The Frontstretch: Did You Notice? ... The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly Of NASCAR 2012 by Thomas Bowles -- Tuesday November 20, 2012

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Did You Notice? ... The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly Of NASCAR 2012

Thomas Bowles · Tuesday November 20, 2012

 

Did You Notice?… As the dust begins to settle on the 2012 Sprint Cup season, a look inside the numbers tells you the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly on the state of the sport. Let’s get right to it:

The Good: A total of fifteen different drivers won a race this season, roughly one-third of what would compose a 43-car grid in a total that’s roughly in line with previous years. Also, for the second straight season parity took center stage as no driver got more than five wins apiece. Jimmie Johnson, Brad Keselowski and Denny Hamlin, drivers from three different organizations and manufacturers shared the honor. It’s hard to get competition any closer than that; NASCAR hasn’t had league-leading victory totals this low in back-to-back years since 1991-92.

The Bad: None of those fifteen different drivers were first-time Sprint Cup winners. None of them drove for a car owner that had never visited Victory Lane, either. Other than perhaps Dale Earnhardt, Jr.’s name, ending a drought that had extended all the way back to Michigan in 2008 none of them are huge surprises, either. Perhaps the biggest stretch would be Joey Logano, whose Pocono victory legitimized his Cup career to an extent, but those “upsets” were few and far between.

Sam Hornish, Jr., one of just a few winless drivers in equipment good enough to get a victory, is headed back to the Nationwide Series in 2013, leaving us to wonder if Sprint Cup has enough new blood these days.

So who’s left as a full-time driver who has yet to win a Cup race? Of those who ran full-time in 2012, the short list includes Travis Kvapil, Aric Almirola, David Gilliland, AJ Allmendinger, Sam Hornish, Jr., Dave Blaney and Landon Cassill. None of those drivers, after the ‘Dinger’s release from Roger Penske’s team, were in position to cash in with the exception of maybe Almirola at Kansas. Combined, they had a total of one top-5 finish between them in 2012. Where are NASCAR’s new stars?

The Ugly: The two combatants for this season’s Rookie of the Year Award, Stephen Leicht and Josh Wise finished a grand total of one race in 45 Sprint Cup starts this season. Neither one was driving for a funded operation, making this season the first in the modern era where no real “rookie” truly competed within the sport’s top level. With the addition of Danica Patrick and Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., that changes entering 2013. But no healthy sport, even during down times, stops evolving. The fact NASCAR has now gone three full seasons without a major-impact rookie (even Trevor Bayne, the 2011 Daytona 500 winner, remains without a full-time Cup ride) should sound alarm bells everywhere.

The Good: NASCAR has a new champion, in Brad Keselowski, who’s a big departure from the politically correct robot-human who goes by the name Jimmie Johnson in private. Need proof? Look no further than Keselowski doing a championship interview “drunk off his ass”:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EBTTN0mrehM less than 24 hours after Homestead. If Johnson ever got caught dead with that, five apology letters, a random charity donation from Hendrick Motorsports and some sort of “Men In Black” flash to try and erase the incident from the public’s memory would surely follow.

Keselowski, just 28, is the youngest titlist since Kurt Busch in 2004, the one auto-connect to a blue-collar, 18-to-34 male fan base in a list of star drivers that’s rapidly aging out of it. Of the up-and-coming driver sect, he’s got the most social media marketability, the most engaging personality and perhaps the best upside in terms of on-track potential.

The Bad: Every driver who made the Chase this season had been there at least once before. Only Martin Truex, Jr., who went winless this season and finished an all-but-invisible 11th in the playoffs had gone longer than three years without a postseason appearance. The teams involved, with the exception of Michael Waltrip Racing, had also been there before, a cadre of predictability in a postseason that’s supposed to generate the exact opposite. How can you be excited when you know going into the season it’s the same handful of drivers who will wait 26 races to really compete for the hardware?

The Ugly: NASCAR’s television audience in the Chase, in particular the season finale, reached an alarming decline. The viewership for the 36th and final race, on ESPN was just 3.44 million, a dropoff of nearly 50 percent from the record high of the Carl Edwards-Tony Stewart battle last season. The average number of people watching on television, throughout the 10 races of the Chase was the lowest since the current postseason format debuted in 2004.

A couple of thoughts here. First, of course, the numbers were going to go down when Keselowski all but had the title wrapped up entering Florida. But as NASCAR looks to sell the second half of its schedule for 2015 and beyond – far more difficult to price out than the FOX deal – it’s now made its season finale as volatile as any stick ‘n’ ball sport. While you used to be guaranteed a ratings number for Homestead under the old “pre-Chase” points system, everything has officially changed. Now it depends on this ridiculous ten-race postseason concept, one which also fails to gain any traction throughout the first nine weeks of its existence.

Any talk of ditching the postseason format has died down for the foreseeable future. But I don’t think it’s a given it sticks beyond the 2014 season. I’m calling it now… TV networks will have a say here, and no exec is going to look at a line graph slanted downward and want to pay more money. Thankfully for fans, it’s a business decision as much as a sports/entertainment value one and the Chase, at the moment, is clearly not good for business.

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steve
11/21/2012 09:30 AM
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You don’t like the Chase, I get it. But the argument you’re using – bad ratings for Homestead – aren’t a function of the Chase per se, but rather what is to be expected for any season ending race where the championship is pretty much already determined.

You want to get rid of the Chase, fine, just come with some better reasons.

@KyCupFan
11/21/2012 10:12 AM
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Steve your point may be true for the “last” race, but what about the massive downward trend of “chase” viewership? The Chase sucks. There is no other adjective to describe it. I hate it! Its manufactured excitement that doesn’t excite anyone!

Andrew
11/21/2012 11:49 AM
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Stephen Leicht and Josh Wise actually combined to finish 6 races – not one as mentioned in the text.

Bad Wolf
11/21/2012 12:07 PM
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The ratings are in the tank because they have managed to dumb down the broadcasts and gear them towards 12 year old girls and young women. It’s not about the on track action anymore, but instead is about marketing.

I totally gave up on Nascar this year and I used to be a hard core fan who would never miss a broadcast and attended a couple of races a year. It’s been a continual decline of interist for me since 2001 as I keep hoping things would change, but it never happened and now I am gone.

RIP Nascar. I’m glad I was a fan back when it was real.

Jacklegged Nascar Expert
11/21/2012 01:19 PM
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Nascar is in the body farm and now they can study how it decomposed.

Pete
11/21/2012 02:06 PM
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I really don’t know what else can be said other than what nascar is doing, and what Hendrick is doing, is not bringing in fans and is, in fact, driving fans away.

Talledega was the holy grail and even THAT “race” is declining.

Yes, it’s a real breath of fresh air to have Brad K. win the championship, but that only goes so far.

Sue Rarick
11/21/2012 04:51 PM
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I hope Nascar isn’t banking on Brad’s social media marketability.

Reality, Brad is only 5th just above JJ in twitter popularity. He was 19th till the Daytona tweets and hasn’t gained much since then. Even the mayor of Newark, NJ has over a million followers (over three times more than Brad. Even going down to the 200th most popular on twitter that person has over 3 million followers. (10 times more than Brad).

Nothing against Brad, just saying his social media popularity is overblown.

Mike In NH
11/21/2012 05:42 PM
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No, the Homestead race tanked versus last year because last year’s was delayed by rain into prime time when there were more viewers to watch, though the close championship was certainly a factor too. You’d have thought NASCAR would consider making Homestead a night race, with only one football game to compete against instead of the brunt of the NFL schedule, after seeing last year’s ratings, but nope…

If you compare to the 2010 and 2009 races, the ratings are still down quite a bit, but not as bad as versus last year.

DoninAjax
11/21/2012 08:12 PM
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Another possible reason for this year’s decline is Jimmie was involved and was not last year.

midasmicah
11/21/2012 10:20 PM
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Congrats brad K. But I am glad the IROC, I mean, cup season is over. Until the Daytona dorks actually start listening to their fans, this downward death spiral will continue. I wouldn’t hold my breath.

Bad Wolf
11/22/2012 11:44 AM
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Sue Rarick just gave credence to my earlier post with the “Twitter” analysis. What does that have to do with racing?

How many tweets does “Honey Boo Boo” get?

Matt L
11/23/2012 11:17 AM
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The sad part is people have been saying these things about The Chase since 2006 or 2007 and we are heading into 2013.

The majority of 2012 will be remembered for incredibly boring racing. The most memorable aspects of the entire 2012 season did not happen in green flag competition.

We began at the Daytona 500, which was postponed to Monday for the first time. Juan Pablo Montoyta’s collision with the jet dryer is the defining memory of the 2012 Daytona 500.

Penske announced it was leaving for Ford early in the season, leaving Dodge without a team. We watched Dodge search until throwing in the towel mid-summer.

The first Martinsville race was one of only two memorable races in the first 21 races when Ryan Newman moved into his only win of the season.

We said goodbye to Dr. Dick Berggren at Dover in early June. The only memorable moment that day was a dozen car wreck that involuntarily parked several S&P cars.

Later in the summer, fans were shocked when A.J. Allmendinger was suspended for failing a drug test. Allmendinger and KFC were the only memories from this snoozefest at Kentucky.

The second on-track highlight of the season was Dale Earnhardt Jr. winning at Michigan and finally ending his winless streak.

ESPN began their stretch of the season at Indianapolis. The track started the super weekend to try and gain back lost fans. The move only alienated fans of Indianapolis Raceway Park and led to lower attendance at the Brickyard 400, which was won by Mr. Excitement – Jimmie Johnson.

In a frustrating year, Mother Nature finally granted Jeff Gordon a victory at Pocono, but the lightning storm wrecked havoc on the fans, killing one and injuring a number of people.

The season got much more exciting at the final pre-Chase races (for those that survived watching the first 21 races.) The final lap of the Watkins Glen race was thrilling. The revised Bristol was a success. Richmond featured lots of drama between Kyle Busch and Jeff Gordon battling for a Chase spot.

The Chase was an off-balance mix of 4 good races and 6 clunkers. Chicago, Loudon, and Dover were asking fans to watch the NFL. Talladega lived up to the hype and mixed up the Chase.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. shocked fans by sidling himself for 2 races due to a concussion. His announcement overshadowed a snoozefest at Charlotte.

The races at Kansas and Martinsville were entertaining and added some life to a dull Chase.

Texas offered another 1.5 mile forgettable snoozefest.

Phoenix was the climax of the entire season. Jimmie Johnson’s championshp went into the wall, Jeff Gordon’s frustrations put Clint Bowyer into the wall – which erupted into chaos in the garage, and Kevin Harvick broke his winless streak the same weekend rumors broke out he would be leaving RCR after 2013.

The only noteworthy thing that happened in Homestead was Brad Keselowski got the Sprint Cup trophy. Maybe they can edit that into the end of the Phoenix race.

RG 1
11/25/2012 02:25 PM
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2012 was a banner year for NASCAR as we finally got rid of Matt McAwful as a weekly columnist.

Tom, when do you name his successor? (read: Randy Goldman) so we can finally say “Clap, Clap, Goodbye” to him forever?

Also, please take that “Clap, Clap, Goodbye” link down already… it’s almost 2 years old. You can put it back up the next time you run Matt McAwful’s Tim Richmond story (due for it’s 9th and 10th run sometime later this month I’m sure)…

Remember when people used to comment on this website? What changed… oh yeah… RG peaced out. Let me know when you want me back Tom…

Hotdogger
11/26/2012 01:28 AM
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The cars have been a huge turn-off in the past few years. They’ve been ugly to look at and also put on terrible racing at the schedule dominant intermediate snoozerdomes. Hopefully next year’s attractive fleet of cars plus the rules changes lead to a better product.

James Woolley
11/26/2012 11:12 AM
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I followed the series and it was an incredible experience to watch F1 race in a great view, VIP hospitality, luxury travel and accommodation. I got nothing to look for!! Thanks to GP Monaco for the wonderful experience!!

babydufus
11/27/2012 07:30 AM
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the good – a couple of truly enjoyable races – brad k – clint boyer

the bad – continued inconsistent application of rules – the amount of advertising it takes to sustain nascar sanctioning body as well as the teams – asinine commentary from the booth – manufacture departures – sponsor departures – drivers hanging on well past their prime and the lack of new talent

the ugly – absolutely mind numbingly boring events – aero tracks – ratings, attendance, lack of new teams and other downward trends – the car (and it really ain’t getting much better looking) – the actual “on screen” product as a whole – the fact that the sanctioning body refers to it’s sport as a product transparently shows how they actually view the sport and indicates what will guide their decision making process

 

Contact Tom Bowles

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