Monday, May 04, 2015

COMMENTARY: Lack Of Effort Marks Finals Laps At Talladega

Let’s just say it, loud and clear.

The final laps of yesterday’s GEICO 500 at Talladega were not what we have come to expect over the years.

In marked contrast to the track’s well-deserved reputation for heart-stopping, three-wide, hold-your-breath finishes, yesterday’s event ended with a whimper, rather than a bang. Leader Dale Earnhardt, Jr. rode the high line to Victory Lane virtually unchallenged, as the vast majority of the field rode passively in single-file behind him, seemingly content to accept an outcome that did not involve a trip to Victory Lane.

Denny Hamlin made a bit of a move coming to the white flag, ducking to the inside with drafting support from defending series champion Kevin Harvick. Surprisingly, though, no one else chose to throw-in, remaining glued to the outside line and making no attempt to advance their position. Paul Menard made a similar bid in the race’s final turn, but by then it was too little, too late, as Earnhardt easily blocked the charge en route to the Winner’s Circle.

After the race, some observers mistakenly questioned whether the lukewarm finish was due to offseason rule changes mandated by NASCAR. Clearly, it was not.

If they can do it early...
The first 140 laps of Sunday’s race featured lengthy interludes of two and three-wide racing, with lead changes aplenty. If they can run three-wide, 10 rows deep in the beginning and middle of the race, they can do it at the end, as well.

Yesterday’s finish was not a rules issue. Horsepower and aerodynamics had nothing to do with the lack of passing in the final laps of yesterday’s race. It was simply a lack of “wanna.” In the waning laps of the event, Tony Stewart tried numerous times to get something going and advance the middle of the running order. Amazingly, less than a handful of drivers – Matt Kenseth and Danica Patrick among them – showed any interest in joining the effort.

The rest appeared content to accept a middling, 18th-place finish, rather than take a chance on losing ground and finishing 28th. At last glance, 18th-place doesn’t pay all that well. It also does not award much in the way of championship points. Why, then, were so many drivers content to be mediocre Sunday?

Apparently, I’m not the only one wondering.

..why not late?
“I don’t know what creates that in the drivers’ minds to say, `We’re all going to ride at the top,’” said Johnson afterward. “It doesn’t happen every time, (but) it does happen every now and then, and today was one of those days.”

A year ago, Earnhardt elected to “ride out” the final laps at Talladega, accepting a 26th-place finish rather than jeopardize his car with a final push through the pack.

I criticized Junior at the time, saying he shortchanged his fans, sponsors and team by quitting before the race was over. My opinion probably doesn’t matter to Junior – nor should it – but I was happy to see him come out in the days that followed and apologize to fans for giving less than 100%.

Earnhardt commented on that race yesterday, saying, “I was real ashamed of that choice. I felt like I wasted my team's time and everybody's hard work. So I got up in there (today). If I wreck, we're in the middle of it. We're going to be racing for the lead, or trying to anyway. That's my mentality until I don't race anymore.”

I was especially happy to hear those comments, and proud to hear NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver vow to never, ever give a halfhearted effort on the race track again.

I hope that today, a number of Earnhardt’s colleagues are looking back on their personal effort in yesterday’s final laps and realizing that it was not their finest hour as racers. I hope that they – like Earnhardt before them – will re-examine whatever thought processes and motivations were in play, then vowing to never again accept that sort of mediocrity. 


  1. Anonymous9:33 AM

    Its simple really. Jimmie is already in the Chase and Jr. was not, so JJ blocked for Jr. to win. If the 48 steps out and brings the 21 with him the outcome would have been totally different. Some say the 48 did nothing wrong but I think team racing sucks! Also, I'm not sure how Jr. can be so emotional knowing that JJ handed him the win.

  2. I only partly agree that it wasn't a rules issue. The Winn-Dixie 300 saw some serious push-drafting, remarkably similar to what transpired in last July's Firecracker 250 at Daytona where Robin Pemberton had to get wishy-washy in explaining away why several drivers weren't punished for violating NASCAR's no-tandem-drafting rule, and it resulted in a terrific battle and finish. The rules issue for the 500-miler remains that NASCAR is wrong in opposing push-drafting, the strongest power to pass racing can ever see.

    Certainly, though, the lack of desire to win the race was not exclusively about NASCAR rules myopia. A lack of desire to win has been a problem with drivers for many years now, and has numerous explanations for why. The most notable remains that NASCAR refuses to require winning the race and leading the most laps in its points race - going for the lead no matter when is supposed to be an automatic reflex of the drivers, yet it isn't. And drivers should blame themselves to at least some extent for it.

  3. 3rd-7th place was Menard, Blaney (r), Truex, Hornish, Newman. A lot of inexperience with when to make a plate move. Or veterans behind them can't gauge when these guys will make their move. (In Newman's case, nobody wants to race with him).

    So lack of experience was a possible factor up front at the end. Especially when you have a new downforce package.

  4. Anonymous9:24 PM

    Amen Dave!!! There looked like there were a lot of drivers, but not many racers that last ten or twelve laps.

    Rick in Indiana

  5. Anonymous9:05 AM

    It was like watching Congress. Nobody wanted to do anything!

  6. If Brad was ahead of JJ, we would have seen a move by JJ to go for the win! Team orders are team orders! As long as Lowes is ok with JJ not going for the win, all is good!