After failing to dust off the race last weekend, it’s so refreshing to be back in the fold, especially at the one race that a year ago was the true wild card of not just the playoffs, but the season.
When NASCAR decided to change up the second race at Charlotte to go from being on the usual track that everyone knows to taking a gamble with turning left and right on the makeshift road course, I was among the many that were excited. For years so many people were asking to have a road course as part of the playoffs, and at the same time people were pushing for one track to be eliminated from the playoffs that maybe didn’t deserve it. In a sense, everyone got satisfied because they eliminated one track, added a road course, and did so at the same venue.
The crowd that came out for that race was one that probably was only matched by the crowd at the Daytona 500, and perhaps Darlington. The race itself was one that no one knew what to expect, because no one had seen the course until that weekend.
The entire Charlotte staff put an incredible amount of investment into the track to make this happen, from adjusting fences, to determining the right layout, and even having to make changes that weekend with all the chaos that was happening in the chicane on the backstretch. Everyone learned from last season what does and doesn’t work, and that was clear when the track changed for this year.
Let’s face it, the chicane on the backstretch was one that was not doing what it was intended to do, slow cars down and make a passing zone. If anything, it reminded me of the esses at Sonoma since you could go single-file through there but still kept speed.
This year, although it’s created a passing zone, it certainly has shown to be a corner where drivers are two-wheeling like they are going through the Sonoma carousel, or in some cases leaping the car over the turtles as if they were in a stunt car for the late Spanky Spangler.
What this does is now test the suspension components probably more than any track seen on the circuit.
It also creates another question: should this track be the cutoff for a round in the playoffs?
To me…absolutely. I was a firm believer for many years that in this 16-car playoff bracket, the lone track that should not be a cutoff race to decide who’s in or who’s out for the next round is Talladega. Even though the restrictor plates are gone and we have gone to the tapered spacer, the taller spoilers and now the wicker, there’s still the element of not being in total control of the race and having to trust those racing around you.
Here, much different, and that’s a good thing. Last year, I can understand the idea since it was a totally new track, and no one knew what to expect. What we ended up getting was a battle at the finish where the top two ended up colliding, and the driver in third not only won, but secured his position in the next round.
Now, even with the new change to the track, this is still the right track to take the field from 16 drivers down to 12.
Every bit of the race is in the control of the driver, and that’s ultimately what we want. Fuel mileage races are not determined by the driver, because they are told by their team how much they have to back off in order to make it to the finish. Then, even though lapped traffic certainly plays a part in the leaders jockeying for positions, the spotter is the one up top trying to deliver the message to get those cars out of the way, and even so it’s their choice to move over or contest.
Here, so many elements are in the hands of the driver, it means the winner certainly is the best at what they do. Last year, no doubt the two best drivers were the ones battling for the win on that final lap, and ultimately it meant neither won.
But, that’s the kind of racing this track produced a season ago, and I honestly don’t expect anything different. As tight as the points are for the cutoff, this could be the best race of the entire season.
History has a way of repeating itself, so come tomorrow afternoon, we all shall see if that is going to be the case.