Kurt Busch to Attempt The Indianapolis-Charlotte Double
posted by Phil Allaway
Tuesday March 4, 2014
Andretti Autosport announced this morning that Kurt Busch, driver of the No. 41 Haas Automation Chevrolet in the Sprint Cup Series, will attempt the Indianapolis 500 in a fifth entry for the IndyCar Series team. Once the Indianapolis 500 is completed, Busch will fly from Indianapolis to Charlotte, jump in his No. 41 Chevrolet and compete in the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Busch considers the opportunity to do the double as an old-school throwback moment.
“This is really to challenge myself within motorsports,” Busch said in Andretti Autosport’s press release. “Perhaps I am a bit of an old-school racer; a throwback, I guess. I enjoyed the era of drivers racing different cars and testing themselves in other series. It is tough to do now for a variety of factors, but when the opportunity is there, I want to do it. While NASCAR is my home, I have been fortunate to compete in Pro Stock on the NHRA circuit a number of years ago and test a V8 Supercar. This opportunity was a talk with Michael [Andretti] over dinner one night, a “What if,” and now it’s becoming a reality for me to drive in the Indy 500 with Andretti Autosport. It’s literally a dream come true. To go to the famous Brickyard with the iconic Andretti name, it doesn’t get much cooler or better than that.”
Busch will be doing the Indianapolis-Charlotte double as a Memorial Day mission to men and women serving in the U.S. Military via the Armed Forces Foundation. Fans can contribute to the cause by texting AFF to 50555 to donate $10.
Busch, who has never raced an IndyCar, passed Rookie Orientation at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway last year during a test session. At the time, Busch was more or less testing the Dallara DW12 for fun.
Busch will be the fourth driver to attempt the Indianapolis-Charlotte double. John Andretti was the first driver to attempt it in 1994. After finishing four laps down in tenth in Indianapolis, Andretti crashed and had engine problems in the 600. Robby Gordon has attempted the double five times, most recently in 2004. However, Gordon failed to make it to Charlotte on time and did not start the 600 in 2000 (P.J. Jones started Gordon’s No. 13 Ford in that instance). Finally, Tony Stewart has attempted the double twice (most recently in 2001) and is the only driver to ever complete all 1100 miles. Neither of the three drivers has won either leg of the double. The best finishes are Stewart and Gordon’s sixth-place finishes at the Indianapolis 500 (although Gordon’s came in 2000, the year he didn’t make it to Charlotte in time to start the Coca-Cola 600), and Stewart’s fourth-place finish in the 2001 Coca-Cola 600.
Danica Patrick, Justin Allgaier Talk About Phoenix Incident
posted by Frontstretch Staff
Tuesday March 4, 2014
A disappointing start to the year for Danica Patrick won’t include continued conflict. Patrick met with rookie Justin Allgaier Sunday, shortly after the Phoenix Cup race after a wreck ruined both drivers’ days. Patrick, who was critical of the No. 51 car on the radio, claiming Allgaier was “driving all over the track” appeared receptive to a conversation that quickly settled differences over what will be a long season.
“She was just upset because she got involved in the crash that we had,’’ said Allgaier to the Motor Racing Network. “She says she’s been through this and that she felt like I needed to settle down at that point. I explained my position on why everything happened. I think she understood where I was coming from. It doesn’t fix either one of our racecars. It doesn’t fix either one of our days. Unfortunately, we were both having pretty decent days.’’
Allgaier wound up 30th due to the incident while Patrick was 36th. The incident, which was caused by Allgaier’s spin also involved the No. 32 team and Travis Kvapil, which wound up 38th after sustaining heavy damage.
Camping World Close to Extending Title Sponsorship of NCWTS
posted by Frontstretch Staff
Tuesday March 4, 2014
Marcus Lemonis, CEO of Camping World, Grand Marshal of Sunday’s Sprint Cup race at Phoenix International Raceway, and star of CNBC’s “The Profit,” made the announcement over the weekend that the retailer is very close to announcing a deal that would continue its title sponsorship of NASCAR’s Truck Series. The original agreement with NASCAR is scheduled to conclude after the 2015 season.
According to the sanctioning body, no formal contract has been signed, but “the agreement between the two parties has proven to be a beneficial one.”
“In about a month, we’ll be announcing a significant extension to that contract. It’s been great for us,” said Camping World’s Lemonis in a statement. “The NASCAR relationship has worked well for Camping World. When we started, we had 35 stores. Now, we’re up to 120 stores. As we travel the country and we meet new customers in stores, they always are very appreciative of our relationship with NASCAR. It’s been good.”
Gaining a long-term commitment from Camping World to sponsor the Truck Series would be a relief for NASCAR, which is set to lose Nationwide Insurance as title sponsor for the NASCAR Nationwide Series at the end of the 2014 season. The sponsorship of the Cup Series by Sprint runs through 2016.
The NCWTS is back in action on March 29th at 2:30 PM (ET) when the trucks visit Martinsville Speedway in the Kroger 250, which can be seen on Fox Sports 1. Ratings for the season opener were up 11 percent.
Harvick Takes Win At Phoenix In Second Race With New Team
posted by Justin Tucker
Monday March 3, 2014
Phoenix International Raceway has become Kevin Harvick’s home away from home. Sunday Afternoon was no exception as Harvick charged to the front early and would dominate for much of the day, leading 224 of the scheduled 312 laps to record his record fifth win on the one mile oval and his third win in the last four races at Phoenix.
Harvick, coming off of a disappointing Speedweeks which was capped by a last lap crash in the Daytona 500 in his debut with Stewart-Haas Racing, set the tone on Saturday by winning both practices while having the best 5 and 10-lap averages in the first practice of the day on Saturday. On Sunday, Harvick and his No. 4 Jimmy John’s Chevrolet was nothing short of flawless as he was able to hold Dale Earnhardt, Jr. by .489 seconds after a late race restart to claim his 24th career Sprint Cup Series victory.
“Man, this is awesome,” Harvick said after his dominant victory on Sunday. “Man, this just solidifies so many things and so many decisions. It’s been so much work with all the time and effort that these guys (the crew) have put in—but what a race car.”
Stewart Haas Racing co-owner Gene Haas shared in Harvick’s excitement after the race.
“It took long enough,” Haas joked. “This is phenomenal. I think there was a lot of skepticism last year about what myself and Tony (Stewart) what we were up to, was there a lot of madness to this. Quite frankly, it’s a great team, there’s a lot of synergy at the shop, people working together. I don’t know what we did, but I think we put together a great organization.”
Daytona 500 winner Dale Earnhardt, Jr. continued his hot start to the 2014 season. Earnhardt Jr. would finish second on Sunday, marking his seventh consecutive top 10 finish since the end of the 2013 season. Earnhardt Jr. was pleased with the effort after a coast-to-coast whirlwind week after winning his second Daytona 500 and also gave great praise to the efforts of Harvick and the No. 4 team.
“I’ve got to congratulate Kevin. Those guys were two-tenths faster than everyone all weekend in practice. They were just phenomenal,” Earnhardt said. “To be able to run with them all day was a big confidence builder for us.”
Joining Harvick and Earnhardt in the top 5 of The Profit on CNBC 500K were Brad Keselowski with his second consecutive top 3 run of 2014 in third. Keselowski’s Team Penske teammate Joey Logano would finish fourth, and Jeff Gordon would come home fifth in his No. 24 Pepsi Max Chevrolet.
Jimmie Johnson finished in sixth, followed by Ryan Newman with a nice rebound after Daytona in seventh. Carl Edwards would carry the banner for Roush Fenway Racing by finishing eighth, Kyle Busch was ninth, and Jamie McMurray would finish tenth.
A look at the Profit on CNBC 500K by the numbers. There were 14 lead changes among eight different drivers, there were eight cautions for 39 laps which slowed the race pace to 109.229 MPH.
Next Sunday, the Sprint Cup Series heads to Sin City and the Las Vegas Motor
Starting Lineup: The Profit On CNBC 500K
posted by Thomas Bowles
Saturday March 1, 2014
Drivers in RED (i) are those ineligible to collect Sprint Cup points
Daytona 500 TV Ratings Down
posted by Frontstretch Staff
Wednesday February 26, 2014
What was the longest weather delay in Daytona 500 history turned out to bring NASCAR lower ratings and TV viewership Sunday night than expected. According to a report Monday from FOX Sports, the 56th running of the Daytona 500 airing at 8 PM (ET) posted a 5.6/10 national household rating/share which averaged 9.3 million viewers. That’s down 44 percent from last year’s 9.9, easily making it the least-watched Daytona 500 of all-time.
Due to the six-hour, twenty-two minute rain delay in Daytona, the race was up against the primetime coverage of the Winter Olympics Closing Ceremony from Sochi, Russia on NBC (15.25 million viewers). FOX also reported that 69% of the pre-rain delay viewers of the race, which began at 1 PM (ET) kept tuning in.
In comparison, the 2013 Daytona 500 on FOX was the most-watched race in five years, posting a 9.9/22 rating/share, commanding 16.7 million viewers. The Daytona 500 in 2012, the first to ever be run on a Monday and in the primetime slot did a 7.7/13 overnight rating/share which resulted in 13.67 million households viewing the race according to Nielsen TV ratings data.
Earnhardt, Jr. Claims Second Daytona 500 Victory
posted by Justin Tucker
Wednesday February 26, 2014
Ten years is a long time. For Dale Earnhardt, Jr., it felt like an eternity. NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver endured many near misses and close calls at the Daytona 500 since his only win in the Great American Race in 2004. Earnhardt had finished second in two of his last three Daytona 500s coming into Sunday’s race. He was also riding the tail of a 55-race winless streak, dating back to Michigan in 2012.
However nothing would stop Dale Jr. on Sunday, not even a 6 hour and 22 minute rain delay from capturing his second Daytona 500 win. Earnhardt Jr. led a race-high 54 laps on the evening and used some timely drafting help from teammates Jimmie Johnson and, on the final restart, Jeff Gordon to separate from the pack and secure the victory.
“Winning this race is the greatest feeling that you could feel in this sport besides accepting the trophy for the championship,” said a jubilant Earnhardt after pulling into Victory Lane. “We could fight off battle after battle. We got a little help at the end there from Jeff to get away on the restart. This is amazing. I can’t believe this is happening. I never take this for granted, man because it doesn’t happen twice, let alone once.”
Aside from the race itself the big story of the race was the 6 hour and 22 minute red flag, which threatened to move the race to Monday evening (had the race been postponed, FOX Sports’ Chris Myers had tweeted that the race would resume at 5:00pm EST). However, Mother Nature would cooperate and would allow the race to be run under different conditions from which they practiced this week. Once the race resumed, the intensity picked up from the changing track conditions. This allowed the pack to race side-by-side and at times 3-wide up to seven rows deep.
Joining Earnhardt Jr. in the top 5 for the 2014 Daytona 500 were: Denny Hamlin who closed out a spectacular Speedweeks in second, Brad Keselowski in third, Jeff Gordon in fourth, and Jimmie Johnson who overcome two wrecks leading up to the 500 in fifth.
Rounding out the top 10 in the Daytona 500 were Matt Kenseth in sixth, Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. in seventh and Greg Biffle would bring his No. 16 Ford home in eighth. Austin Dillon would come home ninth in his first Cup Series race in the iconic No. 3 for Richard Childress Racing, while Casey Mears would round out the top 10.
A couple of major contenders for the Daytona 500 win would see their hopes dashed early on as Martin Truex, Jr. would blow up just 30 laps into the race, relegating him to a 43rd-place finish in his debut for Furniture Row Racing. Crew chief Todd Berrier was already in Nashville for a test session before the race was even over. Kyle Busch, meanwhile would have a pit road violation just before halfway and would spend much of the race battling back from that mistake. Busch would eventually finish 19th after leading 19 laps.
Danica Patrick would also be bit by bad luck as she was caught up in a multi-car wreck on lap 145. Patrick would lead her second consecutive Daytona 500, but wouldn’t have the finish to show for it finishing 40th. Tony Stewart would encounter a frustrating evening as well, with a fuel pickup problem derailing his quest for his first Daytona 500 win. Stewart would finish 35th.
A look at the Daytona 500 by the numbers. There were 42 lead changes among 18 drivers, while seven cautions for 39 laps would slow the race pace to 145.290 MPH.
Next week, the Sprint Cup Series heads to the “diamond in the desert,” Phoenix International Raceway for The Profit on CNBC 500K. The Green flag is scheduled for 3:15pm EST.
Nationwide Series Post-Race Quotes: Drive4COPD 300
posted by Thomas Bowles
Tuesday February 25, 2014
Frontstretch Interviews – Courtesy Mike Neff
ELLIOTT SADLER – FINISHED 4th
Thoughts on the race?
It’s definitely a lot different racing than what we’re used to.
Comfortable with it?
Yeah, it’s just different. You’re worried about what you’re doing, but you’re also worried about what everyone else is doing and they’re not doing more than you’re doing. Physically pushing a guy is way better than just riding so you just gotta time it right and push it to the edge.
Happy to start the year with a top 5?
Yeah. Hell, that was the worst we ran all day, I think. I have no idea how they put the 3 car in front of us on that last restart. I hadn’t seen the 3 car hardly all day. When they put us from fifth to sixth, on the outside line, it just really boxed us in. I would have really restarted behind my teammate and given him a good push to the front. Anyways, it is what it is; we’ll take it and move on.
Looked like you were up front all day.
The guys did a good job. We had a fast race car. Great pit stops, just really proud of these guys. The car’s in one piece and we can take it to Talladega now. Great job by my guys. A lot of effort came into coming down here to Daytona and giving ourselves a shot to win. We had that chance to be up front and make some things happen. Fifth is not what we want, but we’ll take it and move on.
Bumping vs Pushing?
It’s way harder. You don’t want to lay on the guy in front of you, so it’s tough racing. A lot different than what we’re used to, ‘cause you gotta go. You gotta drag the brake too ‘cause you don’t want to hit the guys and you don’t want to stay on him. It’s a lot harder mentally than what we’ve done in the past.
Car was strong all day. Pushing vs. Bumping, is that harder to do than just getting on somebody and pushing them?
Yeah, it is a little bit. When you bump ‘em, you jar ‘em, it kinda jacks ‘em a little bit. It’s a little more abrupt, obviously. I thought it was OK there at the end. It was certainly fun and hopefully entertaining. But a little bit of a struggle in the early part of the race and the midpart of the race to see a good race. And that’s unfortunate for the fans. You can’t do that the whole race, you can’t tear up your stuff, knock your grill in, overheat your motor, all that stuff so there’s no sense in doing all that until you get down to the last lap. The 7 and the 6, they did a good job. Man, the 7 really held the 22 and I tight on the bottom. I was rubbing his door and hitting the apron at the same time, no room whatsoever. So it was good; wish we were the ones who could have won but a lot better now than what we were last year.
Going home in one piece makes it a lot better, right?
Yeah. My back feels good. My foot feels good. Past years here, I’ve been going home with pain so I’m alright.
Connect with Mike!
2014 Truck Series Post-Race Quotes: Daytona (Exclusives)
posted by Thomas Bowles
Saturday February 22, 2014
When you’re on the outside like that, how frustrating is it?
It’s so hard. Timothy Peters has won here. Kyle Busch has won everywhere. Ron Hornaday has been running Trucks forever, probably before I was even born. I was surrounded by veterans there, and like I told them I don’t have a rookie stripe but I’m a rookie. This is only my fourth Truck race ever, my fourth superspeedway race, and man, I figured out when the 17 got up in front of me, I pushed him. And as soon as I pushed him, he took off. And I went with him. And I just kept doing it, and before I knew it, he was leading. And I saw Ron in my mirror, backed up to him, and if it wasn’t for him, I don’t know what would have happened. I gotta thank him big time for that. That was a true teammate move right there. I really appreciate that. He just bounced off me and we got to the front. I tried my hardest to sidedraft Kyle. I was probably touching his door.
Top 5 in the No. 30 truck. This deal come together at the last minute, but you had a heck of a truck. Tell us about your night.
Yeah, I’ve got to thank Turner Scott Motorsports. The guys worked so hard on this Rheem Comfort Products Chevrolet. Exciting! Just got hung up on the outside and had to wait for my teammate there to catch up. And then he got to the bottom, so… I got the old 32 and started pushing ol’ Ryan to the front. So, it’s not bad. We’ll take it. You just don’t want to step over that boundary. You don’t know how far to push and shove. We bumped about six times down the straightaway without latching onto them. Hopefully, that was OK and we came home with a top 5.
Connect with Mike!
2014 Budweiser Duels Post Race Quotes
posted by Matt Stallknecht
Friday February 21, 2014
BUDWEISER DUELS POST-RACE QUOTES
They’re saying the wheel bearing burned up in it. I don’t know what caused it, they’re taking it all apart to figure out what the heck happened. Something abnormal that’s for sure I don’t think I’ve ever had that happen at all. Hopefully, we made the race and hopefully we can fix the problem before Sunday.
WHAT WAS THAT LOUD BOOM ONCE YOU TURNED INTO THE GARAGE?
Loud pop was a tire… thankfully, it popped, hopefully it didn’t hurt anybody. All the heat created in the left front that popped was pretty weird.
REALLY GOOD RUN. WHAT DID YOU THINK OF IT?
Yeah, it was good. We have a car we can work with for the 500. Got a good starting spot, so we’re going to rest easy, fluff and buff our car for a couple of days and get ready for Sunday.
ANY DIFFERENCE ON WHETHER THE TOP OR BOTTOM LANE WORKED?
Yeah, I was just moving around, trying to stay with the flow. For me, this car works on all parts of the racetrack. So I’m pretty happy with it.
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.
GOT SHUFFLED BACK, AFTER PIT STOPS AND THEN COULDN’T GET BACK UP TO THE FRONT. WHY?
Nah, we were just sitting there waiting until the last few laps to make a move. You didn’t want to pull down and get sent to the back. Seen a couple of guys get sent to the back really quick so we were just kind of waiting for the end. I felt like we had a good situation there with Ambrose behind us — we had a good run off Turn 2 and I went. It was the last lap, time to go do something, nobody went with us but hopefully Sunday is a different story.
We got a great car. We don’t have to work hard. We learned, we got a good race car. Got a car in one piece, ready to go so we’ll try and get through the next couple of practices, deliver it to the starting group this Sunday and we’ll be real happy.
YOU’RE IN THE DAYTONA 500!
Yeah, it’s pretty awesome. This Whitetail Chevrolet was so fast that I knew all I had to do was stick it behind smart, intelligent drafters and we could have a good finish. That’s what we did in the Duels and I’m excited. I’m excited to go do some stuff with the Nationwide car and have some more practice with this. But to know that we’re locked in the Daytona 500’s pretty cool.
YOU WERE OBVIOUSLY IN FRONT OF THAT MELEE AT THE END. WHEN YOU WERE UP FRONT THERE IN THE BEGINNING, WERE YOU HOPING TO JUST STAY IN LINE AND LET YOU FINISH TOP 5?
I was pretty content to ride and luckily I knew a lot of people around us were. It was nice to have a little calm and not really have to be racing hard the whole time. I knew that the pit stop was going to shake everything up and that’s exactly what happened. Fell back a little bit there but made the right moves at the end to get a good finish.
HOW STRONG ARE THESE RCR CARS?
They’re very strong! They definitely have the capabilities to be winning one of these races.
YOU’RE IN THE TOP 5 FOR YOUR HEAT IN THE DAYTONA 500. YOUR PRIMARY CAR IS SITTING RIGHT IN THE GARAGE, KIND OF WADDED UP. DID YOU THINK THIS ONE HAD IT IN IT?
Yeah, it’s a brand new car also. It’s just not quite as good as the primary but still a damned good car. I’m just proud of everybody at RCR for building such fast race cars. All of our cars have been fast, ECR motor’s been strong, even our affiliate teams have been qualifying really good and racing good. So… excited about 2014! It’s going to be a good year.
WELL MAN, YOU STARTED IN THE BACK BUT WORKED YOUR WAY TO THE FRONT WHEN IT COUNTED MOST. WERE YOU JUST BIDING YOUR TIME THROUGHOUT THE RACE?
Eh, you never know if you’re going to get back up there or not. We had to start at the back, we had to make a run early and see what we could do. We drove right to 10th, or something like that and then it got stagnant. We tried to make something happen, and went to the back again. Drove back up to the front. Again, just really proud of my guys. Matt Kruder did a hell of a job on that pit stop getting just enough gas in to gain some spots there.
RCR CARS SEEM PRETTY DARNED STRONG. DO YOU THINK THE RCR CARS HAVE SOMETHING FOR THEM ON SUNDAY — ESPECIALLY THE THREE JOE GIBBS RACING CARS THAT SEEM TO BE THE CLASS OF THE FIELD RIGHT NOW?
Oh yeah. The 20 car was extremely fast. The 11 didn’t qualify that good, but he’s a good drafter. I think he won. We definitely have something for him.
Check in with Matt and Jay on their site at CareyandCoffey.com.
Thomas Bowles · Thursday March 31, 2011
Did You Notice? … There’s no clear-cut dominant driver so far in Sprint Cup? We’ve got five races, five different winners and fourteen men capable of taking the championship lead out of Martinsville – more than double what we had at this time a year ago. Certainly, drivers like Carl Edwards, Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, and Jimmie Johnson have flexed some muscle but the battle at the top of the points is clearly still taking shape. After all, remember where Denny Hamlin stood at this time last year; without a top-10 finish, he looked as likely to challenge for the championship as the guy blocking your view at the movie theater two rows in front (bad experience).
So in my mind, this season has developed as one where title contenders are falling by the wayside early instead of standing out. Here’s a few seasons clearly in the “danger zone,” many of which caught us by surprise in 2011:
Joey Logano. – After a 7-6-5-4-3-slice Montoya in half finish to 2010, many thought the third year would be the charm for the sport’s supposed next superstar. Not quite. So far this season, the driver of the No. 20 hasn’t even snagged a single top-20 finish while blowing his engine once, leading exactly zero laps and wasting three top-10 qualifying efforts. The latest kick in the pants came at Fontana, where an ugly penalty for passing prior to the restart left him the last car on the lead lap in 25th. It’s been that type of year for the 20-year-old, filled with uncharacteristic handling and mental miscues one shouldn’t be making with oh, about 150 starts under his belt in NASCAR’s top three series.
Recovery Chances – Logano is a whopping 64 points out of 10th place five races in. He ran second in the Martinsville race one year ago, but has never made the Chase, let alone learned how to climb back into contention for it. He’s easily the least likely of the struggling crowd to turn things around, leaving a tough decision for sponsor Home Depot. They’ve invested so much into this young “prodigy,” but after three years, there needs to be progress. Most drivers today don’t get half that long… could Gibbs need a new sponsor after the season?
Jeff Burton – The veteran leader of Richard Childress Racing had an ugly Chase last season, wrecking twice in the final four races and winding up dead last in the 12-car American Idol competition. 2011 offered up the same type of sloppy start, an engine failure at Daytona followed by yawners of 26th, 21st, 20th, and 15th. With just five laps led, all in the Great American Race Burton’s the Great American With A Dad As His Sponsor has lapped the RCR field instead; Paul Menard’s seventh in points while Burton’s sitting 25th.
Recovery Chances – Let’s put it this way; Burton hasn’t gone this long without a top 10 to start the season since 2005, his first year with Richard Childress Racing where he never came close to making the Chase. In one sense, a veteran driver and team could easily build a foundation this weekend, a track where Burton nearly won last April before a cut tire derailed his Denny Hamlin upset bid. The problem is so many contenders already have a head start, and lately his career has been about consistency, not knocking off chunks of points by grabbing multiple wins. Every superstar can’t make the Chase every year, right?
Brad Keselowski – Taking over the No. 2, Miller Lite Dodge colors was supposed to hold the ticket to stardom for the 2010 Nationwide Series champ. Eh … not exactly. He’s got just one lead lap finish in five races, a best performance of 15th and no real bad luck to blame for it… just bad handling. In the meantime, he’s made wrecking a work of art over in Nationwide, spinning four times in five races while failing to finish twice.
Perhaps the “Sunglasses At Night” guy can get an audition?
Recovery Chances – For the Chase, not good. Considering the quality of his sponsorship, this season may become one where Keselowski is forced to fight for his job. Verizon, under the guise of Dodge lettering wasn’t all that concerned about 25th or so in points (Kes is 23rd right now) – they were on the way out anyway. But for a company that’s used to championship contention? Mediocre, mid-pack finishes just won’t cut it.
Denny Hamlin – Ah, the talk of the town these days … for all the wrong reasons. Last year’s championship runner-up is this year’s second-place hangover, one top-10 finish through five events while suffering through the same engine errors that have resulted in one DNF apiece for each of the Joe Gibbs Racing cars. But the problems run deeper; this team and driver just haven’t looked competitive from the start. With only 31 laps led in three races, just one top-10 starting spot it’s getting harder to believe continued assurances that last year’s championship failure didn’t affect him.
Recovery Chances – Relatively decent, considering he’s only 21st in the standings and heading to a track in Martinsville that jumpstarted his run to the title last year. But it’s important to note that in 2010, Hamlin had the added benefit of lower expectations and lofting above a health crisis to keep him mentally focused. There’s no outside boost coming this year, and JGR continues chasing an unconfirmed problem with motors that could contribute another costly DNF or two. What’s the verdict? At the beginning of this year, I labeled Hamlin as a borderline Chase contender but nowhere near someone who could knock off Johnson; right now, there’s no evidence on the table to change that theory.
Did You Notice? … In many ways, we’ve started off with the most competitive season in several years. Just one of five races has been won by the driver leading the most laps (Jeff Gordon – Phoenix), which adds an air of unpredictability back into the proceedings. Every winning pass so far has been made with 25 laps or less left in the race, and between new blood (Trevor Bayne) and old favorites (Gordon) entering the Winner’s Circle, there’s apparently something for everyone.
Yet in this world, looks can be deceiving, as the seemingly upward momentum in the sport has tailed off as of late. Looking back, we all overplayed the TV rating gains in the first three races because in 2010, you had two mitigating factors: a giant pothole that delayed the race for hours (Daytona) plus a U.S. Olympic gold medal game that captivated the nation in ways we hadn’t seen in decades (Las Vegas). Of course those races were going to bounce back; the numbers for each couldn’t have been much worse the year prior.
Looking closer, not one 2011 race has beaten its 2009 numbers while the Bristol attendance, atrocious by that track’s lofty standards signal something is still not connecting with the American public. How do we fix it? Right now, with Fontana ending in two hours, thirty-nine minutes last weekend the prevailing school of thought seems to be “make the races shorter.”
Huh? I still don’t think that’s addressing the real problem. Fontana was 195 laps of boredom followed by five laps of white-knuckle excitement; would you rather have 95 and five instead? Those ratios aren’t going to be changed by shorter races but by addressing the way in which the drivers themselves are competing.
Here’s my take: 500 miles fifteen years ago used to be a test of man and machine. Those watching never knew which engines would go the distance, whether a dominating leader would blow his tire out of turn four or if one maladjustment on a pit stop could send a car spiraling back five, ten, even fifteen positions over a course of a green-flag run.
Compare that to now, when advances in technology have led to greater levels of mechanical perfection and the mileage has become virtually meaningless. Combine that with the driving side of things, where one bad mistake in the past could leave you fighting to get your lap back, up front the rest of the race. Instead, we’ve set things up like a short track sprint, with anything from the Lucky Dog Rule to the wave around to just plain changing the scoring system in order to get every car back on the lead lap by race’s end. Add in the overall parity – even during a long green-flag run at California, you still had over 20 cars remain on the lead lap – and it’s near impossible to deal with adversity during the race without getting an “autocorrect” by the 50 laps to go mark.
All of that isn’t lost on the drivers, who have turned the sport into “survival mode” until the last 100 miles, when they know either a caution will come out to bunch up the field or it’s time to actually compete for positions, not cruise. Add in the mechanical certainty of most parts and pieces – Joe Gibbs Racing engines notwithstanding – and the first half of these races have lost a large part of their luster.
My solution to that, right now is not shorter races but making the first three-quarters more meaningful. For starters, can we get rid of the Make-A-Wish Foundation correcting every driver’s mistake? In our rush to correct things like making sure cars don’t start in front of the leader, we’ve made things way too easy; I didn’t see fans stop paying for tickets because there were cars positioned at the tail end of the lead lap. I would go back to the Lucky Dog rule, end of story and if cars want to try and get their lap back? They can stay out, be positioned just in front of the leader and see if they’re capable of holding them off. NASCAR fans have higher than a second grade intelligence; they’ll be able to figure out who’s in first place and who’s not.
For the drivers, you need to offer some sort of monetary bonus (points are too tough to follow) for running inside the top 5 at certain portions of the race. You want to borrow from football? How about a $50,000 bonus for the leader at the end of the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th quarters. Get one of the 7,000 NASCAR-sanctioned sponsors to support it each individual week, right? Something, somewhere has to be changed to adjust the early race doldrums… otherwise, people at the track won’t stick around for that fantastic finish.
And as for the mechanics. I know the new car encourages parity, but giving them more freedom also encourages risk, the “pushing the envelope” mentality that encouraged NASCAR’s growth in the first place. Giving all the cars the same parts and pieces leaves everyone, well, stuck in place.
And no matter how much you want to try, you just can’t stop moving forward. Otherwise, Father Time catches up with you … and it doesn’t end well.
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If a race is so boring that it needs to shortened to keep it from stinking so bad, it’s not the length of the race that’s the problem, it’s the track, the cars, and/or the rules. Shortening the races, like you said, is not addressing the real problem. It’s like fixing a broken toe by amputating the foot.
Do away with the Lucky Dog, do away with the wave around and do away with the top 35 rule. Fastest 42 qualifiers get to race with one past champion added to the field.
Only award points for the top 10 finishers. That would get more actual racing. And give the race winner more points.
Honestly, these people who complain about races being too long need to find some other means of entertainment. I personally look forward to Sunday afternoons and relish when races last 3-4 hours. Much like baseball extra innings or overtime in football..extra is better for me. In general I think NASCAR racing is as good as it’s ever been and I for one wish all the complaining and moaning would temper or those who have such an issue would seek refuge elsewhere.
I for one Hope beyond all Hope that Nascar reads and Comprehends the poll where better than half the fans DON’T want the races shorter.
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