Kurt Busch to Attempt The Indianapolis-Charlotte Double
posted by Phil Allaway
Tuesday March 4, 2014
Andretti Autosport announced this morning that Kurt Busch, driver of the No. 41 Haas Automation Chevrolet in the Sprint Cup Series, will attempt the Indianapolis 500 in a fifth entry for the IndyCar Series team. Once the Indianapolis 500 is completed, Busch will fly from Indianapolis to Charlotte, jump in his No. 41 Chevrolet and compete in the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Busch considers the opportunity to do the double as an old-school throwback moment.
“This is really to challenge myself within motorsports,” Busch said in Andretti Autosport’s press release. “Perhaps I am a bit of an old-school racer; a throwback, I guess. I enjoyed the era of drivers racing different cars and testing themselves in other series. It is tough to do now for a variety of factors, but when the opportunity is there, I want to do it. While NASCAR is my home, I have been fortunate to compete in Pro Stock on the NHRA circuit a number of years ago and test a V8 Supercar. This opportunity was a talk with Michael [Andretti] over dinner one night, a “What if,” and now it’s becoming a reality for me to drive in the Indy 500 with Andretti Autosport. It’s literally a dream come true. To go to the famous Brickyard with the iconic Andretti name, it doesn’t get much cooler or better than that.”
Busch will be doing the Indianapolis-Charlotte double as a Memorial Day mission to men and women serving in the U.S. Military via the Armed Forces Foundation. Fans can contribute to the cause by texting AFF to 50555 to donate $10.
Busch, who has never raced an IndyCar, passed Rookie Orientation at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway last year during a test session. At the time, Busch was more or less testing the Dallara DW12 for fun.
Busch will be the fourth driver to attempt the Indianapolis-Charlotte double. John Andretti was the first driver to attempt it in 1994. After finishing four laps down in tenth in Indianapolis, Andretti crashed and had engine problems in the 600. Robby Gordon has attempted the double five times, most recently in 2004. However, Gordon failed to make it to Charlotte on time and did not start the 600 in 2000 (P.J. Jones started Gordon’s No. 13 Ford in that instance). Finally, Tony Stewart has attempted the double twice (most recently in 2001) and is the only driver to ever complete all 1100 miles. Neither of the three drivers has won either leg of the double. The best finishes are Stewart and Gordon’s sixth-place finishes at the Indianapolis 500 (although Gordon’s came in 2000, the year he didn’t make it to Charlotte in time to start the Coca-Cola 600), and Stewart’s fourth-place finish in the 2001 Coca-Cola 600.
Danica Patrick, Justin Allgaier Talk About Phoenix Incident
posted by Frontstretch Staff
Tuesday March 4, 2014
A disappointing start to the year for Danica Patrick won’t include continued conflict. Patrick met with rookie Justin Allgaier Sunday, shortly after the Phoenix Cup race after a wreck ruined both drivers’ days. Patrick, who was critical of the No. 51 car on the radio, claiming Allgaier was “driving all over the track” appeared receptive to a conversation that quickly settled differences over what will be a long season.
“She was just upset because she got involved in the crash that we had,’’ said Allgaier to the Motor Racing Network. “She says she’s been through this and that she felt like I needed to settle down at that point. I explained my position on why everything happened. I think she understood where I was coming from. It doesn’t fix either one of our racecars. It doesn’t fix either one of our days. Unfortunately, we were both having pretty decent days.’’
Allgaier wound up 30th due to the incident while Patrick was 36th. The incident, which was caused by Allgaier’s spin also involved the No. 32 team and Travis Kvapil, which wound up 38th after sustaining heavy damage.
Camping World Close to Extending Title Sponsorship of NCWTS
posted by Frontstretch Staff
Tuesday March 4, 2014
Marcus Lemonis, CEO of Camping World, Grand Marshal of Sunday’s Sprint Cup race at Phoenix International Raceway, and star of CNBC’s “The Profit,” made the announcement over the weekend that the retailer is very close to announcing a deal that would continue its title sponsorship of NASCAR’s Truck Series. The original agreement with NASCAR is scheduled to conclude after the 2015 season.
According to the sanctioning body, no formal contract has been signed, but “the agreement between the two parties has proven to be a beneficial one.”
“In about a month, we’ll be announcing a significant extension to that contract. It’s been great for us,” said Camping World’s Lemonis in a statement. “The NASCAR relationship has worked well for Camping World. When we started, we had 35 stores. Now, we’re up to 120 stores. As we travel the country and we meet new customers in stores, they always are very appreciative of our relationship with NASCAR. It’s been good.”
Gaining a long-term commitment from Camping World to sponsor the Truck Series would be a relief for NASCAR, which is set to lose Nationwide Insurance as title sponsor for the NASCAR Nationwide Series at the end of the 2014 season. The sponsorship of the Cup Series by Sprint runs through 2016.
The NCWTS is back in action on March 29th at 2:30 PM (ET) when the trucks visit Martinsville Speedway in the Kroger 250, which can be seen on Fox Sports 1. Ratings for the season opener were up 11 percent.
Harvick Takes Win At Phoenix In Second Race With New Team
posted by Justin Tucker
Monday March 3, 2014
Phoenix International Raceway has become Kevin Harvick’s home away from home. Sunday Afternoon was no exception as Harvick charged to the front early and would dominate for much of the day, leading 224 of the scheduled 312 laps to record his record fifth win on the one mile oval and his third win in the last four races at Phoenix.
Harvick, coming off of a disappointing Speedweeks which was capped by a last lap crash in the Daytona 500 in his debut with Stewart-Haas Racing, set the tone on Saturday by winning both practices while having the best 5 and 10-lap averages in the first practice of the day on Saturday. On Sunday, Harvick and his No. 4 Jimmy John’s Chevrolet was nothing short of flawless as he was able to hold Dale Earnhardt, Jr. by .489 seconds after a late race restart to claim his 24th career Sprint Cup Series victory.
“Man, this is awesome,” Harvick said after his dominant victory on Sunday. “Man, this just solidifies so many things and so many decisions. It’s been so much work with all the time and effort that these guys (the crew) have put in—but what a race car.”
Stewart Haas Racing co-owner Gene Haas shared in Harvick’s excitement after the race.
“It took long enough,” Haas joked. “This is phenomenal. I think there was a lot of skepticism last year about what myself and Tony (Stewart) what we were up to, was there a lot of madness to this. Quite frankly, it’s a great team, there’s a lot of synergy at the shop, people working together. I don’t know what we did, but I think we put together a great organization.”
Daytona 500 winner Dale Earnhardt, Jr. continued his hot start to the 2014 season. Earnhardt Jr. would finish second on Sunday, marking his seventh consecutive top 10 finish since the end of the 2013 season. Earnhardt Jr. was pleased with the effort after a coast-to-coast whirlwind week after winning his second Daytona 500 and also gave great praise to the efforts of Harvick and the No. 4 team.
“I’ve got to congratulate Kevin. Those guys were two-tenths faster than everyone all weekend in practice. They were just phenomenal,” Earnhardt said. “To be able to run with them all day was a big confidence builder for us.”
Joining Harvick and Earnhardt in the top 5 of The Profit on CNBC 500K were Brad Keselowski with his second consecutive top 3 run of 2014 in third. Keselowski’s Team Penske teammate Joey Logano would finish fourth, and Jeff Gordon would come home fifth in his No. 24 Pepsi Max Chevrolet.
Jimmie Johnson finished in sixth, followed by Ryan Newman with a nice rebound after Daytona in seventh. Carl Edwards would carry the banner for Roush Fenway Racing by finishing eighth, Kyle Busch was ninth, and Jamie McMurray would finish tenth.
A look at the Profit on CNBC 500K by the numbers. There were 14 lead changes among eight different drivers, there were eight cautions for 39 laps which slowed the race pace to 109.229 MPH.
Next Sunday, the Sprint Cup Series heads to Sin City and the Las Vegas Motor
Starting Lineup: The Profit On CNBC 500K
posted by Thomas Bowles
Saturday March 1, 2014
Drivers in RED (i) are those ineligible to collect Sprint Cup points
Daytona 500 TV Ratings Down
posted by Frontstretch Staff
Wednesday February 26, 2014
What was the longest weather delay in Daytona 500 history turned out to bring NASCAR lower ratings and TV viewership Sunday night than expected. According to a report Monday from FOX Sports, the 56th running of the Daytona 500 airing at 8 PM (ET) posted a 5.6/10 national household rating/share which averaged 9.3 million viewers. That’s down 44 percent from last year’s 9.9, easily making it the least-watched Daytona 500 of all-time.
Due to the six-hour, twenty-two minute rain delay in Daytona, the race was up against the primetime coverage of the Winter Olympics Closing Ceremony from Sochi, Russia on NBC (15.25 million viewers). FOX also reported that 69% of the pre-rain delay viewers of the race, which began at 1 PM (ET) kept tuning in.
In comparison, the 2013 Daytona 500 on FOX was the most-watched race in five years, posting a 9.9/22 rating/share, commanding 16.7 million viewers. The Daytona 500 in 2012, the first to ever be run on a Monday and in the primetime slot did a 7.7/13 overnight rating/share which resulted in 13.67 million households viewing the race according to Nielsen TV ratings data.
Earnhardt, Jr. Claims Second Daytona 500 Victory
posted by Justin Tucker
Wednesday February 26, 2014
Ten years is a long time. For Dale Earnhardt, Jr., it felt like an eternity. NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver endured many near misses and close calls at the Daytona 500 since his only win in the Great American Race in 2004. Earnhardt had finished second in two of his last three Daytona 500s coming into Sunday’s race. He was also riding the tail of a 55-race winless streak, dating back to Michigan in 2012.
However nothing would stop Dale Jr. on Sunday, not even a 6 hour and 22 minute rain delay from capturing his second Daytona 500 win. Earnhardt Jr. led a race-high 54 laps on the evening and used some timely drafting help from teammates Jimmie Johnson and, on the final restart, Jeff Gordon to separate from the pack and secure the victory.
“Winning this race is the greatest feeling that you could feel in this sport besides accepting the trophy for the championship,” said a jubilant Earnhardt after pulling into Victory Lane. “We could fight off battle after battle. We got a little help at the end there from Jeff to get away on the restart. This is amazing. I can’t believe this is happening. I never take this for granted, man because it doesn’t happen twice, let alone once.”
Aside from the race itself the big story of the race was the 6 hour and 22 minute red flag, which threatened to move the race to Monday evening (had the race been postponed, FOX Sports’ Chris Myers had tweeted that the race would resume at 5:00pm EST). However, Mother Nature would cooperate and would allow the race to be run under different conditions from which they practiced this week. Once the race resumed, the intensity picked up from the changing track conditions. This allowed the pack to race side-by-side and at times 3-wide up to seven rows deep.
Joining Earnhardt Jr. in the top 5 for the 2014 Daytona 500 were: Denny Hamlin who closed out a spectacular Speedweeks in second, Brad Keselowski in third, Jeff Gordon in fourth, and Jimmie Johnson who overcome two wrecks leading up to the 500 in fifth.
Rounding out the top 10 in the Daytona 500 were Matt Kenseth in sixth, Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. in seventh and Greg Biffle would bring his No. 16 Ford home in eighth. Austin Dillon would come home ninth in his first Cup Series race in the iconic No. 3 for Richard Childress Racing, while Casey Mears would round out the top 10.
A couple of major contenders for the Daytona 500 win would see their hopes dashed early on as Martin Truex, Jr. would blow up just 30 laps into the race, relegating him to a 43rd-place finish in his debut for Furniture Row Racing. Crew chief Todd Berrier was already in Nashville for a test session before the race was even over. Kyle Busch, meanwhile would have a pit road violation just before halfway and would spend much of the race battling back from that mistake. Busch would eventually finish 19th after leading 19 laps.
Danica Patrick would also be bit by bad luck as she was caught up in a multi-car wreck on lap 145. Patrick would lead her second consecutive Daytona 500, but wouldn’t have the finish to show for it finishing 40th. Tony Stewart would encounter a frustrating evening as well, with a fuel pickup problem derailing his quest for his first Daytona 500 win. Stewart would finish 35th.
A look at the Daytona 500 by the numbers. There were 42 lead changes among 18 drivers, while seven cautions for 39 laps would slow the race pace to 145.290 MPH.
Next week, the Sprint Cup Series heads to the “diamond in the desert,” Phoenix International Raceway for The Profit on CNBC 500K. The Green flag is scheduled for 3:15pm EST.
Nationwide Series Post-Race Quotes: Drive4COPD 300
posted by Thomas Bowles
Tuesday February 25, 2014
Frontstretch Interviews – Courtesy Mike Neff
ELLIOTT SADLER – FINISHED 4th
Thoughts on the race?
It’s definitely a lot different racing than what we’re used to.
Comfortable with it?
Yeah, it’s just different. You’re worried about what you’re doing, but you’re also worried about what everyone else is doing and they’re not doing more than you’re doing. Physically pushing a guy is way better than just riding so you just gotta time it right and push it to the edge.
Happy to start the year with a top 5?
Yeah. Hell, that was the worst we ran all day, I think. I have no idea how they put the 3 car in front of us on that last restart. I hadn’t seen the 3 car hardly all day. When they put us from fifth to sixth, on the outside line, it just really boxed us in. I would have really restarted behind my teammate and given him a good push to the front. Anyways, it is what it is; we’ll take it and move on.
Looked like you were up front all day.
The guys did a good job. We had a fast race car. Great pit stops, just really proud of these guys. The car’s in one piece and we can take it to Talladega now. Great job by my guys. A lot of effort came into coming down here to Daytona and giving ourselves a shot to win. We had that chance to be up front and make some things happen. Fifth is not what we want, but we’ll take it and move on.
Bumping vs Pushing?
It’s way harder. You don’t want to lay on the guy in front of you, so it’s tough racing. A lot different than what we’re used to, ‘cause you gotta go. You gotta drag the brake too ‘cause you don’t want to hit the guys and you don’t want to stay on him. It’s a lot harder mentally than what we’ve done in the past.
Car was strong all day. Pushing vs. Bumping, is that harder to do than just getting on somebody and pushing them?
Yeah, it is a little bit. When you bump ‘em, you jar ‘em, it kinda jacks ‘em a little bit. It’s a little more abrupt, obviously. I thought it was OK there at the end. It was certainly fun and hopefully entertaining. But a little bit of a struggle in the early part of the race and the midpart of the race to see a good race. And that’s unfortunate for the fans. You can’t do that the whole race, you can’t tear up your stuff, knock your grill in, overheat your motor, all that stuff so there’s no sense in doing all that until you get down to the last lap. The 7 and the 6, they did a good job. Man, the 7 really held the 22 and I tight on the bottom. I was rubbing his door and hitting the apron at the same time, no room whatsoever. So it was good; wish we were the ones who could have won but a lot better now than what we were last year.
Going home in one piece makes it a lot better, right?
Yeah. My back feels good. My foot feels good. Past years here, I’ve been going home with pain so I’m alright.
Connect with Mike!
2014 Truck Series Post-Race Quotes: Daytona (Exclusives)
posted by Thomas Bowles
Saturday February 22, 2014
When you’re on the outside like that, how frustrating is it?
It’s so hard. Timothy Peters has won here. Kyle Busch has won everywhere. Ron Hornaday has been running Trucks forever, probably before I was even born. I was surrounded by veterans there, and like I told them I don’t have a rookie stripe but I’m a rookie. This is only my fourth Truck race ever, my fourth superspeedway race, and man, I figured out when the 17 got up in front of me, I pushed him. And as soon as I pushed him, he took off. And I went with him. And I just kept doing it, and before I knew it, he was leading. And I saw Ron in my mirror, backed up to him, and if it wasn’t for him, I don’t know what would have happened. I gotta thank him big time for that. That was a true teammate move right there. I really appreciate that. He just bounced off me and we got to the front. I tried my hardest to sidedraft Kyle. I was probably touching his door.
Top 5 in the No. 30 truck. This deal come together at the last minute, but you had a heck of a truck. Tell us about your night.
Yeah, I’ve got to thank Turner Scott Motorsports. The guys worked so hard on this Rheem Comfort Products Chevrolet. Exciting! Just got hung up on the outside and had to wait for my teammate there to catch up. And then he got to the bottom, so… I got the old 32 and started pushing ol’ Ryan to the front. So, it’s not bad. We’ll take it. You just don’t want to step over that boundary. You don’t know how far to push and shove. We bumped about six times down the straightaway without latching onto them. Hopefully, that was OK and we came home with a top 5.
Connect with Mike!
2014 Budweiser Duels Post Race Quotes
posted by Matt Stallknecht
Friday February 21, 2014
BUDWEISER DUELS POST-RACE QUOTES
They’re saying the wheel bearing burned up in it. I don’t know what caused it, they’re taking it all apart to figure out what the heck happened. Something abnormal that’s for sure I don’t think I’ve ever had that happen at all. Hopefully, we made the race and hopefully we can fix the problem before Sunday.
WHAT WAS THAT LOUD BOOM ONCE YOU TURNED INTO THE GARAGE?
Loud pop was a tire… thankfully, it popped, hopefully it didn’t hurt anybody. All the heat created in the left front that popped was pretty weird.
REALLY GOOD RUN. WHAT DID YOU THINK OF IT?
Yeah, it was good. We have a car we can work with for the 500. Got a good starting spot, so we’re going to rest easy, fluff and buff our car for a couple of days and get ready for Sunday.
ANY DIFFERENCE ON WHETHER THE TOP OR BOTTOM LANE WORKED?
Yeah, I was just moving around, trying to stay with the flow. For me, this car works on all parts of the racetrack. So I’m pretty happy with it.
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.
GOT SHUFFLED BACK, AFTER PIT STOPS AND THEN COULDN’T GET BACK UP TO THE FRONT. WHY?
Nah, we were just sitting there waiting until the last few laps to make a move. You didn’t want to pull down and get sent to the back. Seen a couple of guys get sent to the back really quick so we were just kind of waiting for the end. I felt like we had a good situation there with Ambrose behind us — we had a good run off Turn 2 and I went. It was the last lap, time to go do something, nobody went with us but hopefully Sunday is a different story.
We got a great car. We don’t have to work hard. We learned, we got a good race car. Got a car in one piece, ready to go so we’ll try and get through the next couple of practices, deliver it to the starting group this Sunday and we’ll be real happy.
YOU’RE IN THE DAYTONA 500!
Yeah, it’s pretty awesome. This Whitetail Chevrolet was so fast that I knew all I had to do was stick it behind smart, intelligent drafters and we could have a good finish. That’s what we did in the Duels and I’m excited. I’m excited to go do some stuff with the Nationwide car and have some more practice with this. But to know that we’re locked in the Daytona 500’s pretty cool.
YOU WERE OBVIOUSLY IN FRONT OF THAT MELEE AT THE END. WHEN YOU WERE UP FRONT THERE IN THE BEGINNING, WERE YOU HOPING TO JUST STAY IN LINE AND LET YOU FINISH TOP 5?
I was pretty content to ride and luckily I knew a lot of people around us were. It was nice to have a little calm and not really have to be racing hard the whole time. I knew that the pit stop was going to shake everything up and that’s exactly what happened. Fell back a little bit there but made the right moves at the end to get a good finish.
HOW STRONG ARE THESE RCR CARS?
They’re very strong! They definitely have the capabilities to be winning one of these races.
YOU’RE IN THE TOP 5 FOR YOUR HEAT IN THE DAYTONA 500. YOUR PRIMARY CAR IS SITTING RIGHT IN THE GARAGE, KIND OF WADDED UP. DID YOU THINK THIS ONE HAD IT IN IT?
Yeah, it’s a brand new car also. It’s just not quite as good as the primary but still a damned good car. I’m just proud of everybody at RCR for building such fast race cars. All of our cars have been fast, ECR motor’s been strong, even our affiliate teams have been qualifying really good and racing good. So… excited about 2014! It’s going to be a good year.
WELL MAN, YOU STARTED IN THE BACK BUT WORKED YOUR WAY TO THE FRONT WHEN IT COUNTED MOST. WERE YOU JUST BIDING YOUR TIME THROUGHOUT THE RACE?
Eh, you never know if you’re going to get back up there or not. We had to start at the back, we had to make a run early and see what we could do. We drove right to 10th, or something like that and then it got stagnant. We tried to make something happen, and went to the back again. Drove back up to the front. Again, just really proud of my guys. Matt Kruder did a hell of a job on that pit stop getting just enough gas in to gain some spots there.
RCR CARS SEEM PRETTY DARNED STRONG. DO YOU THINK THE RCR CARS HAVE SOMETHING FOR THEM ON SUNDAY — ESPECIALLY THE THREE JOE GIBBS RACING CARS THAT SEEM TO BE THE CLASS OF THE FIELD RIGHT NOW?
Oh yeah. The 20 car was extremely fast. The 11 didn’t qualify that good, but he’s a good drafter. I think he won. We definitely have something for him.
Check in with Matt and Jay on their site at CareyandCoffey.com.
It would be a glaring understatement to say that Speedweeks 2012 was one of the most unusual we’ve ever seen. Despite the excitement of the Budweiser Shootout (what feels like eons ago), the qualifying races, and the darkhorse winners we crowned in both the Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series events, the kickoff to the 2012 NASCAR season had a surreal vibe. Maybe it was the rain of last weekend – an ongoing dousing that pushed the Daytona 500 to its first-ever rainout in 54 years. Maybe it was the running of “The Great American Race” itself on Monday evening, when the sport seemed poised to show its stuff, capable of attracting unheralded numbers of curious new fans during primetime. Maybe it was the fact that Danica Patrick was getting her first real, points-paying chance to strap in, climb up on the wheel, and have at it in NASCAR’s premier division. There were so many compelling stories to follow – so many drivers and so many teams with so much to prove. Such is always the case when Speedweeks roll around come February.
The Daytona 500 is one of those sporting spectacles that falls neatly into the abyss carved out by the winter doldrums. One way in which popular culture scholars (like me) interpret the greater significance of an event like the NFL’s Super Bowl, for example, is to consider where the annual event fits into our national holiday continuum. Once the traditional activities of the recognized/established “holiday season” (Thanksgiving, Christmas and/or Hanukkah, and New Year’s) wane – the big meals, the gatherings with family and friends, the outpouring of goodwill, and such – there is a dormant period of reduced socialization. For many of us, this is the time when we try to shrink both abdominal girth and credit card debt. But since our focus come January 2nd is highly intrinsic or personal, it’s only natural for us to soon crave a need for activities that are more extrinsic or public in scope. The Super Bowl fills this need for social interaction because of where it lands on the calendar: at a point of communal downtime within the “TCE” (Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter) period so often reviled by priests and pastors alike for its ability to fill our lives with diversions and commitments. Holidays tend to sap our energies through celebrations, but an event like the Super Bowl is necessary if we are to emerge from winter in some kind of emotionally healthy condition.
The Daytona 500 is also a necessary diversion at this time of year, and even more so now that “The Great American Race” has been bumped to a later week so as to not adversely interfere with professional football’s “Big Game.” While many people choose to watch the Daytona 500 in a relatively private setting – as in at home with family and selected friends, as opposed to in a more formal “party” environment with a larger group of casual acquaintances – the event’s relevance can be interpreted in very much the same way. The Daytona 500, along with its surrounding events provide an outlet for what would otherwise be a winter-generated state of depression. Like the first day of spring, the running of the Daytona 500 (and all of Speedweeks in general?) gives NASCAR fans hope for a better, brighter, and more exciting future; a new season has begun, and with it comes the promise of warmer days and competitive events at beloved speedways.
But then there was this week’s running of “The Great American Race.” By the time the weekend of the 500 rolled around, we were all-too-clear on what we were likely to see once the green flag flew over the two Roush Fenway Fords leading the field. Showers of sparks and twisted sheet metal had become the common denominator of Speedweeks 2012. The seemingly-high number of accidents during the week had even trickled down into casual conversation with non-fans. My wife and I spent our Saturday evening with a small group of friends, who are not what you’d call dedicated followers of NASCAR in any sense of the word, yet the topic of general conversation eventually touched on the televised, six-o’clock news highlights of various wrecks during the week at Daytona (was it because I was in attendance?) Naturally, most of the attention was given to Danica Patrick and her last-lap, off-track excursion during her qualifying race on Thursday. That discussion soon led to a generalized declaration summarizing all of Speedweeks up until that point: “Danica seems very nice, but they all seem to be smashing a lot of race cars down there.” All I could do was look down at the table, slowly stir my bowl of chili – the spoon drifting to-and-fro like Kyle Busch in the Bud Shootout – and mutter, “Yeah.” What an astute response! “Quite the expert observation there, Captain Obvious,” I thought to myself, but what else could I have said without lapsing into a lengthy dissertation on the current state of NASCAR Nation? Any attempt at a more meaningful, analytical explanation would have fallen on deaf ears, so I kept quiet.
I guess I should consider myself lucky that these folks didn’t watch the CWTS race on Friday night, or the NNS event earlier that afternoon; one can only try to wrap their head around what those comments and questions might have been. But the rampant wreckage query seemed to be the impression created by the events of Speedweeks 2012. Monday’s rain-delayed running of the Daytona 500 during primetime, while putting NASCAR squarely in the national spotlight, also led to more finger-pointing in stunned amazement. Unfortunately, it had nothing to do with the fact that Matt Kenseth’s wee-hours-of-Tuesday-morning victory was the 300th NASCAR win for Roush Fenway Racing as the organization celebrates its silver anniversary, nor did it have anything to do with the fact that three winners of a combined ten Sprint Cup titles all finished lower than Danica Patrick in her big-league debut. Tuesday morning’s water-cooler topic was the fiery collision between Juan Pablo Montoya’s No. 42 Target Chevrolet and a speedway jet dryer.
Some pundits believe that this event – as wildly odd as it was – was actually good for the sport because it gave people something to talk about that did not begin with “Danica” and end with “Earnhardt.” It adheres to the adage that “there’s no such thing as bad publicity,” but does a major jet fuel fire involving a piece of safety equipment and a driver hustling to catch the field under caution shine a positive light on the up-and-coming popularity of our new-and-improved NASCAR? I find it ironic that the surreal (there’s that word again), “Theater-of-the-Absurd” nature of Monday night’s bonfire became the iconic moment of this year’s Daytona 500. Never mind that the race featured all manner of exciting moments during green-flag laps – including the near-return of Dale Earnhardt, Jr. to Victory Lane for the first time in almost four years – it was Juan Pablo Montoya’s wreck and Brad Keselowski’s “live coverage” of events via Twitter during the prolonged red flag period that caught the collective attention of the nation. While it’s true that jet dryers ran almost as many laps over the weekend as did race cars, is it safe to assume that violent accidents – culminating in Montoya’s frightening spin (and the subsequent blaze) – were symbolic of the overall Speedweeks 2012 experience? I’m afraid that, for many casual observers and would-be NASCAR fans, it will be.
A NASCAR weekend is full of unusual sights, and I’m not just referring to the infield here (there’s enough unusual sights in there to start a zoo!) One summer at Pocono many, many years ago, for instance, I watched the late Neil Bonnett coast down pit road with a deer’s severed leg impaled in the grille of his car. Remember when Dale Earnhardt (with the assistance of his Chevrolet Lumina) vaporized a sea gull during the opening laps of the 1991 Daytona 500? Anything is possible when you have more than forty cars traveling closely together in excess of 190 MPH, and driver aggression does not even have to be figured into the equation. As NASCAR president Mike Helton put it, “It’s a bizarre set of circumstances.” He was speaking about the Montoya/safety truck collision near turn three, but might the same comment also refer to the overall atmosphere surrounding the absurd nature of Speedweeks 2012?
Numerous opportunities for positive publicity were skimmed over during the last two weeks in Florida. Certainly, the fickle finger of fate had much to do with the strange assortment of bumps, rubs, wrecks, flips, slides, spins, storms, fires, and comments (Tweeted or otherwise) we observed at Daytona. We’ve responded by going about, assigning blame where-and-when we think it’s due. It was the new aerodynamics package; it was the new electronic fuel injection; it was the jitters of a pressure-packed new season; it was the constant quest for new sponsorship; it was the need to pick up where the 2011 Cup Series left off. It may have very well been all of these factors swirled together.
Let’s face it: 2011 was a great year for NASCAR, but one that seemed to be largely overlooked by the mainstream sports community-at-large. Trevor Bayne’s Daytona 500 win captured headlines, as did Jeff Gordon’s return to Victory Lane at Phoenix the following week. Tony Stewart’s march through the Chase culminated with his season-finale win at Homestead and his third Cup Series championship, but Smoke’s successes went relatively unnoticed by the average man and woman-on-the-street. Mr. and Mrs. America may have heard of Tony Stewart, and may have even been somewhat aware of his epic battle with Carl Edwards for the NASCAR title, but they were also inundated with news about many other sports, including both college and professional football. That’s why the Chase came into being in the first place – as an attempt to compete with the broader popularity of the traditional fall pastime.
And now, here we are again – shivering through the bleak and bluster of late winter (I write this as my home is being pelted with snow and freezing rain, by the way). Our resolutions of New Year’s have long been broken, as have our collective spirits after months of darkness and cold. We turn toward the warmth of Florida, towards a familiar place where a familiar event reminds us that the optimism of another season lies just ahead. We bristle with anticipation as motors roar to life, as cars line up and head toward the waving green flag that signals the end of yet another winter…
And then rain clouds move in, torrents fall, and our Sunday gives way to Monday. With an entire nation watching – even more than we might have expected for a primetime broadcast (shades of the “Blizzard of 1979” and the captive audience that helped make that year’s Daytona 500 a part of the sport’s popular history) – NASCAR rolls into a brave new season. Less than two laps in, three of the sport’s most recognized names are headed for the garage. Forty laps from the finish, a flash inferno brings out a two-hour red flag. As drivers walk and talk and tweet, viewers think about the late hour and the blaring alarm clock that will jar them awake for work in a short while. As “The Great American Race” ends with Matt Kenseth’s overtime victory, the success of the No. 17 Best Buy race team finds itself relegated to “Tomorrow’s Online Sports Update.” This result was unfortunate, but it was also real life based on unforeseen circumstances. We can only hope that more focused/less surreal days lie ahead for NASCAR. Maybe then, new fans will find truly relevant reasons to follow the sport and become an essential part of its future.
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I think that while all the wrecking may have created some uneasy feelings, as well as the rain and fire delays, which everybody knows there is no control over, the overall spin has to be positive for NASCAR. I don’t remember seeing the amount of news coverage, including the national evening news, that this Daytona weekend produced.
So while maybe there were a lot of distractions, delays, and oddities, the overall outcome will be beneficial to NASCAR.
I’m going to go out on a limb now and say that this years TV numbers will easily surpass last years. Hopefully Attendance numbers will do the same.