Commentary

Big finish or good race that fizzles?

Updated: March 30, 2011, 2:05 AM ET
By Terry Blount | ESPN.com

OK, race fans. Tell me what you want.

Other than a three-wide photo finish at the line, the end of a race doesn't get much better than Sunday's final laps at Auto Club Speedway.

Three of the best drivers in NASCAR -- Kevin Harvick, Jimmie Johnson and Kyle Busch -- were swapping spots and fighting for the victory in the last three laps at Fontana, Calif.

Johnson first passed Busch for the lead before Harvick passed Johnson for the victory after they touched bumpers on the backstretch of the last lap.

It was a classic, one for the highlight reels. Three guys wheeling their cars to the limit, racing on the edge to try to win.

"I am really excited for these great fans to be able to see that wild of a finish,'' said Carl Edwards, who finished sixth and took the season points lead. "Congrats to those guys that battled up front. They put on a good show."

It was a heck of a show at the end. Everyone watching at home and every person in the grandstands knew they were witnessing something special.

Only one problem. The rest of the race was a total bore, nap time for a Sunday afternoon in the lounge chair.

The race was shortened from 500 miles (250 laps) to 400 miles (200 laps) in an attempt to make things more interesting. That didn't happen, the last five laps notwithstanding.

"It seemed like a 500-mile race to me today," Johnson said with a smirk. "I don't know about you."

Yes, it did. Except for a few restarts after caution flags, the field was spread out across the vast expanse of the super wide 2-mile oval. And Busch was unchallenged for the most part while leading 151 of the first 197 laps.

So here's the question: Is an exciting finish good enough for you if the rest of the race is a tranquilizer?

Let me give you two options. What would you pick (and be sure to vote in the SportsNation poll!):

(1) A boring race without much side-by-side racing and only a few lead changes, but a thrilling finish that people will talk about for weeks?

(2) An exciting race with lots of action and passing up front, but a dud of a finish with the winner taking the checkered flag by 10 car lengths ahead of the runner-up?

Yes, I know, you would prefer an exciting race with a thrilling finish. Hey, you can't have everything. That's not an option in this experiment. So take your pick.

This isn't exclusive to racing. It plays out in almost every sport.

In some ways, how this thing shook out at Fontana was no different from some of the NCAA tournament games the past two weeks. One team gets a sizable lead for most of the game, but the other team rallies and the last three minutes of the second half are filled with drama.

It happens in every sport. An NFL team comes back from a 17-point deficit in the fourth quarter and wins on a last-second touchdown pass. A baseball team trails by three runs most of the game but wins it in the ninth inning on a grand slam.

And most of the time, fans of each sport would consider it exciting as long as it ends with a thrilling moment.

[+] EnlargeJimmie Johnson
Todd Warshaw/Getty ImagesJimmie Johnson may not have been a big fan of Sunday's race (hey, he didn't win!), but how did you feel about it?

This also works the opposite way. Say a college football game had lots of exciting big plays and was tied entering the fourth quarter, but one team took control in the fourth quarter and won by three touchdowns.

Or a baseball game is tied 3-3 after five innings, but a team bats around in the sixth, takes an 8-3 lead and neither team does anything in the last three innings.

How would you feel about that? Usually, this depends on which team you want to win.

The same is true of racing. Harvick fans would be happy with a race like Sunday's every week. Kyle Busch fans? Probably not.

If you don't have a rooting interest for one team or one driver, what do you prefer? How do you race fans see it?

Was it worth the three hours you invested in watching it, or the money you paid to attend it, if the only time you got on the edge of your seat was the final five minutes of the event?

That was the case Sunday at Fontana, a whole lot of nothing before three spectacular laps that had everyone holding their breath. Sort of like suffering through a bad meal knowing your favorite dessert was coming at the end.

Was it worth the wait? You tell me.

Terry Blount is a senior writer for ESPN.com. His book, "The Blount Report: NASCAR's Most Overrated and Underrated Drivers, Cars, Teams, and Tracks," was published by Triumph Books and is available in bookstores. Click here to order a copy. Blount can be reached at terry@blountspeak.com.

Terry Blount

ESPN Seattle Seahawks reporter