Clinton, South Carolina, Wednesday, February 20, 2019, 12:37 p.m.
The big race is over. Now we can progress to what is going to happen in the season. The next race, on Sunday, is at Atlanta Motor Speedway, actually located near a quaint Georgia town known as Hampton.
Hamlin will have less angst turning over his triumphant Toyota to the Daytona Beach tourist attraction – I assume this still happens – because he wouldn’t be able to race it anyway because the rules package is changing from here on out.
Oddly enough, these new incarnations of would-be stock cars are designed to make the racing at other tracks more like Daytona and its even scarier Talladega, Alabama, brother.
This leaves a quandary in its wake. The sleek, sculpted racers of Daytona Beach will not be used again, but the ones that replace them are designed to make other races more like them.
It’s enough to make me want to watch the QuikTrip 500. I want to see if racing fundamentally changes and how much.
Atlanta’s roughly a mile shorter (1.54 to 2.5) than Daytona. The racing isn’t going to be identical. NASCAR officials apparently hope it will be reminiscent. If so, the reminiscences are going to be comprehensive and far-reaching. They may affect who wins and who loses. They may make winning easier harder for some and easier for others. They may take away some of the best drivers’ edge.
NASCAR always reminds me of Charlie the Tuna, the cartoon character that used to appear on Starkist commercials, when they start tinkering. Charlie inexplicably wanted to be a Starkist tuna, meaning that he would be caught, killed, cut up and canned. He thought Starkist wanted tunas with good taste. In fact, Starkist wanted Tuna that tasted good. It seems to me that NASCAR officials are forever caught between good taste and tasting good.
This year is tasting good. Maybe if the fans see it that way, the best and brightest might let things sit for a year. I’d like that.
I’m trying to hold back and not let my skepticism, fortified by 20 years of watching at closer range, get the best of me. I’m trying just to let them race and see what happens.
Every year NASCAR unveils new packaging, something with “new and improved!” splashed in a band across the box. Meanwhile, many of its once and now would-be fans pine for the way things used to be. Maybe improvements will one day come full circle and stop. If that day is Sunday, it won’t be enough. The past suggests that it will take a whole, pleasing, upbeat season, and then Imperial NASCAR will find something to improve in that.
But I hope not. Damn it, I hope not.
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