The Frontstretch: What's Vexing Vito: Can Richmond Reiginte The Spark So Many Fans Have Lost? by Vito Pugliese -- Thursday September 4, 2008

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This weekend marks the 26th race of the 2008 Sprint Cup season, and the final race before the fifth annual Championship Chase begins. With David Ragan and Kasey Kahne getting set to make a last ditch effort to get into title contention, Clint Bowyer and Denny Hamlin are among a few men walking on egg shells, a tightrope, and over the abyss at the .750-mile short track in Henrico County, Virginia Saturday night.

Why, then, am I so completely underwhelmed with apathy matched only by a sustaining member of the Green Party?

Perhaps I’ve had a long week of work following the Holiday Weekend, or I’m still trying to rid my mind of those horrific images from Sunday. No, not Hurricane Gustav — but that mind-numbingly boring and predictable event from California Speedway, the one that’s always advertised as a stock car race but never is. Tell me I wasn’t the one lone soul whose interest was piqued only when the safety lights fell from the heavens and onto the track. The coverage and competition was so insufferable, I began lamenting the passing of the Phantom Caution from 2007 — and prayed for its merciful return.

Night racing returns to Richmond Saturday night — but will the action be enough to turn NASCAR’s dismal season around?

What ensued was Michigan on mescaline; another 250-lap endurance of eyelids. This race, this discourse from the same series that once gave us Donnie, Cale, and Bobby kicking, punching, and beating each other with helmets in the infield grass.

With that said, Richmond has always been something to look forward to in NASCAR, even before things seemingly took a left turn for the worse. It was always viewed as the perfect short track: slow and confining enough to produce good, hard, close quarters racing, but not as cramped as Martinsville, with half of the field becoming little more than a moving chicane for the leaders. With the Car of Tomorrow offering a glimpse of the future, passing at Richmond has become a thing of the past.

But the track has always produced fantastic racing, and is a throwback and reminder as to what was right with NASCAR for so many years. Through the mid-90’s and early part of the 2000s, each weekend was wrought with anxious energy as fans eagerly anticipated the drop of the green flag. That has cooled in recent years, and this year has reached an all-time low rating of approval. You think the President and Congress have a low approval rating? Check out those dismal marks registered by the Pepsi 500 at California last weekend.

It would appear that I am not alone with the problem I have been suffering with — NADS (NASCAR Attention Deficit Syndrome). My NADS is just killing me lately, and I suspect that other’s NADS have taken a beating this season, as well. Hopefully my NADS will be able to rebound this Friday and Saturday night as the wick is about to be turned up a little bit — and the amplifier knobs are set to 11. As much grief as The Chase format has received from purists in recent years, maybe this is one year where it finally pays off.

While it is hard to identify one thing in particular as the root cause of this negative phenomenon, it isn’t a mystery that many share the same opinion as myself. One can literally see it at any number of venues or media outlets. Ratings are down, wide swathes of grandstands are empty; the blogs and message boards across the Internet are echoing the same lack of passion and interest that once burned bright but a few short years ago. Short of Alaska Governor Sarah Palin showing up to give the command to start engines — punctuating it with a three-round burst from an M4 combat rifle while riding atop a moose — I do not feel the same anticipation and “I-can’t-wait-for-Saturday-to-get-here!” feeling I did back in 2004 or even 2006.

This is to not say that I don’t still love stock car racing or that I am turning my back on NASCAR. It merely underscores the lack of interest and verve that used to surround a short track race at night, at one of the greatest tracks on the circuit. So here’s hoping for an eventful Saturday night at Richmond International Raceway, and a salute to all of America’s heroes who will be on hand and honored as well. If there is one thing that NASCAR still does right, it is to show their support and appreciation for those who sacrifice so much — and who often receive so little in return. It is because of them we are able to sit here, and spend precious time complaining about what in actuality is still a pretty decent way to spend a Saturday evening or a Sunday night.

May that spark be lit anew all over again.

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Today on the Frontstretch:
Did You Notice? … A Return To Richmond, Post-Spingate And Quick Hits
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The Frontstretch Five: Pleasant Surprises of 2014 So Far
IndyCar Driver Profile: Takuma Sato
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marshall
09/04/2008 05:57 AM
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Theres no better cure for boring NASCAR Cup races than wider tires , more banking , and more short tracks . Long , relativly flat and wide race tracks just don’t make for good television .
One thing NASCAR could do to improve the racing is to require the cars to have plenty of suspension travel . The coil bind idea ( in other words a solid suspsension ) that these cars are using means passing is difficult if not impossible . As any race engineer can tell you , a solid suspension , relying on the tires as a spring is the worst possible way of making a race car handle .

chris
09/04/2008 03:36 PM
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I find that typically my comments here are in oppsosition to the point presented in the editorial. In this case, it’s not. Fontana is a track that does not produce good racing.

It’s not the location. It’s the configuration. Bulldoze it and put in a track somewhere between a half and a full mile, with a steep banking and some wide, wicked corners.

Yep. I’m excited to see Richmond next.

joe hougan
09/05/2008 01:01 AM
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when is somebody going to pull the head out of there ass and get rid of the cot.i am disappointed in the so called experts that siad it would work

Ozzi
09/05/2008 04:55 PM
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The reason for the COT was to make certain McFlippen McDowell could walk away from the car, when Dale Sr. did not.

There always a price that has to be paid. They just have to keep working on the engine/trans package. We have to be patient. I never want to see a driver die on the track again.

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