The combination of double-file restarts and multiple attempts at a Green-White-Checkered finish have certainly added a new element of excitement to the end of NASCAR races. But is there a price for that excitement at the end? I believe there is.
Consider the race at Phoenix. Ryan Newman had a decent car throughout the race, but it certainly wasn't a winning race car. Three different drivers combined to lead most of the laps (Kyle Busch, Montoya, and Johnson), and all three were still in contention towards the end. Yet Newman ends up with the win based on a 2-tire pit stop when some of the other leaders took 4. The purpose of this blog isn't to debate which call was better, however. We are going to look a little deeper than that.
The problem is simply the fact that a 4-hour race came down to one decision on pit road. It wasn't about who had the best car, and honestly it wasn't even about who had the best strategy. That sounds odd to say, but if we'd had one more caution and a second GWC attempt, Johnson (with 4 fresh tires) most likely would have won the race instead of Newman--meaning that the entire race comes down to how many GWCs we have and not the best car or the best strategy. Somebody who's running at the back 3 laps down and causes a wreck effectively has more to do with the outcome of the race than the leaders or their crew chiefs. Is that fair?
With these new rules in place, the endings of races feel more like games of chance. I'm okay with that every once in a while, but not very often. And to return to the title of this blog - with the outcome of a race being determined by that game of chance, what does it accomplish to run hard earlier in the race? Aside from getting a few bonus points, it doesn't accomplish anything. In fact, we've seen that it's actually a disadvantage to be the leader if a late caution comes out (see Kyle Busch at Phoenix as well as Denny Hamlin at Martinsville, even though he was able to recover).
Basically, all a driver needs to do to have a shot at the win is to stay relatively close to the front and hope the crew chief makes the right call at the end. With that thought in mind, what is accomplished by the first 490 miles (or whatever the case may be at each track)? Not a whole lot, and that may be a big why more and more people are tuning out. The call that is made (2 tires or 4?) heading into the 501st mile determines everything.
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