The Frontstretch: Has This Season Really Been All That Bad? by Danny Peters -- Tuesday September 1, 2009

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Has This Season Really Been All That Bad?

The Yellow Stripe · Danny Peters · Tuesday September 1, 2009

 

They say absence makes the heart grow fonder, and in the case of the Sprint Cup that’s certainly how I felt this past Sunday, as for the fourth and final time this season, NASCAR’s top echelon took a well-deserved weekend off from the relentless slog that is the Cup schedule. With 24 races in the books — precisely two-thirds of the full season for those so mathematically inclined — and a 12-week, 12-race swing ahead of us, there will be precious little time for reflection in the next couple of months; for by the time we next pause for collective breath, the champion will have been decided and the top 35 set headed into 2010.

How it’s all going to play out, only the good Lord knows (although don’t discount that evil genius himself Chad Knaus having some kind of inside track here). But before we get down to the serious business, I wanted to take a minute to reflect on what we’ve seen so far in the 61st NASCAR season. The conventional wisdom would tell you that 2009 has been a terrible year – an “Annus Horribilis,” if you’ll forgive me for stealing a line from Queen Elizabeth II of England, who used the phrase to describe 1992 when both of her sons (Charles and Andrew) got divorced and her second home, Windsor Castle, caught fire in a freak accident. This “wisdom” is backed up by a simple read through some of the many comments left under the articles here on the Frontstretch, plus those voiced elsewhere in the NASCAR universe.

The prevailing sentiment, then, would be that 2009 has been little short of a disaster for NASCAR, with stultifying racing brought on by the 3,400 pound beast of a car that is the CoT; a complete dearth of passing; double digit drops in TV viewership, and swathes of empty seats at venues that once sold out time and time again. Much of this is hard to argue against, and I’m certainly not going to write flowery prose trying to gloss over these issues (I’m not that stupid, despite what some of you have suggested in my previous articles.) But my question of the week remains, and that is… has this season really been that bad? I would argue that despite the avalanche of frustration-filled criticism, 2009 has been far from a disaster.

Let’s start with the race winners because after all, for those not named “Juan Points-Racing Pablo Montoya,” it’s all about winning. Think about it: When you’ve not seen a race, is your first question ever anything other than, “Who won?” Well this season, we’ve seen three debutants in Victory Lane after none in the entire 2008 season: Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano, and David Reutimann step forward and take a bow. Now, you could argue that all three wins were somewhat tainted (Keselowski sending Cousin Carl into the catchfence at Talladega, Joey and the Reut winning courtesy of the weather) but to me, that’s irrelevant. Just look at the joy, unconfined, of Brad Keselowski in particular in Victory Lane in Alabama. Or, what the race victory meant to David Reutimann and the good folks at Michael Waltrip Racing. Would Martin Truex, Jr. have been so keen to slip into the seat of the NAPA Camry had Reutimann not taken the rain-affected win at Charlotte? And then finally, we have Joey Logano’s similarly-weather afflicted victory at Loudon. I’m pretty sure that by the time Sliced Bread starts racking up wins by the bunch, no one’s going to keep harping on about his first race checkers at the Cup level coming courtesy of precipitation.

From the breathtaking finish at Talladega to the resurgence of Mark Martin, the Cup Series has had its share of storylines in 2009.

But it’s not just the novice winners. We’ve also had Denny Hamlin winning a hugely emotional one at Pocono – where it seemed his will to win in the wake of tragedy was just that bit stronger than everyone else. Plus, we’ve had Jeff Gordon breaking a long 0-fer streak at Texas and Matt Kenseth going back-to-back in the first two races of the season. Then, there’s Tony Stewart’s first points-paying victory in the first Pocono race, not to mention Kasey Kahne’s unexpected (and brilliant) win at Sonoma. As I’ve said before, if the race ends with the King in Victory Lane drinking a huge glass of claret, something good is happening. And I’ve not even mentioned the man I affectionately call the Raisin, Mr. Mark Martin; for him, each of his four victories is a cause for celebration with reasons not restricted to age.

I guess my point here is that we’ve seen some great stories in Victory Lane; and like I said at the outset of this point, it’s all about winning still, right?

Another big criticism we’ve heard a lot this year is that the middle parts of a number of races could be used as a placebo for sleeping pills. Now, it’s hard to dispute this point, but I have a question to those who watched a lot more racing than I have…when, pray tell, were the middle parts of races ever super exciting? My argument would be that it’s never been the case, but working on the “things were better in the old days” train of thought, there are those who will no doubt suggest otherwise. The honest, unfettered truth is that there will always be an element of procession to the middle couple hundred miles, as teams and drivers not named Kyle Busch work out what they’ve got and how to improve on that. The simple fact, too, is that not every race can be a classic. I don’t care what season you want to quote me, but even in the “best” year from the halcyon days I can pretty much bet a good third of the schedule ended up with races that were, shall we say, less than interesting.

Critics will also point to the reduced crowds, especially at certain venues as a sign the sport’s on a slide. But the reality is NASCAR still draws monstrously huge crowds each week. Are the numbers down? Sure. But how many people have a ton of disposable income right now? If it comes down to a choice between going to a race and paying the bills or the mortgage – well, I know what will win out time and again. As for the TV numbers, these are touted like some kind of harbinger of impending doom. To me, I’d say this is not so much a product of disenfranchised fans giving up the sport. Let’s be fair: NASCAR picked up a lot of Johnny-come-lately types following the death of Dale Earnhardt, and it was natural that this balance would be redressed. Plus, just for the record, the ratings were up (year on year) at both Michigan and Bristol, and that says something, does it not?

Yes, crowds are down, TV numbers are down, but not by significant amounts. If this trend continues over the next few years, crowds continue to thin out and TV numbers continue to ebb away, then yeah, we’ve got problems. I would posit, however, that this is not about the lack of quality racing — rather a reality of the world we’re living in. How many fans, for example, have picked up extra work at the weekend and therefore cannot watch the races? And quite frankly, how many fans time shift and watch the race later. To the best of my knowledge, that isn’t reflected in the overall numbers. Agreed, the indicators are trending downward, but the numbers aren’t in free fall just yet.

Perhaps the biggest boon this season came from an event few thought would ever happen: The Town Hall meeting between NASCAR, the drivers, crew chiefs and owners. The first upshot of what, by all accounts, was a productive and fruitful session has been the double-file restarts. Ignoring the annoying “shoot-out style” moniker the TV execs have to use, there can be no doubt the double-file procedure has vastly livened up racing. If you watched the denouement of either the second Pocono race or the race at Chicagoland and you still didn’t think that was exciting, maybe it’s time you started watching a different sport. I hear croquet can be fabulous in the summer…anyways, double-file restarts are fantastic for the sport and they’ve made a massive difference this season – especially at the end of races.

More importantly, the meetings may very well be the catalyst for future changes. Yes, NASCAR says they won’t tweak the car, but don’t bet against a quiet announcement in the dead cold of winter on tweaks for 2010. That’s just the NASCAR way in regard to something controversial. Change was needed, and the meetings and the quick implementation of the double-file restarts were the sign, hopefully, of more positive news to come.

One quick point on the CoT, too, since I bashed it earlier. Ricky Craven, who in my opinion is an absolute must-read columnist, wrote a fascinating piece last week on the purity of the CoT. Craven argues that the CoT (warts and all aside) brings purity to the sport through the severity of the rules and templates. In short, you can’t get away with cheating, and the cars are much more equal than ever before. Craven also points to the fact that the best three drivers in the last ten years are atop the standings, supporting the notion that the real drivers rise to the top. At the very least, it’s a thought-provoking piece whichever side of the argument you fall. And it definitely made me view the season differently.

Finally, as my brilliant wife loves to remind me, “it’s all about the story” and in the case of NASCAR this year, we’ve had a plethora of tasty storylines. We’ve had “WWWJ” (What’s wrong with Junior), the resurgence of Mark Martin (he hasn’t won this many races in a decade); the unexpected excellence of Stewart-Haas Racing; sustained growth for MWR; a return to form (of sorts) from Kurt Busch and Kasey Kahne; the mystifying lack of success at RCR… and that’s barely scratching the surface. In short, there’s barely been a week when there hasn’t been water-cooler material (and no, I’m definitively not talking about Mayfield here). I’m talking about on-track action – both success and failure. Now before you take me to task, I’m not blind to the fact that NASCAR has problems. Sure it does, and many need fixing sooner rather than later.

That said, though, from my very humble point, this season really hasn’t been that bad at all. Yeah, we’ve had some stinkers but we’ve also had some classic races as well and enough intrigue and interest to keep fans hooked. Plus, we’ve still got the best part of the season to go and maybe, just maybe, the best story of all – a Mark Martin Sprint Cup crown.

Contact Danny Peters

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Phyllis
09/01/2009 02:37 AM
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People just don’t care as much any more….

Humanity is in “survival mode”, and NASCAR is not an essential part of life or even a luxury. It is ….just there, and although it produces immediate gratification, it provides no long term mental enrichment or intellectual stimulation.

NASCAR is an anachronism promulgated by a socially retarded hierarchy and its concept is slowly disintegrating.

A very fast sport has been very slow and reluctant to keep up with the rest of the world and this failure will ultimately result in its demise.

Douglas
09/01/2009 07:23 AM
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In answer to your headline: “Has This Season Really Been All That Bad?”

A RESOUNDING YES!

It is CRAP, smells like CRAP! If your in the bathroom, and it STINKS! Pretty soon your senses accept the stink, then you walk out for fresh air, go back in, IT STINKS!

Over time people are getting “conditioned” to this crap not stinking, but believe me, it still does. Kinda like training Pavlov’s dog!

As far as Ricky Craven, who in the hell is Ricky Craven, a guy that could not drive a race car turned writer! And he is well known to be a NA$CRAP Schill!

He says that the POS has LEVELED the playing field for the drivers!

SAY WHAT RICKY! Look at the drivers standings you friggin idiot!

UNREAL!

And isn’t it funny, that a couple weeks after Jr. blasts the way the POS handles, that all of a sudden, we get article after article about HOW GREAT THE POS IS?

But these articles are only WRITTEN by NA$CRAP wannabees! (mmmm, not sure one writer here falls into that category!)wonder how many phone calls from International Speedway Blvd it took to get all these article published about how wonderfull the POS is! And what promises were made to those writers?

THE POS IS BRINGIN NA$CRAP TO IT’S KNEE’S.

MMMMM, while your there Brian!!!!

24-4-5
09/01/2009 08:02 AM
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Good article Danny. Not sure about the rest of you folks, but when there is an ‘off’ weekend, I find myself at a loss as to what to do with my Sunday afternoons. And after the season ends, I actually start a countdown at work till Daytona. Is this sport even close to being perfect? Absolutely not, but I choose to watch it every weekend. I choose to cheer on my driver and cuss at the likes of Shrub and JJ for being the excellent drivers they are, but don’t happen to be my driver. I choose to accept the changes that NASCAR has made, i.e. – CoT, the Chase, etc., and if I don’t like the changes, I choose to make my opinions known in a more sofisticated way than what Douglas does. There’s been a lot that I haven’t liked this season, as there has been ever since I started watching the NASCAR races over a decade ago. But to me, spending a Sunday afternoon in front of the big screen TV in my NASCAR room, or a Saturday night, outside by the bonfire, with the race projected on the side of my pole barn, or those occassional lucky weekends camping at the tracks themselves, with family and friends, all cheering for different drivers, all having a good time, THAT’S what NASCAR is to me. Douglas, I’m guessing that you don’t have many people stopping by your place to watch the races with you, which, again, to me, is all part of the excitement of NASCAR. And as you state in your article Danny, there has been numerous water-cooler moments (yes, as many this year as in the past) for me on Monday’s when I get back to work. So I give a big shout out to the drivers and fans and everyone else who are still standing by NASCAR.

Bill B
09/01/2009 08:06 AM
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Given the fact that most of us view 99% of the races on tv, it’s hard to answer the question “How bad is the racing?”. We know the coverage is lacking so that will overshadow our view of the overall racing.
A couple of issues are obvious though…
Due to lack of testing or the inability of crews to adjust the cars, it seems you either unload good or you don’t. If you do, your good for the weekend, if you don’t your destined to suck.

The second is, that if you are one of those cars that happened to hit the setup when you unloaded, then once you get out front you can drive away from the field. Even the handful of other cars that hit the setup can’t pass you because they need clean air.

I’ve been to one race this year, Dover, and I will say that that race was boring as hell. So that factors television out of it but, in all fairness, I’ve been going to Dover for the last 15 years and it seems like 1 out of every 5 races can be that way at Dover no matter what cars or rules are in effect.

L Taylor
09/01/2009 10:31 AM
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Clean air has been an issue since Nascar began transitioning from the short tracks to the fan friendly track of 1.5 miles or more. The dreaded “aero-push” of the previous car was one of the reasons that the COT was developed.

Unfortunately, because of the basic shape of a car, no matter what combo of wings, dams, spoilers, flippers, you employ, at speeds over about 190, that thing’s gonna want to fly.

So if you want to see racing as it was backin the 80’s-90’s raise hell about the tracks, not the car.

Michigan, Chicago, Fontana, Texas, Atlanta, any other cookie cutter I’ve forgotten, Talledega and Daytona are either obsolete or on the verge of becoming obsolete for Nascar type racing.

That being said I dowish that Nascar would give the teams some leeway on front suspension setup.

Sometimes the races are boring but there have always been snoozers. But I’ll bet that this year there have been at least as many cars on the lead lap as any other year.

Never has the talent level been where it is today-even with it’s drawbacks Nascar is still the best show going. And drivers from all othe series know it. We’ve had guys from all other major series trying to break in. That shoul be proof enough.

Douglas
09/01/2009 10:56 AM
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Hey 24-4-5, not any more do I have groups over, or go to anyone’s house to watch NA$CRAP! We used to have a get together at my Son’s house for the Daytona 500, WHEN WE DID NOT GO IN PERSON WHICH USED TO BE FREQUENTLY.(used to go to at least four (4) races a year, MINIMUM! No longer!)

The racing SUCKS! with the POS!

I have MIS in my backyard, simply don’t go, not worth even a ten spot to get in! And on Saturday night used to go fishin’ with some of the drivers, don’t even do that anymore!

I REFUSE to accept sub-par cars, sub-par rules enforcement!

And for L Taylor, other drivers of course want to get into NA$CRAP!

But it is not about the competition as such, it is about THE MONEY!

You would drive a Mack Truck in a race if you could get a contract for $5million! Of course you would!

Don’t, please don’t, confuse money with legitimate and real racing!

I have spoken! (once again)

LOL

Have a great day all!

jaymatt
09/01/2009 11:09 AM
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As usual, the great Lord Douglas knows everything—knows all, sees all, is all—because he’s a used-to be.

Anyone who disagrees with the guy is dirt—just ask him. No, wait! He’ll tell us whether anyone asks or not.

Can’t he just shut up his all-knowing self for a week or a year or so?

Scott
09/01/2009 11:35 AM
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The COT, in my opinion, is a big part of the problem with Nascar. All of the cars look the same. There is no brand recognition anymore for the sport. This car was also supposed to get rid of the aero issue, it seems not that aero is just as bad with this car, if not worse, than with the old. How many races have we seen this year where someone can catch the leader but passing just does not seem possible. To me this year and what I foresee in the future is all downhill. With the consistent rumor of Nascar and the engine of tomorrow. They might as well make this series the IROC! That is what it seems like they are trying to do, let’s go back to the days of different manufacturers looking at least somewhat like the car on the road. Yeah, sometimes one group will figure out something to give them an advantage, but when that happens it will make the others work to figure out how to catch up! I am sick of hearing about the small teams not having the money to spend so we need to level the playing field. If that is the case then bust up the big teams and really put rules into place to keep them from having more than four cars. Tony Stewart is an owner in name only, Hendrick is the true owner of that team since all of the equipment comes from Hendrick and Tony Stewart even talks about how he and Jeff Gordon share information. The tires, when did it become normal for teams to run 100 or more miles on a set of tires? I can remember when new tires were a huge advantage, anymore it does not seem to be an issue old tire or two tires seem to be just as good as new tires if you have track position. Nascar leadership has its head in the sand and overall the media seem to be willing to play along and act like everything is ok, we are just in a slump due to the economy. While that is somewhat true, attendance is down partly due to the economy, when the economy does bounce back I see Nascar continuing to slide. More and more people view this sport as the WWF of the racing series. A caution for debris and it takes 10 laps to get back racing, that is ridiculous but seems to be the norm. Why there is a rule that pit lane has to be open to allow cars to pit if there is a caution is beyond my understanding. If someone wants to pit they have the option, but if the track is clear it is time to go back to racing. You pit under caution at your risk, green flag racing is what we pay to see. Also, the Chase and this antiquated points system needs to go. F1 to me has the best points system of any racing series. If you can’t run in the top 3rd of the cars you do not deserve points! This would also get rid of cars coming back on the track just to get points. This idiocy also with the points system, no one cars who the point leader is at during the first 26 races. So why every week do the announcers act like it is a big deal to be the point leader? They are going to reset the points when the chase starts anyway, and whoever has the most wins to start the chase is really the point leader. Right now that is Mark Martin, and he could miss the chase! Use a point system that rewards winning a race but does not kill you if you have a bad day. Just my thoughts, but I am losing interest more and more each year.

midasmicah
09/01/2009 11:49 AM
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Hey jaymatt. Opinions are like….well you get the picture. We are all entitled to our opinions whether you like it or not. We used to have get togethers where we would watch nas$car. Not nay more. The sad thing is I love racing. I’ll watch damn near anything that races. But what “Nero” France has done to this sport in the last few years is sad. I still watch, but it doesn’t bother me as much anymore if I miss a race or there’s something better on. In ending all I can say if the shoe fits…..well you know what I mean.

Kevin in SoCal
09/01/2009 04:04 PM
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For some people, the glass is empty no matter what you fill it up with. (insert your joke here) For the rest, they try to find some little thing to be positive about instead of being constantly negative. Thank you Danny.

Hollis
09/01/2009 05:59 PM
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How odd Jaymatt after your rant at me the other week you seem to be taking exception at someone elses opinion now ? Pots kettles and dark colour spring to mind…..

mkrcr
09/01/2009 09:51 PM
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Kevin,
Since this website became NA$CAR affiliated, it seems most of the staff’s glasses are full of Kool-Aid. Be careful what you sip. I can understand your Zen like approach since Fontana is your home track. I’d have to dig like hell also to find positives.

Douglas
09/01/2009 10:00 PM
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Hey midasmicah, big thanks for your comment about varying opinions, and that’s exactly what they are, opinions, pure and simple

Now, for Kevin in SoCal, here is a positive for you: I was on the road Sunday, coming back from Northern, Mi! Decided late in the day to turn on Sirius NASCAR! (since it was MRN, and they do a good job, well, better than most anyway, I will refer to them as NASCAR RADIO! (even though their owned by NA$CRAP), anyway, suprise, late in the day the NWS was still on, last couple of laps! When the announcers started describing the battle between Ambrose & Edwards, I said to myself WOW! This is what racing is all about! Me basing this comment on the fact they were driving a REAL RACE CAR, that has a REAL SUSPENSION, you know, one that moves, the drivers could control the car, the brakes worked, the car exhibited real handling characteristics, such as weight transfer, side to side, front to back, all under the drivers control, and also giving the driver feedback so he could manuever his car! Also the NWS cars do not have that DREADED REAR WHEEL HOP under braking, because their very real suspensions are able to accept the braking dynamics from the car. The POS, has a case of EXTREME REAR WHEEL HOP under braking, because it has zero suspension.

So, listeneing to the broadcast, Edwards outbraking Ambrose, Edwards diving inside Ambrose, Edwards trying the outside, then the inside, placing his car EXACTLY where he wanted to place it, brought goose bumps to me, my adrenalin was flowing, and I was excited at visualizing this battle between these two drivers, a real racing battle!

WHY?

Because they had REAL RACE CARS!

The POS has no suspension, the lack of suspension causes extreme rear wheel hop under braking, the POS you just point and hope it goes that way, the driver does not have that seat-of-the-pants feel so he can manuever the car like a race car should! Did I mention the extremely high center of gravity on the POS?

YES! I got excited, the way I used to get excited about the cup cars, the OLD cup cars!

I get that “feeling” inside my body when I see/hear REAL RACING!

I want that back in the cup series!

I don’t want to watch or hear about tanks racing!

Cars that are point & shoot, hoping, just hoping the darn thing goes where your pointing it, just isn’t racing!

Next episode I will get into the aerodynamics of the POS! Another sick thing NA$CRAP could change in an instant!

jaymatt
09/02/2009 01:16 AM
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Sorry—I wasn’t aware that you all had the right to speak, to lecture the masses, to pontificate; but I’m not entitled to an opinion.

Again, my profound apologies for having the audacity to say anything.

Douglas
09/02/2009 05:19 PM
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hey jaymatt, just another “Lord Douglas” comment, thanks for promoting me by the way, these days it is tough! Really tough!

On one hand you have “Lord Douglas”, on the other, your have “KING BRIAN”. So the very interesting question would be????

Who has more credibility?

Who speaks the truth?

Who speaks with forked tongue?

jaymatt
09/02/2009 06:08 PM
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Can’t say much for B. France—it seems he’s made his bed w/ his actions.

Can’t say anything about you, for I don’t know enough about you—only through your comments, not actions.

Therefore: stalemate.

Margaret
09/07/2009 03:23 AM
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I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don’t know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.

Margaret

http://lotterymegamillions.net

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