The Frontstretch: Racing To The Point: NASCAR’s Two Showcase Events Fall Short by Brett Poirier -- Tuesday July 30, 2013

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Racing To The Point: NASCAR’s Two Showcase Events Fall Short

Racing to the Point · Brett Poirier · Tuesday July 30, 2013


NASCAR failed post-race inspection at Indianapolis.

Sunday’s race produced a great headline for the newspaper on Monday, with Indiana native Ryan Newman winning his first Brickyard 400. Not to mention that Newman was informed a couple of weeks ago by car owner Tony Stewart that he was out of his ride at the end of the season. He was a true underdog on Sunday, beating the series’ Goliath, Jimmie Johnson, to kiss the bricks.

If you didn’t watch the Brickyard 400, you might be under the impression it was awesome.

If you didn’t watch the race, you might be convinced that you missed one for the ages, but those who did know that it was anything but that. Sunday’s race was another Indianapolis snoozer in a long line of Indianapolis snoozers. The track just wasn’t made for stock cars, and it’s apparent each time NASCAR shows up. There was very little passing after initial restarts; if a bogus caution wasn’t thrown when Timmy Hill slowed on lap 60, Johnson and Newman might’ve lapped the field. Hill made it back to the pits on his own, by the way, so why was the yellow flag thrown the second he began to slow? That’s a topic for a different day.

NASCAR’s second-biggest race was a Kwame Brown — that’s a fancy term for flop. Brown was the first overall pick in the 2001 NBA Draft by the Washington Wizards, who never could match the hype that followed him, much like the Brickyard 400.

Also on this list is the 2013 Daytona 500, which attracted more viewers, and probably more disappointment than any other race this season. Sixty-six percent of viewers took at least one nap during either this season’s Daytona 500 or Brickyard 400. I made up that stat, but it sounds it like it could be accurate, right?

The sport’s two marquee events both turned out to be duds. And here’s why it’s important. These events more than any others on the schedule draw in the casual fan with weeks of hype, in which memorable moments are aired while the prestige of the track and the drivers who have conquered it is glorified. These races are built up into the “can’t miss” sporting events of the year. Yet thirty minutes after the green flag waves, most of those fans have either changed the channel, or lay in the fetal position with their tongue pressed up against the seat of their sofa.

I wonder how many of the casual fans that gave NASCAR a chance Sunday, over the “Arrested Development” marathon on IFC will even consider tuning in next week at Pocono. And once the NFL starts up, forget about it. If the hype leads them to believe Daytona and Indianapolis produce the best racing of the year, they must think the racing at Pocono is as thrilling as pulling up a lawn chair next to the interstate to watch 18-wheelers pass by.

The Daytona 500 and Brickyard 400 did little to attract new viewers, and might’ve provided the exit door for many old ones. It’s a shame because there has been quality racing this year, particularly at Bristol, Fontana and Richmond. But those races don’t receive the hype or the ratings that Daytona and Indy do. They lack the glitz and the glamour, I guess, despite pretty consistently putting on good shows.

Indy and Daytona each have their own separate issues. Indy is a one-groove track that was drawn up before stock cars existed. It doesn’t suit them. Passing is nearly impossible and the cars become more spread out than houses in rural Wyoming. The opposite was true at Daytona, where 40 cars raced right on top of one another, at least on short runs, but they couldn’t actually go anywhere. On long runs? That same group raced single-file, all the way from first to 40th to the point it became meaningless how close they were on the racetrack.

NASCAR and the television networks gave fans plenty of reasons to watch this season’s Daytona 500 and Brickyard 400, but the on-track product has given them little reason to stay tuned. I don’t know what the solution is to fix the racing at either track, if there even is a solution, but something has to change. The sport’s two showcase events — both during ideal times when there isn’t much competition on TV — can’t keep falling short of expectations. The two biggest races can’t continue as two of the most boring ones. It’s bad for the sport.

Contact Brett Poirier

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Beyond the Cockpit: Alexis DeJoria On The 300 mph Women of the NHRA
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07/30/2013 08:02 AM

I keep reading from you and other writers that this race (and others) was awful. I want to write a response, but Tony Stewart’s post-race comments summed it up nicely for me.

“Look up ‘racing’ in the dictionary and tell me what it says in the dictionary, then look up ‘passing.’ We’re racing here. That’s all I’m going to say. This is racing. If you want to see passing, we can go out on I-465 and pass all you want. If you can tell me that’s more exciting than what you see at IMS, the great racecar drivers that have competed here. This is about racing. This is about cars being fast. It doesn’t have to be two‑ and three‑wide racing all day long to be good racing. Racing is about figuring out how to take the package you’re allowed and make it better than what everybody else has and do a better job with it,” Stewart said.

“I’ve seen races that were won over a lap, I’ve seen 20‑second leads here. For some reason in the last 10 years, everybody is on this kick that you have to be passing all the time. It’s racing, not passing. We’re racing. It’s taking machines that are pretty even package‑wise and let the drivers and teams figure out how to make the difference. I don’t understand where this big kick has come from. We need your guys’ help as much as anybody to remind people this is racing. When somebody does a good job, does a great job, everybody hates that. I don’t understand that. It baffles me as a racecar driver.”

I found the race compelling, but then I am engaged with what is going on. With the position trackers on the top of the screen,it’s so easy to do to see the comers and goers. I knew early on the question of the race would be “Can anyone beat Johnson?” (And yes, I suffer from Johnson fatigue also, sometimes shutting the tv immediately off after he wins, because I don’t care to hear what he has to say.) The answer was a delightful yes, Sunday. I knew Newman was the one to watch after that stop where he took 4 and everyone else took 2 and he was 11-13th or so but came roaring back to second. Then they played the final stop to perfection, so much so that I don’t think the extra seconds on Johnson’s stop were the difference. The narrative of the Indiana boy winning was just icing on the cake.

07/30/2013 09:46 AM

Randall, glad you were “engaged” and agree with Stewart. Me, I agree with the author, it was NOT worth watching and totally disagree with Stewart’s comments. I want to see cars being able to race side by side and pass for the lead. IMO, THAT’s racing. If the weather forecast is correct, it wil be a nice weekend. I plan to do something far more interesting on Sunday than sitting in front of the TV watching another parade at Pocono.

07/30/2013 10:07 AM

I love passing and beating and banging as much as anyone, and yes, it would be great if we could have it week in and week out like at the short tracks. But, I’m a realist and I realize we can’t. I have to say I agree with Stewart on this one. Neither Newman (who is not one of the cars who’s in the hunt every week), nor Johnson could seem to really break away from the other. I thought the pit strategy call on Newman’s part after Johnson’s mistake was compelling because of the advantage 4 tires had over 2. Seeing if JJ would make up a 7 second deficit in 20 laps was intriguing. It may not have been heart pounding, jump up and down racing, but it was enough to keep me awake and engaged. And to say passing is impossible… Newman drove from 13th to 2nd, and not all in the first 2 laps after the restart.

Was it a great race? No. Indy never is. That said, I think it had its appreciable moments. I agree that the product could use some improvement, but I, for one, would like to look at the positives every now and then instead of just complaining all the time.

07/30/2013 10:10 AM

That race sunday was what I expected. If you have unrealistic expectations prepare yourself to be disapointed. I was not upset with the race sunday because it was about what I expected. Everyone needs to stop acting like its a big shock when you see a race like this.

07/30/2013 10:59 AM

Danica Patrick. The Kwame Brown of NA$CAR.

07/30/2013 11:34 AM

There is a very simple solution for Indianapolis; the oval is totally unsuited to full sized stock cars so RUN THE ROAD COURSE! Sure as heck couldn’t be any more boring than what we saw.

Michael in SoCal
07/30/2013 11:49 AM

The Brickyard race is only a highlight race for the drivers and Nascar execs. The fans know better. The racing is horrible.

Carl D.
07/30/2013 11:59 AM

There’s a difference between watching a boxing match and a chess tournament, but that doesn’t mean that the chess tournament is exciting to watch. As usual, Tony Stewart feels the need to remind us that we’re all just whiny, ungrateful fans.

dyno dave
07/30/2013 12:52 PM

Which football game do you want to watch? One where the lead see-saws back on forth for 4 quarters and your team wins by an incredible score on the last play? Or the one where your team gets ahead 4 or 5 TDs and cruises to the win? Racing and passing may have two different definitons, but entertainment value is what people want. If they don’t get it, they stay home and/or swap to another channel.

BTW – Go Gators! Chomp Chomp!

07/30/2013 03:43 PM

I agree, if you want to watch follow the leader, sit next to the freeway. I have followed Stewart since his USAC days, but now he’s part of the Nascar hype. And it is money that is now driving him. If it was’nt money then he would’nt be involved ownership wise with 15,16, or 17 companies. Face it, not many people want to watch a line of cars going fast around the track. Nascar has a problem and it is how to have races that are not BORING

07/30/2013 04:00 PM

The race was a snooze and always has been.

Tony needs to look up the definition differences between “racing” and merely “driving”. Seems to me when there’s no “passing” there is no “racing” only high speed “driving”.

Kind of like an F1 race as nearly all passing there is artificial with KERS, DRS, or pitstop errors making the difference.

Sounds strangely like the way that Newman won.