Friday March 19th, 2010

It is truly fitting that NASCAR's era of the wing will come to an end this Sunday in Thunder Valley at Bristol Motor Speedway.

After all, it was three years ago in March 2007 that NASCAR rolled out the so-called Car of Tomorrow that featured the funky, space age-looking rear wing. Kyle Busch won that first race with the wing, and he's certainly one of the favorites on Sunday to win the last race with the wing before its replaced with a spoiler next weekend at Martinsville.

But more about Sunday's Food City 500 in a moment. What will the wing-era be most remembered for? Here are three things that defined the years of the wing.

1. Jimmie Johnson's dominance. Johnson mastered the art of driving with the wing like no one else in NASCAR. In the last three years he won three championships and 33 races. One of the major criticisms the drivers had of the wing was that it made the cars aero-sensitive and very difficult to drive in traffic, because the handling was so poor. But Johnson never seemed to have this problem. His car almost always appeared to stick to the track as if its tires were coated in glue whenever he was in traffic. That, more than anything, explains why he is currently the four-time defending champion.

2. The fans disapproval. I've probably talked to more than a thousand fans in the last three years, and nearly every one of them told me the same thing: They hated the wing. NASCAR effectively took the "stock" out of "stock car racing" when it added the wing, because the cars no longer looked like anything you see on the street. NASCAR does its own internal polling of fans, and you can be sure that the fans collective disgust with the wing is one reason NASCAR is doing away with it.

3. The increase of safety. Say what you will about how the wing looked or how it made the cars behave on the track, but there's no denying it made the cars safer. Yes, a few cars have gone airborne in the last three years, notably, Brad Keselowski's Dodge at Atlanta two weeks ago and Carl Edwards' Ford at Talladega last fall, but no driver has been seriously injured since the wing was adopted in 2007. How to explain this? Well, the wing made it easier for the drivers to regain control of their cars once they started spinning.

How will the wing era end on Sunday? I think the race at Bristol, as usual, will come down to a battle between the Busch brothers. Kyle Busch has won two of the last three Cup events at the world's fastest half mile while Kurt has five career victories in Thunder Valley. I spent a lot of time with Kurt's No. 2 team on Friday, and the weekend started slow for them. They were only 11th fastest in practice, but then, after wholesale changes were made to the No. 2 Dodge, Kurt qualified second. I think he'll do even better than that on Sunday.

Busch, who won two weeks ago in Atlanta, is meshing well with new crew chief Steve Addington. Though he drives for the only Dodge team in the Cup Series, Penske Racing -- by contrast, there are 17 Chevys on the track each weekend -- he's a serious contender for the title this season. On Sunday, it says here Kurt will become the first two-time winner of the season.

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