The Frontstretch: Fanning the Flames: From "Impactful Changes" To Missed Opportunity For NASCAR by Matt Taliaferro -- Thursday August 12, 2010

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Fanning the Flames: From "Impactful Changes" To Missed Opportunity For NASCAR

NASCAR Fan Q&A · Matt Taliaferro · Thursday August 12, 2010


Color my naïve. Or call me a glutton for punishment.

I had fooled myself into believing the “impactful changes” Brian France trumpeted concerning the 2011 Sprint Cup schedule at Indianapolis Motor Speedway would right some scheduling wrongs.

I believed NASCAR realized it had a golden opportunity at its fingertips to freshen up and inject some much-needed adrenaline to its schedule — and particularly, its Chase. I allowed myself to be whisked away by some romantic notion that the major overhaul required to revitalize a fanbase was at hand.

I thought they were going to do it right this time.

I guess that’s what I get for showing a little faith, huh?

NASCAR tracks across the country conducted press conferences throughout the week, making announcements big and small. Kentucky finally got its Bruton-assured due; California is making the best of what can only be a swift, if not overdue, kick in the capris; The Royal Kansas Hotel and Gaming Speedway received its bottom-line driven second date. New Hampshire, Bristol, Martinsville, Texas and Infineon have all announced, in some form or fashion, how the “impactful changes” will affect their dates.

Changes to the 2011 Cup schedule — including a Chase date at Chicagoland — were not as “impactful” as expected.

The problem is, nothing’s really changed. Not for the fans, anyway — and it’s their passion and involvement (not to mention money) that truly drives the sport. The only monumental difference centers on the Chase’s first date, formerly of Loudon fame. With Auto Club Speedway being stripped of its Chase event, a new track had to be inserted. And that track is … Chicago?

Yes, Chicagoland Speedway and the major media market that sits an hour and change to its northeast will now kick off this 10-week dog ‘n’ pony show with what I’m predicting will be a tremendous “thud.”

Not that New Hampshire provided much spark, but at least the track has personality. And I think that’s what many fans want to see more of out of a playoff lineup gone stale. Fans need a reason to watch for 10 straight weeks; they need excitement, they need character and they need the toughest and most entertaining venues NASCAR can line up to determine its champion.

Instead, fans get Chicago, followed by New Hampshire, Dover and Kansas. Oh, did I mention Martinsville and Talladega are swapping dates? Wait, when were those dates again? Talk about a letdown.

What’s impactful here? How is Chicago any different than California? I’ll tell you how: It’s not. California, though, has suffered from being the poster child for all things Old School Fan dislikes about New School NASCAR. Big city, cookie cutter, west coast … and of course the cardinal sin: It was given the most holy date on the NASCAR calendar: Darlington’s Labor Day weekend.

A little imagination and initiative would have gone a long, long way to bringing the sport back onto the front page of the Sports section. Imagine the Bristol night race kicking off the Chase. Then take us up to Loudon, so those still-burning tempers can be put to good use in New Hampshire’s tight quarters. Hit your major media market then — Chicago — after the boys have had a couple weeks to make some splashy quotes after two brutally physical weekends.

From there, keep the momentum riding high with a stop in Dover for another media market pull. Head back south again if things are starting to cool off with a white-knuckle extravaganza at Talladega. Insert Kansas here because we have to, then take ‘em short trackin’ again to Martinsville. Give the west coaster one last look at the boys before next February with a date in Phoenix, bring them back to Darlington for a nasty-tough date with emotions running high, and then end it all back home in Charlotte, where a new king can be crowned in his hometown.

Brian France is going to hit you in the coming days with terms like, “action-packed,” “for the betterment of the sport” and “in the interest of competition.” Don’t allow yourself to be sucked in as I was. The changes, if you want to call them that, were made in the interest of ISC’s and SMI’s bottom line. This isn’t about delivering the best product to the fans and it wasn’t done in the “the spirit of competitiveness.” It’s about maximizing certain struggling racetracks’ dollar (i.e., Chicago).

The “impactful changes” that are to come won’t be in the form of a bold and improved slate of venues, but a re-worked playoff format designed to concoct a three-man, winner-take-all battle royale near the Florida Keys.

Color me disappointed.

Before I go, let’s hit a couple questions via Twitter this week. We’ll be back to a full-on questions column next week.

Contact Matt Taliaferro

Do you think #NashvilleSuperspeedway will ever get a Cup date in #NASCAR?
— @Rtiongson

A: I got this in response to my tweet last week about attending the Truck race at Nashville Superspeedway. By the way, my wife’s first trip to a big track was a good one. I knew she wouldn’t be prepared for the feeling that overcomes your senses when those machines calmly round out of Turn 4 and, suddenly and without mercy, scream to life down the frontstretch to take the green flag. The look on her face was priceless.

I think she’s ready to upgrade. Maybe a Nationwide race. Heck, maybe a Bristol or Talladega Cup race.

Back to the question, though, no I don’t think Nashville will ever get a Cup date. Those that think they are “in the know” around here (I live in Nashville), used to say it’s only a matter of time, but it’s not. It’s a matter of apathy. This city — its populace as well as its city leaders — doesn’t care about stock car racing. It’s not that they hate it, it’s just not high on the priority list. And in their defense, there is a lot to do around town on any given night of the week.

The city leaders gladly waved bye-bye to two Cup dates at the Fairgrounds in the ‘80s, are on the verge of closing that historic track for good to build condos, and the new 1.5-mile speedway can barely get 10,000 for a Nationwide race (let alone a Truck event — by my estimation, it had about 8,000 in the grandstands and no one in the infield).

‘Tis a shame, but that’s the makeup of this town. Only the diehards are willing to drive nearly an hour into the sticks to see a cookie cutter race.

What I want to know is how come a casino gets u a cup race. Makes no sense. Glad Fontana lost a race though.
— @Matt_Kacar

A: A casino at Iowa Speedway wouldn’t command a Cup date, but Iowa isn’t owned by ISC — and Kansas is. This whole deal was well orchestrated by Lesa France Kennedy and brother Brian. ISC adds a casino/hotel to the speedway property and, theoretically, there’s a reason for more people to come. Therefore, it’s ISC’s duty to its shareholders to plant a second race there because it’s good for the company’s aforementioned bottom line.

Is it good for the sport’s overall health? Probably not, as Kansas has never evoked any sort of passion from the everyday race fan, but sadly, that’s not what the power’s that be are concerned with in this case.

Thanks for sticking around until the end. I’ve got some questions in R&D mode, so if I haven’t gotten to yours, just be patient and keep checking back. In the meantime, check out the video clip of the week, your prize for hanging tough.

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Today on the Frontstretch:
NASCAR Easter Eggs: A Few Off-Week Nuggets to Chew On
Five Points To Ponder: NASCAR’s Take-A-Breath Moment
Truckin’ Thursdays: Top Five All-Time Truck Series Drivers
Going By the Numbers: A Week Without Racing Can Bring Relief But Kill Momentum


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08/12/2010 09:22 AM

Good article. Were you really expecting actual sensible changes to the schedule? Man, I have some swamp land for sale if you’re interested.

So the 2011 chase will be another bore and Johnson will win his 6th straight trophy as a 10 race champion and more fans will disappear.

Smart moves, Brian!

08/12/2010 09:35 AM

“This whole deal was well orchestrated by Lesa France Kennedy and brother Brian. ISC adds a casino/hotel to the speedway property and, theoretically, there’s a reason for more people to come. Therefore, it’s ISC’s duty to its shareholders to plant a second race there because it’s good for the company’s aforementioned bottom line.

That’s the whole problem in a nutshell. And it’s relevant to EVERY decision Brian makes.

08/12/2010 10:58 AM

Like I’ve said before, it’s Brainfart France’s toy and he’ll destroy it if he wants to, yelling “na na na na na” all the way home.

08/12/2010 11:00 AM

After looking in my crystal I predict the obvious. More empty seats.

Michael in SoCal
08/12/2010 11:53 AM

Like your track ideas for the Chase, although I think Iowa in place of Kansas would be way better!

08/12/2010 12:21 PM

“Thanks for sticking around until the end.”

WOW! That sounds ominous.

Yes, this racing stuff is a business, but it’s become all too clear with these “revolutionary” schedule changes that all the managing partners are out for short term gains at the cost of the “sport’s” long term health. I thought it was bad enough when they started stealing sponsors away from race teams and they’ve only continued to gobble up as many available dollars as they can. Then they alienate the fan base in hopes of gaining a new batch of gullible fans with an over hyped increasingly mediocre “product.” But hey, it’s their ball and their field…

There was a time where I thought major league Nascar racing couldn’t be killed, now I’m just not so sure and I think I see a fat lady heading this way.

08/12/2010 12:25 PM

It’s been proven time and again, if Brainfart is involved the outcome will be a clusterf#ck

Matt T. --
08/12/2010 12:30 PM

Jerseygirl: Believe it or not, I really thought after Brian’s Indy presser that some major changes were coming. Honestly. Now about that swamp land …

Mike in SoCal: I stuck to current Cup tracks. Actually getting a change of Chase venues is evidently radical enough without throwing in an independent. That said, I’m all for getting Iowa on the Cup schedule.

babydufus: RE: “Thanks for sticking around until the end.” No one has to read the whole thing, so I feel honored that people do. I get what you’re saying though. Wordplay … didn’t even occur to me. And nice name.

Bill B
08/12/2010 12:37 PM

Nothing new here… just more lip service from NASCAR. Tell us how important we fans are again Brian, we really like hearing that.

Don Mei
08/12/2010 01:05 PM

Matt, if you really believd that, stop by my office. I have a bridge I would like to sell you.

Matt T. --
08/12/2010 01:22 PM

I’m already in for some swamp land up in Jersey.

Kevin in SoCal
08/12/2010 01:42 PM

It still amazes me that the Judge in the Kentucky vs ISC case saw no evidence of collusion or other wrong-doing on the part of NASCAR and ISC to keep Cup dates among its own tracks. It just boggles my mind when we see schedule changes such as this. I’m not a lawyer and I dont know the law, but to me, common sense says of course NASCAR is keeping the majority of its races on ISC tracks.
And putting Chicago in Bristol’s current summer date and starting the Chase in Bristol would go A LONG WAY towards spicing up both the Chase and putting the excitement back into Bristol’s night race.

Matt T. --
08/12/2010 03:37 PM

Kev, I think the reasoning is that NASCAR is a privately-held, family-run business and it can conduct its affairs wherever it chooses. Just because someone builds a track doesn’t mean NASCAR should be forced to take its product there.

This is an extreme example, but if a city builds an NFL stadium and has the backers to fund a franchise, the NFL is bound by no laws to award that city a team.

Don Mei
08/12/2010 04:01 PM

There are swamps in New Jersey? Who woulda thunk!!

08/12/2010 06:42 PM

Chicagoland on a September Sunday afternoon will not be a “thud”. It will be a “Big One” crash and burn especially if Da Bears have a home game that day.

08/13/2010 10:54 AM

You know that Bruton Smith, Brian France have too much power over this sport when you have to sell a racetrack you built to either one of them just to get a cup date. When Jerry Carroll and his group owned Kentucky, it wasn’t deemed worthy of hosting a cup race. Sell it to Bruton Smith, suddenly, ok here’s a cup race. And i agree with Kevin, NASCAR/ISC are hand in hand, and these schedule changes prove it.


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Contact Matt Taliaferro

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