Craig Murto: Richmond NASCAR weekend had everything

CRAIG MURTO

 

Last weekend’s NASCAR weekend in Richmond had everything that race fans could possibly want.

Some fans complain that the race was moved from Saturday night to Sunday afternoon. In fact, it was the first scheduled daytime race at Richmond since 1997. But the fans who complained missed the big picture.

It’s all about the kids. Without children becoming exposed to racing, we won’t have another generation of fans. And although Richmond continues to suffer from the attendance problems plaguing tracks this season, there appeared to be a higher percentage of children in the stands than in recent years.

And there was plenty for the children to do. There were exhibits, displays and activities for young people outside the facility in what can only be called a midway. And season ticket holders had the ability to walk around the track in the morning prior to the race and write graffiti on the retaining walls and on the starting line. It was all great fun, and helped to make the fans – especially the important young fans – feel that they were a part of the experience.

Grandstands have been relatively empty this season. At Richmond International Raceway there appeared to be about 40,000 in stands that seat 60,000. The negative “haters” will always hate and blame NASCAR, but I blame the stagnant economy and competition for the entertainment dollar more than anything else.

After all, the racing this year had been the best we’ve seen in NASCAR’s Cup division in many years. And Richmond’s race was no exception.

Maybe it was the fantastic tire Goodyear has developed, which drops off in performance enough to allow cars to pass each other and search for grip. Maybe it was the new aerodynamic package, which gives the Cup cars a lot less aero grip and makes them depend more on those tires that drop off. Whatever it was, the racing was amazing.

Historically at Richmond the best racing groove is on the bottom. But cars fanned out two and three wide during the race, reminiscent of the competition fans saw when the series used to visit the track in Rockingham, N.C.  There was plenty of contact between competitors as cars slipped and slid on old tires at the end of a run. But it speaks volumes of the talent in the series that only two cautions flew for spun cars, as most were displayed due to debris resulting from all that contact.

And if the two- and three-wide racing wasn’t enough for fans, the 400-lap race saved the best for the finish.

In recent years it never failed that somebody would get hooked up and run away at the end of the race, sometimes leading as many as three-quarters of the laps. But Sunday fans saw a number of different leaders, and in the last run Carl Edwards actually chased down his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Kyle Busch.

Teammates play well together, right? Busch and Edwards are both qualified for The Chase, so they’ll be conservative, right?

Wrong.

In what has been reported to be the first ever last-lap pass in the track’s history, Edwards pulled a “bump and run” and passed Busch on the exit of Turn 4 to grab his second win in a row. The fans were thrilled, and certainly the move was the talk of the racing world all week.

Kyle Busch actually handled the loss well, certainly better than he handled his Xfinity loss at California’s Auto Club Speedway, where he stormed off and refused to address the media. He praised his crew for giving him a good car and putting him in a position to win.

Edwards stated in Victory Lane that he fully expects that Busch will pay him back at some point. And team owner Joe Gibbs appeared to be stressed, realizing that it’ll take all his diplomatic abilities to keep two of his competitive teams from tearing each other apart.

For the record, Edwards did nothing wrong. He didn’t wreck Kyle Busch, he moved him over for the win on the final turn of the final lap. Such moves have worked to make NASCAR exciting and popular for 50 years. Busch’s fans aren’t pleased, but deep down inside they know that if the situation were reversed and Busch didn’t move Edwards out of the way, then he didn’t do his job.

It was a perfect race; the perfect way to end a perfect day under perfectly blue skies and perfect 70-degree temperatures.  It was everything a fan could want.

 

 

Veteran motorsports columnist Craig Murto is a Linden resident.

 

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