The Frontstretch: Happiness Is... NASCAR's Newest Brand Of Racing Analysis by Huston Ladner -- Thursday May 2, 2013

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Happiness Is... NASCAR's Newest Brand Of Racing Analysis

Huston Ladner · Thursday May 2, 2013

 

So Brad Keselowski ended Kyle Busch’s streak and Kevin Harvick stole one. That sums up the action from Richmond this past weekend, right? Whatever. That’s like saying that The Sound and the Fury was a book about a family in the South. Here’s a look at something other than the winners from this past weekend.

Happiness Is… Carl Edwards

Edwards joined the broadcast team of ESPN in covering the Nationwide race this past Friday. In seasons past, he had come across as stilted and offered little in the way of commentary that was insightful or impactful. It had seemed that he was playing up to some kind of construct of what he thought an announcer should be, rather than being himself. Of course, who knows what the producer might be babbling in his ear during a race as well, but wooden and laconic are typically not attributes one aspires to be in sports broadcasting.

When Carl has flipped his last back, he has a great career ahead of him as a television analyst. He and Chad Knaus would be a perfect pair in the studio.

This race, however, showcased an Edwards that we could all stand to have more of. During the dead moments of the Red Flag that occurred early on, Edwards brought a conviviality and wry sense with him that actually made ESPN watchable. His thoughts when Danica and Ricky were shown snacking in the stands were just slyly funny. And then his commentary during the race, explaining how drivers were taking the corners and what their cars were doing was spot on. It looks like he might have a future in television if this racing thing doesn’t work out.

Happiness Is… Instant Replay

You can almost see it coming – the advent of instant replay. When Kyle Busch was initially penalized for not hitting the commitment box when coming to pit road, Busch seemed doomed, and his good race spoiled. And then, a funny thing happened. The caution went on a little too long, allowing Busch’s crew chief to plead his case further. Caution laps continued. Video was replayed. Hmm, maybe Busch did touch two tires to the box. Hmm. Okay, fine: no penalty.

When Brad Keselowski was penalized at Martinsville for pitting outside of his pit box, there was video to show that the ruling was circumspect. But the reigning champ did not enjoy the lengthy caution period that Busch did, and could not argue his case. So what is going on here? Is replay on its way in, or did Busch benefit from an unusual set of circumstances? Allowing for replay would be smart, if done correctly — kind of how F1 makes their calls post-race. The fact, however, that no structures have been developed with regards to the concept is problematic in Busch’s case.

Then again, it didn’t seem to matter; he still wound up 24th.

Should NASCAR target the 18-35 age group, or Seniors and Baby Boomers? Well, it depends…

Happiness Is…The Vaunted 18-35 Age Demographic

Televised sports have relied on the male 18-to-35 age demographic for a long time now. The reasons why are numerous, but it basically comes down to the twin aspects of disposable income and an unencumbered lifestyle. Seems to make sense. Get this group hooked on your product at a young age, and you’ve got customers for life.

But maybe they’re the wrong group.

Perhaps Juan Pablo Montoya and Jeff Gordon are showing where the real market power is: Senior Citizens. Gordon’s been sporting his AARP scheme for a couple years now, and with poor Montoya driving the Depends Chevy this past weekend, it’s time to reconsider where the money is. Seniors comprise one of the largest segments in society at this point. They’re also becoming the home of longtime NASCAR fans that have stuck with the sport since its growth spurt began in 1979.

So does that mean viewers can expect a new wave of sponsors for things like dentures, memory loss, and prune juice? Probably not, because remember, the race ended around 11:00 PM EST, which is way past their bedtime.

Happiness Is… Green-White-Checkers

Oooh, you can feel the tension, it’s green-white-checkered time! Even better, there’s contrasting pit strategies. It’s going to be wild. Just watch someone make some kind of crazy move. Blah, yeck, meh. It’s quite possible that the GWC is the most contrived concept in auto racing and is hardly an astute measure of the best driver and team. Instead, it’s a ballyhooed promotion of nothingness and being good for but one lap.

One of the big problems is the length that has been ascribed to the GWC. Who thought that two laps would be enough to give a good showcase of driving. How about five? (Something that makes even more sense at a restrictor plate track.) Or then there’s the other idea of maybe not counting caution laps in the final 20 (though, once again, a modification should be made for plate tracks). At any rate, Kevin Harvick won a race where he was a strong competitor the whole night, but where other drivers seemed to be better. Is that fair?

At what point will Tony Stewart give up the “I’m-14-and-I’m-angry-at-my-father” act? The age 14… not his car number. Because he is No. 14. Never mind.

Happiness Is…Milk and Cookies

Seriously, what’s got Tony Stewart so grumpy these days? Did his Dairy Queen go out of business (by the looks of him, that seems improbable)? It seems that maybe the stress of a unspectacular season, where he stands a good chance of missing The Chase, is antagonizing him like sand in a firesuit. But what to make of it?

The truth is that all of his bluster is empty fury. Sure, he’s calling out drivers and trying to assert himself as an alpha dog, but he’s done nothing remarkable on the track lately and his latest blowup with Kurt Busch just seems like more hot air. One can argue that Stewart is one of the few drivers who gains focus when angry, but at this point maybe he should take a break, sit down for some milk and cookies, and figure out what really needs to happen.

That crew chief firing of Darian Grubb at the end of his 2011 championship season is starting to have a bad odor about it.

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Andy D
05/03/2013 03:55 AM
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Nobody celebrated the arrival of the GWC more than myself. I HATED races ending on the caution flag.

I was wrong. GWC is nothing more than an opportunity for half the filed to crash into the other half.

I’d like to see then add 10 laps to the race. One chance. If the yellow falls after that, the race ends on a caution. And the cause of the caution (not necessarily the one who crashed) gets kicked back five more spots from their actual finishing order. These are professional drivers. They ought to be able to run ten laps without hitting each other.