NASCAR’s race at COTA brings out the Haters once more

AUSTIN, TEXAS - MARCH 26: William Byron, driver of the #24 Liberty University Chevrolet, leads the field to start the NASCAR Cup Series EchoPark Automotive Grand Prix at Circuit of The Americas on March 26, 2023 in Austin, Texas. (Photo by Logan Riely/Getty Images)

If anyone could ever concoct a magic potion that would make every NASCAR fan in existence happy, they could bottle it and make millions, if not billions, of dollars.

The truth is no matter what NASCAR does they never can, nor will they ever, please everyone:

Race at night: We should race during the day.

Race during the day: We should race at night.

A race with no cautions, and no drama is terrible.

A race with Stages guaranteeing at least two cautions is great: Why are they manufacturing drama?

The list could go on and on.

Most often the voices who are yelling the loudest, let’s call them the dissenters crowd, are the ones showing the most disapproval of NASCAR. And with the rise of social media, the dissenters crowd has been able to voice their displeasure quite loudly safely hidden behind a keyboard wall, or in some cases troll from the shelter of their parent’s basement.

Whether these dissenters are a recent addition to NASCAR or not remains speculation. Have they always been there yelling from the stands on a Sunday, or mailing an actual handwritten rant to NASCAR Scene in hopes it will be read, or better yet actually published? We have no way of knowing.

The truth is that for all the good the internet, and social media has done to connect us all, it has also allowed groups like the dissenters to yell as loud as they want with no real repercussions.

Of course, whether the dissenter’s rantings are justified or not is entirely left open to speculation, or the imagination. In some cases, there may very well be valid arguments. In other cases, it’s simply for the attention it brings.

With that background we should frame Sunday’s event at the Circuit of the Americas the perfect NASCAR race. Not only were there no scheduled cautions (Stages still paid points, but no yellow flags were thrown), but the race itself featured two elements not normally seen in a single NASCAR race: fuel strategy, and a chaotic finish.

A fuel strategy race can be exciting as it can come down to who has played the pit stop card correctly, who will have enough fuel to make it to the end, and who will have to conserve (for example, the June 2021 Pocono race that saw leaders run out of fuel in the closing laps and left Kyle Busch with the win). A chaotic finish usually happens in the final laps when a crash, or crashes force an all out run to the finish that can result in an unusual winner (think Michael McDowell’s lone Daytona 500 win in 2021).

Both fuel strategy and chaotic finishes have their own levels of excitement, but it’s rare when a race features both like Sunday’s COTA race did.

Most of Sunday’s race belonged to two drivers: William Byron and Tyler Reddick. Both cars were the class of the field all weekend. Sunday, they traded the lead oftentimes staging fierce battles. As the laps wound down Reddick took the lead and seemed to be well on his way to victory, though Byron was poised to pounce should Reddick make a mistake or run out of fuel. The race continued with a sort of uneasy peace; the only variable being who had enough fuel to make it to the end. Crew chiefs were pleading to their drivers on the radios to save fuel.

The biggest question was, who would have enough to make it to the end?

That question was answered on lap 59 of the scheduled 68 when a car stopped on track and brought out the caution. Then it became a matter of perfect pit stops, and perfect restarts.

In the end there were three overtimes, three wild restarts and the race went 8 laps past the scheduled distance in a classic chaotic melee that saw Reddick emerge from the dust to win.

You’d think a race that featured all the elements that separately make for a great race, that had them all would be universally applauded.

You’d be wrong.

A sampling of comments on social media from a Twitter post from Jeff Gluck who polls the race each week, ranged from “A great finish to a boring race” to “Remember when this race had amazing Byron and Reddick battle while trying to conserve fuel? if only it went green to the end…” and “Maybe the worst of the year. Was an embarrassment to Motorsports.”

At the end of the day the race had something for everyone it seems. And the compelling stories weren’t just at the front of the field. There were a couple of former F1 drivers in the field, an IMSA star and a former NASCAR Cup champion making his second start back since his retirement from fulltime NASCAR competition.

Still the dissenters were out in force. Whether hidden behind the keyboard wall or safely tucked inside the basement, the complaints came faster than the field charging down the frontstretch at Talladega.

At the end of the day maybe the old quote, “You can please some of the people all of the time, you can please all of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time” applies. Or in modern terms “Haters gonna hate.”

Truth be told those who enjoyed the race probably outnumber those who didn’t. Those who did most likely just wanted to remain silent and move on after what turned out to be a very enjoyable day of racing.

Maybe it’s time to tell the trolls to go back under their bridge and feed their goats. Or maybe the rest of us should just continue to remain silent and move on as well.

Greg Engle