NASCAR: Atlanta race (hopefully) puts disrespectful myth to bed

The idea that NASCAR drafting races don't require talent is silly, and hopefully Sunday's finish at Atlanta Motor Speedway proved it.
Atlanta Motor Speedway, NASCAR
Atlanta Motor Speedway, NASCAR / Todd Kirkland/GettyImages

There is a misconception that NASCAR Cup Series drafting races require more luck than talent and that the racing is not "real racing" because of it.

Kyle Busch infamously stated after coming up short at Talladega Superspeedway in 2017 that he was looking forward to going to a "real" race track (Kansas Speedway) the following weekend.

This past weekend, Josh Williams stated after being taken out on the second lap at Atlanta Motor Speedway that he hopes his next Cup Series start comes "somewhere where talent means something", specifying "not a track like this".

To be fair, I'm sure most fans have felt that way one way or another when watching a Cup Series race unfold at a drafting track.

NASCAR drafting races get too much disrespect

Yes, there is an element of "this is such a farce" that comes into play when a driver gets taken out in a wreck he didn't cause, but that is true anywhere. It's just that at drafting tracks, the "Big One" is far more likely to happen due to how close the cars are running together. No matter how talented a driver is, he can be knocked out just like that. It's happened to everyone at one time or another.

At Atlanta Motor Speedway, which is just under a mile shorter than Daytona International Speedway and just over a mile shorter than Talladega Superspeedway, that risk is magnified, as things happen much more quickly following the repave and reconfiguration that effectively turned it into a mini-superspeedway.

Sunday's race was indeed a bit of a wreckfest, with the number of cars not involved in at least one accident able to be counted on one hand.

But while Williams, who has fewer Cup Series starts than many drivers have wins at such tracks, didn't say it directly, implying that it doesn't take talent to run well at drafting tracks such as Atlanta Motor Speedway, Daytona International Speedway, and Talladega Superspeedway is simply not fair. There is obviously more to it than luck.

If anything, these are the tracks where talent has a unique potential to shine, due to the equalizer nature of the races. The strength of one's equipment means far less here than it does elsewhere, though that does come with the added risk of getting caught up in more wrecks. But everybody in the race has a legitimate chance to win it.

And can you honestly look at the epic finish to Sunday's race, in which the entire field avoided wrecking while racing as closely as they had raced all day, and say that it doesn't require talent to win? Give me a break.

Just like racing on intermediate tracks, short tracks, or road courses, there is a certain style required to succeed on drafting tracks. While drivers with plenty of talent do often get caught up in wrecks in these races, usually not of their own doing, it's no coincidence that some drivers do tend to consistently run better than others in such races.

Some drivers also like this kind of racing more than other drivers, as is the case at other tracks. But to try to minimize somebody else's achievements just because their strengths don't suit you isn't right.

The same fans who complain about this style of racing not being "real racing" will also complain about Formula 1 being too boring. No matter what, some people will simply find it hard to be pleased with the on-track product.

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As Busch also said, "if you don't like that kind of racing, don't even watch". After Sunday's race outdrew the second most viewed Cup Series race on the entire 36-race 2023 schedule, it seems pretty clear that most fans are taking notice. The next drafting race on the 2024 schedule is the season's 10th race at Talladega Superspeedway on Sunday, April 21.