The Frontstretch: Fontana Won't Be The Last by Kurt Smith -- Thursday February 28, 2008

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Fontana Won't Be The Last

Kurt Smith · Thursday February 28, 2008


It's fairly easy and sometimes fun to fire both literary barrels at the governing body of NASCAR. Heaven knows they make easy targets of themselves. The brass makes weighty decisions that are often detrimental to the sport (although they are never penalized for it under 12-4-Q or whatever), and their "innovations" don't often endear them to fans. I've been known to say more than once that I'd be willing to pay more for a race ticket to send Brian France on a permanent vacation to Bermuda or somewhere.

Still, a columnist doesn't want to keep grinding out the same stuff all of the time. It's negative, for one thing, and Tom Bowles has asked us all to try to be more upbeat about the sport occasionally. He has a point. Certainly so, in my case.

But the events of last Sunday and Monday even got his goat, and I thought that, downbeat as this column may be, it's sort of a look at things to come. Sometimes, it's difficult to find something positive to say. Besides, it was news.

The California race this past weekend demonstrated NASCAR's lack of foresight on many levels, but most of it was the logistics involved in California being the second race of the season. Tom has described it as such here. No East coast fan wanted to watch a race at 2:00 AM. Nor did the people present—and give the California fans credit folks, a lot of them stuck it out—want to sit in the cold rain for 10+ hours for nothing.

But the main problem, for East coasters at least, was the starting time. I didn't have a problem with it initially, because I understand that the West coast has NASCAR fans, too, and we're three hours ahead. I get that.

Casey Mears and Dale Earnhardt, Jr’s races were ruined by weepers Sunday night at the Auto Club Speedway.

But then NASCAR did everything they could, including ignoring safety concerns, to get the race completed on Sunday, keeping East coast fans up late into the evening on a school night. Then, the race was postponed anyway…and restarted at 1:00 Eastern time the next day! Well, hell's bells! If the race has to start at 4:30 on Sunday, making it tougher to watch for East coast people who have to work the next day, why in tarnation is it running at 1:00 on Monday, when everyone, especially the West coast crowd, is actually at work? The teams and drivers have all been inconvenienced anyway; why not throw a bone to the viewers?

Well, as Tom explained, this was of NASCAR's own making. Sorry, Auto Club Speedway attendees, and God bless you for sticking out that mess, but Fontana should lose a race. At the very least, their first event shouldn't be right after Daytona.

But the real kicker is that the California debacle probably won't be the last this year. Take a look at the Sprint Cup 2008 schedule. The green flag will not wave before 2PM any Sunday in 2008, unless I’m reading it wrong and MRN radio doesn’t start covering the race until about 40 laps in. Not just for West coast races; for all 36 of them. Remember Kansas last year? What happened at Fontana isn't likely to be an anomaly.

What demographic is NASCAR trying to reach? People who go for an early Sunday drive? People who won't give up their Sunday brunches for NASCAR? Late churchgoers? Is a plan for "Monday Night NASCAR" in the works? (Uh oh…now I've done it.)

West Coast people tolerate football games starting at 10:00 AM. Why wouldn't they watch NASCAR races then? Is NASCAR an inferior product that must be tailored for the West Coast? It certainly wasn't before the whole sport was turned upside down. It still isn't. (Hey, I said something positive!)

Here's a novel idea: just put out a decent product and don't worry about anything else. That will improve the ratings. People will watch good racing at 1:00. People on the West coast will watch good racing at 10:00 AM. NASCAR did just fine before when they were dropping the green at 12:30…better than they are doing today starting at 3.

I guess I shouldn't be making such a big deal out of this. I'm just irritable because NASCAR has thrown another wrench in my Sunday afternoons, at a time when I'm really not in a mood to put more effort into being a fan. I don't want to open another beer after a certain time on a Sunday, because I have to wake up early and start a five-day workweek the next day. I don't want to be eating dinner while the race is still on. I don't want to sit through a meaningless two-hour pre-race show (and then sometimes not even see the results afterward).

Maybe it works for some, but a late start makes the race less enjoyable to me. I loved when the pre-race show started when the sun was at its highest point in the sky and lasted just a half hour — followed by the green flag dropping — and it was still daylight when the checkered flag flew. It was a damn fine way to spend a Sunday afternoon.

But I'm just a fan…what does NASCAR care.

Kurt's Shorts - Friday, February 29

  • I know I'm not the only one who's noticed, but it's been a long time since we've seen the Interstate Batteries No. 18 running this well. That car hasn't been challenging for wins since Bobby Labonte was driving it…and even his last few years in it weren't spectacular. For a guy who once said the new car "sucks,” Kyle Busch seems a pretty capable pilot.
  • I am still waiting to see if NASCAR has informed Auto Club Speedway to get its proverbial feces in one spot…not just because of the “weepers,” but because of all the trash flying around the track and occasionally clogging up the grills and overheating the race cars. It happens at every Fontana race; that ought to be completely unacceptable. So far, I haven't heard a word, at least not publicly… why is this place so sacred? Charlotte wouldn't have gotten away with all of that last week.
  • I can't help but think about the possibility that Casey Mears…or even Dale Earnhardt, Jr…may miss the Chase by the margin of points between what they scored at California as opposed to what they would have scored on a dry track (without "weepers"). If Junior falls a few points short of the playoffs, you can bet that Race 2 will be back open for discussion.
  • This week's Top Ten list had been casually written by me in response to the announcers and others starting to compare Fontana to Darlington. That's like saying the Chase is starting to become like the classic points system. Want some flies with that?
  • I didn't get to see the race on Monday; however, when things were running smoothly, I was able to check on the Internet to see what's going on. It's actually not very different from watching on TV. You find out what's going on intermittently, with long breaks in between; you don't see very much action; and at the end, you see who won but you don't get the results. No wonder Brian is convinced that people are getting their fix from the net.

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Today on the Frontstretch:
ATHLON SPORTSBOWLES: Is Kevin Harvick A Hall Of Famer?
Racing to the Point: I’ve Got the Green-White-Checkered Blues
Beyond The Cockpit: Ron Capps Could Have NASCAR Stars Trying… Drag Racing?
IndyCar Driver Profile: Sebastien Bourdais
Who’s Hot / Who’s Not in Sprint Cup: Darlington – Off Week Edition
Couch Potato Tuesday: Moving NASCAR Coverage Onto the Web
Voices From The Cheap Seats: NOTeworthy News


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Kevin in SoCal
02/29/2008 02:49 AM

If only to defend the Monday start time of the race, NASCAR had to leave enough time after the Cup race to get the Nationwide race run, too.

02/29/2008 07:39 AM

I hope that the LV Motor speedway does not see the CoT and start “weeping” like the Fontana track did!

And the CoT is enough to make anyone weep!

Don’t forget the Fontana track is owned by NA$CAR, Charlotte is not! (OK, OK, the “ISC” owns Fontana, but it is the same thing you know)

Once again that double standard rears it’s ugly head! (re: the “feces” on the track)

M.B. Voelker
02/29/2008 09:31 AM

Rain-delayed, weekday races ALWAYS start early in the day. Its not some crazy power-trip from Nascar designed to inconvenience fans who have to work. Its so that the teams can get back to their shops and ready for the next race.

The logistics are bad enough for a Monday race regardless. A Monday race that ran in the evening would cost a day and a half of shop and travel time rather than just half a day.

Contrary to popular belief, the Nascar powers that be do not sit around deliberately attempting to annoy “fans” who frequently seem to be deliberately looking for a reason to take offense.

You are, however, right that Nascar should tell the Fontana track that if they can’t put on a well-attended race in a decent racing environment there are other tracks that could.

02/29/2008 10:28 AM

Just like last year when everyone wanted to “fix” qualifying in order to get Michael Waltrip’s team into the race —- solution: drive faster….so now everyone wants to GIVE California new / different / better race dates to INCLUDE Chase dates. When Rockingham was (justifiably) chastised for poor attendance, NO ONE ever mentioned putting Rockingham’s race date somewhere BETTER, just take it away and give NOT one BUT TWO race dates to NASCAR’s favorite child – California, a group that not only “fried” the track trying to dry it, but can’t in all of California, find someone, anyone to sing the national anthem….OH, I forgot, everyone but Tom Cruise was at the OSCARs. Is there ANY weekend during the year that would meet with California’s approval and not conflict with someother “less than mainstream” activity hosted by the Hollywood granolo set (fruits, nuts & flakes)? Maybe covering the empty seats with tarps and telling the TV folks not to pan the invisible crowd…Oh, they already did that. Las Vegas must absolutely love being the next race after the California debacle.

Brian France Sucks
02/29/2008 11:50 AM

Yep, ole Brian and the bunch were at it again. Inept is a pretty good descriptor of the NA$CAR brass. The only reason Cali gets a race at all is because the Frances and NA$CAR/I$C (same thing) own it. Rockingham and Darlington were superior venues for racing, but Rockingham was given inferior race dates that led to its demise. Seriously, who goes to a race in North Carolina when its 36 degrees outside in February. A monkey could’ve organized a better schedule. The 2:30 start times are stupid. What of the issue that starting later in the day actually produces unsafe conditions on track in the late afternoon glare. I can remember at least two wrecks last year that were caused by guys not seeing what was in front of them. Start the races at 12 or 1; start the pre-race circus before that. And GET RID OF 1 Fontana race, or whatever they call the place now.

Margo L
02/29/2008 01:02 PM

Well M B , i don’t think i understand the wisdom in your suggestion that NASCAR tell Fontana to shape up or else . You do realise that Fontana is owned by NASCAR ( ISC ) i hope ? So exactly how would you expect the threat to work ?
And as poorly as the current crop of know nothings at NASCAR run the show , the fans don’t really have to look very hard for things to take offense at .

Kurt Smith
02/29/2008 02:47 PM

M.B., just for clarification, let me state categorically that I have never suggested that NASCAR sits and thinks of ways to upset longtime fans. I don’t think any of the anti-France crowd thinks that in fact.

What I do think, in a nutshell, is that the powers that be make short-sighted decisions without regard for longtime fans…and I don’t think I need to list any of these decisions for you to know what I’m talking about. I guess it’s a fine distinction, but it’s a distinction nonetheless. They may not actively have been trying to upset fans…but they certainly did not seem to care about the loud opposition to the Chase when it was introduced (polls ran 75-25 against it, as you may remember, and NASCAR’s response was to stop polling), or the demise of the Southern 500.

The beef is that NASCAR has attempted to grow not by keeping what was working, but by killing the goose for the golden egg.

As far as Monday starting times, maybe the schedule could be shortened, and a few off weeks could be added as potential “rain dates”. Do you object to that?

03/01/2008 09:35 AM

Seems pretty simple to me.

The California track stinks. The racing is boring. So I don’t watch.

If, like me, you think the California race is boring, then DON’T WATCH. DON’T GO.

It’s really the only way to get Nascar to change. Take the money away from them.

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