The Frontstretch: NASCAR's Future Is Worrying Me by Thomas Bowles -- Sunday October 22, 2006

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NASCAR's Future Is Worrying Me

Bowles-Eye View · Thomas Bowles · Sunday October 22, 2006

 

As always this time of year, the Chase is gobbling up most of the press, submersing some controversial subplots for 2007 into the background while predictions for the championship and the constant twists and turns of each week distract us from the big picture of the sport. I'm just as guilty as anyone else in the media in this regard…so I promised myself I won't get caught up in the Chase furor this week. Other topics need to be addressed…and Martinsville cleared my mind enough to bring one to light. Leave it to a bunch of yellow stripes to catch my attention.

That's right; time to talk about rookies. Not this year's crowd; despite some roller coaster experiences, the six remaining drivers competing for Rookie of the Year will survive until their sophomore season in their current rides, a testament to the improvement or potential each of them has showcased throughout the season. In fact, this year is history in the making for first-years, as Denny Hamlin not only made the Chase, but could become the first rookie in history to place a Nextel Cup trophy on his mantle before the year is out.

No, the 2006 rookie class is fine with me. What I'm looking towards is the rookie class for 2007…and I don't like the sneak peak the NASCAR community's been getting.

That preview was on full display at Martinsville on Sunday. Mark Martin's replacement in the No. 6 car for Roush, David Ragan, started only his second career Nextel Cup race…sadly, that's far less than the amount of crashes he caused. The No. 06 machine Ragan piloted and Roush provided acted more like a pinball than a race car…the only way it seemed its driver could keep off the walls was by bumping into other cars.

Needless to say, the cars - and drivers - Ragan hit were not too happy. Ken Schrader's Top 10 run was ended when Ragan simply "overdrove" it into the turn, spinning the No. 21 Ford hard into the wall while collecting Dale Jarrett in the process. Schrader was so livid following the incident he took a piece of the bumper bar and was looking to throw it at Ragan; luckily, he came to his senses just in time.

Honestly, I'm sure other drivers wish he did. A Ragan spin with a handful of laps left sent Kyle Busch into the outside wall trying to avoid his stopped car; the wreck easily ruined the Chaser's day on what could have been an opportunity for him to climb back into the championship race. Ragan also found time to cut Tony Raines' tire, all while spinning around on his own in separate incidents; man, this guy was so busy it was hard to tell when he actually found time to race!

Tony Stewart couldn't agree more.

"We had a rookie out there that was kind of a dart with no feathers," said the Home Depot Chevrolet driver. "The best thing would have been to black flag the 06 and park him for the rest of the day and save half the cautions."

Ouch. The best part was, Stewart wasn't even INVOLVED with an incident with the 06 all day, and he could tell how bad Ragan was. That's impressive.

Running close with Ragan most of the day was David Gilliland; technically not eligible to be a rookie in 2007, he might as well be one, since he'll end up with only a dozen Cup starts before the year is out. One thing's for sure; he's a rookie now, and it showed. The difference was that Gilliland didn't feel like being involved in his own spinout, really; he just took pride in threatening the good days of other people, like his bump-to-spin maneuvers executed on both Casey Mears and Ward Burton.

Now, there's no doubt both Ragan and Gilliland have the talent to succeed in the Cup series…eventually. Whether they can right now is a different story…and it doesn't really matter, anyway. Sponsors are paying millions for them to represent their products…they're not really concerned with the quality of racing on the track or how many veteran careers they ruin while they get on their feet. They just want TV time.

While the public display of these driver's current Cup abilities make them easy targets, they're not the only rookies for next year that raise some question marks. Jon Wood will be running his first Cup races in the No. 21 car…despite not winning a Busch Series race in two years of competition. Ditto for Regan Smith, currently putting up just as unimpressive Busch Series stats. Bill Lester, who failed to even qualify for a Truck Series race this season, is a sponsorship away from a full-time ride in Cup. David Reutimann has yet to win a Truck or Busch Series Championship, with only one win in 100 starts in both series…combined. Of course, the conversation hasn't reached the open wheelers yet. With Juan Pablo Montoya signed for the No. 42 car and Champ Car star A.J. Allmendinger headed for Team Red Bull, you've got drivers with exceptional talent - but no stock car experience and limited seat time in lower series before moving to Nextel Cup.

You see where I'm going with all of this. In a year where NASCAR will be implementing major rules changes - introducing an entirely new car, no less - the sport is being shelled with perhaps the least experienced group of rookies to ever dot the landscape of Nextel Cup at one time. Only Paul Menard seems competent enough to make the jump to Cup now with few questions asked. It’s a scenario that could lead to a lot of torn up race cars – with a lot of veterans as innocent victims.

Knowing there’s not much they can do, those veterans seemed resigned to the fact they'll be around - but that doesn't mean they have to be happy about it.

"(Ragan) had a bad day," said Raines upon exiting his car. "He ran into a lot of people…you just need to iron that stuff out before you get into this series."

Due to sponsor obligations, money, and the youth movement, that type of "ironing out" is no longer possible in the sport. So, veterans like Mike Skinner and Johnny Benson will sit on the sidelines and race Trucks, while youngsters get a chance to tear up equipment at an alarming rate. The bigger question is, how big and how bad will these mistakes be next year when they do happen? Spinning someone out at Martinsville is one thing…a booboo at Talladega is a different story altogether. People won’t just be mad; they could get hurt, all due to not enough experience to be a part of the series.

You'd dross your fingers and think the kinks in this rookie class will be ironed out by then…but more than likely, those restrictor plate tracks will be an opportunity for the mistakes to come out in full force. And that's a scary thought.

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Mark
10/22/2006 11:25 PM
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NASCARS Future will not remain what it is right now. Good Ol’ Brian attempted to make NASCAR into an American Formula 1, and it will backfire. Factory support of all drivers/teams will go away, because they have no input into the cars.

Fan support will go away for several reasons, tickets are too expensive at the track, there are too many commercials and too little racing on a broadcast, and mainly, Brian built it up on the wrong crowd. Most of the so called fans today just follow what is trendy, and will move on to something else soon.To them NASCAR will be a tomagotchie, a talking Elmo, a Beanie Baby, anybody remember what else?

The trouble is, Brian France took racing away from the ones who built it to start with, Darlington and Rockingham, bye bye forever. So, after all these years, it looks like Brian will kill it, and it will die a slow, painful death.

He made sure all these hot shot young drivers, who went to driving school, and haven’t raced competitively got the best rides, and mostly just tear them to pieces during the race. Kyle Busch may win a few races, but look at all the mangled sheet metal. Remember him trying to bumpdraft at Bristol?

You should have remembered Brian, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

If this sounds like the rantings of an old NASCAR fan, then so be it. The future will bear me out, I’m sorry to report.

richard myers
10/23/2006 07:21 AM
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You are exactly right Stock car racing is already a thing of the past. If you don’t beleive it just look at the COT a cookie cutter car that all look the same. Brian wants total equality and it is never going to happen. When big sponsors begin leaving the sport because of cost you know the end is near as we used to know it.

Scott
10/23/2006 07:27 AM
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I could not agree more.After the Martinsville race,my thoughts pretty much mirrored yours on the future of Cup racing.I think we are seeing the effects of turning the Busch series into “Cup Lite Series“The talent just is not being developed like it was in the past and you have the owners all looking for a quick young fix.It is all coming full circle with the older drivers being squeezed out and the new , unexpirianced drivers coming in.The Busch series used to be an affordable training ground for NEW ,learning drivers..now it is just all Cup.It’s sad too, as you can see…the lack of talent is showing up, and the product we see is suffering….

Sally B
10/23/2006 09:45 AM
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Amen! The TV ratings and track attendance show the effects of all the ‘improvements’ in the racing. Has anyone else noticed that the farther we get into the ‘chase’, the lower the ratings and attendance seem to go? It appears that RACE fans can tell the difference from watching a close points battle that happened because of sustained excellence, rather than one that is invented by playing ‘lets pretend’ with the points.

barbara
10/23/2006 10:10 AM
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I agree wholeheartedly. I have been attending and watching NASCAR since 1960. This is the worst I have ever seen. We even listen to MRN radio when watching it on TV. NBC has just gone completely crazy. I was told that sponsors pay extra to have more TV exposure and I believe it. Also, the Cup drivers are taking over the Busch race to get more TV exposure and track attendance. The Cup boys are also getting practice for the Cup race driving in the Busch race. TV ratings are down, attendance is down, tickets are higher, parking is higher and camping is higher and racing is just not racing anymore. We have been paying a year in advance for tickets and camping to see our friends rather than to watch a race. Many of our friends just come to visit and not go to the race. THANKS BRIAN!!!!!!!

kevin
10/23/2006 10:50 AM
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Growing up around NASCAR, and living within 25 miles of Darlington raceway, I can honestly say one thing. NASCAR has forgotten who made it what it is, and the true fans know it. When a middle income family can’t even afford to go to the races, and when mechanics can’t tell what kind of car is on the track, you know we have serious problems. I hope Brian France is happy to have taken the greatest sport in the world, and turned it in to a Hollywood reality show. Dissapointed, Kevin, South Carolina

Allen Krouse
10/23/2006 12:01 PM
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The interesting thing about this article and all the follow up comments is that so far everyone agrees. Usually there is controversy and people arguing back and forth, but not this time. I became a NASCAR fan in 1998 and in this short time I can see major changes for the worse. I think a big reason the ratings drop during the chase is that if your driver isn’t one of the chasers you will never see him or hear a word about him. Why spend 4 or 5 hours watching a race when you will never hear about your driver. Of course the races wouldn’t take so long if there weren’t so many bad drivers causing so many cautions.

Kirby Honeycutt
10/23/2006 01:54 PM
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Nascar is becoming Formula One before our eyes. This is sad. This is a very good reason to go and support your local Saturday night short track racing, where the racing is still pure to some extent. It was great to sit and talk Nascar with my dad on Sundays and watch the races or attend, but costs are to high and the show is all glitz and glamour. We spend our race days at the local tracks on Saturday nights. Nascar lost a very loyal fan.

Ron Parker
10/23/2006 02:55 PM
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I use to go to both Michigan races each year.NOT ANYMORE! Ticket prices make it impossible to go to both. In times past, I never missed a Busch or Cup race whether it was watching on tv or listening on the radio. NOT ANYMORE! The racing is gone. It use to be fun to watch the Busch series and follow the upcoming stars. I gave up this year when the Cup regulars completely took over. The day is coming when the TV people will have to figure out which angles will not show the empty back stretch grandstands at many of the tracks while King Brian keeps talking about how great another cookie cutter track in New York is.

mark j. taiariol
10/23/2006 03:25 PM
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i have followed na$car for over 40 years in pennsylvania when in the 1960’s and 1970’s it was almost unheard of up here. i was a huge fan but that has all changed. this sport has become so ‘GQ’ it hurts. drivers with frosted hair and fake tans. what the hell happened to na$car. veteran drivers can’t get a ride. brian france has turned this into some slick hollywood gimmick. i don’t watch any truck series races because of nothing but toyota dominance. the fox announcers – waltrip, mcreynolds and hammond rarely are heard saying ‘ford’ and think ‘dodge’ means avoiding the military draft. this sport revolves around chevy and soon toyota. it is based on several select ‘golden boy bow-tie drivers’ that rules do not apply to. this sport has gone beyond sad. brian france has managed to insult the loyal fans. taking a race from darlington is the biggest insult to na$car fans ever. he will cater to the trendy here today, gone today fans. nascar in 5 years will be honda, toyota and chevy. the results will be just like open wheel. i hope to god bruton smith does start a rival league, maybe stock car racing will be stock car racing again.

StewartFan
10/23/2006 05:22 PM
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They brought back the Martinsville dog after we screamed loud enough. Let’s keep telling them how we feel and see if they come around. Get out you torches and pitch forks!

Mark
10/23/2006 05:36 PM
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NASCAR is a publicly traded corporation. It is all about profits. Brian France, think Enron, think WorldCom and KMart. When it falls Brian, Jeffrey Skilling and Bernie Ebers have an extra bunk in their room.

Brian
10/23/2006 05:40 PM
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Where did you get your info on Bill Lester. How do you figure he didn’t qualify for any Truck races this year when he’s been in them all?

Brian
10/23/2006 05:46 PM
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I wouldn’t bet against or prematurely judge Montoya. He will fill the excitement void left by Edwards now that Carl has seemed to settle in to a typical fat and happy veteran role. Then again, Mr. Boles may not know the first thing about Montoya as with Lester.

T. Bowles
10/23/2006 05:56 PM
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Brian,

This is Lester’s fifth full season in the Truck Series, but he started off the year poorly, placed his team outside the Top 30 in car owner points and then failed to qualify at Charlotte. So, he’s missed one race this season…that’s what the article implies.

Missing a race in your fifth full season in Trucks does not imply the driver being ready for Nextel Cup by any means…but that’s just my opinion. Nor do I think any open wheel driver is ready to just jump into a Nextel Cup car with limited experience in stock cars…

Thanks for reading, as always! Appreciate the many comments received on here and SI.com.

Russ Fitzerald
10/23/2006 06:00 PM
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Mark, You are so right, when you said that NA$CAR lets its “annointed” golden boys wearing the bow-tie brand get by with anything. I also agree with you on hoping that Bruton Smith starts a rival league. Then the racing could resemble the racing we grew to love, before King Brian started taking away good races to give to other tracks that are mostly attended by the white-collar-trend-setters that you see in California, Las Vegas Texas, and soon to be New York and Seattle. Please Bruton Please start a rival league.

Colin Baird
10/23/2006 07:15 PM
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If NASCAR racing is going to be restored to the high quality of stock car racing it once was, the following changes need to be implimented IMMEDIATELY.
1. Do away with the STUPID Chase.
2. Do away with the top 35 cars being locked into a race.
3. Let all cars attempt to qualify, and put only the 43 fastest qualifiers in the race. NO PROVISIONALS.
4. Do away with the Lucky Dog get your lap back. This is racing, not a church social.
5. Stop the partiality being shown by both NASCAR and the TV Networks. Treat everybody equal.
6. Dump the Car Of Tomorrow program.
7. Reduce the size of the engines. That will reduce speeds without disturbing the quality of the races.
8. At the same time, throw the restrictor plates in the trash can.
9. Reduce all ticket prices accordingly. NASCAR must realize that the Fans are the heart and soul of NASCAR.
10. Keep the Busch Series and Cup Series drivers seperated. If a driver races in the Cup Series full time, he is not eligible to race in the Busch Series. On the other hand, a driver must drive a minimum of 2 years full time in the Busch Series before he is eligible to move up to the Cup Series.

John C.
10/23/2006 08:46 PM
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Here are some rules I would like to see implemented in Nascar.
1) Anyone running a full time Cup schedule may compete in a maximum of 5 Busch series races and a maximum of 5 Truck series races. (Unfortunately this is not likely to happen due to the fact that before the “Buschwackers” invaded, Nascar was beginning to have real trouble finding enough teams with enough sponsorship to fill the field.)
2) You want to slow down the cars? How about STOCK BODY TEMPLATES!!! These cars running today look nothing like what comes from Detroit. If you’ve ever seen one of the current cars at just the right angle, they resemble a teardrop shape. The front fenders are not symetrical either. It seems that one front fender on the car is now massaged for better downforce.
3) Absolutely no tape over grill openings.
Implement rules 2 and 3 and take the restrictor plates away and chalk it up to a 19 year long nightmare, well, unless you’re a Chevy fan which (suprise, suprise) has been allowed to dominate all restrictor plate tracks-Daytona, Talledega, and New Hampshire.
Some more thoughts: Nascar and their sponsors REALLY need to stop putting so much emphasis on youth. They have run a lot of good talent out of this series simply because of age. I think that is one of the reasons for the sagging ratings, although not as much of a reason as the brutally frequent and lengthy commercial breaks. Well, enough ranting for now.

Jim
10/24/2006 09:27 AM
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I do have to AGREE, NASCAR is becoming the F1 in USA. I don’t want TOYOTA in Nascar — if I want to watch a Toyota race I’d watch F1 – not NASCAR. Look at some drivers — Dale Jarrett (who I was a fan of until he is going to that JapCrap) and his employer – Michael Waltrip (hey, Michael worry about winning races – not building a team!) – are drivers past their prime. It seems the TV announcers are fans of Tony Stewart, Jr., or any drivers of the ‘Bowtie’ (Chevy). It seems every time Ford or Dodge win a race, they are DISAPPOINTED. Also, North Wilks and Darlington are gone – and replaced by tracks in ‘TRADITIONAL’ Areas like New York City and the Northwest. The tradition of having the ‘State RIGHTS flag’ (the CONFEDERATE FLAG) is being phased out, because it is NOT PC anymore. Look at the ratings for TV…it is falling. A message to the France family — WAKE UP!!!

Jim

Chris
10/24/2006 08:16 PM
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Tom, Tom, Tom,... as good as you usually are,.. I didn’t figure you would buy into all the smoke and mirrors this weekend…

Everyone keeps harping on what Ragan did wrong,.. From what I saw,.. yeah, he punted Schrader and spun him out (too bad he hit the wall). I saw a LOT of guys hit guys and spin then out. Thats common at Martinsville. Lets do a review.
I also saw Newman spin out Mears,.. Gilliland spun W. Burton,.. Riggs spun Sorenson,.. Bowyer spun Kenseth,.. Raines spun Skinner,.. Ragan was spun by E Sadler,.. Riggs spun Kurt Busch,.. Labonte spun McMurray,.. Mears spun Gilliland

OK,.. these are ALL the spins in the race where one drive SPUN another,... GEE I only see Ragans name at fault once,... Don’t seem like he was any more hazard than anyone else. Maybe if he was so bad,.. they should of parked all these other guys too??
AT least he never got a warning or got sent to the rear of the field like Newman did..

NOW,.. Ragan DID spin once all by himself… here’s a list of OTHER DRIVERS who ALSO spun all by themselves… Earnhardt, Wallace, Bowyer, Waltrip, Stremme.
Seems like to me people are jumping on the bandwagon about a driver just because the announcers did. When you look at the facts of what went on,.. and sort it all out…. you’ll see (as is listed above) He did no worse than the rest of the “better” and even “past champions” in the field. SO for just his second CUP race, and to be at a place as tough as Martinsville,.. I think he did just fine.
Nascar is wrong to not allow him to race at ATlanta this weekend,.. Heck he’s ALREADY competed at tracks like Michigan, Dega, ATLANTA, and done well (several top 10 finishes) How do they think they can back up and say he can’t compete on a 1 1/2 mile track when he’s done run on a 2 1/2 mile track. Makes no sense at all…

Mark
10/25/2006 02:31 PM
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David Ragan was about as interesting as Jeff Burtons hood pins

 

Contact Tom Bowles

Recent articles from Tom Bowles:

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