The Frontstretch: Ol' D.W. May Be Onto Something by Kurt Smith -- Thursday August 26, 2010

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Ol' D.W. May Be Onto Something

Kurt Smith · Thursday August 26, 2010


Before I started toiling for That’s Racin’ and subsequently the Frontstretch, I spent Sunday evenings writing race summaries for the edification of the other members of my fantasy league. Back then I was less concerned about reigning in vitriol towards NASCAR figures, and one of my favorite targets was champion driver-turned-commentator Darrell Waltrip. I mean, admit it, even if you like the guy, he does come up with some doozies.

Nowadays I’m fond of telling league members that I yearn for the days when “boogity boogity boogity” was the most annoying thing NASCAR fans had to endure. And I actually find myself agreeing with ol’ D.W. more often than I once did. Normally he’s an unabashed ambassador for the sport, which, since they indirectly pay his probably considerable salary, I don’t begrudge him. So it was a shock to hear him openly say the Chase should be junked.

Anyway, contrary to what some people think, Waltrip is knowledgeable about the sport. He did win three championships after all. Having been around as long as he has, he’s not someone whose opinions should be summarily dismissed, and I’m not just saying that because he said something I agreed with. You may not like D.W., but who would you rather have running the sport, Jaws or Brian France?

I bring this up because our newsletter earlier this week showcased some tweets on his thoughts regarding the Nationwide Series. Among them:

“What they need is less super speedways and go back to the bull rings. That would be the great equalizer in my opinion, all driver, less car.”

“You go back to the short tracks and that’s when we were developing young new drivers, local boys taking on the big boys!”

“Cup teams and drivers have a huge advantage on super speedways. Aero is so important, go to short tracks aero means very little!”

Unlike the intermediate ovals where high budgets have proven to trump all, a return to an emphasis on short tracks could prove the fix the Nationwide Series needs to develop more talent.

These were part of a series of tweets that discussed the problem of the Nationwide Series becoming Cup Lite, full of Cup drivers smoking lesser known series regulars. For a long time, motorsports journalists, myself included, have decried this development. It reeks of sponsors deciding who should be in racecars—Danica Patrick has a guaranteed ride no matter how dismal her results.

But everyone in racing understands that money buys speed, and having a Dale Earnhardt Jr. on your team brings in cash to hire top engineers to make Jimmie Johnson go faster. So as distasteful as the Cup drivers bullying the up-and-coming Cup hopefuls may seem, bringing in sponsorship money is a necessary part of the game. Sponsors simply won’t go for unknowns, and you can’t necessarily blame them for that, either. It is a lot of money that they’re ponying up for the car to be on the track.

Lots of people offer solutions to this, but none of them are really logical or fully address the problems. Disallow Cup drivers in the Nationwide Series altogether? Why? Why limit who can compete and who can’t? It’s not that Cup drivers in the lower series is anything new; you just didn’t used to see Cup drivers running for Nationwide championships as much as today. So don’t let Cup drivers run for championships? How would that be done? By not scoring points for them? That would be complicated, and NASCAR doesn’t need any more of that.

You could hold Nationwide events at a track far away from the Cup race, which isn’t a terrible idea, but a lot of tracks sell entire weekend packages, and while I’m not all that sympathetic to the France family losing revenue, this would take away some of the incentive for hardcore folks to camp for a weekend at the place.

It’s possible that NASCAR backed off on placing limits on drivers when they considered the matter a little further. They’re aware fans don’t like the situation, but it’s not so easy to fix it with rule book changes (another thing NASCAR doesn’t need any more of).

With his tweets, Darrell Waltrip offered a viable solution to the Nationwide Series’ problems, something I hadn’t been able to think of on my own (and I’ve tried). If the series focused more on finding venues that rewarded driver skill over engineering, there might be more chances for up-and-coming drivers to come up through the ranks.

I don’t know how much difference it makes in the Cup series, but if D.W. states that driver skill matters more at bull rings (and who am I to argue with him), it stands to reason that focusing on them at the Cup level would put some more oomph into the races. It’s hard to establish that prowess at intermediates is the sole or even main reason for Hendrick prominence, since Johnson and Jeff Gordon especially excel at short tracks too. But at least it’s a lot easier to catch a guy at Bristol than it is at Chicagoland, and drivers gain more experience battling for positions at these places.

So I’m glad to be in agreement with D.W. for once. It seems to be becoming more evident to all that the sport should strive to get away from one style of aero-dependent racing.

Unfortunately, this won’t happen anytime soon, in either series. Milwaukee and Gateway are gone from the Nationwide Series, just as Rockingham and North Wilkesboro disappeared from the Cup schedule. Nationwide still has great venues on the schedule (some of which, like Nashville, ought to be considered for a Cup date), but 13 of 34 events still take place at intermediates. And we know what direction the Cup series is headed.

But who knows. They could turn this around. Time will tell. One wonders if D.W.’s tweets will ring a bell. Or if Iowa Speedway’s popularity might do it.

Kurt’s Shorts

  • NASCAR announced that they will cut the 2011 Nationwide Series purses by 20%, discouraging the already discouraged smaller teams, for the purpose of helping the tracks turn a profit from the races. It’s just too obvious that many of these tracks are owned by ISC, NASCAR’s sister company. For a sport run by marketing people, they’re not doing such a hot job with PR on that one.
  • It’s great to see Elliott Sadler challenging for wins in the Nationwide and Truck Series, if for no other reason than this Cup driver that everyone believes to be mediocre is outracing guys that are considered future Hall of Famers. But does anyone know if he’ll have a Cup ride next year?
  • Walmart is still speaking with Hendrick Motorsports about the possibility of becoming the primary sponsor of Jeff Gordon and the No. 24 car. I hope I’m not stereotyping here, but does anyone think these two are about as well-suited for each other as Kasey Kahne and Budweiser?
  • Brian Vickers announced that he’ll be back next season, which is great news…unless you’re Scott Speed.

Contact Kurt Smith

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Today on the Frontstretch:
Did You Notice? … Breaking Down A Sprint Cup Season Eight Races In
Beyond the Cockpit: Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. on Growing Up Racing and Owner Loyalties
The Frontstretch Five: Flaws Exposed In the New Chase So Far
NASCAR Writer Power Rankings: Top 15 After Darlington
NASCAR Mailbox: Past Winners Aren’t Winning …. Yet
Open Wheel Wednesday: How Can IndyCar Stand Out?


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08/27/2010 12:39 AM

If you remember in 2001 Old D.W. spoke his mind alot on Fox and most times this was not pro-nascar. He gave an honest option, and did not care who he may upset, he told you what he thought. Then in 2002 he was pro-nascar all the way, they could do no wrong. He has towed the line for 8 years and now he’s back to caring about the sport and talking about ways to fix the sport.

I have said for years there needs to be less Cup/Busch events and more Busch/Truck events. I agree this would hurt the season tickets and also the number of people who would travel to camp for only one day of racing. But the Busch/Trucks could hit some of the historic tracks of nascarand pull in alot more fans then either series is pulling now.

Why aren’t the people who are complaining about Buschwackers taking rides away from young drivers complaining about all the recycled /midpack drivers and the start and park drivers that are also taking seats away from young drivers?

phil h
08/27/2010 01:41 AM

Nascar let Cup drivers run amok in all three series…its like Wal-Mart,you become so big you take over and monopolize the whole damn sport to where the lil’ guy is nothing but the poor man out!!Then its’ too late to change it,without tickin’ everyone off! nuff said!

Bill B
08/27/2010 09:40 AM

I like the idea of more short tracks in all 3 series. Short tracks produce more watchable races if for no other reason there isn’t as much room to spread out.

It’s obvious that anything DW says on Fox or Speed toes the company line. On the one hand it is disappointing that someone will frame up an opinion as their own when it’s not their opinion. On the other hand it’s nice to know that his actual opinion are more closely aligned with the fans. I guess we need to ignore what he says during broadcasts and realize that is the NASCAR PR machine talking and not DW.
Yeah, I was thinking about the Gordon-Walmart thing too but if you think about it there are no top tier drivers who truly align nicely with Walmart. I don’t think too many multi-millionaires walk into Walmarts often (unless they are thinking about buying the store itself). If there is any driver that suits being Walmarts spokesman it is entirely perception and not reality.

08/27/2010 10:27 AM

“But everyone in racing understands that money buys speed, and having a Dale Earnhardt Jr. on your team brings in cash to hire top engineers to make Jimmie Johnson go faster.”

Are you implying it’s not for Jr.‘s driving ability?

08/27/2010 11:46 AM

i like the idea. sign me up for anything that races at small tracks.
you could easily make a cup weekend more interesting and attractive by holding some type of qualifying event the was actually meaningful the day before the race itself. Although i’m probably not the only one who would much rather watch nationwide on a bullring than cup on a cookie cutter

08/27/2010 11:50 AM

jr brings the money in ,an jj an jg goes faster, they doent want jr to do good, just bring the $$$$$$ in so hendrick can keep jj an jg going the best ,an 5 an 88 take the scrap,wake up jr, even a fan can figure that out,

08/27/2010 12:11 PM

I’m not ready to jump on the DW bandwagon because he said one thing you agree with. He has done and said more ignorant things in the last ten years that keep him forever on the “IDIOT” list in my book.

Kevin in SoCal
08/27/2010 12:54 PM

Wal-Mart sucks!!

We do need some speedways on the Nationwide circuit, as the up and coming drivers (what few are left) need experience on the bigger tracks as well for when/if they move to Cup.

08/27/2010 01:19 PM

Has DW been conspicuous by his absence lately on TV since his thoughts on the chase came out?

08/27/2010 03:04 PM

DW and his brother are corporate schills on TV and don’t think for a second that it will change just because he says something on twitter.

I have been saying for a long time. Get all the Cup drivers out of NW and sponsors will have no choice but to sponsor a NW only driver. Also, force Cup teams to put NW only drivers in their cars too. Anyone who says that they only watch NW because a Cup driver is in the race is a casual race fan at best or a fan of a certain driver. I haven’t watched a full NW race in years. I feel like I“m wasting my time when I know what the outcome is going to be (Cup winner and 8 of the top 10 finishers Cup drivers).

08/27/2010 04:03 PM

I’m a big fan of short tracks and its not because of anything DW has to say. Once upon a time, he sounded like his thoughts were his own, but for too many years now, the waltrip brothers and the wallaces have dominated the airwaves with their voices and they have lost credibililty for me when they speak or write their commentary. I have tuned them out.

The fans ARE the customers of NASCAR and I’ve gotten awfully tired of the management and paid shills all telling me that I’m stupid because I don’t enjoy the current racing.

Some of the media have begun taking that line as well. I don’t need anyone to tell me what I think. I watch races both at home abd at the track and I can make a decision for myself whether or not the “product” or “show” as NASCAR likes to call it, is something I enjoy or not. Since the inception of the chase and the cot, it has trended more toward NOT than it should be.

Although I think Wal-Mart is a strange fit for Gordon, too, in these days of hard to find sponsorship even for a REAL 4X champion, whatever pays the bills and keeps the car on the track (except for some of the weird “personal” products) is fine for me.

OC Bob
08/27/2010 05:06 PM

I can’t take much more of Mr Waltrip. He continues to talk out of both sides of his mouth. You can’t be everything to everybody!
One last parting observation – Since Craftsman is no longer a corporate sponsor for Nascar, Ol’ DW and Michael have taken their place and become ‘The Official Tools of NASCAR!

08/27/2010 05:13 PM

I agree with whoever said more Nationwide/truck events. Hell throw Grand Am in there, or ARCA. The cup series will survive no matter what, so do whatever to spice up the lower series to make them a draw. Make sure there are about 8-10 of these style weekends a year, and schedule them so its impossible for the cup guys to get to them. The solution isnt that hard, its just that the France family are as intellgent as 6 year old handicapp kids.

08/27/2010 05:55 PM

It’s so obvious what fans think of DW and his Dopey brother, but FOX/ Speed doesn’t seem to be getting the message. If you agree with one thing he says, what about the many other stupid things he says. Steve,JTW, OC Bob, Bill B and myself have no interest in what the biggest schills on the planet have to say.If a Waltrip is on a NASCAR show, I’m not watching, seriously I mean it!!

08/27/2010 08:20 PM

Many of you are quick to dismiss DW. While I agree that Boogity was annoying, it made you talk about HIM. He is the BEST marketeer of any driver ever, bar none. Here is a man 10 years out of the sport and still manages to make himself the “lightning rod” of the sport. Over the last two years, it seems to me his focus has shifted from self-promotion to promotion of the sport. Don’t dismiss what he says, I think he is way smarter than lots of us…

08/27/2010 09:29 PM

Everyone wants more short tracks in both the Cup and Nationwide series. I don’t see it happening. The owners don’t want to spend the money on repairing, or scraping, their cars. They already spend too much money trying to polish that turd of a Cup COT. Now they have to polish it in the Nationwide series too. If they had a real race car to work with then maybe racing would be better across the board.
What’s next, a TOT in the truck series? NA$CAR won’t be happy until Brainless gets the trifecta of killing all three series.
Ole’ DW is old school. He comes from NA$CAR past and was schooled by Bill Sr & Jr. If he really wants to help the sport, it’s going to take more than a couple of Tweets. He needs to nut up and become a real advocate for the changes in the sport, that are so obvious. Then maybe I’ll change my opinion and listen to what he has to say.

08/28/2010 11:49 AM

OC Bob nailed it!

Adam Smith
08/28/2010 07:23 PM

@OCBob – Amen!

I fail to see how racing at shorter tracks would suddenly equalize the playing field for NNS regulars. Yes money buys speed. But money buys reliability, engineering, driver talent, etc. There’s a reason most of the NNS regulars don’t race in Cup. Because they can’t compete. Hell, a quarter of the guys in Cup shouldn’t be in Cup either.

There would still be half a field of guys backed by $20 million dollar sponsors. And they’d still stink up the show.

Don’t get me wrong – I think we need to get away from the McTracks for sure. But give the NNS series uniqueness. A McCar with a stallion emblem is NOT unique.

Make the official cars of the NNS production Mustangs, Challengers, and Camaros. The teams buy them from the dealer, install safety equipment (ya know, kinda like in that other series from about 40 years ago called Grand National), and let them get on with racing at the shorter tracks.

It makes NASCAR relevant by actually racing a car that you can go buy in a showroom. Its cheaper because a ton of the engineering was already done by the manufacturer. Its unique because its not the Car of Sorrow.

Do that and you might get fans attention, regardless of whether the NNS Champ is a Cup regular or not.

08/30/2010 11:29 PM

How’s this for a schedule:

Richmond (twice) 1/2 mile
Rockingham (twice)
Hickory (4 times)
Darlington (twice)
Orange County <NC> (thrice)
Nashville (Fairgrounds) 1/2 mile
Langley <VA> (twice)
Charlotte (twice)
South Boston (thrice)
North Wilkesboro
IRP (now ORP)

Condensed travel schedule, Plenty of interesting tracks, and they got to race with the big boys from time to time.

That’s the 1984 Schedule

08/30/2010 11:50 PM

and Adam in regards to short tracks evening the playing field:

Here are the last 9 years at Hickory (1990 through 1998)

Ed Berrier (his only NASCAR win), Dick Trickle (his first NASCAR win), David Green (as a Busch Series regular), Johnny Benson (as a Busch Series regular), Dennis Setzer, Ricky Craven, Johnny Rumley (1 0f 2 NASCAR Wins), Bobby Labonte (prior to Cup Success), Steve Grissom, Tommy Houston, Butch Miller, Chuck Bown, Jimmy Hensley, Tommy Ellis

Winners at IRP During the same stretch:
Steve Grissom, Bobby Labonte, Joe Nemechek, Tracy Leslie, Mike Wallace, Jason Keller, Randy Lajoie, Dale Earnhardt, Jr.

Yes, some of these teams were funded, but these tracks also produce unexpected winners and a greater variety in the Top 10 vs. today’s Cup du Jour Top 10

Contact Kurt Smith