The Frontstretch: A Problem Of Predictability by Thomas Bowles -- Sunday May 19, 2013

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A Problem Of Predictability

Bowles-Eye View · Thomas Bowles · Sunday May 19, 2013

 

When it comes to sports, the worst words a stakeholder can hear are “strike,” “lockout,” or “injury.” It’s those types of tragic moments that kill your fan following in an instant, turning popular into polarizing and plummeting ratings. But beneath the Captain Obvious level, there’s another tier of sinister adjectives in which a once-booming form of entertainment can lead itself down the mountain of death. All too often, NASCAR is afflicted with one, a word disease from which the need for a cure is reaching critical condition.

Jimmie Johnson’s charge from back to front, earning him a record fourth All-Star Race victory didn’t raise an eyebrow by the checkered flag.

Predictable.

In a nutshell, that word describes NASCAR’s All-Star Race, one of too many the past few years whose ending gets determined far too early. In the last nine of these events, there’s been a pass for the lead within the final five laps only once – back in 2009. Instead of sparks, fans are conditioned for snoozers, the first pass on a double-file restart almost always becoming the last within the final ten-lap segment. Clean air, not close finishes and controversy dominate the equation at a Charlotte racetrack that’s never been the same since getting the competition “levigated” out of it in the mid-2000s.

“You got to be on the front row,” remarked Kyle Busch, Saturday’s third-place finisher, “If you’re going to win this thing in 10 laps.”

It’s a damning report on both the surface of the 1.5-mile oval, Goodyear tires and the Gen-6 chassis, who’s had its moments in 2013 but clearly struggled on Saturday night. When a third-place driver can’t pass two cars in front of him, in ten laps there’s clearly something wrong with the equation. Yet the problems evident in the empty seats at Charlotte, combined with the runaway victory by Jimmie Johnson run far deeper. Johnson’s victory, the fourth in the All-Star Race was the opposite of David Ragan’s Talladega surprise. He was on top, 5/1 on the Vegas Odds board, leads the points by nearly a full race’s worth over the rest of the field and has six career wins at Charlotte, the most of any active driver. To say his “charge” to the front, punctuated by an 11.8-second final pit stop was surprising was like saying you just found out the sun rises in the east.

Danica Patrick’s entrance into the race, through the Sprint Fan Vote also seemed somewhat preordained. A rule change during the week, which struck down the mandatory lead-lap finish in the preliminary Sprint Showdown seemed tailor-made to make sure Ms. GoDaddy had the “Fans” backing her in no matter what. She finished 20th in the main event, the last car still running and barely earned the TV time the final vote totals supposedly said they were looking for.

Patrick ran mostly single-file, sticking in line with the rest of her compatriots in an event where it was clearly difficult to run side-by-side or with traffic. “Aero push” was the order of the day, toning down aggression and leaving drivers happy to take what they could get, even on a night where “average finish” played into the equation for the final ten-lap segment. That, in itself was a mathematical nightmare, perhaps the only unpredictable part for all the wrong reasons. It was so tough to keep track of, for even those good at math SPEED made a graphical error and placed Jimmie Johnson in the wrong position of their rundown prior to the final, yellow-flag pit stop.

It’s an intermediate story we’ve seen play out before; having it happen in an exhibition race, though makes the outcome ten times more painful. This event, under the right circumstances was ripe for fireworks, filled with more fired-up rivalries then we’ve ever seen during the Chase era. You had Denny Hamlin-Joey Logano. Kyle Busch-Kasey Kahne. Tony Stewart-Kurt Busch. Tony Stewart-Joey Logano. Clint Bowyer-Jeff Gordon. Lugnut the Charlotte Mascot versus whomever made it to Victory Lane. You get the picture. But instead, the artistic result that was painted was better suited to be in your local library. We didn’t hear so much as a peep of drama, the types of hard knocks that saw Davey Allison spun at the finish line in 1992 replaced by the doldrums of drivers simply clicking off laps.

That’s important, because after a period of years boredom begins to translate into a sense of permanence with NASCAR’s fan base. When it’s an All-Star night, there’s no lure of a regular season race and the points for their favorite driver that go with it. Expected results, instead of unexpected chaos give the fans the impression it’s not worth watching – especially when it’s the same drivers and teams, almost to a T they see 37 other weeks during the year. No wonder this race has been the lowest-rated Cup event on television for well over a decade running.

Perhaps a change of scenery, long recommended for this event would help spice things up. It’s a lot easier to enact revenge, after all at Bristol instead of a racetrack where top speeds approach 200 miles an hour. It did seem, at least for Kurt Busch an extra million dollar bonus for winning all the segments on the night would matter. But drivers can only do so much if the car won’t let them on the edge of control. That turns things into a track position, strategic type of an event and no one’s going to drive that horse better than Mr. Johnson and crew chief Mr. Chad Knaus.

The end result meant their fourth career trophy, setting an All-Star Race record that launched them above the likes of Dale Earnhardt, Sr. and Jeff Gordon. There’s no question Johnson earned it; the problem is, that check was already written, the racing resembling little more than “Who’s in first?” NASCAR fans are clearly looking for more.

Otherwise, they’ll keep looking elsewhere.

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Contact Tom Bowles

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Bill B
05/20/2013 06:58 AM
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Fortunately we have two TVs side-by-side. The Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame Induction on HBO blew the All-Star race out of the water. While the All-Star race just blew.

Erik Allen
05/20/2013 07:30 AM
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Hey Tom, great article. I think the 10-lap sprint to the finish is too short. As you note, being in the first lap for the final restart is a huge advantage, because you get a speed boost from having clear air. There’s not nearly enough time for a car behind to compensate!

janice
05/20/2013 08:20 AM
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the 600 is going to be one long – boring race.

wonder what the weather forecast is? yeah it’s too early to check. i’ll save my time, gas and money and pass on trip to charlotte.

jerseygirl
05/20/2013 09:15 AM
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predictable and boring. I didn’t realize that it was 2009 since there was an “interesting” finish. I do know from personal experience that I’ve been bored for the last 5 times I’ve been to the All Star event. We used to make this a family weekend and had fun being together at the race. Three years ago, I realized that although I enjoyed visiting my family, I didn’t enjoy spending the $ for the All Star event. Last year, I had tickets but didn’t bother traveling to Charlotte, it was cheaper to toss the ticket. This year, we didn’t buy tickets OR travel and considering how uninteresting it was, we made the right choice.

Gen6 was going to fix all the aero problems, wasn’t it? Just like the COT was supposed to. So far, the racing is just the same old, same old. Hopefully the weather will be good for the 600. I, too, have become predictable. I plan to be outside enjoying my long weekend and it won’t be at the track or sitting inside listening to DW tell all the fans how “exciting” it all is.

janice
05/20/2013 09:43 AM
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jerseygirl – use to go to the allstar and 600 as they fall around my b/d….this year i think i’ll clean the gutters on my house on my birthday weekend. hopefully by time the 600 comes on next sunday i’ll be too tired to even care. very sad, cause i never missed a race. i scheduled my life around racing.

Pete
05/20/2013 11:00 AM
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I stopped watching years ago. What kind of “all star” event features 90% of regular season players?

Dane
05/20/2013 11:41 AM
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I wonder if Dale jr will get fined for saying it’s really hard to pass during his rain delay interview. Speed created from downforce makes the aero push even worse – slow the cars down in the corners and you will see better racing. Or just get rid of this cookie cutters…

SJC
05/20/2013 12:05 PM
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Yes, boring – bring back elimination aspect, shorter segments at start or make it truly heat racing: Eliminate the showdown part, divide the All-Stars into 5 heats (15 laps, mandatory pit for 4 tires at lap 10), top two in each heat advance to finals with 2 wildcards – 12 cars 20 laps w/mandatory 4 tire pit stop at lap 10.

Gary
05/20/2013 02:06 PM
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Before every race I say out loud “anyone but Jimmie Johnson.” I’m not a hater. JJ is one of the best drivers of all time and Knaus is probably the best crew chief ever but how BORING.

jerseygirl
05/20/2013 02:42 PM
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janice, hope you have a nice weekend for your birthday & be careful cleaning those gutters!

Gary, the most overused word these days by people is “hater”. It annoys the heck out of me to see it used so often – everywhere (and I’m not yelling at you). You used the word to defend an opinion – to which you are entitled! It’s infuriating that you have to.

After all, people can like or dislike people/things, whatever, on an individual basis and disagree about it without being a “hater”.

Carl D.
05/20/2013 02:53 PM
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Janice…

You clean gutters? Email me. I can make your birthday dreams come true.

Carl D.

janice
05/20/2013 03:14 PM
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carl – LOL!!!!

midasmicah
05/20/2013 04:58 PM
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Thanks for the good article, Tom. I don’t hate JJ. He’s a damned good driver, but he’s got the personality of a fence post. I had high hopes when they unveiled the new car, but already apathy is already settling in. Sad.

jo-jr
05/20/2013 09:22 PM
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why would any fan spend their hard earned money and time to travel hundreds of miles to see the same old crap! I stopped two years ago! I was one of those nuts that went to every all-star race since 87’ and to bristol ,ever year to all the taces and to other tracks to, and bought so many cars and haulders…. stupid! no more races for us and the races and announcers are so boring ,,don’ watch ‘….dvr and fast forward! nascar is on its last gready, and boring legs1 DYING…..

Steven
05/21/2013 12:39 AM
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The top 15-20 racecar drivers are worth watching especially on short tracks. My problem is with store bought aero-engineeering which puts a novelty driver in the top 10 at plate tracks. And two brothers who belong in the big mouth olympics. Did I forget Mr France the billionaire?

 

Contact Tom Bowles

Recent articles from Tom Bowles:

Did You Notice? ... Breaking Down A Sprint Cup Season Eight Races In
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Did You Notice? ... NASCAR's Free Agent Lynchpin, Uncomfortable Reality And Gambling
Did You Notice? ... Toyota Trouble, Limping Into Action And Testing The Waters
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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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