The Frontstretch: NASCAR Mailbox: Riding Around, Sharing Information, And Wake-Up Calls by Summer Bedgood -- Thursday August 1, 2013

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Move out of the way, Danica Patrick! It appears that there is another driver looking to pull another motorsports switch-a-roo sometime this season, though it will be slightly different than what Patrick did.

According to Motor Racing Network, Furniture Row Racing’s Kurt Busch is planning on running the IndyCar Series season finale at Auto Club Speedway this October in preparation for the 2014 Indianapolis 500. Busch would become the first driver since Robby Gordon in 2004 to attempt running the Indianapolis 500 and the Coca-Cola 600 in the same day.

Even though Busch says that this isn’t an attempt try and switch to the IndyCar Series full-time, I find this dynamic of racecar drivers fascinating. You don’t see football players trying to switch to baseball, or basketball players deciding to give hockey a try. Yet you have NASCAR drivers wanting to run IndyCar’s biggest race and, more often, IndyCar drivers attempting to switch to NASCAR—most often unsuccessfully.

“Hey Jeff, you know how you always dreamed of racing IndyCars growing up? Guess what I get to do next month?! But yeah, hey, good luck scarring more used car salesman in Camaros…”

I understand that this is something that is unique to racing because a large part of the sport is machine and not necessarily just driver. It’s understandable that racecar drivers might find other racing series a possibility whereas more mainstream athletes don’t try and participate in other more mainstream sports. The differences are so vast, an entire book could be written describing them. It’s barely even worth comparing.

Still, it’s a fascinating phenomenon, and not one that is recent. It’s been a staple of racing since the second motorsports series ever invented came about. Drivers from the latter wanted to try out the former and vice versa. Success is limited and rarely can one successful driver from one series have a successful transition to another series. Just ask Dario Franchitti, Jacques Villeneuve, and other drivers who have attempted similar career paths how difficult driving a stock car is, despite their impressive resumes in open wheel. Even Sam Hornish, Jr. and Juan Pablo Montoya, two open wheel transfers that have been around the longest of any other open wheel driver, have a hard time succeeding at NASCAR’s highest level.

And yet drivers still try. They still believe that they can break the cycle and solidify their stance as some of the best all around racecar drivers.

Or, perhaps, they just want to race. They know no different and any opportunity to get behind the wheel of a racecar is an opportunity that they jump on.

So if Busch is able to get the funding together to compete in two IndyCar races over the next year, I won’t expect him to succeed. But I’m sure he’ll have a great time…

Now on to your questions:

“My question for you is, why do certain teams come out every race day to just drive around the track, flag to flag, not gaining any position on most days? But then, you see where the last place drivers usually earn more than the ones who drive to their best abilities to win race. It just doesn’t seem right for one garage who puts out money for a car, a driver, a dozen or so tires, gallons of fuel, plus the crew that keeps the car on track doesn’t earn as much.

Are the points that more important than the money per race?

Thanks to you and all of your fellow experts who enlighten and educate your readers who love NASCAR.” Jean

Jean, I’m finding your question slightly confusing, but I’ll try and answer it as best as I can.

The only teams I can think about that genuinely come to the racetrack and simply ride around are start and park teams. They make no attempt to pass or be competitive at all, and are simply out there to collect a paycheck.

However, start and park teams very rarely ever race “flag to flag”. They’ll normally drive around for about 5-25 laps (depending on the team, the amount of tires they have, funding, etc.), pull it to the garage, make some sorry excuse as to why they can’t race any longer, and pull over.

Why do some teams continue to show up, only to drop out after a few laps? The same reason you show up to a salaried job some days and don’t try hard: because it still pays the same.

The only alternative to your claim I can think of is underfunded teams who just don’t have the resources to compete with the other teams, so they play it safe on the track. They don’t have the manpower or money to rebuild their cars every weekend. They’re already strapped enough just to show up at the track with one car each week.

If a driver decides to get stupid and race for position on lap 10 of a 400 lap race and crashes the car, that comes out of their own pocket. That’s hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars that could go towards paying the crew members, paying for tires, or improving the competitiveness of the equipment.

Otherwise, I don’t know of any teams that ride around with no intent to gain positions.

In terms of the purse money at the end of the race being distributed rather unevenly, it has more to do with the fact that the system is rather complicated. Between contingency awards, performance of the driver, network television rights, and the like, it isn’t completely unlikely that the driver finishing last makes more than a driver who finishes in the top 10 or 15. The way the prize money is distributed doesn’t generally even out this way, but it certainly can.

It might not seem fair, but I wouldn’t argue that drivers aren’t trying as hard because of it. Despite the fact that millions of dollars are at stake in NASCAR, the goal is the same whether you’re watching your local racing series or the NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers: winning.

“Why is it most of the time that Gordon, Kahne, and Jr.’s cars are good, then once pit stops begin the cars get worse? No way Chad shares all information with the teams.
And Gordon can be good at times late in the race. Then when there is a green-white-checkered, he can be in the top 5 and ends up 8th-12th. They say his car set up for long runs. Why do that when most of the time there is a green-white-checker? No way he can win.” Mike

Well I won’t pretend to follow the Hendrick Motorsports cars any more closely than any other cars, but let me offer this “wild guess.”

Maybe the car just doesn’t start out to the drivers liking and they adjust to try and fix it. Or, the driver might like the car, but they don’t have the speed to keep up with the leaders. So they try something new but the other teams figure it out faster than they do.

These guys have this many more wins than their teammates — combined. No other Hendrick car besides the 48 since 2008 has won more than three races in a season besides Mark Martin in 2009 with five wins. But hey, everything’s obviously equal at HMS

In other words, things happen fast in a race. That doesn’t necessarily make it a conspiracy or somehow Chad Knaus’s fault. If the 88, 24, and 5 can’t keep up with their own teammate, it’s their own fault.

Several of the teams—including Hendrick Motorsports—have a database where they keep all of their information and everyone on the team has access to it. That means that Steve Letarte have access to the same information that Chad Knaus does. That means engineers from the 24 team can plug the same information into their team that the 48 team has. Because of the digitized, data-based laboratory that the NASCAR garage area has become, anyone on the same team as the 48 car has the same access to the information they they’ve come across.

The difference is what they do with that information, and the talent behind the wheel.

Steve Letarte can set up the car exactly the same way as Chad Knaus does. That doesn’t mean Dale Earnhardt Jr. will like it, or be able to pull off the same results. The real magic between a driver and a crew chief is when the driver can take the best information from one team and apply it to their own information, knowledge, and driver ability.

In other words, it’s not that Chad Knaus isn’t sharing their info. It’s that the other teams haven’t yet been able to take it and apply it to their teams in a way that allows them to keep up with others.

That’s not to say that there aren’t other issues at play. Camaraderie plays a significant role within multi-car teams. Could there possibly be tension amongst the other teams? Is the fact that Gordon is arguably past his prime part of the reason they can’t keep up? Is Dale Earnhardt, Jr. only slightly above mediocre as a driver? There is more at issue than blaming Chad Knaus with the rest of the Hendrick Motorsports brigade’s issues. In fact, it has nothing to do with Knaus at all.

“What bigger of a wake-up call does NASCAR need than ESPN and TNT voluntarily dropping out of the sport?” Jordan

Okay, okay, okay….. For those who haven’t heard, ESPN and TNT both dropped NASCAR more than willingly. Both cited dwindling TV ratings as reasoning behind their departure, and ESPN even went so far as to cite an aging fan base and the difficulty of finding advertising for the sport.

However, my answer to your question is, “No.” It wasn’t a real wake-up call insofar as that NASCAR already was well aware that these problems existed. The average age of a NASCAR fan is somewhere in the 40s the last time I checked, and NASCAR’s attempts to gather a younger fan base has generally been considered a colossal failure.

So that’s no wake-up call and it’s not a problem they weren’t already trying to solve.

Additionally, it wasn’t a huge wake-up call because NBC was so eager to jump on board and take over as the leading candidate for the sport. With FOX Sports already acting as such an enthusiastic sponsor despite many of these issues, it looks like NBC will be a similarly happy network in bringing motorsports to its fans. In fact, even though there are still people who can’t stand the FOX coverage, I can’t recall a time I’ve ever heard fans say they prefer ESPN or TNT’s coverage to FOX’s. In other words, their enthusiasm and general knowledge tends to be appreciated by fans, and because NBC seems to share this emotion, it’s looking like a positive connection that might regenerate some enthusiasm from NASCAR’s disenchanted crowd.

So while I’m sure they are working on alleviating some of the issues that have been plaguing the sport for about the last five or six years, I’m sure they are encourage by the fact that a major network like NBC still sees the value in their sport.

Now it’s my turn. My question to you: GoDaddy is sponsoring Tony Stewart in Pocono this week, despite the fact that they already invest a ton of money in his driver and teammate Danica Patrick. If you became a racecar driver, who would be the perfect sponsor for you?

Connect with Summer!

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Bill B
08/01/2013 07:14 AM
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Have you fogotten about Bo Jackson and Deion Sanders? Granted, two exceptions but proof that it has happened in other sports. The truth is that baseball and football are much further apart than different racing series. Apples and oranges versus apples and apple sauce.

JP
08/01/2013 07:52 AM
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I don’t know of ANY younger generation (25 and under) who follow Nascar. Not even in my own family…and it used to not be that way.

I once tried to explain the Chase system to my 23 yr old stepson and his responds was “that’s so stupid…what about the other drivers?”

It’s been amazing to see the drop in Nascar in the last decade.

Hank
08/01/2013 08:06 AM
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I’m only 24 and I’ve watched nascar all my life..I am disappointed with several things in the sport right now, but I almost always tune in on Sundays unless something more pressing is going on…like Vikings football. I used to NEVER miss a race, but now once the chase starts, I tune out, and whoever was leading the points is my champion. Racing isn’t like other sports..only 1 team wins every week/game/race, not half winners half losers. I don’t understand why anyone would ever conceive an idea like the Chase and consider it a good idea

Tony
08/01/2013 08:32 AM
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I’m 20 and watched nascar my whole life. Have a bunch of friends who are the same.

Carl D.
08/01/2013 08:47 AM
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“Several of the teams—including Hendrick Motorsports—have a database where they keep all of their information and everyone on the team has access to it. That means that Steve Letarte have access to the same information that Chad Knaus does.”

You’re assuming Knaus puts all his dirty tricks into the database. Highly doubtful.

The perfect sponsor for me should I attempt to drive a racecar at 200mph would be my local hospital. On a different note, maybe Bluebell Ice Cream since I do an awful lot to help keep their profits up.

Zetona
08/01/2013 12:07 PM
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I’m 20 and I’ve been watching NASCAR since I was nine years old. I generally agree with Hank: NASCAR is unlike any stick-and-ball sport, and it should have embraced its uniqueness instead of trying to emulate football and baseball.

Jacklegged Nascar Expert
08/01/2013 12:49 PM
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College football is the only pro sport worth watching.

24crazy
08/01/2013 01:23 PM
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Football sucks.. just sayin IMHO

Sherri T
08/01/2013 02:45 PM
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It’s sad that NASCAR is hurting when their fan base keeps telling them what they want. Telling everyone what they want – get rid of the chase and get the TV coverage to show the racing… Seems no one is listening – I guess they get what they deserve. Wish someone else would start up a different series and give the fans what they want – I think we’d see some success pretty quickly.

GinaV24
08/01/2013 04:15 PM
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As Bill B pointed out, Bo Jackson & Deion Sanders did both football and baseball – so that argument doesn’t hold water. Good for Kurt – NASCAR made it hard for drivers to do the double and that was just dumb IMO.

NASCAR continues to ignore what the fans want – ditch the chase, put a real race car out there and regardless of what Tony Stewart thinks – passing IS a part of racing, otherwise it’s just cars running FAST in a circle. Wonder why fans stay away and don’t watch on TV? Of course NASCAR and the tracks will have all that lovely $$ that NBC just signed on with, so they can keep things status quo for a while.

Carl D – you are so right, Chad’s database of cheater tricks is off-line and probably stored with the Jimmie’s lucky horseshoe.

JER
08/01/2013 04:48 PM
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Card D. U R Right. I would bet my last dollar that Chad Knaus doesn’t write down any of his “tricks” in any book.
I also bet Mr. “H” would never let anyone lure Chad Knaus away from HMS. I can’t same the same for JJ.

Bill B
08/01/2013 06:15 PM
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LOL @ “probably stored with the Jimmie’s lucky horseshoe.”

Good one GinaV24! I will definitely be waiting for a chance to use that one. LOL