Craig Murto

Craig Murto

When I sat down to watch Sunday’s NASCAR race from the superspeedway at Talladega, Alabama, the first thing that impressed me was that the place was jam-packed full of spectators.

That was a pleasant surprise; obviously the sport has life in it yet.

One of the factors leading to the ticket sales may have been that for the first time in decades the cars ran at Talladega without restrictor plates to limit airflow into the engine. Instead, they used a tapered spacer that gave the cars about 100 more horsepower and better throttle response. Add to that the new spoiler, and drafting was going to be the name of the game, with faster closing rates between cars than ever before.

Single-car qualifying recorded speeds of about 192 mph. But in practice, Ryan Newman was clocked at more than 204 as he drafted up to a group of cars. The drafting speeds concerned a number of drivers, and during the race some cars in the draft were clocked at 208 mph.

The fans in those full grandstands and packed infield were not disappointed in the show.

There was incredible racing throughout the day, which only got better as the race went on and drivers got used to the new setup. There were thrills and spills, including a last-lap crash that sent Kyle Larson’s car rolling down the backstretch.

And to top off a good day, NASCAR’s most popular driver, Chase Elliott, took home the winner’s trophy.

Expect NASCAR to make some small changes before the series competes at Daytona in July without restrictor plates. For decades the magic speed has always been 200 mph, and anything faster than that makes the sanction nervous due to the increased chance for cars to get airborne. In the past decade, most cars that have gotten airborne on these tracks did so as a result of impact from another car, rather than aerodynamically.

The cars are equipped with items such as roof flaps that are meant to keep the car on the ground should it get turned around at high speed. But when cars are going faster than 200 mph, it’s a lot more difficult. Larson’s car began to lift and was actually in the air when it hit the inside wall on Sunday, before tumbling. NASCAR will be paying close attention.

The new high-downforce packages NASCAR is testing this year may not work everywhere, but they hit a home run with the new package that replaces restrictor plates. And thankfully a large crowd was on hand to watch.

The spectators who took advantage of free admission to Summit Point Motorsports Park saw an exciting weekend of Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) racing. All SCCA races at Summit Point allow spectators in free of charge this season.

Last weekend was the Northeast Division Majors Tour, round one. A mention has to go out to second-generation racer Ryan Downey, whose father, Brian, successfully passed on the winning genes to his son. Ryan won his first Majors event in the GTL class on Saturday, but it was Sunday’s race that was most intriguing.

Sunday’s rain stopped by the time Downey’s race was on the grid, but the track had only begun to dry. Brian Downey made the call to go out on slicks. Ryan appeared to have his hands full early in the race when the track was wettest, but as it dried his Nissan had an advantage over cars that went out on rain tires, which overheat and lose traction in dry conditions. By the end of the race, Ryan Downey had won his second Majors event, and proven once again that “father knows best.”

In other local action, Kyle Hardy won the Late Model race at Winchester Speedway, which will be closed this weekend for Apple Blossom. James Lichliter won the Late Model Sportsman race at Hagerstown. Allen Purkhiser won both Super Cup Stock Car Series features at Dominion Raceway. And at Shenandoah, Zack Wells won the Late Model feature and Michael Keeton took the Virginia Sprint Series win.

Dominion is closed this weekend. Shenandoah features Late Models and Virginia Sprints. Hagerstown will host Late Models and Mid-Atlantic Modifieds. The best bet for the weekend in auto racing is Saturday night at South Boston Speedway, as the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East competes in twin 100-lap features. If motorcycles are more to your liking, the MotoAmerica series will compete at Virginia International Raceway near Danville on Saturday and Sunday.

Veteran motorsports columnist Craig Murto is a Linden resident.