The Frontstretch: 5 Points to Ponder: Cup Teams Run N'Wide, Kasey's No. Question, and HOF by Bryan Davis Keith -- Tuesday May 18, 2010

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ONE: The future of the Nationwide Series to be tested by Cup drivers and by less than 15 teams

Despite rumors that the anticipated Nationwide Series COT test at Daytona would be delayed to allow for more teams to get their cars prepared, NASCAR is pushing forward this Tuesday and Wednesday with a two-day test. It’s kind of hard to argue with that logic. After all, the teams that haven’t built a car yet are those hoping that the superteams can create enough in time for the carless ones to buy them…and that they can actually afford that expenditure come July.

At total of 23 drivers from 11 organizations are scheduled to take part in the test. The problem with these numbers? Look closer. First of all, having only 11 organizations show up to test when the Nationwide Series needs to fill a 43-car field every weekend isn’t solid math. Of the 23 drivers slated to test, only 16 are actually Nationwide Series regulars, and four of those are either tentative or only present for one day of the test. And of the 11 organizations represented, only three are non-Cup entities (ML Motorsports, Tri-Star Motorsports, and Braun Racing).

Does anything more really need to be said? This is the future of the Nationwide Series, the exclusive car that the Series will run in 2011, and there’s 16 series regulars present. Cup teams represent 33% of the driver field and 73% of the teams present at the test.

The state of the Nationwide Series, by the numbers.

With Brian Vickers out of his car for the foreseeable future…who’s gonna sit in the No. 83?

TWO: Look for Vickers to be out for months… and Casey Mears is not the answer

In a best case scenario for Brian Vickers, assuming that his blood clots will require Coumadin treatment, it will be three to six months before the Red Bull Racing veteran will be 100% safe and ready to take the wheel of the No. 83 again. Coumadin blood thinner will not make Vickers sick, but in a sport where 200 mph collisions are commonplace, the risk of the driver sustaining an injury that could cause bruising and bleeding is high… and with thinned blood, that risk is too much to bear.

It’s been widely observed that Vickers being young, there is absolutely no reason to rush a return; he’s got plenty of years left in his career. And as for his job security, well, let’s just say Red Bull Racing is where they are today because of Vickers more than anyone else.

Where will they be when Vickers is able to return to the seat remains to be seen. It will be a regression, however, if Casey Mears ends up being the long-term reliever that gets the No. 83 seat. Don’t get me wrong; Mears’ 22nd-place finish was about all that could be expected this past weekend at Dover, given his lack of experience with the Red Bull team and the fact that the Red Bull organization has never really excelled on the Monster Mile. The problem is, a 22nd-place finish is about all Mears can be counted on for consistently, given his lengthy and underwhelming career record.

What’s more, with the Chase now out of the question for Red Bull, the focus for the rest of 2010 should shift to preparation for 2011… and the continued development of Scott Speed. Though Mears does have a number of years as a full-time Cup driver, the only time in his career that he was called upon to be the senior driver was his final year with Chip Ganassi Racing. Considering where his teammates from that campaign, David Stremme and Reed Sorenson, are today, it’s hard to make a case for Mears being the guy Scott Speed should lean on. As for him being the guy to help Team Red Bull snap out of their current slump, forget about it. This is the same Casey Mears who led the No. 42 team into a regression after the departure of Jamie McMurray, failed to ever make the Chase with Hendrick Motorsports, and led the same No. 07 team at RCR that made the Chase with Clint Bowyer the season prior to a 21st-place points finish.

Red Bull could go with Mike Skinner, a pivotal player in getting the team’s second car up to speed after A.J. Allmendinger missed the first three races of 2008 with the team. They could go with Scott Wimmer, who many thought should have gotten the No. 07 ride that ended up going to Mears at RCR after he led their No. 29 Nationwide Series team to an owner’s championship. Or they could go with an unproven commodity… because Mears is proven to bring nothing but mediocrity to the table.

THREE: What happened to Dover?!

I thought the crowd was bad at Atlanta Motor Speedway in the spring one year ago, where around 60,000 fans left gaping holes in the grandstands even at the start-finish line. Dover may have had a few more fans this past Sunday when the green flag dropped, but in terms of appearance, this crowd was disturbing. Already having covered wide swaths of grandstands with sponsorship curtains… and even closing the turn 3 grandstand, there were still massive glares coming off the empty aluminum bleachers. NASCAR estimated 88,000 fans were present…take 20,000 off that number.

This was just the latest visual manifestation of a trend of downward attendance that still continues to plague all levels of NASCAR in 2010, and that shows no signs of stopping. But unlike the cookie-cutter ovals that have drawn much ire for their ticker-tape parades masquerading as sporting events, Dover has typically had no problem putting on competitive races.

Unfortunately, just like the crowd was way off for a Dover race weekend, the competition on Sunday was as well. I can’t comment on the telecast that the Daly Planet absolutely lambasted throughout the event, seeing as I was at the track, but one thing I was shocked by watching Sunday’s race was that I felt bad for the TV crews… because all the way through the 43-car field, there really wasn’t a whole lot of side-by-side racing to be found. Drivers struggling with a tire that put down excessive amounts of rubber on top of the already pain-in-the-neck Car of Tomorrow just didn’t seem to be able to do a lot of passing.

And as I watched this unfold, it was suddenly so clear as to why even Dover’s grandstands look like Fontana’s. Just like Darlington the week before, the current tire/car combination is off the mark, and the product on the track suffered. Maybe things would have been better if Jimmie Johnson hadn’t sped and would have battled Kyle Busch for a win under green. But good enough to bring 20, 30, 40,000 people more to the track next time? Probably not.

Yes, the economy sucks. But people haven’t stopped spending, they’ve cut back. For racing to get back into the wallets of so many departed fans, the racing product needs to change. And until NASCAR opens up the means for teams to improve their cars, the product isn’t going to improve. This isn’t rocket science, even if making the CoT race enjoyable apparently is.

FOUR: Kasey Kahne to Earnhardt Ganassi Racing?

Kasey Kahne will race in 2012 for Hendrick Motorsports, meaning that he will be driving a Chevrolet in 2011. Problem is, if you ask Tony Stewart, it’s not necessarily going to be for Stewart-Haas Racing, the seemingly perfect halfway home for Rick Hendrick’s latest prize signing. And according to SHR competition director Bobby Hutchens, Kahne would have to find sponsorship in the next two weeks if they were going to be able to form a third team for him and do it right.

That leaves Kahne with two other realistic Chevrolet camps to look at for a one-year ride; Richard Childress Racing and Earnhardt Ganassi Racing. And now that Kevin Harvick appears close to re-signing with the No. 29 team, there really isn’t an open seat at the RCR stable.

But EGR may be another story. With Tony Stewart needing additional sponsor dollars following the departure of Old Spice after 2010, BASS Pro Shops has a dream scenario lined up for them at SHR. Two outdoorsmen in need of sponsor dollars that, unlike current driver Jamie McMurray, aren’t really a stretch to be seen selling boats, fishing rods, and hunting gear. BASS Pro Shops already signed on as an associate sponsor for Tony Stewart and Ryan Newman this year, and it would be a surprise if they didn’t defect for SHR after 2010, McMurray’s Daytona 500 trophy notwithstanding.

That leaves the No. 1 car sponsor hunting, and between Kahne and McMurray… advantage Kahne. Plus, with the No. 1 team already in existence, Kahne wouldn’t necessarily have to sign a sponsor by late spring / early summer to be able to race for EGR in 2011. Couple that with the fact that an EGR ride likely isn’t going to come with the price tag of a Hendrick-backed seat, and there’s a credible case to be made that Kasey Kahne may be calling the Garage Mahal his home… for one year, at least.

FIVE: Who’s in first?

In speaking with Richard Petty about the NASCAR Hall of Fame this weekend, Petty named, in addition to David Pearson, a number of mechanics and engine builders that he would vote for as members to the second class. Petty raises a great point, that instead of harping solely on drivers to enter the Hall, that those that made the cars go fast are just as deserving of a seat, and just as important to capturing NASCAR’s past.

Which begs the ultimate question for 20 years down the road… who gets in first? Jimmie Johnson or Chad Knaus?

Contact Bryan Davis Keith

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Today on the Frontstretch:
NASCAR Easter Eggs: A Few Off-Week Nuggets to Chew On
Five Points To Ponder: NASCAR’s Take-A-Breath Moment
Truckin’ Thursdays: Top Five All-Time Truck Series Drivers
Going By the Numbers: A Week Without Racing Can Bring Relief But Kill Momentum


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05/18/2010 06:05 AM

About attendance, while I agree the racing isn’t what it used to be, I think you have to chalk most of it up to the economy.

Being unable to find a job for over 2 years now. A 99er, not of fan of Edwards, it would have applied when Burton drove the 99, :) but a person that has received the entire 99 weeks of Unemployment and haven’t had any sort of income whatsoever for the past several months. I’ve paid a lot more attention to spending trends than your typical person that still has a job.

My mother mentioned last week that when her and my father went out to dinner Friday night, that the place was packed and everyone had their young kids with them. My mom’s first thoughts were that economy must be doing better if they could afford to take the whole family out to a decent steak house. But I pointed out that the parents, who, in the past, would go see a movie or such after dinner, aka date night. Now can no longer afford to do that. So it is cheaper to take the kids to dinner than it is hire a babysitter. After I said this, she was sure I was correct. Am I? Probably, but I haven’t bothered to do a survey. :)

I also went to Great Clips today for a haircut. (Nope, not a Kahne fan, Leffler is cool though.) I was talking with the stylist about the economy and she mentioned if I had noticed the sign in sheet. My name was 5th and I got there around 4:00. Granted, she said Mondays is one of their slowest days, but at $15 a cut, they had only brought in $75 in 6 or 7 hours. Which just happens to be what the stylist cutting my hair would have charged me a year ago before she had to close her own salon and take a job at pretty much the lowest paying place there is to cut hair.

My point being, people have really cut their spending as much as possible. Especially since the economy isn’t showing any signs of a drastic improvement in the near future. Two years minimum is what they keep saying the news. So everyone is really tightening their wallets because there is no end in sight yet.

I wouldn’t doubt that the drop in TV ratings is down because of people cutting out things like cable or satellite. Also, quite a few people that used to work a normal 40 hour M-F week now are working part-time jobs that requires them to work weekends.

When times are tough, sports like auto racing aren’t the best “feel good” sport. Your team doesn’t win or lose each game, as is true with most sports. So it isn’t really a sport to fall back on to keep your spirits up. And considering that the teams aren’t aligned with cities around the country, its not even a sport that gets a city pumped up when a team is having a good year.

I’m not so sure that NASCAR grasps all of this. I think they just see less money coming in and panic. Double-file restarts… 3 G-W-C… And even offering $20 million for someone to win the double Indy 500 and the 600 next year.

I hope they wise up and realize that in this depression, profits are going to decline and stop trying to do stupid things that help ratings in the short run, but are basically bad for the sport in the long run.

05/18/2010 12:28 PM

@ PBFred: I think that you are partially right, but not completely. NASCAR fans have historically been touted as some of the most loyal sports fans on Earth.
NASCAR fans can be counted on to buy products they do not like, just because those companies support NASCAR through various sponsorships.
Consumer spending has been trending upwards as many Americans attempt to forget their economic troubles. Granted some long term ticket buyers just can’t buy seats because they have absolutely no discretionary income. But if Bryan is correct and only around 70,000 people showed up, that is nearly 50% empty seats.
With the unemployment rate hovering at roughly 10% nationally, nearly 50% of the seats being empty isn’t completely the fault of economic hardships. Many long-term NASCAR fans have been threatening to quit the sport. I believe that this is more than sabre rattling. These fans are abandoning NASCAR in droves. NASCAR’s financial outlook is more bleak than the national one by far.
As the new generation of fans come in, they will not hold that same loyalty to corporations as the older fans did.
I don’t like Dominoes Pizza. Michael Waltrip is my least favorite driver. I will still order a Dominoes pizza because they support racing, so I support them. In the future companies will pay less for commercials because ratings are down. The TV stations won’t pony up the huge amounts of cash at the next contract negotiations as covering racing is no longer profitable. And companies will no longer see racing sponsorship as a suitable investment, because the fans don’t feel obligated to support the people that pay the bills.
This will equate to smaller purses and more desperation from NASCAR. That will lead to a further alienation of the long-term, diehard fan. This sport has already ceased to even resemble the NASCAR of 10 years ago, and it is not simply the lack of a #3, or the current economic trends. Fans can no longer deny that NASCAR is rapidly becoming the WWE, with fan votes driving policy (through e-mail, internet posts, and on-air campaigning by television “stars“), contrived drama between racers, and completely managed events.

Don Mei
05/18/2010 01:06 PM

Once again I find myself agreeing (mostly) with noel. Except for the pizza. Being of Italian ancestry and a life long Connecticut resident, no way could I eat what Dominoes calls pizza.

Now, being an eternal optimist there are clearly a number of things that Nascar could do to hold onto its dwindling audience. Whether they have the will or common sense to do so remains to be seen. I do think that sponsorship dollars are going to dry up to some degree. In a sense, many of the teams will get hung up by their own petard. If “normal sponsorship” for a given team amounts to say 20 Million, and it gets cut to $10 million will the world end? Hardly. Teams ten years ago were run succesfully on a quarter of that. Of course they only had one airplane and no 300,000 square foot shops. (A football field is a bit more than an acre at about 56,000 feet!) Maybe a reality check and some serious discussion about what the sport needs is in order…without the posturing.

05/18/2010 01:19 PM

NOEL: You’re Domino’s analogy made absolutely NO sense.

I mean, if you really wanted to support NASCAR and had a craving for pizza, why not go for a “Slice of Pizzi”???

05/18/2010 02:24 PM

If Nascar wants to put more butts in the seats, they need to put a better product on the track. Plain and simple. All these changes they keep making are better for the sport, but they are still avoiding the painfully obvious. The racing is terrible.

The slice of Pizzi comment was great!!!

05/18/2010 05:02 PM

Lets give it up to Noel for only purchasing products that sponsor NASCAR. Now I know what it takes to be a real fan I bet that’s a huge stretch for her… ya know… Only shopping at Home Depot or Lowes for her home improvement needs. Only drinking Bud or Coors or Miller when she needs a frosty cold one. Only drinking Jim or Jack or Crown when she needs something a little more stiff. Only buying Fords or Toyotas or Chevys when she needs a new car.

Nascar fans dont buy certain products because they sponsor the sport. They buy their products because they are the largest corporations that have the budget to advertise everywhere… including nascar. WWJDD

05/18/2010 06:16 PM

Randy: Once again your complete lack of NASCAR history bites you in the ass! NASCAR fans DO buy the products that sponsor the teams cars. The fact that an FNG like yourself doesn’t see the correlation only underscores my point. Thank you for allowing your ignorance to prove my point. The “newbies” will never give the devotion or loyalty necessary to keep NASCAR afloat. Now go back to mommy, and quit whining in my direction!

Who is this “she“ to which you keep refering? I am a man. So not only do we find out that you don’t understand basic grammar, spelling, and history, but you also fail gender identification. I guess that you just took the lead in the “MOST STUPID AMERICAN EVER“ contest. You must make both of your fathers very proud!

05/18/2010 07:09 PM

Noel, I don’t disagree with you at all. I just think the economy is playing a bigger factor than is truly realized.

Unemployment is at about 10%. But what most people don’t pay attention to is that under-employment, people that are now working lowing paying jobs or less hours, is at about 20%. Also, don’t forget that people like me, who have run out of benefits, which now adds 1/2 million people per month, no longer are counted in either of these two stats. So you really have almost 1/3 of the Country’s workforce either unemployed or making less money.

I also agree that NASCAR fans are pretty die-hard fans. But ever since the COT came along, racing has gone downhill. And as I said before, NASCAR does seem to be leaning towards turning it into the WWE, I mistakenly said WWF a few days ago, :) in what looks like an attempt to keep ratings up. So I really think it is a domino effect. If the economy was still strong, NASCAR wouldn’t have made all the knee-jerk reactions to help ratings. I think they really need to wise up and keep things from spiraling out of control.

I wouldn’t doubt that Jeff Gordon is playing a decent factor in ratings too. A large percentage of long time NASCAR fans really hated Gordon for years. It really had nothing to do with Gordon himself, but the amazing amount of fans that he brought to the sport. They were basically “fair weather” fans that loved the fact that they could see Gordon win 1/4 to 1/3 the races each year. He basically is to NASCAR what Tiger Woods is to Golf. Take away Tiger, and Golf’s ratings plummet. I think a good percentage of Gordon fans are the same way and with his lack of dominance the past few years, I believe is causing his fans to stop watching NASCAR altogether.

One other thing too. With drivers and sponsors jumping all over the place these days, I think is playing a role too, in advertising profits at least. I know I no longer want to buy anything of my favorite drivers stuff that has a sponsor’s name on it, because within a year or two that sponsor will most likely change. I still think of Exide when I think I my favorite driver, Jeff Burton. And now his current sponsor, CAT, is only signed through the end of the year. Who doesn’t still occasionally see Kahne in the Budweiser car and not think Dale Jr? The sponsors not having driver allegiances has to be a major factor in how far their advertising dollars are worth.

05/18/2010 07:13 PM

Is it CHRISTMAS? Cause that’s the first noel I’ve ever met that’s a man.

05/18/2010 07:47 PM

I found this item yesterday; “One Lap Wonders: Double Bow and Red Bull Gives You Clots
Posted by dmic May 17
(May 17, 2010
Brian Vickers getting blood clots might be the worst thing that could possibly happen to his sponsor Red Bull. Suddenly those Australian health studies from 2008 saying that diet Red Bull gives you “Sticky Blood” seem more plausible.” Seems to me it would be easy to see if this was the problem, and if it was just quit drinking the diet variety.

05/19/2010 10:38 AM

Hahahahahahaha… gender identification issues? Sorry for being the only person on the planet that has never met a MALE named Noel.

Now I get where all of her/his issues stem from. Ah, I feel better now. Time to order some more DIGGER gear online.

Don Mei
05/19/2010 11:42 AM

Jeez Randy…are you really that stupid or are you faking it?

05/19/2010 12:30 PM

Digger = my homeboy.

05/19/2010 12:30 PM

@ PBFred: I take your point. It is well made. The only part I disagree with you about is that NASCAR can stop the knee-jerk reactions before things get out of control. I think they spiraled out of control over the last 4-5 years. I do still think that the hardcore fans tuning out spells a long term problem for NASCAR. The fair weather fans will have no problem tuning out when their driver wrecks, misses the chase, or something more interesting comes along. That mentality is more harmful to NASCAR than the economy in the long run. Eventually America will recover from our economic woes, NASCAR may never again enjoy the popularity and corporate relationships that they once did.

@ Don: I guess i forgot to hit the submit icon on my comment to you yesterday. I am interested in learning some of your ideas on reducing costs in NASCAR without turning it into a complete spec series.
For the reccord, I live in NY, and I too love the NY style pizza made by an Italian that can barely speak English. But 1 pizza a month from Dominos is the least I feel that I can do to support a company that has given at least $100 million dollars to support my least favorite driver.
I only made the point to show that the studies proving NASCAR fans loyalty are true.

Don Mei
05/19/2010 12:33 PM

Asked and answered Randy, thanks.

Don Mei
05/19/2010 12:36 PM

OK Noel, how do I e-mail you directly?

05/20/2010 12:33 PM

Don: I don’t know how to give you my e-mail without also giving the spammers it as well.

Don Mei
05/20/2010 02:58 PM

hell, I dont give a damn….