Monday, March 24, 2014

Fontana Goes Fast And - Slower

The California 400 at Fontana proved a newsier weekend than a lot of people might have expected. Coming a year after Denny Hamlin's bad wreck there, it was natural a lot of reminiscence of that 2013 race would be uttered; making it even weirder was Hamlin's illness that knocked him out of the race before it began, putting Sam Hornish into the JGR #11.

 There turned out to be a striking level of rules debates, first with NASCAR's acknowledgment that it is working with manufacturers toward a modest 100 HP reduction for 2015. There was also considerable discussion of race distances and whether races should be shorter.

The case for shorter race distances failed long ago, because longer races produce more passing, more switches in outcome, and are an overall better test of racecars and racers.   500 miles is the optimum distance for races such as Fontana and Pococo.   Indeed since switching to 400 mile distances Pocono is showcasing why its 500s were better -  the racing at Pocono is enjoyable, but the lack of the extra 100 miles is denying that track the swings in outcome and extra passing that 500 miles provide.  

NASCAR has needed to put start times to earlier, not later.    12:20 area time is the right time to throw the green flag for these races so they can be run in optimum time.

The argument about reducing horsepower is laughable because it's so little being proposed and it's been two decades overdue to permanently restrict the horsepower; the performance levels between safety and quality racing have done nothing but prove they are beyond the level they ought to be.   The superior racing the Busch Series and Trucks - with restrictive engine spacers - provide is the ultimate indictment of the high horsepower mentality.


The most striking aspect of the Fontana is that while the Busch Series 300-miler saw the draft work - when he wasn't bitching about how much "better" the racing is on worn-out asphalt and how new pavement takes away ability to pass (and never cited one example of such, because they don't exist) Rusty Wallace was talking about how the draft was working - the California 400 was another case where the cars were scrambling to avoid the draft.   That is surprising in that the larger spoiler makes the draft more effective and that is what the goal needs to be - make the draft more important than handling.  

The 400 also saw another fit of Goodyear tire-itis (Junior weighed on on it afterward).   The worn-out asphalt certainly is a problem, but we see Goodyear fail repeatedly over the years with its tires.  Each season sees several races where Goodyear's tires are worthless and of course in its arrogance Goodyear blames "aggressive setups" instead of admit it has a problem.   Goodyear has been nothing but a tiresome (sorry) company and NASCAR needs to accept real on-track tire competition with Firestone, Hoosier, etc.


Goodyear tire-itis wound up leading to the surpising finish after the Hendrick cars faltered on tires and Clint Bowyer spun late, setting up the green-white-checker finish.  Kyle Larson's win in the 300 the day before proved a harbinger of the Fontana weekend's finishas he came out of nowhere to finish second.   Larson is now taking control of the rookie race and there's no sign he's going to get any kind of serious challenge. 

So with Fontana wrapped up the series hits Martinsville - and one should wonder why a race that is supposed to be in late April is stuck in late March.

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