Monday, August 4, 2008

Pocono Postmortem

Edwards Goes Head Over Heels Once Again Celebrating Victory

(photo from "That's Racin'" Charlotte Observer)

The NASCAR Sprint Cup racers headed to the Poconos, that great mystical moutainous land for honeymooners, and a real NASCAR race actually broke out. Given the horrible tire fiasco one week earlier at the Brickyard and all the whining about the Pennsylvania track including some negative comments from high profile drivers like Jeff Gordon amid speculation that Bruton Smith is ready to open his wallet to buy one or both of the Mid-Atlantic tracks to gain a date for his Kentucky track and possibly a second event in Vegas, the August Pocono race was the raciest event in the tranquil setting of Long Pond, PA in ages.

Each pit stop meant something where twelve drivers lead a lap and Mark Martin, a huge fan favorite looked poised to dominate the race early on leading the most laps before some pit crew errors ruined his day. Showing just how competative the "Race for the Chase" is, Matt Kennseth finished a respectable 11th but slipped back to 13th spot in the standings down two positions, 11 points back, and outside looking in were this the determining race at Richmond on what would normally look like a brilliant day for the Roush-Fenway team having the winning driver and all five cars in the top 13.

Despite ESPN's dreadful quick exit at the end of the race never giving the point standings as in "oh well, they're going to watch SportsCenter anyway" they at least had time to stuff a microphone in Tony Stewart's puss, who acted downright cheerful and friendly finishing second. Tony must have gotten all the vinegar out of his system after last week's USAC race that got him in hot water and $10,000 poorer for "faulty behavior" blasting officials for "playing God" on calling cautions. Kurt Busch haters were rewarded with a miserable performance from the brash overnight sensation who looked more like an over anxious rookie than a championship contender. Kasey Kahne and Kevin Harvick in addition to Stewart, Martin, and Edwards were racers who saw the greatest gain in the standings at race's end.

All in all, the second Pocono race was one of the most exciting races at the track in a long time where recently it has seemed like a handful of drivers have found the right setup and the rest of the teams struggle. NASCAR fans and press were anxious to pounce on anything wrong this weekend given how the Indy experience tested their patience the previous week. Even the rain delay was quick and ESPN's coverage was rather substantial and not the usual chit-chat to kill time during such events.

While watching the race and looking at the clock even prior to the rain delay, this fan couldn't help but thinking that calling the Coca Cola 600 the longest race in Charlotte might be a little bit of a misnomer. It would be interesting to check if the Pocono races take more time though the Charlotte event is 100 miles longer. If NASCAR's premier division is going to continue to peform on the "tricky triangle," the race should be shortened so there is high impact racing for the whole event. It's also not fair to the fans who generally have substantial drives home to Philadelphia, New York, Baltimore, Washington, and further on a Sunday night. The ESPN commentators discussed that one even suggesting they go as low as a 300K race which might be a little too short. Still, the expectation should be a race should finish in no more than 3 1/2 to 4 hours under normal circumstances. It's just asking too much of fans to be locked into race coverage from noon until after six allowing for the necessary pre and post race coverage. In truth, there was virtually no post race coverage yesterday anyway as ESPN wouldn't want to shorten either SportsCenter for fear of stepping on their anchor's shtick, hype for the X Games, whatever they are, the Brett Favre soap opera, and baseball. At times, ESPN appears overbooked as calamity would surely break lose if the end of a race conflicted with their Sunday Night Baseball. That should be less of a problem in the east as sunset approaches the 8;00 pm mark, but in September, the coverage moves to ABC, over the air, where the network showed an anxiousness to cut early for the sake of prime time programs.

There is little disagreement the Pocono races need to be shortened. Who benefits from the longer events? Fans surely have purchased all the race trinkets and t-shirts they can possibly carry by about 3:30 in the afternoon, leaving only the beer and food vendors benefitting. Given the extra time is dedicated to beer guzzling more than anything, the driving public and the Pennsylvania State Police would probably also benefit from shorter events. The downside of such a good race for this year's second trip to Pennsylvania will subdue some of that fervor that was getting quite loud after Pocono I in June.
On to another race in Yankee territory next week as the NASCAR fellows descend upon Watkins Glen to test their skill at turning right a few times as they navigate the road course. The entry list should be available soon as road course ringers like Boris Said and Marcos Ambrose will compete against the regulars some who will be given the afternoon off in favor of these "specialists." As there was not much movement in and out of the crucial top 35, the "go or go home" competition becomes ever more intense as drivers need to please sponsors and start looking toward locking in a spot in next year's Daytona 500 and first five races. Yes, it's that time of year already.

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