The final lapse: Only the last 50 laps matter in NASCAR

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Malini Ramaiyer

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When the Daytona 500 started, I was playing Bananagrams with my friends. My dad walked in.

“Arenít you supposed to be watching NASCAR for your column?” he said.

“Yeah Dad, it’s playing on the TV behind my back,” I said.

Focused on how to make words out of my pile of Q’s, K’s and Z’s, I missed the start of the race. My friend won so she had a lot of A’s, so when I finally turned around, I was too grumpy to watch dumb cars drive in seemingly endless circles.

Why do people pay to watch this race live? They have to sit outside in the heat and watch the boring race. At least I got to watch the ads that ran on a split screen with the race. even ESPN thought the race was boring.

Driving is easy. Sure, I thought that cars had a reverse pedal until a few weeks ago, but they don’t even have to go in reverse.  Racers just drive around a track…200 times.

So we watched. We watched as Jeff Gordon immediately took his lead and stayed there. We watched as the cars slowed down to take a break and rejuvenate at their pit stops. We tried to watch as the cars went around and around and around, but eventually ended up taking trivia quizzes online.

Car racing is boring. It doesnít seem that difficult to press the gas pedal harder and over take the car in front of you. And yet, all the cars seemed stuck in their ranking.

In 30 minutes, they had only completed 41 laps and I was going in circles trying to understand this sport.

Suddenly, a car caught on fire. The wheels smoked, the caution flag went up and the cars slowed down. In the commotion, Joey Logano took the lead from Gordon. They drove side-by-side, hitting each other until Gordon slowly began to recede out of the top five.

Eighty-eight laps completed and Gordon was out of sight. Logano held first and I went back to the trivia. I looked up from the quiz on words that end and begin with H and saw that now there were only 88 laps left of the race. As I watched the last laps, the volatility of the car racing began to show.

With 51 laps to go, Logano took the lead but with 45 laps left, Carl Edwards was in first, only to be passed by Logano within the next lap. Jimmie Johnson appeared out of nowhere in the last 32 laps. Two laps later, weíre back with Logano who lost it to Johnson and then Dale Earnhardt Jr. But Johnson pulled into first by the lap 183 while fighting off Denny Hamlin close behind.

Car racing is not boring.

The best way to watch car racing is to ignore the first 150 laps. During these laps, the drivers pee into tubes, bear the heat radiating from the 105 degree track and maintain a steady speed to avoid crashing and burning. While this is still intense, we can’t see them in action, so it’s alright to miss a couple of minutes for a match of Bananagrams. The action comes at the very end because in the last 50 laps, the anticipation, adrenaline and excitement are visible on the track.

The race, like Bananagrams, builds up to the end. Gordon led for the most number of laps for the race, but he lacked the momentum to finish. If you use up all the good letters in the beginning and keep accumulating those cursed Q’s, K’s and Z’s, in the end, you canít spell anything. Like Gordon, youíll be out of the race. The competitors who remain at a steady pace, can speed up at the end and spell anything out, perhaps even victory.

With 10 laps left, Logano suddenly moved up so fast that he was fourth and first at the same time on the rankings chart. By cutting in on the track, he pulled ahead and temporarily escaped the pack of cars trailing behind.

Five laps: Logano. Four: Logano. Three: Logano. CAUTION FLAG. Two: Logano. One: Logano. Logano won.

After watching Logano’s victory spins, I was ready for a rematch of Bananagrams. This time, lesson learned, I would see “victory.”