Friday, March 7, 2008

Welcome to Hot-lanta

NASCAR fans will be treated this weekend to a rare triple-header in Atlanta. It couldn't happen at a better track than AMS (or is it now called Cracker Barrel Speedway?).

The side-by-side racing became exceptional when workers reconfigured the track in 1997 and turned it into a quad-oval. That first race at the new track in November 1997 was full of excitement as Geoff Bodine sat on the pole with a fast lap of more than 197 mph. The following day, points leader Jeff Gordon crashed his primary car on pit road as he prepared to take the track for practice. In his back-up car, Gordon barely held off Dale Jarrett and Mark Martin to win his second championship.

The Atlanta races also have been known for rain delays. In the 1998 season finale, Gordon won his 13th race of the year shortly before midnight. The March 2000 Busch Series race also went late before Mark Martin took the checkers.

But Atlanta is best known for three-wide racing and fantastic finishes. The final laps of the Cup races at the turn of the century were both riveting and emotional. Dale Earnhardt barely beat Bobby Labonte to the line in 2000; then Kevin Harvick honored The Intimidator with a similar finish against Gordon the following year.

Why NASCAR decided to move the final race of the year from Atlanta to Homestead-Miami remains a mystery. You're sure to find the best racing of the year this Sunday afternoon.

It will be interesting to see if Roush-Fenway Racing can continue its strong runs at the intermediate tracks, or if the 100-point penalty to Carl Edwards following his win at Vegas will break the streak. Sprint Cup qualifying begins at 6:30 p.m. today and will be televised on SPEED-TV. The truck race starts at 9 p.m.


Roger said...

The last couple of days have found the racing news filled with the Carl Edwards' story of the loose lid. Now, I read a story about loose right-side door latches.

With all the stories and talk, why is there never any drawings or pictures to explain these matters? I follow racing to an extent, but have never had the opportunity to be at a track, in the pits, or around the cars in any way. I'm mechanically inclined, so these details are interesting to me. But, without drawings or multiple images, I still don't know what all the talk is about.

In my ignorant way, when I hear a lid is gone from the oil tank, I get a picture of the entire back of the car (inside) covered with oil from the tank. Obviously, this did not happen. So, my perception is all wrong.

Any help here ....?

I am also really confused why stupid things are done. EVERYBODY knows that the winning car, plus others, are covered with a fine tooth comb in post-race inspection. Why do these folks do these things (I believe the actions must have been intentional), knowing the car will undergo a detailed inspection? They can't be dumb enough to think the inspectors won't find these faults. If they are that dumb, then they must have breathed too many exhaust fumes.

Mike Jones said...

Roger, I read on ESPN that photos of Edwards' backflip were circulating around the garage because the missing lid apparently could be seen. I couldn't find the photo on the Internet, but that's probably the closest we'll ever get to understanding what exactly happened.

NASCAR always has closely guarded cheating so others don't try to copy it, I assume. Remember when Michael Waltrip's crew put "jet fuel" in his car at Daytona last year? NASCAR never divulged what exactly the substance was.

I can't imagine Edwards' infraction is as obvious as a missing lid. It's incredibly difficult to win in Sprint Cup, so any advantage is taken and even tweaks can lead to a victory. There is such a gray area with the cars, too, so a crew chief can claim he didn't know a minor change to the car would be illegal (Think of Jeff Gordon's T-Rex car in 1998).

It's only been in the past couple years that NASCAR is dropping huge penalties on cheaters (although they did let Robby Gordon off the hook). Just a few years ago, Edwards and others would have got off with a $25,000 fine with no points lost. Even with the harsher penalties, it doesn't seem like the cheaters are getting the message.

NASCAR does go over those cars with a fine-tooth comb, but the teams are always trying to outsmart the officials. Always have, and always will.

Roger said...

As a follow up ... I was able to watch some of today's race. During the prerace coverage, Jeff Hammand and Darrell Waltrip were in the garage area with a mock-up/cut-away car. The top was off, so visibility was good to the inside of the car. They were there specifically to address the Carl Edwards' issue of the oil cover. With the cover loose, they showed exactly which parts were of interest, what happened to them, and the implications of the misplaced lid. Clearly, with DW rolling eyes, they couldn't believe any story that said "we didn't know." They showed the distance from the hot oil tank in the cavity to the driver, and said that any driver would sense the heat coming from the tank under the misplaced lid. And, they showed how the air flow would have come up from under the car, through the cavity, and out the top where the lid should have been secured.

It was a good segment, and it seemed to me, they held nothing back in explaining the matter. They were certainly not trying to provide cover for the Edwards' camp.

Brant said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Brant said...

As for the move of the final race from Atlanta to Homestead, I can only guess that the reason was money. That's what drives NASCAR and all other sports these days. If the suits at the TV networks demand that a game or race be moved to a different time or different day, the "leaders" of the sports organizations jump to it. That's why we now have college football pretty much every day of the week. ESPN said so.