The Usual Suspects Number Two

The No. 48 of Jimmie Johnson has a target on it, but it's too far away to hit. (Andrew Coppley/HHP photo for Chevy Racing)

The No. 48 of Jimmie Johnson has a target on it, but it’s too far away to hit. (Andrew Coppley/HHP photo for Chevy Racing)

Gotta an indie bookstore!

Clinton, South Carolina, Monday, April 13, 2015, 7:15 p.m.

I had a bit of a “Eureka moment” this morning.

The racing at NASCAR’s intermediate tracks has fallen into disfavor, and I was wondering why. By intermediate track, I’m referring to those that are intermediate in several ways. They are 1.5 to 2.0 miles in length, ovals by approximate configuration, 14 to 24 degrees in banking, and unrestricted in power.

Monte Dutton

Monte Dutton

They comprise about 44 percent of the tracks and 39 percent of the races, the difference reflecting the fact that not every track has two annual points events.

As seems the case with every great burning issue in NASCAR and a goodly percentage of those elsewhere, it’s much easier to list the problems than it is to assign importance.

Among the reasons frequently mentioned are, in no particular order: (1.) the simple, intuitive “the racing stinks”; (2.) whoever is in front invariably pulls away; (3.) not enough passing; and, (4.) too many tricks designed to make it look better than it is.

We now live in a world where some approve of debris cautions even if they are bogus. If they bunch up the field for a few laps and inject some strategy, more and more fans are basically saying to NASCAR, “More power to you.”

I’m not willing to call for institutionalized corruption myself. If they’re waving a caution flag for competition reasons, be honest about it. Early in races, they have “competition cautions” many weeks. I often refer to them as “lack of competition cautions,” but at least they’re honest.

Kevin Harvick has won three of the past six races on intermediate tracks. Johnson won the other three. (Garry Eller/HHP photo for Chevy Racing)

Kevin Harvick has won three of the past six races on intermediate tracks. Johnson won the other three. (Garry Eller/HHP photo for Chevy Racing)

Forget about all that, though. What occurred to me, lying in bed, half asleep, pondering whether or not I ought to sleep a little longer, was that what is most wrong at the intermediate tracks is their predictability. I think Denny Hamlin’s post-race remarks at Texas may have spurred my thought processes.

Perhaps Hamlin was a bad influence, but here’s what he said:

“Stats don’t lie, and the stats say that those guys (Kevin Harvick and Jimmie Johnson) … [are] going to be capable of winning right now. To be realistic, we need stuff to go our way. We need cautions and track position. We just can’t drive through the field like that — what those guys are capable of — and we’re a work in progress.

“From ideas to design to on the race track is six months, and sometimes it’s a year, and I’m confident, though, that by the time we get to the Chase, we’re going to have something that’s capable of running with those guys. We don’t right now.”

Why is Kurt Busch smiling? He seems fast enough but hasn't managed to pull off a win yet. (Garry Eller/HHP photo for Chevy Racing)

Why is Kurt Busch smiling? He seems fast enough but hasn’t managed to pull off a win yet. (Garry Eller/HHP photo for Chevy Racing)

I’d add Kurt Busch to the “cut above” category. The Penske Fords, driven by Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano, are close. The remaining Hendrick Chevys – Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jeff Gordon, and Kasey Kahne – are within range. So is the sport’s most notable underdog of the moment, Martin Truex Jr., and the Gibbs Toyotas of Hamlin, Matt Kenseth, Carl Edwards, and, at present, David Ragan. The Ganassi Chevys of Jamie McMurray and Kyle Larson have their moments.

Still, when a race starts on an intermediate track, right now, it appears as if either Harvick or Johnson is going to win. This has some basis in fact, particularly if one narrows the track definition to the 1.5-mile tracks, where either Harvick or Johnson has won the past six. Each has won three.

It will get better. It could scarcely get worse.

Here’s my theory. The biggest reason for the dreary expectation is that there aren’t enough drivers and cars, at present, that can win.

The tracks aren’t made from one “cookie cutter,” as is often claimed, but three: (1.) the Bruton Smith model (truncated tri-ovals with sharp angles), (2.) the D-shaped model (rounded trioval, less banking), and (3.) the Michigan model (similar to No. 2 but slightly longer). Homestead-Miami isn’t a tri-oval but belongs in the class as the only unique one.

At Atlanta, Charlotte, Vegas, Texas, Kansas, Chicagoland, Auto Club, Michigan, Kentucky, and Homestead, the favorites are Harvick and Johnson. Someone else might win. Strategy affects the outcome, but if the end of the race is near, and Harvick or Johnson is out front, the heavy odds are that Harvick or Johnson will win.

The field of contenders is much broader at the plate tracks, the flat tracks, the short tracks, the road courses, and Darlington, which, of course, is a marvel unto itself.

Martin Truex Jr. leads Ryan Newman at Kansas Speedway last fall. (Harold Hinson/HHP photo for Chevy Racing)

Martin Truex Jr. leads Ryan Newman at Kansas Speedway last fall. (Harold Hinson/HHP photo for Chevy Racing)

Someone like, oh, Clint Bowyer might win. Or Truex. Or Ryan Newman.

He might even do it by outrunning Harvick and Johnson.

At the tracks that most affect who will win the Sprint Cup championship, most teams are trying to pull rabbits out of hats.

Read my short fiction at, and when, invariably, you love what you read there, undoubtedly you’ll want to buy some of my books here:


About Monte

For 20 seasons, I mostly wrote about NASCAR. I'm still paying attention, but I'm spending more of my time these days writing novels and songs. I try to blog regularly on whatever happens to strike my fancy.
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8 Responses to The Usual Suspects Number Two

  1. salb says:

    In spite of the different nuances of each of the 1 1/2 or 2 mile tracks, what is the same is the type of racing that happens at them. You get 2 or 3 laps of cars passing, then the field strings out, the lead car runs away from most of the field, and passing takes place on pit road almost exclusively. While I understand that each track may have differences that require unique set ups, the races all tend to look the same. If you broadcast a race from any of those tracks without the track name prominantely displayed, it would be virtually impossible for viewers at home to tell which track they were running. I would appreciate the announcers not wasting several minutes on every broadcast wasting breath to tell me how none of these tracks is identical. I know. But the races are. Guess that’s too subtle a difference for them to understand.

  2. Anne says:

    I am not going to pretend to know what uniqueness of each track. I do know what I see…the interesting timing of debris cautions, the pit road BS in order to start on the inside line.. the race off pit road, the mad scramble on the restart..a lap or two of position racing, then it is time to take a nap and mute the TV from the paid shills of Nascar telling us how wonderful everything is. I haven’t really watched at all this year, sad.

  3. Jed says:

    I agree with Anne. When I first go acquainted with NASCAR 15 years ago, I didn’t want to miss a lap. As much as I appreciate how good these teams and drivers are (especially Johnson and Harvick’s teams), the racing on the mile and a half tracks is awful. I do acknowledge that the last five laps at Texas were very entertaining with Harvick banging his car off the wall trying to catch Johnson, but the previous 330 laps or so were miserable. Thanks for your honesty Mr. Dutton.

  4. Bill B says:

    What’s funny is how easy the fix to all this could be. More short tracks. Maybe another road course or two. If the 1.5 milers only comprised 25% fans wouldn’t mind them as much. We all know why that won’t happen though, because it would cost money and lessen revenue at existing venues.

  5. Tim Nejman says:

    In the late 90s/ early 2000s many baseball teams decided to go back to old time baseball stadiums. This was after 30 years of multi-purpose facilites where football as well as baseball was played. The intermediate tracks are those multi-purpose facilities of 70-90s. I have no clue why Bruton Smith insisted on making all his tracks look the same and so they could draw 10,000 fans for indy cars. My suggestions turn Chicago into the old Atlanta eliminate the D-shape and make those long turns and short straightaways. In the last 20 years, we have lost 5 races at what I consider high skill great racing tracks- Wilkesboro (2), Rockingham (2), and Darlington (1). California would be great as a Rockingham clone. Kansas should reconfigure to a short tracks similar to Richmond or Wilkesboro.

  6. Monte says:

    I have made the same comparison many times, most of them so long ago that addressing the subject again now would be belaboring the point.
    Realistically, no one’s going to spend that kind of money, not when they’re spending millions just eliminating seats.

  7. Tim Nejman says:

    I know I’m living in a dream world that tracks will be re-configured, but you would think at some point NASCAR would realize that every short track race usually ranks as one of the top 10 races of the year. I understand the economic and attendance reason why Wilkesboro and Rockingham were dropped but these were tracks that had character. I think there was greater excitement for races at Charlotte when the other clones did not exist. Think back to the old start to the season Daytona, Rockingham, Richmond, Atlanta, Darlington, Bristol, Wilkesboro, and Martinsville. That was some great variety.

  8. Tim S. says:

    The NFL didn’t own the multipurpose stadiums, so if it was time for a change the team/municipality could make it. NASCAR owns a lot of the clone tracks so they’re loathe to implode them at the risk of their own bottom line.

    The money they’re using to turn Daytona into a theme park could renovate the hell out of one of the clones.

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