The Frontstretch: Chase to the Sprint Cup Championship: NASCAR's Stimulus Package by Tommy Thompson -- Thursday August 27, 2009

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Chase to the Sprint Cup Championship: NASCAR's Stimulus Package

Thompson In Turn 5 · Tommy Thompson · Thursday August 27, 2009

 

It seems that the impending implosion that the country’s financial institutions and NASCAR faced last winter has passed and perhaps, just perhaps, there is now reason for optimism. Even as the U.S. stock markets continue to soar and the nation’s largest financial institutions begin to report profitable quarters, NASCAR is seeing what appears to be a leveling out and even an increase in TV ratings and attendance. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke said this week, “Economic activity in both the U.S. and around the world appears to be “leveling out,” and “the prospects for a return to growth in the near term appear good.” Also this week ESPN enjoyed its second consecutive increase in ratings for its Sprint Cup broadcast of the Sharpie 500 from the Bristol Motor Speedway.

There is no guesswork needed in understanding the uptick in the country’s economic health. The Federal government has spent untold billions of dollars to prop up and stimulate banks and businesses. However, there has been no direct stimulus package sent NASCAR’s way, an enterprise that seemed to be on the skids before the start of the season. News on the sport of stock car racing was heavily saturated with reports of sponsors effected by the soured economy deserting the sport and forcing teams to close up shop. There were questions as to whether the Sprint Cup Series would even be able to present a full field of 43 cars come race day.

Even as the NASCAR season ramped up for its February kickoff at Daytona there was a bleak cloud of pessimisim hanging over the sport—a sport so dependent on the participation and support of corporations that were being battered by the economic recession. In the first column back from the winter break, Good Racing…A Cure For The Economic Blues, Turn 5 presented a not-so-rosy summation of the sports condition.

“The melancholy that is greeting the new race season is, in some respects, identical to the general discontent that our nation as a whole has been struggling with as our precarious economic situation increasingly dominates our thoughts. That’s not a surprising development, as NASCAR’s own well-being very much mirrors the nations need for a strong economic outlook to continue to grow and prosper. As corporate America goes, so does the nation and apparently NASCAR.”

Certainly the nation’s, as well as NASCAR’s problems have not been entirely eliminated. There are still plenty of unresolved issues to be dealt with, but the feeling of hopelessness that was so pervasive six months ago has inarguably eased. The nation’s financial institutions are not going to collapse, nor will NASCAR. At least not in the foreseeable future.

The race to the Chase to the Sprint Cup Championship is NASCAR’s stimulus package, luring fans to the track and to their television sets.

The sport’s survival is a testament to the loyalty of its core fan base, to be sure. Yet, credit must be given to the organization as it has undeniably hit on a crowd pleasing format that is providing exciting on-track action. It would be hard to come up with a better plan to keep auto racing fans watching than what NASCAR is doing – providing them with good racing.

The truth is, that despite all the bellyaching and complaining that fans have heaped on the sport, the racing has never been anymore competitive or exciting. The switch to the CoT, critics aside, has scratched every itch that it was designed to scratch. Not only is it a safer race car, its cost-saving features could not come at a better time for team owners suffering during these tough financial times. They have worked well at Talladega and Bristol and every track in between. And in consideration of the lean times that the sport is experiencing, the car couldn’t have come at a better time.

Less controversial than the new car was NASCAR’s decision after the start of the season to employ double-file restarts. It is difficult to find anyone that won’t admit, perhaps grudgingly (some folks hate to give NASCAR credit for anything) that the side-by-side restarts have been a big hit—maybe long overdue, but a hit nonetheless.

NASCAR’s version of a stimulus package however is the Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship. First rolled out in 2004, it sure can’t hurt as the sport tries to keep its head above water as the duldrums invariably set in after more than seven months of racing. Perhaps more this year than ever, NASCAR needs every shot of excitement it can get to keep its momentum moving forward and fans interested as the nation’s most popular sport, football gears up to take center stage.

As much as some profess to dislike the 10-race Chase playoff format it is hard to believe that any race Sprint Cup fan isn’t keeping an eye on the points standings with only two races left before the championship-eligible field is set after Richmond. This year’s battle for the 12 spots in the Championship run is as interesting and almost as exciting as NASCAR could of hoped for.

The only thing missing is the sports most popular driver, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. fighting to become Chase-eligible. Earnhardt, Jr. is 21st in the driver’s point standings and out of contention for the Chase, however, perhaps the second largest group of NASCAR fans, those that love to dislike Kyle “Rowdy” Busch still have the Las Vegas native’s fight to gain top 12 status to root against. Busch with four wins on the year is presently 13th in points, 34 behind Matt Kenseth, a driver that has never failed to make a Sprint Cup Chase field.

Without the Chase format the next two races, Atlanta on Labor Day weekend and Richmond the following week would be just two more races on NASCAR’s excrutiatingly long schedule. Though Richmond International Raceway has been a fan favorite and sell out, Atlanta has struggled attendance-wise in recent years and needs any stimulus the Chase will lend it.

Besides fans that will be rooting both for and against Kyle Busch becoming Chase eligible, Red Bull racer Brian Vickers is still very much in contention, just five points behind Busch and, more importantly, only 39-points out of the 12th and final Chase spot. Richard Childress Racing’s Clint Bowyer cannot yet be ruled out as a candidate to make the field either, trailing Kenseth by 112 points.

Fans interested in Kyle Busch, Brian Vickers and Clint Bowyer certainly have an added incentive to tune into the next two races. But for NASCAR it gets even better, the margin between Kenseth and the seventh ranked driver Ryan Newman is only 55 points. So not only fans interested in Newman and Kenseth will be watching with interest, but supporters of Greg Biffle (8th), Juan Pablo Montoya (9th), Mark Martin (10th) and Kasey Kahne (11th). A total of nine drivers whose fans will no doubt be watching intently and hoping to root into the Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship – football be damned.

How many? Hard to say. But you take the total of all those interested in the likes of a Kasey Khane, Juan Pablo Montoya, Mark Martin or any of the other nine drivers battling for inclusion into the Chase, and the sum total must be significant.

NASCAR needs the stimulus that the Chase championship format provides. Perhaps this year more than ever.

And…that’s my view from Turn 5

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Bill B
08/27/2009 07:58 AM
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Was this really written by Brian France or one of the NASCAR PR guys? LOL

Johnboy60
08/27/2009 08:19 AM
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Bill B, I think you are 100% correct!!

Douglas
08/27/2009 08:41 AM
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HOLY COW!

“The truth is, that despite all the bellyaching and complaining that fans have heaped on the sport, the racing has never been anymore competitive or exciting. The switch to the CoT, critics aside, has scratched every itch that it was designed to scratch. Not only is it a safer race car, its cost-saving features could not come at a better time for team owners suffering during these tough financial times. They have worked well at Talladega and Bristol and every track in between. And in consideration of the lean times that the sport is experiencing, the car couldn’t have come at a better time”

HOLY COW!

You need to be watching from turn #1, #2, #3, or #4! Cause watching from “turn 5” sure ain’t working! Turn #5 must be out in left field!

Or more appropriate!

HOLY CRAP!

When does your paychecks from NA$CRAP start rolling in?

And your “The only thing missing is the sports most popular driver, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. fighting to become Chase-eligible.”

MISSING? Who misses Jr.?

Certainly not me!

But what does Jr. mean to you? He stated the POS is a piece of crap, but apparently you don’t believe him, a driver that tries to drive that POS each and every weekend!

What end of the spectrum are you on?

mick
08/27/2009 08:46 AM
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“It seems that the impending implosion that the country’s financial institutions and NASCAR faced last winter has passed and perhaps, just perhaps, there is now reason for optimism.”

Better take off those rose-colored glasses…things are far worse than we are told. And just wait for the government to take over health care in the name of Kennedy…we are being stomped on and most don’t know or seem to care.

But hey! American Idol is still on TV!

Carl D.
08/27/2009 09:01 AM
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Tommy…

Get better seats. You obviously can’t see the race from Turn 5.

To say that “never been anymore competitive or exciting” and that the COT has “worked well at Talladega and Bristol and every track in between” is just laughable.

As for your comment that “The sport’s survival is a testament to the loyalty of its core fan base”, would that be the fans that didn’t show up for the race at Fontana or the ones that didn’t show up for the race in Chicagoland?

Douglas
08/27/2009 09:06 AM
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When Frontstretch was “elected” to the NA$CRAP CITIZENS PANEL, or whatever they call it, we all wondered in our comments what the price would be!

Well, we just found out!

don mei
08/27/2009 09:55 AM
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“Competitive?”, “exciting?” What planet are you on?

I believe in 55 SIGH
08/27/2009 12:19 PM
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Did this come from a press release for NASCAR!
YIKES they have taken over

mkrcr
08/27/2009 01:10 PM
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Thanks for the Kool-Aid, Mr. France. May I have another? BTW, about that Press Pass…

Ed
08/27/2009 02:49 PM
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Say what? More exciting? The battle for 12 spots is exciting? Have you been drinking whatever it was that Brian France was drinking the night he tore up his Lexus, or this necessary to remain on NASCAR’s citizen panel?

SB
08/27/2009 04:54 PM
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Typical. The press LOVES the chase because it makes it easy for them to pare down their coverage to 12 or 15 drivers instead of actually trying to cover all the teams. The fans…not so much. I guess of you think 26 weeks of points racing is good, followed by 10 weeks of knowing exactly WHO will finish in the top 10, just not the exact order, then the
chase’ is perfect. I prefer not to start focusing on the last race before the season even starts, and I’m already so sick of the stupid ‘If the race ended now’ updates I could scream. Actually, I have done that, usually in the middle of a race when the only drivers I hear about on the TV coverage are the ones shown running all by themselves well in front of the field. If there’s good close racing going on somewhere, I certainly am not seeing it on the TV coverage I get.

Overra88ted
08/27/2009 10:07 PM
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Na$crap’s 10 race Do-Over, the “Farce for the Chumpionship” has been Bankrupt for several years.

Kevin in SoCal
08/29/2009 10:23 PM
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Carl D. said “would that be the fans that didn’t show up for the race at Fontana or the ones that didn’t show up for the race in Chicagoland?”

There were more fans in the stands at Fontana in February than at Atlanta in March. But Fontana continues to be everyone’s favorite whipping boy.

Beer Me
08/29/2009 11:56 PM
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Think this article is bad? Did you know that NASCAR fans are all republicans and racists? Read this: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/steve-parker/should-african-american-w_b_271855.html

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