Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Rating the Heath Calhoun 400: 2 Stars **

Following one of the best races in NASCAR history is always going to be difficult, but Richmond seemed like a track that could handle the pressure. However, Saturday night’s race was dominated by two cars and NASCAR once again pulled out the debris caution a few times to keep things together. Overall, the spring race at Richmond gets a 2 Star Rating.

Kyle Busch finally broke through into the win column at Richmond. He certainly had the dominant car throughout most of the night, leading 226 of 400 laps while Jeff Gordon led for another 144 without bringing home a trophy. Those two drivers left a whole 30 laps for someone else to lead, and Jeff Burton led 20 of those. Not quite the record-setting pace that was kept at Talladega.

The announcers were big proponents of the wave-around rule a year ago. I, however, can’t say I’ve warmed up to it yet. Plus, the way things played out Saturday evening was bogus. There will never again be a race with less than 10 cars left on the lead lap at the finish.

It was pretty darn convenient that just after everyone had completed green flag pit stops and Jimmie Johnson went a lap down, the debris caution waved. With only nine cars on the lead lap, nearly the entire field was brought back into contention as 18 cars took the wave around.

There are so many free passes given in NASCAR these days. I understand the safety issue with drivers racing back to the line for a caution, but back when it was allowed, the drivers themselves dealt with who would get a lap back or who would be kept a lap down by how hard the leader raced that car back to the line. Now the drivers have basically no say at all in who they will be competing against at the end of a race because most of the field will be on the lead lap regardless. Remember, this is racing, not just TV entertainment. Real competition happens on the track, no script is needed.

There was no incentive to fight to stay on the lead lap in the first half of the race Saturday night. As long as a car stayed only one lap behind, they were going to get their chance to be in contention at some point because twice NASCAR handed out a debris caution for cars to get back on the lead lap. Then, to make things worse, 10 laps later another debris caution was thrown so the wave around cars could pit and everyone would be on the same pit cycle.

We go through this every year, and this is one of the things that keep NASCAR from getting respect, not only from outsiders, but from its very own fans. Come on NASCAR, stop playing mini-games within the races.

One more quick point. The tire combination used at Richmond was the same that was run at Phoenix, which was also not one of the greatest races of the year until cautions created a close finish. Goodyear has done a great job for the most part this season, but those flat tracks may need to be looked at again. Hopefully there is a different combination for New Hampshire or that could be a long day.

So next week the series heads to “The Lady in Black” for the Southern 500 in Darlington, S.C. There is no reason this shouldn’t be a good race. The track still has grip and the spoiler may actually make a difference on this track. Cars already run loose to begin with at that track, and the spoiler should loosen things up all the more. Have a great week and Mother’s Day weekend.


  1. Nice breakdown, JM. I believe as long as they don't have a lot of blowouts, Goodyear can't really be held responsible for lack of competition. Tracks like Richmond, Phoenix, and Darlington will always have a few teams that find the setup better than others. While at Talladega, setups don't mean much. Anyone can run up front there.

  2. 2 stars indeed! That was a snoozefest with only two drivers mixing it up most of the race. Or maybe it was b/c my drivers were out of it.

    I agree with Gene, cant really blame the tires here its the setups and sometimes teams just hit it.

    At least Fox found the debris they threw the cautions for...not mystery ones this time but the water bottle was pretty weak!

  3. Gene - I see your point, I just think they have had trouble several times since the COT was used. I think over the past few years they have found good combinations at most tracks, but I think they can do better on these couple.

    klvalus - No no, you saw it correctly. They can't all be amazing I guess. I will say it was pretty cool to see that spring rubber on fire. lol.

  4. jmayer, nice breakdown. I agree, gone are the days when someone in the top 10 was one or more laps down. IF this race was run by the old rules, only the top 3-5 cars would have finished on the lead lap. Sixth place would have been a lap down. Smoke would have finished about 10 laps down, the way he was running at Richmond. We went from one of the all-time great races at Talladega to one of the all-time great snoozefests. I would have expected it at a 1.5 mile track, but not at Richmond.

  5. jon_464 - Yes, and if that would have happened the rest of the field should be embarrassed they couldn't keep up. Now, the results say most of them had a decent day when they really didn't. This same thing could happen at Dover in a couple weeks. Hope not.