The Frontstretch: Did You Notice? ... Hendrick Layoffs, Ratings Reality, And Gordon's Age? by Thomas Bowles -- Wednesday November 12, 2008

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Did You Notice? … That in the midst of a championship performance, the sport’s most powerful team – Hendrick Motorsports – is laying off a dozen employees?

Just think about that for a second. This is a team with hundreds of millions of dollars in sponsorship coming from brands like Lowe’s, Pepsi-Cola, DuPont, Kellogg’s, the National Guard, and so much more. They currently possess three of the most marketable wheelmen on the circuit: soon-to-be three-time champ Jimmie Johnson, the winningest active legend in Jeff Gordon, and the sport’s Most Popular Driver, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. Three of their cars made the Chase this year, and as a team they’ve collected over $20 million dollars in winnings.

So, you’re telling me a team with that sort of financial capital couldn’t hold on to 12 employees due to future budgeting concerns? What does that tell you about the current costs associated with the sport today in order to stay on top? Think of all the millions in technology teams like Hendrick have at their disposal. Is the cost of competing with the top dogs on the circuit making it impossible to cut back on that because it jeopardizes their future success? How many seven-post thing-a-ma-jigs do you need?

And here’s what worries me the most. If someone within the “Big Four” has to cut back on employees despite having more sponsorship than most teams would dream of, what does that mean for everybody else?

With “Black Monday” just five days away, it’s a very scary thought.

Did You Notice? … That in the midst of the ABC to ESPN2 controversy which has dominated the headlines over the past couple of days, no one’s actually brought up some hard numbers. Well in the midst of the outcry, the ratings finally did come in, and the results aren’t good for those arguing to keep the race on ABC. See below:

Sunday TV Ratings
Phoenix Cup Race on ABC – 3:00 EST to 7:30 EST: 3.4
America’s Funniest Home Videos – 7:30 to 8:00 EST: 4.3

Look, everybody and anybody who loves NASCAR is upset about this thing. No one wanted it to happen. But the cold, hard truth of the numbers explains the reasoning of television executives in a nutshell. Faced with a dilemma, they went to the program guaranteed to deliver a better audience while throwing the sporting event to another network — where they felt the majority people watching could simply change the channel, I might add. Did it suck? Of course it did. Are there plenty of people disillusioned, who either didn’t have ESPN2 or are ready to throw their TiVos out the window? I know of quite a few. But you can’t blame the network for attempting to attract the highest amount of viewership at all times. If anything, you can blame NASCAR for the late start times and declining TV ratings that precipitated such an unfortunate decision to occur in the first place.

Here’s a note you should also be aware of: three years ago, NBC’s coverage of this very same race drew a 5.0 rating and a 10 share. That’s higher than what we saw for America’s Funniest Home Videos, and similar numbers in the fifth year of the Chase could have put TV executives in a very different position. But when there’s a decline in viewership, you suffer from a decline in power, and all the Brian France screaming in the world isn’t going to change the precarious perception that NASCAR’s losing steam. It was a reality check that wasn’t easy – but unavoidable nonetheless.

Even when in the wrong, A.J. Allmendinger is doing everything right in trying to land a Cup ride for 2009.

Did You Notice? … The calm, collected poise of A.J. Allmendinger in the face of both Tony Stewart and Matt Kenseth coming after the sophomore sensation? After Kenseth intentionally wrecked the No. 10 car on the last lap — something he has yet to be penalized for — ‘Dinger would have been totally justified to come out of that whole deal hopping mad. And if that wasn’t bad enough, Tony Stewart was ready and waiting for the driver of the McDonald’s Dodge the second he got out of his mangled race car. Giving the ‘Dinger what amounted to be a tongue-lashing for the ages, the man they call Smoke pretty much had it pouring out of his ears for a good two or three minutes.

But instead of caving in, Allmendinger remained contrite, apologetic, and classy in admitting he made a mistake in the crash he caused earlier in the day. That’s the type of behavior that will earn you a ride in this series somewhere, and when Stewart and Kenseth calm down this weekend, perhaps they’ll be the ones issuing some public apologies themselves.

*Did You Notice?*… Jeff Gordon in the pre-race show on Sunday? When ABC was interviewing him, I’ve never seen the guy look so old. Heck, he was talking about having breathing problems in his car! As a guy who was just a wide-eyed kid when 21-year-old Gordon took the wheel the day of Richard Petty’s last race, it’s amazing to me how quickly things change in 16 years.

But at 37, Gordon’s not such a young pup anymore when it comes to the new NASCAR. Of the Top 25 in the current point standings, only Bobby Labonte, Jeff Burton, and Tony Stewart are older – and in Stewart’s case, it’s only by a matter of a couple of months. Someone asked me recently why Hendrick has kept the slow-to-develop Landon Cassill lying around. My answer? With Gordon, I’m sure he understands that you get to the point where you never know what the future might bring. No matter what Gordon says in public, 2009 will mark his 17th full season on the Cup tour… and sometimes, you’ve got to wonder if he’s willing to go past 20.

Did You Notice? … That during a year where passing is at a premium, qualifying has become more important than ever? So far this season, drivers who started inside the Top 10 have won a whopping 28 of 35 races. That’s a far cry from 2007 – a hybrid year for the CoT and the old car – in which drivers starting inside the Top 10 won just 19 events in 36 starts.

So, not only are a handful of drivers winning races with this new car, those who have a bad qualifying lap find it difficult if not impossible to recover from — because back in traffic, you don’t have a chance to run in clean air and gain the track position you need to get these cars handling right.

Mark this down as reason 6,543,245 why the current Car of Tomorrow isn’t working.

Did You Notice? … The number of fans who were watching the race outside in the Arizona desert instead of buying a seat in the stands on Sunday? If that doesn’t tell you how bad the economy is these days, I don’t know what will.

Did You Notice? … The growing animosity between drivers racing for the win and lapped cars they have to race around? All of it comes from an increasing inability to pass with the CoT. Since these cars are so hard to handle, you can lose valuable time so quickly by being unable to race side-by-side with a car that’s five, maybe even six tenths of a second slower than you.

But just because there’s such a difference in speed doesn’t mean lapped cars should just pull over. What happened to the principles of good, hard ol’ fashioned racing? The drivers dicing it up for the win need to understand the battle for 25th is just as important to those battling for their future survival. Nowhere in the racing handbook does the word “surrender” apply.

Contact Tom Bowles

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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?


©2000 - 2008 Thomas Bowles and Thanks for visiting the Frontstretch!

11/12/2008 08:11 AM

OH! OH! Tom, your going to have some of your fellow Frontstretch writers upset with you!

Some of them, and they will remain nameless here, but we all know who they are, feel it is
written in the rules, that if a driver “of stature” needs to pass another car, one that may be a lap down, that said lapped driver should just give up and move over, and let as many cars by as “required”!

Just how sick is that?

And in many articles here, including today, there is wonderment on why the stands are empty, and the TV ratings suck?

Me knows why!

11/12/2008 09:02 AM

And I just can’t wait for baby brian to have to resign for ruining the sport….loser, loser,loser!!!

Doug Scholl
11/12/2008 10:15 AM

IF HMS is laying off 12 people imagine how many people are updating resumes at Gannasi Racing and DEI.

Carl D.
11/12/2008 11:18 AM

And at Petty. Hey, when a former Cup Champion in a legendary car can’t get a sponsorship, you know the sport is in for a bad, bad time.

M.B. Voelker
11/12/2008 11:57 AM

The problem with those numbers is that the ratings for AFHV were artificially inflated by people like me who, without know it, taped a program they would normally avoid as if it were an infection ebola patient in the normal process of adding an extra hour to our race recording — because anyone who has followed Nascar for 10 minutes knows that NORMAL races take at least 4 hours, not 3 1/2 hours, and that they run long far more often than they run short.

Kevin in SoCal
11/12/2008 12:53 PM

M.B., unless you signed up with Neilson and have a ratings box on your TV, what you watch and/or record has no affect on the ratings.

11/12/2008 03:09 PM

Hey Kevin in SoCal, I am not sure about this, but with satellite, such as I have here in the country, and you do the proper thing and have your telephone line connected to your boxes, I think you count for ratings, even though you do not have “the box”!

I think the boxes are now outdated, they were for the households that had antennas outside and there was no other way to get “ratings counts” without the boxes.

Me thinks that’s correct anyway in the new era of cable & satellites!

That is why on a Sunday, or whatever, I NEVER turn to the “race” channel, simply do not want to be counted! AT ALL, EVER!


Robert Eastman
11/12/2008 03:16 PM

Is it possible???
When Brian France gave his little talk on TV Sunday, my wife said he was drunk (or on drugs).
My wife spent 35 years “serving” in the hospitality industry and was married to an alcoholic for more than 20 years. She is definitely an expert at spotting people under the influence, her job and her life literally depended on it.
If this is a fact, it certainly explains “the less than brlliant decision making at the top of NASCAR. (ie: Do you really allow an impared person to make a media appearance?)

11/12/2008 06:58 PM

I don’t know what to say. I like the COT. It reminds me of what racing used to be like when I was a kid. Guys dominate because they have the best team. Parity is out sure but that’s fine with me. Soon we’ll be back to single car teams with Spam and Lipton on the cars. We’ll go back to ESPN and TBS and maybe even drop the rediculous chase format.

The fact is NASCAR is losing steam as they say because the frugal American public jumped off the bandwagon and now us old-time fans are left standing here looking the sport in the eye still ticked off.

Might I suggest the Southern 500 get returned to the schedule and Rockingham get a race again?

I knew this day would come. When all the so called “new fans” got bored and went off to find something else and those of us who built the sport when it wasn’t a crime to have cigarettes and dip on the hood.

The failing open wheel guys can go back to open wheel where they belong and we can get back to guys bumping and banging like they were always supposed too.

My NASCAR is finally back.

Kevin in SoCal
11/12/2008 07:06 PM

Douglas, I was told four years ago when I got my DirecTV, that if you have a DVR DirecTV does keep track of what is being watched and recorded, but does not share it with Neilson because they didnt want it. If that has changed recently then I apologize for the bad info.

11/12/2008 08:39 PM

Could it be that Matt, is about to have his name added to Tony’s, as someone who can wreck someone on purpose. With no repercussions from NA$CAR. Or do you suppose that the entire Golden 12 have a pass as well?

11/12/2008 10:18 PM

Douglas, being a member of the Nielsen “family”, I can tell you that the boxes are far from outdated. The “box” on top of the tv is small but behind the tv is a computer the size of a large laptop that is hardwired into the tv’s circuits. The technology is quite advanced from the days in the 60’s when my parents were participants. So I’m confident, when I don’t watch the race, the vote truly counts. It’s just my own little “screw you” to NA$CAR.

11/13/2008 09:48 AM

Hey Kevin in SoCal, and mkrcr, thanks for the info. And Kevin, your not misleading, or have bad info, I am just trying to sort out the facts as I know with my direct TV they know exactly what I watch, 24/7.

And I guess if they don’t share that info, thats yet another story.

But it seems strange to me that Neilsen, or whatever, would use the same households over and over and ignore the rest of the world!

Just my opinion anyway!

Thanks ya’ll for the feedback!


Contact Tom Bowles

Recent articles from Tom Bowles:

Did You Notice? ... Breaking Down A Sprint Cup Season Eight Races In
Did You Notice? ... Drivers Still Make A Difference... But Silly Cautions Don't
Did You Notice? ... NASCAR's Free Agent Lynchpin, Uncomfortable Reality And Gambling
Did You Notice? ... Toyota Trouble, Limping Into Action And Testing The Waters
Did You Notice? ... Keep On Asking, And You Will Receive A Qualifying Sigh Of Relief

If you want to know more about Tom Bowles or to view all of his articles here at the Frontstretch, check out his archive and bio page.

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