Yesterday I watched two road course races that couldn’t have been more different. The ALMS race from Road America was an example of what road course racing is about. The NASCAR Nationwide race from Montreal was not only about what road course racing isn’t but what racing in general isn’t.
NASCAR apologists will answer all of my criticisms with claims that the Montreal race was exciting. It was exciting in a negative way; one watched to see what was going to happen next, not because there was exciting racing happening. One could easily blame Jacques Villeneuve for much of the mayhem but that just scratches the surface of what was wrong. The race was poorly officiated on NASCAR’s part. First, yellow flags were flown inconsistently and seemingly arbitrarily. One spin that didn’t block the track and didn’t leave debris on the track would bring out a yellow while a similar spin later might not. The criteria for yellows just wasn’t clear or consistent. Once the yellow was thrown, the cautions lasted way too long, especially at the end of the race (more on that later). Boys have has gone to far to the other side; it seems like some races are now free-for-alls, or as I referred to the race on Twitter – “Prison Rules Racing.” NASCAR needs to realize that the black flag is for more than calling in a car to serve a penalty for something that happened on pit road. It can also be used to call a car in for a penalty arising from avoidable contact or spinning a car with hostile intent. Drivers should not be allowed to benefit from knocking a car off course on purpose. If local short tracks can figure this out, surely NASCAR can. Spin a car out or cause a crash at most local short tracks and see where you restart from (hint – it is NOT from the front). Most egregiously, at Montreal it seemed that NASCAR tried to run Villeneuve out of gas with extended cautions after failing to penalize him for spinning Tagliani. That may not have been NASCAR’s intent but it sure seemed like it. NASCAR needs to decide if they want their races to be sporting events or entertainment events; the closing laps of Montreal seemed to be more like a professional wrestling match.
On the other hand, the ALMS race from Road America was spectacular. It was four hours of good hard road racing on one of our country’s best circuits. While there was certainly some boneheaded racing (the 31 GTC car comes to mind), the race featured close competition, thought not necessarily close finishes in all 5 classes. The best race of the day was in the P1 category; mechanical issues in practice and early in the race resulted in a dramatic race between the Muscle Milk HPD ARX-03a and the #16 Dyson-Mazda Lola B-12/60. The Dyson car had gearbox issues in practice that prevented it from qualifying so they started last in the field. The Muscle Milk car started from the pole but ended up going 4 laps down early with a water leak. The Dyson car fought through the field to take the lead as the Muscle Milk car fought back from 4 laps down, regaining the lead lap in the final hour. The closing minutes of the race saw a fantastic duel between the two cars that featured a last corner pass for the lead by the Muscle Milk car followed by a re-pass by the Dyson just before the finish line – all without the need for contrived green-white-checkers, extended cautions, or blatant dumping of another car. Sure, the GT class saw its share of contact, especially near the end of the race, but none of it was near as blatant as the what Villeneuve did to Tagliani in Montreal.
Partly through the antics of Jacques Villeneuve but mostly through NASCAR’s abysmal officiating, the fans were robbed of a proper race at Montreal. It is time for NASCAR to decide what it is; is it an entertaining sport or is it entertainment masquerading as sport? If they decide that they are a sport, they must then put aside their superiority complex, look at how some other series control and manage their races then apply the best of what they find to their rule book. Races like Montreal 2012 are simply an embarrassment.