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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: Chase Can Be Unpredictable, But Numbers Point To Gibbs

Let me state the obvious here. It is clear Joe Gibbs Racing is the strongest team in NASCAR’s Chase for the Sprint Cup and the championship should be won by one of its four drivers.

Not exactly breaking news, is it?

Gibbs has been the dominant team all season. All of its four drivers made the Chase and three of them – Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin and Carl Edwards – are among the top five seeds.

Busch is No. 1, Hamlin No. 3 and Edwards No. 5. Matt Kenseth is not far behind at No. 7. Combined they have won 11 of 26 races.

Let’s throw in Martin Truex Jr. of Furniture Row Racing, which has a technological association with Gibbs. He is sixth in points and has two wins this season.

And it’s been a darn good year for Toyota, affiliated with Gibbs and Furniture Row.

Of the top eight drivers in the Chase, Toyotas earned five positions with the other three held by former champions.

Those five Toyota drivers have led 55.8-percent of all laps raced. And they’ve won half -13 – of the races.

However, team owner Gibbs, who is never been characterized as overconfident, warns that his drivers are among several that could win the Chase.

“I don’t think there is a favorite right now,” Gibbs said after Hamlin’s victory at Richmond. “I think everybody that’s in there is going to have a shot.

“We saw Truex last year go all the way to the final round, a single‑car team.

“All kinds of things can happen in what we’re doing here. So I think it’s the greatest reality show going.”

Gibbs has a point. If nothing else the Chase is unpredictable. But there have always been teams that enter the “playoff” with momentum while others seem to be spinning their wheels.

But, for the moment, in the opinion of some that doesn’t seem to make too much difference.

“I think that any one of these guys can get going,” Hamlin said. “You don’t know what they’ve got at the shop waiting to come to the race track. I think it’s really hard to predict what happens from this point on.

“I mean, is it a continuation of the regular season or has somebody been laying in the weeds?”

Hamlin suggested that Chip Ganassi Racing, which put both drivers, Kyle Larson and Jamie McMurray, into the Chase for the first time, has its own momentum.

Kevin Harvick has been the points leader and the model of consistency for Stewart Haas Racing for almost the entire season, despite the fact he wasn’t a factor at Richmond.

“Larson has really stepped up his game over the last month or so,” Hamlin said. “And obviously Harvick’s car’s got great speed week in, week out, so he’s definitely going to be a challenge no doubt about it. “

Hendrick Motorsports has been a dominant team over many seasons – but not this year. Jimmie Johnson is eighth in points (and is in the Chase for the 13th time, more than any other driver) while Chase Elliott is 14th and made it on points alone – a noteworthy accomplishment for a rookie.

Johnson, who won twice this year, is out to win a seventh career title, which will tie him with Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt for the most all-time.

But it won’t be easy, something Johnson knows.

“It’s obvious if you win in each bracket you get to move on, but we had a great start to the Chase last year and had a simple mechanical failure that knocked us out,” he said. “I don’t know what the secret sauce is, but I know we need to be consistent and I know we need to be running in the top five, so that is our goal to start.”

Let’s be honest. We all want the Chase to be wild, wooly and filled with surprises – are you listening, Chris Buescher?

And let’s be honest again. Every Chase has the potential to be exactly what we would like to be, one that draws our unwavering interest.

There could, indeed, be a new and unexpected champion.

However, if we look at the numbers this season, it’s logical to assume that champion will be from Joe Gibbs Racing.

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.