Kurt Busch to Attempt The Indianapolis-Charlotte Double
posted by Phil Allaway
Tuesday March 4, 2014
Andretti Autosport announced this morning that Kurt Busch, driver of the No. 41 Haas Automation Chevrolet in the Sprint Cup Series, will attempt the Indianapolis 500 in a fifth entry for the IndyCar Series team. Once the Indianapolis 500 is completed, Busch will fly from Indianapolis to Charlotte, jump in his No. 41 Chevrolet and compete in the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Busch considers the opportunity to do the double as an old-school throwback moment.
“This is really to challenge myself within motorsports,” Busch said in Andretti Autosport’s press release. “Perhaps I am a bit of an old-school racer; a throwback, I guess. I enjoyed the era of drivers racing different cars and testing themselves in other series. It is tough to do now for a variety of factors, but when the opportunity is there, I want to do it. While NASCAR is my home, I have been fortunate to compete in Pro Stock on the NHRA circuit a number of years ago and test a V8 Supercar. This opportunity was a talk with Michael [Andretti] over dinner one night, a “What if,” and now it’s becoming a reality for me to drive in the Indy 500 with Andretti Autosport. It’s literally a dream come true. To go to the famous Brickyard with the iconic Andretti name, it doesn’t get much cooler or better than that.”
Busch will be doing the Indianapolis-Charlotte double as a Memorial Day mission to men and women serving in the U.S. Military via the Armed Forces Foundation. Fans can contribute to the cause by texting AFF to 50555 to donate $10.
Busch, who has never raced an IndyCar, passed Rookie Orientation at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway last year during a test session. At the time, Busch was more or less testing the Dallara DW12 for fun.
Busch will be the fourth driver to attempt the Indianapolis-Charlotte double. John Andretti was the first driver to attempt it in 1994. After finishing four laps down in tenth in Indianapolis, Andretti crashed and had engine problems in the 600. Robby Gordon has attempted the double five times, most recently in 2004. However, Gordon failed to make it to Charlotte on time and did not start the 600 in 2000 (P.J. Jones started Gordon’s No. 13 Ford in that instance). Finally, Tony Stewart has attempted the double twice (most recently in 2001) and is the only driver to ever complete all 1100 miles. Neither of the three drivers has won either leg of the double. The best finishes are Stewart and Gordon’s sixth-place finishes at the Indianapolis 500 (although Gordon’s came in 2000, the year he didn’t make it to Charlotte in time to start the Coca-Cola 600), and Stewart’s fourth-place finish in the 2001 Coca-Cola 600.
Danica Patrick, Justin Allgaier Talk About Phoenix Incident
posted by Frontstretch Staff
Tuesday March 4, 2014
A disappointing start to the year for Danica Patrick won’t include continued conflict. Patrick met with rookie Justin Allgaier Sunday, shortly after the Phoenix Cup race after a wreck ruined both drivers’ days. Patrick, who was critical of the No. 51 car on the radio, claiming Allgaier was “driving all over the track” appeared receptive to a conversation that quickly settled differences over what will be a long season.
“She was just upset because she got involved in the crash that we had,’’ said Allgaier to the Motor Racing Network. “She says she’s been through this and that she felt like I needed to settle down at that point. I explained my position on why everything happened. I think she understood where I was coming from. It doesn’t fix either one of our racecars. It doesn’t fix either one of our days. Unfortunately, we were both having pretty decent days.’’
Allgaier wound up 30th due to the incident while Patrick was 36th. The incident, which was caused by Allgaier’s spin also involved the No. 32 team and Travis Kvapil, which wound up 38th after sustaining heavy damage.
Camping World Close to Extending Title Sponsorship of NCWTS
posted by Frontstretch Staff
Tuesday March 4, 2014
Marcus Lemonis, CEO of Camping World, Grand Marshal of Sunday’s Sprint Cup race at Phoenix International Raceway, and star of CNBC’s “The Profit,” made the announcement over the weekend that the retailer is very close to announcing a deal that would continue its title sponsorship of NASCAR’s Truck Series. The original agreement with NASCAR is scheduled to conclude after the 2015 season.
According to the sanctioning body, no formal contract has been signed, but “the agreement between the two parties has proven to be a beneficial one.”
“In about a month, we’ll be announcing a significant extension to that contract. It’s been great for us,” said Camping World’s Lemonis in a statement. “The NASCAR relationship has worked well for Camping World. When we started, we had 35 stores. Now, we’re up to 120 stores. As we travel the country and we meet new customers in stores, they always are very appreciative of our relationship with NASCAR. It’s been good.”
Gaining a long-term commitment from Camping World to sponsor the Truck Series would be a relief for NASCAR, which is set to lose Nationwide Insurance as title sponsor for the NASCAR Nationwide Series at the end of the 2014 season. The sponsorship of the Cup Series by Sprint runs through 2016.
The NCWTS is back in action on March 29th at 2:30 PM (ET) when the trucks visit Martinsville Speedway in the Kroger 250, which can be seen on Fox Sports 1. Ratings for the season opener were up 11 percent.
Harvick Takes Win At Phoenix In Second Race With New Team
posted by Justin Tucker
Monday March 3, 2014
Phoenix International Raceway has become Kevin Harvick’s home away from home. Sunday Afternoon was no exception as Harvick charged to the front early and would dominate for much of the day, leading 224 of the scheduled 312 laps to record his record fifth win on the one mile oval and his third win in the last four races at Phoenix.
Harvick, coming off of a disappointing Speedweeks which was capped by a last lap crash in the Daytona 500 in his debut with Stewart-Haas Racing, set the tone on Saturday by winning both practices while having the best 5 and 10-lap averages in the first practice of the day on Saturday. On Sunday, Harvick and his No. 4 Jimmy John’s Chevrolet was nothing short of flawless as he was able to hold Dale Earnhardt, Jr. by .489 seconds after a late race restart to claim his 24th career Sprint Cup Series victory.
“Man, this is awesome,” Harvick said after his dominant victory on Sunday. “Man, this just solidifies so many things and so many decisions. It’s been so much work with all the time and effort that these guys (the crew) have put in—but what a race car.”
Stewart Haas Racing co-owner Gene Haas shared in Harvick’s excitement after the race.
“It took long enough,” Haas joked. “This is phenomenal. I think there was a lot of skepticism last year about what myself and Tony (Stewart) what we were up to, was there a lot of madness to this. Quite frankly, it’s a great team, there’s a lot of synergy at the shop, people working together. I don’t know what we did, but I think we put together a great organization.”
Daytona 500 winner Dale Earnhardt, Jr. continued his hot start to the 2014 season. Earnhardt Jr. would finish second on Sunday, marking his seventh consecutive top 10 finish since the end of the 2013 season. Earnhardt Jr. was pleased with the effort after a coast-to-coast whirlwind week after winning his second Daytona 500 and also gave great praise to the efforts of Harvick and the No. 4 team.
“I’ve got to congratulate Kevin. Those guys were two-tenths faster than everyone all weekend in practice. They were just phenomenal,” Earnhardt said. “To be able to run with them all day was a big confidence builder for us.”
Joining Harvick and Earnhardt in the top 5 of The Profit on CNBC 500K were Brad Keselowski with his second consecutive top 3 run of 2014 in third. Keselowski’s Team Penske teammate Joey Logano would finish fourth, and Jeff Gordon would come home fifth in his No. 24 Pepsi Max Chevrolet.
Jimmie Johnson finished in sixth, followed by Ryan Newman with a nice rebound after Daytona in seventh. Carl Edwards would carry the banner for Roush Fenway Racing by finishing eighth, Kyle Busch was ninth, and Jamie McMurray would finish tenth.
A look at the Profit on CNBC 500K by the numbers. There were 14 lead changes among eight different drivers, there were eight cautions for 39 laps which slowed the race pace to 109.229 MPH.
Next Sunday, the Sprint Cup Series heads to Sin City and the Las Vegas Motor
Starting Lineup: The Profit On CNBC 500K
posted by Thomas Bowles
Saturday March 1, 2014
Drivers in RED (i) are those ineligible to collect Sprint Cup points
Daytona 500 TV Ratings Down
posted by Frontstretch Staff
Wednesday February 26, 2014
What was the longest weather delay in Daytona 500 history turned out to bring NASCAR lower ratings and TV viewership Sunday night than expected. According to a report Monday from FOX Sports, the 56th running of the Daytona 500 airing at 8 PM (ET) posted a 5.6/10 national household rating/share which averaged 9.3 million viewers. That’s down 44 percent from last year’s 9.9, easily making it the least-watched Daytona 500 of all-time.
Due to the six-hour, twenty-two minute rain delay in Daytona, the race was up against the primetime coverage of the Winter Olympics Closing Ceremony from Sochi, Russia on NBC (15.25 million viewers). FOX also reported that 69% of the pre-rain delay viewers of the race, which began at 1 PM (ET) kept tuning in.
In comparison, the 2013 Daytona 500 on FOX was the most-watched race in five years, posting a 9.9/22 rating/share, commanding 16.7 million viewers. The Daytona 500 in 2012, the first to ever be run on a Monday and in the primetime slot did a 7.7/13 overnight rating/share which resulted in 13.67 million households viewing the race according to Nielsen TV ratings data.
Earnhardt, Jr. Claims Second Daytona 500 Victory
posted by Justin Tucker
Wednesday February 26, 2014
Ten years is a long time. For Dale Earnhardt, Jr., it felt like an eternity. NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver endured many near misses and close calls at the Daytona 500 since his only win in the Great American Race in 2004. Earnhardt had finished second in two of his last three Daytona 500s coming into Sunday’s race. He was also riding the tail of a 55-race winless streak, dating back to Michigan in 2012.
However nothing would stop Dale Jr. on Sunday, not even a 6 hour and 22 minute rain delay from capturing his second Daytona 500 win. Earnhardt Jr. led a race-high 54 laps on the evening and used some timely drafting help from teammates Jimmie Johnson and, on the final restart, Jeff Gordon to separate from the pack and secure the victory.
“Winning this race is the greatest feeling that you could feel in this sport besides accepting the trophy for the championship,” said a jubilant Earnhardt after pulling into Victory Lane. “We could fight off battle after battle. We got a little help at the end there from Jeff to get away on the restart. This is amazing. I can’t believe this is happening. I never take this for granted, man because it doesn’t happen twice, let alone once.”
Aside from the race itself the big story of the race was the 6 hour and 22 minute red flag, which threatened to move the race to Monday evening (had the race been postponed, FOX Sports’ Chris Myers had tweeted that the race would resume at 5:00pm EST). However, Mother Nature would cooperate and would allow the race to be run under different conditions from which they practiced this week. Once the race resumed, the intensity picked up from the changing track conditions. This allowed the pack to race side-by-side and at times 3-wide up to seven rows deep.
Joining Earnhardt Jr. in the top 5 for the 2014 Daytona 500 were: Denny Hamlin who closed out a spectacular Speedweeks in second, Brad Keselowski in third, Jeff Gordon in fourth, and Jimmie Johnson who overcome two wrecks leading up to the 500 in fifth.
Rounding out the top 10 in the Daytona 500 were Matt Kenseth in sixth, Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. in seventh and Greg Biffle would bring his No. 16 Ford home in eighth. Austin Dillon would come home ninth in his first Cup Series race in the iconic No. 3 for Richard Childress Racing, while Casey Mears would round out the top 10.
A couple of major contenders for the Daytona 500 win would see their hopes dashed early on as Martin Truex, Jr. would blow up just 30 laps into the race, relegating him to a 43rd-place finish in his debut for Furniture Row Racing. Crew chief Todd Berrier was already in Nashville for a test session before the race was even over. Kyle Busch, meanwhile would have a pit road violation just before halfway and would spend much of the race battling back from that mistake. Busch would eventually finish 19th after leading 19 laps.
Danica Patrick would also be bit by bad luck as she was caught up in a multi-car wreck on lap 145. Patrick would lead her second consecutive Daytona 500, but wouldn’t have the finish to show for it finishing 40th. Tony Stewart would encounter a frustrating evening as well, with a fuel pickup problem derailing his quest for his first Daytona 500 win. Stewart would finish 35th.
A look at the Daytona 500 by the numbers. There were 42 lead changes among 18 drivers, while seven cautions for 39 laps would slow the race pace to 145.290 MPH.
Next week, the Sprint Cup Series heads to the “diamond in the desert,” Phoenix International Raceway for The Profit on CNBC 500K. The Green flag is scheduled for 3:15pm EST.
Nationwide Series Post-Race Quotes: Drive4COPD 300
posted by Thomas Bowles
Tuesday February 25, 2014
Frontstretch Interviews – Courtesy Mike Neff
ELLIOTT SADLER – FINISHED 4th
Thoughts on the race?
It’s definitely a lot different racing than what we’re used to.
Comfortable with it?
Yeah, it’s just different. You’re worried about what you’re doing, but you’re also worried about what everyone else is doing and they’re not doing more than you’re doing. Physically pushing a guy is way better than just riding so you just gotta time it right and push it to the edge.
Happy to start the year with a top 5?
Yeah. Hell, that was the worst we ran all day, I think. I have no idea how they put the 3 car in front of us on that last restart. I hadn’t seen the 3 car hardly all day. When they put us from fifth to sixth, on the outside line, it just really boxed us in. I would have really restarted behind my teammate and given him a good push to the front. Anyways, it is what it is; we’ll take it and move on.
Looked like you were up front all day.
The guys did a good job. We had a fast race car. Great pit stops, just really proud of these guys. The car’s in one piece and we can take it to Talladega now. Great job by my guys. A lot of effort came into coming down here to Daytona and giving ourselves a shot to win. We had that chance to be up front and make some things happen. Fifth is not what we want, but we’ll take it and move on.
Bumping vs Pushing?
It’s way harder. You don’t want to lay on the guy in front of you, so it’s tough racing. A lot different than what we’re used to, ‘cause you gotta go. You gotta drag the brake too ‘cause you don’t want to hit the guys and you don’t want to stay on him. It’s a lot harder mentally than what we’ve done in the past.
Car was strong all day. Pushing vs. Bumping, is that harder to do than just getting on somebody and pushing them?
Yeah, it is a little bit. When you bump ‘em, you jar ‘em, it kinda jacks ‘em a little bit. It’s a little more abrupt, obviously. I thought it was OK there at the end. It was certainly fun and hopefully entertaining. But a little bit of a struggle in the early part of the race and the midpart of the race to see a good race. And that’s unfortunate for the fans. You can’t do that the whole race, you can’t tear up your stuff, knock your grill in, overheat your motor, all that stuff so there’s no sense in doing all that until you get down to the last lap. The 7 and the 6, they did a good job. Man, the 7 really held the 22 and I tight on the bottom. I was rubbing his door and hitting the apron at the same time, no room whatsoever. So it was good; wish we were the ones who could have won but a lot better now than what we were last year.
Going home in one piece makes it a lot better, right?
Yeah. My back feels good. My foot feels good. Past years here, I’ve been going home with pain so I’m alright.
Connect with Mike!
2014 Truck Series Post-Race Quotes: Daytona (Exclusives)
posted by Thomas Bowles
Saturday February 22, 2014
When you’re on the outside like that, how frustrating is it?
It’s so hard. Timothy Peters has won here. Kyle Busch has won everywhere. Ron Hornaday has been running Trucks forever, probably before I was even born. I was surrounded by veterans there, and like I told them I don’t have a rookie stripe but I’m a rookie. This is only my fourth Truck race ever, my fourth superspeedway race, and man, I figured out when the 17 got up in front of me, I pushed him. And as soon as I pushed him, he took off. And I went with him. And I just kept doing it, and before I knew it, he was leading. And I saw Ron in my mirror, backed up to him, and if it wasn’t for him, I don’t know what would have happened. I gotta thank him big time for that. That was a true teammate move right there. I really appreciate that. He just bounced off me and we got to the front. I tried my hardest to sidedraft Kyle. I was probably touching his door.
Top 5 in the No. 30 truck. This deal come together at the last minute, but you had a heck of a truck. Tell us about your night.
Yeah, I’ve got to thank Turner Scott Motorsports. The guys worked so hard on this Rheem Comfort Products Chevrolet. Exciting! Just got hung up on the outside and had to wait for my teammate there to catch up. And then he got to the bottom, so… I got the old 32 and started pushing ol’ Ryan to the front. So, it’s not bad. We’ll take it. You just don’t want to step over that boundary. You don’t know how far to push and shove. We bumped about six times down the straightaway without latching onto them. Hopefully, that was OK and we came home with a top 5.
Connect with Mike!
2014 Budweiser Duels Post Race Quotes
posted by Matt Stallknecht
Friday February 21, 2014
BUDWEISER DUELS POST-RACE QUOTES
They’re saying the wheel bearing burned up in it. I don’t know what caused it, they’re taking it all apart to figure out what the heck happened. Something abnormal that’s for sure I don’t think I’ve ever had that happen at all. Hopefully, we made the race and hopefully we can fix the problem before Sunday.
WHAT WAS THAT LOUD BOOM ONCE YOU TURNED INTO THE GARAGE?
Loud pop was a tire… thankfully, it popped, hopefully it didn’t hurt anybody. All the heat created in the left front that popped was pretty weird.
REALLY GOOD RUN. WHAT DID YOU THINK OF IT?
Yeah, it was good. We have a car we can work with for the 500. Got a good starting spot, so we’re going to rest easy, fluff and buff our car for a couple of days and get ready for Sunday.
ANY DIFFERENCE ON WHETHER THE TOP OR BOTTOM LANE WORKED?
Yeah, I was just moving around, trying to stay with the flow. For me, this car works on all parts of the racetrack. So I’m pretty happy with it.
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.
GOT SHUFFLED BACK, AFTER PIT STOPS AND THEN COULDN’T GET BACK UP TO THE FRONT. WHY?
Nah, we were just sitting there waiting until the last few laps to make a move. You didn’t want to pull down and get sent to the back. Seen a couple of guys get sent to the back really quick so we were just kind of waiting for the end. I felt like we had a good situation there with Ambrose behind us — we had a good run off Turn 2 and I went. It was the last lap, time to go do something, nobody went with us but hopefully Sunday is a different story.
We got a great car. We don’t have to work hard. We learned, we got a good race car. Got a car in one piece, ready to go so we’ll try and get through the next couple of practices, deliver it to the starting group this Sunday and we’ll be real happy.
YOU’RE IN THE DAYTONA 500!
Yeah, it’s pretty awesome. This Whitetail Chevrolet was so fast that I knew all I had to do was stick it behind smart, intelligent drafters and we could have a good finish. That’s what we did in the Duels and I’m excited. I’m excited to go do some stuff with the Nationwide car and have some more practice with this. But to know that we’re locked in the Daytona 500’s pretty cool.
YOU WERE OBVIOUSLY IN FRONT OF THAT MELEE AT THE END. WHEN YOU WERE UP FRONT THERE IN THE BEGINNING, WERE YOU HOPING TO JUST STAY IN LINE AND LET YOU FINISH TOP 5?
I was pretty content to ride and luckily I knew a lot of people around us were. It was nice to have a little calm and not really have to be racing hard the whole time. I knew that the pit stop was going to shake everything up and that’s exactly what happened. Fell back a little bit there but made the right moves at the end to get a good finish.
HOW STRONG ARE THESE RCR CARS?
They’re very strong! They definitely have the capabilities to be winning one of these races.
YOU’RE IN THE TOP 5 FOR YOUR HEAT IN THE DAYTONA 500. YOUR PRIMARY CAR IS SITTING RIGHT IN THE GARAGE, KIND OF WADDED UP. DID YOU THINK THIS ONE HAD IT IN IT?
Yeah, it’s a brand new car also. It’s just not quite as good as the primary but still a damned good car. I’m just proud of everybody at RCR for building such fast race cars. All of our cars have been fast, ECR motor’s been strong, even our affiliate teams have been qualifying really good and racing good. So… excited about 2014! It’s going to be a good year.
WELL MAN, YOU STARTED IN THE BACK BUT WORKED YOUR WAY TO THE FRONT WHEN IT COUNTED MOST. WERE YOU JUST BIDING YOUR TIME THROUGHOUT THE RACE?
Eh, you never know if you’re going to get back up there or not. We had to start at the back, we had to make a run early and see what we could do. We drove right to 10th, or something like that and then it got stagnant. We tried to make something happen, and went to the back again. Drove back up to the front. Again, just really proud of my guys. Matt Kruder did a hell of a job on that pit stop getting just enough gas in to gain some spots there.
RCR CARS SEEM PRETTY DARNED STRONG. DO YOU THINK THE RCR CARS HAVE SOMETHING FOR THEM ON SUNDAY — ESPECIALLY THE THREE JOE GIBBS RACING CARS THAT SEEM TO BE THE CLASS OF THE FIELD RIGHT NOW?
Oh yeah. The 20 car was extremely fast. The 11 didn’t qualify that good, but he’s a good drafter. I think he won. We definitely have something for him.
Check in with Matt and Jay on their site at CareyandCoffey.com.
Holding A Pretty Wheel · Amy Henderson · Thursday May 3, 2012
We’re just over a third of the way through NASCAR’s so-called “regular season.” If you look around the landscape, it hasn’t been very pretty lately; ratings are down and complaints are up. It’s been said a hundred different ways. Depending on who you ask, there are probably a hundred reasons for the discontent: lack of close racing, NASCAR’s rules, the car and tire packages. But what about some of the more subtle changes that have crept into the sport and caused some of the things that leave fans wondering where the NASCAR they used to love has gone over the last few years?
In the end, no problem has one cause or one quick fix. But here’s my take on what’s behind the summer of NASCAR fans’ discontent:
In creating the Chase, NASCAR has made the first 26 races virtually obsolete. It’s been well documented that a lot of people don’t like the Chase. In fact, over three-quarters of fans said that they didn’t like the Chase system on a NASCAR.com poll last year. And there are a lot of things wrong with it. First of all, the Chase was created because NASCAR and new corporate sponsor Nextel (now Sprint) wanted to be more like other major sports, all of which have some kind of playoff system. What they overlooked was that the longtime NASCAR fans loved the sport because it was different. Perhaps the bandwagon fans who poured in were used to such a system, but it doesn’t work well in NASCAR. Fans were used to a champion who accumulated the most points over a nine-month season, and having one that could work a ten-race system hasn’t set well with many people. That was always the big complaint from fans-the championship wasn’t “real” anymore.
And while that may be true, there’s a bigger reason why the system is flawed: the first 26 races barely count. Sure, who gets into the Chase gets determined then, but teams have figured out two things: like the old title system, consistency trumps all, and if you’re among the teams that are virtually a lock for the Chase, you can use an awful lot of those first 26 races to test cars and gather information for the ten-race title run later on. You can’t blame the teams for working the system. After all, there’s a lot of money at stake as well as sponsorship concerns. But you can blame the system. A big reason why we’re not seeing a lot of side-by-side racing at places like Kansas and Texas is a lot of teams A)simply need to maintain their points position for a few months and B) figure it’s a good time to try an experimental setup, which makes simply logging laps important. It’s not that the drivers don’t want to win; believe me, a driver always wants to win, but teams in general are looking at the bigger picture.
The bottom line is, points don’t count the same now as they do later. A single point would have given Carl Edwards the 2011 title, but only if it had come during the Chase. Because points are reset before the final ten races, only wins and points position count, the actual point total doesn’t play a role. That means that while Edwards needed to take just a few more chances during the Chase, he had no reason to take them during the regular season. And neither did anyone else, save perhaps the drivers looking for the last guaranteed points position or a wild card spot. And that means not pushing the issue for anything but a race win. Under the old system, a fifth place instead of sixth at a race in May had the potential to make the difference in a championship. Now, it has little, if any impact at all. So what race fans are left with is a lot of guys logging laps if they can’t win.
My solution? It’s twofold. First, NASCAR needs to go back to season-long championship; as long as there’s a playoff system, people who remember the old way will never have respect for the system or any champion crowned under it anyway, and those people who do remember are the fans that are left as the bandwagoneers drift on to the next trend.
Second, the point fund money that’s now divided between the top 25 finishing teams at the end of the year should be divided 36 ways and added to the winner’s purse of every race, and only the winner’s purse. The champion should receive that pretty checkered flag trophy and a trip to Las Vegas to celebrate. The other teams should get the same-their finishing trophy and the trip paid for. The championship should be a celebration of the best team from the season, but the focus, and the money should be on winning races. I don’t like the idea of the guy who wins the most races being crowned, because it puts too big a target on people’s backs and too much chance of a regrettable incident. Consistency should be rewarded, and giving more points and more money for wins will make everyone hungry for them. And that would improve the races all year long.
Villains aren’t the same as they used to be. It’s been said that since the death of Dale Earnhardt, NASCAR hasn’t had a real villain. To a large extent that’s true, and it is kind of a bummer. There are guys that are vilified for driving too rough as Earnhardt was. Others seem to get jeered for “winning too much.” But there has been none like Earnhardt, not really.
Dale Earnhardt, as much as he was the bad guy in NASCAR for many years, also had the reputation of being kind of an everyman. No matter how rich and famous Earnhardt got, he didn’t change much in the eyes of the fans. He was the blue-collar hero, living proof that the American Dream was alive and well, living in Mooresville. For every wrecked racecar in his wake, there was a story of the man behind the mustache: the man who sat up with his daughter’s friend all night long because she was homesick on a sleepover or the man who took in a horse because its owners were neglecting it. In some way, just about everyone could relate to Earnhardt. Some people loved him and others loved to loathe him.
Today’s drivers pale in comparison. The ones who would take Earnhardt’s spot as villain don’t have the persona behind them to make people love them the way they did Earnhardt. They often come across as petulant or entitled. There’s more a sense of buying their way through the ranks than earning it (even when that’s not the case). They lack the personality and the blue-collar sensibility. If they run roughshod over the field, there are no stories to humanize them after. If they win too much, they somehow didn’t have to work as hard for it.
So, while NASCAR does have plenty of villains for a variety of reasons, at least if you listen to the crowd reaction during driver introductions, there isn’t one that delivers the whole package that Earnhardt did. The Busch brothers can move cars and make things exciting, but come across as more prep school than old school. Jimmie Johnson can win races at an alarming rate, but he’s seen as too corporate. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. has that off-track, behind-the-scenes quality that his father had, but he’s not the same type of driver, choosing not to be the on-track terror his father could be.
Call it a sign of the times or something else, today’s heroes are different from those of the past, the blue collar men who so many Americans could identify with on a level that they simply can’t with most of today’s breed of driver. They have to cater to corporate sponsors as well as to the fans, and that has made them seem distant to the average fan.
The lack of identity in the Nationwide Series Not that most of the new generations of fans would notice, but the Nationwide Series (and to some degree, the Truck Series) is no longer what it was meant to be. The series originated as a series in which drivers could make the leap from regional or local late model and modified series into NASCAR, and learn by running short tracks with a few larger ones. Sure, there were a few guys that made their careers there, and that gave them a built-in challenge for the young guns trying to make it to the Cup Series. The Nationwide Series in particular was primarily an East Coast Series because it was less expensive for the teams.
It wasn’t until the late 1990’s that the NNS teams crossed the Mississippi to race. Tracks like Myrtle Beach and South Boston were staples, and companion races weren’t the lion’s share of the schedule that they are now. A few Cup guys would show up a few times a year, but they weren’t a lock to win most of the time. Even when Mark Martin was terrorizing the series in the 1990’s, he didn’t run close to a full schedule, and it would never have occurred to the Cup guys to run for that series title because the schedule was too tricky. The series gave drivers the venues and the time to really learn how to race in traffic, how hard you could lean on a car and how to give and take. Some of the drivers coming into Cup these days lack those skills because there is no incentive for them to develop properly.
Then a few sponsors realized they could get on a big Cup star’s car for cheaper than the Cup Series and things began to change. NASCAR and sponsors figured they knew best what the fans wanted, and there began to be more and more companion races on intermediate tracks and fewer and fewer short track races. The cost of sponsorship, once a comfortable investment for a smaller company, shot sky high to the point where most of the series best teams are long gone, folded because sponsors couldn’t afford to pay what the teams had to ask for in order to keep up with the Joneses. True Nationwide teams with the singular goal of running in that series are few and far between today, and it’s hard to believe they once dominated the landscape.
What this has done is given the Cup fans a glut of races to choose from in a given weekend, and many choose to wait until Sunday to fill the stands, choosing to travel into town later or simply spend Friday and/or Saturday doing something else. When the Nationwide Series visited tracks where it was the only game in town, it attracted fans who knew and followed its drivers. These days, the fans who do go can simply cheer for the Cup driver they like best in the field and often don’t bother to know the drivers who run NNS exclusively. They don’t know the drivers who built that series the way they know the pioneers of Cup, and overall that hurts both the Nationwide Series and the future of Cup.
The problem that bleeds over into the Cup is that there is a dearth of properly prepared drivers to move into the series, a lack of respect and experience for the ones who do, and finally a lack of sponsors willing to take a leap of faith on a driver who is a virtual unknown compared to the established Cup field. If these drivers don’t have the chance to become popular stars in their own right, it’s harder to convince someone to shell out the $15 million or so to put them in a competitive Cup seat. Sponsors choose the proven commodity, and Nationwide drivers are generally not that.
Sponsors don’t want the best drivers any more It used to be that the best way to attract a top sponsor was to win, or at least run at the front of the pack. But it’s not that simple any more.
Now there are other factors becoming more and more important, often to the point of overshadowing the driver’s performance. Appealing to the right demographic often trumps visiting the winner’s circle. Consider Matt Kenseth, a former Cup champion and perpetual contender, who has several races lined up for which he won’t have sponsorship. He’s a threat to win virtually every week; on the racetrack he and teammate Carl Edwards have virtually identical numbers in the races they’ve both run; in fact they’re dead even in terms of beating each other, with 137 top finishes apiece. Edwards just edges Kenseth’s stats in the races they’ve both run; Kenseth has the edge overall and has a championship. Yet Edwards has more sponsors than he knows what to do with while the driver with the champion’s patch on his uniform struggles. And when it is no longer about on-track talent, the whole sport suffers.
There are some talented drivers without the money to be competitive and you had better believe that affects the overall quality of racing in all three national touring series. If the best drivers can’t race every week, something is missing. Take Trevor Bayne. Not only is he young, well-spoken, and genuine, he can drive a car. His first Nationwide victory came at the expense of Cup star Edwards, when Bayne simply drove by his more experienced teammate when it counted, and the kid is also a Daytona 500 champion! Yet he’s sitting out races for lack of a sponsor when less talented drivers have full backing. It doesn’t make sense, and it ultimately hurts the quality of the racing.
All four of these things are quietly eating away at the quality of the racing in NASCAR. They’re not as blatantly obvious as the cookie-cutter tracks that don’t encourage hard racing, tires that never wear out, allowing teams the luxury of one less strategy to worry about, the racecar with rules that allow no innovation, but they’re just as important to understand in terms of the health of the sport today. They are vital areas for NASCAR to look long and hard at, and just as important for fans to understand so that they can let the sanctioning body know they need to improve their product. They may not be in the spotlight, but they most certainly are backstage running the show.
©2000 - 2008 Amy Henderson and Frontstetch.com. Thanks for visiting the Frontstretch!
I am a relatively new fan (2008) but I don’t think I’m a bandwagoner. To me, it seems to be the NASCAR fans who so often come across as petulant and entitled, not the drivers. We had a wonderful season in 2011. This year, so far, its not as exciting. That’s the way it is in sports sometimes but old school fans go on and on about “in the day”. The non-Chase years, Dale Earnhardt. I’m not sure any real season or person could live up to the view from those rose-colored glasses.
Great column Amy, you hit on some profound truths.
What you’ve said about the Chase is correct, but my problem with it more than anything is that it gives points to drivers that didn’t earn them. Very simple to me.
The Chase might have a smidgen of validity if it only featured the playoff drivers. The reason people tune in for the playoffs in other sports is because they know that all the teams are good. In NASCAR, a playoff event looks no different than a regular season event.
Sponsors no longer want the best drivers…boy is that ever true. Every other driver in a JR Motorsports car has put up a better average finish than Danica since NASCAR welcomed her with open arms.
To put it simply, Amen.
It’s a different world now than “back in the day”.
Today, drivers are SO careful to not offend anyone about anything so they can keep their sponsor. Kyle Busch is the most exciting thing on the track since Dale Sr. but half the fans absolutely HATE everything about him to the point of writing his sponsors to complain. So we’re left with nice, clean, and vanilla Jimmie Johnson clones.
I remember the days when Dale Sr. and D.W. were booed constantly but it was a different atmosphere in those days.
The very LAST thing Nascar wants to do is drop the Chase because that would be admitting it’s failure.
And it would take away from the drivers who won championships during “the Chase years”. Many fans, especially those who’ve been with the sport for years, don’t give credit to those drivers already.
Whether there is or isn’t a Chase, the incentive isn’t there for a driver to race hard for an entire race let alone the entire season… and that’s why we have the boring racing we have.
This week will be a great example of that: the first 90% of the race consists not of hard racing but rather preserving the car for the final 10%.
NASCAR needs to not get rid of the Chase but to (1) modify scoring to incorporate running position throughout the race (eliminating the incentive for drivers to just turn laps) and (2) allow drivers a ‘drop’ or two to allow them to take risks without suffering a season ending failure.
I agree with all your points Amy but you could have summed it up with one word… money.
On the other hand, we now get to see a crappy broadcast of every race on tv. Crappy because they are loaded with commercials and talking heads that are more about PR and toeing the company line than covering the race and what’s happening on track.
nASCAR has disowned the South so join me and delete the mess from our tv watching.
Without doubt one of the best pieces I have read in years, you hit on every point that is wrong with Nascar, if they do not come to their senses soon they will be gone and forgotten very quickly, keep up the great work Amy.
Really good article Amy, you drove all the nails in as they should be. It’s funny how those newbie fans just have no clue as to just how good NASCAR was and should still be. They don’t even see how they are being talked down to or actually insulted by the loudest voices in the sport. Keep up the honest reporting!
I think the main problems are the economy, the Chase and tv coverage.
The eocnomy is what it is and NASCAR can’t do anything about it. Power is in the sponsors hands. The $ factor has forced many favorites off the track and replaced them with a rotation of ride-buyers. Trevor Bayne’s story is a hard pill for fans to swallow. If winning one of the greatest achievements in NASCAR can’t get you a sponsor, does success even mean anything?
Second, if the fans can’t see the racing at home, they will be unhappy. It’s that simple. The outcome of the Richmond race was altered by a debris caution, a piece of debris the drivers criticized and the fans didn’t see.
Finally, the Chase made the points closer, but last year’s points battle came and went and the excitement died down quickly. Does the championship even have meaning anymore? The old system had it’s flaws, like 2003, but it made the whole season count. I’d rather watch another 2003 than see another situation like Jeff Gordon getting robbed of a championship in 2007.
What defines NASCAR fans from any other sport is their passion. Sometimes it comes across too strong, like the unfortunate new buzz word spreading -‘needy’ or ‘entitled’. We know the sport can be better because many of us have seen the sport in better health. With such a large number of variables going into a race, it’s hard to pin down the exact problems. But there are good intentions behind the fan opinions. Years of ‘bitching’ by the fans not only saved Rockingham from becoming a field of weeds, but brought the track back to life when NASCAR returned a few weeks ago.
Probably your best article Amy.
I have never been to a race to see how the points championship was effected. I have however attended them to see who won the race.
Would that I had some bit of faith you are not just shouting into a hurricane.
I can remember when who won the season long championship was an after thought to the racing we saw every week. Yes, when Earnhardt came close to tying Richard Petty, the title got more exciting, but each race mattered. Yet, many still wonder why Jimmy Johnson’s 5 ‘title’s’ in a row aren’t setting race fans agog in wonder. Maybe it’s because a 10 race ‘champ’ just isn’t as impressive?
You know what I think the only thing that is entitled in this sport are all these whining fans…everybody has some reason why they hate NASCAR….then why do you still not only watch every race but then come here to whine like your the long lost third busch brother or something. The real reason jimmie doesn’t get all praised over his 5 championships is all NASCAR has left are all you sourpusses talking about back in the day….well. we are no longer there and to be honest….guess what??? change is the only constant in life. So either leave this sport alone or find something you do like because as a FAN of NASCAR I am so tired of hearing people complain so much about something that you don’t have to put up with…go watch some Jr. Back in the day reruns if you liked it back then…simple as that. And to complain that a driver won by the rules someone else made up and discredit it because they beat 43 drivers at it fair and square makes me wonder if anything short of dale Sr. rising from the grave. will make any of you happy…So go mow the yard or get a root canal this Sunday because the all of you complain about free entertainment on tv makes me think those other options would be more fun than watching what all of you describe as your experience with NASCAR these days….so do us both and NASCAR a favor and go watch paint dry on Sundays and leave this sport to all of us that love NASCAR no matter what they do with as long as they are RACIN’ BOYS!!!!
alan moody is secretly a deranged Darrell Waltrip. There isn’t much “racin boys” going on these days, especially with the CoT, the tracks, and the Chase. The real reason that fans (including me) complain about the racing (or really the lack thereof), is because NA$CAR has marketing types (Brain France) running it who have no clue what good racing constitutes. In 10 short years France has managed to single-handedly throw away the 30 years of momentum and growth his old man nurtured. Brian the idiot spawn has given us the CoT (the teams didn’t want it), a ban on testing @ series tracks (how do you get better?), and a format that induces conservatism for 70% of the schedule. France is also adept at snagging sponsors to become “the offical __________ of NA$CAR”, which would be better served funding 4-5 race teams and eliminating the need for teams to start and park.
The other problem is that I$C and NA$CAR are one in the same. The Frances run both. So when I$C produces lame, pathetic tracks, they automatically get race dates. $MI isn’t much better. Greed rules the day. You can fit more seats around a 1.5 or greater sized track than a small one. So they build the big tracks dreaming of full grandstands and wads of cash. Problem is, the racing sucks, and the economy is now bad, so people have wised up. Brian France, sadly has not, and probably never will.
You make a lot of good points, but all the complaining about these “new” fans is getting tiresome. Who do you think will be watching NASCAR when the old fans aren’t around anymore? The sponsor money points are dead on though. I also think the COT and the hard tires need some of the blame here too.
Maybe Alan wants to go live in North Korea with its propaganda and leader that must be one and the same Brian France.
Amy, you nailed it on this one. I don’t agree with some of the negative flak you get but I don’t always agree with you either, but this article was spot on.
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Whether nascar knows it or not they are dying a slow death. They are an afterthought on sports talk radio…IN THE SOUTH.
They have lost the youth, who could care less about nascar.
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