As the 10th race of the 2009 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season approached, there was plenty of scrutiny surrounding the sport, as there had been for several weeks. Only this time, the complaint was much different than it had previously been.
The complaint had been, for the past several years, that races were boring. And the fans had every right to say that. After all, the bumping, banging, and crashing many fans had grown to love was quickly fading out of the sport. And NASCAR races were, as the fans said, boring.
Enter Talladega. The fans didn’t have to wait a lap to see three-wide racing all through the pack, or the bumping and banging. And they only had to wait 7 laps to witness the largest crash in a NASCAR race since 2005, a 15-car melee that took out points leader Jeff Gordon, as well as other huge names like Clint Bowyer, Kevin Harvick, and Kasey Kahne, as well as the previous week’s winner, Mark Martin.
But that didn’t stop the drivers from continuing to run three-wide, and even 4-wide. And it certainly didn’t stop drivers from running into each other. That sort of racing lead to another “Big One” with 10 laps remaining, that took out 3-time defending champ Jimmie Johnson, Denny Hamlin, who was a front-runner all day, as well as 8 other cars. Even still, the drivers didn’t learn their lesson.
And of course, with 1,000 feet remaining in the Aaron’s 499, NASCAR fans were treated to the most spectacular wreck we’ve seen in a very, very long time. The Carl Edwards/Catchfence saga, as I have come to call it, brought forth scrutiny of a different kind. This time, the scrutiny didn’t surround the lack of real “racing”, but rather called into question the safety of the drivers, as well as the fans. This got many fans, including Yours Truly, believing that there was no way we, the fans, could ever see an exciting race without the question of safety coming into play.
The first half of Saturday night’s race at Richmond proved us skeptics right, as cars drove around in a perpetual circle, with absolutely no excitment. But then, something happened. I don’t really know what it was, but I think it had something to do with the driving of David Stremme. Stremme made a move somewhere around the half-way point of the race that absolutely ticked off AJ Allmendinger. Allmendinger retaliated by ramming the rear-end of Stremme’s car, and from that point forward, it was on.
And it wasn’t just Stremme and Allmendinger, but everybody. We saw Sam Hornish Jr. spin Marcos Ambrose, Dale Earnhardt Jr. punt Jeff Burton, David Stremme flat-out turn Carl Edwards, and Bobby Labonte help put an end to Stremme’s night. Oh, not to mention Kasey Kahne’s little fit, something I’m sure many drivers without on-board camaras were throwing as well. We love you drivers!
I don’t know whether the good folks up in NASCAR’s control tower fell asleep or what, but we not only saw a record-tying 15 caution flags; we saw drivers actually hitting and wrecking each other without receiving so much as a warning from NASCAR!
Richmond has saved NASCAR’s reputation. We thought we may never see an exciting race again. Then, when we finally did see a great race, the safety of today’s racing came into question. At last, Richmond brought the best sports fans in the country a great, exciting race, and the drivers didn’t have to worry about getting hurt. Eureka! It really is possible.
Richmond saved NASCAR’s reputation.