The Frontstretch: Did You Notice? ... Plate Racing Parity, Economic Blame Game And Quick Hits by Thomas Bowles -- Wednesday July 3, 2013

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Did You Notice?… That plate racing is pretty much the only place left where underdogs really do have their day? This season, the big surprise has been David Ragan’s shocking Talladega victory, with Front Row Motorsports but he’s not alone in stealing 15 minutes of fame. Take a look at the breakdown of top-10 finishes at plate races this season, by car owner:

David Ragan’s surprising Talladega victory was also near impossible to pull off without the parity given by a restrictor plate.

Hendrick Motorsports – 3
Michael Waltrip Racing – 3
Front Row Motorsports – 2
Phoenix Racing – 2
Roush Fenway Racing – 2
Stewart-Haas Racing – 2
Joe Gibbs Racing – 1
Leavine Family Racing – 1
Penske Racing – 1
Phil Parsons Racing – 1
Richard Petty Motorsports – 1
Tommy Baldwin Racing – 1

That’s a dozen different organizations, combining for just 20 top-10 finishing positions. It would be near impossible for the sport to achieve greater parity, with the wins split between David (Ragan, literally) and Goliath (Hendrick and Jimmie Johnson). Now, let’s look at a breakdown of the other top-10 finishes this season:

Hendrick Motorsports – 30
Joe Gibbs Racing – 24
Michael Waltrip Racing – 20
Richard Childress Racing – 16
Penske Racing – 15
Roush Fenway Racing – 14
Stewart-Haas Racing – 11
Furniture Row Racing – 7
Earnhardt Ganassi Racing – 7
Richard Petty Motorsports – 6

Only ten teams total are on the list – two less than we’ve seen finish well in plate races. There’s also just one single-car outfit, Furniture Row Racing, who has a strong technical and chassis alliance with Richard Childress Racing to the point they’re more of a “fourth car” than their own operation.

Those stats, in a nutshell present the biggest problem NASCAR faces today. Only four times a year, these underdog operations are given hope that if they do things exactly right, there will be a breakthrough that results in much-needed money, TV time, and the confidence of a solid finish. Everywhere else? They’re resigned to runs outside the top 20, top 25, or even worse. With those statistics, in essence, you can compare the sport to Formula One, where only a dozen teams of two (or thereabouts) compete each weekend. It’s a wildly different world from how it used to be, a different type of team racing that doesn’t always jive with the sport’s roots of “every man for himself” in the rural south. That’s why the plate races offer some upside, one of many reasons why they’re so heavily watched despite the obvious safety risk; there’s a shot of something new happening. Different teams, with drivers fans have sometimes never heard of before are running up front and challenging for victory. It’s a boost of energy the sport needs more than four times a year.

Did You Notice?… That Speedway Motorsports, Inc.’s ticket revenue continues to decline? In a five-year span, ticket revenue fell from $188 million to $116 million, a drop of 38.2 percent. It’s a drop O. Bruton Smith, along with other executives that make up the company holding a dozen Sprint Cup race dates continues to blame on fans being unable to spend as much money.

“Management believes many of our revenue categories continue to be negatively impacted by declines in consumer and corporate spending from the recession,” said SMI’s annual report, all reported in a detailed Las Vegas Review Journal article. “Including high unemployment, high fuel, food and health-care costs, difficult housing markets and other economic factors.”

It’s an excuse NASCAR has used, for the past five-plus years now to justify tens of thousands of empty seats. But if the economy’s so bad, forcing fans to stay at home why are other sports enjoying record revenues? Baseball, for example jumped from $7 billion to $7.5 billion in revenue last season (Source: Sporting News). And that’s with one of their lowest-rated World Series in years!

Certainly, one of the figures that helps keeps revenue high is the broadcasting rights being paid by individual television networks. In the NFL, that’s what has really helped them maintain growth in revenue ($9.5 billion in 2012); they’re also struggling to fill some empty seats, although nowhere near the degree to which NASCAR is struggling every Sunday. It’s one thing to go down a tick; it’s another to plummet nearly 40 percent. No amount of lucrative contract, from NBC, ESPN, or TNT to broadcast the second half of Sprint Cup races is going to make up for that. This sport has to acknowledge there’s a problem, work towards solutions and stop waiting for the “economy” to simply fix what ails them.

Did You Notice?… Quick hits before we take off…

- Despite missing four races, Denny Hamlin still has the most poles on the Cup circuit with three. I think, despite the long odds of making the Chase he looks around, sees the raw speed of teammates Matt Kenseth and Kyle Busch, then combines that with his own flashes of brilliance to believe making the Chase is still possible. That’s the only description I have for what, to me amounts as a questionable decision to keep trucking when any one of these wrecks could have caused long-term damage to his lower back.

- Daytona marks the site of Mark Martin’s one and only top-5 finish this season. Note that among the Silly Season rumors, as of late his name has not come up once. Could retirement, as I’ve thought was a strong possibility since February be on the horizon for the 54-year-old? He’s on pace for his least competitive season since leaving Roush Fenway Racing, to fade into “semi-retirement” back in 2006. Michael Waltrip Racing likely doesn’t have the sponsorship for him to run a fourth car. And what other top-tier opening is out there that makes sense?

- You gotta wonder what Sam Hornish, Jr., second in the Nationwide Series standings is thinking. Owner Roger Penske, for all these years has promised him a road back to Cup in a third car. The IndyCar convert has done everything asked of him, improving his skills after stepping down a level to the point he’s contending for a championship. Yet in the midst of “setting up” a third car for the man, in 2014 Penske has gone out of his way to help AJ Allmendinger, giving him opportunities while last weekend a rumor popped up that Carl Edwards was jumping on board. So is Penske really planning to be loyal to Hornish… or is he the “last resort option” if some of these other things don’t work out?

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Championship Caliber? What Does That Even Mean?
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Nuts for Nationwide: The Curious Case of Elliott Sadler
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07/03/2013 01:02 PM

Carl Edwards needs to go somewhere, Jack Roush is not going to get it together anytime soon!!

07/03/2013 01:18 PM

I think the one big issue that NASCAR has versus the “stick and ball” sports with attendance is travel. A lot of the tracks aren’t in or very close to major urban areas, and some that are are an hour+ out of town. That means high hotel costs, paying to camp on site, extra gas driving, etc. From my experience, NASCAR tickets are really competitively priced compared to the major sports. When I am planning going to a race, logging and travel costs are much bigger cost concern, especially with tracks in the middle of nowhere.

The other sports are located usually in major cities, with lots of hotels and public transportation. The other sports are also not the traveling shows that NASCAR is. An NFL team plays 8 home games, MLB plays 81 (lots of choice on when to attend). NASCAR visits a venue once or twice. That drives up demand for logging even more.

NASCAR and the tracks can only cut ticket prices so much, they need to find creative solutions to the hotel/logging issue.

07/03/2013 03:21 PM

Sorry to disillusion Bruton and whatever NASCAR’s management thinks, but it’s the racing – there have been too many years when it’s just not very interesting – including ALL the recent races at Charlotte. When there’s little to no side by side racing and very few cars can pass for the lead, it’s not exciting. As upstate24fan points out, the costs involved in traveling to a race have gotten higher, too. I’m not going to spend the $ to go back to a track unless I feel it is worth my money. We gave up our tickets for the All-Star race and if I had my choice, I’d give up the October “chase” race as well. It starts way too late, there is so much pre-race silliness and it’s cold at night in October. it would make more sense to start it late afternoon like they do the 600 and the race would be over before midnight.

Another poster once commented and I agree with it. Roughly paraphrased, the comment was – it wasn’t worth it to him to spend $1000 to go see Johnson win again at Charlotte.

I feel that way about most tracks these days, Martinsville being the exception. The value I get for my money at a race isn’t as high as it once was. Even watching it on TV is not that interesting, but at least when I’m bored with the race at home, I can go do something else for a while and come back if there’s some actual racing.

NASCAR cannot keep blaming the economy without doing something productive to fix the aero push (which the Gen6 car hasn’t fixed)and the rock hard tires. I’m not spending my time or money to watch a 3 hr parade – not at any track – along with wasting vacation time. If the racing were better, I’d find a way to be AT the track.

Steve K
07/03/2013 08:50 PM

Last time I checked Allmendinger has not raced one Cup race for Penske. Last time I heard, Hornish wanted nothing to do with IndyCar ever again. So where exactly is Hornish getting the raw deal?


Contact Tom Bowles

Recent articles from Tom Bowles:

Did You Notice? ... Breaking Down A Sprint Cup Season Eight Races In
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