The Frontstretch: What If... Some Fun Possible Scenarios in NASCAR by Beth Lunkenheimer -- Wednesday May 18, 2011

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What If... Some Fun Possible Scenarios in NASCAR

Beth Lunkenheimer · Wednesday May 18, 2011

 

NASCAR may be taking a breather right now, stopping for the All-Star exhibition at Charlotte while giving both the Sprint Cup and Camping World Truck Series drivers a chance at a home race (the Coca-Cola 600 and Friday’s 200-miler for Trucks, respectively). But while those guys are adjusting to home life, sleeping in their own beds the sport of stock car racing is wide awake with plenty of hot topics this week. Since I’m feeling quite opinionated, with our Vito Pugliese off I’m offering my own “voice” towards a few “what ifs” to get you thinking about some of the latest and greatest issues facing the sport.

What if local broadcast blackouts returned?

Would NASCAR’s problems with empty seats be solved if tracks negotiated with TV networks for local blackouts?

Mike Neff presented a controversial idea in today’s Mirror Driving when he suggested ticket sales would rise for races if the local market fell into a television blackout. If that came to fruition, many fans in the greater Charlotte area, for example, would be forced to head out to the speedway or miss out on quite a bit of racing this weekend.

I understand the concept of local blackouts as history shows it’s a sure way to boost ticket sales in other sports. For the stick ‘n’ ball crowd, it’s a strategy they’ve been using for years with great success, helping the NFL in particular enjoy nearly universal sellouts for all 32 teams in the league. Heck, even the Indianapolis 500 has been subject to a local blackout to increase fans at the track.

That said, considering some of the extenuating circumstances in place for some NASCAR markets blacking out the television coverage would be a mistake. Sure, some people would go ahead and buy tickets just so they wouldn’t miss out, but there are plenty of fans who are barely making ends meet without trying to squeeze race tickets into their budget. Add in a whopping nine percent unemployment rate, and you’ve got people who can’t even pay all of their bills, making economic hardship and not indifference towards the sport a main reason why they’re not sitting in the stands. For those people, they use the weekly NASCAR races as a way to let go and enjoy themselves for a bit, even if it does mean sitting on the couch in front of the television rather than heading to the track. The sport shouldn’t take that away from them during tough times.

And what about those fans who aren’t swayed by the money-making move… just disgusted? NASCAR has already run off plenty of fans through all of the changes over the last handful of years, and a local blackout will likely have the same effect. Plus, even the ticket holders that go sit in the stands don’t automatically miss out on television coverage; I still DV-R a race that I attend live because there’s usually something I’d like to see a second or third time.

Plain and simple, blacking out races in the market NASCAR is closest to each week won’t fill the grandstands, especially in a situation like Dover where you need at least 50,000 more people to come close to a sellout. Instead, you’ll only create more angry fans, and that is not something the organization needs right now.

What if the All-Star Race changed venues each year?

This idea has been mentioned many times before, but an actual switch has only happened once. In 1986, the All-Star race was run in Atlanta, but it was quickly swapped right back to Charlotte the following year, where it has been ever since — and where the majority of stock car fans feel like it belongs.

Kasey Kahne’s been strong in the Charlotte All-Star Race, winning after securing the Fan Vote to make the field in 2008 – the venue’s one of his best tracks, period. But would he have the same type of successful track record if the event jumped around from place to place each year?

So what’s the big deal if NASCAR were to move the All-Star Race to a different track each year? After all, most of the other professional sports move their All-Star games around. In fact, the NFL is the only major sport in the U.S. to maintain the same location (Aloha Stadium in Honolulu, HI) for the last 32 years — except 2009, when the Pro Bowl was played at Sun Life Stadium in Miami Gardens, FL.

Brian France said when the Chase was first introduced, he wanted to emulate a “playoff” system that’s used by his stick and ball brethren; so what’s the difference with the All-Star Race? Sure, there will be plenty of unhappy fans that have made it a tradition to attend the festivities for several years; but on the other hand, there are many that would be happy to have the chance to attend at their home track. Bristol, Richmond, Darlington, and Martinsville have all been mentioned as excellent choices to host the event, with a short-track atmosphere allowing the drivers to settle grudges and get aggressive in a way Charlotte’s 1.5-mile cookie cutter restricts them.

However, despite the appeal to switch venues for All-Star race weekend, I’m not inclined to recommend a change just yet. So many things have been adjusted the last several years that have run off longtime fans, and it seems the core we have left wants to hold onto longtime traditions rather than let them go. For once, I’d like to see NASCAR just leave well enough alone; the All-Star Races at Charlotte haven’t been outstanding in recent years, but it’s not like they’ve been an absolute disaster, either.

As the old saying goes… if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!

What if Nationwide and Truck Series drivers were included in the All-Star race?

In Monday’s Frontstretch Newsletter fellow writer Amy Henderson brought up the idea of having an All-Star Race for the Nationwide and Truck Series. I’m definitely not against the idea, but especially in the Truck Series, there are plenty of teams that can barely afford to make the points-paying races, much less an event in which they’ll likely lose a vehicle thanks to an overzealous competitor.

But what if, say two drivers from each series were included in the All-Star Race field? Can you imagine Ron Hornaday, Jr. and Todd Bodine competing against Kyle Busch? It’s a format where they could take out frustrations on their rival, righting on-track wrongs without the points implications that often accompany their chance in a Truck Series race. There would be some hurdles for the sport to overcome – namely, where these drivers could borrow equipment to compete – but with such a small number included, it’s not an impossible assignment in my opinion.

Todd Bodine’s no stranger to collecting race trophies down in Camping World Trucks. But could a one-time appearance, in borrowed equipment for the All-Star Race give him a shot at bring competitive in Sprint Cup – if only for a night?

Unfortunately, not everyone agrees with that point of view. Also in Mirror Driving today, fellow columnist Summer Dreyer doesn’t agree with allowing a Truck or Nationwide Series driver to be a part of the All-Star Race field.

“I just don’t think drivers in development series should be a part of the highest level of racing,” she says. “There’s a reason why they aren’t already racing there.”

Huh? So let me get this straight: drivers in development series don’t belong racing against the Big Boys? Well, then, what exactly is the point of having a development series? Last time I checked, that was where the future stars of NASCAR were supposed to be born regardless of how it really works these days. I see absolutely no reason why a previous champion in either the Nationwide or Truck Series should be disbarred from participating in what is arguably a race for fun, the best of the best representing NASCAR’s past, present … and future.

And when the green flag drops, you never know. Under the right set of circumstances, one of the guys from either of the lower series may just be able to show up one of the big guys from Sprint Cup.

Author’s Note: For more on this topic, be sure to check out Amy Henderson’s Holding a Pretty Wheel on Friday.

Contact Beth Lunkenheimer




Wednesday on the Frontstretch:
Did You Notice? … Split-Screen Cheering Gone Insane, NASCAR David Beats Goliath And Too Much Parity
Mirror Driving: Tire Rubber Slicks, Empty Seats and Picking on Probationers
Beyond the Cockpit: Travis Kvapil on Bad Luck, No Luck, and Making His Own Luck
Sprint Cup Power Rankings: Top 15 After Dover
Top Ten Ways Recycling Your Cell Phone Can Help Sprint
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kenkars
05/18/2011 09:08 AM
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Go ahead and black them out – I will be one more fan gone!!

AnnieMack
05/18/2011 09:23 AM
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I think it would be awesome if the champions from the truck and Nationwide series were to race in the All Star race….oh, wait. The champions of both series are Cup drivers. Nevermind.

KyCupFan
05/18/2011 11:26 AM
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With TV ratings in decline along with attendance, I dont see blacking out the races helping that much. It will do more harm than good. Kind of like moving the Labor Day race to Kalifornia, how did that work out?

RamblinWreck
05/18/2011 12:39 PM
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Blacking out races locally would be a great way to give up on potential new fans. If you aren’t already a fan, and you can’t stumble upon a race while flipping channels, what’s going to bring you to the track?

Of course, as has already been mentioned, people come from far and wide to see these races, and tracks aren’t going to sell out if the only people coming are the ones in the sorts of rural areas that some of these tracks are located.

Especially now that the Hall is in Charlotte, there’s no reason to move the All-Star race around.

I liked having the Busch and Truck champs run IROC races back in the day, but I don’t think it would be a good move to have them in the All-Star race. Drivers in those series have either had their chance in Cup (Hornaday, Bodine, Sadler, Musgrave, Sauter) or they will in a few years (Dillon, Stenhouse, Allgaier). Either way, they won’t look particularly good running against Cup drivers in Cup cars. They have enough trouble running against Cup drivers in their own series.

Michael in SoCal
05/18/2011 06:26 PM
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Personally I wouldn’t mind seeing the All-Star race rotate to a number of tracks close (within 300 miles) to the Charlotte, NC area, which would include Bristol, Martinsville, Richmond, Darlington, and Atlanta, although I don’t see much difference between Atlanta & Charlotte racing-wise. The teams would lose out on a test session for the 600 though. But I would expect a wrestling match between Bruton Smith and the ISC if this were ever to come about.

DoninAjax
05/18/2011 08:45 PM
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What if Brian France was replaced by someone who knew something about racing?

Overra88ted
05/18/2011 08:55 PM
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What if Dale Jr. actually EARNED his way into the Sprint All-Star race, instead of using a PITY PASS!

Tom Dalfonzo
05/18/2011 10:11 PM
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I like the idea of the All-Star Race changing venues every year. Can you imagine the hype of the All-Star race at Bristol, or Darlington. How about Daytona? Martinsville? Talladega? The Sky’s The Limit.

Steve
05/19/2011 11:02 AM
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“Huh? So let me get this straight: drivers in development series don’t belong racing against the Big Boys?”

Aren’t Cup drivers dropping down in the lower series, in essense, doing the same thing? Isn’t this what people use as justification for the Cup guys racing in those series. So why not reverse it and allow them to race with the Cup drivers. This would also give these teams some extra cash to put into their truck teams as well. Its outside the box, but I don’t see anything wrong with this idea.

Not sure its a good idea to black out races. For one, these facilities have too many seats, so every race would black out. Remove some seats from all the tracks and it might be feasible, but like many have said before me, if they want to get more people through the gate, they need to improve the racing on the track, not black them out.

Contact Beth Lunkenheimer