The Frontstretch: 5 Points to Ponder: All-Star Flaws, All Hail the (Burger) King and Defense Dollars at Risk by Bryan Davis Keith -- Monday May 21, 2012

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ONE: It’s Time for the All-Star Race to Move…

There is something very, very wrong when a 10 lap heat race is vulnerable to the driver up front being able to storm away, leaving an all but single-file parade in his wake. That’s exactly how the latest misconception of stock car racing’s All-Star weekend panned out; a format that rewarded sandbagging only to yield a final sprint to the cash that was over before it started. Face it, Charlotte is another one of the cookie cutters now, and the race played out just like that…nothing special.

The intermediates are far from NASCAR’s best show, and the uniqueness of the Charlotte oval has been gone since 2005. In short, the racing doesn’t justify the steady home for the All-Star weekend anymore. It’s time to move.

And for more reasons than the degradation of the on-track product. There’s more to being an all-star than being able to circulate fast around a cookie cutter oval. As important as Charlotte is to the racing community, there’s plenty of other cities out there with throngs of NASCAR fans (the ones that are left anyway). Besides, it’s an exhibition…why put on more of the ordinary? Go race on dirt, run a race with eliminations as the event progresses, invert the field and then eliminate drivers, do something.

More of the same was a real letdown, especially for an event supposed to free today’s drivers from the pressures of points racing. But hey, considering just how much those same drivers sandbagged to get ahead…there may not be a format out there that’s going to bring about that type of racing.

TWO: Because the All-Star Race Was a Microcosm of All That is Wrong

The All-Star Race’s fan vote has brought such memories such as rookie Joey Logano and multi-million dollar backer Home Depot sneaking their way into the big race.

Getting ahead by staying behind. Track position proving just as, if not more valuable, than speed on the track. Tires harder than blood diamonds. And everywhere one looked, tweak after tweak trying to make racing less risky and more inclusive of big market names.

Anyone remember the thrilling conclusion to the 2005 Nextel Open, the one where Brian Vickers dumped Mike Bliss on the frontstretch coming to the checkers to race into the big show? That’s never going to happen again. No, can’t have hard racing that rewards winning and nothing else. That would get fans wondering what would happen if the points system rewarded trophies instead of consistency. That would make people question why we tolerate the crap that constitutes the Chase for the Cup deciding stock car racing’s premier prize every year. So instead, let’s reward second place. It’s not everyone gets a trophy, but it’s closer.

And let’s make sure we have a fan vote. Got to have Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the mix, no matter the race plays out. And if Jr. qualifies, well, who could do without Joey Logano and the Home Depot employees that were all but paid to vote him in?

The Chase, the points system, everything that’s been done to make NASCAR like stick and ball sports has effectively neutered a sport that was once professional bootlegging. The Southern 500 was moved to California, and now to a northern city in a Southern state. The Bristol night race now resembles a high speed conveyor belt. And the balls-to-the-wall race event that produced the “pass in the grass” and Kyle Petty’s fiercest competitive moment is now a dud, a segmented parade that did nothing more than display the same pit crews that had their own challenge earlier in the week.

Most sports treat their All-Star Weekend as a chance to get away from the grind. NASCAR’s was just more of the same…the last thing race fans need.

THREE: BK Racing Doing the Right Thing with Third Car

Despite still not having any significant source of outside funding, BK Racing announced that they will be fielding a third car for eight races throughout the rest of 2012. David Reutimann, the part-time driver of the team’s No. 93 car, will drive the new No. 73 in the races Danica Patrick will run in his primary No. 10 ride at Tommy Baldwin Racing, which will allow BK’s other driver in Travis Kvapil to keep his seat for the rest of the season.

It’s an upstanding move that the team deserves a pat on the back for. Though Landon Cassill may be the young face the team is counting on to sell sponsor dollars, Kvapil is the only driver that’s kept a team car in the top 35 in owner points, also delivering the team’s best finish of the year with a top 20 at Phoenix. He’s done more than enough to justify staying in the No. 93 seat full-time.

That being said, the team had a deal in place with Reutimann before the 2012 campaign started that allowed him to piece together a full 36 race schedule, even with Danica Patrick swooping in for a few races throughout the season. By wheeling the third car out, all deals remain intact, and Mr. Kvapil the journeyman gets a pat on the back for a job well done thus far in 2012. Whoever this ownership group is, they’re to be lauded for this move.

FOUR: Bad News with Defense Sponsorships Being Targeted

It’s perhaps ironic that a Congresswoman from a state that’s preparing to build a $1 billion stadium for the NFL’s Vikings has seemingly made a political term in office out of sponsoring bills to ban defense dollars from going to sponsor race cars and other professional sports entities, but 2012 is seeing this story play out again. The bill, as proposed, would ban the military from spending any money to sponsor sporting events, to include their NASCAR sponsorships with Ryan Newman and Dale Earnhardt Jr.

It’s a tough issue to tackle. On the one hand, times are absolutely tough, the federal government needs to cut spending and in a big way, and NASCAR sponsorships are expensive. On the other, the military has to advertise to recruit, and professional sports, including NASCAR, have long been a viable means to accomplish that. All five of the armed forces have been part or full-time sponsors in the sport off and on the last decade. The Border Patrol saw an instant boost in applications once they started sponsoring Kenny Wallace. The Census Bureau put themselves on a car. Same with the FCC and their Digital TV transition a few years back. There’s tons of history here that demonstrates there’s an incentive to market on the track.

On the surface, this bill is nothing more than political grandstanding to try and score votes on the back of something high visibility. Let’s be clear, anyone that thinks the nation’s going to end its debt woes by cutting back on sports ads is delusional.

That being said, the federal government needs to be reviewing every dollar it spends on advertising to ensure that there is a return coming for the expenditure. And that’s where this issue gets sticky for NASCAR…more than having tens of millions of dollars on the line for two top-tier teams in the garage. Because as much as the story will be that hard economic times forced military sponsorships to go by the wayside if the Army and National Guard don’t come back for 2013…there will be a very hard question to answer if that happens. Namely, how the hell can NASCAR sell the viability of getting involved in the sport when two Chase drivers, one that’s won races each of the last three years and another that leads the sport in TV exposure can’t drive a return for the millions in costs?

FIVE: Brian France’s Research and Desperation Move

There’s an irony that even before Saturday’s snoozefest, Brian France told reporters that vice president of racing operations Steve O’Donnell had been tasked at NASCAR’s R&D Center to make the racing better. According to ESPN, the move is a repurposing of the R&D center to focus on aerodynamic issues and other items plaguing the on-track product on NASCAR’s ovals.

Here’s a thought. Racing has gotten worse since the stock car was taken completely out of stock car racing. Hmmm…how about putting the stock car back in it? Rip off the front air dam, give the manufacturers some free reign to make the Fusions and Camrys of the field look like Fusions and Camrys, make the cars hard to drive, make the tires wear out, and make the drivers drive the damn things.

Here’s a thought for the R&D center. Close it, take that money and use it to fill in the holes those defense sponsorships are going to leave. Just think of the headlines: NASCAR to sponsor Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s No. 88.

It was inevitably going to happen anyway.

Contact Bryan Davis Keith

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Sue Rarick
05/22/2012 07:03 AM

What is funny about the 36 race deal Reutimann has is that the cars he’s racing at BKRacing are newer than the cars he races at TBR.

I actually think he’s done a good job keeping mostly 3 year old cars in the top 35. Makes you wonder how many wins MWR would have if they had kept him with the new Scott Miller built cars.

Michael in SoCal
05/22/2012 10:20 AM

On point five, are they thinking about doing anything to make the 1.5 – 2.5 mile tracks better, like maybe tearing some of them down, or at least only going to them once a year (Texas, Charlotte, Kansas, Michigan, Pocono)? Maybe then we could have more races at short tracks where the racing is good.

Carl D.
05/22/2012 11:31 AM

Out of one side of Brian France’s mouth he says that he’s tasking the R&D department with making the racing better, and out of the other side of his mouth he says the racing is great and that the season to date has been a solid success. Which Koolaid do I drink?

Move the All-Star race to Darlington and make the drivers run one 100-lap segment for a million bucks. No 2nd-place purse; all the money goes to the team that wins. Every driver in the top-35 qualifies. One race, one prize, one winner.

05/22/2012 11:36 AM

Why do you think the “racing” will change if they use a different track? The solution involves a lot more than that, including using a real race car.

Sherri T
05/22/2012 11:51 AM

I’m with Carl D. Move the race to Darlington – one segment all drivers one winner and only the winner gets $$$. Then we’d actually see some racing!

05/22/2012 11:56 AM

As someone who takes Air Force recruits to induction on a weekly basis, I can tell you virtually NONE of them were influenced by motorsports sponsorship. Rather the economy and lack of opportunity is bringing them in. We all complain about waste in government, yet dont want our toys cut.
IMHO, the only people benefiting out of the sponsorships are the already rich, (RH for one)car owners.
Cut them, along with hundreds of other sweetheart deals.

05/22/2012 12:56 PM

On #4: If the military has big bucks to spend on NASCAR, they should apply it to combat pay (and only for soldiers in actual combat). Appropriate compensation for getting shot at would go a lot further to entice recruits than a pretty paint job on a race car.

On #5: If not a stock car, can we at least have homologated stock block engines? I don’t care if we have to go to Lincolns & Cadillacs in order to get cars big enough to be safe, I want STOCK cars!

05/22/2012 01:00 PM

Russ has a good point. My son is a 12 year veteran of the Air Force. He loves his job in special operations and has served at many combat locations. His teenage years when he would see me watching nASCAR on Sunday afternoons and walk by he never wanted to stop and see what racing had to offer. He would look at me like dad don’t we have something to do with a little more action? As time has passed and the racing has deteriorated to it present state I know what he meant.No amount of military sponsorship dollars had anything to do with his decision to enlist.As I have said before I had rather they give the money to camel racers than to the big teams like HMS. Maybe Bill Clinton can float a loan for the 88.

05/22/2012 03:44 PM

Advertising works in different ways. Because no one claims to be directly influnced by the sponsorship doesn’t mean they weren’t. The FACT is the opportunity is presented by the Armed Forces through various methods from frisbees to Color Guards presenting the flag to NASCAR sponsorships. Its gets the message out and keeps it in a persons mind. Its subliminal man! And it works.

05/22/2012 05:11 PM

This article is incorrect about BK Racing. Before Daytona I would agree with you, but after Daytona, it was announced that Burger King actually had signed on as the sponsor.

Also, don’t forget that Dr. Pepper is a full associate and part time primary sponsor.

They have MUCH more sponsorship than TBR.

When writing about the small teams, please get your facts straight…

Don Mei
05/22/2012 05:20 PM

We need to “repurpose Brian France”. How about hot dog sales?

05/22/2012 05:33 PM

Funny how lately the 48 can outrun other cars with ease. Seems to have no trouble with passing other cars.

Yet every other car, with the possible exception of Tony Stewart at Darlington, can’t pass unless there’s a wreck.

There’s some funny business going on.

05/22/2012 06:45 PM

I think the ALL-STAR race should be done at a non-regular track. Say, Rockingham or Iowa. A place that has good racing and bump and run possibilities. And Nascar blew the format too. If you want pit stops involved. Put them all on pit road at the same time and make them change tires and whoever has the fastest stop starts first and forget the race off pit road. That was a total joke!

bud sudz
05/22/2012 07:57 PM

Andy--The military sponsorship is more than a paint job. It is a full campaign with ads, marketing events at the track, etc. IF the military is going to advertise, there are plenty of 18-35 year olds that still attend races, so it's probably money well spent. phony*cup—The original Military Sponsorship were a one-race deal for the 1991 Daytona 500. As a Salute to Operation Desert Storm, RJ Reynolds paid for the sponsorships which went to Alan Kulwicki,the Army. Buddy Baker the Marines, Mickey Gibbs, Air Force; Greg Sacks, Navy, and Dave Marcis, Coast Guard.

05/22/2012 10:54 PM

Just put the Hendrick boys in the eco-friendly Volt and then it would be OK to run government sponsorships.

05/23/2012 09:59 AM

Put “Bills” face on both sides of the 88.

05/23/2012 12:46 PM

They should try the All-Star race similar as a regular Saturday night show and see how it works. Heat races, consi’s, last chance race and a short feature (100 laps). (Would certainly be easier to get all the commercials in this way with the different breaks too)

If its a success, maybe they can look at incorporating it into points events. Oh wait. that’s what the fans want, so it will never happen.