Huston Ladner · Tuesday August 20, 2013
The Mid-West sat as the host of the major touring series this past weekend. Dickens might call it a Tale of Two Tracks. It was the best of racing, it was the worst of racing, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair…. Who knew that Mr. Dickens was a race fan? With his oft-cited opening to his opus, he provided a summary for the current status in NASCAR on a number of levels. Here are five of them:
Kurt Busch. The ledger shows that he’s driving for the one-car team of Furniture Row Racing and that he fits the bill of the consummate American underdog. In reality, Busch is like a fourth Childress team. Does that make what he’s doing any less remarkable? He’s been fast almost everywhere and his recent run at Michigan gives evidence that he has a solid chance of making the Chase.
But there’s a more incredible thing worth contemplating. Is KuBu an actual championship threat? As the season has progressed his team has gotten smarter and stronger – though they continue to have some pit-road flubs. He still may not make the Chase, as one bad race might dump him back in the standings, but should he get in, his consistency might be one of the things that keeps him in contention all the way to Homestead. Is that really possible?
FoxSports1’s much ballyhooed/hyped/overblown arrival came this weekend. Wee hoo or something. Looking at the Trucks race telecast it’d be hard to notice any real difference between it and SPEED channel. Same crew. Same type of coverage. Same Ray Dunlap without his mustache. (Quick aside: 1.) How has someone not convinced him to grow that wonderful thing back? and 2.) How does Ray Dunlap’s Mustache not have its own Twitter feed or hashtag?) So in a quick summary, it would seem that FS1 isn’t all that different with how it treats motorsports. Or, as David Byrne might comment: Same as it ever was.
Au contraire. The newly branded network was all too quick to cut away from its post-race coverage to jump onto a taped interview with Tom Brady. Sure, he’s Tom Terrific, golden boy of the NFL, but that interview wasn’t going anywhere. To have just two, count ‘em, one, two, interviews after the truck race was a bit of a letdown. Sure, everyone knows that the NFL is the monolith in American sports, but the quick cut is evidence 1A of how FS1 is likely to treat motor racing. How long until the truck races are on FS2?
A few hundred miles to the south of the Irish Hills of Michigan, a bunch of cars also raced. Well, some might argue that Nelson Piquet Jr., only displayed aspects of racing, but the rest of the drivers bought into the concept. And for the second straight week those drivers turned both right and left. And for the second straight week, watching those drivers do so was highly entertaining. It doesn’t beg the question, which involves circular logic (faithful to NASCAR ideologies), but rather pushes the notion that the series needs to incorporate more road courses.
Isn’t it a bit peculiar that the Nationwide Series races at Road America, Watkins Glen, and Mid-Ohio, while the Cup series visits only two road courses? The past few years have shown that some of the most entertaining racing can be found at non-ovals, yet NASCAR continues to show no indication of bringing more of those tracks to the fold. No doubt much of this issue rests with multi-year contracts. But if the lackluster attendance at Michigan, which now seats 85,000, is any indication, fans are looking for something different.
Two more things need be noted about this weekend in the NASCAR world that are worthy of contemplation. The numbers are all supposedly decent. Both viewership and attendance have been holding steady for NASCAR for the past few months, which would seem to be encouraging. If that is the case, which is worthy of debate, there’s a different concern. Michigan, with Detroit as it’s focal point, has long been considered the seat for the automotive spirit, which would mean that it’s a place to exhibit all that’s good about NASCAR. Then how come the Trucks race fielded only 32 entrants?
And then there’s the other issue that is befuddling a few times a season. How come the Trucks and Nationwide races practically competed with each other? Yes, Michigan should have lights, just a like a number of facilities, (here’s looking at you Dover) but that doesn’t mean that NASCAR couldn’t stagger things a bit better, or perhaps move dates around. Who exactly approves the schedules?
From a statistical standpoint, 26 races are enough of a sample size to determine who the worthy drivers are. Just as an example, statisticians claim that a best-of-seven series is not enough and that the best way to determine a champion would be to have two teams play a best-of-23 series. Not making that one up. Hence, the one thing that the Chase concept does right is to weed out the lesser competitors (even if it’s not really needed anyway, as the old system did a good enough job of doing so).
That guy in the No. 48 clearly has things locked down, but his teammate, Ol’ Wonderboy, is at this point cooked unless he wins all the remaining races – which would, of course, be a statistical anomaly. But the more curious cases are those of Clint Bowyer, Dale Earnhardt Jr., and Kurt Busch, all drivers without wins. Bowyer is safe, but the other two are playing with the margins of statistical probability. Can they maintain their spots?
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