The Frontstretch: Did You Notice? ... No '09 Rivalries, Fun With TV Ratings, And Statistical Surprises In Sprint Cup by Thomas Bowles -- Wednesday March 18, 2009

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Did You Notice? … The only thing Lowe’s Motor Speedway President Marcus Smith would commit to last week — alluding to changes for this year’s All-Star Race — is that the distance would stay exactly the same (100 laps). To me, that’s already a bad “change” to make, no matter how you break that distance down … you’re putting the cars out on the track way too long for an event that’s advertised as “action-packed” from the minute they drop the green flag.

I think the best version of the All-Star Race was back in the mid-1990s, when you had three segments overall: a 30-lap run to start, a second 30-lap segment where they inverted the field, and a third, 10-lap dash for all the marbles. 70 laps is plenty, in my opinion … especially with the dreaded aero push that makes side-by-side action up front at the 1.5-milers difficult if not impossible more than a few laps into a run with the CoT. Not only that, but an inversion in the second segment would keep the cars close together and force the drivers to let loose with the type of aggression everyone at the track or on TV would like to see.

If you remember, last year’s version of the All-Star Race was split into four – count ‘em, four – segments. Um, no one remembers who won anything more than the last segment … so why split it up any more than you have to?

As it is, I’ve been in favor of a suggestion in the last few years to move the race around from year to year, basing it at tracks local to the Charlotte vicinity: Bristol, Darlington, Martinsville as it is. I wonder if they bungle up the rules again, maybe this will be the year that movement finally gains enough steam to take hold.

Did You Notice? … A few little stat anomalies I picked up in the off week:

  • Only three drivers have finished on the lead lap in all four races this season? They’re Jeff Gordon, Carl Edwards and … Kasey Kahne? That’s right; Kahne’s average finish is just 14.8 with only one top 10 finish, but his cars have been just good enough to stay within this exclusive group.

David Ragan’s 2009 season started with a wreck in the Budweiser Shootout … and hasn’t gotten much better since.

  • Mark Martin has an average starting position of 7.2 – good enough for fourth-best amongst all drivers – but only Scott Speed and Paul Menard have made all four races and have a worse average finish than Martin’s 31.8.
  • Among those drivers yet to lead a lap this season: David Ragan (so much for 2008 momentum), Denny Hamlin (so much for the UPS-FedEx battle up front) and Brian Vickers (even with three straight top 10 finishes and nearly nipping Kurt Busch for the win at Atlanta). I should add Jamie McMurray to this list, as well … but is it really all that surprising anymore that he’s on it?
  • In the past three races, the No. 71 TRG Motorsports Chevrolet of David Gilliland has scored more points than Martin, Scott Speed, Aric Almirola, Ryan Newman and Reed Sorenson. Not bad for a startup team that missed the Daytona 500, huh?
  • Ryan Newman has yet to finish on the lead lap all season. Ouch! Guess the improvements over at the No. 14 camp didn’t carry over to the No. 39 …

Did You Notice? … Former JGR development driver Marc Davis is attempting to make his Nationwide Series debut in his self-owned No. 36 Toyota. That’s right; at 18, this teenager is the owner of record for a team he’s trying to build up with his father from scratch. It’s incredible to have that much responsibility at such a young age, and impressive that Davis is mature enough to manage it all. Trying to do things the “old school” way, the duo will attempt 16 Nationwide Series events this year and up to four on the Cup side, with an eye towards expanding that schedule even further in 2010.

I wonder how Joey Logano would have fared if he were put in an ownership situation with an underdog team at 18? Just wondering … and for more on Marc Davis, check out my story on him later this week on SI.com.

Did You Notice? … For those wondering if the ratings the first four weeks of the season are just an anomaly … let’s expand out and compare them to 2005, the second year of the Chase and what appears to be the “crest” of the NASCAR boom, based on overall ratings increases year-to-year:

Daytona
2009 Rating: 9.2 / 19
2005: 10.9 / 23
Difference: -16%

California
2009 Rating: 6.0 / 10
2005: 7.9 / 16
Difference: -24%

Las Vegas
2009 Rating: 6.5 /12
2005: 6.4 / 14
Difference: +1.5%

Atlanta
2009 Rating: 5.5 / 12
2005: 5.5 / 13
Difference: 0%

Overall
2009 Rating: 6.8 / 12
2005: 7.7 / 17
Difference: -11.7%

In the end, you find that this downturn – while not advisable – is far from irrecoverable if NASCAR makes some changes to right the ship. What I find interesting is the two most-criticized races this season (Daytona and California) had the biggest decline in ratings from four years ago. There’s no bigger advocate to strip a date from California than that -24 percent, all the more important seeing as it’s the sport’s second race of the season and trying valiantly to keep momentum chugging forward from Daytona. Meanwhile, the one place where viewership increased over four years ago is Las Vegas … a track which has notably improved its quality of racing the last few seasons.

To me, these ratings continually center around one concept: the quality of racing. That’s the thing fans still like to see, and when they get what they want, they’ll still tune in no matter how much they’re bad-mouthing the sport in other areas on Monday morning at the office.

Did You Notice? … Amongst all the storylines developing throughout the 2009 Cup season to date, there hasn’t really been any sort of major rivalry brewing? I guess Junior versus Vickers was the closest one we had, as to who was at fault in causing the nine-car Daytona wreck that wiped out several top contenders. But for the most part, things have been rather tame ‘round these parts this season … which means it’s the perfect time to go to Bristol.

Remember what happened at Thunder Valley last August? Carl Edwards bumped Kyle Busch out of the way to win, causing Busch to retaliate by trying to spin both drivers out after the checkered flag. It was a rare display of passionate emotion on the race track, followed up by both drivers saying what they honestly felt in post-race interviews. It’s that type of “old school” atmosphere Bristol brings back into the fold, where somehow even in this politically correct modern era, drivers forget what they’re supposed to say and let their true personalities on the inside take hold. And that – to me – is one of the biggest reasons the half-mile bullring has attained near mythical status in the sport over the past decade.

I just wish more sponsors were paying attention to that.

Contact Tom Bowles

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M.B. Voelker
03/18/2009 08:27 AM
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I don’t know much about Joey Logano except that he comes across as a nice enough kid in the few interviews I’ve seen. Do you have some specific reason to believe that Joey Logano is in some way less mature and capable than Davis?

Or are you just indulging in some mean-spirited envy of a person whose successful past performances hav reaped the reward of being given opportunity?

Michael
03/18/2009 08:59 AM
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I doubt there would be any difference at all in the way Logano would be able to handle the Davis situation . They are both very talented , very focused racing drivers .
No one can ever remember ( nor does anyone care ) who wins the first or second segment of the All Star race . The races are fast becoming way too much hype and manipulation . The fans really want to see one fairly short qualifying race , the two top finishers get into the All Star , and then a 25 lap flat out All Star race . But of course that wouldn’t keep the fans at the track to spend money on food and souveniers . So the races will continue to be manipulated and needlessly drawn out .
The most important thing to pay attention to in the ratings numbers is not the percentage drop from 2005 to the present , but the very steady decline overall every year since 2005 . Not many types of entertainment can show a steady decline every year and survive very long .

Ken
03/18/2009 09:13 AM
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To me, the All-Star Race is like pre-season football or baseball. It’s on to watch if you have you have nothing better to do but nobody cares who wins.

HankZ
03/18/2009 12:36 PM
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Is the All-Star race on the Speed channel again this year? If so, I can’t watch it because I don’t have it. Nascrap is giving me every opportunity to not care.

I like the looks of that 71 car, I wish them well.

chris
03/18/2009 03:28 PM
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HankZ, it’s really unfortunate you don’t get SPEED, since the coverage (of everything) is so much better there than fox/abc/tnt.

If I had to choose between SPEED and the actual televised races, I’d probably rather watch Trucks/Qual/Practice on Speed and just listen to the races on MRN.

Of course, best of both worlds would be if they just simulcast Speed covering the race on the networks.

Keith
03/18/2009 05:44 PM
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What race track should hold the second race of the year I hear everyone bitch and complain about California having it and I also don’t like the track and would not take a free ticket to the place but there are only 5 tracks on the schedule that it might not possibly snow on in Feburary and early March. I stopped going to Richmond for the second race of the season because you either froze or stayed home because it snowed out and I never went to the Rock for the same reasons. Na$car changed the fall race at Atlanta because it always was cold or had bad weather. I’m not going to Bristol again in the spring because it was 31 at night last year and you have to campout because their are no hotels near the track. Na$car can’t win with this one no matter what they do.

Richard in N.C.
03/18/2009 07:26 PM
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I think your citing NASCAR ratings in a vaccum presumes that nothing else is different since 2005. It would seem to me to be appropriate to also provide ratings for comparable periods for NBA and NCAA basketball and maybe PGA to show whether or not TV ratings for all sports are down.

Rocky
03/18/2009 08:07 PM
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Move the All-Star race to Darlington. Imagine 30 laps starting on new tires and then everyone sliding around and then 30 more laps like that and THEN 10 laps on new tires. Throw the green flag and Hammerdown!!!

dawg
03/18/2009 09:05 PM
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These so-called “All Star” races have way outlasted any validity they ever had. Why not can both of them, & give at least one of the open dates to Kentucky, or Iowa. For a real points race.That way the date would benefit all the teams, rather than the few that get to race under the current formats.

Bobb
03/18/2009 10:29 PM
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M.B. Voelker I’m with you in observing that Logano seemed to be a target of a heavy handed comment.

How many drivers, at any age, finance their own debut programs?

 

Contact Tom Bowles

Recent articles from Tom Bowles:

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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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