Thomas Bowles · Wednesday March 6, 2013
Did You Notice?… The major undercurrent of FOX’s rebranding of SPEED as FOX Sports 1? The new network, set to debut August 17th is a reaction to NBC’s recent cash infusion into its own sports network. NBCSN, who happens to be looking for a chunk of NASCAR races in the next rights package, is being built as a “superstation” of sports with designs to challenge ESPN over the next decade. Add in CBS’ own dabbling in sports, albeit on a smaller scale with CBSSN and FOX felt like they needed to get with the program. (Note: ABC, the last member of TV’s network giants is owned by the same parent company, Disney, that controls ESPN.)
With that adjustment, though comes a reality check that some of the programming all have enjoyed on a racing-only network will simply go away. You’ve got to think, considering how they had cornered the racing market at one point FOX recognized a limit to how much money they could make through motorsports-related programming. Sports television, after all is a business just like all other fields and rebranding the network allows it to pursue other, more profitable sources of programming. Already, Dave Despain’s Wind Tunnel, popular amongst hardcore racing fans has been placed in the “under evaluation” category as to whether it will continue under the new network. What a nice way of saying its days are numbered, right? I think Despain, while one of the best racing reporters of our time doesn’t have an audience centered on that juicy 18-49 age group that makes advertisers start to spontaneously drool. There are other sports, like soccer that take less time, are easy to produce, have a well-rounded following and will bring in a newer, hipper audience. Again… if FOX felt racing would carry the majority of their new venture, maximizing the profit why wouldn’t they have found a way to keep a version on SPEED?
The bottom line is, while racing will form parts of the network (it won’t go away; FOX’s TV deal would be a waste without it) don’t expect it to be front and center all the time. Especially during the Fall, when Sprint Cup is televised elsewhere and NFL season takes center stage racing will be barely a blip on the radar screen. Expect major drops in the ratings, too if the big network chooses to move a handful of their Cup races to FS1 beginning in 2015. Yes, the network may be in 90 million homes but we saw the consequences for IndyCar when their races were relegated to Channel 12356 on the local cable channel. (The Nielsen ratings are so microscopic, these days it’s hard to get a reading on what they actually are for that series.)
In the short-term, there’s not much NASCAR can do about this adjustment. But as the four stick ‘n’ ball giants – hockey, baseball, football, and basketball – carry on with their own, branded networks you have to wonder what the sport is going to do to protect itself. Through NBATV, for example basketball can always rest assured its product is out there, along with 24-hour analysis and special programming for its hardcore fans. At one time, NASCAR was rumored to be starting its own TV network in Charlotte but those plans, at the moment appear to be on hold. In the meantime, its own NASCAR.com website continues to struggle with interactive, in-race enhancements for fans to the point people have emailed me and said they can’t even navigate to the website because it’s crashing their browser. On Twitter, a once cutting-edge way for fans to stay connected to the sport now comes with a worry drivers can be fined for speaking their minds about series rules. We’re living in a technology and television generation, yet both seem to be slipping out of NASCAR’s grasp.
Getting a grip on that, beyond Danica Patrick and the Gen-6 car may be more of a key to growth than anything else. But I’ll tell you one thing that definitely isn’t a positive; a racing network specifically changing its name to get away from racing, with no replacement in sight. That doesn’t tell people to come sit in the stands on Sunday.
Did You Notice?… The panic over the new Generation-6 model? It’s two races in and already, after some below-average competition people are ready to take this car and throw it in the trash bin. We haven’t even been to an intermediate track yet! For those threatening to boycott the sport, already it’s like watching a baseball game after changing the rules and then leaving, stomping your feet in the third inning. Is it that bad you can’t bear to see how it turns out?
I do have one concern, though and it surrounds dominance from a particular program. As I pointed out yesterday, the whole concept of “cookie-cutter” tracks filling the boredom quota in our lives comes from the fact Jimmie Johnson has absolutely dominated them. Here we are again, two races into a season and that pesky J.J. has an average finish of 1.5. His current shop, still led by crew chief Chad Knaus won 10 times and stomped the competition during the first year of the Gen-5 chassis. Add in the atypical early success of Earnhardt at Phoenix, a track where he’d skipped a beat at times in very recent history and you’re looking at the possibility for a runaway regular season, at least. The Gen-6 was designed, in part so the smaller teams could start on a level playing field, have a better chance to challenge the superstars above them. Instead, should HMS come out and take control it all but sets a Formula One style separation in stone. Someone needs to find a way to compete; there’s still time. But you have to think if J.J. contends and/or wins this Sunday he’s got to be the overwhelming favorite in the Chase once again.
Did You Notice?… This interesting twist, following Carl Edwards’ Las Vegas win put together by our own Kevin Rutherford? For a driver of his caliber (and for someone whose previous winless streaks weren’t as daunting), Edwards’ 70-race losing streak in Sprint Cup was unexpected and a bit troubling. Though he’s never been a driver to go on a tear, save for 2008’s nine-win campaign, seeing his familiar No. 99 out of victory lane took some getting used to.
But while the streak was sizable, it’s certainly not among the longest.
In fact, in terms of resolved streaks (i.e. winless streaks broken by a victory), it runs about mid-pack. As hard on one’s confidence 70 races without a win may be, Bill Elliott actually holds the distinction of the longest losing streak in Cup that ended up being broken with a victory (for drivers who have won at least once). Awesome Bill went an astounding 226 races, between 1994 and 2001 without one. A close second is Dale Earnhardt, Jr.‘s dry spell between 2008 and last year, 205 races in total.
That said, Edwards’ streak came at a time when he was still semi-competitive. In 2011, he finished tied for the championship despite winning only once that season, while Elliott and Junior downright struggled during the years of their streak.That’s partially what makes the lack of wins less affecting; one only really looks at 2012 as a year when he didn’t perform up to standards.
Edwards’ winless streak isn’t even that long put against other active drivers in the same boat. Of former winners who have competed in one of NASCAR’s top series since 2012, Ken Schrader holds the current record, with a 565-race dry spell dating back to 1991. Derrike Cope hasn’t won since 1990 — 327 races — and former champ Bobby Labonte just hit 326. In terms of drivers in (proven) winning equipment? Martin Truex, Jr.‘s 205 races without a victory comes to mind.
It all comes down to the team for which Edwards drives. Guys at Roush Fenway Racing are pretty much expected to win, not go on 70-race spells in between victories. Coupled with the fact that he actually hasn’t been half bad despite not winning, him taking so long to taste victory surprised a lot of people. Don’t count on it being this long again.
Longest Winless Droughts Snapped
(Between wins – Number of starts to get first career win does not count)
Bill Elliott – 226 (‘94 – ’01)
Dale Earnhardt, Jr. – 205 (‘08 – ’12)
Jeff Burton – 175 (‘01 – ’06)
Sterling Marlin – 170 (‘96 – ’01)
Dave Marcis – 167 (‘76 – ’82)
Did You Notice?… Quick hits before we take off…
- An underreported story from Phoenix is the way new Ford “front man” Brad Keselowski pushed the old, uncontested superstar a car length ahead during that green-white-checkered finish. Clearly, both men have matured since this 2010 flip that could have turned tragic after the two couldn’t get away from each other on-track; the mellowing of the bad blood between them is genuine. But I also think two of the smartest men in the garage are well aware of where their bread is now buttered. Penske Racing (Keselowski) is getting their engines from Roush Fenway, during year one with the Blue Oval program and needs all the support they can get. When you don’t build your own equipment, well, the last thing you want to do is bite the hand that feeds you.
As for Edwards? He’s never been afraid to seek out help and support. And who better to help rebuild your confidence, sharing information than a man that just won the 2012 Sprint Cup championship?
- Front Row Motorsports is putting on a brave face this week. But after tearing up five cars, out of a possible six to start off 2013 you have to wonder how much they’re hurting for equipment. An underfunded team, who doesn’t have extra cash lying around to begin with the next month or so may be a case of “survival mode:” third driver Josh Wise starting-and-parking while the other two, David Ragan and David Gilliland, take out a restraining order on anyone within 50 feet. Such is the nature of NASCAR these days, another layer of possible conservatism that comes with running behind on building these new cars.
- Is it just me, or does Kurt Busch still think he’s driving Phoenix Racing equipment? Even last Fall, when experiencing success with Furniture Row Racing’s No. 78 he’d put himself in hot water unnecessarily with a self-imposed trip to the outside wall. You’d think a former Cup champion, once known for his consistency would learn to take a 15th-place car and finish 15th with it. Second place is the first loser; I understand that much-needed aggression within the sport. But sending yourself to the garage on a wrecker comes with a nasty bill that’s only going to dig your smaller team a deeper hole.
- NASCAR and the NRA. Really? Who knew both sides had a burning desire to shoot themselves in the foot? Anytime you try and put politics and sports together, well, mixing oil and water comes to mind. No one cared, for example about the six-shooters in Texas Victory Lane until everyone started sniffing post-NRA deal. I just don’t see this ending well for either side…
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