Opinion: No Need for Speed

NASCAR

Pistone: If shaving a few miles per hour off can help accomplish the goal of more side-by-side racing and lead changes, why wait? Can a fan actually tell whether a car is going 180 mph vs. 160 mph?

Every time I hear an announcer excitedly report a new track qualifying record has been set, I cringe. Unfortunately I’ve heard it a lot in year one of the Gen-6 Sprint Cup car and more than likely will hear it again before the final checkered flag of the year at Homestead.

It’s not surprising to see drivers set records during time trials with the new car. I mean after all, we’re talking about a machine nearly 150 pounds lighter than its predecessor. I’m neither a math major nor an engineer, but is anyone really surprised about a car weighing less being faster?

Whether or not these time trial marks resonate with fans is questionable. Personally I would personally trade in every track record shattered in qualifying this year in exchange for a better race that same weekend.

Fortunately this has been a pretty good year of competition in the Cup Series and while the Gen-6 car appears to still be a work in progress, we’ve seen our share of exciting racing through the first 20. But things can always improve and NASCAR, to its credit, understands that concept.

Logically one of the easiest ways to make the racing even better would be to slow down the cars.

If there’s one thing NASCAR took away from last week’s phenomenal truck series show at Eldora is that slower can actually mean better.

The trucks didn’t need to click off laps like winged sprint cars or dirt late models do around Eldora to put on a memorable race. Sure they may have looked like they were lumbering around by comparison, but so what? The slower speeds and not one ounce of aerodynamics allowed drivers to race each other all around the track nearly lap after lap.

Now I realize we’re talking about a half-mile dirt track and not a 2.5-mile or even an intermediate sized superspeedway. But allowing drivers to actually race rather than just hold on for dear life as they rocket through corners well over 200 mph has to be a better recipe for creating an entertaining product.

Former Speedway Motorsports Inc. and Charlotte Motor Speedway president H.A. “Humpy” Wheeler had this to say about the aero issues still plaguing the Cup cars after Sunday’s Brickyard 400.

“I believe a lot of this can be blamed on the much maligned aero push that enables the lead car on all tracks except Daytona and Talledega to simply take off and then you have a lead of 600 feet and that completely eliminates back and forth racing for the lead,” Wheeler told The Charlotte Observer. “The back-and-forth lead change is probably the second most exciting thing in racing (outside of the wreck) and we simply don't have that.”

If shaving a few miles per hour off can help accomplish the goal of more side-by-side racing and lead changes, why wait? Can a fan actually tell whether a car is going 180 mph vs. 160 mph?

Whenever I hit a weekly short track probably the best race of the night is the hobby stock feature. Although the super late models or winged sprint cars are the headline event, more often than not once the fastest car gets to the front and pulls away it’s end of story. When the lower buck division takes to the track it’s a different story. While those cars are significantly slower than the top series, there are far more door handle to door handle battles most of the time because the drivers have better control at those reduced speeds.

Now I’m certainly not advocating turning NASCAR’s top tier into a glorified street stock class. But dialing down the mph in exchange for a more exciting race then the one we just watched last week at Indianapolis for instance seems like a more than fair exchange.

Qualifying sessions are an important part of a NASCAR weekend. But the only thing that really matters comes on Sunday afternoon or Saturday night. Keep the track records and give me a memorable race day anytime.

The opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the positions of the Motor Racing Network.

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