Sunday, April 15, 2012

Rating the Samsung Mobile 500: 2 Stars **

The year of the long green-flag run continued Saturday night at Texas Motor Speedway in a 500-mile race that closed with a 351-mile green-flag run that included four green-flag pit stops. However, there wasn’t much action in those 500 miles so the first night race of the season gets a 2 Star Rating.

Greg Biffle and Jimmie Johnson were the stars of this show. Johnson led a race-high 156 laps but Biffle caught him with 30 laps to go to cruise to his first victory since October 2010.

Although Biffle went 49 races between wins, he has been in contention several times and has run extremely well so far this season. He leads the points, and it was just a matter of time before he reached Victory Lane.

The #16 team could really be on to something. The Biff has two wins at Kansas Speedway, the site of next week’s race, and the Roush-Fenway Racing Fords of Biffle, Matt Kenseth and to a lesser extent Carl Edwards have run well at each intermediate track on the schedule.

Right now Biffle and the #16 team have the look of a group that will seriously contend for the championship. Edwards and Kevin Harvick have started recent season in similar fashion to Biffle this year and each finished in the top three in the final standings. Don’t be surprised if Biffle is in that position this year.

As for Saturday’s race, the action wasn’t thrilling by any means, but at least it was a legitimate race. NASCAR officials didn’t get trigger happy throughout the race and throw cautions for debris to bunch up the field. Sure, that would’ve made for closer racing at times, but NASCAR should be a sport first and entertainment business second.

In the days before every lap of every race was televised, plenty of races finished with a margin of victory that was more than three seconds. The problem lately has been that people complain and complain and complain that the racing isn’t close enough, so then we end up watching reality television where the producers, or in this case race officials, influence the outcome of the event.

The other aspect of racing Saturday’s race the green-flag racing showcased was that there are still differences in the cars’ setups. Drivers complain nearly every week that they can’t pass because everybody is running the same speed. Well, some of that is because the cars all have the same basic body shape, but another reason is because there aren’t many extended green-flag runs in modern day NASCAR races.

At least the drivers had a hand in the outcome of the race at Texas. Biffle actually had to save his equipment so he could make a final push to get past Johnson for the win. That’s the type of strategy that won David Pearson so many races. That is an aspect of auto racing that shouldn’t be lost.

Sunday’s race at Rockingham also forced drivers to really drive their trucks rather than ride around at the same speed all day. The wonderfully abrasive surface at the Rock created solid, good racing.

NASCAR didn’t grow in popularity during the 1990s and 200s because of weekly photo finishes. It grew because people enjoyed watching drivers manhandle their cars through 500 miles at high speeds.

Sunday’s Rockingham race showed how fun racing can be without all of the heavy dependence of aerodynamics. It wasn’t a wreckfest and the finish wasn’t particularly close, but the trucks weren’t all running the same speeds because the tires wore outs so quickly.

While it’s nice to have the big, fancy palaces of speed such as Texas Motor Speedway, this weekend may have stirred memories of why we all fell in love with racing in the first place. The 200-mph race at Texas was fine, but the 130-mph race at Rockingham was just as fun, if not more.

Have a great week, everybody. Next up the trucks and Cup cars will be at another 1.5-mile giant in Kansas that will likely produce a race very similar to what we saw Saturday night in Texas.

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