Watkins Glen Is Tonic NASCAR Needs

I used to hate Winston Cup road races. I dreaded the two trips a year to Sears Point and Watkins Glen because the thought of stock cars turning left and right, navigating elevation changes and sliding off into gravel pits just didn’t seem right. Let CART and Formula One have the twisting rides through the countryside. NASCAR boys belong on the lightning-fast high banks or rough-and-tumble short tracks.

Boy, have times changed. Last week’s Global Crossing @ The Glen was one of the best Winston Cup races anywhere. A first-time winner holding off a wily veteran down the stretch, favorites spinning out or crashing, side-by-side action and, of course, a heated altercation between two of the top drivers in the series.

These are the things that helped make NASCAR the giant it is today. Every week there was exciting action that captivated both the fans that bought a ticket to the race as well as those watching at home.

But sadly, Watkins Glen was the exception to the all too familiar single-file racing that Winston Cup racing has become this season. Just the week before, Bobby Labonte’s Brickyard 400 win was the equivalent of overdosing on Nyquil. Daytona’s Pepsi 400 had less excitement than an Air Supply reunion concert. Two races at New Hampshire means two Sundays of sleeping on the sofa.

Variety is the spice that Winston Cup racing so badly needs because the cookie-cutter ovals that populate the majority of the schedule have taken the life out of the series. The next guy that proposes building a 1.5-mile track with a dogleg down the front straight should be locked in a room and forced to listen to Buddy Baker tapes for a week.

We need excitement back in Winston Cup racing. More short tracks like Bristol and Martinsville and a return to superspeedway racing the way it used to be (i.e. without restrictor plates) would be one way to pump new life into what is quickly becoming a fendered version of those Sunday morning Formula One parades.

Hopefully this week’s test at Daytona will be a step in the right direction. Adding more aerodynamic drag and increasing horsepower, with a hopefully much larger restrictor plate, will let the drivers actually drive the cars and pass each other.

If NASCAR can replicate what the truck series did at Daytona, with their boxy aerodynamics, maybe races at Daytona and Talladega will once again be something worth watching instead of background television noise while organizing your sock drawer.

Speaking of the trucks, while much has been written about the sagging interest in the six-year-old series, it is, in my opinion, the best racing NASCAR has to offer. Whether on the short tracks or even the superspeedways, the trucks have been twice as entertaining to watch this season than just about any Winston Cup or Busch Series race.

Sure, Greg Biffle and Kurt Busch have been dominating, but the outcome is never a given and there’s always plenty of action throughout the pack. The same just can’t be said about Winston Cup.

So lets hope that the last part of the Winston Cup season provides us with more than just an endless stream of commercialism, self-promotion, merchandising and television contract talk. Lets hope for some actual racing.

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