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Toby's Take: We Can't Keep Doing This at Superspeedways

That's enough. I can't take any more fuel-conservation races at Superspeedways. Sunday's GEICO 500 at Talladega was frustrating in so many ways.


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Sunday's NASCAR Cup Series GEICO 500 at Talladega Superspeedway was so damn frustrating. Sure, it appeared like a hotly contested race, where the field spent most of the day three-wide, seemingly mixing it up for the lead. However, when you look past what you saw on the TV screen and in NASCAR's loop data statistics, you see a different story altogether.

When you listen to the driver/team communications, you could hear drivers expressing their boredom and disdain from behind the wheel. They're pissed off, and rightfully so, they're race car drivers. The majority of Sunday's race wasn't racing. It was riding.

The ultra-fuel-saving methods that we saw play out in the season-opening Daytona 500 were even more aggressive in Sunday's race at Talladega, as the pack was constantly turning laps in the 55-second bracket throughout the race.

For reference on how slow the speeds were in the "draft", single-car qualifying speeds were in the 52-second range. When drivers were told it was time to go for it on Sunday, the speeds increased dramatically. The fastest lap time of the race was a 48.520 sec. lap by Brad Keselowski. That lap is SIX-TO-SEVEN seconds faster than the pace of the pack for the majority of the race.

So, while it looked like they were battling fiercely all day long, they weren't, folks. They were simply riding.

"From my seat, I can only speak from my seat, and that is we didn't do any racing for the first two stages until after we got within a fuel window," Denny Hamlin said in his post-race press conference. "It was all just kind of riding around from our standpoint. But we were three-by-three, so maybe that looked exciting. But certainly, from our standpoint, the game has changed on superspeedway racing."

In essence, drivers are told to no longer drive their hearts out for the opening 90% of Stage 1, Stage 2, and Stage 3. Instead, the strategy is to go into fuel conservation mode from the drop of the green flag to ultimately shorten pit stop times to gain premium track position for the final run of each Stage, and ultimately, the race.

Fascinating? Sure. Frustrating? Absolutely.

All that the fuel-saving strategy has done is render 90 percent of the race to be completely irrelevant.

I know, I know, but there were 72 lead changes! Yipee. You could have 188 lead changes, and it wouldn't change how sorry the current state of Superspeedway racing is.

A lead change is only important if the person being passed for the lead is actively trying to not be passed. That wasn't the case on Sunday, as not being the leader meant further fuel conservation.

It was essentially an afternoon of playing hot potato with the race lead.

Another thing that is frustrating about the new style of Superspeedway racing is that it has wiped away the one compelling thing about traditional Superspeedway racing, which was the uncertainty of when The Big One was going to strike.

Over the years, we've seen The Big One come on Lap 1, Lap 20, Lap 100, and even Lap 188. It was always a moving target, and you never knew when it was going to rear its ugly head. The race served as a pressure cooker, and The Big One was the eventual popping of the top.

When drivers aren't actively slicing and dicing their cars at full speed all race long, it takes that drama away as you know damn well that you aren't getting The Big One in Stage 1. You aren't getting it in Stage 2, either. Hell, you're not even going to get it until after the final pit stop is completed in Stage 3.

It's completely predictable.

Just like the season-opening Daytona 500, which saw The Big One on with six laps remaining in the race, Sunday's edition of The Big One came on the final run of the race. It's not a coincidence. It's what will happen every single time until this fuel-saving racing is eliminated. There's just no reason to put your car in a position to be junked at any other point in the race anymore.

So, how do we fix things? That's a great question, and it's a question that nobody seems to have a real answer for.

NASCAR could adjust the length of the Stages at Superspeedways to a length where teams wouldn't need to pit during the Stage for fuel. That would fix the riding around in the opening two Stages, but you'd still have the riding around until the final pit stop in Stage 3 under that scenario.

The sanctioning body could implement a special "in the draft" minimum speed. For instance, if drivers dipped below 52-second lap times in the draft, which would be slower than what the cars did by themselves in single-car qualifying, stop scoring them for the remainder of the race. That would certainly ensure that teams wouldn't want their drivers putt-putting around at half-throttle all day.

Those are extreme measures for the sanctioning body to go to, though. I would prefer for a couple of teams -- possibly underdog open teams like Live Fast Motorsports and Beard Motorsports -- to band together and refuse to slow their pace.

At five seconds faster per lap, it would take roughly 10 laps for the two open cars to lap the entire field. With a Stage running 60 laps in length, there would be a real scenario, where two drivers could trap the entire field multiple laps down for the entire race.

Now, obviously, the field would pick up the pace before letting that happen, which is the point. Whoever decides they've simply had enough of the riding around strategy would likely force the hand of the entire field to actually go for it. Will anybody ever take the chance? That remains to be seen, but one thing is for sure, what is transpiring at Superspeedways right now isn't good, and it needs to be addressed.

Photo Credit: Danny Hansen, NKP, Courtesy of Ford Performance

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