The Frontstretch: Ten Wishes For 2010 -- Some of Which May Actually Come True by Danny Peters -- Monday February 8, 2010

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Ten Wishes For 2010 -- Some of Which May Actually Come True

The Yellow Stripe · Danny Peters · Monday February 8, 2010


It’s amazing how the shortest off-season in professional sports can feel so long — it seems like an age ago since we were watching Jimmie Johnson race to a fourth straight title in Miami. I, for one, was even more geeked for the Budweiser Shootout than I was for the season-premiere of ABC’s LOST! (In the interest of full disclosure, I was pretty damn geeked about that, much to the infinite chagrin of my LOST hater friends).

But I digress, so soon into my first article of the season… It was great to see some on-track action, albeit in the form of a largely irrelevant 75-lap sprint. So, as we head into the critical Duel 150s this Thursday — and the season-opener this weekend — here are ten wishes for the 2010 season, in no particular order.

A phenomenal Daytona 500

After last year’s damp squib of a race (no pun intended), what the NASCAR racing public needs is a Daytona 500 that lives up to the famous old moniker, “The Great American Race.” Yes, the NASCAR season is arduous and relentless, but after such a difficult year in 2009, this season needs to start right: really, really right. Let’s hope the governing body’s edict of “Have at it boys” plays out on the track, and if the early evidence is anything to go by, that might just be the case. Regardless, the sport needs a barn burning, fender rubbing, wheel smoking 500-mile race that showcases the sport in the best possible light and kicks the season off on a high note.

Would a visit to Victory Lane by Dale Jr. in 2010 help to revive interest in our sport?

Earnhardt Jr. finds Victory Lane (heck, finishes in the top 5 occasionally)

I’m sure I’ll be battered for this in the comments section, but to my mind, one of the single biggest things that could happen to NASCAR in 2010 is for Dale Earnhardt Jr. to get rid of the funk that surrounded him all of last season, and to run like the top class driver he is. Will it happen? The jury’s out, but Mr. Hendrick has clearly done everything he can to give Junior a chance to succeed. Certainly, the pre-season comments appear optimistic (but you’d be deeply worried if they weren’t) and there seems to be a sense of now or never for NASCAR’s favorite driver. If his results even vaguely start matching his stratospheric popularity, things will be okay for the driver of the No. 88 Chevy in 2010.

Martinsville keeps both dates

This one may already be a “behind-the-scenes done deal,” but if I could have one wish granted this season, it would be for Martinsville to keep both of its dates. Host of some 122 Sprint Cup races, Martinsville held the sixth race in the inaugural Cup season (1949) and has maintained a permanent place on the schedule ever since. It was a question we discussed in our pre-season previews here on and it’s a topic my very talented colleague, Kurt Smith, discussed in his inaugural Happy Hour column last Friday. For my money, shedding a race date at the Paper Clip would be tantamount to showing all the talk of “bringing back the old NASCAR” is nothing more than lip service. Another McTrack is not — repeat, not — what the sport needs.

A new champion

After four years of relentless, seemingly effortless dominance from Jimmie Johnson, Chad Knaus and Co., there’s no reason to suspect 2010 will be anything different – especially in the Chase. For the No. 48 bunch, the regular season is little more than a preamble before the serious business of the final ten races. It’s hard to argue against Johnson being a worthy champion, although there are plenty that will try citing the “flawed” Chase points format. There’s little doubt in my mind that the last thing NASCAR needs is for Johnson to beat teammate Jeff Gordon to a fifth crown. NASCAR requires new blood at the Champions table and it’s time the pretenders started stepping up when it counts.

More parity, less Hendrick dominance

The unprecedented 1-2-3 finish for Hendrick Motorsports, not to mention the JV team of Stewart and Newman both making the Chase, spoke volumes about the strength and dominance of the sport’s top team. But in 2010, we need this to change — other teams should step up and challenge. Richard Childress Racing requires a rebound in the worst way after slipping from all three cars in the Chase in 2008 to 0-4 (not even close) in 2009. Roush Fenway must show significant improvement; the Biff and Cousin’ Carl may have made the Chase, but neither looked like a bona-fide contender. Kasey Kahne and Kompany (sorry, couldn’t resist, I mean Richard Petty Motorsports) also need a major uptick in performance. It’s fair to say the days of an Alan Kulwicki winning the Championship are done and dusted, and that you have to be a mega-team to get it done, but one day someone has to knock Hendrick Motorsports off its pedestal. Such is the nature of the sport. Here’s hoping that happens, or at least starts to happen, in 2010.

First time and unexpected winners

There is nearly nothing better than seeing a first time winner in Victory Lane on the Sprint Cup circuit: the wide-eyes, the garbled interview, the sheer and utter delight from driver and crew. In 2009: Brad Keselowski, David Reutimann and Joey Logano all got to drink the winner’s champagne for the first time. Here’s to hoping that in 2010 there’s another batch of new winners. Every sport needs variety, new names to hype, and in some cases, ones to obsess to the point of tedium about. Seeing newbies celebrating in the winner’s enclosure always, always provides just that.

Someone new makes the Chase

Upward of 20 drivers will take the green flag at Daytona with realistic expectations of making the elite Chase field of 12 following the Richmond race cutoff in early September. Predicting who those drivers will be is something of a dark art, given the way that fortunes fluctuate wildly year after year. Just ask 2009 preseason favorite Carl Edwards about his zero win uphill struggle last season. How great would it be to see Marcos Ambrose make the field? Or to see the “aw shucks” interview with Reutimann as he reflects on grabbing a Chase berth? And while I’m on that topic, can you imagine Mikey’s filibuster length speech if the amiable Reut made it?

Attendance trends up

After swathes of empty seats, the length and breadth of the circuit, it’s key that the fans return to the track in 2010. Some of the absences can be excused by the adverse economic conditions that shrouded the entire country, but it would be hard to argue that some of the vacant perches weren’t the result of a perceived paucity in on-track action and quality. To some extent, it’s contingent on the track promoters to entice fans back to the tracks with special offers and free food, that kind of thing. It’s no longer a question of “print the tickets and they will come”. Regardless, significant additional dips in at-track attendance will not be so easy to brush of — and in the humble opinion of this NASCAR columnist — a long-term harbinger of doom for the sport.

Side-by-side racing

One of the biggest gripes we heard last year was the processional nature of the racing, particularly at the cookie-cutter circuits. Much hope is being placed on the return of the rear spoiler replacing the much maligned and ridiculously ugly wing. Yet for all the voices of positivity there are those who posit the return to a spoiler won’t make as much difference as people hope. Time will tell on this change. The good news is that at some tracks the racing can’t get much worse, so little changes could make an incrementally big difference. Not every race can be like the legend from Maine, Ricky Craven, beating Kurt Busch at Darlington in 2003 after all.

Resolution for Mayfield

And finally, here’s hoping for resolution and closure on the Jeremy Mayfield issue. I resisted writing much on the topic last year, largely because after a point the machinations just got so tedious, with all the “he said, she said” malarkey. I mean enough already of the, “My best friend’s sister’s boyfriend’s brother’s girlfriend heard from this guy who knows this kid who’s going with the girl who saw….”, if you’ll forgive me the Ferris Bueller reference. As with the Mauricia Grant situation, the sport needs to draw a line under the incident and move on. Sadly that seems unlikely to happen, but I can but hope a swift resolution appears from the carnage we’ve already seen.

So there are my ten wishes for the upcoming season. It’ll be interesting to see, come November, how many have come true.

Enjoy the Great American Race this weekend, folks.

Contact Danny Peters

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Today on the Frontstretch:
Championship Caliber? What Does That Even Mean?
Mirror Driving: Winning Vs. Points, Needing a Boost, and The Lady’s Last Dance?
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Happiness Is…Arrogance, Less, Next, and the Outdoors
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02/09/2010 07:14 AM

Funny how no one was complaining that Rousch Racing locking 5 drivers in the 2005 Chase was ruining the sport. At the time that was half of the championshiip field – but now that Hendrick motorsports is showing some muscled we need to attack them?

That my friends is a symptom not an actual problem in NASCAR today.

Same issue with attacking Jimmie Johnson. The Chase is his catalyst towards dominance. Don’t hate the player – hate the game.

Joe W.
02/09/2010 08:30 AM

VA BlueGrass, you must not be watching closly enough. Nascar has done alott of “player hatin’” on Roush over the years. The reason for the 4 teams only rule, wierd points penalties on Mark Martin in seasons he could have won a championship. Heck this whole chase madness was brought about because Matt Kenseth won the championship without winning a bunch of races. It never seemed to bother Nascar when Rusty Wallace won 10 races but did not win the championship. I am not a Hendrick hater myself, but I would like to see a good championship race with a new winner. I don’t care if it is a Hendrick car but I sure would like to see those Fords compete too. And if it is a Hendrick car just not Johnson. And I am not a Jimmie hater either. I just want to see some competition. Isn’t that what sports are about?

02/09/2010 09:54 AM

You might notice that the Chase figures pretty heavily in each of your wishes . And if we’re honest , the CUP championship is at the heart of most of the problems you write about . Johnson gets no respect because he won 4 championships that never existed before he came along . The Chase format has cheapened the racing by making all but the final 10 races pretty much irrelevent . The Chase is so unpopular that fans are no longer willing to spend their money to go to the tracks .
Come up with an idea for a championship that isn’t as manipulated , or as easily manipulated as the Chase , and many , if not most of the problems you write about will cure themselves .

Jay Pees
02/09/2010 01:11 PM

Mark is correct. this is not a stick and ball sport. We like a season championship not a contrived 10 race deal. Dump the chase and we’ll come back. No way am I spending a hundred bucks for a seat at even Bristol for the night race if it doesn’t count as much as the McTracks. And they totally suck, by the way. We need more short tracks, not fewer. What difference does it make that the small tracks don’t seat as many fans? NA$CRAP bows to TV to the point where it appears they don’t care if anyone actually comes to the track anyway. Give us racing on short tracks, we’ll fill the stands and if we can’t get tickets we’ll be glued to the TV. I don’t do either for a Mctrack race, especially during the chase.

vulcan Alex
02/09/2010 07:30 PM

Well I like most of these except those that want my guys not to dominate. I like for my teams to win and don’t want anything else. Of course it might be best for the sport to spread the wealth, but not just to some other multi car team which is the only other thing that could happen. Thanks for another season of your thoughts.

02/09/2010 09:20 PM

If we want less Hendrick domination then NA$CAR needs to allow testing. How are any other teams supposed to get a handle on this POS “race car” if they can’t test. No one else is fortunate enough to have a mile long test/wind tunnel buried in an old Pennsylvania Turnpike mountain (thanks Carl Hass). If this sport is supposed to get back to basics then at least allow teams the chance to do what they do best.

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