The Frontstretch: Did You Notice? ... The Power Of Money To Change The Rules, And Quick Hits Times Ten by Thomas Bowles -- Tuesday August 24, 2010

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Did You Notice?NASCAR possibly backtracking on their efforts to shut out Cup drivers from competing full-time for the Nationwide Series championship? If it happens, I’m reminded of the old Carole King … “It’s too late, baby, now it’s too late, though we really did try to make it…”

Leaving the Cup drivers to compete for the title doesn’t result from Carl Edwards, Brad Keselowski, or Kyle Busch successfully staking a claim that their full-time presence benefits the series. It’s simply a matter of NASCAR taking a step back, then getting scared over the short-term pain of finding drivers to market and replace them.

Let’s review the current Nationwide point standings, just in case you’ve forgotten (in order):

Brad Keselowski, Carl Edwards, Kyle Busch, Justin Allgaier, Paul Menard, Kevin Harvick, Steve Wallace, Trevor Bayne, Jason Leffler, Brendan Gaughan

Note that five of the top 6 on the list are Cup drivers, and Allgaier is the only non-Cup driver who has a win (Bristol back in March). Even worse, he sits behind a man in Busch who hasn’t even competed in four races on the schedule – yet lies 434 points out of the championship in third place.

For me, that puts in perspective NASCAR’s reluctance to make a change. If you push Cup drivers out of the series, you’re left with a handful of competitive teams, none of which have one-tenth the marketing value that the Cup drivers do. It’s going to take an investment from the top down – NASCAR marketing down to Nationwide itself and the sponsors on the sides of those cars – to make up-and-comers like Bayne household names again.

Despite the obvious talent, and sponsorship, behind Trevor Bayne and Ryan Truex, NASCAR seems unwilling to make the effort to brand the Nationwide Series around them and their development driver brethren.

Of course, to do that takes both patience – who knows how long it’ll take for the series to bounce back – and money, something that’s not exactly growing on trees around the stock car world these days. The sanctioning body’s move to cut purses 20 percent for the Nationwide Series fits in here, the latest in a long list of scheduling moves and changes to keep their least profitable tracks like Chicagoland and Fontana from failing completely. As contraction envelops the sport, with no investment in the teams themselves (remember, they’re private contractors) NASCAR is turning towards the one place where it feels the bread needs to stay buttered; itself.

So with no extra money invested in the series’ future, it stands to reason the sport needs teams like Joe Gibbs Racing and Roush Fenway to keep their feet firmly in the fire. And here’s what those guys are telling NASCAR: Our sponsors want Cup guys in the seat. There’s honestly no incentive for either one to have young drivers coming up through the ranks – all their Cup guys are younger and tied to long-term deals – and after a miserable 2010 in which rookies treated his stable like a demolition derby, Roush is understandably unwilling to let the youngsters tear up equipment all over again.

You’d think the fan complaints would play a role eventually … but are the complaints drowning out what they really feel? Keep in mind the Nationwide Series has held serve this season on TV, with ratings up six percent largely due to Danica Patrick’s Daytona debut this February. That makes it easier to stomach the criticism, ignore the problem and just stick with the status quo.

Of course, those decisions don’t bode well for the long list of poor teams barely surviving in a world increasingly set up for them to fail. But for all the complaining they’re doing, everyone’s still showing up and filling the field of 43 cars come race weekend. Honestly, it may take half of them starting and parking or a number of short fields for the sport to pay attention to them.

Everyone who’s read for years knows I couldn’t disagree more with what’s about to happen. But the logic makes sense.

Did You Notice? … Since I’m on vacation, a long list of quick hits are in order for this week:

  • Statement of fact: I saw Brad Keselowski call Kyle Busch an ass this weekend more than 10 Cup teams have been mentioned on TV all season. And I was on vacation.
  • Statement of fact #2: I was out at a bar, talking with a small group of people and revealed I was a professional NASCAR writer. I had no idea they were all huge fans of the sport; their first question to me, unprovoked, was, “Can you tell us why NASCAR sucks now?” Their focus the next 10-15 minutes was how much they used to watch but don’t anymore because of A, B, and C (for them, the Car of Tomorrow appeared to be the biggest reason).
  • I also noticed on Saturday night only one of eight TVs at the bar I was at had the race on. I watched the majority with literally two people out of hundreds more interested in the NFL game. I’m Debbie Downer here only because I’ve heard more about the economy affecting the sport recently than ever. Hmm… so then why are people lining up in droves to see college football and the NFL in a few weeks? I had this argument back in March, and to me blaming only economics for our sport’s problems is like saying Tiger only cheated on Elin because he didn’t win enough majors. Huh? What does that have to do with anything?
  • Have you noticed this disturbing trend among Cup teams attracting sponsorship: “We’re speaking to two or three new companies not involved with the sport. We’ve got some big things on the horizon for next year.” I must have heard that come out of everyone from Richard Childress’ to Robby Gordon’s mouth, yet Wal-Mart is the only rumored major new company to actually physically make the rumor mill. Don’t you think if some of these other interested companies existed, they’d be reported as quickly as driver departures these days? Our reporters’ ears aren’t selective. Money continues to be a big issue…
  • Speaking of Robby Gordon, while Kevin Conway didn’t deserve to be let go from Front Row Motorsports, this latest move reeks of desperation. Gordon needs any type of money, any way he can get it in order to keep the program afloat through the first five races of 2011. Without it, that team is virtually dead. No matter what he says in public, the ugly Dakar cancellation combined with BAM Racing’s lawsuit and the loss of Jim Beam as sponsor soaked up millions in liquidity his organization just doesn’t have. Without ExtenZe, the days of his organization as a viable Cup operation were numbered, and Gordon knows it.
  • Explain to me how Kyle Busch is suddenly a title contender after sweeping three races at a track that not only isn’t in the Chase, but one he dominates virtually every year? Did we forget he’s been virtually non-existent on the Cup circuit since June?
  • There are times I honestly feel for Dale Earnhardt, Jr. as a person, I really do. Even Hendrick’s former crew chief extraordinaire, Ray Evernham, has gotten busy taking shots, claiming, “Sometimes a person has to decide whether they’re committed to something or not. That’s the bottom line.” So much for him becoming the next head wrench at the No. 88 shop. I think we’re at the point of no return now for Junior at Hendrick … it’s just a matter of patiently waiting until the middle of 2011 and trying to figure out what happens next.
  • Elliott Sadler looks so happy driving a Nationwide car or a Truck, doesn’t he? I know Cup pays more money, but stepping back like men such as Todd Bodine have done could honestly be the best thing for him.
  • I think it would be incredibly ironic if Jamie McMurray, the man who made a living out of Chase near-misses, the second of which helped spur his departure from Chip Ganassi in 2005, finally makes the playoffs the one year where he honestly couldn’t care less.
  • I agree with Carl Edwards that the Montreal venue deserves its own Cup date. I was there for the series’ inaugural trip in 2007, and saw firsthand how much the Canadians openly embraced our series. The track is well-kept, the city’s top-notch, and it’s a great way for NASCAR to tiptoe into an international market without going overboard. And how long have we been saying the Cup Series needs a third road course for the Chase?
  • Last but not least … why is this off week randomly in August and not separating the Chase from the regular season finale? Anyone with a good answer, I’m all ears.

Contact Tom Bowles

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Mike Neff
08/25/2010 11:00 AM
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Just a personal wish Randy. Extend the season to 40-42 weeks. Only visit each track once (with the exception of the All-Star race and the Shootout). Every race must be 500 miles or longer. Not laps, miles. That’s right, I want to see 993 laps at Martinsville. That would be awesome.

And yes, I know I am in the minority in today’s USA today, ADD society.

Steve
08/25/2010 02:20 PM
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Thank you for stating what all of us with a brain have been stating all week. Kyle Busch is not a legend or greatness (ESPN’s word) just because he swept all 3 races. Its not even that great of an achievement considering his competion in the first 2 races.

Last I checked, he has been non existent in Cup for several months now. All of a sudden he’s a threat and a legend because he won 2 minor league races (punting 2 drivers in the process for those wins) and a Cup series win? Please. If Kyle was a legend, he wouldn’t fold like a blanket like he has every year he has been in the Chase to date.

Funny how the media is down on Jimmie right now but once he starts kicking it into gear when the Chase begins the superlatives will flow like water. Talk about “what have you done for me lately”.

Kevin in SoCal
08/25/2010 02:52 PM
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Tom said: “Last but not least … why is this off week randomly in August and not separating the Chase from the regular season finale? Anyone with a good answer, I’m all ears.”

Pretty simple really. The Labor Day weekend screws things up. With Atlanta on that weekend, and Richmond the weekend after, the only way to put an off week before the Chase starts is to have Labor Day be the last race of the regular season. You do the math from there as to which race gets moved, Atlanta or Richmond. And you cant shove the races back a week because Homestead is the last weekend before Thanksgiving in November.

Martin
08/25/2010 03:55 PM
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You revealed yourself to be a professional nascar writer . WOW . What exactly is a professional nascar writer ?
At one time the Grand National / Busch / Nationwide series could draw a decent crowd on it’s own merits . But as ticket prices spiraled out of control the fans had to make a decision on just how many races they could attend on a given weekend . The big show usually won out . Now in order to keep bringing the GBN series to a track , the track owners had to find someway to get people to buy tickets . The obvious answer was to encourage the big name drivers to compete in the Saturday races . Didn’t take much convincing really . A real race car driver loves to race anytime , anywhere . So its really a win for everyone concerned . The fans get to see the big names on Friday or Saturday ( they might not be able to attend the Sunday race , or can’t afford the wildly overpriced Sunday tickets ), the drivers get to race , and the track owners get to sell tickets . I don’t see a problem . If the full time nationwide teams and drivers don’t want the current situation to continue , they only need to stage a very loud and very long protest with nascar . So far i haven’t seen that happen . So i can only conclude that this issue is really about filling space in a nascar blog in a slow news week .

Kevin from PA
08/25/2010 04:21 PM
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their first question to me, unprovoked, was, “Can you tell us why NASCAR sucks now?”

I am now confused. I though NASCAR said the only reason people are complaining about the current state of NASCAR is because writers are warping their fragile minds.

How did Thomas warp these feeble minded fools BEFORE he met them? I don’t get it.

And yes this is the land of ADD. This is why NFL does great. People only have to pay attention for 17 weeks. After that they only have to pay attention to 2 or 4 games until the Superbowl. Compare that to NASCAR which demands 36+ weeks of paying attention to 43 cars.

Robert Eastman
08/25/2010 05:44 PM
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The most ridiculous thing that NASCAR is doing is the 20% reduction in prize money for the NNWS! It’s almost impossible for the small teams to race as it is, thus the ever growing number of start and parkers. The S & P ranks will have to grow as a result of this reduction. Then the idea that the “super-teams” should not have Cup drivers in the seats only adds more financial problems to the mix. (YES, we have noticed the number of NNWS races that Roush ran without sponsorship when the Cup drivers weren’t in the seats?)
Everyday … in every-way, NASCAR proves that their decision makers… “are LOST-In-SPACE!”

Marybeth
08/25/2010 06:13 PM
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Tom, I read Ray’s article, my thoughts: “I am close enough to Rick Hendrick to know that Rick is trying everything he can do. He’s putting a lot of effort in getting that turned around.” Back when they had the cc switch I remember Ray saying that he was worried about Rick’s health because it was so stressful. I am sure that Ray is worried about Rick’s health, with him spending so much time, money & effort on the 88 team. Think of how awful Jr. would feel if the worry of fixing the 88 team did Rick in. For the sake of Rick’s health I am sure that Ray is just trying to promote the idea of just letting Jr. go. NOW! Rick tried his best, but we have to think of his health first and Jr. has to go. NOW! Keep up the good work Ray! Rick is really lucky to have a wonderful friend like Ray who knows that stress is one of today’s biggest killers & Jr. has to go, NOW. The only decent, gentlemanly thing that Jr. can do, & Jr. is a gentleman, is get out of HMS as fast as possible, the sooner the better before poor Rick keels over, we all know his health is fragile from his bone marrow days. Jr. has to put his own desires aside and put his thoughts of Rick first, make the sacrifice, fall on his sword so to speak, and get out of HMS…NOW!

DoninAjax
08/25/2010 06:26 PM
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So Ray Evernham wants commitment. Is that like Erin Crocker?

M.B.Voelker
08/25/2010 07:25 PM
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Its always been the tradition in auto racing that anyone who can present a legal car for inspection and drive it fast enough in qualifying to make the field has the right to race. For people who whine so much about Nascar abandoning tradition you’re proposing/applauding a much larger violation of tradition than Nascar has ever contemplated in trying to DQ drivers for being too good.

wcfan
08/25/2010 07:34 PM
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Marybeth
Not sure if your post is sincere or not. But I have not heard anything about Rick’s health since his recover right after his house arrest ended, which was really convenient.

I believe if Rick would let Jr. go(with no strings), Jr. would run as fast as he could to a team that truely wanted him for more then the cash he brings them.

Jr needs an owner who will crack the whip and put him in line, not one who is just worried about cashing the checks Jr. brings him.

M.B.
Another tradition was that you went planning on racing the whole race not just beating someone in qualifing. Yes this is the time we live in, everyone wants something for nothing, but that does not make it right. If my car only has to go 50 mile instead of 250+ it is much cheaper to get the same speed out of it for the short distance

Marybeth
08/25/2010 08:09 PM
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wcfan, I believe that Evernham is a HMS PR mouthpiece, i.e. Mark Martin a month ago. If Jr. is so bad with communicating, why did he do so well with Pops Friday night, who he has not been with for years? Maybe what Ray is trying to say here is that he believes it is time for Rick to let Jr. & this is the way he has chosen to tell Rick that this is how he truly feels. This is so obviously a marriage that has failed. Good for Ray for pointing that out & bringing it out in the open! :) I have been waiting for someone to finally get up the backbone and say what is so obvious. What else could Ray possibly be trying to get across other than that Rick needs to let him go…? Kyle said that something broke on the 25/88 R&D car…again. HMS is behind the other teams going into the chase and they need a lot of R&D work for JJ to win his 5th, the R&D work is Jr’s contribution. If Kyle had still been at HMS he would not have won the trifecta.

Brian France Sucks
08/25/2010 08:53 PM
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“So Ray Evernham wants commitment. Is that like Erin Crocker?” -DoninAjax

Quote of the year, right there. Easy.

Ken
08/25/2010 09:19 PM
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To Mike Neff, I say, “Thank You!!!!!” Ok, I know your response to Randy was out of sarcasm, but I do not think there is anything wrong with the length of the season, nor is there anything wrong with the lengths of races. It’s the product! Change the cars so they have stock bodies (at least), and drop down to V6’s, like people actually have. As for Randy’s talking about going head to head with football, I really can’t talk about that because I hate football! I wouldn’t watch a football game if it was two teams made up of Playboy Bunnies, and they were playing with nothing on! The game is dumb, in my opinion! And for the record, being Canadian, I should love hockey, but guess what? I hate that sport too!

Anyway, if you want a shorter season to appease the short attention-span crowd (Of which Randy seems to be a member of), then do this: Start the season in March and end it in September. Go ahead! But, have races like Bristol, Martinsville, and Richmond run during the week, say on a Wednesday night, between the Superspeedway races. Back in the day, they used to do that! They would run a short track race during the week between the big races. As for your comment, Mike, about racing at each track only once, I could go for that, so long as other tracks were added to the schedule to compensate for the loss of current races. And if the drivers and crews find the season too long, take a week off! Nobody is holding a gun to their heads to run every week! Back when there was 50 races, Richard Petty, David Pearson, and Bobby Issac only ran 45 or so! But they ran as many as the wanted to win the Championship. No! As I said, there is nothing wrong with the lengths of the season, or the races! Fix the product, and even the short attention-span crowd will be excited – all year!

wcfan
08/25/2010 09:42 PM
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Marybeth

As you could probably tell I am not a fan of HMS or Rick. But you are right this is a marriage that did not work and would be best for both parties if they went their own way now rather then later.

I agree with you that Kyle would not have won the Trifeca with HMS, I also believe he would have ALOT less wins over there.

Steve_S
08/25/2010 11:38 PM
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Marybeth, I was kinda following you untill you used KY Bush as reference (R&D car). I am sure ‘Sick Rick’ would be healthy if the 88 wons some races every year (at least healthier in the wallet) so why would they use tiny e for R&D and not as a full fledged racer? Martin would be better for R&D given he knows what the car is actually doing and what needs to be done to fix it. It will be funny to see KK come to HMS and continue to underachieve like he has been.

Lie’n Brian is just letting the other teams win this season so they can secure sponsorship deals for the next few years.

They need to get rid of some of the sleeper tracks (1.5 – 2 milers) and get more short tracks. Yes, the two groove stuff at Bristol was good but the old days there was more bump&run (not bump&dump) action. And as for adding another road course, if I wanted that I would watch F1. There is less passing and drama on one of those things than california or any other 1.5-2 miler.

And as for awarding like 50 points for a win, you think you see leaders gett’n crashed now! It will be like a last man standing thing and there will be 26 drivers with only 50 points each come chase time.

I let my race tickets go because I was tired of paying big money a year in advance (with no interest) and then getting ripped off at the hotels and local eateries. I work on the road for a living and know what the normal rates are and they all should be wearing bandanas over their faces when they bring the bill. nascar, the tracks and the locals brought most of this on themselves. Did you see where it was just anounced that Pocono said 100,000 in attendance but research showed a conservative 48,000 was there? Don’t believe the numbers let out by nascar or the tracks!

And while I’m on my soap box, where are all the outraged fans about KY Bush totally dumping Krashlowski when KY is the one that pulled up and got loose (slowed slightly) in front of Krash who was in the gas and only bumped him? Seems like KY’s pay back was much more that the original offense, not that I give a hoot for either.

And I will be watching the NFL before nascar.

Peace out!

Marybeth
08/26/2010 08:29 PM
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Steve, It was only Jr.‘s engine that blew in Pocono. It was the back of only Jr.‘s car that broke at Bristol.

Steve_S
08/26/2010 11:21 PM
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Marybeth, not trying to start anything but he could have missed a shift or something at Pocono or it doesn’t like running half throttle! Biffle blew up one week does that make him an R&D driver? Johnson broke a rear axel last season I believe, was he the R&D driver that week? And I remember 3 or the 4 HMS cars broke engines one race so does that mean they had 3 R&D that week? No, stuff happens and it happens to everyone at some point. They may try stuff in practice or when testing at ‘non’-nascar tracks but they all show up to win everyweek.
Peace out

Marybeth
08/27/2010 09:27 AM
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Steve, What I meant was that KB said that something broke on Jr.‘s car…which is the 25/88 R&D car for HMS, especially now that HMS is going into the Chase and they are behind. Have you ever heard of the 25/88 car being competitive for the championship?

 

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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