The Frontstretch: Matt McLaughlin Mouths Off : Short Takes On A Short Break by Matt McLaughlin -- Thursday April 24, 2008

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Matt McLaughlin Mouths Off : Short Takes On A Short Break

Matt McLaughlin · Thursday April 24, 2008

 

A few random notes after a rare weekend off for the Cup Series…

I really think NASCAR needs to take a long, hard look at their schedule. I hope everyone who took this weekend off enjoyed it, because the next time the Cup schedule does something like that is July 20th. After that, the series continues without a break right on until the end of the season — the weekend before Thanksgiving.

With that in mind, why — with three weekends off in a season that drags on from February to November — do two of those off weeks occur in the first two months of the season? I agree with the need for a sport born in the buckle of the Bible Belt to take the Easter weekend off — and yes, I realize that Easter is a floating holiday that occurred very early this year — but for the life of me, I don’t understand why NASCAR sees the need to idle the Cup series just so the Bus…(oops!) Nationwide Series road course race in Mexico gets a bit more attention. Carl Edwards, Kyle Busch, David Reutimann, David Ragan, and Clint Bowyer were the only Cup Series regulars that chose to race in Mexico; the big name drivers like Earnhardt, Gordon, Johnson, Kenseth, and Kahne didn’t make the trip to help the track sell tickets just because they were off.

As I see it, NASCAR should continue to have the Easter weekend as its Spring Break, and should continue to take one summer weekend off. But that third weekend off needs to be moved to late Fall to give the teams in the Chase a chance to regroup at the halfway point of the championship run, and to give fans at home a weekend to relax with their families and friends. Ideally, I’d like to see the number of races on the schedule pared back to 30 points events, with the season ending by Halloween and more off weekends sprinkled through the rest of the season.
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Is Danica Patrick the answer to NASCAR’s lack of diversity in its top three touring series?

Danica Patrick’s win in the IRL’s Japanese race has been picked up as a major news story in a lot of mainstream media outlets that don’t typically cover auto racing. Let’s face it; she’s a good looking woman, and that doesn’t hurt any. But once again, it brings up questions as to the lack of diversity in NASCAR’s top three touring series. Yeah, OK; Cup racing is very diverse. You’ve got younger white guys, older white guys, and Juan Pablo Montoya. A few women have tried to make inroads into the Truck Series, but with limited success. (With that track record, you have to imagine that NASCAR would dearly love to get Ms. Patrick to run a Cup road course event or two if they could).

Meanwhile, over in the Formula One Series, a young black driver named Lewis Hamilton is piling on the wins, and even contended for a title last year. But the most diverse set of competitors can be found in the NHRA Drag Racing Series, where blacks, women, and Hispanics have won both races and championships. The NHRA has an advantage in that regard in that drag racing is a sport you can get involved in with the family car. And as little as the NHRA wants you to dwell on it, even in areas where there are no longer any drag strips, there is a close cousin to drag racing being waged in the streets.

I have no doubt that NASCAR officials are sincere in wanting to attract a more diverse crop of drivers. My feelings on the matter are the same as they’ve always been; the door is open to anyone, but there’s no free ride whatever your race, gender, or religion.

In contrasting the open wheel series and stock car racing, I do see another telling difference. Like NASCAR, there are various feeder series, most often called “Formula” something that lead up to the big leagues. But unlike NASCAR’s feeder series, the Nationwide series in particular, drivers who have reached the top level of their respective forms of racing don’t enter the feeder series races on Saturdays. My guess is if NASCAR implemented a rule that forbade drivers in the Top 25 in the Cup standings from running Nationwide races, within a few years you’d see a more diverse group of drivers in the AAA league. Could the Nationwide Series survive without the big name Cup drivers? If it can’t, that calls into serious question the health of the Nationwide division.

Speaking of which, here’s some good news for the fans who want to see some “stock” put back into stock car racing. Rumors are rampant that the next generation Nationwide cars will be a lot closer to “stock” than anything we’ve seen on the track in awhile. Ford, Chevy, and Chrysler aren’t willing to tell you yet that they’re planning on entering Mustangs, Camaros, and Challengers, but they are.
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FOX has been doing pretty well with their ratings in the Cup series this season. If the numbers aren’t up dramatically, at least they are no longer falling. Then, there was a little glitch in the trend when ratings for the Phoenix race were flat. Hmmm. That was the race that didn’t end until close to midnight Eastern Time. Anyone else sensing a correlation here? Sunday races need to be over by 4 PM ET and night races need to end by 10 PM ET, weather permitting.
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I saw a poll on another major NASCAR website this week wherein 89% of those responding said they wanted to see NASCAR implement a structured drug testing program for the drivers. It doesn’t happen often, but in this instance, I’m not on the side of the Vox Populi.

There are two main reasons. First off, I’ve been following the sport long enough to remember how NASCAR implemented their current drug testing program — which was just to humiliate and eliminate Tim Richmond. Yeah, eventually they had to admit the drugs that turned up in his test were over-the-counter cold remedies, but the damage was done and to this day, there are still people who think Tim tested positive for coke or pot. For the record, he did not. Secondly, I don’t think there’s many NASCAR officials left in the regime of Brian who can manage a good fart without soiling their shorts. They don’t need something else to screw up.

Stock car racing has a very different fan base than most stick and ball sports. Yeah, we’re the guys Senator Obama is talking about when he discusses those bitter individuals clinging to their guns and religion. While the stick and ball sports punishment for drug infractions is suspension, any driver caught doing drugs is going to be drummed out of the sport. The fans won’t put up with it. The sponsors aren’t going to tolerate it. Team owners aren’t going to give them a second chance. In that way, at least, this sport is self-policing.

I can understand the other side of the argument. If everyday working people have to pass a drug test to be able to work at a convenience store, then a driver who’s being paid millions and competing in close quarters at high speeds with other drivers who could be injured if someone’s racing impaired should also have to be tested. But in a close community like the NASCAR garage area, very little gets missed, even if fans don’t always hear about it.
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It’s rare that the dollars behind the sport are discussed publicly, so I found a recent article in the Sports Business Journal extremely interesting. Three years ago, the Office Depot signed on to sponsor Carl Edwards and the No. 99 team for an annual amount somewhere between 14 and 15 million dollars a year. The company has done a decent job leveraging their marketing campaign with their investment, and Edwards has done them proud, winning some races while making the Chase in ’07.

But that contract is set to expire at the end of 2008. Negotiations are underway between the Office Depot and Roush Racing to extend the deal; but this time around, Roush is asking for somewhere between 22 and 24 million dollars annually. Part of that increase represents the increased worth of dealing with Edwards, who has gone from an likable upstart to a legitimate contender; but a lot of it also reflects how much higher the costs of running a competitive team have risen over the last three years. It would appear that NASCAR’s initiatives to control the costs of racing — the new car, limiting testing and the rest — have failed to date. In the current troubled economy, there’s going to be a limited pool of corporations willing or able to ante up 24 million a year.
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Drivers To Watch At Talladega

Matt took a week off from this part of the feature this week, en route to a little vacation time; however, click here for Frontstretch writer Mike Lovecchio’s handy stats on how the Top 15 drivers in the points have performed at Talladega.

Want the latest scoop on Tony Stewart possibly leaving Joe Gibbs Racing? Check out Tom Bowles’ addendum to what he’s heard by clicking here for the latest edition of the Frontstretch Newsletter. And remember, when you sign up, it’s FREE … with the latest news and information going straight to your email inbox.

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Today on the Frontstretch:
Championship Caliber? What Does That Even Mean?
Mirror Driving: Winning Vs. Points, Needing a Boost, and The Lady’s Last Dance?
Nuts for Nationwide: The Curious Case of Elliott Sadler
Happiness Is…Arrogance, Less, Next, and the Outdoors
Frontstretch Foto Funnies: It’s Not Gonna Fit…
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marc
04/24/2008 03:39 AM
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Matt – “Rumors are rampant that the next generation Nationwide cars will be a lot closer to “stock” than anything we’ve seen on the track in awhile. Ford, Chevy, and Chrysler aren’t willing to tell you yet that they’re planning on entering Mustangs, Camaros, and Challengers, but they are.”

Nope, ain’t gonna happen, you’re far behind the times my friend.

The new CoT Nationwide car will start to be used in mid-2009 according to the lastest news. All four companys had there 2009 versions in the wind tunnel last week.

NASCAR is trying to work with the manufacturers to get the aero numbers equal enough among all models while allowing them to keep some manufacturer identity. The car will retain the rear spoiler of the current car instead of the rear wing of the Sprint Cup new car, as well as other differences.”

And the word is no Pony car, Chevy ha pulled the Camaro out of the mix, that and with Toyota not bringing it’s Celica model from the EU to the states make the pony car DOA.

Toyota has announced its model for the 2009 Nationwide Series and decided to stick with the Camry.

Question, do you ever research something before you spit it out in digital form?

Ed
04/24/2008 08:01 AM
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Wow Marc! Who died and made you the expert? You always seem to know SO much more than anyone else. Fortunately, you are in a minority. Good article Matt!

Max
04/24/2008 11:27 AM
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There is no question in my mind that the Fox ratings are deceptive – Gas has now hit 3.55 per gallon where I am, and I am choosing to stay at home this weekend instead of going over to ‘dega on Sunday. So guess what – I will be watching on TV. Guys and gals, check out the stands over there on Sunday if Fox will show them and see how many empty seats you have. If these gas prices are not brought under control, through regulation of some sort, then you are going to see Fox ratings go through the roof while attendence dwindles. It is getting way out of hand and Nascar is one of many operations that are going to feel the pinch. I do also agree that start times are also critical to ratings – imagine what ratings Fox and others would get if they went back to 12:30 or 1:00 pm race times like we had “back in the day”!

Kevin in SoCal
04/24/2008 12:46 PM
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Regarding your first section on weekends off, there isnt any room to put a break in during the Chase. To do so would mean Labor Day weekend would be the last race before the Chase starts. Whether that weekend’s race is California, Richmond, or Darlington, an off weekend during the Chase would affect that race.

Also in the NHRA there are a couple drivers who run Top Fuel Dragster as well as Alcohol Dragster during the weekend – Morgan Lucas is one and I cant remember the other. But it is far less common in other sports than in NASCAR, of course.

Joe
04/24/2008 01:12 PM
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Matt, I still disagree with the assertion that if drugs are going on people will know about it. When a big name driver gets popped, then I will say you’re right, but until then it’s the Shane Hmiel’s who probably had a longer rope than most because of his dad, Fike, who was only popped because he decided to try a theme park gakked out of his mind. Michael Waltrip and a certain guy who is the head of NASCAR had accidents where they were amazingly found away from the scene and in a change of clothes hours later and yet, no charges or punishment. Hell, we’re the ones getting punished by having to see Mikey on TV 10 hours a day. It was novel back in 2001, not anymore. And I was as big a Tim Richmond fan as anyone, but he was not above reproach, lest we forget the deposition where his name and cocaine supplying were intertwined.

Bottom line, when a Carl Edwards flunks a roid test, or someone of that stature, then I will concede that NASCAR is effective at policing itself. Until then, they once again show that they will play by their rules when convenient and it benefits them.

Oh and Marc, still waiting for that reply to the question I sent to your website. At least Matt interacts. I know you’re the end all be all, but at least interact with your loyal acolytes.

marc
04/24/2008 02:04 PM
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Joe – “Oh and Marc, still waiting for that reply to the question I sent to your website. At least Matt interacts. I know you’re the end all be all, but at least interact with your loyal acolytes.”

If it wasn’t received then one of two things happened, it got caught in a spam filter when it was originally sent on the 16th or lost in the digital netherworld as sometimes happens.

I’ll send it again inclusive of the original headers as proof it was sent.

marc
04/24/2008 02:21 PM
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Ed – “Wow Marc! Who died and made you the expert? You always seem to know SO much more than anyone else. Fortunately, you are in a minority. Good article Matt!”

Well thanks for bestowing the title of “expert” on me Ed, however, it’s undeserved.

What is deserved is knowing at minimum the latest news concerning the Nationwide Series, and considering Matt has spent considerable time bashing NASCAR over the state of that series one would think he would be up-to-date also.

Unfortunately, that’s not the case and given his recent past he won’t care enough about what he puts to print the obvious and easily discovered blatant error won’t be corrected either.

Hopefully I’m incorrect.

And BTW, I’m in agreement with you as far as the rest of the post goes, its’ a good article with the exception of the NNS CoT falsity.

But I have to ask Ed, if you read a piece in the NY Times or Washington Post that contained such a glaring error would you also call it a “good article” along with some ill advised snide remark or would you contact the paper pointing out the discrepancy?

Frank
04/24/2008 05:59 PM
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Once agains facts and Matt don’t go hand in hand – the Nationwide Series segment and drug testing comments are riddled with misinformation as usual.

Ed
04/24/2008 08:41 PM
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I guess it all depends upon whether you naively believe every piece of “information” that NASCAR feeds you. They have been known to lie…a lot. I’ll believe it all when I see it.

marc
04/25/2008 03:24 AM
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Ed – “I guess it all depends upon whether you naively believe every piece of “information” that NASCAR feeds you. They have been known to lie…a lot. I’ll believe it all when I see it.”

So Ed, which part do you dispute?

You “painted” that with a very broad brush, just which part do you feel NASCAR is lying about.

No Pony Cars in the NNS Series, is that it?

If so maybe you can explain why Ford is placing all of its Mustang “advertising eggs” in the Mustang Challenge road racing series basket.

Granted, they could do both, but Ford isn’t aiming sales of the Mustang at going in circles but but are promoting going road racing and drag racing with it.

Also for the record the Camaros were pulled from NNS consideration way back in Feb.

Ed
04/25/2008 02:40 PM
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I really didn’t mean anything, Marc. Just wanted to see how much farther you would continue to argue as an apparent NASCAR mouthpiece. End of story, end of posts.

marc
04/25/2008 09:26 PM
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Ed – “I really didn’t mean anything, Marc. Just wanted to see how much farther you would continue to argue as an apparent NASCAR mouthpiece.”

Really, well then I guess I’m a shill for GM and Ford also because that’s where a lot of the info comes from. Funny thing though, somehow the checks are getting lost in the mail.

But you are correct in saying you didn’t mean anything. Accept a knee-jerk invalid defense of Matt.

It all begs the question, if as you say NASCAR is lying about any potential Pony Car project in the NNS series and with so many sources claiming that project is dead why haven’t there been any responses from Ford or GM to correct the so-called “lies” of NASCAR.

Certainly they would want to make the correction because it would undercut any advertising they had planned by the entrance of their Mustangs, Camaros and Challengers in NNS.

No worries mate, I’ll continue my normal respiration rate waiting for a reasonable response.

Matt
04/25/2008 10:02 PM
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I’m sorry, but aren’t you the same fellow who called me out a few weeks ago saying that there was no way Tony Stewart was looking to get out of his contract with JGR to return to Chevy? Yeah that was just one of my anti-Toyota diatribes.

marc
04/27/2008 09:38 AM
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Matt – “I’m sorry, but aren’t you the same fellow who called me out a few weeks ago saying that there was no way Tony Stewart was looking to get out of his contract with JGR to return to Chevy? Yeah that was just one of my anti-Toyota diatribes.”

I don’t remember. Why don’t you show it to me… if you’re so sure it should be very easy to find and jerk my short hairs over it.

One would think after allegedly finding something to tweak me about you would have spent the time to do that already.

Why do I smell a heaping pile of…

Wouldn’t you be better served and your readers as well to correct the blatant and obvious errors in this post?

Not that you’ve ever cared about being anything close to accurate in many of your posts.