Top, Joey Logano (22) and Brad Keselowski (2) approach the start-finish line in the closing laps Saturday night at Richmond. Bottom, Jeff Gordon (24) and Brad Keselowski (2) battle for position on the frontstretch. (AP Photo)
Saturday's race at Richmond was everything NASCAR racing should be.
Matt Kenseth desperate bid to hold off Brad Keselowski and Jeff Gordon in the closing laps created the kind of heart-stopping drama only short-track racing can provide. And when flaring tempers led to contact between Keselowski and Kenseth, Joey Logano was able to capitalize, driving from fourth to first in the bat of an eyelash to claim his second win of the season.
As is often the case at short tracks, the fireworks didn't come until after the checkered flag flew. Keselowski showed his displeasure with Kenseth by brake-checking him on the cool-down lap, drawing the ire of both Kenseth and Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Then came a full-on fistfight in the infield between Marcos Ambrose and Casey Mears, two of the nicest guys on the Sprint Cup circuit. When Mears pushed Ambrose, the Aussie brought the Thunder from Down Under and landed a stiff right hand to the face of the Californian.
In a nutshell, Saturday night's race showcased the best of what NASCAR can offer — drama, emotion and fire. Too bad we won't see another short-track race until August.
I've written many times before about NASCAR's lack of foresight, so I won't belabor the point here. The westward expansion that occurred in the 1990s was ill advised because all the tracks built west of the Mississippi were speedways.
NASCAR is a unique sport with unique problems, and one of them is the permanence of racetracks. It takes a lot of money and more than a few political favors to get them built, and once they are constructed, the local economy grows dependent on NASCAR's annual or biannual visits.
Unlike the scourge of ugly cookie-cutter baseball stadiums built in major league cities last century, tearing down speedways and building a half-mile or mile oval in their place is not an option. To do so would require a commitment from taxpayers surrounding a track to pay for the construction of a new venue.
While the folks in Baltimore or Cincinnati may be willing to pony up some cash in order for their beloved Orioles or Reds to have a nicer stadium to play in, there are no home teams in NASCAR, and it would be a tough sell to replace the boring oval near Chicago, for example, with a raucous half-mile bullring.
So a lack of foresight and a convoluted method for assigning race dates have left us without enough races like the one we saw on Saturday. The only glimmer of hope for NASCAR fans at this point is the short track in Iowa, which packs the house when it hosts Nationwide Series races, lands a date on the Cup schedule next season.
One would hope that NASCAR is capable of learning from such mistakes, but with the talk of reducing horsepower in Cup cars next season, that appears doubtful. In my 10 years of covering this sport, I haven't seen racing as good as what we've witnessed in the early part of this season.
And yet, NASCAR is seriously talking about making a change to the cars that will undoubtedly lead to several unintended consequences. Higher corner speeds that come with less horsepower could force Goodyear to go to back to the drawing board, erasing the gains in tire wear that have made great races like the one we saw on Saturday night possible.
I hope NASCAR, just this once, can show a little self-restraint and abandon the "If it ain't broke, go fix it" approach.
Dave Ongie covers motorsports for the Times-News. On Twitter, he is @KTNSportsOngie. Reach him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can hear him Monday mornings at 9:10 on "Good Morning Tri-Cities" with Tom Taylor on 870 AM and 100.7 FM.comments powered by Disqus