Driver Jeff Burton says a lot of things that make sense to me, but one of them is of particular relevance now.
Nothing is harder in racing, Burton says, than knowing when and what to change.
When things are going well, the temptation is to leave well enough alone. Don't fix what isn't broken, the saying goes. But in racing, that mentality is the express lane to the poorhouse, or at least to the middle of the pack. NASCAR competition evolves every week and if you don't keep up, you get passed.
When things aren't going well, on the other hand, the tendency is to want to change everything. What you've got isn't working, so different has to be better. The problem with that is that unless you really know what it is you need to fix, you're liable to change some of what is working and make the situation worse. That's the start of a downward spiral that some race teams never pull out of.
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In some ways, as counter-intuitive as it might seem, you're better off trying to do more things differently when things are going well than when things are going poorly.
I thought of that after watching Saturday's NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race at Lowe's Motor Speedway, as well as several other races on intermediate-style tracks this season as the new race car is rolled out on them for the first time.
If Sunday's Coca-Cola 600 provides 400 laps of what we saw for 100 laps in the all-star race, very few of the fans who pay to see NASCAR's longest race will go home happy unless those fans' favorite driver won.
You're never going to make racing such that a dominant car never pulls away and leaves the field behind. That has happened as long as there has been NASCAR competition and it's going to happen as long as cars line up and turn left.
What's worrisome, though, is that a car that can't be driven to the front turns into a super car if it can only get there somehow. NASCAR's new car hasn't fixed the "clean air" crisis. If anything, it has exacerbated it.
When the leader pulls away by 20 or 25 car lengths just by virtue of the fact it has no other car in front of it, that's a problem. The problem, however, is how to alter that.
NASCAR could change its rules. It could allow teams to raise the splitter on the front of the car another inch or two. This would allow the cars to settle more on the front end as they move through air, thereby adding downforce. NASCAR could also raise the rear ends a little, allowing the wing to catch more air.
Problems with change
There are two potential problems with that.First, whatever change NASCAR might make would change the balance the teams strive to find on their cars. So for a race or two, maybe more, it could actually make the cars harder to drive and widen the difference between those who get it right and those who get it wrong.
Second, and perhaps more importantly, the idea of changing rules in the middle of the season sits wrong with many fans and with some people in the sport.
In 2007, Hendrick Motorsports won 18 races and part of the reason was that team did a better job of figuring out how to make the new car run on the tracks where it was used last year.
No rules were changed.
Doesn't a team that has figured out the intermediate tracks faster or better this year deserve to enjoy that advantage ?
It could be argued that now would be the perfect time to do something. NASCAR could put out a bulletin early next week saying any new rule would go into effect for the season's 14th race at Pocono. That would mean that 13 of the 26 races leading to the Chase would be held under either set of rules, evening out any team-by-team discrepancy.
Stay the course?
The other option, of course, is to stay the course. It is still true the new car is in its competitive infancy and that, given time, the top teams might all arrive at a point where they've got it running so well that everyone is racing side-by-side for the lead on a regular basis.
Television ratings have been pretty good this year, a nice change from trends of the past two years. Kyle Busch has emerged as a polarizing figure, and if a heated rivalry between Busch and a Dale Earnhardt Jr. or a Carl Edwards emerges the sport will benefit.
The calendar says it's about time Tony Stewart starts winning, and you have to think Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson can't sputter along all season.
Kasey Kahne won the all-star race and maybe that means he and his team are back in the game.
There is, however, the flip side. The sport is heading for its summer stretch, with events from coast to coast. Gasoline is nearly $4 per gallon and fans face increasingly difficult decisions on how much of their income goes to race tickets and the expenses of getting to the track.
Are things good enough for NASCAR to wait before changing anything? Or is it a better idea to change before things get worse?
Burton is right. That's the hardest call there is to make. IN MY OPINION David