Them

Lately there has been much discussion about short tracks, namely; perhaps NASCAR’s sagging attendance and diminishing interest might be cured if it bothered to put more half-mile tracks on the schedule.

The argument is that the sanctioning body’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup series is composed predominantly of superspeedways and, especially, tracks of a mile-and-one half in length.

There are three short tracks on the MENCS circuit, Bristol, Martinsville and Richmond, which means that of the xx races conducted each season only six are on short tracks.

It has become so after decades of NASCAR evolution. During the 1950s – the pioneer era – virtually every race (as many as 50 per season) was held on a short track in such far-flung places as Macon, Ga., and Ona, WVa.

But starting in 1959 things began to change. Daytona International Speedway was built and was followed in the early and late 1960s by Charlotte, Atlanta, Rockingham, Michigan, Talladega, Dover and Pocono.

The big-track phenomenon became so large it was suggested NASCAR become a “superspeedway” environment only. In other words, do away with the short tracks that existed at the time.

Bill France Jr., NASCAR’s president would have none of it.

Still the larger tracks gained a strong foothold with venue expansion in the 1980s. On board came Las Vegas, Kentucky, Kansas, Texas, Fontana, Phoenix, and Homestead – the majority of which were one and one-half miles in length.

They became known as “cookie cutter” tracks.

There were other additions not of the same mold. They were the road courses at Watkins Glen and Sonoma and the venerated two-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Still the new NASCAR landscape did not include any new short tracks. Long gone were Nashville and North Wilkesboro – one of the first tracks to become a part of the circuit – closed its doors in 1996.

Today, I believe the six short-track races are among the most anticipated of every season. One reason is rather obvious: They offer a different style of racing entertainment than we see on the larger tracks.

Raw speed is the selling point at the superspeedways at Daytona and Talladega, where the draft rules supreme.

None of the “cookie cutter” tracks is exactly the same. Each has nuances that provide for competition variety. But to observers that’s hard to determine. The racing looks the same and, they claim, it is predictably routine.

There are a couple things about racing on short tracks that have made them unique. Speed, for example, is not that prevalent except on the high banks at Bristol.

Instead it’s the inevitable jostling, the often-prevalent metal-to-metal contact – and the prevailing strategy that to gain position one driver has to unceremoniously shove another out of the way- that create short-track appeal.

It is a throwback to the way it used to be. And it is the reason why fans and competitors urge NASCAR never to drop its short tracks and even promote those whose weekly shows are not part of the MENCS circuit.

There are many examples of the style of racing fans enjoy at short-track events. Bristol, which just completed its first event of the season, has had more than its share.

So does Richmond, which is the site of this weekend’s MENCS event.

Richmond is perhaps the most unique speedway in NASCAR. It’s a handsome facility and is the only one three-quarters of a mile in distance.

It didn’t used to be that way. It was once a half-mile track surrounded by guardrails and wooden grandstands nestled in the Virginia State Fairgrounds.

But, like its short-track cousins, it could produce some wild competition.

A good example came in February of 1986. That year, in one of the most improbable finishes in NASCAR history, Kyle Petty won the first race of his career with the Wood Brothers.

He shouldn’t have. He was a distant fifth as the race came to its conclusion. With three laps to go, Darrell Waltrip, who had battled back from a lap down, shot past leader Dale Earnhardt.

Earnhardt, who by this time was establishing himself as a no-quarter driver, responded by clipping Waltrip’s right rear.

Waltrip crashed headfirst into the third turn steel guardrail – a potentially dangerous situation – that set off a chain reaction that gathered up nearly all the leading cars.

Only Petty survived and he went on to take the checkered flag.

As you might expect, there was bad blood.

“I like to win as much as the next guy,” Waltrip said, “but I’ve never tried hurt someone to do it.”

Said his team owner Junior Johnson: “It was like Dale put a gun to Darrell’s head and pulled the trigger.”

To be honest, every track has a story like that. But there are more of them – far more – that emerge from short tracks.

They should remain a part of NASCAR and I think they will.      

And then … perhaps, as many desire, there may be more of them.

EMAIL STEVE AT steve.waid@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW STEVE ON TWITTER: @SteveWaid

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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WAID’S WORLD: Bristol Night Racing Debuts In 1978 With a Yawner

The first Bristol Motor Speedway night race was held nearly 39 years ago – Aug. 26, 1978 to be exact – and given the times it wasn’t nearly as entertaining as it has become. It wasn’t nearly as popular, either.

The speedway itself was a shell of what it is now. However, to have lights installed and stage a night race at a half-mile track on NASCAR’s elite Winston Cup circuit was a bold move.

Curious fans turned out in high numbers – 30,000 attended and that was a near-sellout since the track couldn’t seat much more than that.

The atmosphere was electric. Alas, the race itself was not. It turned out to be very routine.

Cale Yarborough was driving for Junior Johnson and the driver from Timmonsville, S.C., had been pulverizing the short tracks, including Bristol.

When that first night race rolled around Yarborough had already won four of five Bristol races.

He made it five of six in a performance that saw him lead 327 of 500 laps to beat Benny Parsons to the finish line by a whopping 15 seconds. They were the only two drivers on the lead lap.

Not exactly riveting, was it?

But there was some action.

Lennie Pond won the pole with a then-record speed of 110.958 mph. Pond was in his last season with team owner Harry Ranier.

Pond was one of the most affable, even-tempered drivers in NASCAR. So it seemed highly unlikely that he would become involved in a high-temper bumping incident with Darrell Waltrip – who was decidedly not even-tempered.

First, Pond was involved in an accident when he ran into Cecil Gordon. Pond’s car was launched on top of the frontstretch retaining wall. Pond thought he was going into the grandstands.

On lap 107 Waltrip was tagged by Pond and the two were sent spinning. Waltrip fumed as he said the contact was deliberate. Pond countered by claiming a tire went flat, caused by earlier contact by – who else? – Waltrip.

Afterward Pond retired from the race. The story was that he was ordered to do so by Ranier, who claimed he wasn’t going to tolerate “a grudge match.”

The encounters cost Waltrip two laps and he finished third. That he did so despite his lost laps gives you a pretty good idea of Yarborough’s domination.

Waltrip wasn’t happy about that or his tenure with DiGard Racing Co., directed by the brothers Bill and Jim Gardner.

Waltrip said openly he was going to break his contract with the Gardners, which ran through 1982, and race for Ranier in 1979.

That did not happen. Waltrip was unable to leave DiGard until 1980 when, ironically, Johnson bought off his contract.

As for short tracks Waltrip picked up where Yarborough left off. Johnson’s ability to build cars that were unbeatable on the half-milers was uncanny. And, as was said more than once, illegal.

The night race at Bristol was the 21st of 30 in the 1978 Winston Cup season. Yarborough earned $13,760 of a total purse of $82,350. He would win 10 races for the year and earned his third consecutive championship by 474 points over Bobby Allison.

Night racing has long become a staple at Bristol, which, as you know, has grown into one of the most spectacular tracks in NASCAR.

And its history is littered with dramatic, exciting races that are far removed from the snoozer of 1978.

EMAIL STEVE AT steve.waid@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW STEVE ON TWITTER: @SteveWaid

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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WAID’S WORLD: If Kyle Busch Is A Villain, There’s Nothing Wrong With That

There has been much talk about Kyle Busch ever since his petulant behavior following his close loss in the Coca-Cola 600.

If you didn’t see what happened via television or social media (I’m betting you did) here’s a quick summary: Looking decidedly upset, or frustrated, Busch fidgeted at the microphone, mumbled “congratulations” (that’s what I thought I heard), then dropped the mike and walked away.

He acted like an unhappy child.

Naturally he was taken to task by the fans, media and some fellow competitors like Brad Keselowski. I’m pretty sure he’s not No. 1 on many folks’ hit parade.

However, I agree with Dale Earnhardt Jr. who suggested Busch remain himself and not change just to gain redemption.

I am not suggesting Busch throw temper tantrums. But if he can’t help himself because of his competitive personality, well, he can have at it.

To me, there is a good reason for this:

NASCAR needs a villain. It needs a competitor whose personality, sassy mouth, razor-thin temper or undisciplined driving style draws the ire of the fans.

They band together in their dislike for him and – this is important – follow his every move at every race. He brings attention to NASCAR that goes beyond its fans. Believe me, that is something the sanctioning body needs right now.

Villains have been part of NASCAR since it’s founding. Today some of them rank among the greatest stock car drivers in history and are enshrined in the Hall of Fame.

The legendary Curtis Turner showed a car no mercy. He didn’t know much about finesse. Consequently, when it came to his rivals on the track if he could not pass them he would just as soon run over them.

That’s not a good way to attract friends but Turner did not care.

In the 1970s the undisputed villain was Darrell Waltrip. He worked at it. When he came into the sport he knew there were only two ways to gain attention: Win and be a smart aleck.

Because of his quick wit Waltrip was a media darling. But many fans thought he was just too cocky and too “mouthy.”

It’s fair to say many competitors thought the same.

In one of his many feuds Waltrip fell at odds with Cale Yarborough. The two were swept up in a multicar accident in the 1977 Southern 500 at Darlington.

Driver D.K. Ulrich, involved in the incident, asked Yarborough why he hit him.

“I didn’t hit you,” Yarborough answered. “Ol’ Jaws hit you. He knocked you into the wall. It was uncalled for.”

Waltrip was known as “Jaws” for the rest of his career.

A couple of weeks later Yarborough won at Martinsville on a hot, humid day.

Exhausted, Yarborough declared the race, at 500 laps, was too long and needed to be cut.

“I will not shorten my races,” track owner H. Clay Earles heatedly said.

Waltrip pounced. He emerged the winner a week later at North Wilkesboro, another half-mile track.

In victory lane he pronounced the presence of the “Cale Scale,” an imaginary device that measured a race’s degree of difficulty

“This race was only a one and a half or two,” Waltrip said. “I wish we had another 100 laps. I guess Cale is getting too old.”

And so it went. Waltrip continued to toss barbs and fans continued to dislike him. When he was introduced there were plenty of boos.

Dale Earnhardt was a sensation at the start of his career but soon after his overly aggressive driving style became the target of competitor and fan criticism.

Earnhardt didn’t seem to care.

He got the nickname “The Intimidator.”

 For many it was not a term of respect.

Much later the seemingly unprofessional, body-slam style of Ernie Irvan raised the ire of competitors and fans, who named him “Swervin’ Irvan.”

He even apologized for his mistakes in a drivers meeting at Talladega.

It took so long for Rusty Wallace to regain the fans’ favor after his victory in the 1989 The Winston, in which he spun Waltrip on the last lap. He wondered if all he would hear for the rest of his career was irate booing.

Do you really have to be reminded about Tony Stewart? He flunked Anger Management 101. To my knowledge he is the only driver in NASCAR history to be fined by his sponsor for misbehavior.

Kyle’s brother Kurt was known for his surliness and short temper as much as his driving skill.

There are others, of course, but here is the point: These drivers polarized fans, but at the same time, they enhanced their enjoyment of the sport if for no other reason than to see if they would get their comeuppance.

They were the subjects of much attention, week in and week out. Their outbursts, behavior or on-track shenanigans made headlines. The rivalries they established made fans argue among themselves – but at the same time it kept them riveted to all that was going on.

And you don’t have to be told how much the media delighted in it all.

Villainy aside, it must be pointed out that all of the drivers mentioned were winners and several were champions. That means that it didn’t matter how much they antagonized competitors and fans, they could back it up with accomplishments.

Kyle Busch already has achieved much. His skills are obvious and many admire him for them.But to many that doesn’t matter. He’s their man to dislike – so far.

I believe that comes from Busch being himself. He may change. That is certainly his right and perfectly acceptable.

But if he remains the Kyle Bush he is he will likely fulfill the role NASCAR desperately needs: the villain.

And there is not a thing wrong with that.

EMAIL STEVE AT steve.waid@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW STEVE ON TWITTER: @SteveWaid

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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WAID’S WORLD: The Turbulent ’80 Season Featured Perhaps Best 600 Ever

The Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway is one of the signature races each Monster Energy NASCAR Cup season. Hey, it’s right up there with the Daytona 500, the Brickyard 400 and the Southern 500.

I’ll also grant that Charlotte puts on a spectacle – military pre-race show, concerts, Speed Street and everything else – that is not matched by any other speedway.

It’s difficult not to feel at least some pangs of excitement when the race rolls around.

However, only a relatively few times over the years has the race, competitively, matched the spectacle.

At 600 miles the race is the longest in NASCAR and has been since its inception in 1960. That’s the way the speedway founders, Bruton Smith and Curtis Turner, wanted it.

But it has been said many times that 600 miles is just too long. There is a lengthy segment of the race, which begins about halfway, when there’s virtually no on-track action. It seems as if drivers are maintaining calm until it is time to really push the envelope – usually with 100 miles to go.

Shortening the race, it’s claimed, would increase competitiveness and provide more action.

I’ll freely admit I’ve been an advocate of all this. But then I also realize that perhaps miles run don’t matter. There have been dull races of 300, 400 and 500 miles – some even shorter.

Don’t misunderstand – not every 600-mile race is a snoozer. Not by a long shot.

For example, take a look at the 1980 World 600 (as it was called then).

That race featured a dramatic, riveting duel between Benny Parsons and Darrell Waltrip. The two drivers exchanged the lead eight times over the final 26 laps and Parsons went on to win by a half-car length.

After a long afternoon of racing a crowd of 120,000 was on its feet. Hey, forget 600 miles.

Parsons, who held off Waltrip’s strong charge over the final two laps, won for the first time in 1980 and for the third time for owner M.C. Anderson of Savannah, Ga.

The 1980 season turned out to be s very tumultuous one. It was full of controversy, dissatisfaction and impending change.

In his second season with Rod Osterlund, Dale Earnhardt found himself in the points lead coming into Charlotte.

However, he blew a tire and spun on lap 276, gathering up the cars of Cale Yarborough, Bobby Allison and David Pearson. Only Allison was unable to continue but the rest were taken out of the victory hunt.

Earnhardt’s lead over Richard Petty fell to 45 points.

All was not well in the Osterlund camp. Crew chief Jake Elder, who helped Earnhardt win his first career race at Bristol in 1979, could not get along with team manager Roland Wlodyka, whom he said could “screw up a five-car funeral.”

Elder quit in a huff on Monday morning after the race. He was well known for his penchant for leaving teams with which he felt at odds. Hence, his nickname: “Suitcase” Jake Elder.

Wlodyka was not the only source of Elder’s dissatisfaction. “Now that he’s got some money, Dale don’t know you,” he said. “He’s gotten real cocky.”

Some said the same thing about Earnhardt throughout his career.

But the driver from Kannapolis, N.C., went on to have a banner year. He won the championship by 19 points over Cale Yarborough. Earnhardt remains the only driver in NASCAR history to win Rookie of the Year and the title in successive seasons.

Ironically, in 1981, less than a full season after the championship, Osterlund sold his operation to J.D. Stacy. Earnhardt, who was no fan of Stacy, quit with 11 races remaining in the season.

He took a temporary ride with independent driver/owner Richard Childress – which was a precursor to NASCAR history.

Waltrip was in his fourth season with DiGard Racing Co. and to say he was unhappy would be a serious understatement.

Waltrip was miserable. He wanted out. He expressed his distaste for the Gardner brothers, Bill and Jim.

Perhaps he was agitating to become unemployed because the opportunity to drive for Junior Johnson had become available. Johnson’s driver in 1980 was Yarborough, who had won three consecutive championships from 1976-78 but expressed a desire to pursue a limited schedule.

The Waltrip-DiGard stew bubbled all season until, finally, it was announced that Waltrip had bought out his contract and was free to move on.

Of course, he joined Johnson, who, it was said, had bought the contract for more than $300,000.

It paid off as Johnson and Waltrip went on to win three championships together.

As for Parsons, the other driver involved in the historic Charlotte finish, he, too, would experience change.

In 1981 he joined veteran team owner Bud Moore, who provided Parsons with a Ford Thunderbird. He was replaced at Anderson’s operation by Yarborough, who got the limited schedule he wanted as he competed in just 18 of 31 races.

The 1980 season was indeed a turbulent one. But it was also the one that featured what many have said was the best 600-mile race in NASCAR history.

EMAIL STEVE AT steve.waid@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW STEVE ON TWITTER: @SteveWaid

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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Commentary

WAID’S WORLD: The All-Star Race Had Humble, Simple Beginnings

The NASCAR Monster Energy All Star race will be conducted this weekend at Charlotte Motor Speedway and it will be the latest in a series of special, exhibition events that have taken place since 1985.

The race has provided some of the most dramatic, exciting moments in NASCAR’s history.

That’s largely because of its format. It’s changed so many times over the years it is hard to keep track. But suffice it to say that the structure of the race – including segments, pit stops, inverted starts and a 10-lap free-for-all for a finish – is designed to provide controlled mayhem.

And for the most part, it’s worked.

It wasn’t always like that, however.

The first race, called The Winston by R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. – NASCAR’s prime sponsor and creator of the all-star event – was something of a simple affair.

The format was simple. The race would be held among the 12 winners from the 1984 season. That’s all. It would be 70 laps in distance with no segments, breaks or anything else, at Charlotte.

It was much like the Busch Clash that began at Daytona a few years earlier. It was a short race open to pole winners only.

In 1985, the number of victories in 1984 determined starting positions. There was no full-scale qualifying.

Therefore, 1994 champion Terry Labonte was accorded the pole position. Alongside him was Darrell Waltrip, who was in his fourth season with team owner Junior Johnson.

Waltrip immediately took the lead when the race started. However, there was a $10,000 bonus for the driver who led the 20th lap and Labonte made sure he collected the money when he passed Waltrip down the backstretch.

Pit stops, which were necessary because of the race’s length, began on lap 31 when Harry Gant, driving for Hal Needham, went down pit road.

After the cycle of stops ended, Gant held a comfortable lead over Labonte and Waltrip.

Suddenly, Waltrip became inspired.

“Junior got on the radio and asked me if I wanted the $200,000 to win or $75,000 for second place,” Waltrip said. “I decided to give it my all.”

Sure enough, Waltrip began to cut away at Gant’s lead. It was a steady process as Gant had older tires.

On the last lap Waltrip slipped by Gant in turn four to win by 0.31-second and create an anticipated dramatic finish to the first all-star race.

But then came the unexpected – and accompanying controversy.

Just as he crossed the finish line the engine in Waltrip’s Chevrolet blew in a huge plume of smoke. It was almost as if it had been timed to happen.

Immediately the conspiracy theorists began to rumble. They determined that Waltrip raced with illegal, oversized engine – something Johnson was certainly capable of providing – and then mashed the clutch at the finish line to avoid detection.

If NASCAR suspected anything there was nothing it could do about it. How does it inspect a blown engine?

For his part Waltrip, who was $200,000 richer, said only that his engine was designed for ultimate power and a short lifetime.

“Before the race the boys told me not to run it any harder than I had to,” he said. “It wasn’t going to last long.”

That didn’t halt suspicions, which continue to this day.

The Winston was deemed a success. But there were issues.

At first it was decided the event would be held at multiple tracks so all of them could share in the glory and anticipated income.

But Charlotte remained steadfast. It declared that with its marketing skills and noted penchant for creating splashy spectacles it should remain home to the all-star race. It only made sense.

But Reynolds decided the race should share the wealth. Thus it was moved to Atlanta in 1986.

Big mistake.

The number of laps was increased to 83 but there were only 10 entrants – all winners from 1985.

The race was an unadulterated snoozer. Bill Elliott led all but one lap – Dale Earnhardt got credit for leading lap 40 on pit road – and went on to win by more than two seconds.

The inaugural The Winston drew 110,000 fans at Charlotte. Only 18,500 attended at Atlanta.

There was a good reason why. The Atlanta race was held on Mother’s Day. NASCAR never raced on that day and still doesn’t.

It’s one thing to take dad to a race. It’s quite another to take mom. Take her to brunch.

The race returned to Charlotte the next year and has been held at the track ever since. There’s no longer any talk of moving it.

Over the years there have been multiple format changes and entry requirements.

They, among other things,have helped make the race better and bigger than could have been imagined in 1985.

EMAIL STEVE AT steve.waid@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW STEVE ON TWITTER: @SteveWaid

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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Commentary

WAID’S WORLD: A Few Drivers Dominated Bristol In The Past – And For Good Reason

It may be hard to imagine now, but there was a time when Bristol Motor Speedway was a sleepy little half-mile track at which you could buy a ticket on the day of the race.

It was pretty much the same at North Wilkesboro Speedway, Richmond International Raceway and Martinsville Speedway. However, Bristol was different.

It was a high-banked track, which separated it from all other short tracks. Forty years ago its turns were banked at 36 degrees, larger than any other NASCAR facility.

Speeds at Bristol were easily the fastest of any short track. That was the track’s selling point – it has been so for years – but still, filling the grandstands was no easy matter and was seldom accomplished.

It was a simpler time. Communications technology was in its infancy. Television didn’t care much about NASCAR. Track PR personnel had to work long and diligently to lure the press and fans.

And, too, Bristol was not the behemoth it is today. Its two concrete grandstands could accommodate maybe 40,000 fans – far fewer than the reported 160,000 of today.

There were only a couple of VIP booths and the press box was miniscule. Can’t say the same of any of today’s tracks.

Bristol had its loyal followers and I daresay it does today. There just weren’t as many of them.

As enamored as they were of Bristol races and the incredible speeds therein, there was a time when loyal fans began to grouse and mull the notion of not coming back.

I have always reasoned there was a good reason for that.

They began to tire of seeing the same winner – race after race, year after year.

Over a period of more than a decade a small handful – make that very small – dominated Bristol races. They won so often that if indeed a different driver earned a victory it was considered a major upset, or, perhaps, a matter of luck.

Bristol ran its first race in 1961 and just three years later the single team dominance began. The vaunted Holman-Moody organization won eight races from 1964-71 with drivers Fred Lorenzen, Dick Hutcherson and David Pearson.

That changed in 1972. Bobby Allison swept both Bristol races amid a short-track war he waged with Richard Petty, also a multiple Bristol winner.

Cale Yarborough replaced Allison in 1973 and he picked up where his predecessor left off. He won once at Bristol that year and then, remarkably, compiled seven more wins in 12 races, including a streak of four in a row in 1976-77.

Perhaps Yarborough’s dominance was no more obvious than in the Southeastern 500 in April of 1977.

Yarborough won by an astonishing seven laps. It wasn’t the largest margin of victory in NASCAR history, but it was enough to put the crowd – announced at 30,000 – to sleep.

The guys in the press box were through filing their stories before Yarborough’s team had loaded up and departed. After all, there wasn’t much to say.

The best quote of the race came from Dick Brooks, the distant runnerup.

“The only way I could have beaten Cale,” he said, “was to have someone in the pits shoot out his tires.”

Yarborough’s last Bristol victory came in 1980. A year later another driver began his dominance at the track with a sweep of the 1981 events. His name was Darrell Waltrip.

Incredibly, counting ’81, Waltrip won seven consecutive races at Bristol. Terry Labonte broke his string in 1984.

Allison, Yarborough and Waltrip all had one thing in common, one thing that served as the catalyst for nearly all their Bristol victories.

They drove for Junior Johnson.

Johnson was easily the top team owner at Bristol – and at nearly all of the short tracks, for that matter.

His cars, mostly Chevrolets, were so strong on the short tracks that they were expected to win. They did with such regularity that sometimes boredom set in.

Johnson was never one to obey by the rules – well, perhaps it is better to say he never strictly obeyed them. Nearly everyone believed he had more than one trick up his sleeve when it came to short-track racing.

Maybe he did. But he was never caught. His cars routinely passed pre and post-race inspection.

Waltrip is Bristol’s all-time winner with 12 victories, 10 of which came with Johnson. All of Yarborough’s nine wins were in Johnson’s cars. Allison’s sweep in 1972 – two of his four wins – were accomplished in Johnson’s Chevrolets.

Johnson tops Bristol’s list of winning team owners with 16, but in reality, he has five more as a partner with Charlotte Motor Speedway President Richard Howard.

Howard may have been the designated team owner, but he had nothing to do with the construction and preparation of the cars.

That was all Johnson. And it is one reason he is a member of the NASCAR Hall of Fame’s inaugural class.

EMAIL STEVE AT steve.waid@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW STEVE ON TWITTER: @SteveWaid

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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NASCAR Cup Series

Kentucky Belongs to Generation Now

Kentucky Speedway opened with an ARCA race in 2000. Since then, NASCAR has held races in various series at the track. Greg Biffle won the inaugural Camping World Truck Series race at the track and Kevin Harvick, the first XFINITY race.

The history of the Sprint Cup series at Kentucky, meanwhile, is actually quite limited. With only six Cup races held at the Sparta track, there are but three drivers with Kentucky wins on their resume: Matt Kenseth, two-time winner Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski, who became a three-time winner this past weekend. It would be safe to assume (barring any major complications) every Kentucky winner will return to compete in next year’s race.

When the Cup series returns to the 1.5-mile track in 2017, those three winners should be joined by every driver with more than one top five at Kentucky, every driver who has recorded double digits in laps led and every driver who has sat on the pole. There is probably not another track that will be able to say the same.

Kentucky may lack in longevity, but there is an opportunity for this generation of Cup drivers to make this track their own. They need not worry about living up to the standards set by Richard Petty, David Pearson, Dale Earnhardt or Darrell Waltrip. Even Jeff Gordon failed  to win at Kentucky before retiring last season.

Instead, they will be the ones setting the standards and to do so, they will compete against the drivers next to them, rather than the legends they know only from studying NASCAR history.

The history of the Kentucky Speedway may pale when placed alongside Daytona, Talladega or Darlington, but if it is to be raised to sit alongside those tracks in esteem and prestige, it will be because of the exploits of those drivers we are watching on TV or at the track every week.

Right now, Brad Keselowski would be considered the man when it comes to Kentucky, the way Petty is considered “The King” of Daytona or the way Waltrip ruled Bristol. If there is a driver who knocks Keselowski off his Kentucky throne, it will be one of his current or future competitors.

Cup history in Kentucky may not be long, but it is being written before our very eyes.

EMAIL: john.milner@popularspeed.com

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or staff. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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Commentary

Under Further Review: 2016 NASCAR on Fox Season a Success

For 16 years, NASCAR on Fox has delivered award-winning coverage of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. Since 2007, Fox has been the exclusive TV home of the Daytona 500, carrying the world’s greatest stock car racers from February through the beginning of summer — and with the quality of racing displayed along with a new voice in the booth, 2016 may have been its best season yet.

From 2001 to 2015, Fox’s broadcast lineup for Sprint Cup Series races featured Mike Joy calling the lap-by-lap action alongside analysts Larry McReynolds and Darrell Waltrip. After Jeff Gordon’s retirement in 2015, Fox announced that the four-time champion would join Joy and Waltrip in the booth, and McReynolds’ role changed to the rules and technical analyst for 2016 and beyond.

The 2016 NASCAR on Fox season ended with the Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway, which was won by Tony Stewart. Stewart’s victory was just one of the many exciting finishes in the first half of the season, which made the broadcasts more compelling to watch.

It all started with the Daytona 500. Jeff Gordon made his debut as a broadcaster while his replacement, 20-year-old Chase Elliott, won the pole in the iconic No. 24. Elliott crashed out early, but the Great American Race was decided by Denny Hamlin’s last-lap pass of Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Matt Kenseth. Hamlin then drag raced to the checkered flag as Martin Truex Jr. pressured the No. 11 driver on the inside but Hamlin came away victorious with a .01-second margin of victory.

Three weeks later at Phoenix International Raceway, another photo finish occurred — this time between Carl Edwards and Kevin Harvick. Edwards was running second as he chased Harvick into Turn 3 on the final lap. He nudged Harvick’s car to get to his inside, but the No. 4 driver slammed back and beat Edwards to the line.

A month after Edwards suffered the crushing defeat, he had redemption at Richmond International Raceway with another last lap run at the leader — only this time, it was his JGR teammate, Kyle Busch. In a nearly identical situation for Edwards, he bumped Busch and stole the win coming out of the last corner. From the booth, Waltrip was shocked by Edwards’ aggressive move, yelling, “Oh God, no — that’s a teammate!” while Joy and Gordon expressed their awe in a calmer fashion.

One criticism that sprouted during the season was the chemistry between Gordon and Waltrip. Waltrip, the more “old-school” of the two, hollers as something invigorating unfolds during the race, while Gordon is more composed and provides explanations for why something happens the way it did.

It’s not surprising when Waltrip acts the way his does; he’s been that way since 2001. But as 2016 arrived, anticipating what Gordon would be like in the booth was difficult as it was a new environment for him.

Gordon’s transition to the booth was relatively smooth, but one fault in his analyses was a perceived bias towards his former team, Hendrick Motorsports. After Pocono, Brad Keselowski accused Gordon of biased remarks for incorrectly saying a pit crew member intentionally dented the No. 2 car to produce more side force. Gordon apologized to Keselowski after the incident. There are no hard feelings between them, but Gordon needs to adjust his on-air commentary if he wants to be a credible broadcaster in the future.

Was Gordon’s first season with NASCAR on Fox perfect? No. But were the races captivating and the broadcasts entertaining? Absolutely. Perhaps the competitive racing and the low downforce package positively influenced the broadcasts to be more exciting. Or maybe Gordon was the new face needed to offer fresh insight. But either way — call the 2016 NASCAR on Fox season a success and believe that 2017 will be even better.

EMAIL JOHN AT john.haverlin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @The5thJohnHav

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or staff. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.