Friday, August 17, 2012

NASCAR finish at the Glen was just my style

COMING SOON: I will be blogging from the IndyCar Series race on the permanent road course in Sonoma, California, next week.  In a couple weeks, check out my take on the car that pioneered alternative power among mainstream U.S. motorists – the Toyota Prius. -- mg

Sacramento, California – I can’t remember the last time I stood up and cheered an auto race that I was viewing on television.

It happened last weekend during NASCAR Sprint Cup’s Finger Lakes 355 on the 2.45-mile, 11-turn road course at Watkins Glen International in New York.

The last-lap duel between eventual winner Marcos Ambrose and second-place finisher Brad Keselowski – with disgruntled odd-man-out Kyle Busch thrown in for good measure – was one for the ages.

Alas, there was the usual griping and grousing among the back-end finishers after the checkered flag fell.  For me, the last lap dogfight was racing at its unvarnished best, and all of NASCAR should have taken notice that, rules be damned, this was racing as it should be.

I was a NASCAR follower before many people outside the Southeastern United States knew what it was, but my current gripes with the top-tier Sprint Cup Series are shared by others: too much talking before the race, too many meaningless in-car driver interviews during the pace/caution laps, way too much whining, way too many cautions and some races that seem to go on forever.

I’ve sometimes found myself dozing during a NASCAR race, because, well, I’m just not that interested in who took the lead on the 68th lap of a 500-lap race.  I likewise get tired of late-race cautions caused by drivers making ridiculous moves to move up into the top 10.  Invariably, late-race restarts produce an undeserving winner who just happened to float through the wreckage and is surprised to find that he’s the first one under the checkered flag.

Last Sunday, the final-lap run to the checkers was an action movie packed into two minutes.

Kyle Busch was leading the race, with Keselowski and Ambrose seemingly content to finish in lockstep for second and third.  Suddenly, within a short beer run of the finish, it was obvious that Busch was struggling with something.  We later learned that everyone was struggling with the same thing: plentiful oil on the track as a result of Bobby Labonte’s car springing a major leak.

Suddenly, Keselowski and Ambrose dispatched Busch in a quick-fire burst of dicey moves.  From there, Keselowski and Ambrose raced all-out to the finish.  They bumped, they smashed together, they slid, they went sideways, they blasted through the dirt and the grass – a wild, amazing show that had fans (and yours truly) jumping for joy.

And when it was over, when Ambrose somehow squeezed out Keselowski, who spent most of the last lap sideways, the two came back into the pits with broad grins on their faces.  No whining, no woulda, shoulda, coulda.  They were like two kids jumping off their first roller coaster ride.

The post-race comments of Ambrose and Keselowski essentially summed it up along the lines of: “Man was that great out there, or what???!!!”

It was boys, it was.  Busch team members and other drivers who ran afoul of the oily surface said NASCAR should have thrown the caution flag because the racing conditions had become so dangerous.

Technically speaking, they’re right.  My gut feelings: I don’t care.

Throwing the caution flag would have made for another slow parade and another green-white-checker finish, or probably several of them given the frantic moves drivers were making on the road course.

I’m glad that no hands went for the caution lights and yellow flags, because the show Ambrose and Keselowski put on was the best NASCAR racing I can remember … and maybe the best on-track action I’ve seen since Al Unser Jr. beat Scott Goodyear to the checkers by an eye-blink in the 1992 Indianapolis 500.

Boys having at it? You bet.  Give me more.

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