The Frontstretch: Ten Points To Ponder ... After Dover by Tommy Thompson And Bryan Davis Keith -- Monday June 2, 2008

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Ten Points To Ponder ... After Dover

Tommy Thompson And Bryan Davis Keith · Monday June 2, 2008

 

1. Are They Baaack? – Television ratings for NASCAR have seen resurgence this race season after experiencing at least two years of declines. The Memorial Day weekend Coca-Cola 600 tallied a 4% boost over last season’s telecast, and posted the first increase in viewer numbers in three years. But the 4% improvement, though noteworthy, is less than the 5% increase that FOX TV has seen in its race broadcasts for the season to date.

Puzzling … wasn’t there a mass defection of race fans that could no longer tolerate NASCAR’s disregard for its racing roots, mass commercialism, Hendrick Motorsports drivers, the CoT…and the France family’s role in political unrest in the Middle East, etc…?

2. Coming On Strong – The IRL has got to be ecstatic over their improved television rating numbers, as well. Though trailing the Coca-Cola 600’s 4.7 rating (7.6 million viewers), the 92nd running of the Indianapolis 500, with a reunified field and three women competing — including media-darling Danica Patrick — earned a solid 4.5 final rating. In fact, some speculate that had the Indy 500 been run during primetime, as the 600 was, the open-wheel classic could have very possibly surpassed the ratings numbers that NASCAR managed. Overall, the Indy Racing League boasts that TV ratings are up 28% this year, merchandise sales 23%, and visits to the official website have increased an impressive 90%.

Could it be that NASCAR’s unquestioned domination of the U.S. motorsports scene may be in jeopardy?

3. Ahhhh, Come On Honey…Can’t A Man Change His Mind? – Speculation that billionaire Bruton Smith, the head honcho of Speedway Motorsports, Inc. would buy Pocono Raceway and redistribute its two race dates to his Las Vegas NASCAR venue and Kentucky Speedway — which is in the process of being purchased by Smith’s company — seems to have hit a snag. “It never was available; it never will be available,” said Rose Mattioli, wife of Pocono board chairman Dr. Joseph Mattioli. “My husband has stated that over and over again. That’s it.”

Then again, Smith has denied even speaking to the Mattiolis on the matter, let alone making an offer… yet.

4. A Garage Rat – Before the Coca-Cola 600, someone in the garage area tipped off NASCAR officials that Haas CNC Racing’s No. 66 (Scott Riggs) and No. 70 (Johnny Sauter) had illegally mounted rear wing mounts. The cars were quickly confiscated prior to the race, forcing both drivers to compete in backup Chevrolets; and as a result, NASCAR has issued the stiffest fines and penalties yet involving illegal alterations to the new generation Sprint Cup race car. Each team was docked 150 driver and owner championship points, and not only were both crew chiefs suspended until July 9th from race events, but both car chiefs as well. Additionally, the crew chiefs for each car were fined $100,000 each. The No. 70 team, competing without a full-time driver, is now 43rd in owners’ points. Following the points adjustment, Riggs’ No. 66 dropped from 26th to 34th in the point standings… but only five championship points from falling out of the Top 35. Riggs proceeded to fall out of the Top 35 after getting caught up in the big one Sunday and finishing 39th.

As harsh as those fines and penalties might be… it could be worse. Haas CNC Racing owner Gene Haas is serving a two-year term in Federal Prison and was ordered to pay $70 million in fines, interest, and back taxes after pleading guilty of “doctoring the books” to avoid paying taxes.

5. We Ain’t Whistlin’ Dixie, Here! – California native Scott Speed won the Craftsman Truck Series AAA Insurance 200 Friday evening at Dover International Speedway in only his sixth CTS attempt. Speed, who left the Formula 1 circuit after a not-so-good 2007 campaign, is expected to eventually compete in the Sprint Cup series with strong financial backing from Red Bull. The 25-year-old, who has a home in Fusel am Sec, Austria, is known for his continental flare in fashion; sporting designer clothes, painted toenails, and sunglasses that even Elton John might consider a little over-the-top.

And, oh yes…man bags. That’s right…man bag toting stock car drivers may be the wave of the future!

Scott Speed has a flair for the fashionable and as his name suggests, a flair for going fast. Speed didn’t waste much time in proving that point, winning at Dover in just his sixth CTS start.

6. Don’t Beat Yourself Up – The four year wait for Joey Logano, whom Mark Martin proclaimed ready for “prime time” at age 14, is over. In Saturday’s Nationwide series race at Dover, the Joe Gibbs Racing development driver drove capably and up front most of the day before finishing sixth in his series debut. Logano, who celebrated his 18th birthday just last week, chauffeured the JGR No. 20 Toyota that is leading the series owner championship point standings after having won six times this year with the JGR trio of Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin, and Tony Stewart behind the wheel. “It ain’t much in my book,” offered Logano on his impressive performance against a host of NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers competing in The Heluva Good! 200.

Perhaps not, Joey…but it ain’t bad, either!

7. Some Guys Just Weren’t Meant for Cup Racing – Even before NASCAR issued penalties for Charlotte, the Haas CNC No. 70 car was struggling to perform on the track and was well outside the Top 35 in owner points. Ever since releasing Jeremy Mayfield, the No. 70 has been driven by a host of drivers, including Johnny Sauter and Ken Schrader. At least while the finishes haven’t been stellar, the car has made the field for every race this season.

But that all changed this weekend, when perpetual Cup failure Jason Leffler was one of only two cars to miss Sunday’s show. Leffler drove the No. 0 for Haas in 2003 and did nothing in the car; in 2005, he got the keys to Joe Gibbs Racing’s No. 11 and burned out quickly. Why Haas CNC chose to give Leffler another shot in Cup when the No. 70 is fighting to race week in and week out is a decision that has to be questioned, especially when Sauter and Schrader both had proven able to get the car in the field.

8. How the Mighty Have Fallen – Early in his career, Tony Stewart all but owned the Dover International Speedway. From 1999 to 2004, Stewart scored two wins at the Monster Mile, and finished outside the Top 10 only once (that was an 11th place run). Since then, the Monster has gotten the best of Smoke, as Stewart was caught up in a hard crash early in the going of Sunday’s event, relegating him to a 41st place finish.

Stewart’s latest struggles at Dover marked the seventh consecutive race that he has failed to score a lead lap finish on the high banks; it was also his fourth crash in his last five Dover starts. The Monster has definitely gotten Stewart’s number, and is taking him to task for his early career success at the track.

9. Statistics That Mean Nothing – Every time Kevin Harvick’s No. 29 Chevrolet appeared on camera scarred by crash damage and missing its front end, it prompted the FOX crew to comment on how Harvick had been running at the finish for 50 some odd races, and was closing in on breaking his own record in that category. One would think there was a separate points fund for running at the finish after the kind of air time Harvick’s streak got.

What a worthless factoid. What difference does it make whether Harvick was running at the finish or in the garage? He finished 38th, 75 laps down! Consecutive races running at the finish is one of those stats that may sound impressive, but Dover exposed this measure for the nothing that it is.

10. O Sponsor, Where Art Thou? – Travis Kvapil’s stark white car got plenty of air time again this weekend at Dover. Kvapil spent the entire day in the Top 15, giving eventual Top 10 finishers — including Jimmie Johnson, Dave Blaney and Jamie McMurray — fits all day long. Kvapil’s 11th place finish moved him to 18th in the driver standings, and yet again saw this unsponsored team running competitively and making enormous strides from last season. The only thing missing? The same thing that’s been missing since February: A sponsor.

And why can’t this team find one? Despite the nation’s current economic struggles, sponsors are stepping up to the plate. CJM Racing in the Nationwide Series signed America’s Incredible Pizza Company. This weekend, Truck Series regular ThorSport Racing signed Bobcat to its No. 13 truck. Even Kvapil’s Yates Racing teammate David Gilliland has gotten expanded help from early season sponsor FreeCreditReport.com. Kvapil’s team has done everything that can be expected of an unsponsored team… someone with some bucks step up!

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Today on the Frontstretch:
Championship Caliber? What Does That Even Mean?
Mirror Driving: Winning Vs. Points, Needing a Boost, and The Lady’s Last Dance?
Nuts for Nationwide: The Curious Case of Elliott Sadler
Happiness Is…Arrogance, Less, Next, and the Outdoors
Frontstretch Foto Funnies: It’s Not Gonna Fit…
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SallyB
06/02/2008 05:44 AM
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Yes, TV ratings are up over last year, even as the number of empty seats at each race grows larger, too. The high cost of tickets, gas, and motels is having it’s effect on racing attendance. Is it any wonder that ratings are up, as those fans are now watching on TV rather than travel to the tracks? Also, remember that the TV guys are comparing ratings to last year, which had the lowest in many years. While it’s an improvement, it’s not exactly worth shouting about yet.

Johnboy60
06/02/2008 07:26 AM
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Maybe toyota is requiring its workers to watch the races. They payed brian 95 million for these “wins” this year. SO such a order would be in line. Nothing that might be going on in nascrap would surprise me! Watch this bring out the toyota and kyle “fans”!!

Amy
06/02/2008 07:33 AM
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Hey Johnboy60 maybe chevy should up the ante for Jr!

Racinsince55
06/02/2008 07:41 AM
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I just wonder if “Johnboy60” thought that Chevrolet paid NASCAR for all of those Hendrick wins last year?

I can’t help but wonder if “Johnboy60” is one of those “Jr.” fans who just can’t handle the fact that Kyle Busch keeps finding ways to win while Jr. keeps finding ways to lose?

Am I a fan of Toyota? Hell no! Am I a fan of Kurt Busch? You Betcha!

Mike In NH
06/02/2008 08:20 AM
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I can’t believe how many so-called fans of the sport have such a love for conspiracy theories – what Sirius NASCAR guys refer to as the “men in black helicopters” crowd, and there are enough of them for the jocks to keep a helicopter sound effect at the ready whenever one of them starts jabbering their stuff.

Sally, you mentioned the number of empty seats growing larger, but most of the races this year have sold out (albeit some of them on the last day), and with venues the size of NASCAR’s a few empty seats translates into more butts in the seats than any other sporting event that’s held in North America, so I’m not sure attendance has dropped to the concern level just yet.

Let’s concentrate on the things that really are a problem – what will happen to Nationwide after they change to the COT next year, tightening sponsor dollars, and yanking races from tracks that sell out to put them in saturated markets, for example.

Joe
06/02/2008 08:55 AM
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Mike,

All I know is I have seen virtually every race aside from Daytona and Bristol with very obvious patches of fans disguised as seats. When an RV gets 8 to 15 miles to the gallon at $4 to $5 per, I don’t think my entertainment dollar will be going that far. The attendance numbers are deceiving.

I do agree with you that the Nationwide Series is a huge concern especially for the have not’s who are not named Harvick, Gibbs, Hendrick, Roush, etc. I personally think they ought to close down the truck series and merge and run short tracks and regionalize but that’s just my opinion.

Mike In NH
06/02/2008 09:09 AM
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Closing the Truck Series down is a bad idea, it’s featured some of the best racing of all of the series this year, and honestly, those trucks probably drive more like the new Cup car than the Nationwide cars do (which drive like the ARCA (former Cup) and CW cars). The thing is it’s going to be really expensive for the Nationwide guys to build all new COT cars for theirs series and with the sponsor dollar crunch it’s a double blow that a few teams won’t be able to handle – heck, Junior is saying he may take his team to Cup since it’s so expensive he might as well put them in Cup if he has to build COT cars for the team, but most teams don’t have the $$ to do that.

If attendance at Dover is a concern, that’s nothing new, it has been for a while. I have no doubt some of the RV’ers are cutting back, but I noticed when I drove by it on the Sunday of the 600 (on the way home from Va Beach, a full week before yesterday’s race) that there were already a lot of campers in the lots, so some of our RV fans are still coming – my guess is that those RV’ers are groups splitting the fuel costs. I’ll have to try to watch the races closer to see the empty seats. My guess is attendance figures are for seats sold, not how many are in attendance, and that’s fine, you can’t sell a seat twice to make sure someone is sitting in it. Maybe a lot of Dover’s fans were out for a walk to wake up from the snoozefest! :)

Douglas
06/02/2008 09:19 AM
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RE: Empty seats!

Please be reminded folks that many of the speedways are painting their seats different colors to disguise them for the TV audiences!

If a grandstand is empty, and all the seats are the same color, example silver, they really show up on TV. So, tracks are taking the lead from say Daytona, where a fair number of the seats have been painted so they do not stand out as EMPTY!

Obviously more for the July race than any, but many tracks are following suit!

And isn’t it so funny that, and lets take California as an example, that while the cameras are showing tens of thousands of empty grandstand seats, the announcers are saying the race is a sellout and over 150,000 people are in attendance?

mark
06/02/2008 11:45 AM
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Empty seats? Yep, there were plenty of them. 4 whole sections, 2 coming out of turn 2 and 2 going into turn 4 were covered over with promotional banners. Behind my seats in the middle of turn 1 and 2 there were 2 WHOLE rows that were empty (we took advantage of that). And to look around the track there were plenty of holes. We used to take 4 days to do the Dover race. When we started it cost us about $600 bucks. That included 2 tickets, 3 night hotel stay in Dewy, fuel, dog boarding, etc. Two years ago, I stopped when the race weekend was costing over $1400 bucks. We now do smash and dash weekends (drive up in the AM and drive back in the PM). I have cut my costs to about $200 bucks…. and we split that up 3 or 4 ways some times. But I have to say, given how BORING that race was yesterday…I just might be saving myself that $200 next year.

John
06/02/2008 12:05 PM
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I can’t understand how Elliot Sadler still has a ride. It seems every other week he’s wrecking and taken out chase contenders. He reminds me of Buckshot Jones

Gail
06/02/2008 12:51 PM
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Good point John. I can’t believe GEM gave Sadler a multi-year contract. He’s a nice guy but he can’t drive. He’s a train wreck.

Lunar Tunes
06/02/2008 06:31 PM
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As Jeff Meyer wrote LAST WEEK
“While this is not rocket science, and there is not much NASCAR can do, here is a PR idea that I am surprised has not already been utilized; don’t mention anything about sagging ticket sales. Instead, focus solely on the fact that television ratings have been up for almost every race so far this season! They have been down for so many years in a row now, I’m surprised this bait and switch ploy hasn’t been used already. Don’t worry, Brian; us fans are so dumb, we will not realize that the ratings are up, because we are staying home to watch the race instead of missing a mortgage payment to be there to get our free hot dog!”

You don’t think that ratings are up because more people are staying home? Jeff was right about certain fans!! Enjoy your hotdog as your home gets repo’d!!!

JoeGibbs
06/02/2008 08:06 PM
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C’mon, the Monster Mile didn’t tame Tony Stewart! Elliot Sadler once again doesn’t know how to drive and that’s Tony’s fault? Wrong!

mkrcr
06/03/2008 01:02 AM
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Mike in NH… The racing in the CTS is so good because they don’t drive like the COT and teams are allowed to do what it takes to make the truck perform. No matter how much NA$CAR says the teams need time to “get a handle on these cars”,nothing will change until they allow teams to do more with their Crap Of Today. Givin the amount of money and hype invested, I don’t see that happening anytime soon. Cookie cutter tracks, cookie cutter cars, cookie cutter drivers.

Mike In NH
06/03/2008 02:01 PM
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Actually, the future tracks will be getting smaller and moving away from the tri-oval, according to a recent article on NASCAR.COM, for a variety of reasons. With this economy though who knows when the next track will get built. As for the car, as I’ve said elsewhere, it’ll be a year or two before they get it racing well, that happens every time they make a major chassis change. These guys have no data to use to set up the cars, the old book goes in the trash.

As for the trucks, I’ve heard they do race like the new car. They even look like the new car, especially from the front. If they get the new car to race as well as the trucks are now – and yes, NASCAR will have to loosen up a bit to let that happen – then the racing should be pretty good.

And as I said elsewhere, Elliot Sadler is like a poor man’s Mikey Waltrip – good on TV, not so good on the track.

Marc
06/03/2008 10:41 PM
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Dover has a way, like Talladega, of taking seemily small events and turning them into mega-disasters. Who would have thought Elliot Sadler spinning out would have brought 6 chase contenders to their knees?

Can anyone tell me the last Kyle Petty victory?
Dover about 13 years ago, after a track blocking melee took out all the leaders, and Kyle was the best running car on the track for the rest of the day.

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