Racing is NOW. The options play it on the moment. There is no “what if” and hindsight is only useful, possibly, for taking knowledge to the next track.
Richmond and the Toyota Owners 400 offered up a perfect scenario as an example. The race also, for anyone willing to listen, threw a lug nut at the “rednecks turning left” stereotype.
Second point first. Too often, people who do not follow racing actually turn an eye of disdain towards the sport in general. It’s a bunch of rednecks, crashing around, turning left after left, stupid, cheap beer and fat and loud.
Not so much. Granted, there are a few out in the stands that may loosely fit the mold. The rest of us give them a nod and wave and a “have a good time”…
On the track, the race plays out as a result of engineering, technology and planning. The people involved in building, maintaining and driving these cars are quite intelligent and often could be very successful with any venture. However, they work for a race team so that is supposed to make them, somehow, less than employees of some other technology business. No.
Beyond any of the engineering and hi-tech construction, there is a chess match being played out at speed on the track every second of every lap. The game of chess is assigned as a “smart” person’s game. How “smart” do you need to be to play chess when the pieces are moving at 100-200 miles per hour?
Pretty damn smart.
Now for the first point concerning the Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond and the “now” factor…
The latter laps belonged to Juan Pablo Montoya. Yeah… We know! Montoya… Right!
He had run well all evening close enough to the front for a respectable finish, better than he’s had in a while, which would be good for the #42 team. However, circumstances in motion put the #42 in front chasing the checkers for more than 60 laps. Four more laps, with Harvick chasing but not able to close, and Montoya would have his first win on an oval NASCAR course.
If and what if…
If Brian Vickers had not hit the wall and brought out a caution Juan Pablo Montoya would likely be in Victory Lane. The caution was on so the “chess match” was on for checkmate with several options to consider in a matter of seconds as the scene drew down to a “green-white-checkered” finish.
What if we stay out? What if we come in and take two tires? Or four…? What are they doing? What if he does this and we do that? The timer is running. make a move! Now! Stop thinking! Now!
Burton and McMurray stayed out moving up to the one and two slots. Montoya, Harvick and others came in for tires.
What…? 3 laps and new tires! Isn’t that crazy? Well, no.
Tires, at Richmond, on a restart for a win, are that important. The grip needed to utilize all of that horsepower and actually move the car is incredible. Burton and McMurray knew they could not hold the front with old tires and were going for the best finish they could while grabbing the best position from where they were. The move put them in position without risking a pit stop that could leave them back in the field.
After the pit, Montoya restarted on the outside in the 3rd row. Harvick, also on fresh tires, was inside on the 4th row. Tony Stewart had worked back to restart 5th after an earlier connection put him around with the #48 of Jimmie Johnson.
By the first turn, Harvick had drove under and shot towards the front. Montoya was held on the outside. Stewart and Kurt Busch were slamming bumpers and Stewart was pushed up and out to finish 18th. Burton held on against newer tires for 5th. McMurray was tossed way outside and fell back mid pack.
Kevin Harvick only led 3 laps of the race but the move at the end put him where he needed to be. Montoya, held on the outside, rolled over in 4th. Clint Bowyer and Joey Logano came over in 2nd and 3rd.
The race, and the chess game, changed in an instant. Montoya lost the front in an instant. Kevin Harvick made a move in an instant. Jeff Burton grabbed a top five with a strategy move.
What if Vickers had not crashed? Even with that, what if Montoya had stayed out? Or rolled out of the pits just a smidge faster…?
“What if” does not count. It is “now!” Ask Kevin Harvick and the #29 team.